How I’m Going To Build A Simple Tall Raised Garden Bed

Tall raised garden bed

By Ken Jorgustin – Modern Survival Blog

First of all, why would one build a raised garden bed at all?

The most likely answer is for the sake of bending over and your back.

Other reasons include the comparative ease to amend and control the garden soil, and the potential to construct / attach a sort of green house cover in order to start the growing season earlier in the Spring.

Continue reading at Modern Survival Blog: How I’m Going To Build A Simple Tall Raised Garden Bed

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Your Survival Garden: Time to Start Thinking About Calories

In good times there are tons of reasons to garden.  It saves money, gets you closer to your food supply, teaches you valuable skills and gives you some independence.  In bad times there is only one real reason to garden—to grow food so you can survive. But looking deeper, it isn’t the food that keeps […]

Urban Survival Gardening: A Guide for Beginners

According to a 2015 survey, 62.7 percent of people in the United States live in the city, despite US cities taking up just 3.5 percent of the total land area. No doubt, living in a city provides plenty of advantages, from dining and entertainment options to proximity to your place of employment. One advantage that […]

The post Urban Survival Gardening: A Guide for Beginners appeared first on Urban Survival Site.

Urban Survival Gardening: A Guide for Beginners

According to a 2015 survey, 62.7 percent of people in the United States live in the city, despite US cities taking up just 3.5 percent of the total land area. No doubt, living in a city provides plenty of advantages, from dining and entertainment options to proximity to your place of employment. One advantage that […]

The post Urban Survival Gardening: A Guide for Beginners appeared first on Urban Survival Site.

How To Keep Your Compost Pile Churning … All Winter Long

How To Keep Your Compost Pile Churning … All Winter Long

Image source; Wikipedia

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

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

Hot Composting

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

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

If You Build It

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

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

Go Bigger

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

Fuel Up

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

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

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

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

Not too Wet, Not too Dry

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

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

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


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

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

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

11 Highest Calorie Crops for Your Survival Garden

Right now, most of us live in a world where the fewer calories a food has, the better. Should the day ever come when food is in short supply, though, that trend will reverse. When preparing to grow a survival garden, the number of calories a crop offers is an important consideration. Although veggies like […]

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12 Seeds You Need To Start NOW For Spring Planting

12 Seeds You Need To Start NOW For Spring Planting

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

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

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

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

General Hint

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


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

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

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

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

Onions, Leeks, and Shallots

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

Celery and Celeriac

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

Woody Herbs (Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme)

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

Chili Peppers

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


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

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

Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

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Read part 1 in this series here.

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

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

Building the Best Greenhouse

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

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

How Cold is Too Cold?

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Best Vegetable Varieties

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

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

Timing your Seedlings

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

Why Bother?

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

How To Build The Best Unheated Greenhouse For Winter Use

Building The Best Unheated Greenhouse For Winter Use

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

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

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

How an Unheated Greenhouse ‘Works’

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

Get The All-Natural Fertilizer That Doubles Garden Production!

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

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

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

Location, Location, Location

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

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

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

Design Principles


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

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

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


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

Frame and Walls

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

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

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

Inexpensive Ways To Help Potted Plants Survive Winter

Inexpensive Ways To Help Potted Plants Survive Winter

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

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

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

Why Not Just Overwinter in Pots?

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

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

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

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

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

Bring Them Inside

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

Use a Sheltered Outdoor Spot

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

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

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

Wrap Them Up

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

Bury Them, Pot and All

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

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

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

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

5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

5 Reasons To Apply Mulch Before The Snow Flies

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Mulch? In the winter? You betcha.

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

1. Extending the Growing Season

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

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

2. Protecting Perennials

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

3. Minimizing Frost Heave Damage

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

4. Improving the soil

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

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

5. Suppressing weeds

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

Choosing Winter Mulch

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

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

Applying Winter Mulch

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

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

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


The Crazy Trick That Lets You Re-Grow Herbs From Just One Plant

The Crazy Trick That Lets You Re-Grow Herbs From Just One Plant

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Do you love herbs, but shudder at the price? Here’s some good news: With a single potted plant (or grocery store remains) you can easily grow your own by cutting from the original plant or bunch.

Clone these four herbs and get a bigger harvest, faster.


The garden favorite is very easy to propagate — which means creating a new plant from an existing plant. (Pesto fans, rejoice!) Cut the basil right below where two or three leaves join the main stem, usually from the top. That’s what’s called the “leaf node.” (Leave at least 5 leaves on the plant you cut from, and it will grow back.)

Clip leaves about 3 to 4 inches from the top, right below the leaf node, where the leaf joins the main stem. Remove any leaves that are in the area 2 inches from the bottom, and use those for cooking. (They will rot in the water.) Add the stems to a glass of water, and place in a sunny spot. Depending on the size of your glass, you can put 3 to 6 cuttings in each; just don’t over-crowd them.

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In a week, you’ll see tiny white roots growing, but wait until the roots are 2 inches or so long before planting. Continue to change the water every other day. Once the roots are about 2-inches long, plant them in a spot with a lot of sun, since basil prefers heat. If you’re using a pot, make sure it has good drainage. Soon, the little cutting will start growing and rooting exponentially. Want more basil? Keep cutting! Just leave at least 5 leaves on the plant you cut from, and it will grow back.


Like basil, mint is easy to re-grow. From a healthy, strong green plant, or from a grocery-store produce bunch, cut a sprig about 4 inches long. Remove the lower leaves, add to a glass of water and sit on a sunny windowsill. Change the water every other day, and you’ll see roots in about a week. Once the roots get about a half-inch long, they’re ready to plant. It’s best to plant any mint in a pot, because a mint can, eventually, overtake your entire garden.


This herb is not only culinary, but is widely recognized as helpful for sleeping. It’s best to use fronds from a mature plant. You’ll need some peat-free compost, some organic rooting powder and a suitable pot.

Using branches that have never flowered allows the plant to concentrate its energy on rooting. Gently pull the branch from the stem, including a small bit of bark. Remove any leaves from the bottom and trim excess the “heel” of the bark, where the rooting happens. Put these in warm water while you ready the medium.

When you’re ready to plant, make a small well with your finger in the compost, dip the cut end into the rooting powder and add it to the pot. Water, and cover with a plastic bag, and seal. Leave it for four weeks, uncover occasionally to prevent fungal growth, until they start rooting. Once the plants are rooted, plant them into pots or your garden.


Like basil, this plant is easy to grow and re-grow, but it takes longer. Cut some from an existing plant, or root some leftover from some bought at the grocery or farmer’s market.

Cut and use the softer top tip area, 3 to 5 inches long (like what you buy at the grocery), and remove the bottom leaves. Then make a small diagonal cut on the bottom of the stem, and add to water. Keep watching and changing the water, and in a few weeks, roots will appear. Once the roots get a little longer, it’s ready to plant in a pot, or in your garden. Keep the soil a little moist, but don’t over-water it; do that and you’ll kill the plant.

