How To Keep Your Compost Pile Churning … All Winter Long

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How To Keep Your Compost Pile Churning … All Winter Long

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It can be a struggle to maintain your compost bin or pile over the winter. Whether you’re dealing with severe cold and/or heavy snow in northerly regions, excessive moisture in the Pacific Northwest, or desert conditions in the American Southwest, your compost pile may need a little extra help during the winter months. It’s worth it, though. By the time spring rolls around, you’ll be rich in black gold.

There are two basic composting methods. With any waste material, microorganisms (aerobic bacteria) naturally work on decomposition, and you can speed that process along by doing things like maintaining the correct ratio of green to brown waste and turning the pile regularly. Vermicomposting relies on worms to eat organic matter and then cast (poop) rich soil as a byproduct. If you keep your organic waste on bare ground, your pile likely hosts both vermicomposting and composting processes.

Hot Composting

As bacteria break down waste material, they generate heat. That heat is crucial for the bacteria to keep growing, multiplying, and just generally doing their job. While most people refer to this process simply as “composting,” the more technical term is “thermophilic composting” or, more informally, “hot composting.” And “hot composting” it is: compost piles can reach internal temperatures of 150℉!

Even though compost naturally generates heat, cold weather, of course, brings the temperature of the compost pile down. That affects the ability of the bacteria to do their job, particularly on the outside edges of the pile. If the temperatures dip too far — and especially if the compost isn’t tended to — microbial activity will cease completely. If you’re willing to wait for warmer spring temps for the decomposition to resume, then that’s not a big deal. But if you would prefer to keep generating compost over the winter months, there are a few ways to help your compost’s microorganisms chug along.

If You Build It

Help your compost stay toasty by enclosing it with three walls and a roof. (Leave the south-facing side uncovered, so that it can absorb warmth from the sun.) This can be as easy or as complex as you make it. Stack cinder blocks or nail together scrap lumber for the walls. For the roof, you can just balance a loose piece of lumber on top or throw a tarp over the whole thing. Even easier: Buy a compost tumbler. Enclosing compost not only helps trap its heat, but also to moderate the effects of wind and excessive moisture.

If your region experiences extreme cold, adding insulation is a good idea. Again, this does not have to be done at great cost or effort. Surround your enclosure with straw bales, line the walls with several layers of cardboard, or pile snow, straw, or leaves around it. Don’t forget to insulate the roof, as well.

Go Bigger

The bigger your compost pile is, the more bacteria it will have, and the more heat it will generate. According to the University of Illinois Extension, compost piles that are at least one cubic yard in size will weather Midwestern American winters best.

Fuel Up

Adding new waste material regularly is crucial — but you need to be careful about what kind of material you add and its size.

Maintaining the ideal proportion of green to brown waste (a.k.a. the C:N ratio) is especially important in the winter, when we want our compost piles to work at maximum efficiency. Check this site for detailed information about the C:N ratio to shoot for depending on which brown waste you add.

If you bag leaves in the fall with the intent of adding those to your compost over the winter, bring a bag inside overnight before dumping it in, so that the cold leaves don’t bring down the temperature of the pile.

It’s also a good idea to shred waste before dumping it in. Waste that’s roughly two inches in size will break down more quickly, keeping heat levels consistently high.

Not too Wet, Not too Dry

Ideally, compost should be just lightly moist. If it’s too wet, the bacteria can’t get the oxygen they need to survive. But if it’s too dry, the bacteria can’t do their job, either.

If you live in an area that experiences heavy moisture in the winter, plan your compost enclosure accordingly: a South-facing opening so that the sun can warm and dry the waste; and a roof or other covering to keep moisture out. If your compost pile unexpectedly gets too wet, stirring it up with a pitchfork should help dry things out. Additionally, adding more brown waste will help soak up excess moisture.

If you live in a desert area, keep your compost uncovered. Make a crater (or craters) in the top, to catch all the moisture you can. If worst comes to worst, you can always break out the hose.

Vermicomposting

As might be expected, vermicomposting can be problematic during cold winter months. That said, a simple workaround is to keep your vermicompost bin indoors. If the thought of a bin full of worms under your kitchen sink grosses you out (and I’ll admit I’m in that camp), the bin can be kept in an insulated garage or outbuilding, or elsewhere in your house, such as the basement or laundry room.

Depending on your location, it may be possible to keep your vermicompost box outdoors during the winter. Keep in mind that the worms will die if they get either too cold or too hot. You’ll need to experiment to find a balance of insulating the bin enough to keep it warm, but not so much that the insulation along with the heat from the hot compost process plus any heat from the sun fries your worms.

Do you keep your compost pile active all winter long? If so, share your tips and trick in the comment section below.

12 Seeds You Need To Start NOW For Spring Planting

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12 Seeds You Need To Start NOW For Spring Planting

Image source: Pixabay.com

For many of us, late January is still cold and snowy, but the days are lengthening, and warmer temperatures are on the way. It’s so tempting to break out the seeds!

But planting seeds too early can backfire unless you have a setup that includes things like heated seed propagation mats, grow lights, and consistent regulated temperatures. I don’t. I do have a terrific enclosed south-facing verandah with lots of windows, but the days are still short here, without the amount of sun many seedlings need. This can make for spindly, weak plants that stretch towards the light, and that are unable to support the weight of their leaves. Also, the temperature is hardly consistent, given the blasts of cold air each time the door is opened.

That said, some seeds can be started by late January with just a little care. Often, these are seeds that germinate slowly, with their seedlings becoming established in mid-late February, when the amount of sunlight and daily temperatures have both increased.

When choosing what to plant this time of year, always check seed packages (or research the varieties you’re planting) to find out the expected number of days to maturity. Then, cross check that with the last expected frost date in your area, which you can find here. Don’t choose seeds that will mature before your last frost date — you need to move your plants outside after the last frost so that they can finish growing outside for the best results and flavor.

General Hint

The top of your refrigerator is often warm enough to replicate a heated propagation mat. If you’re sowing seeds that need heat to germinate, keep them on top of your fridge. Once sprouted, the seedlings should be moved to a window area to get as much sunlight as possible.

Strawberries

It can be tricky to grow strawberries from seeds, but it’s much more fulfilling than buying established plants at a nursery.

The earlier you start strawberry seeds, the more likely you’ll get fruit in the first year. Aim to start in January or even December. That said, strawberries are perennials. If you start late, you’ll still get plants, if not fruit, in the first year.

Strawberry seeds germinate best if they go through a stratification process. Put the whole package of seeds into an airtight plastic bag or container and toss them into the freezer for 3-4 weeks. When you take the seeds out, let them warm up to room temperature before removing them from the bag or container, so that they don’t get condensation on them as they thaw. Then, once planted, keep the cells or containers in a tray that has a thick piece of fabric placed on the bottom. Keep the fabric wet so that the soil in the containers can wick up moisture as needed, without sitting in water. Use bright fluorescent lights to supplement sunshine and keep the temperature between 65-75 °F (18-24 °C). Germination can take one to six weeks. Be patient!

Once strawberry seedlings have their third true leaf, transplant them to bigger pots. Make sure to harden them off before transplanting outside.

Onions, Leeks, and Shallots

It’s best to plant onion, leek, and shallot seeds about 10-12 weeks before the last frost date, which means sowing in January or February works well in most hardiness zones. All three need warmth to sprout; keep sown seeds on a heated propagation mat, on top of the fridge, or tucked under a plastic bag or dome. The seeds should sprout fairly quick, but the seedlings grow quite slowly. Like other plants started indoors, these should be first repotted into larger pots, before being hardened off and transplanted into the garden.

Celery and Celeriac

Celery and celeriac are relatively easy to start from seeds, but it can be a challenge to get these plants to produce in the garden, as they are averse to both cold and heat. If you’re up for the challenge, start in late January or February as the plants need about 90 days from seeding until they’re ready for transplanting. Mix the tiny seeds with sand and then sprinkle that mix on top of your potting soil. Celery is slow to germinate and grow, but it doesn’t require any help (like a heated propagation mat or wet fabric to wick moisture from). All it needs is patience.

Woody Herbs (Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme)

Herbs with woody stems are usually propagated by cuttings because they grow so slowly from seed. But that’s just what we want when we’re looking for seeds to start in January and February. Of the four herbs listed here, rosemary is the most finicky and hardest to grow from seed. It will need a heated propagation mat or fridge top and should be covered with plastic. Oregano, sage, and thyme, however, have no special requirement other than bright light. Once the seedlings are sturdy enough to handle, transplant them into larger pots. By late April or May, they should be ready to plant outdoors — just be sure to harden them off first.

Chili Peppers

In general, the hotter the pepper, the longer it takes to mature. Hot Rod peppers, for instance, only need 57 days to mature, while Habaneros take a minimum of 120 days. Keep this in mind when choosing which variety to plant now. All hot pepper plants need heat to flourish. Use a heated propagation mat, the top of your fridge, or at least keep your seeds and seedlings as toasty as possible, in a warm, draft-free location, and covered with a plastic bag or dome. You’ll need to repot them when they have several sets of leaves; they should be transplanted outdoors once overnight lows stay at 50°F (10°C) or warmer.

Eggplant

Like many of the other seeds that are suitable for early planting, eggplant seeds require warmth to germinate. The seeds are quite tiny; mix them with sand, if needed, and then sprinkle the sand mixture on your potting soil. Once planted, keep the cells or containers on top of your fridge, on a heated propagation mat, or covered with a plastic bag or cloche. It should take about one week for seeds to germinate. They’ll be ready to transplant in about four to six weeks, and ready to go into the garden 10-12 weeks after planting.

Have you started any seeds already? Do you have any tips for producing strong healthy seedlings when you sow seeds early? If so, please share in the comments below.

Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

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Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

Image source: Pixabay.com

Read part 1 in this series here.

For those of us living in northerly regions, using an unheated greenhouse in the winter may seem far-fetched. And yet, it’s perfectly feasible. Even way up north in hardiness zone 3, a simple greenhouse covered with flimsy plastic sheeting can give you a winter harvest. Greenhouse “glazing” (be it plastic sheeting, or polycarbonate or glass panels) can help replicate the climate 1.5 zones to your south; and further coverings inside the greenhouse (such as floating row covers) can give you the leeway of another 1.5 zones. In this way, a zone 3 winter becomes a zone 6 winter. While zone 6 isn’t exactly tropical, its climate supports the growth of cold-hardy vegetables.

The key here is “cold-hardy.” An unheated greenhouse won’t do for heat- and sun-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, or melons. But with a little thought, planning, and experimentation, you should be able to harvest salad greens, leeks, hardy root vegetables, and cool-weather Chinese greens during the winter months.

Building the Best Greenhouse

The location of your greenhouse and how it’s constructed will have a huge impact on your harvests. Before you start building, consider the following:

  • Ideally, a winter greenhouse should be situated against the south-facing wall of a house, garage, or outbuilding (such as a shed or chicken coop). That way, it will be protected from northerly winds while also benefiting from ambient heat.
  • If it’s not possible to build your greenhouse against an existing wall, its freestanding north-facing wall should be opaque (ideally painted black) so that it absorbs and retains heat.
  • Make sure the location isn’t shaded.
  • A foundation laid below the frost line will both protect against frost heave and insulate the soil within it.
  • The angle of the roof is crucial to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. Optimal roof angles differ depending on latitude. To figure out the best angle for your location, consult the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource published by the University of Minnesota.

How Cold is Too Cold?

Depending on your hardiness zone, you may be able to get by solely with passive solar and ambient heating. In colder regions, you may need to supplement some warmth. There are a number of ways that you can generate and/or trap heat without resorting to electricity or fuel.

Especially if you are setting a foundation below the frost line anyway, a sunken greenhouse can provide the warmth plants — especially root vegetables — need. As the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource explains, soil located 4 feet below the surface stays at a steady 40-50℉ regardless of air temperature.

Alternately, a trench or hole in the center of your greenhouse, filled with manure, will generate heat as the manure breaks down; and as a bonus, you will always have fertilizer easily at hand! Another option is to create heat sinks by filling black 55-gallon drums with water. The barrels absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release that heat at night. If you’re up for it, more complicated systems include solar heating and circulating water heated with solar power.

Regardless of how — or even if — you provide supplemental heat to your greenhouse, keep in mind that plants also need sunlight to thrive. During the shortest days of the year, growth will come to a standstill regardless of how warm your greenhouse is.

Choosing the Best Vegetable Varieties

As noted above, it’s essential to focus on cold-hardy vegetables for your unheated winter greenhouse. It may take some experimenting to find which varieties work best in your zone and your greenhouse’s microclimate, but to help you get started, consider these:

  • Cold-hardy salad greens, including endive, radicchio, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, collard, and mustard greens. Plant your greens in succession (perhaps one tray a week) and, when ready for harvest, cut what you need, leaving some green behind. The plants will continue to grow so that you get a second (and possibly third) harvest.
  • Root vegetables such as parsnips, beets, turnips, and carrots. As an added bonus, to deal with cold temperatures, root vegetables convert their starches to sugars, which act as a sort of natural anti-freeze. The increased sugars mean sweeter-tasting veggies.
  • Pak choi, Chinese cabbage, and other similar cool-weather Chinese greens.

Timing your Seedlings

It’s best to start your seeds in late summer or early fall so that your seedlings are well established before extreme cold hits. However, you can sow throughout the winter. If you choose to plant during the coldest months, start your seeds indoors or use a heat mat for seed propagation. Tender seedlings are more sensitive to the cold and need a solid start before they’re left 24/7 in an unheated greenhouse.

Why Bother?

You’re not alone if you’re wondering whether digging a four-foot “basement” for a greenhouse and calculating the optimal roof slant is more work than it’s worth. But, if you’re reading this, it goes without saying that you already know the benefits of gardening, whether in winter or summer: the joy of dirt under your fingernails; putting tasty, nutrient-dense produce on your table; cost-savings compared to purchasing bland supermarket vegetables; and self-sufficiency. Using an unheated greenhouse in the winter brings extra benefits, including the cost-savings over a heated greenhouse, supporting the environment, and the joy of proving those folks wrong, who think it’s impossible to grow fresh vegetables in the depths of winter.

Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

Image source: Pixabay.com

Read part 1 in this series here.

For those of us living in northerly regions, using an unheated greenhouse in the winter may seem far-fetched. And yet, it’s perfectly feasible. Even way up north in hardiness zone 3, a simple greenhouse covered with flimsy plastic sheeting can give you a winter harvest. Greenhouse “glazing” (be it plastic sheeting, or polycarbonate or glass panels) can help replicate the climate 1.5 zones to your south; and further coverings inside the greenhouse (such as floating row covers) can give you the leeway of another 1.5 zones. In this way, a zone 3 winter becomes a zone 6 winter. While zone 6 isn’t exactly tropical, its climate supports the growth of cold-hardy vegetables.

The key here is “cold-hardy.” An unheated greenhouse won’t do for heat- and sun-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, or melons. But with a little thought, planning, and experimentation, you should be able to harvest salad greens, leeks, hardy root vegetables, and cool-weather Chinese greens during the winter months.

Building the Best Greenhouse

The location of your greenhouse and how it’s constructed will have a huge impact on your harvests. Before you start building, consider the following:

  • Ideally, a winter greenhouse should be situated against the south-facing wall of a house, garage, or outbuilding (such as a shed or chicken coop). That way, it will be protected from northerly winds while also benefiting from ambient heat.
  • If it’s not possible to build your greenhouse against an existing wall, its freestanding north-facing wall should be opaque (ideally painted black) so that it absorbs and retains heat.
  • Make sure the location isn’t shaded.
  • A foundation laid below the frost line will both protect against frost heave and insulate the soil within it.
  • The angle of the roof is crucial to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. Optimal roof angles differ depending on latitude. To figure out the best angle for your location, consult the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource published by the University of Minnesota.

How Cold is Too Cold?

Depending on your hardiness zone, you may be able to get by solely with passive solar and ambient heating. In colder regions, you may need to supplement some warmth. There are a number of ways that you can generate and/or trap heat without resorting to electricity or fuel.

Especially if you are setting a foundation below the frost line anyway, a sunken greenhouse can provide the warmth plants — especially root vegetables — need. As the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource explains, soil located 4 feet below the surface stays at a steady 40-50℉ regardless of air temperature.

Alternately, a trench or hole in the center of your greenhouse, filled with manure, will generate heat as the manure breaks down; and as a bonus, you will always have fertilizer easily at hand! Another option is to create heat sinks by filling black 55-gallon drums with water. The barrels absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release that heat at night. If you’re up for it, more complicated systems include solar heating and circulating water heated with solar power.

Regardless of how — or even if — you provide supplemental heat to your greenhouse, keep in mind that plants also need sunlight to thrive. During the shortest days of the year, growth will come to a standstill regardless of how warm your greenhouse is.

Choosing the Best Vegetable Varieties

As noted above, it’s essential to focus on cold-hardy vegetables for your unheated winter greenhouse. It may take some experimenting to find which varieties work best in your zone and your greenhouse’s microclimate, but to help you get started, consider these:

  • Cold-hardy salad greens, including endive, radicchio, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, collard, and mustard greens. Plant your greens in succession (perhaps one tray a week) and, when ready for harvest, cut what you need, leaving some green behind. The plants will continue to grow so that you get a second (and possibly third) harvest.
  • Root vegetables such as parsnips, beets, turnips, and carrots. As an added bonus, to deal with cold temperatures, root vegetables convert their starches to sugars, which act as a sort of natural anti-freeze. The increased sugars mean sweeter-tasting veggies.
  • Pak choi, Chinese cabbage, and other similar cool-weather Chinese greens.

Timing your Seedlings

It’s best to start your seeds in late summer or early fall so that your seedlings are well established before extreme cold hits. However, you can sow throughout the winter. If you choose to plant during the coldest months, start your seeds indoors or use a heat mat for seed propagation. Tender seedlings are more sensitive to the cold and need a solid start before they’re left 24/7 in an unheated greenhouse.

Why Bother?

You’re not alone if you’re wondering whether digging a four-foot “basement” for a greenhouse and calculating the optimal roof slant is more work than it’s worth. But, if you’re reading this, it goes without saying that you already know the benefits of gardening, whether in winter or summer: the joy of dirt under your fingernails; putting tasty, nutrient-dense produce on your table; cost-savings compared to purchasing bland supermarket vegetables; and self-sufficiency. Using an unheated greenhouse in the winter brings extra benefits, including the cost-savings over a heated greenhouse, supporting the environment, and the joy of proving those folks wrong, who think it’s impossible to grow fresh vegetables in the depths of winter.

How To Build The Best Unheated Greenhouse For Winter Use

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Building The Best Unheated Greenhouse For Winter Use

Image source: UMN.edu

Watching the snow blow and hearing the wind gust during the winter months, it’s hard to imagine growing vegetables outside. Sure, a greenhouse might make it possible, but that greenhouse would have to be a sturdy structure with a reliable heat source, right?

Actually: No. Winter hardy vegetables can be grown in unheated greenhouses–even those covered with flimsy plastic sheeting–into Zone 3. I live in Zone 3. Trust me; it gets cold here. The minimum average temperature is -30 degrees to -40 degrees Fahrenheit,  and that does not include the windchill factor.

The idea of growing our own vegetables outside in those kinds of temps is pretty amazing, isn’t it? If building an unheated greenhouse for winter use piques your interest, check out this excellent in-depth guide from the University of Minnesota (UMN). Much of the information that follows can be attributed to that guide. As northern Minnesota is in hardiness zones 3a/3b, the information in the guide is widely applicable to most regions of the USA that experience freezing winter temperatures (except Alaska!).

How an Unheated Greenhouse ‘Works’

If you have an existing greenhouse, it may or may not be suitable for winter use. Typically, unheated greenhouses used in the winter are designed to capture as much sunlight and heat as possible. These structures can’t be used after late spring because they get too hot.

Get The All-Natural Fertilizer That Doubles Garden Production!

To capture that sunlight and heat, the structure needs to follow careful design and placement principles (more on that below). When positioned correctly, the structure’s outer covering moves the plants within it one and a half hardiness zones to the south. If a second layer of covering is added inside the greenhouse (such as with a floating row cover or cold frame), an additional one and a half hardiness zones are gained.  In this way, gardeners in Zone 3, for instance, can replicate the climate of Zone 6.

A double layer of covering also increases humidity levels within the greenhouse, which offers further protection against frost.

Even with all these considerations, an unheated winter greenhouse is best used to grow leafy greens and cold hardy vegetables. While the cool temperatures are an issue for more tender vegetables, the real issue is the lack of sunlight. Tomatoes, for instance, need a minimum of eight hours of full sun a day (not to mention pollinators!) in order to produce tasty fruit.

Location, Location, Location

The location of your greenhouse is crucial. It’s ideal to place the structure against the south-facing wall of your house so that it gets full sun as well as ambient heat from your home. Another option is to place it on the south-facing side of an insulated garage or shed.

But before you run out and start framing in a greenhouse against an existing building, there are a few other things to consider. A south-facing wall won’t be of much use if it’s heavily shaded by trees or nearby buildings. The UMN guide recommends walking around your property at different times of the day to gauge how much shade your prospective site gets. Particularly with hoop houses, make sure surrounding trees are in good shape and unlikely to lose limbs that would damage the structure. Additionally, since frost tends to settle in dips and hollows, don’t set your new greenhouse in one. And, finally, make sure the site you choose has good drainage, particularly if you intend to plant directly into the ground.

If you don’t have any suitable south-facing walls, another option is to use an earth berm on the north side of your structure to provide support and insulation. Freestanding greenhouses should have an opaque and insulated north-facing wall, as heat is lost rapidly through clear glazing on the north side.

Design Principles

Orientation

The UMN guidebook points out that the way a greenhouse is oriented and the angle of the roof/top glazing are key to a successful winter harvest. However, both things are often overlooked in the design stage.

The angle of the roof affects how much sunlight (and heat) permeates the structure. The UMN guidebook offers advice on how to determine the best angle for your greenhouse roof, which involves looking at the sun path chart for your latitude and at the angle of sunlight in your part of the world on the shortest days of the year.

As well, it’s crucial that the opaque back wall face due north, with the short sides of the structure aligned in an east-west direction.

Foundation

As with any foundation, the one for your greenhouse should be laid below the frost line. In Zone 3, that means going at least four feet down. Setting the foundation that deep not only protects the structure from frost heave but helps maintain warmer soil. As the UMN guidebook explains, at that depth, soil temperature stays at a steady 40-50℉ year round, regardless of temperature fluctuations in the air. The foundation will also provide insulation for the soil it surrounds.

Frame and Walls

There is no cut and dried advice regarding the best types of materials to use for your greenhouse frame and walls. There are pros and cons to metal versus wood frames, as well as to plastic sheeting versus polycarbonate versus glass glazing. Consider your budget and the intended use of your new greenhouse and consult the UMN guide to figure out your best option.

While it’s a good idea to invest the time and energy into designing the best greenhouse for your needs and location, be prepared to tweak things over time. As you make use of your greenhouse in the winter and learn what works–and what doesn’t–you’ll likely make some changes. Gardening, whether in a garden or in a greenhouse, is typically a learning process anyway, isn’t it?

