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.

Diatomaceous Earth: The All-Natural Ant Killer!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

Image source: Pixabay.com

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.

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

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

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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

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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:

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

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.