Green onions

You’ll always have them available if you buy a bunch or two at the grocery. Cut the white root ends about 4 inches or so long, and put them into a glass of water (don’t submerge them). Use the green parts as you normally would, and watch the white parts grow back green in a matter of days. You can keep clipping and using them, changing the water, or you can plant them when they begin re-growing. Repeat until you have a supply you can cut regularly.

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


Autumn Leaves: ‘Miracle Mulch’ For Your Spring Garden

How Autumn Leaves Can Become 'Miracle Mulch' For Your Spring Garden

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As we enjoy the changing seasons and the vibrant colors that come with autumn, we prepare ourselves for cooler temperatures and the raking and gathering of fallen leaves. For gardeners, this doesn’t mean an added chore, but actually a beneficial moment for improving and preparing our gardens for winter. There are many uses for those discarded leaves, and below are a few common ones.

  • Compost: Mow the leaves and place in the compost pile. It is easy to shred the leaves with a mower.
  • Leaf mold: This is a pile of leaves and soil that sits for about a year, and then is added to the compost. It helps with nutrients and soil-building.
  • Storing: This is a method of keeping all the leaves in a pile and using them to add to the compost when brown material is needed.
  • Mulch: Mulch retains moisture, controls temperature of soil and limits weed growth. Leaves also add nutrients and brown material as time goes on.

Let’s take a look at using autumn leaves. Mulching is one of the easiest and most beneficial methods of using autumn leaves. It is also the most inexpensive way to deal with fallen leaves and takes as much, or even less, time than the usual raking and bagging. Mulch can be used in vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, shrubs and under trees. It looks attractive in any garden and is completely natural.

Tree leaves absorb about 50 percent of the nutrients that the tree gathers during the growing season. By using as mulch, they return these nutrients to the soil. They also encourage worms and micro-organisms to work the dirt. The end result will be a lighter soil which is easier to work and grow plants in.

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Mulch can also be used to insulate plants and protect them from the cold winter winds and temperatures. It helps prevent soil compaction.

Things to Remember

How Autumn Leaves Can Become 'Miracle Mulch' For Your Spring Garden

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Almost any leaves will make good mulch, but not Black Walnut. Black Walnut leaves should never be used because there are plants that are sensitive to this particular leaves’ compounds. Use only healthy leaves, not any covered with mildew, rust or tar. If you collect from trees such as laurel, walnut and eucalyptus, compost them before turning into mulch as they contain growth-inhibitors.

Shred the leaves before using in the garden. Whole leaves can prevent water from reaching the ground and plants. When you shred leaves for mulch, you are ensuring micro-organisms have more room to do their work.

Mulch expands, so cover all the ground with an even distribution, but don’t put it right up on a plant’s stem or trunk. Otherwise, it will encourage rot.

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Here are some essential tips:

  • To start mulching, use the lawnmower and run over the leaves a few times. This mowing will shred the leaves into acceptable sizes. Once mowed sufficiently, rake into piles, and place in bags, buckets or wheelbarrow to move to where you need to mulch.
  • Weed the area first, and then add mulch
  • Apply a two- or three-inch layer of leaf mulch around the vegetable garden and flower beds.
  • If you cover vegetables like kale, leeks, carrots and beets, you may be able to harvest them most of the winter.
  • For plants like leeks and other closely planted greens, use your hands and take fistfuls of mulch to place several inches between the vegetables.
  • Plants that love shade can be covered by leaf mulch. It’s natural for them to be covered at this time of year. Place less than two inches, or five centimeters, of mulch over them so they can push through with little issue in the spring.
  • If you are using mulch as insulation, use about six inches, or 15 centimeters, to protect the more tender plants.

So when you see the leaves begin to fall this year, do not worry. Use them to enhance and create healthy plants and soil for the next season. With a little work, you can have a top-notch, natural mulch all your neighbors will envy! Nature provided us with the best mulch material, so don’t waste it. Mow those leaves and create an awesome autumn leaf mulch.

Got any fall mulching tips? Share them in the section below:

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Simple And Easy Ways To Preserve Homegrown Herbs

Simple And Easy Ways To Preserve Homegrown Herbs

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I’ve had an herb garden for as long as I can remember, and there are more than a few things I’ve learned the hard way. The biggest lesson was complacency with my herb harvests. The first frost will absolutely toast some herbs like basil, mint and lemon balm. The first freeze will wipe out most of the rest, although chives and thyme seem to hold on a bit better. The thing I do now is get out to those herbs, harvest and preserve for the winter to come and well before the first frost.

Preservation Techniques

We’re going to cover five herb preservation techniques. All of them include drying the herbs and wild plants to various degrees, but there are a couple of variations. What you’re trying to do is avoid mold growth while preserving flavor.

1. The food dehydrator

Food dehydrators are typically defined as a layer of trays with a heating element at the bottom and sometimes a small fan to circulate the air. You can dry various and multiple types of herbs, but you’ll find the herbs at the bottom which are closest to the heating element will dry out faster. You need to check and either rotate or remove trays as the herbs dry.

I’ll typically put more robust herbs likes chives, sage and rosemary on the bottom tray and more delicate herbs like basil and mint toward the top. I’ll also check them periodically, knowing that some might dry before others.

2. Oven drying

This is a fairly robust technique and doesn’t work particularly well, with more delicate herbs like basil and mint varieties including lemon balm. However, it works great with chives, sage, oregano and marjoram leaves on the stem; as well as thyme and rosemary. The starting temperature is as low 150 degrees Fahrenheit and the duration varies depending on the herb.

The best way to manage this approach is to cover a baking sheet with foil and distribute the whole herbs on the stem in one layer on the sheet and place in the oven. You need to check on them every 20 minutes or so and possibly turn or toss some of them to expose as much surface area as possible to the heat. Once they’re dried, get them out of the oven or they may brown. You’re trying to preserve color, not lose it. Once they’re dried, strip the leaves from the stem and crush to the consistency you like.

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However, there are some wild plants like blackberry leaves or black raspberry leaves that are roasted at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes. The result will be a very crisp, brown leaf that is then easy to crush into a tea leaf consistency.

I also like the oven technique for natural spices like juniper berries and red sumac berries. I’ll use a low temp like 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Once they’re sufficiently dried I’ll toss the berries together and pour them into a pepper mill. In an off-grid environment, many spices like pepper, turmeric and others will be in very short supply. Using these berries as a flavor-note for foods will be a welcome treat.

I’ve also left the juniper berries on the stems and have later infused both the berries and the juniper needles to make juniper tea. Be forewarned: Your house will smell like a pine tree if you gently roast them on the stem, but some of us like that.