Do you have an unheated greenhouse that you use in the winter? How is it working for you? Please share any tips in the comments below.

Inexpensive Ways To Help Potted Plants Survive Winter

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Inexpensive Ways To Help Potted Plants Survive Winter

Image source: Pixabay.com

Raise your hand if you’ve ever scored a massive deal at your local nursery at the end of the gardening season. Keep your hand up if those massive deals were on half-dead plants in plastic containers.

I did that once. I couldn’t resist all those dirt-cheap perennials that would keep me in strawberry rhubarb pies until my dotage. But I should have known better. I’m always in overwhelm mode in late summer and fall, trying to keep up with the plants that still need tending as well as with harvesting and preserving produce and getting ready for winter. Taking on another task, like figuring out where to plant perennials and actually getting them into the ground, was not a smart idea. And so, confession time: I didn’t plant any of them. They just sat there in their flimsy plastic pots all winter. In the spring, the peonies somehow, miraculously, sent out shoots and I got those into the ground. The rest looked beyond hope and I tossed them into the compost pile.

I’ve since learned that there are ways to overwinter plants in pots regardless of whether they’re geriatric escapees from the nursery or potted plants that you’ve had in your garden all season long.

Why Not Just Overwinter in Pots?

There are several reasons why plants have a hard time surviving the winter in containers–and most are related to the plant’s roots.

First, roots are typically hardy to two zones warmer than the plant. If, for instance, your plant is hardy to Zone 4, the roots are only hardy to Zone 6. Roots don’t have to be as tough because they’re protected by the soil. However, the small amount of soil in a pot doesn’t provide enough insulation to adequately protect roots.

Second, pots are more susceptible to freeze/thaw cycles because that small amount of soil can warm up very quickly. If you live in a colder zone, plant roots will freeze regardless of whether the plant is in the ground or in a pot. If the roots are hardy to your zone, frozen roots are part of the plant’s life cycle and nothing to worry about. However, while roots might freeze, they don’t go dormant. When the ground warms up enough, tender new roots will grow. But those young roots don’t have the ability to withstand colder temperatures; they will die when it gets cold again. This process of producing new roots that die off shortly afterward can seriously weaken the plant. It’s actually better for roots to remain consistently frozen (or at least consistently cold) all winter long.

Third, if your containers are left on a flat surface the frost, ice, and snow that accumulates on the pot’s soil can lead to root rot. As temperatures fluctuate, that frozen moisture thaws and saturates the pot. Once the temperatures dip again, the wet soil freezes. And the next time a thaw cycle hits, more ice and snow thaws and is added to the pot’s already saturated soil.

There’s no doubt that potted plants have it tough in the winter. But as the story of my peonies shows, they can pull through extended cold spells. Still, rather than just cross your fingers and hope for the best, there are things you can do to help your potted plants make through the winter.

Bring Them Inside

This seems like the most obvious suggestion, but you need to be careful about where exactly you move your plants to. Since most perennials require a period of dormancy, you can’t move them into a warm sunny window and treat them like houseplants (the exception here are geraniums). An unheated garage or shed is ideal, but a cool basement can also work. If you overwinter your perennials this way, you’ll need to water them whenever the soil gets completely dry.

Use a Sheltered Outdoor Spot

If you don’t have a suitable indoor spot, or if you have too many pots to find space for, another option is to move them to a sheltered outdoor location and cover them with mulch.

The best spot is on the north side of your house, garage, or shed. Lining up pots along a house (or heated garage) wall will provide them with some consistent warmth, while also blocking the sun on warmer days to minimize freeze/thaw cycles.

For extra protection, bury the pots in mulch–and at this time of year, it’s easy enough to find leaves for that job.

Wrap Them Up

While gardeners may wrap above-ground growth–like shrubs, hydrangeas, and rosebushes–in burlap over the winter, potted plants have a different issue. As explained earlier, it’s usually not the plant growth that needs protecting in a pot–it’s the roots. You can insulate and protect your roots by wrapping the pots in bubble wrap, burlap, or old sheets.

Bury Them, Pot and All

This is the most labor-intensive option, but it gives your plants the best chance of survival. And while it still involves some sort of planting, it doesn’t have to be as strategic as choosing a permanent place for the plant.

Depending on the number of plants you have, dig a hole or a trench in your garden or compost pile. The depth of the hole depends on how large your pots are. Ideally, the pots should be laid–or at least tilted–on their sides to prevent thawed moisture from accumulating on top. Once placed in the trench, the pots should be covered with mulch, or lightly covered up with soil. If you don’t have the space–or the time–to dig a big enough trench and need to leave the pots upright, bury only two-thirds of the container to improve drainage.

Potted plants do need a little bit of extra help to make it through the winter, but they’ll reward those efforts in the spring. What are your tried and true tricks for overwintering potted plants? Tell us in the comments below.

What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: 

5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

Image source: Pixabay.com

Mulch? In the winter? You betcha.

Mulches — particularly organic ones — are gardening stars. But when mulches are touted, we usually hear about benefits that are specific to the growing season. Mulches, Wikipedia tells us, “retain moisture in the soil [which is particularly helpful during droughts], suppress weeds, keep the soil cool, and make the garden bed look more attractive.” Right. So what’s the point of mulching in the winter? There are actually five very worthwhile reasons to spread some mulch before the snow flies.

1. Extending the Growing Season

Mulching before the ground freezes helps keep the soil warmer, which prolongs your growing season. This is especially valuable for cool-weather root crops. When mulched, veggies like beets, parsnips, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips can survive hard frosts.

Need Non-GMO Garden Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

You can certainly fork up all your root vegetables before any frost, but it pays to leave them in the ground. These vegetables increase their sugar production as a natural response to the cold. Since sugar freezes at a lower temperature than water, the sugars act as a kind of natural antifreeze. As might be expected, the sugars also increase the sweetness and flavor of these vegetables, making a late harvest extremely worth your while. However, a word of caution: If you live in a cold zone where the ground freezes through, you should fork up your root vegetables before a serious cold spell. Otherwise, you’ll need a pickaxe out there!

2. Protecting Perennials

When I think about mulching perennials for the winter, my mind goes to flowers. But, of course, there are perennial herbs and vegetables, too. Artichokes, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb and sunchokes would appreciate a toasty layer of mulch, as would any herbs that function as perennials in your hardiness zone. And don’t forget about your berries, especially the low-growing strawberries.

3. Minimizing Frost Heave Damage

While mulch protects perennials against extreme weather, it can also prevent root damage caused by frost heave. As unprotected soil goes through freeze/thaw cycles, it expands when its moisture freezes. This expansion can push the soil upwards and may push plant roots up at the same time. If the exposed root freezes, it can be damaged. Mulch moderates soil temperature so that the freeze/thaw cycles aren’t as marked or as frequent, minimizing heave.

4. Improving the soil

Any type of mulch can help protect soil from the heavy winter rains and excessive snowmelt that can cause soil erosion and compaction. And, of course, organic mulches improve the soil by releasing nutrients and organic matter as they break down. This is true regardless of whether the mulch is applied in late fall or during the growing season.

That said, certain types of mulches are more beneficial to both soil and plants if they’re applied in late fall or winter. As this article points out, woody mulches (wood chips, bark, or sawdust) need nitrogen in order to break down. When applied in the summer, woody mulches can tie up the soil’s nitrogen resources as they decompose, making that nitrogen unavailable to plants in the area. But if woody mulch is applied in late fall or winter, it will begin breaking down before plants need the soil’s nitrogen resources.

5. Suppressing weeds

One of the best things about mulch is its ability to suppress weeds. It may seem pointless to apply mulch in the winter for weed control. But come spring, that mulch will be covering the last season’s weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting.

Choosing Winter Mulch

The nifty thing about mulching for winter is that there’s plenty of free mulch for the taking. Leaves, of course, are naturally abundant at this time of year, but you can use other yard and garden debris too including grass clippings, pine needles, evergreen branches and boughs, and pulled vegetable plants that are destined for the compost bin. As an added benefit, garden debris provides a cozy habitat for crickets, which enjoy chowing down on weed seeds.

In addition to free mulches in your own yard, check with stores and businesses that use straw bales for fall decor. Once the cardboard turkey and maple leaf displays get the heave-ho, the straw bales will need to go somewhere, too. Why not pop them into your garden instead of into the trash? (Be wary of hay bales, though, which contain more weed seeds than straw bales.)

Applying Winter Mulch

As stated above, applying mulch before the ground freezes can extend your growing season and contribute to better tasting root vegetables. On the flip side, applying winter mulch before winter is here to stay can attract nesting rodents. When you apply winter mulch in your own garden comes down to personal choice. Consider what type of mulch you’re applying and what your primary reason is for mulching. If you mainly want to extend the growing season, then it makes sense to mulch before the ground freezes. But if you’re mulching to suppress weed growth in the spring, then waiting for the ground to freeze is the better option.

Once you actually start mulching, aim for a depth of about 6-12 inches. If you live in a blustery, wintry zone and you’re using lightweight mulch like shredded leaves or straw, it’s a good idea to cover that mulch to prevent it from blowing away. Use an old bed sheet or, if you use them, a fabric row cover, and anchor that fabric with bricks, logs, or ground staples.

Have you ever used mulch during winter? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

 

5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

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5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

Image source: Pixabay.com

Mulch? In the winter? You betcha.

Mulches — particularly organic ones — are gardening stars. But when mulches are touted, we usually hear about benefits that are specific to the growing season. Mulches, Wikipedia tells us, “retain moisture in the soil [which is particularly helpful during droughts], suppress weeds, keep the soil cool, and make the garden bed look more attractive.” Right. So what’s the point of mulching in the winter? There are actually five very worthwhile reasons to spread some mulch before the snow flies.

1. Extending the Growing Season

Mulching before the ground freezes helps keep the soil warmer, which prolongs your growing season. This is especially valuable for cool-weather root crops. When mulched, veggies like beets, parsnips, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips can survive hard frosts.

Need Non-GMO Garden Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

You can certainly fork up all your root vegetables before any frost, but it pays to leave them in the ground. These vegetables increase their sugar production as a natural response to the cold. Since sugar freezes at a lower temperature than water, the sugars act as a kind of natural antifreeze. As might be expected, the sugars also increase the sweetness and flavor of these vegetables, making a late harvest extremely worth your while. However, a word of caution: If you live in a cold zone where the ground freezes through, you should fork up your root vegetables before a serious cold spell. Otherwise, you’ll need a pickaxe out there!

2. Protecting Perennials

When I think about mulching perennials for the winter, my mind goes to flowers. But, of course, there are perennial herbs and vegetables, too. Artichokes, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb and sunchokes would appreciate a toasty layer of mulch, as would any herbs that function as perennials in your hardiness zone. And don’t forget about your berries, especially the low-growing strawberries.

3. Minimizing Frost Heave Damage

While mulch protects perennials against extreme weather, it can also prevent root damage caused by frost heave. As unprotected soil goes through freeze/thaw cycles, it expands when its moisture freezes. This expansion can push the soil upwards and may push plant roots up at the same time. If the exposed root freezes, it can be damaged. Mulch moderates soil temperature so that the freeze/thaw cycles aren’t as marked or as frequent, minimizing heave.

4. Improving the soil

Any type of mulch can help protect soil from the heavy winter rains and excessive snowmelt that can cause soil erosion and compaction. And, of course, organic mulches improve the soil by releasing nutrients and organic matter as they break down. This is true regardless of whether the mulch is applied in late fall or during the growing season.

That said, certain types of mulches are more beneficial to both soil and plants if they’re applied in late fall or winter. As this article points out, woody mulches (wood chips, bark, or sawdust) need nitrogen in order to break down. When applied in the summer, woody mulches can tie up the soil’s nitrogen resources as they decompose, making that nitrogen unavailable to plants in the area. But if woody mulch is applied in late fall or winter, it will begin breaking down before plants need the soil’s nitrogen resources.

5. Suppressing weeds

One of the best things about mulch is its ability to suppress weeds. It may seem pointless to apply mulch in the winter for weed control. But come spring, that mulch will be covering the last season’s weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting.

Choosing Winter Mulch

The nifty thing about mulching for winter is that there’s plenty of free mulch for the taking. Leaves, of course, are naturally abundant at this time of year, but you can use other yard and garden debris too including grass clippings, pine needles, evergreen branches and boughs, and pulled vegetable plants that are destined for the compost bin. As an added benefit, garden debris provides a cozy habitat for crickets, which enjoy chowing down on weed seeds.

In addition to free mulches in your own yard, check with stores and businesses that use straw bales for fall decor. Once the cardboard turkey and maple leaf displays get the heave-ho, the straw bales will need to go somewhere, too. Why not pop them into your garden instead of into the trash? (Be wary of hay bales, though, which contain more weed seeds than straw bales.)

Applying Winter Mulch

As stated above, applying mulch before the ground freezes can extend your growing season and contribute to better tasting root vegetables. On the flip side, applying winter mulch before winter is here to stay can attract nesting rodents. When you apply winter mulch in your own garden comes down to personal choice. Consider what type of mulch you’re applying and what your primary reason is for mulching. If you mainly want to extend the growing season, then it makes sense to mulch before the ground freezes. But if you’re mulching to suppress weed growth in the spring, then waiting for the ground to freeze is the better option.

Once you actually start mulching, aim for a depth of about 6-12 inches. If you live in a blustery, wintry zone and you’re using lightweight mulch like shredded leaves or straw, it’s a good idea to cover that mulch to prevent it from blowing away. Use an old bed sheet or, if you use them, a fabric row cover, and anchor that fabric with bricks, logs, or ground staples.

Have you ever used mulch during winter? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

 

5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

Click here to view the original post.
5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

Image source: Pixabay.com

Mulch? In the winter? You betcha.

Mulches — particularly organic ones — are gardening stars. But when mulches are touted, we usually hear about benefits that are specific to the growing season. Mulches, Wikipedia tells us, “retain moisture in the soil [which is particularly helpful during droughts], suppress weeds, keep the soil cool, and make the garden bed look more attractive.” Right. So what’s the point of mulching in the winter? There are actually five very worthwhile reasons to spread some mulch before the snow flies.

1. Extending the Growing Season

Mulching before the ground freezes helps keep the soil warmer, which prolongs your growing season. This is especially valuable for cool-weather root crops. When mulched, veggies like beets, parsnips, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips can survive hard frosts.

Need Non-GMO Garden Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

You can certainly fork up all your root vegetables before any frost, but it pays to leave them in the ground. These vegetables increase their sugar production as a natural response to the cold. Since sugar freezes at a lower temperature than water, the sugars act as a kind of natural antifreeze. As might be expected, the sugars also increase the sweetness and flavor of these vegetables, making a late harvest extremely worth your while. However, a word of caution: If you live in a cold zone where the ground freezes through, you should fork up your root vegetables before a serious cold spell. Otherwise, you’ll need a pickaxe out there!

2. Protecting Perennials

When I think about mulching perennials for the winter, my mind goes to flowers. But, of course, there are perennial herbs and vegetables, too. Artichokes, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb and sunchokes would appreciate a toasty layer of mulch, as would any herbs that function as perennials in your hardiness zone. And don’t forget about your berries, especially the low-growing strawberries.

3. Minimizing Frost Heave Damage

While mulch protects perennials against extreme weather, it can also prevent root damage caused by frost heave. As unprotected soil goes through freeze/thaw cycles, it expands when its moisture freezes. This expansion can push the soil upwards and may push plant roots up at the same time. If the exposed root freezes, it can be damaged. Mulch moderates soil temperature so that the freeze/thaw cycles aren’t as marked or as frequent, minimizing heave.

4. Improving the soil

Any type of mulch can help protect soil from the heavy winter rains and excessive snowmelt that can cause soil erosion and compaction. And, of course, organic mulches improve the soil by releasing nutrients and organic matter as they break down. This is true regardless of whether the mulch is applied in late fall or during the growing season.

That said, certain types of mulches are more beneficial to both soil and plants if they’re applied in late fall or winter. As this article points out, woody mulches (wood chips, bark, or sawdust) need nitrogen in order to break down. When applied in the summer, woody mulches can tie up the soil’s nitrogen resources as they decompose, making that nitrogen unavailable to plants in the area. But if woody mulch is applied in late fall or winter, it will begin breaking down before plants need the soil’s nitrogen resources.

5. Suppressing weeds

One of the best things about mulch is its ability to suppress weeds. It may seem pointless to apply mulch in the winter for weed control. But come spring, that mulch will be covering the last season’s weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting.

Choosing Winter Mulch

The nifty thing about mulching for winter is that there’s plenty of free mulch for the taking. Leaves, of course, are naturally abundant at this time of year, but you can use other yard and garden debris too including grass clippings, pine needles, evergreen branches and boughs, and pulled vegetable plants that are destined for the compost bin. As an added benefit, garden debris provides a cozy habitat for crickets, which enjoy chowing down on weed seeds.

In addition to free mulches in your own yard, check with stores and businesses that use straw bales for fall decor. Once the cardboard turkey and maple leaf displays get the heave-ho, the straw bales will need to go somewhere, too. Why not pop them into your garden instead of into the trash? (Be wary of hay bales, though, which contain more weed seeds than straw bales.)

Applying Winter Mulch

As stated above, applying mulch before the ground freezes can extend your growing season and contribute to better tasting root vegetables. On the flip side, applying winter mulch before winter is here to stay can attract nesting rodents. When you apply winter mulch in your own garden comes down to personal choice. Consider what type of mulch you’re applying and what your primary reason is for mulching. If you mainly want to extend the growing season, then it makes sense to mulch before the ground freezes. But if you’re mulching to suppress weed growth in the spring, then waiting for the ground to freeze is the better option.

Once you actually start mulching, aim for a depth of about 6-12 inches. If you live in a blustery, wintry zone and you’re using lightweight mulch like shredded leaves or straw, it’s a good idea to cover that mulch to prevent it from blowing away. Use an old bed sheet or, if you use them, a fabric row cover, and anchor that fabric with bricks, logs, or ground staples.

Have you ever used mulch during winter? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

 

6 Ways To Prevent Rust While Storing Your Garden Tools For Winter

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6 Ways To Prevent Rust While Storing Your Garden Tools For Winter

Garden tools perform some hard, dirty jobs for us. But by the end of the summer they often need maintenance or at least a good cleaning.

Before you hang up your tools for the winter, take some time to get them in tip-top shape. Following the steps below during the end of fall will mean a faster and easier start to next spring’s gardening season. It also will save money in the long run, since tools kept in good shape won’t rust and won’t need to be replaced as often.

1. Clean and dry

If any of your tools have dried soil caked, pull out a wire brush and give them a good scrubbing. If necessary, dunk or soak the tools in a bucket of warm water to loosen stubborn soil (soap isn’t necessary).

Tree-trimming tools — like pruning shears or clippers — should be wiped down. If there’s any sap on those tools, they will need a little extra work. Sometimes, a soak in hot water is all that’s needed to remove sap, but if it’s stubborn, you may need to use another product to get it off, like turpentine, WD-40, Pine-Sol, or a solvent that’s specifically for dissolving resin (check the chainsaw section at your local home improvement store).

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Once all your tools are clean, spread them out in the sun to dry or give them a good rub down with a cloth.

2. Remove rust

Even if you take good care of your tools, rust happens. But a rusty tool doesn’t need to be tossed. Small spots of rust can be scrubbed off with steel wool or a wire brush. Heavily rusted tools are perfect candidates for the wire brush attachment on your drill. (Since this attachment often throws off small bits of wire, make sure to wear eye protection.)

3. Sand and sharpen

Sanding down wooden handles helps remove splinters and also smooths out the rough, raised grain that happens when wood gets wet.

Most metal garden tools — including pruning shears, clippers, shovels, spades, hoes, pitchforks and hand trowels — have some sort of blades. Keeping all these blades sharp will make your work easier. And, in the case of tools (like shears and clippers) that cut plants, a sharp cut is easier on the plant, too.

All you need to sharpen your garden tools is a mill file, which is a long, flat metal file. Use the existing bevel on the edge of the tool’s blade as a guide. Place one end of the file on the bevel and push the file, using light, even pressure, against the bevel and away from your body. After each stroke, move the file to the next spot. Once the blade is completely sharpened, use 300 grit sandpaper to remove any “burrs” (tiny shreds of metal) clinging to the blade.

4. Sanitize

Sanitizing isn’t necessary for extending the life of your tools, but it is one of the most important things that you can do for your garden. Sanitizing will rid your tools of fungi and pathogens so that you don’t transfer those to your plants in the spring. Mix one part bleach to 10 parts water in a bucket, and swish each tool through the water. Once sanitized, your tools will need to dry in the sun again or be wiped down with a towel.

5. Season with oil

Both the wooden and metal parts of your garden tools should be treated with oil. Although virtually any kind of oil will do (including WD-40 and motor oil), boiled linseed oil is the best choice for tools that come in contact with food-producing plants. (In a pinch, vegetable cooking oil is an effective and safe alternative.) Use an old cloth or towel to liberally spread oil over all metal and wooden parts of your tools, and let the tools sit for about 15 minutes before wiping them dry. Oiling helps prevent metal from rusting and wood from cracking, and it’s a great way to extend the life of your tools.

6. Store wisely

A dry environment is a must for overwintering your tools. And, if at all possible, hang your tools up. Tools that are stored resting on their blades (such as spades) or that are tossed onto a pile with other tools are more susceptible to damage.

Alternately, storing tools in a bucket of sand and vegetable oil can help prevent rust, keep tools clean, and even help keep tools sharp, since pushing them into the sand has an abrasive action on the blades. Mix about a half gallon of vegetable oil into five gallons of sand and shove in anything with a blade — from shovels and trowels to pruning shears.

Although I, for one, often feel “gardened out” by the time late fall rolls around, spending a few hours on an autumn afternoon cleaning and preparing garden tools for winter storage will be well worth it come spring.

Do you have any other tips for storing garden tools? If so, let us know in the comments below.

So Many Zucchini, So Little Time! Tips To Use Up Your Zucchini Harvest

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So Many Zucchini, So Little Time! Tips To Use Up Your Zucchini Harvest

Image source: Pixabay.com

We’ve all heard jokes about gardeners creeping up to their neighbors’ doorsteps in the dead of the night to “give away” extra zucchini squash. There are few garden plants that produce as prolifically as zucchini. Although there are many creative recipes for fresh zukes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the bounty. But, if you have more than you can eat right now, don’t give away all your extras. There are a bunch of things you can do with the squash so that you can enjoy it throughout the winter.

Picking and Storing Fresh Zucchini

Since zucchini is a summer squash, it has tender, thin skin. Unlike winter squash (including pumpkins and spaghetti squash) with their thick rinds, summer squash doesn’t store well. Even in the fridge, zucchini will keep for 7-10 days at best.

It’s best to pick zukes when they’re about 6-8 inches long. At that size, they’re tender and mild-tasting. As zucchini continues to grow, its flesh becomes stringier and less tasty.

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Don’t bother washing them after picking. Just brush off any dirt and put the zukes in a paper bag, or in a plastic bag that is either perforated or left open. Once bagged, zucchini should be stored in the crisper of your fridge. Keep an eye on it — when zucchini starts becoming soft, it needs to be used up quickly.

Eating Fresh Zucchini

For a long time, all I did with fresh zucchini was throw it into stir-fries and chili. As you can imagine, that didn’t make much of a dent in my harvest. Not wanting to foist any more of my zukes on neighbors and coworkers, I searched online for recipes. If you’re not a foodie, you may be surprised at the incredible variety of zucchini dishes.

  • Sliced in thin, long slices, it can take the place of lasagna noodles.
  • Cut in half and hollowed out a bit, it becomes a “boat” that can be stuffed with pizza fillings or other toppings before roasting.
  • Cut into finger-size strips and coated with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and spices, it becomes “zucchini fries” for a yummy appetizer, snack or side dish.
  • Put through a spiralizer, it becomes high-fiber, low-carb, low-calorie noodles, which are a perfect base for Asian- and Italian-style dishes.
  • Used as an ingredient in all kinds of salads.

With so many different ways to prepare it, it’s easy to incorporate zucchini into meals every day without getting tired of it. Do a little Googling or look on Pinterest for recipes.

Baking With Zucchini

If you have the freezer space, you could whip up cakes, loaves and muffins to stash away for the winter. If you already bake with zucchini, you know that it adds nutrients and texture to baked goods, and helps keep them dense and moist. If you don’t already bake with zucchini, it’s time to give it a go. I’m partial to chocolate chip zucchini loaf, but there are recipes out there to suit every taste.

Freezing Zucchini

Frozen zucchini isn’t at its most attractive once thawed. It’s best used as an additive to things like soups, stews, pasta sauces or chili — or in baked goods.

How you prepare zucchini for the freezer depends on how you intend to use it later. If using for baking, it’s a terrific idea to shred it up and stuff 2 cups into a freezer bag, unless you have a go-to recipe that calls for a different amount. To use it later, thaw it, drain it, drain it again, and pat it dry with a paper towel before you add it to the batter.

An All-Natural Fertilizer That Can Double Garden Production!

While grated zucchini also works well in soups and stews, sometimes it’s nice to have chunkier pieces in your dish. If that’s the route you’d like to go, you can simply chop your zukes into bite-size pieces, stuff them into a freezer bag, and toss them in the freezer. However, if you blanch them for one minute in boiling water before freezing, the thawed pieces will stay firmer than if they hadn’t been blanched.

Dehydrating Zucchini

So Many Zucchini, So Little Time! Tips To Use Up Your Zucchini Harvest

Image source: Pixabay.com

If your freezer space is maxed out, dehydrating zucchini is a terrific option. Rachel at growagoodlife.com says that four pounds of fresh, sliced zukes shrink so much during drying that they will fit into a pint-size jar! If you have a dehydrator, it’s super easy to do this: Just clean the zucchini, slice it into ¼-inch rounds, spread the slices on the dehydrator trays, and run the dehydrator as instructed. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can do this in an oven set to 175 degrees, too–just keep a close eye on the zucchini so that it doesn’t burn. It should take about two hours to dehydrate in the oven.

Preserving Zucchini

I remember the first time my mom grew zucchini. It was the ‘80s, and zucchini was absolutely exotic in our part of the world. Mom had no idea what to do with her bounty but heard about “Mock Pineapple.” It turns out that mock pineapple is still a thing. Nutshell version: Peel and cube zucchini; stuff it into jars; cover it with a mix of pineapple juice, sugar, and lemon juice; and process in a hot water bath. The zucchini takes on the flavor of the pineapple juice, but as this contemporary recipe points out, mock pineapple is best used in recipes that call for crushed pineapple, and not simply eaten out of the jar.

If mock pineapple is not your thing (confession: teenaged me refused to eat it), there are all kinds of other ways to can zucchini, including in relishes and salsas, and as pickles. That said, it’s not recommended to can plain zucchini. Because it’s a low-acid vegetable, it would need to be processed in a pressure canner, which is not recommended. Further, canned squash gets quite soft, and has limited uses.

There are so many ways to use and store this very versatile vegetable! What do you do with your extra zucchini? If we missed discussing a way to use it up, please let us know in the comments below.

 

 

Squash-Storing Secrets: How To Make It Last Up To 8 Months

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Squash-Storing Secrets: How To Make It Last Up To 8 Months

Image source: Pixabay.com

The first time I grew spaghetti squash, I had no idea when to harvest it.

Of course, I’ve purchased spaghetti squash many times. Those store-bought fruits were butter-yellow and usually about the size of a quart jar. The squash in my garden, however, were light green and about the size of a football. Puzzled, I checked online and read that spaghetti squash should be harvested after it turns from green to light cream to butter yellow. Did this mean my green football-sized squash was still growing? What the heck? I’m single! I don’t need a squash large enough to feed the Brady Bunch. Still, since the consensus was to leave it, I did.

It’s An All-Natural Fertilizer That Can Double Garden Yield!

I’ve since learned that it’s OK to pick spaghetti squash — or any winter squash — before they’re fully ripe. But that advice comes with a couple of caveats. Read on to find out the best time to pick winter squash, how to prepare (or cure) squash for the best flavor and for long-term storage, and how long squash will keep.

What is Winter Squash?

Winter squash varieties include pumpkins as well as acorn, butternut, buttercup (a.k.a. kabocha), spaghetti, and delicata squash. Winter squash isn’t grown in the winter; it’s so named because it can be stored and used throughout the winter months. Summer squash — like zucchini — has thin skin and needs to be used within about a week of being picked. But winter squash has a tough, thick rind and it stores well. Depending on the variety, winter squash may keep for anywhere from one to eight months.

When to Harvest

Letting winter squash ripen on the vine will bring out its sweetness, and typically that means harvesting in the fall. There are a few ways to tell if your squash is ripe and ready to pick. First, each variety has unique physical characteristics that indicate it’s ripe:

  • Acorn squash turns dark green when ripe and its yellow spots (which appear where the squash was touching the ground) turn orange.
  • Ripe butternut squash has a light tan-colored rind, with no green lines showing.
  • Buttercup/kabocha squash turns from bright green to a duller green/brown color when ripe. Its shape changes as well, from a round pumpkin-type shape to a blockier shape.
  • Ripe spaghetti squash is butter yellow.
  • The white areas on delicata squash turn creamy or yellow in color when the squash is ripe.
  • Pumpkins, of course, are ripe when they are deep orange.

There are a few other clues that help determine ripeness:

  • The squash feels heavy for its size.
  • It sounds hollow when tapped.
  • If you press your fingernail against the rind, the rind doesn’t break.
  • The vines have died back (withered and dried) and the fruit’s stem is brown. (However, sometimes squash will not be fully ripe even if the vines die back. Don’t use this tip alone to determine if the squash is ready for harvesting.)

What if it’s Not-Quite Ripe?

Squash-Storing Secrets: How To Make It Last Up To 8 Months

Image source: Pixabay.com

Sometimes we need to pick squash that isn’t quite ripe. It might be growing too large (like my spaghetti squash) or a heavy frost may be forecast. One or two light frosts won’t hurt squash that’s ripe or almost ripe. But if you anticipate heavy frost or consistently low temperatures, it’s best to harvest your squash.

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Let squash stay on the vine for as long as possible, even if you do eventually pick it before it’s completely ripe. (Very young squash, particularly those that fail the fingernail test, likely won’t ripen enough to eat and won’t keep well.) The closer harvested squash is to being fully ripe, the better it will taste once it’s ripened, and the longer it will keep. Once picked, let it continue to ripen and cure before using.

Curing Winter Squash

Except for acorn squash, winter squash should be cured before using or storing. To cure, just let harvested squash sit for 10-14 days in a warm location (indoors or out) that has good air circulation. Don’t let the fruit touch each other and don’t stack them. The curing process reduces the water content of squash, which 1) concentrates the fruit’s natural sugars, heightening its sweet taste; (2) slows the fruit’s respiration rate, which helps with storage; and, 3) reduces chances of rot. Curing also gives scratches and dents a chance to heal and further hardens the rind, which increases the amount of time the squash can be stored.

Storing Winter Squash

Always harvest winter squash by cutting them from the vines and leaving about two inches of the stem attached. Pulling or twisting the squash off may damage the stem, which can cause rot and shorten the fruit’s shelf life. Rinse the squash clean and remove any bits of blossom that might be stuck on the bottom.

The best candidates for storage are fully ripe, cured and unblemished squash with thick rinds. Place those in a dry, cool location (ideally 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit). Spreading them on a pallet will ensure good air circulation.

Acorn and delicata squash need to be used the soonest, as they have a 5-8 week shelf life. Buttercup and spaghetti squash as well as pumpkins may keep up to 4-6 months. Butternut squash keeps the longest, for up to 8 months.

Do you have any squash stored away for the winter? If so, do you have any other tips for making them keep longer? Let us know in the comments below.

The Best Ways To Make Peaches Last Longer

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The Best Ways To Make Peaches Last Longer

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At the height of summer, it’s easy to be seduced by the baskets, bushels and flats full of juicy, fragrant peaches. But what do you do with that many peaches when you get them home? If you’re planning to eat them fresh, the best way to store them depends on how ripe they are.

A perfectly ripe peach is firm but yields slightly to a gentle squeeze; it will also give off that lovely peach smell. And, as with other fruit, ripe peaches should feel heavy for their size. Using this as a guideline, check each of your peaches to determine how to best store them.

Unripe Peaches

Although peaches — like all fruit — continue ripening after being picked, it’s best to avoid those that have any trace of green on their skin and/or are as hard as a baseball. Those peaches likely will not ripen properly.

Peaches that feel more like a tennis ball when squeezed, and that haven’t yet developed that rich peach smell, should be stored at room temperature and allowed to ripen. You can even put them in a sunny spot, as long as it doesn’t get too hot.

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Peaches are best stored stem (or “shoulders”) side down, and not touching. If you have to mound them in a bowl, try not to stack them too deeply.

If you want to ripen your peaches, quickly put them in a brown paper bag and leave them on the counter. Like other fruit, peaches naturally release ethylene gas, which speeds along the ripening process. Ethylene trapped inside the paper bag will be more concentrated and will ripen the fruit more quickly. For even quicker results, place a banana or apple in the bag, too.

Ripe Peaches

Peaches have the most flavor when they’re eaten at room temperature. If you have perfectly ripe peaches that you can eat within a day or two, just leave them on the counter. As above, it’s best to store them stem-side down and not touching.

If you can’t eat them all within a couple of days, store the extras in the fridge. The cool temperatures will slow down the ripening process, and give you about a week before the fruit becomes overripe. Take them out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before eating to enhance their flavor.

If you have a peach that’s already quite soft to the touch, either eat it right away or toss it in the fridge. These peaches will last only a day or two at best, even when refrigerated.

The cool, dry air in refrigerators is hard on peaches, and if they are stored loose in the fridge, they will begin to dehydrate (shrink and get wrinkled skin) within a couple of days. If you expect to refrigerate peaches for more than two days, protect them with a plastic bag. It’s best to poke a few small holes in that bag, though, to allow the peaches to breathe.

If you have too many ripe peaches to eat within a week of refrigeration, it’s time to figure out a way to preserve them. Making peach butter, preserves, fruit leather, or a pie is one way to go, but it’s fairly simple to freeze peaches, as well. Just peel, slice and freeze the slices on a cookie sheet before transferring them to a freezer-safe container or bag. In the depths of winter, you’ll be grateful for the rich flavor of those peaches in ice cream, smoothies or baked goods.

Did you buy a bunch of peaches this summer? If so, what’s your favorite way to make them last longer – even into the winter months?

Kitchen Secrets That Extend The Life Of Fresh Tomatoes

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Kitchen Secrets That Extend The Life Of Fresh Tomatoes

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You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to store tomatoes in the fridge. And, in fact, the optimal storage temperature for tomatoes is 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder temps damage both the aroma molecules and the texture of tomatoes, which affects their palatability.

However, room temperature in many of our homes is higher than 55-70 degrees, particularly in the warm summer months when we’re picking garden-fresh tomatoes. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a wine cooler or wine fridge (which, optimally, should be set to 55 degrees Fahrenheit), you need to pick between the lesser of the two evils: the too-cold fridge or the too-warm countertop.

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The best thing to do is strike a balance. Start by checking for ripeness. When lightly squeezed, a perfectly ripe tomato should give very lightly to the touch. If it doesn’t give at all, it’s not ripe yet; if it’s quite soft, it’s overripe.

Underripe and ripe tomatoes are best kept on the countertop as long as possible. As well, it’s best to store them stem- or scar-side down. There are several websites that discuss the stem-side down storage method, and some sites have done their own experiments to prove that it increases shelf life. It does work, but everyone seems unsure of the science behind it. It’s speculated that there are one of two things going on.

First, while the skin of a tomato is effective at keeping out bacteria, cracks in the scar can let bacteria in. When a tomato is stored upside down, the liquid inside the fruit moves to the top of the tomato, which provides a sort of seal to the cracks in the scar and a barrier to bacteria. The other possibility is that storing a tomato upside down somehow affects the way ethylene gas is transmitted. Fruits naturally create ethylene, which aids in the ripening process. When the production or transmission of ethylene is slowed, the ripening process slows as well.

Tomatoes stored at room temperature should be checked regularly, particularly if your home is on the warm side. The warmer it is, the more quickly tomatoes will ripen and subsequently mold or rot. Any tomatoes that are past optimal ripeness should be tossed in the fridge. Some spots in the fridge are slightly warmer than others, such as on the top shelf and near the door, and those are the ideal spots for tomatoes. But, in the end, while they may lose some palatability in the fridge, they will definitely lose palatability if they start to go bad on the countertop. Bottom line: Refrigerate when necessary.

Do you have any advice for extending the life of tomatoes? Share your tips in the section below:

Weird Tricks That Extend The Shelf Life Of Bananas

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Weird Tricks That Extend The Life Of Bananas

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There’s a reason so many of us have loose bananas floating around our freezers: We’re hoarders. (Just kidding!)

Bananas, of course, ripen quickly and once they’re past their prime, all we can do is compost them or freeze them for baking, smoothies or ice cream. But what if there were a way to slow down the ripening process so that they keep longer? Well, there is! There are two ways, actually.

Refrigerate

If you’ve ever tossed a banana into the fridge, then you know that the peel turns black much more quickly than if you leave the fruit at room temperature. But, interestingly, the fruit itself stays fresh longer. Cooks Illustrated reports an experiment they performed on refrigerated vs unrefrigerated bananas. By disregarding the blackened peels, and doing daily taste tests, they found bananas stayed fresh for 5 days longer in the fridge than at room temperature.

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Refrigeration causes two things to happen. First, it makes the cell walls of the peel break down more quickly, which causes the peel discoloration. But it also slows the production of ethylene gas, which bananas produce and release naturally, and which causes the fruit itself to ripen. By slowing the production of ethylene, you also slow the ripening process.

Wrap the Stems

If you don’t want to deal with the blackened peels of refrigerated bananas, another way to extend their “best before” date is to wrap their stems in plastic wrap. Wrapping the stems prevents ethylene from escaping so that it’s not transmitted to the rest of the fruit; as a result, the bananas ripen more slowly. Indeed, with plastic-wrapped stems, bananas should stay at optimal ripeness for an additional 3-5 days.

Wrapping the stems when the bananas are still in a bunch is not terribly effective. It’s better to separate the bananas and wrap each stem individually.

Of course, there’s something to be said about warm banana bread, fresh from the oven, and smothered in butter. If a banana or two gets overripe, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right?

What are your tips for extending the life of bananas? Share them in the section below:

The Secret To Storing Fresh Lettuce For Up To A MONTH

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The Secret To Storing Fresh Lettuce For Up To A MONTH

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It happens: We buy or pick lettuce with the best of intentions, but before we eat it all, it wilts, or worse, gets slimy. With a little care, though, most lettuce will keep for at least a week or two, and some varieties will stay fresh and crisp for about a month. For the longest-lasting lettuce, keep it cool, dry and free from bruising. (Paper towels are the best trick – stay tuned.)

Core Before Storing

If you have a whole head of crisp lettuce, it’s best to remove the core first. Just don’t cut the core out with a metal knife, or the cut edges will turn brown. Instead, use a plastic serrated lettuce knife or just brute force.

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Iceberg lettuce can be cored easily by smacking the head, core side down, on a countertop. The pressure breaks the leaves from the core and projects the core into the head. Then, voila! you just pull the core out. Other types of crisp head lettuce, like romaine or butterhead, can often be cored just by grabbing the core and giving it a strong twist.

Keep Stored Lettuce Dry

Once cored, lettuce should be stored unwashed in the refrigerator. Whenever you have a hankering for lettuce, take what you need and wash it at that time.

If you have loose-leaf lettuce, whether picked from your own garden or purchased, it’s best to wash it before storing. After washing, put it through a salad spinner or gently pat it dry, being careful not to bruise it.

Best Storage Containers

Lettuce can be stored in a plastic bag, a sealed glass or plastic container, or even a salad spinner. That said, lettuce (other than iceberg lettuce) bruises easily and it’s best kept protected in a container.

Iceberg lettuce is super easy: Just toss it whole into a bag. Other cored, crisp and unwashed, head lettuce will do best in a sealed container.

If you’ve washed any type of lettuce and aren’t able to use it immediately, the best choice for storage is right in a salad spinner after spinning it dry. The basket in the spinner allows the lettuce to drain and keeps the air circulating so that the lettuce stays dry. If you don’t have a salad spinner, use a sealable plastic or glass container. Put a paper towel in, too, to absorb excess moisture. (One on top and one on the bottom works best.) Check the paper towel daily. If it’s soaking wet instead of just damp, remove it, and replace it with a dry sheet or two.

That’s it! By taking a few easy steps before tossing it in the fridge, you can enjoy fresh, crisp lettuce for a longer time.

What advice would you add for making lettuce store longer? Share your tips in the section below:

The Secret To Storing Fresh Lettuce For Up To A MONTH

The Secret To Storing Fresh Lettuce For Up To A MONTH

Image source: Pixabay.com

It happens: We buy or pick lettuce with the best of intentions, but before we eat it all, it wilts, or worse, gets slimy. With a little care, though, most lettuce will keep for at least a week or two, and some varieties will stay fresh and crisp for about a month. For the longest-lasting lettuce, keep it cool, dry and free from bruising. (Paper towels are the best trick – stay tuned.)

Core Before Storing

If you have a whole head of crisp lettuce, it’s best to remove the core first. Just don’t cut the core out with a metal knife, or the cut edges will turn brown. Instead, use a plastic serrated lettuce knife or just brute force.

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Iceberg lettuce can be cored easily by smacking the head, core side down, on a countertop. The pressure breaks the leaves from the core and projects the core into the head. Then, voila! you just pull the core out. Other types of crisp head lettuce, like romaine or butterhead, can often be cored just by grabbing the core and giving it a strong twist.

Keep Stored Lettuce Dry

Once cored, lettuce should be stored unwashed in the refrigerator. Whenever you have a hankering for lettuce, take what you need and wash it at that time.

If you have loose-leaf lettuce, whether picked from your own garden or purchased, it’s best to wash it before storing. After washing, put it through a salad spinner or gently pat it dry, being careful not to bruise it.

Best Storage Containers

Lettuce can be stored in a plastic bag, a sealed glass or plastic container, or even a salad spinner. That said, lettuce (other than iceberg lettuce) bruises easily and it’s best kept protected in a container.

Iceberg lettuce is super easy: Just toss it whole into a bag. Other cored, crisp and unwashed, head lettuce will do best in a sealed container.

If you’ve washed any type of lettuce and aren’t able to use it immediately, the best choice for storage is right in a salad spinner after spinning it dry. The basket in the spinner allows the lettuce to drain and keeps the air circulating so that the lettuce stays dry. If you don’t have a salad spinner, use a sealable plastic or glass container. Put a paper towel in, too, to absorb excess moisture. (One on top and one on the bottom works best.) Check the paper towel daily. If it’s soaking wet instead of just damp, remove it, and replace it with a dry sheet or two.

That’s it! By taking a few easy steps before tossing it in the fridge, you can enjoy fresh, crisp lettuce for a longer time.

What advice would you add for making lettuce store longer? Share your tips in the section below:

So, Your Tomato Plant Has Wilted Leaves? Here’s What To Do.

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So, You're Tomato Plant Has Wilted Leaves? Here's What To Do.

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The leaves on a tomato plant are good indicators of the plant’s health. Tomato leaves can display all kinds of distress signals: yellowing, brown spots, purple edges and curling are all signs that the plant needs a little extra TLC. Wilted leaves mean the same.

Don’t be too concerned, though, if you spot wilted leaves during the hottest part of the day. The leaves just may be hot and languid (like all of us!). However, if the leaves remain wilted during the cooler evening or morning hours, your tomato plant is likely sending an SOS signal. Check for these issues:

Under Watering

A general rule is that mature, producing tomato plants need two inches of water per week. If you’re a stickler for following exact rules, set up a rain gauge and supplement any weekly rainfall with manual watering, as required. That said, the two-inch guideline may be insufficient at times. Extremely hot, dry and windy weather, or watering during the hottest part of the day, can increase evaporation and decrease moisture absorption by the soil. Sandy soils drain quickly and may not hold moisture long enough for your plants’ needs. Also, two inches per week is not sufficient for most container tomatoes.

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It’s easy to check and see if there’s enough moisture in the soil. While the surface will usually be dry, soil 1-2 inches beneath the surface should feel damp. Stick your finger into the soil up to your knuckle; if the soil at the tip of your finger feels dry, your tomatoes need more water.

Fungal Diseases

If your soil seems adequately moist, and your plants seem to wilt more after being watered, they probably have a fungal disease such as verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, or southern blight. Unfortunately, tomato plants infected with any of these need to be destroyed, to stop the fungi from spreading.

Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium Wilt

So, Your Tomato Plant Has Wilted Leaves? Here's What To Do.

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Verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt are quite similar, and it can be difficult to tell which is infecting a plant. In both cases, the fungus lives in the soil, and the plant’s roots absorb it. As it infects the plant, it clogs the plant’s vascular system so that moisture can’t travel to the branches and leaves.

Both verticillium wilt and fusarium cause leaves to develop yellow spots, brown veins and wilt. Lower leaves show symptoms first. As the disease progresses, browned leaves dry up and fall off. The main difference between the two diseases is that fusarium wilt generally shows up on one side of a plant, while verticillium wilt moves more slowly, is less dramatic (noticeable), and isn’t restricted to one side.

Again, there is no cure for either of these diseases. It’s best to practice preventative measures including rotating crops, amending soil (when needed) so that it has adequate drainage, and choosing disease-resistant tomato varieties. Also, make sure to clean and sanitize all your garden tools (including tomato stakes and cages) if you suspect your plants have either of these diseases so that you don’t inadvertently transfer the fungi to a new bed. If you still end up with an infected plant, destroy it promptly and remove the surrounding soil.

Southern Blight

The initial symptoms of southern blight are quite similar to those of verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt: discolored leaves and wilt, starting at the base of the plant. However, once it progresses far enough, the plant collapses. You can determine whether it’s southern blight before your plant gets to that point; check for white hyphae or mycelia (soft, stringy, mold-type substances) around the plant’s lower stem, roots, and in the surrounding soil.