3. Sun drying

Without question this is the oldest technique for drying herbs and has been done for thousands of years. There are essentially two ways to approach. The best is to place the herbs on a foil-lined baking sheet and place them in a sunny spot indoors. This protects them from moisture caused by rain or morning dew and the general dust, dirt and pollen that is constantly in the air outside.

If you do choose to dry the herbs outside, a picnic table is a good surface area well off the ground and easily exposed to the sun. The standard technique is to once again line a baking sheet with foil, but you want a baking sheet with a raised lip around the edges. You then wrap plastic wrap around the baking sheet, leaving a one-inch gap on either side. This will help trap the heat, but the gaps allow the moisture to transpire to ensure the drying process.

All herbs can be used with this technique, but once again you need to check them from time to time to assess when they’re done. You also shouldn’t leave them out overnight due to morning dew. The garage is a good storage place while you wait for the return of the morning sun, and, obviously get them inside if rain is in the forecast.

4. Refrigerator drying

This technique requires dedicated shelf space in the fridge with a layer of cheesecloth on the shelf with the herbs on top. The refrigerator is actually a very dry environment, and it’s why we store fresh vegetables in the crisper where moisture can be maintained and managed.

The downside to this technique is the need to dedicate refrigerator space to the herbs for anywhere from one to three weeks. Fortunately, I have a second refrigerator freezer in the garage and that makes it easier to apply this approach.

The upside is that this technique really preserves the color of the herbs, but make sure they’re as dry as possible.  Moisture content in stored herbs can lead to mold growth. In fact, I’ll usually give any of my home-dried herbs a sniff from the jar before using. It should smell like the herb you want to use. If there is any hint of mildew, toss the contents of the jar and wash it well with hot, soapy water and a good rinse.

All herbs can be dried with this approach and it’s particularly good for the more delicate herb varieties like basil and mint.

5. Herbed ice-cubes

This has actually emerged as one of my favorite techniques for herb preservation. It’s as simple as dropping a tablespoon of freshly chopped herbs into each ice-cube compartment and then filling with water and freezing. Once the cubes are frozen, I’ll mark on a plastic sandwich bag the name of the herb and store in the freezer.

It makes portion control for recipes super-simple. If you’re making a marinara sauce that calls for two tablespoons of oregano, you just drop two of the oregano ice-cubes into the bubbling pot and you’re good to go.

Better yet, the herbs will retain all of their natural oils and flavors. It’s great to have fresh herbs in January and you can take it up a notch by substituting chicken or beef broth for water before you freeze the cubes. The broth adds a boost of flavor and the herbs will do the same.

I’ve also used this technique for things like goldenrod flower tops which make a great tea. Drying goldenrod flowers is tricky and they lose most of their subtle, licorice flavor. I just drop a handful of goldenrod ice-cubes into a pot of boiling water. Shut off the heat and let it steep while the cubes slowly melt.

Herb Storage

Storing your herbs is not complicated and there are a variety of options.

You could buy herb jars, small or medium canning jars or even save old herb packages and wash, dry and refill them. The critical thing is to know that the herbs are sufficiently dry. Moisture is the enemy with food storage, and it especially applies to home-dried herbs and spices.

An herb rack or pantry is a good storage option, but you could always keep them in the fridge if you have the space or want to ensure no spoilage. When it’s time to harvest and preserve again I’ll toss the old herbs, wash the jars and start over.  

Herbs can be very expensive to buy at the store, and if we’re in an off-grid environment, pretty much impossible. Even if you only fill a few jars with your home-grown herbs, you’ll appreciate that you made them from scratch — and that always makes everything taste better.

What advice would you add for storing and preserving herb? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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

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

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

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

1. Clean and dry

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

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

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

2. Remove rust

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

3. Sand and sharpen

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

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

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

4. Sanitize

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

5. Season with oil

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

6. Store wisely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Winter Squash?

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

When to Harvest

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

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

There are a few other clues that help determine ripeness:

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

What if it’s Not-Quite Ripe?

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

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

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

Curing Winter Squash

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

Storing Winter Squash

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

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

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

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

5 Ways To Turn Your Garden Into A Supercharged Ecosystem

Your Garden Is An Ecosystem (And Here's 5 Things You're Probably Doing Wrong)

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Intuitively, we all know that diversity is important in ecosystems, and yet most gardeners chug along year after year using the same few plants in the garden, as if gardens themselves are not ecosystems and somehow fall outside of the laws of nature.

To be sure, many gardens do not resemble healthy ecosystems (think of a forest compared to a typical vegetable garden and you’ll get the point), which is why “weeds,” pests and disease are considered normal, and the consequent time spent dealing with these problems is seen as a necessary evil.

Indeed, many gardeners are now waking up to simple methods of ecological design that seek to deal with these time sinks by incorporating ecological principles inherent in healthy ecosystems into the design of their gardens. Forests, for example, usually deal with pests and diseases with ease, and are made up of what can be considered natural companion plants, or polycultures (more than one type of plant), also known as “plant guilds” that work together to support one another. Here’s how:

1. Making it harder for pests and disease to spread. With only a few types of plants in the garden, especially when they are all planted in one place, you are much more likely to attract pests that love those plants, while more

Your Garden Is An Ecosystem (And Here's 5 Things You're Probably Doing Wrong)

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easily spreading disease. It’s simple population dynamics. For example, if all your squashes are planted tightly together, powdery mildew is more likely to spread from one plant to the other, unchecked. Space plants out in more natural patterns to make it harder for pests to find their favorite food and for diseases to jump easily from plant to plant.

2. Encouraging predators. More plant diversity means more types of habitat and food for beneficial insects, birds, frogs and other organisms that help keep insects and other pests in check. Trees and shrubs are also an important part of a healthy ecosystem, so incorporate them into your garden when possible, being careful to plan for their growth.

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As ecological designer Bill Mollison once said: “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a ground bird deficiency.” You could just as easily replace “slug” and “ground bird” with any other variety of pests and their predator. One example of a good predator to have around are various types of birds, which prefer shrubs and trees to perch on, and things like berries to eat.

3. Creating healthier ecosystem dynamics. This is related to the above point. More diversity leads to a healthier environment in many ways. For example, some plants provide specific ecosystem functions, such as nitrogen fixation (creating a macronutrient literally out of thin air), dynamic accumulation (bringing specific nutrients from the subsoil up into the topsoil where other plants can use them), ground cover (protecting soil from erosion and filling ecosystem niches so that unwanted opportunistic plants cannot take over), and as mentioned, providing habitat and food for beneficial organisms.

4. Limiting competition and filling spaces. In addition to more efficient nutrient cycles from dynamic accumulators, planting a diversity of plants will also lead to a diversity of plant root patterns and depths in general, and a diversity of nutrient needs that will cause less competition for nutrients and moisture. Further, it will help prevent erosion and nutrient leaching. Many gardeners keep annuals and perennials separate in the garden, but there is no reason to do this, and in fact, they work very well together, given that annuals tend to have more shallow roots, while perennials often have deeper roots. Meanwhile, annuals tend to flower for longer periods of time, and are perfect for filling the spaces between sapling trees while they grow larger, for example. Filling more space below and above ground also means that fewer unwanted plants will be able to make their way into your garden.