As with the other two fungal diseases, plants infected with southern blight cannot be treated.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Wilting is actually the last stage of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV); long before the plant starts to wilt, the rest of the plant will be sending out serious distress signals. Typically, plants infected with TSWV are stunted and pale, and often turn a bronze color. Leaves on these plants often have distinctive markings of circular or swirling patterns. Unlike other tomato diseases, TSWV first shows up in a plant’s top leaves.

TSWV is spread by small insects called thrips, which pierce plants in order to feed off them. As with fungal diseases, there is no way to stop TSWV from progressing once it sets in. Plants (and the thrips on them) should be destroyed. The best preventative measure is weed control, because thrips will feed on weeds until tastier plants are available to them.

The good news about TSWV is that it’s not transmitted through soil, and therefore there’s no need to remove soil when destroying plants.

Bacterial Wilt and Canker

Bacterial wilt is the one tomato disease where wilt is the predominant symptom. There is generally no discoloration of the leaves. The entire plant stays green, wilts and dies shortly afterward.

Bacterial wilt is most common in hot, humid regions, and particularly in soils that have a high pH. As with the other tomato diseases discussed here, there is no treatment for bacterial wilt. Diseased plants should be destroyed and preventative measures should be taken. Rotate crops, choose modern disease-resistant varieties, monitor soil pH (and adjust as necessary), and ensure generous air circulation by spacing plants widely and pruning indeterminate varieties.

Other Possibilities

Pests such as stalk borers, root knot nematodes, and aphids also can cause wilting, but they aren’t commonly attracted to tomato plants. However, if your plant displays symptoms that don’t seem to match any of the diseases listed above, it’s worth taking a close look for pests.

Also, the allelopathic properties of some plants can adversely affect tomatoes and cause wilting. Through allelopathy, plants leach their own natural chemicals into the soil, and those chemicals can affect nearby plants in both good and bad ways. Tomatoes are negatively impacted by black walnut and butternut trees and by sunflowers. If you have wilted tomato plants, in addition to checking for diseases and pests, take a look at what’s planted nearby.

What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below:

 

This 3500-Year-Old Powerful & Natural Cure Found in The Bible Treats So Many Diseases

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The olive leaf has been used for ages for nourishment and medicine. The Bible shares many instances of the olive tree. The olive leaf was used even before Christ. Ezekiel

The post This 3500-Year-Old Powerful & Natural Cure Found in The Bible Treats So Many Diseases appeared first on Ask a Prepper.

What To Do When Your Tomato Leaves Turn Yellow (And The Plant Starts Dying)

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What To Do When Your Tomato Leaves Turn Yellow

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A quick look at the leaves on your tomato plants will tell you if your plants need a little extra TLC. Curled leaves, brown spots, holes and purple discoloration are all signs that something is going on with your plants. Yellowing leaves may also be a cause for concern. Sometimes, it’s not a big deal — the leaves are just older ones that the plant is no longer supporting. But sometimes, yellow leaves are a sign that your plant needs help to stay healthy and keep producing. The tricky part is figuring out what exactly is going on.

Old Leaves

If the leaves on the bottom of your plants are turning uniformly yellow, it’s often just because they are old and/or not getting enough sun. As the plant bushes up and out, it directs its energy and nutrients to the new growth. As a result, older leaves don’t get the nutrients they need to stay green.

Yellowing leaves at the bottom of a tomato plant also can mean they aren’t getting enough sun. A simple fix is to prune out some of the suckers and non-fruit-bearing branches. Not only will sunlight be able to filter through the foliage better, but pruning has several other benefits including better airflow (which reduces the chance of pest and disease infestation) and bigger, more plentiful fruit (since the plant has fewer leaves to use up its energy and nutrients).

Too Much or Too Little Water

Tomato plants are picky about a lot of things, and the amount of water they receive is one of them. Watering either too much or too little can cause all kinds of problems, including yellowing leaves.

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It’s difficult to provide “one size fits all” watering advice. A number of factors impact how much water tomatoes need, including average daily temperature, soil type, amount and type of mulch, the size and age of the plant, and whether the plant is in a container or in the ground. In general, however, the soil always should feel damp 1-2 inches beneath the surface. Stick your finger into the soil up to your knuckle; if the soil at the tip of your finger feels dry, your tomatoes need more water, and that could be the cause of the yellow leaves.

If the soil feels muddy and oversaturated, and the soil is normally in that condition, then the yellowing could be a sign of overwatering and, more seriously, root rot. The only way to determine if the roots are actually rotting is to uproot the plant and wash the roots so that you can see if there is any decay. If there is, trim the decayed parts off and replant the bush. Amend your soil with compost and apply mulch to improve drainage and avoid further rot.

Nutrient Deficiency

Tomatoes grow quickly and produce heavily. They need a lot of nutrients and energy to get the job done. If your soil is lacking nutrients, your tomato plants (and harvest!) will be affected. Yellowing leaves are often a sign of nutrient deficiency. Take a close look at the leaves to figure out which nutrients may be lacking.

  • Uniformly yellowing leaves throughout the plant (and not just at the base) often indicate a nitrogen deficiency.
  • If there are leaves at the bottom of the plant that are yellow but retain green veins, that may illustrate a potassium deficiency.
  • Younger leaves at the top of the plant that are yellowing while retaining green veins point to an iron deficiency.
  • If there are leaves throughout the plant that have yellow areas with dark spots inside the yellow, that may indicate a zinc deficiency.
  • If only the outer edges of leaves are yellowing, your soil likely needs more magnesium.

While you can definitely add a synthetic or natural fertilizer to adjust soil nutrients, you should also test the alkalinity of your soil. Tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Too much fertilizer will impact the soil’s pH level and can lead to damaged plants.

Diseases and Pests

Yellowing leaves also can be due to disease or pest infestations, but in these cases the yellowing is usually just one sign of the plant’s distress. For example, an aphid infestation may cause yellow, misshapen, and sticky leaves. Septoria leaf spot and early blight both cause brown spots on yellowing leaves. Curly top virus causes leaves to curl up and become yellow with purple veins. If your tomato plants exhibit other problems in addition to yellowing leaves, it’s best to do some research or take a couple of leaves down to your municipality’s gardening experts to help identify the cause. In most cases, diseased plants should be destroyed so that the pathogens don’t spread. But, in case it’s just a simple case of needing a watering adjustment or extra nutrients in the soil, get a second opinion before you take drastic measures.

Whether it’s an easy fix (pruning off suckers) or a harder one (uprooting plants to trim off decayed roots), yellowing leaves are a tomato plant’s “SOS signal.” By addressing the cause, you’ll improve your plant’s health. A healthier plant means a bigger harvest. And who wouldn’t want more tomatoes?

What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

5 Tricks To Help Your Garden Thrive During A Drought

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5 Tricks To Help Your Garden Thrive During A Drought

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While some of us are used to dealing with drought, nature keeps the rest of us guessing. My gardening zone has a short, hot growing season with extremely variable amounts of annual precipitation. Some years, we have drought; other years, it’s so wet that root vegetables rot in the ground. It’s not possible to plan for all contingencies. Instead, we try to roll with the punches and manage weather conditions as they happen.

Drought — for all its difficulties — is actually one of the easier weather conditions to address. For city slickers with small gardens, it may be as simple as turning on an outdoor faucet. But, for those with larger gardens, those in rural areas, or those who just don’t want to see their water bills balloon, there are several tricks to help your garden flourish with minimal water during hot, dry weather.

1. Apply mulch

Applying a 3-4 inch layer of mulch around your plants is one of the best things you can do during a drought. Deep mulching can reduce water requirements by up to 50 percent. Mulch has several benefits, including:

  • It keeps the soil cool, providing a barrier to evaporation and helping soil retain moisture better.
  • Plants rooted in cool soil will be less affected by the heat above ground and will perform more vigorously.
  • Mulch inhibits weed growth; weeds are major competitors for available moisture.

As an added benefit, organic mulch provides nutrients for the soil as it breaks down. Many mulches are free or low cost and can be collected in your own yard or your neighbor’s yard (with permission!). Try using straw, pine needles, tree bark, grass clippings, leaves, wood chips or newspaper.

2. Apply compost

The rich, spongey nature of compost makes it a natural for retaining water. How much water it can hold depends both on the type of compost and on the soil. Michigan State University reports that “a 3-inch layer of leaf compost rototilled to a 6-inch depth increased the water holding capacity 2.5 times that of a native sandy soil.”

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In other words, leaf compost holds onto water 2.5 times longer than sandy soil does, keeping moisture available to plants for a longer period of time. In ideal, temperate conditions, vegetable plants need one inch of water per week. But with compost-amended soil, watering could be decreased to every second week, or even a bit less.

3. Stay on top of weeding

5 Tricks To Help Your Garden Thrive During A Drought

Image source: Pixabay.com

I know some people enjoy weeding, but I’m not one of them. Still, it needs to get done. Weeds soak up moisture and nutrients from the soil — moisture and nutrients that your vegetable plants need. The application of deep mulch, as suggested above, will help control weeds; but if you can’t mulch your vegetables, make sure to remove the weeds one way or another.

4. Create windbreaks and shade

Temporary structures can provide your vegetable plants and soil with shade and relief from hot winds, which will help the soil retain moisture. Consider creating and/or installing things such as:

  • A vertical fabric screen, made by stapling burlap or shade cloth to stakes driven into the ground.
  • A temporary fence-like structure of securely propped pallets.
  • An overhead canopy, made from shade cloth and any improvised side supports.
  • Row cover hoops refitted with burlap or shade cloth.
  • Prefab lattice sheets installed vertically.

Shade fabric comes in different grades. Those that have about 50 percent coverage will provide shade while also letting needed sunlight through.

5. Be water smart

Use available water wisely. Here are some tips:

  • There’s no need to water your garden on a regular basis. Instead, keep an eye on your plants; they will tell you when they need water. All plants wilt in excessive heat, but if your big-leaved plants (like melons and squash) are drooping during cool morning or evening hours, it’s time to water your entire garden.
  • Collect and reuse greywater, rainwater and/or wastewater (such as from kiddie pools).
  • Water your garden in the early morning (preferable) or late afternoon.
  • Use a drip irrigation system (ideally) or soaker hoses instead of a sprinkler.
  • Water deeply and irregularly so that your plants grow long, strong roots to seek water deep beneath the surface.
  • Make trenches or reservoirs around the base of plants or at the edge of beds to collect runoff water in an area where roots can reach it.

It’s easy to feel helpless when faced with drought conditions, particularly if water reserves are scarce and/or rationed. But you can help your plants survive — and even thrive — by using some of the ideas above.

Do you have any other tips to help vegetable plants manage drought? If so, please tell us in the comments below.

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In Drought Conditions

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The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In Drought Conditions

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Whether you live in an area susceptible to drought (hello American Southwest!) or not, chances are your garden at some point will experience dry conditions.

If you’re fortunate, you can just hook up a hose and let your irrigation system run. But in some cases, water may be rationed or it might not be feasible or possible to water a garden by turning on a tap.

Since droughts will happen, it’s smart to plan ahead. There are several things you can do to prepare, such as choosing your garden location wisely. Ensure your vegetables are shaded during the hottest parts of the day and keep them far from ornamental plants, shrubs, trees and lawn so that they don’t have to compete for precious water. Once you have the best possible location chosen, the next step is choosing drought-tolerant vegetables and seed varieties.

The one vegetable to avoid planting if you anticipate drought is corn. Corn grows quickly, passing rapidly through several different stages. It requires a lot of water to support that growth. If corn is stressed from a lack of water during an early stage, all of its subsequent stages will be negatively affected.

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Other crops that perform poorly during droughts can still be planted, with some planning. Cool-weather crops, for instance, will not do well in hot, dry conditions. However, if they are planted in early spring or early fall (as they should be), they will avoid the worst of drought season. Cool-weather crops include most leafy greens (such as lettuce, mustard, arugula, collards, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard), turnips, radishes, peas, carrots and cabbage.

Most other vegetables will do at least moderately well during extended periods of high temperatures and limited water. However, for best results, seek out varieties that are known for their drought tolerance.

Tomatoes, for example, develop extensive roots to seek water deep beneath the surface. While they have access to more water than other vegetables, their flowers will suffer during periods of extended heat. Those flowers will not set fruit, and production will be lowered. However, by choosing a variety that’s drought-tolerant, you can mitigate some of these issues. Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Arkansas Traveler, Valencia and Neptune are some tomato varieties that handle drought relatively well. Additionally, by planting early-producing varieties, like Early Girl and Roma, you can bypass the effect of deep summer drought on tomato flowers.

In fact, any short-season vegetable, including both bush and pole beans, are ideal for your drought-resistant garden because their fruit will set, and possibly even be harvested, before the worst of the summer heat hits.

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In Drought Conditions

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But for vegetables that will flourish in drought conditions, look to those that are native to hot, dry regions. Tepary beans, black-eyed peas, and lima beans all perform well in drought conditions. Tomatillos and jicamas, both native to Mexico, are other star performers during droughts.

Other vegetables that can perform well in a hot, dry garden include:

  • Okra, especially Gold Coast, Stewart Zeebest and Beck’s Big Buck varieties.
  • Eggplant, especially Listada de Fandia, Black Beauty and Ping Tung Long varieties.
  • Peppers, especially Carolina Wonder, Charleston Belle and Aji Dulce varieties.
  • Cucumbers, especially Little Leaf H-19, Ashley and Suyou Long varieties.
  • Both winter and summer squash, especially Moschata, Tromboncino, Waltham Butternut and Dark Star varieties.
  • Melons of all types, including cantaloupe and watermelon.
  • Asparagus and rhubarb, which are both perennials that can handle drought once established.

While doing research for this piece, I read a few articles that suggested Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) would work well in a drought-resistant garden. However, a word of caution: Sunchokes are highly invasive, and although they are good for you, they aren’t considered delicious by everyone, and they do tend to give people gas due to their large amounts of inulin. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to pass on the sunchokes.

What vegetables would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:

 

6 Clever Ways To Save Money When Watering Your Garden

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6 Clever Ways To Save Money When Watering Your Garden

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There’s no way around it. We just can’t control nature. If the forecast calls for an extended hot, dry period, our gardens may end up experiencing drought conditions. If we’re fortunate, we can just turn on our irrigation systems. But there may be limited water for irrigation, water conservation may be important to you, or perhaps you just don’t want to see your water bill balloon. If you want to minimize your garden’s water consumption — either by necessity or choice — check out these tips.

1. Water only when needed

There’s a lot of different advice out there about how often to water your garden. How do you know which advice to follow?

Your plants will let you know when they need water. All plants tend to wilt during extreme heat, regardless of how much moisture they have. However, if your plants are drooping during the cooler morning or evening hours, they need water. Big-leaved plants (like melons and squash) are the ones to watch, since they are more susceptible to wilting. If you spot a wilter in the morning or evening, it’s time to water the entire garden.

You also can test your soil, and you don’t need complicated equipment to do so. Just stick your finger into the soil. It’s normal for the top 2-3 inches to be dry; but if that dryness goes deeper than 3 inches, break out the watering cans.

2. Use greywater, wastewater and/or rainwater

Greywater can be difficult and costly to gather unless you already have a greywater recycling system installed. If you do, you’re good to go. I don’t; however, I do re-use the water from my family’s kiddie pools in my garden.

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I also collect rainwater, and I’m hoping that most committed gardeners do, too. Rainwater always should be your first choice for watering. It doesn’t have the salt, minerals or chemicals that treated city water, groundwater and surface water all have. Rainwater is slightly acidic, which can help neutralize the alkalinity of municipal water and greywater, if you use those on occasion. Also, it has nitrates (aka nitrogen, which is crucial to plant growth) and some organic matter for extra nutrients. Don’t just collect rainwater in case of drought; collect and use it throughout your growing season.

3. Water in the early morning or late afternoon

6 Clever Ways To Save Money When Watering Your Garden

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Cool early morning hours are best for watering because soil — and plants — will have a chance to absorb the moisture before it evaporates in the heat. If you’re not up with the birds (I’m a night owl myself), then invest in a timer for your outdoor faucet, or water in the late afternoon instead. It will start to cool down by then, minimizing evaporation, but it also will give the foliage a chance to dry before night falls, which is important for disease management.

4. Avoid sprinklers

Sprinklers are fairly inefficient devices, spraying water indiscriminately within their reaches. That said, hand-watering can be a chore in a large garden. An easier option is a soaker hose; even better is a drip irrigation line. Since soaker hoses spray water over a smaller area than sprinklers, there’s less waste. However, unless you can find a hose that is the exact length of your row or bed, there will be some inefficiency, since water is emitted from the entire length of the hose. Drip irrigation systems are more expensive to buy and more complicated to set up, but their emitters can be directed over plant roots for the highest efficiency.

5. Water deeply and infrequently

Watering deeply will help your plants develop a large, strong root system as the roots seek water deep beneath the surface. Deep roots have access to more moisture, meaning you won’t need to water as frequently.

How much water does your garden need? Start with a guideline of 1 inch of water per week, but you will need more in hotter temperatures. For every 10-degree increment over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, add an extra ½ inch of water. For example, today’s daily average temperature in my part of the world was 72 degrees (a high of 86 + a low of 58 divided by 2 to get the average). Since this is representative of the week, I should assume my garden needs 1 ½ inches of moisture this week.

It’s best to get watering done in one go so that it soaks deeply into the soil. You may even want to water right after a rain. Using the above example, if I got half an inch of rain overnight, it would be best to give my garden an additional inch of rain in the morning. Then I wouldn’t need to water again until my big-leaved plants droop or my soil feels dry at a depth greater than 3 inches.

6. Make trenches or reservoirs

Shallow trenches between rows or reservoirs around the bases of plants can help collect runoff water. Trenches also can serve much the same purpose as soaker hoses. If water is slowly trickled into a trench, and let run until the trench is saturated, roots near the trench will have access to that water.

Do you have any other tips for minimizing the amount of water used in your garden? If so, let us know in the comments below.

8 Tomato-Growing Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make

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8 Tomato-Growing Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make

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Tomatoes aren’t difficult to grow. No matter how little care I give my plants, I always get some fruit. However, with a little extra care, tomato plants will reward you with a more bountiful — and tastier — crop. To max out your tomato production, avoid making these mistakes:

1. Not rotating crops

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and deplete soil as they draw up nutrients to send to their fruit. It’s best to rotate tomato plants annually, so that they have lots of nutrients in the new spot while the old spot is given time to replenish.

2. Not enough sun

Make sure the new spot is in a sunny location that’s warm but not hot. Like many garden vegetables, tomatoes can make do with six hours of sunlight daily, but the more sun they have, the better they produce. Sunlight gives plants energy, and tomatoes use extra energy to create extra fruit.

3. Too much heat

Although they’re sun worshippers, tomatoes don’t like extreme heat. If you live in a zone where temperatures regularly soar over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to pick a spot where your plants will be shaded in the afternoon. Morning sun is important since it dries dew — and dry leaves keep disease at bay. But extreme heat destroys the pollen on tomato flowers, which means they won’t produce fruit. Try to pick a spot that will be shaded only during the hottest hours of the day.

4. Crowding the plants

Tomatoes — especially indeterminate varieties–are big plants. Popular varieties like Beefsteak, Super Fantastic, Early Girl and Lemon Boy are all indeterminate, and as such can grow up to six-feet tall or in some cases, even taller. Determinate varieties (bush tomatoes) are smaller, but still can reach heights of 3-4 feet.

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Make sure you give your plants sufficient space to grow. Consider whether you’re planting in rows, beds or square-foot plots, as well as whether the plant is determinate or indeterminate.

5. Not planting deeply enough

8 Tomato-Growing Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make

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Tomato seedlings should be planted deep. In fact, it’s recommended to bury a full two-thirds of a seedling in soil. It is perfectly OK to cover existing leaves. The stem that’s buried will develop roots, too. The more roots your plant has, the more nutrients it can soak up and send to the fruit, which makes for more flavorful tomatoes.

6. Not pruning

Pruning? Tomatoes? You betcha. While it’s not essential, pruning your tomato plants — especially the big indeterminate varieties — has a few notable benefits:

  • Fewer leaves will increase the amount of sun and air that reach existing leaves and fruit. Wet leaves will dry more quickly, reducing the chance of pest or disease infestations. Diseases that flourish in wet conditions include:
    • Powdery mildew
    • Fusarium wilt
    • Verticillium wilt
    • Leaf spot
    • Bacterial spot
    • Bacterial canker
  • Since your plant has fewer leaves to support, it will use its energy to produce more and bigger fruit instead.
  • Fewer leaves to support also means that more of your plant’s energy can be directed toward ripening fruit, giving you an earlier harvest.

Before it’s time to prune leaves, however, you may need to pinch off flowers. Plants should be at least 12-18 inches tall before flowers are allowed to set. Otherwise, the plant may not be strong enough, with a strong healthy root system in place, to support heavy fruit and provide them with nutrients.

Determinate and indeterminate varieties must be pruned differently. With determinate varieties, only prune the bottom branches that touch the soil. Those branches may contribute to the spread of disease if left. However, removing other stems and/or leaves on determinate varieties may reduce your harvest.

On indeterminate varieties, prune off suckers as they appear. Suckers are the smaller branches that start growing right in the groove where an existing branch meets the main stem.

7. Not humoring the picky feeders

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and should be fertilized during the growing season, BUT they have specific feeding needs. Fertilizing weekly with a natural compost or fertilizer is the best option.

8. Watering frequently

Deep, strong roots are key to growing great tomatoes. In addition to planting seedlings deeply, you can encourage strong root growth by watering plants heavily about every 5-7 days. With this type of watering, plants will develop long, strong roots to seek water. With shallow watering, the roots will remain stunted near the surface to access the water there; with more frequent watering, plants have no reason to create stronger roots.

Watering too infrequently, so that the soil severely dries out, can cause problems like blossom end rot. Tomato roots need water to soak up calcium from the soil; without water — and ergo without calcium — tomato fruit are susceptible to disease.

Watering tomato plants at their base will help keep leaves dry, and again, dry leaves are the key to reducing pest and disease issues. For best results, install drip lines or hand water.

Final Thoughts

After reading through this, you may think that tomatoes are the most difficult vegetables in the world to grow. Nothing is further from the truth. However, correcting at least some of these mistakes will result in a bigger harvest of heavier, more flavorful fruit that ripens quickly.

What tomato-growing mistakes would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Help! Aphids Are Eating My Garden. (Here’s What To Do.)

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Help! Aphids Are Eating My Garden. (Here’s What To Do.)

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If you’ve never had an aphid infestation in your garden, consider yourself fortunate! Aphids, which exist in almost every gardening zone, are tiny insects that congregate in large numbers to suck the nutrient-rich sap out of plants.

Some, in fact, are so minute that they aren’t visible to the human eye, but they can cause massive plant damage. Aphids can eat a plant within several days. They also can spread plant diseases as they move around seeking new food sources.

It’s not always easy to identify aphids, due to their size and diversity in appearance. Aphids vary in color, from black, gray and brown to white, yellow, light green and pink. If you suspect an aphid infestation, then check the undersides of the plant’s leaves. Tiny, colored spots on the leaves likely are aphids.

The good news is that it’s fairly easy to manage aphid infestations through natural low-cost methods.