5. Using trap plants. A specific gardening technique you can use once you identify a pest in your garden is to find out what that pest’s favorite food is, and use it against them. Plant it in the middle of or near the affected plants, and the pest will often flock to it (e.g. use bok choi or pak choi to attract flea beetles away from brassicas/cruciferous vegetables). You can then spot spray them with organic pesticides like insecticidal soap or neem oil, or take a shop vacuum or dust buster to them if they are a slower moving pest.

Ecosystems are incredibly complex, but with knowledge of a few key principles, we can begin to work with natural systems (which is exactly what your garden is) to use their biological resources to do work for us. In other words, ecological gardening isn’t just for hippies and tree huggers; it’s for people who want to cut out unnecessary work and costs by hunkering down and learning about how the real world works. Diversifying your garden to include plant guilds or polycultures, is just one of the ways you can do this.

If you enjoyed this article, or want to share some of your own design ideas for polycultures or plant guilds, please share in the comments below!

11 Ways To Beat Nature And Extend Your Gardening Season

11 Ways To Beat Nature And Extend Your Gardening Season

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If you live in a climate that has less-than-ideal growing conditions for much of the year due to frost or cold weather, there are many things you can do to extend the growing season by weeks, months, or even indefinitely – even in the coldest climates.

1. Choose the right plants

First and foremost, choose plants that will yield in the amount of time you have. Most annual vegetables can be grown in most places if started early (see below), but if you choose a perennial that doesn’t belong in your zone, it may not produce anything even if it does survive the winters. Learn everything you can about a plant’s needs for soil, sun, water, daylight hours, temperatures and humidity, and choose the ones most adapted for your climate (but don’t be afraid to experiment, too).

2. Use green houses

Probably the most well-known way to extend the growing season is to use green houses. The best designs for energy efficiency and resilience are passive solar green houses. They are sometimes built into south-facing slopes, and usually have windows concentrated on the south, and sometimes the east, and west sides, while the north side is generally heavily insulated or made of thermal mass such as stone or earth.

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There are many designs online to explore, from in-ground walapinis, to bermed designs, to aquaculture focused, to simple free-standing versions. Add a rocket mass heating stove or other stove to your green house, and you will ensure a year-round growing season with little risk of freezing. You might even consider attaching the green house to your home so you can exchange heat between the two buildings.

3. Use cold frames

The little sister of green houses, cold frames can be an invaluable way to extend your season using salvaged materials such as old patio doors and scrap wood. Just as with green houses, you can build them into slopes or berms, but it also can be as simple as throwing a frame on a window and placing it over a bed at a height suitable to your plants. You also can create temporary quick and dirty cold frames quickly by piling logs or other materials around your beds and placing windows on top of them. Make sure you have a way to ventilate the cold frame, whether through incorporating hinges and a way to prop the windows up, or through removable sides. As with a green house, you also can attach cold frames to your home to either exchange heat, or to simply benefit from a south-facing wall.

4. Use microclimates

Microclimates are simply areas within your garden that have different temperature or humidity qualities than the rest of your garden. South-facing walls are an example, as mentioned above, as are southern hills, large rocks, pond or lake edges, or well-sheltered areas (e.g. from buildings, trees or hedges). These will all make conditions more favorable for growing less hardy plants. Likewise, avoid the frost pockets caused by obstacles or land forms (e.g. low-lying areas) that may cause frost to collect.

5. Stagger plantings

Continue planting appropriate crops throughout the entire season, including right into the fall when you can plant cold season crops like spinach, chard, kale, or beets. Once you harvest a crop, plant another crop right away, considering how much time you have before first frost. Of course, you also can plan for putting a cold frame over a crop or use other methods below if you expect it won’t be ready in time.

6. Plant diversity, including perennials

11 Ways To Beat Nature And Extend Your Gardening Season

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Branch out beyond the common annual vegetables, many of which have less tolerance to cold than some other annuals like globe artichoke, or radicchio, and especially perennials. Perennial vegetables like sea kale, good King Henry, garden sorrel, and many others are often poking out of the ground weeks before you plant your first annual out. And why stick to vegetables and herbs when you also can benefit from the abundance and ease of maintenance that trees, shrubs, and vines can bring? Try fruit like strawberries, juneberries/Saskatoon berries, raspberries, kiwi, and haskaps, as well as nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and cherries to keep the harvest coming all season.

7. Incorporate mounds and raised beds

Raised beds and soil mounds will warm up earlier in the spring, and stay warmer later into the fall. Although they may have some drawbacks, such as drying out faster and requiring more work to create, incorporating at least a few raised beds or hills/mounds can extend your season at least a little. Make sure to mulch a little heavier to compensate for the increased moisture loss.

8. Build rich soil

The more organic matter and nutrients that are in your soil, the faster your plants will grow, which means they are more likely to yield faster and better before the first frost. Rich, lofty soil also can act like insulation for your plants’ roots, while ongoing breakdown of organic matter may even create a little extra heat.

9. Mulch heavily

Mulching your soil with at least 4-6 inches of mulch will insulate your soil and plant roots, moderating soil temperature extremes. Temporarily putting even more mulch (even more than a foot deep) around less hardy plants for the winter may even allow you to plant things that normally wouldn’t survive the winter in some places. If deep mulching temporarily, make sure to remove the mulch back to around 6 inches in the spring to ensure the plant can make its way to the surface.

10. Start seedlings and plant early

Many vegetables are best planted a month or earlier before last frost indoors, including tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Some plants don’t transplant well, such as most squashes, but everything else is game for starting seedlings early to ensure they get a good start and produce earlier. Get to know your region’s expected frost dates, watch the weather carefully, and plant as early as you can. Consider growing extra plants and planting some of them earlier when there may even still be danger of frost, and then if frost does strike, either protect the plants, or replace frost-damaged plants with your extras.

11. Protect plants

Collect old blankets, sheets, plastic, tarps or any other similar coverings you can, and when frost is expected, be prepared to drape them over your more sensitive plants. To avoid damage to your plants from the weight of the material, put stakes in the ground around your plants that reach beyond the top of the plants, and lay the coverings over them for the night, securing them with stones, sticks, tent pegs or similar. This simple technique alone could add weeks to your growing season.

Whether you want to extend your gardening season by a few weeks, or keep the food and medicine coming all year with a green house, these methods are a good place to start.

If you have any other ideas for extending the growing season, please share in the comments below!


The Easy Way To Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

The Easy Way To Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

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Local lemons can be hard to come by unless you live in an area with a year-round warm climate like California or Florida. While cold climates may never have commercially available local citrus, it’s surprisingly easy to grow enough lemons indoors to supply your own family in just about any climate.