1. Spray with a garden hose

Water from a garden hose will wash aphids off plants and once dislodged, the insects can’t get back on. Keep in mind that you may need to do this daily until you no longer find aphids. Also, since there does need to be some force to the water pressure, this method is best used on sturdy, established plants, rather than on seedlings that could be knocked over or damaged by a high-pressure spray.

2. Remove by hand

It`s easy to just brush off small numbers of aphids with your hand or a cloth. Alternately, pinch off infected leaves and either dispose of them in a trash bin (not the compost pile) or submerge them in a pail of soapy water to kill the insects.

3. Apply soapy water

A mix of a mild dish detergent and water kills many different insects, including aphids. Simply mix one tablespoon of a liquid soap into one quart of water. Keep in mind that this mixture will kill beneficial insects, too (such as those that prey on aphids). For that reason, you may wish to use a sponge to apply it more directly to the aphids, rather than spraying.

4. Use essential oils

Neem oil is a natural insect repellent. To use, mix 1-2 teaspoons of neem oil with one quart of warm water. Since oil and water naturally separate, frequently shake the mixture while spraying. It’s best applied on a clear day so that it isn’t washed away by rain before it has a chance to work.

A mixture of water with thyme, peppermint, clove and rosemary essential oils creates a potent natural insecticide. Use about 4-5 drops of each essential oil to one quart of water. As with neem oil, it’s best to use warm water and to frequently shake the mixture as it is being applied.

5. Make tomato leaf or garlic oil sprays

The alkaloids in tomato leaves are toxic to aphids. It’s easy to whip up a batch of tomato leaf spray, following the directions here. Soak 1-2 cups of chopped tomato leaves in one cup of water overnight. In the morning, strain the leaves out, and then add another 1-2 cups of water to the solution before spraying.

The All-Natural Fertilizer That Can Double Your Garden Yield!

The same website has directions for a garlic oil spray. Soak 3-4 cloves of minced garlic in two teaspoons of mineral oil for 24 hours. When the time is up, strain out the garlic before adding the garlic-infused oil to one pint of water, and then add one teaspoon of dish soap. This creates a concentrated solution that needs to be further diluted (two teaspoons of solution to one pint of water) before use.

6. Use reflective mulch and row covers

Help! Aphids Are Eating My Garden. (Here’s What To Do.)

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Reflective mulch — such as aluminum foil — is highly effective at repelling aphids. When strips of foil are laid around the base of the plants, the foil reflects the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Aphids seeking a host plant see those ultraviolet rays rather than the blue-green light of plants. They don’t recognize the plants, and they keep moving on.

Row covers — made of transparent or semi-transparent material — can protect plants from aphids, as well. If these plants are vegetables that flower, the row covers should be removed at the flowering stage so that the plants can be pollinated.

7. Consider companion planting

If you anticipate an aphid infestation, you can grow companion plants that aphids love, to lure the insects away from the plants you don’t want them on. The companion plants should be removed and dunked in a pail of soapy water once they’re hosting an infestation. Aphids most enjoy munching on nasturtiums, asters, mums, cosmos, hollyhocks, larkspur, tuberous begonias, verbena, dahlias and zinnias.

Another way to use companion planting is to grow onions or garlic near anticipated infestation spots, since aphids don’t like the smell of alliums.

8. Introduce more beneficial insects

Ladybugs, the main predator of aphids, are available for purchase at some farm and garden supply stores, as well as online. Green lacewings also prey on aphids (and can consume up to 60 aphids an hour!). While live lacewings are not available for purchase, their eggs are.

Have you tried any of these natural insecticides and repellents on aphids? Which worked best for you? Let us know in the comments below.

4 Steps To Storing Your Seeds For 30 Years (Or More)

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4 Steps To Storing Your Seeds For 30 Years (Or More)

We gardeners are a frugal lot. Few of us would throw out seeds that we don’t use. Whether there are too many seeds in the packages we buy (and we don’t plant them all), or whether we save our own seeds, we’ve all most likely had a seed stash somewhere at one time or another.

That’s a problem: Unless they’re carefully frozen, seeds lose their viability over time. As they age, their germination rate decreases. However, with a little bit of care, it’s easy to maximize the life of your seeds. Some gardeners even have saved seeds for 30 years with this method.

1. Keep them Dry

If you’ve saved your own seeds, it’s especially important to make sure that they are completely dry before you store them. Just spread them out on a piece of paper and let them air dry for about a week. (Keep different types of seeds on separate sheets of paper, and also keep each accurately labeled.)

Seeds need to be dry enough so that they snap or shatter when you apply force. If they simply bend without snapping, or if they just get squished, they aren’t dry enough for storage yet.

Seeds that aren’t fully dried are at risk of damage. If stored at room temperatures, they may mold or sprout. In the fridge, they may rot; in the freezer, they may suffer frost damage.

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You can ensure that stored seeds remain dry by adding a desiccant. It’s easy to make a small silica-gel-type packet of desiccant to toss in the storage container. Just wrap a couple tablespoons of rice or powdered milk in a few layers of facial/toilet tissue or cheesecloth.

2. Use the Right Storage Containers

4 Steps To Storing Your Seeds For 30 Years (Or More)

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Glass, airtight containers, like jars with rubber seals on their lids, are best. Repurposed baby food jars and small home canning jars work well. If you don’t have jars with rubber seals handy, the next best option is to tightly seal seeds in plastic bags, and then place the bags inside a receptacle with a tightly fitting lid. This second option would also decrease the number of containers needed since you could tuck multiple bags into one container.

Neither metal nor plastic containers are recommended for long-term seed storage, primarily because they don’t seal as well as glass jars with rubber seal lids.

3. Make Labels for Them

Always label your stored seeds, not just with information about the variety, but also with the date. That way, you will be sure to always plant your oldest seeds first. And, if you’re storing your seeds at room temperature, knowing how long they’ve been stored will give you a fair idea of whether they’re still viable.

4. Keep them Cool

Temperature — and consistency of temperature — is crucial to long-term seed storage. If you only intend to keep the seeds for a few years, it’s okay simply to stash them in a cool area of the house, where the temperature is fairly consistent, such as the basement.

But to max out the life expectancy of your seeds, it’s recommended that the combined temperature and humidity level be kept under 100. For example, if the temperature inside your home is normally 65 degrees Fahrenheit, then humidity levels should be 34 percent or less, which is quite dry. You can see why maintaining this standard consistently can be tricky. It’s easier simply to store your seeds in the fridge or freezer.

Keep in mind that frost-free fridges and freezers work by drawing out moisture, and can seriously dry out seeds. However, as long as your seeds are in appropriate containers, they shouldn’t become damaged.

Temperature and humidity levels fluctuate more in a fridge than in a freezer, simply because we open our fridges more often. For this reason, storing seeds in the freezer — tucked inside their sealed glass jars — is the absolute best way to prolong their longevity. After all, national and international seeds banks like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault count on freezing to keep their seeds viable for centuries. It’s hard to say how long seeds will remain viable when stored in a home freezer, but there are stories online of people successfully germinating seeds that they hauled out of their freezers after 30 years of storage.

Have you ever frozen seeds? If so, how long did they remain viable? Let us know in the comments below.

How To Grow 6-Inch Tomato Plants In Only 1 Week

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How To Grow 6-Inch Tomato Plants In Only 1 Week

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I have a confession (one that I’ve made here before): I don’t start seeds indoors. If they can be sown directly, I do that. Most of my garden does get started from seeds. But I buy some seedlings, namely tomatoes and eggplants.

At the garden center, of course I’m drawn to the large and bushy tomato plants, already blooming, maybe even with a few tiny tomatoes growing. If I bring that plant home, I should have ripe tomatoes in about two months (depending on the variety). But those bushes are expensive, and I normally put in 8-10 tomato plants. I simply can’t justify buying the bigger, more expensive bushes when I can also get tomatoes by purchasing the 3-inch-tall seedlings. It’s the same result, after all. It just takes longer.

But, here’s a secret: you can get several small tomato plants off a single large bush. You can propagate tomatoes the same way that you start new house plants — with cuttings. If you do this, you can have multiple tomato plants and still eat your early tomatoes, too. Your mature (“mother”) plant will provide you with tomatoes until your propagated plants start producing.

Rooting only takes about a week. Within seven days, you could have a sturdy, tall tomato seedling, which is about 6-8 weeks faster than starting a plant from a seed.

Benefits to Pruning Large Tomato Plants

If you’re over visiting a friend or neighbor and they have some large tomato plants chugging along, they might allow you to snip a couple of cuttings off their plants. That way, you don’t have to splash out on a mother plant. It should be easy to convince your friend to let you do this. Removing shoots is effectively pruning, and pruning tomato plants is beneficial.

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As Louisiana State University’s Ag Center explains, pruning off the bottom branches encourages fruit production at the top of the plant. This way, heavy fruit on the bottom branches won’t pull those branches down so that the tomatoes rest on the soil, which can cause them to rot. Removing branches also improves air circulation, which can help with insect and disease control. Wet leaves can lead to problems like late blight. By pruning branches, the remaining leaves will receive more sun and air, and will dry faster.

Preparing Your Cuttings

How To Grow 6-Inch Tomato Plants In Only 1 Week

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Typically, we root houseplants by placing them in water until roots form. Tomato cuttings can be started the same way. However, they will develop a stronger root system more quickly if they are rooted directly in soil.

Start by snipping off a side shoot (branch) that is at least 6-8 inches long. Be careful that you don’t lop off the top of the main stem by mistake. Once the shoot is removed, trim the bottom leaves off, so that there are only two leaves left at the top. If there are any flowers or buds on the branch, trim those off, too.

If you are rooting the shoots in water, immediately set them in a glass or jar of water. Make sure you don’t submerge the top leaves. Set the jar in a warm place, and top off the water as needed, if any evaporates. In about one week, roots will form. At that point, you can plant the shoots.

How to Plant the Shoot in Soil

If you are rooting the shoots in soil (or soilless mix), have your pots prepared before you snip the shoots off the mother plant. You should use clean pots, filled with damp soil. You can use a pencil or other instrument of that size (like a dowel or wooden spoon handle) to create a hole that the shoot can be quickly popped into.

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Bury the stem of the shoot up to where you snipped off the bottom leaves. For about a week, keep the potted shoots in a warm and sunny (but not hot) location. Also, make sure to keep the soil or mix damp at all times, to keep the shoot alive and help the roots form.

If your mother plant came from a garden center or greenhouse and needs to be hardened off, then you should harden off the cuttings, as well. If your mother plant had already been hardened off, then it’s safe to treat your cuttings as being hardened off, too. And, in that case, it’s also possible to root your cuttings directly into your garden. Just take extra care to protect them from the sun if it gets too hot and to make sure they get sufficient water.

Starting tomato plants with cuttings is a lot faster than growing tomatoes from seed. It’s also a cost-effective way to get a number of plants from one larger plant. Additionally, it’s a way to grow tomatoes year-round, on a serious budget. If you root cuttings into pots in late summer, and keep those pots indoors, you will have producing tomato plants over the winter. Those indoor plants, in turn, can provide cuttings for new plants in the spring. In this way, you can keep cloning your favorite tomato plant for several growing seasons, for free.

Have you ever propagated tomatoes this way? Share your tips in the section below:

5 All-Natural, Inexpensive Ant Repellents You Already Own

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5 All-Natural, Inexpensive Ant Repellents You Already Own

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Ah, spring! It’s a beautiful season, marked by the arrival of things we greet joyfully: longer days, warmer temperatures, much-loved perennials poking out of the soil, and fully stocked garden centers. But spring also sees the return of some things that we don’t greet with as much joy. Like ants, especially when they make their way inside our homes.

Ants hibernate over the winter. Just like bears, they gorge on food in the fall. Their bodies survive off those stored nutrients over the winter. And then, just like bears, when warmer temperatures arrive, ants emerge from their nests seeking food. In those early spring days, when the nights are still chilly, they also look for a warm place to spend the night.

Discouraging Ant Visitors

Ants communicate with each other by secreting pheromones (natural bodily chemicals created by mammals and insects). When an ant locates food, it will create a pheromone trail for other ants to follow to the food source. Because tiny ants can squeeze through minute crevices, it’s often difficult to figure out where they are entering the house so that the entrance can be sealed. If you don’t know where to block them from entering, ants will continue following the pheromone trail into your house.

Keeping your home free from food debris will deter ants from visiting. They are especially attracted to sweet foods, like fruit, fruit juices, honey and sugar. Keep your counter and table surfaces clean, your floors swept, and your compost and trash bins tightly covered. Ants also need water. If they seem to be coming in for a drink, remove or relocate that water source (e.g., pet bowl).

Check the exterior of your home and caulk up any noticeable crevices. If you don’t have caulk on hand or the hole is very small, you can use petroleum jelly, which will hold its seal for about a year.

Natural Ant Repellents

If you’ve removed their food and water sources, and have sealed any noticeable entrances, but you still have ants indoors, there are a number of cheap natural repellents that you can use.

1. White vinegar or lemon juice

Vinegar and lemon juice both disrupt the pheromone trails, making it difficult for ants to know where to go. Mix one part white vinegar (or one part lemon juice) with one part water. The solution can be sprayed around the area the ants congregate and/or their suspected entrance, or it can be applied to a cloth so that those surfaces can be wiped down.

2. Essential oils

A number of different essential oils may deter ants from coming in, including eucalyptus, cinnamon, clove, tea tree, peppermint, neem and citrus oils. Like vinegar and lemon juice, essential oils disrupt the ants’ pheromone trails. Citrus oils have an added benefit: because they contain d-limonene, they’re toxic to ants.

5 All-Natural, Inexpensive Ant Repellents You Already Own Essential oils may be applied by swabbing the area with an oil-soaked cotton ball, or by spraying. Some online sites suggest mixing 10 drops of essential oil to one cup of water; others suggest mixing equal parts essential oil and water. Personally, I would probably start with 10-20 drops of oil to about ½ cup of water, and if that didn’t seem to be working after a few days, I would add more essential oil.

Heather at mommypotamus.com suggests putting vodka into the spray, too, which will help keep the oil and water from separating. Her “recipe” calls for ¼ cup of water, ¼ cup of vodka, and 30-40 drops of essential oil.

3. Spices

If you don’t have essential oils on hand, you can use similar spices, such as ground cinnamon, ground cloves, dried mint, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, bay leaves, or garlic powder. Just sprinkle where needed.

4. Food grade diatomaceous earth

While DE has health benefits for mammals and plants, it is toxic to insects that have exoskeletons, including ants. The sharp edges of DE particles damage the waxy coating on ants, and once that happens, DE dehydrates the insect.

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To use, just sprinkle it where ants travel and/or congregate.

5. Soap and water

Soap creates a coating on insects which makes it impossible for air to reach them, and as a result, they suffocate. Make a spray by combining ¼ cup of dish detergent with 1 cup of water. It’s best to spray ants directly.

In general, ants are beneficial in the garden. They aerate soil, pollinate plants and distribute seeds. Also, ants are not herbivores and usually don’t damage plants, but they do prey on other herbivorous bugs that may be chowing down on your plants. Wherever possible, it’s best to leave outdoor ants alone. However, if they’ve built an anthill very close to your house, and are entering it, it may be best to kill off the entire colony by dousing the hill with a pot full of hot soapy water.

There are many other suggested natural ant repellents. Some, like coffee grounds and cornmeal, are reported by some online sites as being ineffective. Others, like borax, are not recommended to use around small children or pets. If you’ve had success with any natural ant repellents, please let us know in the comments below.

How do you get rid of ants? Share your suggestions in the section below:

The 8 Seeds That Can Store At Least 5 Years

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The 8 Seeds That Can Store At Least 5 Years

Do you have a seed stash tucked away? I certainly do. It’s rare that I use up all the seeds I buy in any given year. When I have some left over, I put them away for next year’s garden.

It just seems so wasteful to throw seeds out, doesn’t it? And, of course, if you harvest and save your own seeds from year to year, then you definitely have a stash, too.

Whether your own stash was purchased or saved from a previous harvest, those seeds won’t be viable forever. The longevity of seeds depends both on which cultivars they are and how they’re stored. Some seeds — including leeks, onions, parsley and parsnips — will last a year at best. Others will remain viable up to five years after they were harvested, and possibly even longer if they’re stored in the right conditions.

Best Method of Seed Storage

Seeds are best stored in cool, dry locations. A general guideline is to keep the combined temperature and humidity level under 100. As an example, the ideal temperature for seed storage is about 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, which would allow for a maximum humidity level of about 50 percent. To keep your seeds dry, store them in an airtight container. Glass jars with rubber seals on their lids, like baby food or home canning jars, work best. If you’re concerned about moisture within the jar, you can add in a desiccant such as rice.

Keeping the seeds in the fridge or freezer is an excellent way to maintain perfect storage conditions. Keep in mind that frost-free fridges and freezers work by drawing out moisture, and can seriously dry out seeds. However, as long as your seeds are in an appropriate container, they shouldn’t become damaged.

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Freezing seeds properly can exponentially prolong their longevity. After all, seed banks like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault count on freezing to keep their seeds viable for centuries. The home gardener shouldn’t expect her own seeds to last quite as long in a home freezer, given the strict scientific protocols and optimal conditions of the Global Seed Vault. Still, frozen seeds should remain viable longer than seeds stored at room temperature.

8 Seeds That Easily Store for 5 Years

The 8 Seeds That Can Store At Least 5 Years

Image source: Pixabay.com

While storage methods have a big impact on seed longevity, the type of cultivar also makes a difference. Some of the longest-lasting seeds are members of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), but there are eight different types of vegetable seeds that will remain viable for about five years, even if not frozen:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cabbage
  3. Cauliflower
  4. Cucumber
  5. Muskmelons
  6. Spinach
  7. Radishes
  8. Lettuce

Viable and Vigorous Seeds for Healthy Plants

For the healthiest and best-producing plants, you need viable, vigorous seeds. Viability is basically the rate at which seeds sprout or germinate. If, in a sample of 10 seeds of the same cultivar, eight sprout, the germination rate is 80 percent, which is highly viable. If, however, only two or three seeds in that sample sprout, the germination rate is 20-30 percent, and the viability is low.

In addition to viability, the vigor of seeds is an important consideration. Viability is generally measured under optimal conditions. But vigor measures how well sprouted seeds perform under less-than-optimal conditions (e.g., outside in the garden). Seeds need to be strong and healthy to flourish in variable weather conditions and in soil that may be less than ideal.

As seeds age, they decrease both in viability and vigor. They may lose their ability to sprout at all, and those that do sprout may just not have the strength to create a healthy plant. It’s easy to test a seed’s viability, but somewhat more difficult for the home gardener to determine a seed’s vigor. However, by keeping track of how long your seeds have been stored, you can use the list above to determine how well your seeds are likely to perform without bothering with tests.

If you’ve had any of the listed seeds stored for five years already, it would be best to get those planted this year, for healthy plants and a bountiful harvest.

What’s your personal record for planting seeds that have been stored a long time? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Vegetables In 1950 Were More Nutritious. Seriously.

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Vegetables In 1950 Were More Nutritious. Seriously.

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Most potatoes we eat today have 100 percent less vitamin A than potatoes did in the 1950s. One hundred percent. That may sound unbelievable, but it doesn’t end there.

An analysis of nutritional records done by Canada’s national newspaper found that potatoes also lost 57 percent of their vitamin C and iron, 50 percent of their riboflavin, 28 percent of their calcium, and 18 percent of their thiamine. Of the seven nutrients analyzed to determine nutrient density, only niacin levels increased in potatoes in the past 50-60 years.

This decline in nutrient density isn’t specific to potatoes. Broccoli in the 1950s had more calcium. Scientific American reported – shockingly — that it takes eight of today’s oranges to pony up the same amount of nutrients that one single orange had in the 1950s. What on earth is going on?

Nutrient Density

Nutrient density is the measurement of key nutrients in a predetermined amount of food. For example, the USDA’s “National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference” indicates that 100g of “tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average” contains 237 mg of potassium, 1.2 g of fiber, and 833 IU of vitamin K. These numbers are averages, based on testing done on produce purchased around the country. Nevertheless, these averaged numbers help determine how nutrient-dense — how healthy — each type of food is. And it’s by comparing historic numbers with contemporary numbers that the decline in nutrient density can be tracked.

Crop Development

Vegetables In 1950 Were More Nutritious. Seriously.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Agribusiness is called “agribusiness” for a reason: It’s about making money. And in its quest to make money, agribusiness has developed new varieties of vegetables, selecting for characteristics that impact the bottom line, rather than nutrient density. Cultivars are chosen for their disease resistance, suitability for the climate, maturity rate, high yields, and physical appearance.

Plants are growing bigger, but their ability to take up or process nutrients has not increased at a comparable rate. Also, as Scientific American points out, the high yields of commercial plants have a direct impact on nutrient density. It’s not unusual for commercially grown tomato plants to produce 100 tomatoes per plant. The plant itself is limited in how many nutrients it can take up and disperse among that many fruits.

Soil Depletion

Another problem that’s rooted in agribusiness is soil depletion. Intensive farming methods strip the soil of its nutrients. If the soil lacks nutrients, so too will the plants that grow in that soil. Just as the health of human beings depends on what they eat, the health (nutrient density) of vegetables depends on what they “eat” or absorb from the soil. The more nutrients they take up, the more nutrients their produce will have.

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The only way to address soil depletion is to fertilize the soil. For agribusinesses that are not concerned with nutrient density, the high cost of fertilization may seem to be an unnecessary expense. But, as Scientific American points out, without re-mineralizing the soil, “each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.”

Chemical Pesticides

The term “pesticide” collectively includes substances that control pests and/or weeds, including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Chemical pesticides are formulated to kill specific things, but once released into the soil, they also may kill beneficial microorganisms. Microbes are crucial to nutrient density because they recycle and release nutrients in the soil, which are then taken up by plants and distributed to the produce.

Long-Haul Transportation

Once picked, vegetables start losing nutrients. Leafy greens lose their nutrients very quickly; some types of spinach may lose 90 percent of their vitamin C within 24 hours of being picked. While vegetables are in transport to grocery stores or sitting on grocery shelves, they continue to “respire;” that is, they continue to live by drawing from their nutrient stores. The longer the time between harvest and consumption, the more nutrients are used up during respiration.

Impact on Human Health

Insufficient nutrients may be one reason why we continue to crave food even after we’ve eaten full servings. And, some speculate that due to the decrease in nutrients, five to ten servings of fruit and vegetables daily is insufficient to meet our needs. Foods that are low in nutrient density may contribute to Type B malnutrition, which is prevalent in industrialized nations. While people with Type B malnutrition take in adequate calories and do not appear outwardly malnourished, the food they eat does not contain sufficient nutrients for health.

What Can We Do?

The solution? Plant a garden. Amend the soil with natural fertilizers. Besides producing healthier nutrient-dense produce, nutrient-dense soil creates a healthier plant. A healthier plant has:

  • Increased pest and disease resistance.
  • Higher and healthier yields.
  • Produce that has more intense and complex flavor due to increased nutrients.

Soil that is rich in microorganisms and nutrients is good for plants — and good for us, too.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Why You Should NEVER Use Rows In Your Garden Again

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Why You Should NEVER Use Rows In Your Garden Again

I recently wrote about how I often do things in the garden just because that’s how I’ve always done them. For example, I always plant all my seeds and seedlings in one big push after the last frost date. That’s what my mom always did, and I learned how to garden by working alongside her. And so, I was surprised when a local friend told me that he planted peas about six weeks prior to the last frost date. He explained that he followed the directions on the back of the seed packet, which said to plant as soon as the soil was workable. Go figure. People actually read seed packages?

Maybe I need to re-evaluate my gardening methods.

There’s another thing I do just because that’s the way I’ve always done it: Plant my vegetables in rows. And you know what? I have raised beds. Rows aren’t the best choice for any home vegetable garden, and they certainly aren’t the logical choice for raised beds.

Yep, you read that correctly. Row cropping is a bad idea for home gardeners. Think about it:

  • Traditionally, there is a path on each side of every row to allow space to tend to the plants. Simply put, rows waste valuable space.
  • When you walk on the garden, the soil gets compacted. Soil compaction can cause a number of issues, such as:
    • decreasing water infiltration.
    • decreasing air within the soil (and roots need air to breathe).
    • making it difficult for roots to penetrate the soil and grow.
    • decreasing the amount of soil roots can reach in their quest for nutrients.
    • decreasing yields.
  • Unless drip lines are carefully rigged, irrigation water may be wasted on the space between rows.

There are actually a number of alternatives to row cropping, but they all boil down to one idea: intensive gardening, which eliminates wasted space and maximizes the space you do use. Plants grouped closely together create shade for each other and reduce water evaporation, essentially creating their own little microclimates. Plants grouped closely together also discourage weed growth.

1. Raised beds

By their nature, raised beds get around the issues of wasted space in the pathways and soil compaction. But, if you’re still planting rows in raised beds — like I am — you’re missing out on the benefits of intensive gardening. Raised beds are best used in tandem with square foot gardening, hexagonal spacing, and vertical planting, all explained further below.

2. Square foot gardening

In 1981, Mel Bartholomew revolutionized the idea of intensive gardening with his book Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work. Square foot gardening is exactly what it sounds like: creating a large grid of 12-inch-by-12-inch squares and planting within each square.

Why You Should NEVER Use Rows In Your Garden AgainPlanning is necessary when gardening by the square foot. Larger plants like tomatoes and potatoes should be planted one per square foot, while smaller vegetables like radishes could be planted at a rate of 16 per square foot. Spacing in intensive gardening is different from the spacing recommended on seed packets, which is determined for row cropping.

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A little online research will turn up sites that provide guidelines for intensive spacing. Also, care needs to be taken in regards to which vegetables are situated next to each other. Short sun-loving plants shouldn’t be placed next to plants that will grow tall and bushy and create shade. And this is a great time to take companion planting into consideration as well.

3. Hexagonal spacing

Similar to square-foot gardening, hexagonal spacing maximizes space even further. Suppose someone challenged you to fit as many round dinner plates on a kitchen table as possible. Lining up all those round plates in a grid pattern produces a lot of wasted space. You can get more plates on the table if you shift every second row over just a bit so that rows are staggered. Now envision this same scenario with plants like cabbages, tomatoes or eggplants. That’s hexagonal spacing in the garden. It’s absolutely OK for the leaves of the plants to touch when planted in this way, and indeed it is ideal that they touch. Planting densely helps minimize evaporation and conserve water. It also keeps the ground shaded and cooler, and discourages weed growth.

4. Vertical gardening

Vertical gardening is again exactly what it sounds like: making use of vertical growing space by using trellising systems. Plants with vines that sprawl and take up a lot of space are ideal for vertical gardening. Cucumbers, melons, squash, peas and pole beans all can be grown vertically. Some plants are natural climbers and will grab onto any support system they can find. Others need to be trained and/or tied. And if the fruit grows large and heavy, it will need to be supported so that it doesn’t drop off the vine. The toe ends of old pantyhose work perfectly for this purpose.

Of course, plants grown in this way will cast shade. If you’re integrating vertical gardening with either square-foot gardening or hexagonal spacing, take care where you place your trellising system and which plants you plant nearby the climbers.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of which intensive gardening method you use, remember to fertilize! All those plants will be sucking up every nutrient they can find in your soil. It’s important to replenish the soil by fertilizing regularly.

Do you use any intensive gardening systems? If so, share your tips in the section below:

Seed-Storage Tips You Won’t Learn At The Big Box Store

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Seed-Storage Tips You Won’t Learn At The Big Box Store

Image source: Jacki Andre

 

It’s here! It’s spring! It’s time to start breaking out the seeds!

If you’re like me, you probably spent at least some time this winter browsing through seed catalogs, creating wish lists, and making scale drawings of your garden to make sure that you have space to grow everything you want to. But before you buy seeds and start planting, it’s a good idea to take stock of your existing seeds and make a plan. Which seeds need to be started indoors, and which ones should be sown directly? When should they be planted? Are the seeds you saved from last year viable?

Taking Stock: Stored Seeds

Start by looking for seeds that you have stored away. I, for one, am bad at figuring out how many seeds I need and I usually have a lot left over after planting. You might be surprised at how many seeds you already have on hand — and using those up could provide a nifty little cost savings.

Testing the Germination Rate

If you’re using stored seeds, start with a germination test. Simply put, you want to figure out if the seeds will sprout. Seeds don’t have an expiration date, but many do lose their viability after awhile. If only a small percentage of your stored seeds sprout, you don’t want to waste time planting them and waiting for them to come up.

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Seed-Storage Tips You Won’t Learn At The Big Box StoreIt’s simple to figure out the germination rate. Layer a few paper towels and thoroughly moisten them. Space out ten seeds of any one cultivar on the wet paper towel and then fold it up so that the seeds are covered. Place the folded paper towel in a clear plastic zip-top bag. Keep the bag in a warm, bright spot. Check on it every few days to make sure the paper towel is still moist and to see if any seeds have sprouted. It can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks for the seeds to sprout.

If 9 out of 10 seeds sprout, that’s a 90 percent germination rate, and those seeds are good to plant. If you get a 50 percent germination rate, you can still plant the seeds, but you might want to sow twice as many as recommended (such as four squash seeds to a hill instead of two) to make up for the ones that won’t sprout. If the germination rate is very low, it’s better to source different seeds.

Starting Indoors vs. Direct Sowing

Some seeds need to be started indoors, or their produce just won’t be ready to harvest prior to fall frosts. Other seeds do best if sown directly into the garden. Still others can be started indoors or sown directly. It’s a good idea to start by sorting your seeds into three separate piles: “indoors,” “outdoors” and “either.” Once you know where to sow them, the next step is to figure out when.

Determining Planting Dates

Your last frost date is the key to figuring out when to plant. There are a number of interactive calculators online that indicate your exact last frost date, such as this one at The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Next, read the seed packets or do some online research to find out how long before the last frost date the seeds should be planted. Then count backward from your last frost day to determine the best dates to plant each variety.

Tips for Organizing Seeds

Seed-Storage Tips You Won’t Learn At The Big Box StoreA simple seed organization system takes only a few minutes to create, but you’ll be able to use it for years to come. Remember that whichever organization system you use, seeds should be stored in a cool, dark, dry location, which has little temperature fluctuation.

Charts/Tables

One of the simplest tricks is just to make a written list of the seeds you usually sow and their planting dates.

Seamazing: The Low-Cost Way To Re-mineralize Your Soil

The list can be stored with your seeds in a shoebox or large zip-top bag for future reference.

Seed File Box

My own favorite seed storage idea is to use a small box as a filing system. Each file divider indicates the planting date, whether the seeds should be sown indoors or outdoors, and a list of seeds that should be planted on each date. That way, it’s quick and easy to determine if I have all the seeds I need for each round of planting.

Seed Journal/Book

My mom used a photo album with plastic sleeves to store her seed packets. Using an album with an area for notes is genius, because you can jot notes about each seed variety beside the packet to keep track of germination rate, planting locations, yields, etc. The album can be organized in any way you choose, but I do like the idea of sticking to planting dates so that by flipping through the album, you sequentially see which seeds to plant next.

Do you have tips for organizing seeds for spring planting? If so, please share in the comments below.

DIY Seed Tape: The Fast, Easy Project That Saves Time And Money

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DIY Seed Tape: The Fast, Easy Project That Saves Time And Money

Photo: Jacki Andre

I don’t know who invented seed tape, but that person deserves a gold star. If you’re not familiar with it, seed tape is tissue-thin biodegradable paper, usually about an inch wide, that has seeds embedded in it.

There are several benefits to using seed tape:

  • The seeds are optimally spaced for plant growth so that you don’t need to thin.
  • No thinning means less waste.
  • No thinning means less work.
  • It’s easier to plant tiny dark seeds since you won’t accidentally pinch extras out of the package, nor lose them in the soil, being unsure how many you actually sowed.

There are two downsides to using seed tape (or wanting to use it). There is a limited selection of vegetables — and varieties — that are available. Commonly, carrots, radishes, beets, and some salad greens (like lettuce and spinach) can be purchased in seed tape.

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DIY Seed Tape: The Fast, Easy Project That Saves Time And Money

Photo: Jacki Andre

The other downside is cost. Naturally, since additional materials and work are needed to create seed tape, it’s pricier than loose seeds. For example, a well-known seed company has radish seeds listed for $5. But the tape with the radish seeds is $7 for roughly 22 inches of tape; and you’re getting only one-fourth the number of seeds!

But you can make your own seed tape for pennies. And you can use any seeds that you want. It’s a super-fast, easy, cheap and practical project.

There are lots of websites with directions on how to make seed tape. I relied heavily on the tutorial at learningandyearning.com.

Start by gathering your supplies together. You need:

  • Seeds.
  • Toilet paper (unbleached is best).
  • Flour & water to make a paste.
  • Measuring tape or ruler.
  • Toothpicks.
  • Marker or pen (optional).

Make the flour paste by mixing flour and warm water together in approximately equal parts. The paste should be thick and goopy. Adjust the flour or water if needed to achieve the right consistency.

DIY Seed Tape: The Fast, Easy Project That Saves Time And Money

Photo: Jacki Andre

Tear off strips of toilet paper. My kitchen table is about three feet across, so that’s how long I made my strips. Your own strips can be as long as you like. Keep in mind the row length in your own garden. I have raised beds with eight-foot rows. It would have made more sense to make seed tape in four-foot lengths, but I worked with what I had.

Fold the toilet paper in half lengthwise. The purpose is to make a straight seam down the middle to use as a guide, so press the seam firmly and then reopen the toilet paper.

Read the directions on the seed packet to find out the optimal distance between plants. Ignore the part where it suggests seed spacing, as this is often considerably smaller than plant spacing.

Seamazing: The Low-Cost Way To Re-mineralize Your Soil

You can use a pen or marker to indicate where the seeds should be placed. Marking dots is a good idea if you’re using a small ruler that you need to frequently move. If you’re using a yardstick or measuring tape, though, it’s faster and easier to just leave the measuring device on top of the toilet paper and plop the seeds down in their appropriate spots. Note: The seeds should be placed in the center of one side of the toilet paper.

DIY Seed Tape: The Fast, Easy Project That Saves Time And Money

Photo: Jacki Andre

Dump your seeds onto a light-colored surface. The tutorial I read suggested using a sheet of paper, but you don’t have to worry about seeds rolling away if you use something with a lipped edge, like a dinner plate.

Dip a toothpick into the flour paste and then use the gluey tip to pick up one seed. Transfer the seed to its spot on the toilet paper. Once your length of toilet paper has the correct number of seeds, put small goops of paste here and there on the toilet paper to act as a sealant. Then fold the toilet paper together and press. That’s it. Voilà. You have seed tape.

Once the glue is well-dried, roll or fold the tape and store it in a Ziploc bag. Whether you label the bag or not, I suggest sticking the seed packet in there for future reference.

I made about 24 feet of seed tape in less than half an hour, and that included gathering together all my supplies and taking photos. Once you get set up, you should be able to churn out the seed tape quickly.

When it’s time to plant, just make a neat furrow to the depth indicated on the seed packet and place the seed tape into the furrow. After you cover it with soil, all you have left to do is wait for your perfectly spaced plants to pop up.

Have you ever made or used seed tape? Share your tips in the section below:

Similar to Morphine: The Best Natural Painkiller that Grows in Your Backyard

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From injury to disease, pain is a very common ailment or symptom that can take down the toughest of the tough. It’s so prevalent that we are seeing a major

The post Similar to Morphine: The Best Natural Painkiller that Grows in Your Backyard appeared first on Ask a Prepper.

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

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How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

If you’ve been gardening for a while, you’ve likely heard that you shouldn’t use garden soil in containers or as a seed-starting medium.

But garden soil is free and it’s right there for the taking. So, what’s wrong with using it? The short answer is that soil used in any kind or size of container should be light, fluffy and specially formulated to provide optimal growing conditions. Specifically:

  • Garden soil, particularly if there is clay in it, may not drain well. Seeds and young delicate roots are prone to rot in excessively wet soil. Further, when soil is wet all the time, its oxygen gets used up, and microorganisms that require oxygen die. The lack of beneficial microorganisms opens the door for anaerobic bacteria and pathogenic fungi to move in and kill off your plants.
  • At the same time, soil in containers needs to retain some moisture since plants can’t grow without it. If your garden soil is sandy, it may have difficulty retaining moisture.
  • Loose soil provides good aeration, so that roots have room to breathe and grow. When packed into a pot, garden soil may hinder air flow.
  • Garden soil can contain weed seeds, which will be annoying to deal with; it also may contain pathogens, which are more serious as they are potentially lethal to your plants.

Still, garden soil is free, right? And sometimes it’s fun to experiment and try something you’ve never done.

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If you’re up for it, you can make your own organic potting mix out of garden soil. To do it, you will need to sterilize the soil and gather some things to amend it with.

Sterilizing Garden Soil

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

There are three ways to sterilize soil . The fastest way, especially during early spring, is by baking it in your microwave or conventional oven. (In the hot summer months, you can sterilize it by spreading it on a plastic sheet in the sun, and letting it cure for 4-8 weeks.)

Microwave Method

I have not used the microwave method, so I can’t speak to it, but this is what you do:

  • Moisten up to two pounds of garden soil. Aim for a mud pie consistency; it should be thick and moldable, but not soupy.
  • Put the moistened soil into a heavy plastic bag and leave the top of the bag open.
  • Place the bag in the center of the microwave.
  • Run the microwave on high, and plan to do so for 2-5 minutes.
  • Periodically, stop the microwave and stick a meat thermometer into the soil.
  • Once the soil reaches a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the bag of soil from the microwave and place it in a cooler or other insulated container. The insulation will hold the heat in so that the sterilization process can complete.
  • Leave the bag in the cooler until the soil has completely cooled off. It is then ready to be amended.
How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

Conventional Oven Method

I have sterilized soil in my oven. This is what I can tell you: It takes a long time and it doesn’t smell all that lovely. It’s best to do this on a nice day when you can open some windows. And maybe light some candles.

  • Fill an oven-proof container with garden soil to a depth of about three inches. I used a foil roasting pan.
  • Moisten the soil thoroughly. Again, aim for a mud pie consistency.
  • Cover the pan with foil and stick it in an oven that’s been preheated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Bake the soil until a meat thermometer indicates that it has reached a temperature of 180 degrees. This likely will take 6-8 hours.
  • Once the soil reaches 180 degrees, let it bake for an additional half hour. Do not over bake.
  • Once it cools, it’s ready to be amended.

Amending Garden Soil Into Potting Mix

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

The University of Illinois recommends that garden soil be amended by mixing together one part sterilized soil, one part peat moss, and one part perlite or coarse builders’ sand. Peat moss is used to help your potting mix retain moisture, and it also creates the air space that roots need. Perlite also provides air space, and helps keep the potting mix light and fluffy, as it should be.

To mix my soil, peat moss, and perlite together, I lined a cardboard box with a heavy plastic bag and scooped the ingredients in. Once everything was in, I pulled the bag out of the box and gave it a good shake to mix everything together. And voilà! A healthy, well-balanced potting mix awaits seeds and plants.

What about you? Have you ever made potting mix at home? What method did you use, and what tips would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

5 Dumb Seed-Starting Mistakes That Nearly Everyone Makes

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5 Dumb Seed-Starting Mistakes That Nearly Everyone Makes

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I’ve been gardening since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I grew up on a farm and we kids were expected to help in my mom’s large vegetable garden. Many of the gardening maxims that I still adhere to were picked up while working alongside Mom. But just because I’ve been doing things the same way for 40-odd years, it doesn’t mean those are the right — or best — things to do.

I was surprised last spring when a local friend mentioned that he had directly sowed peas in April. April?! Really?! Where I live, our last frost date is May 15, and most local people get their seeds in during the first weekend following that date. This guy, however, was totally new to gardening and, unfamiliar with conventional wisdom, he followed the directions on the seed package. Go figure. Since the package said to sow the seeds as soon as the ground was workable, that’s what he did. He got a terrific pea harvest, too.

Whether you’re just starting out as a gardener, or you’ve been working the soil your whole life, you might be making some of these common mistakes.

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Here are five dumb-but-common seed-starting mistakes:

1. Not reading seed packages

If you’ve been gardening for a long time, chances are you’re like me: just doing things the same way you always have instead of reading the seed packages. As my story above illustrates, that’s not always the best idea. Maybe you’ve been sowing seeds directly — seeds that would really benefit from being started earlier indoors (like broccoli, which needs to mature before the hottest days of summer or it will bolt). Or maybe you’ve been planting your seeds a little too deeply and as a result, your germination rate is low. Reading seed packages can save time and money. It’s worth it.

2. Forgetting to label

Many of us who are old hands at gardening can identify our vegetable plants even before they set their true leaves. But can we identify the different varieties? That’s unlikely. Keeping track of how different varieties perform can help us decide whether to grow the same ones next year; and if so, if there is anything that we can change that might optimize their growth.

Don’t forget to label!

3. Not watering properly

It can be hard getting the moisture levels right for those tiny pots. A slip of the wrist, and they’re flooded. A busy day where you forget to water, and they turn into little Saharas, complete with wilted seedlings. It happens to the best of us. But we should try neither to underwater or overwater.

5 Dumb Seed-Starting Mistakes That Nearly Everyone Makes

Image source: Pixabay.com

Start by making sure your potting mix is thoroughly wet, but not soaking, before you even plant. Purchased potting mix is often quite dry. Put some in a container, add water, stir, and let it sit for a little while to absorb moisture before you start planting.

Once planted, it’s best to water by misting the pots, rather than using a watering can, as a heavier stream of water can disturb the soil and dislodge seeds. Let the soil dry out just a little between waterings. If the soil is too moist, the seeds and seedlings will be more susceptible to mold, fungus, disease, and rot.

4. Starting seeds too early

In our eagerness to start gardening again, we might start our seeds too early. What could possibly be wrong with growing bigger, sturdier plants over a longer period of time? Well, particularly if you use seed flats or peat pots, you may need to repot large seedlings before the ground is warm enough for transplanting. Repotting means an increased cost to purchase more potting mix and larger pots; it also means more work. Also, some plants fare better if they are transplanted when they are smaller or less mature. For instance,   if they are transplanted before they start flowering.

The All-Natural Fertilizer That Doubles Your Garden Yield!

A general guideline is to start seeds 4-6 weeks prior to your local last frost date; however, some herbs and vegetables can be started 8-10 weeks prior. Refer to   at Off The Grid News for more information about when to start seeds indoors.

5. Not cleaning and sterilizing equipment

We gardeners are a thrifty lot, and we tend to adhere to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. However, when it comes to “reuse,” make sure your materials are clean and sterile. A quick rinse with the garden hose last summer was not adequate to ready your supplies for this spring.

It’s about more than just cleanliness; disease and fungi can lurk on dirty equipment.   is one fungal-borne disease that can kill off your seedlings. If you’re reusing any equipment this spring, start by sterilizing everything in one part bleach to 10 parts water.

Gardening is truly a lifelong learning process. There are often different and better ways of doing things. Always keep an open mind. You might learn better methods through trial and error, neighborly advice, written articles, or even seed packages. Go figure.

What seed-starting mistakes have you made? What did you learn? Share your tips with others in the section below:

Seamazing: The Low-Cost Way To Re-mineralize Your Soil

15 Slow-Growing Seeds Smart Gardeners Start In March

15 Slow-Growing Seeds Smart Gardeners Start In March

Image source: Pixabay.com

Is it spring yet?! As the days stretch out longer, and temperatures become increasingly mild, we start to feel the tug of the garden.

Many areas are still experiencing frost in March, but most of us can start planting seeds. Whether or not you can go ahead and start seeds depends on a number of factors, including your hardiness zone, your last frost date, which seeds you aim to plant, and whether you intend to start your seeds indoors or out.

Determine Your Last Frost Date

Your last frost date is important. It will help determine when to plant your various seeds. While information specific to our hardiness zones gives us a rough idea of our last frost date, it’s best to use an interactive calculator, like this one at The Old Farmer’s Almanac for a more exact date.

Sort Your Seeds

There are basically three types of seeds: 1) those best sowed directly into your garden; 2) those that can be sowed directly or started indoors; and, 3) those that most people should start indoors. Start by sorting your seeds into these three groups.

Seeds to Sow Directly

For a variety of reasons, some seeds do best when sowed directly into the ground. Some don’t transplant well. Others are cool-weather crops that can handle light frost and flourish in cooler temperatures.

Need Non-GMO Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

If you have any of the seeds listed below, pull them out and put them aside:

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Dill
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Corn
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Leafy greens, including lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, chard

15 Seeds That Should Be Started In March

Some seeds must be started indoors in most parts of the country — otherwise their fruit may not come to maturity before fall frosts. If you have any of the seeds listed below, pull them out and make a second pile:

1. Basil

2. Broccoli

3. Cauliflower

4. Celery

5. Eggplant

6. Kohlrabi

7. Mint

8. Oregano

9. Peppers

10. Tomatoes

Seeds That Can Be Started Indoors or Out

While some seeds do perfectly fine when sowed directly into your garden, you also can start them indoors in order to get a jump on the growing season. It’s great to be able to enjoy some vegetables earlier in the summer. Plus, you also can stagger your planting by putting out transplants at the same time as directly sowing seeds of the same variety, so that your harvest lasts for several weeks.

The All-Natural Fertilizer That Doubles Your Garden Yield!

On the flip side, it can get daunting to find enough space, lighting, and time to look after large numbers of seedlings. Plus, don’t forget that you’ll need to haul your seed flats in and out for a little while, too, to harden off your seedlings before transplanting. Consider how many seedlings you must start indoors, plus the pros and cons listed, in order to decide whether to start any of these seeds indoors, too:

11. Cabbage

12. Cucumbers

13. Melons

14. Parsley

15. Squash – summer and winter, including zucchini

Determine Planting Dates for Indoor Seeds

Now that you know which seeds to start indoors, the next step is figuring out when to do it. Using the information on the seed packages, count backward from your last frost date to determine when to start your seeds. For example, some vegetables, such as broccoli, should be started 10 weeks prior to the last frost date. Cherry tomatoes should be started nine weeks prior, and full-size tomatoes eight weeks prior.