Seeds started today raised indoors could produce lemons in as little as 3 years (though 5-7 years is more common). Since lemons don’t require a second plant for pollination, a single tree in a sunny window is all you need for fresh, home-grown lemons.

Seeds or Grafted Trees

Lemon trees, like most fruit trees, don’t come “true to seed.” That means that planting the seeds of your favorite lemon variety will result in fruit that’s similar to the parent fruit, but not exactly the same variety. This can be an advantage for indoor lemon growers in cold climates because lemon seeds are easy enough to come by, and germinate easily, meaning that you can start a lot of different seeds and select for the plants that grow the best in your house.

Lemon tree seeds germinate so easily that some people actually grow them densely, planting 20 or more seeds to a pot, and simply use them as an air freshener in their bathroom.  The natural fragrance oils produced by the leaves give off a light pleasant smell, but planting them in this way will stunt their growth and you’ll never be able to grow healthy trees and harvest lemons.

The downside of planting from seed is that you cannot get a specialty dwarf variety, and you’ll need to regularly prune back your tree to keep it at a manageable size. Even indoors in a cold climate, a seedling can reach 6 feet tall within the first 2 years. Be sure to cut back the top regularly to encourage a bushy habit.

If you don’t want to deal with lots of pruning or are looking for a named variety like Meyer Lemon, you’ll have to buy them grafted from a nursery center or online source. Plants are usually sold 1-2 years old, which will give your tree a head  tart, but they generally are quite expensive, sometimes $100 or more per tree.


While some citrus varieties require lots of heat to bear fruit, lemons, on the other hand, can do quite well indoors without scorching tropical temperatures. Comfortable indoor temperatures, mid 60s to mid-70s, are sufficient to keep a healthy lemon tree, but colder temperatures can be problematic. Even though they don’t strictly require very warm weather, they’ll do better if taken outdoors during the hot summer months for the extra heat and humidity.

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Anytime the temperature drops below 55 degrees, your tree will become inactive and take protective measures to avoid damage caused by low temperatures. They’re highly frost sensitive, and even a half hour at or near freezing can kill a lemon tree, so be sure to bring them indoors on cold nights.

Humidity and Air Flow

High humidity combined with good air flow help to keep a lemon tree healthy. An ideal location would be a sunny window in a well-ventilated bathroom, where a bath fan can maintain good air movement to prevent diseases. The occasional boost to humidity provided by hot showers or baths will benefit them in the winter. Near the heat and humidity of a kitchen is also a great option.

While winter humidity will benefit the trees, it’s not strictly necessary. If a humid place cannot be found, just make sure the trees are taken outdoors in the summer and kept in a sunny protected space indoors in the winter. If you notice mold or mildew forming on the plant or soil, increase air circulation with a fan or by moving the plant to a spot with better ventilation.


Sunlight can be a limiting factor for indoor lemon trees, as areas with cold climates also tend to have shorter days in the winter months. In the northernmost parts of the contiguous United States, the shortest days of the year have between 8 and 9 hours of sunlight. A lemon tree needs a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight per day to survive, and prefers at least 12 hours to really thrive.

Avoid putting the tree in a spot with filtered sunlight, and opt for a south-facing window to maximize sun exposure. If you don’t have a window with excellent sun available in your house, you can always supplement with indoor plant lighting.

Potting and Fertilizing

A lemon tree requires a substantial amount of root space, and at minimum will need a 16-inch pot. Ideally, your tree would have a pot that’s at least 20 inches (or more). Topping the soil with an inch of well-made compost several times per year is enough additional fertility to keep your tree healthy and productive.


Under ideal conditions, a small 3-foot-tall well-pruned lemon tree will produce as many as 20 lemons per year. While a lemon tree does not require a second tree for pollination, they tend to produce more fruit if there’s more than one tree available to help set fruit. While flowers tend to set fruit readily, if you’re seeing flowers but no fruit, try manual pollination by sticking a cotton swab or small paint brush into each of the flowers.

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

Stockpiling for Survival Gardening: 7 Things You Better Store

Stockpiling for Survival Gardening: 7 Things You Better Store

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If a major disaster were to happen which shut down the food supply chain, I think we’d suddenly find ourselves motivated to make the most of our gardens — and that would start with making our gardens the most that they can be. In other words, turning our entire backyard into a garden.

There’s a difference though, between needing to do something and being ready to do it. Just because we’re going to be motivated to turn our backyards into a huge vegetable garden, doesn’t mean that we’re going to be ready to do so. That transformation is going to take a lot of work and we’re going to need a lot of supplies. If we don’t have them, we’re not going to accomplish much.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

So, what are we going to need to turn our little gardens into a much more massive operation?

1. Good Soil

The average home isn’t built on land with outstanding soil, and developers don’t bother bringing in the best topsoil they can find. That’s your job, if you want it. Of course, bringing in enough topsoil to go over your entire backyard and turn it into an excellent garden is a major job, as well as being pretty costly. So, this is something that we will probably avoid. But we should consider what our soil might need to make it better for our gardening (see below). Then we should make sure we have a good stock of it on hand, either piled up in a corner of our yard, or spread across the lawn for the grass to enjoy.

2. Gasoline (if you till) 

That not only means having a rototiller sitting in your garden shed, but enough gasoline to run it for a good long while. Gasoline is hard to store, even if you buy the extenders that are available on the market. But if you only store it for a few months, then burn it in your car, it’s not a problem. Then all you have to do is take your gas cans back to the corner station to refill them.

3. Fertilizers

I like to keep things as natural as I can in my garden. That means that most of the time, I prefer to use fish emulsion and compost, both of which you can make yourself. Fish emulsion is probably one of the best fertilizers out there, as it contains all the key nutrients your garden needs. Compost is a great way to make use of the parts of the plants you don’t use, returning the nutrients back to the soil.

4. Edging for raised beds

I’m a firm believer in raised garden beds, as they are much more efficient and will usually result in greater yields, with less wasted seed. Therefore, my garden is all raised beds. But expanding that to fill my whole back yard? That’s going to take a lot of material.

Fortunately, you can use just about anything to edge a raised bed. My stockpile for this is actually a stack of salvaged wood, which came from a number of different places. While not pretty, it was free and will give me a start on getting my new beds in place. I’ll probably have to replace it a couple of years later, as it rots, but that’s something I can think of when the time comes.

5. Means of watering

Everyone thinks that water will be at a premium in the wake of a disaster. This means that watering your garden is going to be a challenge, unless you live in an area where it rains enough to eliminate the need for watering. I don’t happen to live in such a place.

Since there will be no water pressure, sprinklers won’t work at all; so that plan is out. Besides, sprinklers are notoriously wasteful of water, something that you’ll want to avoid. Your best bet is to either use underground soaker hoses or drip sprinklers. Run off a small pump, these will provide water directly to your plants, without wasting any.

Interestingly enough, drip irrigation was developed by the Israelis, who needed something that could be used in a desert environment. Since most of Israel’s water comes from seawater desalination, they can’t afford to waste it, spraying it into the air. Drip irrigation allows them to put the water right where it’s needed, getting the most out of it.

6. Insecticides (organic preferably) 

The last thing you’ll need to see happening to your garden is insects eating it up, destroying all your hard work and denying your family the food it needs. So you’d better have a good stock of insecticides on hand.

While I seriously doubt that there will be a run on your local garden center after a disaster hits, there won’t be any more shipments, restocking them. So what you stock will be all that you have. So it would be a good idea to find natural recipes for your own insecticides, as well.

7. Seeds, lots of seeds

It’s going to take a huge amount of seed to get your garden going in a large scale like that. So you’ll need to stock up heavily on seed. I recommended making a drawing of your garden earlier. This is the other purpose for it. You can use that drawing to plan what you’re going to plant where, and figure out how much seed you’ll need.

Buy only heirloom seeds for your survival garden, as they are the only ones which will allow you to harvest the seeds and replant the next year. GMOs and hybrids won’t give you seeds that will produce the same plants. Freezing your seed allows it to keep longer, so that you won’t lose that investment while waiting until you need it.

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

American Homesteaders Are Growing Rice. Here’s How They Do It.

American Homesteaders Are Growing Rice. Here’s How They Do It.

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In the western part of the world when people consider growing their own staple grains, they generally think of wheat or oats. Rice is predominantly grown in eastern countries, but that’s largely due to historical preference. Rice can be easily grown on a small homestead, even in cold climates.

While rice is typically thought of as a tropical plant, there are actually two sub-species, one of which is hardy in cold climates. Long-grain rice varieties such as jasmine or basmati can only be grown in warm southern regions. Some varieties of short-grain rice, however, are cold tolerant and can be grown in short-season cold areas, all the way up to zone 4. It’s currently grown in cold climates such as northern Japan, Romania and the Ukraine.

Cold-climate rice strains thrive where average summer temperatures are as low as 68 degrees, though it’s ideal is 68 to 86 degrees. Still, farmers in areas where the average summer temperatures only hits the low 60s are having some success and harvesting adequate crops, even in the northernmost parts of New England.

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Farmers in the Northeastern United States are beginning to cultivate rice on a small scale, and selecting for cold-tolerant strains.  At this point, the primary selection criteria are quick maturity and disease resistance. As more strains become available, farmers will eventually have the option to select for high yields and better taste.

To aid the plants’ survival, a few cold-climate adaptations have been developed, and cold-climate rice producers must take extra steps to ensure a harvest.  Rice is soaked to stimulate germination before being started in greenhouse flats well before the last frost date. At four weeks before the last frost, the rice is transplanted outside into paddies. Water levels are kept high during times of increased frost risk to provide extra protection for the plants.

While rice is grown semi-submerged in patties, it cannot be successfully grown in wetlands. Wetlands are protected areas in most places, and not available for cultivation. Beyond that, the water level needs to be carefully controlled, which is generally not an option in a wetland. The ideal soil is poorly drained, but not an actual wetland, like a soil that has a clay hardpan under layer that prevents full drainage. From there, runoff is controlled and a series of ponds are created to help manage water levels.

American Homesteaders Are Growing Rice. Here’s How They Do It.

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Before the water gets to the paddy, it flows through a series of warming ponds that are shallow, dark bottomed and exposed to the sun. This pre-heated water prevents cold snow melt and rain runoff from cooling the growing ponds and helps accelerate the growth of the plants while at the same time buffering them for cold nighttime temperatures.

Quarter-Acre Patch Equals 1,000 Pounds Of Rice

Rice grown in marginal poorly drained agricultural soils that currently grow second-class hay can yield as much as two tons per acre. A small homestead quarter-acre patch could yield as much as 1,000 pounds of rice in a good year, or enough rice to supply a family of four with about half of their calories in a year.

In many parts of the world, rice is still tended and harvested by hand, making it ideal for a small homestead without specialized equipment. For harvest, the rice is cut and bundled by hand, and then threshed against logs to dislodge the grains.

Rice paddies also can be beneficial in other ways, by preventing flooding and managing runoff. With a series of ponds, water is held on the land, which prevents erosion, rather than quickly running off and damaging the topsoil.

Ducks are often incorporated into rice paddies to increase yields and add a harvest of meat and eggs from the same land. Ducks cannot consume rice or rice plants because they have too much silica for the ducks to digest. Ducks can, however, consume insects that infest the rice and weeds that compete with it in the paddy. Their droppings help to enrich the paddy and add fertility.

Most duck species are capable of feeding themselves and raising young independently in this environment, even without supplemental feed. By adding ducks to the operation, most farmers reduce their workload, increase their rice yields and add meat and eggs to their table. Ducks tend to fare better than chickens in cold climates, which is an added bonus.

If you want to grow rice on your land, try starting with a series of plants in 5-gallon buckets. This will allow you to monitor the progress of your rice and test viability before investing in creating a series of ponds and patties.

Have you ever grown rice? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

The Secret To Storing Fresh Lettuce For Up To A MONTH

The Secret To Storing Fresh Lettuce For Up To A MONTH

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

Core Before Storing

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

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

Keep Stored Lettuce Dry

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

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

Best Storage Containers

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff You Probably Didn’t Know You Could Compost

Stuff You Probably Didn't Know You Could Compost

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Most people know there are a lot of items that can be composted.  Vegetable trimmings, for example—things like outer lettuce leaves, tomato cores and sweet pepper seeds are no-brainers.  But for those who are ready to get really serious about reducing waste and building up a nice mix in the compost pile or container, here are a few more ideas for stuff you might not have known you could include along with a few other things you should leave out.

First, bear in mind that anything which is plant-based can usually be composted—and don’t forget that paper is made from plants.  Some plants have a higher carbon-to-nitrogen ratio than others, but all plant-based materials contain both. And that is a good thing, because your compost needs both. Here’s a partial list of high-carbon materials:

  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Bark
  • Woody plants like corn stalks and brassica stems
  • Egg shells

And for comparison, some examples of low-carbon materials:

  • Kitchen scraps
  • Weeds
  • Grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Hay
  • Manure

You can consider ratios if you want to, but don’t get too stuck on them. And if you forget which plant-based materials are higher nitrogen ratios and which lean more towards the carbon end, just remember this general rule of thumb: carbon is the brown stuff, and nitrogen is the green stuff. (It isn’t a hard and fast rule, I know, since egg shells are not all brown and coffee grounds and manure are not green. But it’s mostly true.) If it gets soupy and stinky, add more brown stuff. And if it isn’t decomposing well, add more green stuff. Meanwhile, just throw it all in and amend later if you need to.