Have you started seeds indoors yet? When do you start them? Share your gardening and growing tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

15 Slow-Growing Seeds Smart Gardeners Start In March

Click here to view the original post.
15 Slow-Growing Seeds Smart Gardeners Start In March

Image source: Pixabay.com

Is it spring yet?! As the days stretch out longer, and temperatures become increasingly mild, we start to feel the tug of the garden.

Many areas are still experiencing frost in March, but most of us can start planting seeds. Whether or not you can go ahead and start seeds depends on a number of factors, including your hardiness zone, your last frost date, which seeds you aim to plant, and whether you intend to start your seeds indoors or out.

Determine Your Last Frost Date

Your last frost date is important. It will help determine when to plant your various seeds. While information specific to our hardiness zones gives us a rough idea of our last frost date, it’s best to use an interactive calculator, like this one at The Old Farmer’s Almanac for a more exact date.

Sort Your Seeds

There are basically three types of seeds: 1) those best sowed directly into your garden; 2) those that can be sowed directly or started indoors; and, 3) those that most people should start indoors. Start by sorting your seeds into these three groups.

Seeds to Sow Directly

For a variety of reasons, some seeds do best when sowed directly into the ground. Some don’t transplant well. Others are cool-weather crops that can handle light frost and flourish in cooler temperatures.

Need Non-GMO Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

If you have any of the seeds listed below, pull them out and put them aside:

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Dill
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Corn
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Leafy greens, including lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, chard

15 Seeds That Should Be Started In March

Some seeds must be started indoors in most parts of the country — otherwise their fruit may not come to maturity before fall frosts. If you have any of the seeds listed below, pull them out and make a second pile:

1. Basil

2. Broccoli

3. Cauliflower

4. Celery

5. Eggplant

6. Kohlrabi

7. Mint

8. Oregano

9. Peppers

10. Tomatoes

Seeds That Can Be Started Indoors or Out

While some seeds do perfectly fine when sowed directly into your garden, you also can start them indoors in order to get a jump on the growing season. It’s great to be able to enjoy some vegetables earlier in the summer. Plus, you also can stagger your planting by putting out transplants at the same time as directly sowing seeds of the same variety, so that your harvest lasts for several weeks.

The All-Natural Fertilizer That Doubles Your Garden Yield!

On the flip side, it can get daunting to find enough space, lighting, and time to look after large numbers of seedlings. Plus, don’t forget that you’ll need to haul your seed flats in and out for a little while, too, to harden off your seedlings before transplanting. Consider how many seedlings you must start indoors, plus the pros and cons listed, in order to decide whether to start any of these seeds indoors, too:

11. Cabbage

12. Cucumbers

13. Melons

14. Parsley

15. Squash – summer and winter, including zucchini

Determine Planting Dates for Indoor Seeds

Now that you know which seeds to start indoors, the next step is figuring out when to do it. Using the information on the seed packages, count backward from your last frost date to determine when to start your seeds. For example, some vegetables, such as broccoli, should be started 10 weeks prior to the last frost date. Cherry tomatoes should be started nine weeks prior, and full-size tomatoes eight weeks prior.

Have you started seeds indoors yet? When do you start them? Share your gardening and growing tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

The Dirt-Cheap, Frugal Way To Start Seeds

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The Dirt-Cheap & Frugal Way To Start Seeds

Image source: Pixabay.com

It’s easy to go overboard when shopping for seed supplies. Not only is it exciting to start growing things again, but there are so many tempting products. If you’re not careful, starting seeds can become surprisingly expensive. But with a little planning, you can get your hands on everything you need at a low cost — or even for free.

Containers

Reusing, repurposing and making your own planting containers is one of the easiest ways to pinch pennies.

If you don’t mind transplanting your seedlings, all kinds of plastic food containers can be repurposed into pots: yogurt cups, cheese tubs, milk jugs, water/juice/soda bottles, plastic clamshell containers from purchased fruit and vegetables, or K-Cup coffee pods. Soft plastic containers have an advantage — when you’re transplanting, you can squeeze the soil and seedlings out, without worrying about injuring the seedlings or their roots.

Need Non-GMO Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

However, if don’t want to mess around with a bunch of different-sized pots (which can be a headache as far as positioning your grow lights), you can make seed flats out of larger containers. Foil containers with clear plastic lids are especially useful, because they will create a greenhouse-type effect. Rotisserie chicken trays, frozen cake pans, or trays from the deli section, used for family-sized meals like lasagna, work well.

If you prefer biodegradable pots so that you can avoid transplanting, there are free options for those, too. It’s easy enough to cut toilet paper/paper towel/wrapping paper tubes down to peat-pot size. You don’t really need a bottom on these. Paper egg cartons provide excellent individual seed pots, too — just cut the cups apart when you’re ready to plant. Or, if you’re looking for a project on a blustery winter day, you can fashion pots out of newspaper. There are lots of online tutorials with instructions. All you need is newspaper, a glass or small mason jar to roll the paper around, and tape.

Potting Mix

The Dirt-Cheap & Frugal Way To Start Seeds

Image source: Pixabay.com

The next step, of course, is filling your pots with a planting medium. While bringing in garden soil might be the cheapest option, this is the one item that you really should spend money on (one bag goes a long way). Garden soil might contain insects, weed seeds, or pathogens, and it’s likely too heavy and dense to have good aeration and drainage. If you really want to use garden soil, you should sterilize it by baking in your oven, and then amend it by mixing one part soil with one part peat moss and one part perlite or coarse builder’s sand.

You also can make your own soilless mix, which costs more than amending garden soil, but is still cheaper than buying the premixed stuff. A basic recipe is to mix together one part perlite with one part peat moss and one part ground sphagnum moss. Another recipe, posted at The Prairie Homestead, is to mix two parts coconut coir with one part perlite and one part sifted compost.

Seeds

The last essential product you need to start seeds is, well, seeds. If you don’t already save your own seeds from year to year, you might want to plan for that this season. If you buy seeds, you might have extras lying around that you didn’t plant in years past. It’s always best to test the viability of old seeds before planting them. The germination rate of seeds decreases over time.

The All-Natural Fertilizer That Doubles Your Garden Yield!

It’s easy to test the viability of seeds. Simply moisten a couple of layers of paper towels, and space out about 10 seeds of any one variety. Roll or fold up the paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Keep the bag in a warm, bright spot, and make sure the paper towel stays moist until the testing is done, which might take up to two weeks, depending on the type of seeds. Check every few days to see if any seeds have sprouted. If at least some sprout, it’s worth planting them — but make sure to plant extras to make up for the ones that won’t germinate.

Seed Tape

One last tip: if you love seed tape as much as I do, you can pinch pennies by making your own. All you need is toilet paper, homemade flour and water paste, and seeds. There are several online tutorials about how to make seed tape, and it’s another great project for a blustery winter day.

Gardening is already a frugal way to feed your family, but you can stretch your food dollars even further by starting seeds at an extremely low cost.

Do you have any more tips on how to save money while starting seeds? Share your secrets in the comments below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

Cold Frames: The Easiest Way To Get A Jump On The Growing Season

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Cold Frames: The Easiest Way To Get A Jump On The Growing Season

Are you as impatient as I am, waiting for the frost-free planting dates to arrive? As the days get longer and spring inches closer, it’s hard not to get itchy fingers for gardening. Still, at this time of year, many of us need to wait for several more weeks, or even months, before we can start planting outdoors. But what if you didn’t have to wait that long? What if you could start gardening about five weeks prior to your traditional frost-free date? You can do it with a cold frame.

A cold frame is basically just a low bottomless box with a translucent top. It protects plants from the elements and provides solar heat to keep them warm.

Creating a Cold Frame

Cold frames are easy to build with found or repurposed items, and unless you want to, there is no need to use tools. It’s true that they’re often built from lumber, with distinctive sloping tops that are covered with clear poly sheeting, polycarbonate sheets or glass. It’s easy to find plans for these kinds of cold frames, like   or  . If you are recycling windows or other material to use as the lid, you can certainly modify the plans to fit the dimensions of the cover.

If you’re not handy with tools, don’t despair. Start by finding something that will work as the translucent cover, so that you know how large the frame should be. To create the frame itself, you can use things like straw or hay bales, cinder blocks, or bricks.

Need Non-GMO Herb Seeds? The Best Deals Are Right Here …

Although having a sloping lid is ideal, as it captures more sunlight and facilitates rain runoff, it’s not necessary. The cover can just rest flat on top of the frame. Make sure the lid fits well, though. To best protect the plants, there shouldn’t be any gaps between the cover and the frame. A well-fitted lid will also increase the humidity levels, which will keep your plants happy.

Choosing a Location

The weeks prior to your last frost date can be nippy. To keep your plants toasty and flourishing, position the frame so that it faces due south and gets full sun.

Traditionally, seeds are planted right in the ground inside the frame. However, the frame can also be used as a mini-greenhouse, if you prefer, where you can start seeds in trays or pots for later transplanting. In this case, the frame even could be placed on a deck or patio if necessary, but take care to protect the area underneath.

Best Plants for Cold Frames

Cold Frames: The Easiest Way To Get A Jump On The Growing Season

Image source: Green City Growers

Cold frames are widely used to grow lettuce, which are cool-weather crops that flourish in temperatures of 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Other greens work well, too, such as beet greens, chard, kale and spinach. If you want to branch out from leafy greens, give carrots, leeks, radishes, kohlrabi or turnips a try.

Managing the Temperature

Cold frames are easy to build with found or repurposed items, and unless you want to, there is no need to use tools. It’s true that they’re often built from lumber, with distinctive sloping tops that are covered with clear poly sheeting, polycarbonate sheets or glass. It’s easy to find plans for these kinds of cold frames, like this one at Better Homes and Gardens or this one at Popular Mechanics. If you are recycling windows or other material to use as the lid, you can certainly modify the plans to fit the dimensions of the cover.

If the outdoor temperature is consistently lower than 40 degrees, insulate your frame by heaping soil or mulching materials like leaves or wood chips around its perimeter.

Using Your Cold Frame Beyond Spring

Although most commonly used to start vegetables early in the spring, a cold frame can be used year-round. It provides a good home to heat-loving vegetables like peppers and eggplants until the extreme heat of summer hits. During the hottest days of summer, simply remove the lid to keep using the space. The fall growing season can be extended by replacing the cover at that time. Frames also can be used to overwinter plants.

For the minimal cost and effort needed to build them, cold frames provide a big payoff.

Do you use a cold frame in your garden? Let us know your tips in the comment section below.

Are You Making These Common, Avoidable Gardening Mistakes? Read More Here.

Cold Frames: The Easiest Way To Get A Jump On The Growing Season

Cold Frames: The Easiest Way To Get A Jump On The Growing Season

Are you as impatient as I am, waiting for the frost-free planting dates to arrive? As the days get longer and spring inches closer, it’s hard not to get itchy fingers for gardening. Still, at this time of year, many of us need to wait for several more weeks, or even months, before we can start planting outdoors. But what if you didn’t have to wait that long? What if you could start gardening about five weeks prior to your traditional frost-free date? You can do it with a cold frame.

A cold frame is basically just a low bottomless box with a translucent top. It protects plants from the elements and provides solar heat to keep them warm.

Creating a Cold Frame

Cold frames are easy to build with found or repurposed items, and unless you want to, there is no need to use tools. It’s true that they’re often built from lumber, with distinctive sloping tops that are covered with clear poly sheeting, polycarbonate sheets or glass. It’s easy to find plans for these kinds of cold frames, like   or  . If you are recycling windows or other material to use as the lid, you can certainly modify the plans to fit the dimensions of the cover.

If you’re not handy with tools, don’t despair. Start by finding something that will work as the translucent cover, so that you know how large the frame should be. To create the frame itself, you can use things like straw or hay bales, cinder blocks, or bricks.

Need Non-GMO Herb Seeds? The Best Deals Are Right Here …

Although having a sloping lid is ideal, as it captures more sunlight and facilitates rain runoff, it’s not necessary. The cover can just rest flat on top of the frame. Make sure the lid fits well, though. To best protect the plants, there shouldn’t be any gaps between the cover and the frame. A well-fitted lid will also increase the humidity levels, which will keep your plants happy.

Choosing a Location

The weeks prior to your last frost date can be nippy. To keep your plants toasty and flourishing, position the frame so that it faces due south and gets full sun.

Traditionally, seeds are planted right in the ground inside the frame. However, the frame can also be used as a mini-greenhouse, if you prefer, where you can start seeds in trays or pots for later transplanting. In this case, the frame even could be placed on a deck or patio if necessary, but take care to protect the area underneath.

Best Plants for Cold Frames

Cold Frames: The Easiest Way To Get A Jump On The Growing Season

Image source: Green City Growers

Cold frames are widely used to grow lettuce, which are cool-weather crops that flourish in temperatures of 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Other greens work well, too, such as beet greens, chard, kale and spinach. If you want to branch out from leafy greens, give carrots, leeks, radishes, kohlrabi or turnips a try.

Managing the Temperature

Cold frames are easy to build with found or repurposed items, and unless you want to, there is no need to use tools. It’s true that they’re often built from lumber, with distinctive sloping tops that are covered with clear poly sheeting, polycarbonate sheets or glass. It’s easy to find plans for these kinds of cold frames, like this one at Better Homes and Gardens or this one at Popular Mechanics. If you are recycling windows or other material to use as the lid, you can certainly modify the plans to fit the dimensions of the cover.

If the outdoor temperature is consistently lower than 40 degrees, insulate your frame by heaping soil or mulching materials like leaves or wood chips around its perimeter.

Using Your Cold Frame Beyond Spring

Although most commonly used to start vegetables early in the spring, a cold frame can be used year-round. It provides a good home to heat-loving vegetables like peppers and eggplants until the extreme heat of summer hits. During the hottest days of summer, simply remove the lid to keep using the space. The fall growing season can be extended by replacing the cover at that time. Frames also can be used to overwinter plants.

For the minimal cost and effort needed to build them, cold frames provide a big payoff.

Do you use a cold frame in your garden? Let us know your tips in the comment section below.

Are You Making These Common, Avoidable Gardening Mistakes? Read More Here.

3 Space-Saving Ways To Grow Vegetables Indoors

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3 Space-Saving Ways To Grow Vegetables Indoors

Image source: Pixabay.com

Sure, the idea of gardening indoors during the winter is appealing, but how practical is it, really? Even putting aside things like calculating the wattage of grow lights and researching the best seed varieties for indoor gardening, how do you find space? Where do you put enough plants to get a meaningful harvest?

If you have a basement or other unused space like a spare bedroom, you could certainly set up shop there. But not all of us have the space to spare. Plus, there are benefits to being surrounded by greenery. Numerous studies show that being in the presence of plants reduces blood pressure, anxiety, the effects of stress, and feelings of fatigue.

Need Non-GMO Seeds? Get Them From A Family-Owned Company You Can Trust!

Whether you have existing free space or not, it’s worth exploring ways to fill the nooks and crannies of your everyday living areas with lush-producing plants.

1. Hanging baskets

Tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, salad greens, some herbs, and strawberries grow well in hanging baskets, as long as you keep these tips in mind:

  • Bigger baskets give your plants room to flourish. Choose baskets that are at least 12 inches deep and that have a minimum diameter of six inches.
  • Keep the soil light by buying commercial potting mixes and working in some perlite or vermiculite before planting.
  • Research cultivars to determine the best ones for indoor gardening, and while you’re at it, make a note of how much sunlight each one requires. Oftentimes, a sunny southern window will provide enough light, but it’s easy enough to supplement natural light with a clamp-on grow light if needed.
  • Most vegetable plants thrive in temperatures that range from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. While peas can tolerate light frosts, position other producing plants away from drafty doors and windows.

2. Vertical growing spaces

3 Space-Saving Ways To Grow Vegetables Indoors

Image source: Instructables

Create vertical growing spaces for smaller compact plants like herbs and salad greens. Install fixtures against your existing walls and maximize your growing space with ideas like these:

  • Fabric wall pockets, similar to over-the-door shoe holders, are super easy to install and use. Choose ones that are designed for indoor gardening, since they are made with waterproof fabric and/or water reservoirs to protect your walls.
  • For a rustic look, use stainless steel hose clamps to attach mason jars or other small vessels (like mini galvanized pails) to a length of board.
  • Build a large, simple frame out of 1x4s, and install cleats on the inner sides. Stack rectangular plastic balcony box planters on the cleats for a picturesque — and highly practical — wall planter.
  • A prefab shelving unit provides not just ample vertical growing space but a place to permanently install a grow light system, too.

3. Plants with small footprints

With only a little bit of space, potato plants provide large yields. Potatoes are easy to grow indoors, and can be planted in any tall container, such as a five-gallon pail, plastic tote box, waste bin, or even a large bag, such as a chicken feed, fertilizer or garbage bag. Additionally, growing potatoes in straw keeps the container light and easy to move. Although the base of the container needs to be covered with small gravel and a few inches of topsoil, once the potato eyes are planted in the soil, the rest of the container can be filled with straw. Start with about four to six inches of straw, and when the plants start peeking out, top up the straw to encourage the plant to keep growing. Late-season cultivars work best because they will continue to set tubers as the plants grow taller, unlike early-season potatoes, which set tubers only once.

When planning your indoor garden, think outside the traditional floor-bound pot, and find ways to fill the nooks and crannies of your home with edible plants. Not only will you harness the health and environmental benefits of growing your own food, but your home will be lush and vibrant.

How do you maximize your indoor gardening space? Share your tips in the comment section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

Radishes: The Underrated Indoor Vegetable You Can Grow In 1 Month

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Radishes: The Underrated Indoor Vegetable You Can Grow In 1 Month

Image source: Pixabay.com

Radishes are highly underrated vegetables. Occasionally, they might make an appearance on someone’s veggie platter, or be sliced into a salad, but they don’t seem to get the kind of heavy rotation in kitchens as carrots and broccoli do. That’s too bad, because those peppery and crunchy globes are packed with healthy benefits. Radishes are an excellent source of vitamin C, and are also a source of folate, fiber, riboflavin, potassium, copper, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese and calcium. They are a natural diuretic, as well.

But wait! There’s more! Radish sprouts and greens have the same peppery flavor as the bulbs, and they’re good for you, too. The greens are packed with potassium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, phosphorus and thiamine. Like the bulbs and the greens, radish sprouts are also an excellent source of vitamin C, as well as a good source of folate, niacin, vitamin B6, and manganese.

On top of the health benefits, radishes are super easy to grow. As a cool-weather crop, they can do well in the cooler areas of your home during the winter. And within about 1-2 weeks of seeding, you can harvest radish sprouts and microgreens. Depending on the variety, the bulbs will be ready for harvest in as little as one month after seeding.

Radish Sprouts

If you’re aiming for radish sprouts, it’s best to buy seeds that are specifically sold for sprouting. They are more expensive than regular vegetable seeds, but they are cleaned better by the producer; they should be certified to be free of pathogens; and they have a high germination rate.

Angela Counter has an excellent tutorial here on Off The Grid News on how to grow sprouts . But, a note specific to radish seeds: They’re floaters by nature. If necessary, during the first step of soaking the seeds for 8-12 hours, push them underwater until they become waterlogged and sink. Once that first soak is done, it’s just a matter of rinsing and draining the seeds a few times a day until they have sprouted and are ready to harvest.

Need Non-GMO Vegetable Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

You should have edible sprouts within five to six days. Before eating, it’s best to dehull them just in case all the seed shells have not already fallen off. Dehulling is easily done by submerging the sprouts in water and swishing them around with your hand. Any remaining shells will pop off and float on the water, making them easy to remove.

Radish Microgreens, Greens And Bulbs

Radishes: The Underrated Indoor Vegetable You Can Grow In 1 Month

Image source: Pixabay.com

Even though radishes are a root vegetable, they can be grown in fairly shallow containers, like plastic seedling trays. The trays work great because they are large enough to provide a decent harvest of microgreens and greens while you wait for your bulbs to mature. Keep in mind, though, that if you use shallow containers, you will need to fertilize about once a week, since the small amount of soil will be quickly depleted of nutrients.

Choose radish seeds that will produce compact round bulbs, rather than cylindrical tubers. Some varieties to consider are Perfecto, Sparkler, Ping Pong and Cherry Belle.

Start by filling the trays with purchased soil and mix in some compost. The soil should be loose to encourage root development. Because you’re aiming to harvest microgreens, the seeds can be densely planted in rows that are spaced 3-4 inches apart. Once planted, the trays require at least six hours of direct light a day, which can be supplemented by a grow light if necessary. Keep the soil moist but not wet.

You should be able to start harvesting microgreens within 1-2 weeks of planting. It’s best to use scissors to snip the microgreens out. Because the seeds are densely planted, yanking the greens out will likely disturb — or even dislodge — nearby greens. If you intend to let some of the plants mature enough to produce edible bulbs, keep in mind that the ideal spacing for radish plants is about 1.5-2 inches.

If you’re aiming for radish greens, they are best when young and tender — when the root of the radish is still slim. Some radish varieties are a better choice for salad greens. If you’re hoping to toss raw radish greens into your salads or sandwiches, choose “hairless” varieties, like Perfecto. Otherwise, it can take some adjusting to get used to the slight fuzziness or roughness of radish leaves, especially the more mature ones. But, radish greens also can be added to soups, stir-fries, or casseroles, or even made into pesto, which negates any concern for their texture.

The radishes themselves may take a little longer to mature indoors than if grown outdoors. Don’t be surprised if they take a week or two longer than indicated on the package. Just be patient. It’ll be worth it.

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

Grow Lights Explained: Here’s What You’re Doing That’s Wrong

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Grow Lights Explained: Here's What You’re Doing That's Wrong

Image source: gehl-led.com

One of the most important considerations for indoor gardening is light. While some vegetables will chug along with a bare minimum of six hours of light daily, they will flourish with 12-16 hours daily. Clearly, grow lights are a must, especially during winter. However, one of the most common mistakes among indoors gardeners is using the wrong type of light.

Red, Blue, And Full-Spectrum Light

Let’s start by talking about the color in light. We perceive sunshine, for instance, as white light, but it’s actually made up of all the colors of the rainbow — it’s full-spectrum. Light bulbs don’t generate light the same way that the sun does, and the color of light they produce often appears as off-white. Traditional incandescent bulbs, for instance, give off a yellow-red glow, whereas basic fluorescent tubes often have a blue glow.

Looking For Non-GMO Vegetable Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!

Plants have different reactions to the different colors within light. Blue light encourages the growth of strong leafy plants, while red light helps plants flower and fruit. It helps to understand how plants react to red and blue light in order to choose the best grow lights for your indoor garden.

Fluorescent Grow Lights

Not that long ago, basic fluorescent tubes were the only real option for grow lights, and many gardeners still swear by them. They are inexpensive, easy to install, and energy efficient. And, with the advent of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, installation is easier than ever, since you can simply screw a bulb into any existing light fixture.

Grow Lights Explained: Here's What You’re Doing That's Wrong

Image source: Wikimedia

Fluorescent bulbs come in warm (red), cool (blue), and full-spectrum ranges. The light that fluorescents produce is relatively weak, but there are also high-intensity fluorescent bulbs if needed. Full-spectrum and high-intensity fluorescent bulbs are more expensive than basic ones, but they may end up being more cost-effective.