The materials visitors at my place are most surprised to see designated for compost are usually paper products—and not the ones they had ever considered separating out of the regular trash. Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls, for example, get composted. So do used paper towels, used facial tissues, gum wrappers, paper bags and some paper and boxboard. Even the little paper packages that my individuallywrapped dental floss comes in gets saved for the compost.

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If I used paper plates and paper napkins, I’d definitely compost those, as well. I do use paper coffee filters and pre-bagged tea (as opposed to metal filters and loose tea leaves) and just toss it all in, filters and strings and tabs and all.

The reasons I say “some paper and boxboard” are twofold. First, crisp glossy products don’t compost as well as soft dull paper does. And second, even households like mine which are diligent about not acquiring unnecessary paper still end up amassing a lot of it—probably too much for most compost ratios.

Stuff You Probably Didn't Know You Could Compost

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Other possible ingredients for home composting include the results of refrigerator and cabinet clean-outs. Consider stuff like this when it’s no longer edible:

  • Bread
  • Pastries
  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Cereal
  • Pickles
  • Ketchup
  • Yogurt
  • Cream cheese
  • Jellies and jams
  • Anything at all that doesn’t contain meat

The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to cleaning out the kitchen, garden, barn, henhouse or backyard.  Composting is super easy and takes very little time, once you make a habit of it. Before we open a trash can at my house, we first consider whether it can be eaten by livestock, burned, recycled or composted—we’ve done it that way for so long that it has become routine.

The one thing I would caution casual backyard composters against is including meat. Meat, either cooked or raw, can develop potentially dangerous pathogens if the compost pile does not get hot enough for long enough. Experienced composters can and do place animal carcasses into compost piles with good results, but that’s nothing you or I should try at home.

Feces from omnivorous mammals such as pigs, cats, and dogs should be left out of the compost, as well. Many people successfully compost human waste, but that is a whole art and science unto itself and should not be added to regular compost.

Another thing to remember when composting is before offering anything to the microscopic organisms in the compost which might want to consume it, make sure there are no bigger mouths around the homestead that want dibs on it. In other words, offer home and garden scraps to cattle, goats, chickens and other animals first, and toss it into the compost only after everyone else has said no thanks.

Composting all you possibly can is an excellent way to reduce household waste and create a pile of free nutrients for your garden—a win for all involved.

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

5 Simple No-Till Methods That Will Change How You Garden

5 Simple No-Till Methods That Will Change How You View Gardening

Planets partner with soil ecosystems to create conditions favorable to their growth. This includes everything from increasing organic matter in the soil, to creating soil structures ideal for holding water and exchanging nutrients, and making nutrients more bioavailable/useable to plants and animals.

Unfortunately, the common practice of tilling destroys that delicate balance of the soil ecosystem, and though it may provide a temporary boost in nutrients, what’s really happening (partly) is that the organisms in the soil are dying, releasing the nutrients held in their bodies, much of which will then wash away in the following rains, all the while oxidizing and solarizing (solar cooking) the soil to death. Of course, some organisms will always survive, but the more this is done, year after year, the more the soil suffers, and the more outside inputs of time and energy must be put into the garden to keep fertility and water content up.

Tilling also destroys the soil’s structure, which is built by earthworms, microbes, and other unseen garden helpers in the most active soil layer (the topsoil). Besides the soil life itself, this structure is partly what gives a soil its ability to hold nutrients and water.

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In short, tilling creates structural and ecological devastation, leading to compaction (more on this below), erosion, nutrient leaching, oxidization, solarization (death by sun), and decreased organic matter. Add to that the fact that it stirs up weed seeds and encourages their germination, and hopefully by this point, you’re wondering what the alternatives are, and if they work.

No-Till Methods

Besides avoiding the pitfalls of tilling listed above, the methods below will increase bioavailability of nutrients, fertilize the soil, and increase nutrient cycling (reducing leaching and erosion).

1. Mulch, mulch, mulch

Mulch protects the soil and the soil food web from the drying winds, erosive rain and beating sun, among other things. It’s also a slow release fertilizer that breaks down into all important organic matter while providing food and habitat for your decomposer, predator (of pests), and microbe friends (especially fungi, which will greatly appreciate wood chips, leaves, and other mulch materials). Last but not least, mulch dramatically reduces water evaporation from the soil.

2. Diversify plants

Create more efficient nutrient cycling (with roots in all levels of the soil), while taking up all of the soil ecosystem niches that “weeds” would otherwise fill by simply adding more types of plants to the garden. Perennials and annuals can live quite harmoniously together, particularly when you don’t have to destroy the entire ecosystem every year, forcing it to rebuild from scratch time and time again. Perennials, with their deeper roots, will pull nutrients from deeper down, and will help cover and protect the soil with their bodies and their debris for all or much of the year. Make sure to throw in some nitrogen-fixing plants, as well (which literally extract the important nutrient out of thin air), and lots of flowers to encourage pollinators.

3. Till to prepare for no-tilling

Although ongoing tilling is unnecessary and destructive, it can be useful as a one-time method of preparing no-till beds. One method is to till, wait until a large number of weed seeds germinate and begin to grow, and then till again before they go to seed or have significant time to establish tap roots. This will deplete the seed bank, and after one or two times, it will be easier to establish no-till beds, particularly with the help of mulches and other methods. Adding organic fertilizers to the soil prior to the first till may encourage even more seeds to germinate.

4. Cover crops/green manures, living mulches/ground covers

5 Simple No-Till Methods That Will Change How You Garden

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“Living mulches” (ground cover plants) have the benefits of mulch, but in the case of perennials, they never have to be reapplied. Cover crops or green manures, meanwhile, are plants that can be seeded, and once grown for sometime can be tilled into the soil during the initial (hopefully) one-time soil prep (along with the germinating weed seeds). This will add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Good options include buckwheat, rye and legumes. Cover crops should be planted in the fall so that they are winter killed before seeding, or alternatively, you can use non-self-seeding annual plants, or till them in before they go to seed.

5. Permanent beds and paths to avoid soil compaction

Finally, since you won’t be continually tilling to give the soil the loft and aeration it needs, you must rely on natural means of maintaining this ideal soil structure for plant roots to thrive, and for new seeds to germinate. This simply means keeping off garden beds to allow the soil food web to do its work to create a healthy soil structure, with maximum water and oxygen infiltration. Meanwhile, simply sift mulch aside to plant your new seeds. If weed seed germination within your seed beds is an ongoing issue, you might try adding a layer of seed starting compost on top of the mulch (making sure it is well cooked seedless compost), along with some more mulch sprinkled lightly over the seeds, and more generously around the compost to contain it.

This is but a brief overview of some of the methods for no till gardening that in mine and many other peoples’ experience, can not only save you a significant amount of time in the garden, but will also create a more balanced and healthy soil ecosystem for your plants. If you liked this article, or have any other no till methods to share, please feel free to comment below!