LED Grow Lights

Light emitting diodes (LED) bulbs have a lot of potential for grow lights, but they are not yet widely used. Like many technologies in their infancies, they are relatively expensive, although their cost is coming down. Keep your eye on LED grow lights because they have a lot of benefits, including having a long life and being energy efficient, and emitting little heat. Also, they can be programmed to produce specific wavelengths of light.

HID Grow Lights

There are two types of high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, both of which produce bright and intense light. Metal halide (MH) bulbs emit light that is quite similar to natural sunlight, without generating a lot of heat. However, they do tend to the blue end of the spectrum, and depending on the type of bulb used, you may need to supplement with high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting, which emits red light. HPS bulbs are excellent to promote flowering and fruiting. However, both types of HID bulbs can only be used in special fixtures, with ballasts, and the complete set-up can be expensive.

Your Grow Light Set-Up

Indoor gardening requires light, but that light must be cool. The heat created by incandescent and halogen bulbs is too intense and will fry your seedlings. Stick with fluorescent, LED or HID lighting.

Consider where the grow lights will be placed in your house. If your plants are already getting a great deal of light from a south-facing window, then weaker bulbs (like basic fluorescents) will work fine as supplementary lighting. If your plants are in a darker area of your home, you will need more powerful grow lights, like high-intensity fluorescent or HID bulbs.

The distance between your plants and your light source depends on what kind of bulbs you use. Since fluorescents are weaker, they can be placed only 2-3 inches from your plants; but LEDs should be 12-18 inches away. Either way, you will need to adjust the height of your grow lights as your plants get taller. Don’t count on keeping the position of your lights static. Seedlings will grow tall and spindly, without putting out leaves, if they need to stretch toward a far-away light source; and, of course, you don’t want them to touch the bulb.

The most complicated part of creating a grow light system is figuring out how big — in terms of wattage — it needs to be. It’s not just about the square footage of your growing space, but also about the type of light you’re using and what you’re growing. You will need a higher wattage if you’re using weaker bulbs, or are growing light-loving plants. Lettuce, for instance, needs less light than tomatoes do. While it’s tempting to just go with a higher wattage to cover all contingencies, that can have a negative effect on your energy consumption. There are all kinds of online guides that can help you figure out how to tailor your wattage to your plants.

Grow lights aren’t rocket science, but they aren’t a trip to the candy store, either. To effectively use grow lights, it helps greatly to have some understanding of how plants react to light, and of the available bulb options. Once you have that knowledge, you can optimize your own grow light set-up so that it best suits your needs.

What advice would you add on using grow lights? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Cheap Mini-Greenhouse That Makes Seed-Starting Easier

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The Cheap Mini-Greenhouse That Makes Seed-Starting Easier

Photo: Jacki Andre

As a gardening blogger and writer, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t start seeds indoors.

Living in zone 3, I should start most seeds in March or April. But April is always extremely busy at my day job, with lots of stress and long hours. Typically, I forget to water, don’t have the patience to adjust grow lights, and don’t have time to carry plants outside before work so that they harden off. The few times I tried this, it ended up being a big, fat failure. I don’t even try anymore.

The Cheap Mini-Greenhouse That Makes Seed-Starting Easier

Photo: Jacki Andre

That’s why I was excited to stumble across the idea of winter sowing. In a nutshell, winter sowing is planting seeds in repurposed plastic containers, which act as mini-greenhouses. Once planted, the containers should be put outside — even in freezing temps, and even in the snow. As the temperature warms up, the seeds will germinate, and the seedlings will stay toasty in their little greenhouses.

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The containers will naturally collect moisture through their various openings. The plants should chug along on their own, and naturally harden off. You do have to do some work, though: Once the temperatures stay above freezing, the seedlings should be transplanted into your garden. Since it all sounds logical (and easy!), I’m going to give it a whirl.

Containers For Mini-Greenhouses

Tall translucent or clear plastic containers work best so that sunlight reaches the plants. Containers need to hold 3-4 inches of soil, and still allow room for seedlings to grow. Consider using containers like these:

  • Milk jugs
  • Distilled or filtered water jugs
  • Large vinegar bottles
  • Family-size juice bottles
  • Soda/pop bottles
  • Rotisserie chicken deli containers
  • Clear tote boxes

All containers will need holes drilled or cut into the bottom, both for drainage and so that seedlings can suck up available water. Additionally, the containers will need at least one hole in the top so that moisture can get in that way, too. Vessels like milk, water and juice jugs already have that hole built in. A bonus is that if you live in an area that experiences heavy rains, you can use the jug lid as a way to moderate moisture levels.

Creating And Sowing Your Mini-Greenhouses

The Cheap Mini-Greenhouse That Makes Seed-Starting Easier

Photo: Jacki Andre

Starting with a clean container, make holes in the bottom. Depending on the type of plastic, you may be able to create holes by carefully twisting a knife tip in a circular motion; or you may be able to cut holes with a utility knife. If you have a harder, thicker plastic, you will probably need to break out your drill. If your container does not have at least one hole in the top, this is a good time to get that done, too.

Next, if your mini-greenhouse doesn’t already have a separate bottom and top (like the rotisserie chicken container or the plastic tote), you will need to cut through the container to create a hinged lid. Where exactly you make that cut depends on the container you’re using. Keep in mind that you want at least 3 inches of soil in the bottom. Depending on how much room will be left for the plants to grow in, you might make your cut anywhere from 3.5 to 5 inches from the bottom. It’s handy to leave a few inches of plastic uncut so that the pieces stay together and to form a hinged lid.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

Cover the bottom of your greenhouse with soil and wet it thoroughly. Let the soil drain before planting the seeds to the depth indicated on the seed packet. Once you have your seeds in, tape the sides of the container closed with duct tape. Labelling the containers is a good idea. Then it’s time to stick your greenhouses outside.

Choosing And Timing Seeds

Jessica over at The 104 Homestead has a very helpful zone-by-zone guide to help you choose seeds for winter sowing. Your best bets are hardy seeds, ones that require pre-chilling or stratification, or ones that produce seedlings that can withstand light frosts.

The Cheap Mini-Greenhouse That Makes Seed-Starting Easier

Photo: Jacki Andre

Depending on your zone, you can start putting your greenhouses out between the winter solstice (zones 6 and 7) and February (zone 3). Each month, as the weather grows warmer, you can sow different seeds. Typically, flowers can be planted the earliest, followed a month later by herbs and those seeds that require stratification. And then a month after that, you can get your frost-tolerant seeds in; and finally, about a month before the typical planting dates for your zone, the seeds for tender plants can be started. For myself, in zone 3, this means starting in February and wrapping up in late April.

To work on this project, I visited my local gardening center in January. Not surprisingly for zone 3, the selection of seeds there was limited. (Go online for a better selection.) I picked up what I could, and ended up putting out herb seeds a month earlier than recommended. We’ll see how they do. As for my future monthly greenhouses, I’m going to settle in with a steaming mug of tea and a gardening catalog, to do some research about which hardy varieties would be best to plant next. How about you? Will you give this a whirl, too?

Have you ever tried winter sowing? If so, what tips would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

The Space-Saving Indoor Garden You Can Easily Build At Home

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The Space-Saving Indoor Garden You Can Easily Build At Home

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Living walls are popping up more frequently in home design. These “walls” (which may be an entire wall or just a picture-frame type installation) are often planted with succulents. They are aesthetically stunning and bring a range of advantages into your home, including improved air quality and the buffering of acoustics. They also can lower anxiety and increase attentiveness and productiveness.

What if living walls were reimagined with edible plants like herbs? What if we also could harness all the benefits of growing culinary produce, like saving money and having better-tasting food? Would you do it? After researching how to do it, I know I will! I’m excited to get started.

While it may not be possible to create an actual “living wall” of herbs, due to the size of mature herbs and their growing characteristics, we certainly can create vertical gardens against the walls in our homes.

Depending on how much you want to spend, and how much of a DIYer you are, there are all kinds of options for indoor vertical gardening. You can buy fabric or plastic wall pockets simply to attach to your walls. You can build your own systems from jars or bottles and scraps of lumber. Or you can reach deep inside your wallet and buy a freestanding vertical garden unit.

Fabric Wall Pockets

You know those over-the-door shoe holders, made from a length of fabric with rows of small plastic pockets for your shoes? While you can actually use those for outdoor vertical gardening, they aren’t recommended for indoor use because the fabric isn’t water resistant and would likely The Space-Saving Indoor Garden You Can Easily Build At Homeruin your walls. However, several companies make similar fabric wall pockets specifically for growing plants indoors. Make sure you choose those that are waterproof, or that have reservoirs for retaining water. Wall pockets are an extremely economical choice and they are easy to install. And it’s easy enough to build a wooden frame to attach the pockets to, if you wish to up the style quotient.

Mason Jar Planters

If you have a rustic country-style decor, this will suit your space quite well — and it’s a very easy DIY project. All you need to do is attach heavy-duty stainless steel hose clamps to a strip of lumber. Securely clamp in mason jars, with a clamp encircling the center of each jar, and you are ready to plant.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Can Double Your Garden Yield!

Start by cutting 1×4 or 1×6 lumber to your desired length. If you want to paint, stain or otherwise prep the lumber, do so before proceeding to the next step, which is screwing on the clamps. Make sure you choose clamps that will fit the circumference of the jars you will be using.

Depending on your space, the board can be hung either vertically or horizontally. Comfortably space the clamps on the board, keeping in mind the size of mature herbs. If your board will be hung vertically, then attach your clamps so that your jars are tilted at about a 45-degree angle. This way, the jar above won’t hinder the herbs’ growth, and the jars can be placed closer together, making better use of your available space.

For a super-economical and eco-friendly version of this project, recycle plastic pop bottles instead of using mason jars. Just cut the tops off the bottles and screw the bottles directly to the board.

Framed Balcony Box Planters

Picture this: a large window-frame type structure — about 6 inches deep and 24 inches across. The height will depend on how many plastic rectangular balcony-style planters you want to place in it. Use cleats on the inside of the vertical pieces to hang your baskets. The planters will be easy to remove from the frame for maintenance or replanting. Cross braces on the back of the frame will strengthen your structure and keep the planters from touching the wall. This type of structure is easy to build, even for those with the most basic carpentry skills, and it is easily customizable to fit your available space. While a pre-fab shelving unit may be easier to put together, you may end up with wasted space surrounding your planters, and the shelves might get damaged by water.

Buying Freestanding Vertical Wall Gardens

If you have the money to spend and you don’t get itchy fingers over DIY projects, there’s a wide assortment of freestanding vertical wall gardens available for purchase. These can be placed against existing walls, or they work beautifully as room dividers. A little Internet research will turn up a slew of these systems.

Building (or buying!) your vertical herb garden structure is just the beginning of the fun. You’ll also need to pick out your herbs. If you’re creating a few smaller gardens, like a couple of wooden mason jar boards, why not create a themed herb garden in each? One could be for Italian herbs, like rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano, and another for tea herbs, like various mints. Whatever you end up doing, have fun, and enjoy using your fresh herbs all winter long.

Have you ever built or planted a wall garden? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

The Indoor Winter Garden: 5 Vegetables You Didn’t Know You Could Grow In Hanging Baskets

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The Indoor Winter Garden: 5 Vegetables You Didn't Know You Could Grow In Hanging Baskets

Image source: Pixabay.com

The square footage of my vegetable garden is about the same as the square footage of my house. While I do love fresh organic veggies, finding space to grow them indoors during the winter can be a bit of a puzzle. One way to maximize indoor growing space is to use hanging baskets.

Getting Ready to Plant

Bigger baskets will give your edibles more room to flourish. Choose baskets that are at least 12 inches deep. Their diameter can be as small as 6 inches, but the bigger you go, the more you can plant.

Keep your soil light by using a potting mix, and working in some perlite or vermiculite. Avoid bringing in soil from your outdoor garden, or using soil with clay or loam in it, as those will be heavy. Work some fertilizer in before planting to give your edibles a strong start.

Choose a location where your plants will get lots of sun, like a south-facing window. Most edibles need at least six hours of daylight each day, but some require up to 16 hours. Research your cultivars before planting to determine the amount of light needed, but remember that it’s easy enough to attach a small clamping grow light to a basket for supplementary light.

You also should consider your home’s temperature and humidity levels. Most edibles thrive in temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the usual range in most homes. Keep in mind that winter air is often quite dry; and placing your baskets near heat vents will cause further drying. Use mulch in to help maintain moisture, and plan to water daily. You also can increase humidity by misting your plants or running a humidifier.

Choosing Edibles to Plant

Dwarf varieties are best for hanging baskets. Compact plants that produce small, light fruits will keep your baskets healthy and manageable. Some plants, like tomatoes, have varieties bred specifically for baskets. For others, such as cucumbers, choose cultivars with smaller fruit.

1. Tomatoes

There are lots of great choices when it comes to tomatoes. Florida Basket and Micro Tom are just two of the varieties bred for baskets and pots. Tomatoes that mature early, such as Tumbler F1 and Tumbling Tom, are also good choices for growing indoors.

Looking For Non-GMO Herb Seeds? Get Them From A Family-Owned Company You Can Trust!

Tomatoes need at least eight hours of light each day, and should do well in a south-facing window for most of the winter. On the darkest days, supplement with a grow light if necessary. They are heavy feeders, and you should start fertilizing them twice a week once the plants are about three inches tall. Because there aren’t any insects or wind to do the job, you will need to hand pollinate your plants once they flower. Simply tap the flower stem to dislodge the pollen; or, if you like, you can use a cotton swab to transfer pollen from one flower to the other.

2. Peas and beans

The Indoor Winter Garden: 5 Vegetables You Didn't Know You Could Grow In Hanging Baskets

Image source: Pixabay.com

As a cool weather crop, peas are particularly well-suited to growing indoors during the winter. Since they can tolerate light frosts, you don’t need to worry about the vines getting too close to frosty windows. Keep your beans more protected, though, because they prefer warmer temperatures. Both peas and beans require only about six hours of sunlight daily. Plan to water once a day and fertilize once a week for best results.

3. Cucumbers

Choose your cucumber varieties carefully. Some, like Carmen, are bred to grow indoors — or, rather, in greenhouses. These cultivars have a high propagation rate, high yields, good disease resistance, and most importantly for the indoor gardener, they self-pollinate. However, Carmen produces large 14-16 inch fruit, which will be difficult to manage in hanging baskets.

Regular outdoor varieties will have lower yields, and you’ll need to help the pollination process along. However, a variety bred for planters (like Patio Snacker), or one that produces small fruit (like County Fair Hybrid) are excellent choices to grow indoors.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Can Double Your Garden Yield!

Cucumbers require only moderate amounts of light (5-6 hours daily), but they bask in warmth. Plan to water daily and increase watering once the plants flower. Indoor cucumber plants should be fertilized once a week.

4. Salad greens

Lettuce and other salad greens like kale and spinach are cool weather crops, and are well-suited to growing in your home’s cooler nooks and crannies. They are also very easy to grow from seed. However, these veggies do need a lot of light — 14 to 16 hours a day is ideal. If you’d like to grow salad greens indoors, plan to attach a clamping grow light to your basket. Since salad greens need a moist environment in which to germinate, mist the soil frequently.

5. Strawberries

Strawberries grow well indoors as well as in hanging baskets. The best variety for indoor baskets is the Alpine strawberry, which produces small, fragrant and flavorful fruit. Strawberries do just fine in regular indoor temperatures and need only six hours of sunlight per day. Plan to fertilize about every 10 days, and break out your cotton swabs, because you’ll need to pollinate your strawberries as well.

Even with decreased amounts of sunlight, low humidity and frosty windows, it’s possible to grow some fruits and vegetables indoors during the winter. Use hanging baskets to maximize your growing space — and your harvest. Why spend your winter daydreaming about next year’s garden? Just go ahead and break out those seed catalogs now.

What do you grow indoors during winter? Share your tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

How to Make An Attention-Grabbing, Festive Culinary Wreath

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How to Make An Attention-Grabbing, Festive Culinary Wreath

Photo: Jacki Andre

You’ve worked hard growing herbs and vegetables. Why not show off your bounty as a beautiful wreath? Culinary wreaths can be created in a variety of ways. Most start with a base of herbs and may include other small produce — like garlic bulbs or small peppers — for visual interest. Culinary wreaths smell amazing and offer a unique way to access your herbs while cooking.

How to Make An Attention-Grabbing, Festive Culinary Wreath

Photo: Jacki Andre

If you use fresh herbs, they will start to dry fairly quickly on the wreath form. The best fresh herbs for this project are those with woody stems and small leaves, like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, marjoram and oregano. They will be easier to attach to the wreath form and will keep the wreath shape better than those with soft stems and larger leaves, which will droop as they dry. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a zone where bay laurel is hardy, or if you have a bay laurel tree growing indoors, bay leaves work great, too.

Looking For Non-GMO Herb Seeds? Get Them From A Family-Owned Company You Can Trust!

However, I was doing this project on a deadline, with no time to grow a bay tree. I just used what I had available — and I’m pretty happy with the result. Don’t be afraid to try different types of herbs on your own wreath.

All you will need are a wire wreath form and floral tape. Depending on what you are using to create your wreath, you also may find twist ties, thin twine or thread handy. You may want some ribbon on hand to create a hanger, or just a pretty bow. As far as tools go, kitchen shears are all you need.

I started by attaching the herbs with the biggest leaves first. Simply strip the leaves off the bottom 2-3 inches of the stem and securely wrap the stem against the wreath form, using the floral tape. A tip I learned the hard way is that it’s better to use more floral tape than you think you need. If you don’t have enough tape, it will unwind on its own. If you are using herbs with softer stems, be gentle with the stems as you wrap them.

How to Make An Attention-Grabbing, Festive Culinary Wreath

Photo: Jacki Andre

Once the herbs with the biggest leaves are secured to the wreath form, start filling in the gaps with smaller herbs. Take care not to crush the ones that are already attached to the form. For much of the project, I simply stood the wreath on my lap and rested the back of it against the table edge. But once I could no longer keep it on my lap without crushing the herbs, I hung up the wreath.

It can be a little awkward to work on your wreath while it’s hanging, but a big plus is that it’s easier to see which areas need to be filled out more. As you work, cram in as many herbs as you can. You might also want to bunch two or three stems together as you tape them onto the form, to create a nice full wreath. Remember that as the herbs dry, they will shrink, so the more that you can attach, the better.

Once you are happy with your herb base, get creative and add in other produce for visual interest. I used twist ties to attach garlic bulbs, and thread to attach red Thai peppers (which, to be honest, I bought at the supermarket). Depending on what kind of herbs your wreath is made from, other possible embellishments include cinnamon sticks, a string of cranberries, dried orange slices, and flowers or Chinese lantern pods.

Once you are happy with your finished product, hang it up in your kitchen and get ready to pull off pinches of dried herbs as needed. Your wreath will be beautiful, practical and a point of pride, because you grew the herbs and created the wreath yourself. That’s the best kind of project, don’t you think?

What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

Mushrooms: The Perfect, Indoor, Fast-Growing Winter Crop

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Mushrooms: The Perfect, Indoor, Fast-Growing Winter Crop

The idea of gardening indoors during the winter can be daunting. It’s easy to feel defeated by the low levels of sunlight and the limited amount of space. But some crops are excellent choices to grow inside during the winter, and mushrooms are one. They will happily grow in a plastic bucket, a chunk of log or a seedling flat — and they require minimal space. Plus, the naturally dark and cool winter environment suits them perfectly.

Mushrooms are little health warriors. Carb-free, gluten-free, low in calories and sodium, and nutrient-rich, they are incredibly healthy. Different varieties of mushrooms are packed with nutrients like potassium, selenium, iron, and vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). Mushrooms enhance our immune systems and lower hypertension and cholesterol. Their meat-like texture makes them ideal meat substitutes.

There’s no doubt that mushrooms are healthy, but how feasible is it to grow them in our homes? Many of us have heard stories about mushrooms being grown in places like abandoned mines. Plus, mushrooms grow from microscopic spores, instead of seeds. Still, believe it or not, mushrooms are fairly easy — and fun — to grow.

Mushroom Kits

Mushroom spores need to be mixed with a nutrient-rich base like sawdust, grain or straw. This mixture will develop mycelium: thin, soft, white threads (think of mold). Once mycelium develops, it’s called “spawn.” For the best mushroom crop, spawn should be spread on a substrate (base material). Common substrates include cardboard, straw, logs, manure and grain; but other materials like coffee grounds and tea leaves can be used.

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Because each variety prefers different substrates and growing conditions, getting a mushroom harvest is a bit of an art. First-time growers should consider using a kit. Kits come complete with spawn, substrate, instructions, and often additional supplies like water misters and plastic sheeting. Growing mushrooms from kits is a breeze, and it offers a terrific chance of success.

Experimenting with Spawn and Substrate

Mushrooms: The Perfect, Indoor, Fast-Growing Winter CropKits are great because they give you a chance to see what’s involved in the process. But once you’ve tried a kit, it can be more fun to experiment with spawn and substrates. Start by researching different mushroom varieties and the types of substrates and growing conditions each requires. Once you decide on a mushroom variety, look online for spawn suppliers.

Using your own substrates is part of the fun, and it’s a money-saver. Most substrates do need to be pasteurized before use to kill off harmful bacteria and fungi, but the process is fairly simple. Common methods include baths in hot water, hydrogen peroxide or lime, and cold incubation.

Cardboard is an exception. Since most other fungi and bacteria won’t grow on cardboard, it doesn’t need to be pasteurized before use. Simply tear waste cardboard into small pieces and soak in water for at least an hour. Once it’s drained, it’s ready to use.

Cultivating mushroom spores so that you can bypass spawn suppliers is, unfortunately, labor-intensive and costly. It requires a sterile workplace, as well as a pressure cooker or autoclave. However, if you become an avid mushroom producer, you might want to look into cultivating your own spores, too.

A Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Buy a mushroom kit or spawn.
  2. If you’re not using a kit, prepare the substrate, and then inoculate it with spawn.
  3. Place the inoculated substrate in the best possible environment for the variety. Most mushrooms grow best if the temperature is around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but some varieties will perform better in temperatures that are slightly cooler or warmer. Some light is OK, but keep the substrate away from direct sunlight. Basements often work well for growing mushrooms, as does the space under your kitchen sink.
  4. Keep the inoculated substrate moist by covering it with a damp cloth or a sheet of plastic that has some holes punched in it for air circulation. Remove the covering and spritz with non-chlorinated water two to three times a day.
  5. Depending on the variety chosen, the quality of the spawn, and the suitability of the growing environment, tiny mushrooms may begin growing within a few days to a few weeks. This process is called “pinning.”
  6. Once your mushrooms begin pinning, they will mature quickly, usually within a few days.
  7. The method of harvesting your mushroom depends on the variety you are growing. Some should be cut at the stem; others should be broken off in clumps.

And that’s it! Who knew it could be so easy to grow mushrooms? It really isn’t all that different from growing vegetables, except you are using spawn instead of seeds, and darkness instead of light. Because they prefer cool, dark environments, and require only a little bit of space, mushrooms are the perfect indoor winter crop.

Have you ever grown mushrooms? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.