What is your favorite no-till method? Share your advice in the section below: 

How To Grow A Garden When You Don’t Own Land

How To Grow A Garden When You Don’t Own Land

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There is hope for apartment dwellers and renters who want to guarantee their food security. If you think you must own land to begin, think again. There’s no reason why you can’t start right away.

Growing Food Indoors

Select food crops that thrive indoors. You can grow mushrooms and sprout beans with little to no special equipment. If you have a sunny windowsill or if you purchase indoor plant lighting, you can grow dwarf carrots, radishes, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or lettuce. Many herbs also will thrive indoors.

Container Gardening

Container gardening is perfect for many renters. A few pots on an apartment balcony can supply you with lots of food. If you have a bigger area, such as a patio or lawn, you can grow even more. Don’t discount shady areas; plenty of food will grow in partial sunlight.

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You don’t need to buy expensive pots, either; salvaged containers will do just fine. If you have more space, you can build large raised beds using scrap wood; this is a good solution for an unused corner of a yard, patio or deck. You

How To Grow A Garden When You Don’t Own Land

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can grow a sustenance garden on a sunny balcony:

  • Strawberries: Hanging baskets are perfect for strawberries; look for baskets at least 8 inches deep, or make your own.
  • Tomatoes and peppers: Grow these in five-gallon pots or planter boxes in a sunny spot. Make sure they stay warm and get plenty of water, and you should get a nice yield.
  • Beans and peas: Build a trellis along a wall, and plant the beans and peas along the bottom in a box. You can train the plants to climb and make good use of vertical space.
  • Lettuce, kale and herbs: Grow in a trough or planter at least 12 inches deep. You can reseed these throughout the growing season to maximize the harvest.
  • Carrots, radishes and turnips: These will need a deeper pot or box, but will usually flourish to fill whatever space is available.
  • Potatoes: Plant seed potatoes in a narrow, deep box, leaving space for each plant. You also can construct a potato box, which will allow for more potatoes in less space. To start immediately, try growing potatoes directly in a sack of soil.
  • Apples, cherries, figs and pears: Fruiting trees can be grown in larger containers. You also can train fruit trees to grow in confined areas.
  • Squash, cucumbers and melons: If you have a wider space, plant these in 12-inch deep soil. Remember that these plants will spread a bit.

The key to growing food in a small space is to use every available square inch. If your balcony has a railing, consider putting planter boxes on either side of it. Use vertical space with trellises and hanging baskets. Stagger pots, with smaller pots using up spaces between larger pots.

Community Plots and Other Alternatives

If you have no usable space for growing food, look into community gardening. In many urban areas, community gardens (or allotments) are run by dedicated individuals trying to produce food for their families and make food security more accessible. Rules will vary, but in most cases, you will work the garden or your portion of it in exchange for square footage. Resources and knowledge are often shared, and this can be a great way for an urban farmer to get started.

If you cannot grow your own food, look into community supported agriculture and farmers’ markets. At the very least, supporting local growers means you’ll have access to their resources. If you develop strong relationships with local producers, you may even find yourself in a bargaining position should food security become an issue. You can have some security in knowing that you are supporting food production in your region.

Don’t let urban dwelling or renting stop you from ensuring your food security, and don’t leave it in unknown hands. Everyone can take immediate action to begin growing some or all of the food necessary for survival; you might just need to get creative.

What ideas would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

14 Fall-Loving Vegetables You Can Plant FROM SEED In August

14 Fall-Loving Vegetables You Can Plant FROM SEED In August

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It seems when most folks think of gardening, images of tomatoes, corn and squash come to mind. These are all great crops, but they all have the major downfall of not tolerating frost.

The truth is, there are many crops that not only tolerate frost, but actually thrive with cooler weather. By learning to work in the cool-season margins of the growing season, we can prolong our growing season and greatly increase the amount of food we grow.

August can be a great time to get back in the garden and replant certain crops. Not only is the soil warmed up and ready, but as the seedlings emerge close to September, the weather is getting more comfortable. It also works great if you have empty space in your garden from crops you’ve pulled.

Planting late, however, does pose a few major problems.

Most regions still experience some brutally hot days in the middle of the month. Extremely hot temperatures can raise havoc on your young seedlings. Hot temperatures also dry your soil out faster, making it more difficult to germinate your seeds. If you choose to plant in August, watch the forecast and make sure to keep those young seedlings well-watered if hot weather arrives.

A second challenge is the impending frost. This short window may discourage you from a late planting. However, if you learn what crops will tolerate cold weather, you can expect to budget up to an extra month or more for growing. The trick is to choose the right crops that tolerate cooler daytime temperatures and frosty nights.

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There are two factors to consider when planting crops in August: how fast they grow, and how frost-tolerant they are. Here are a few good crops to plant in August to improve your garden’s annual yield.

Fast-Growing Crops

These fast-growing crops can be planted early enough to avoid a frost:

1. Baby carrots – Harvest in 30 days.

2. Leaf lettuce – Harvest in 30 days.

3. Radishes – Harvest in 30 days.

4. Spinach – Harvest in 45 days.

5. Bush beans – Harvest in 40-65 days.

Survives Light Frost

If you generally experience light frosting early on, these crops are capable of surviving:

6. Kohlrabi – 50-60 days to maturity.

7. Leaf Lettuce – 30 days to maturity.

Frost-Tolerant Crops (Survives High 20s Fahrenheit)

14 Fall-Loving Vegetables You Can Plant FROM SEED In August

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These three crops can really extend your growing season past the first frost:

8. Beets – 50-60 days to maturity.

9. Green onions – 60-70 days to maturity.

10. Peas – 70-80 days to maturity.

Frost Tolerant Crops (Survives Low 20’s)

These crops are the hardiest of the hardiest. They will survive after everything else has died and is in your canning jars.

11. Cabbage – 50-90 days to maturity.

12. Collard Greens – 40-65 days to maturity.

13. Kale – 40-65 days to maturity.

14. Radishes – 30-60 days to maturity.

Again, depending on where you live, August doesn’t have to necessarily spell the end of your gardening season. By getting out of the old habit of planting only after the last frost, we can really extend our growing season. All these crops can grow without the assistance of greenhouses or cold frames, but if you decided to incorporate the use of those structures, you can really start to increase your harvest.

If you get creative, organized and get busy, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to extend your growing season and do some August planting.

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

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

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

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

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

Under Watering

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

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

Fungal Diseases

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

Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium Wilt

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

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

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

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

Southern Blight

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

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

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

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

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

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

Bacterial Wilt and Canker

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

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

Other Possibilities

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

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

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


The Low-Maintenance Secret To A Weed-Free Garden

The Low-Maintenance Secret To A Weed-Free Garden

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If you ask a representative sample of gardeners what they least enjoy doing in the garden, you’re likely to get the same answer from most of them: weeding. In my own experience as a low-maintenance landscape designer and professional gardener, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Gardening shouldn’t be about slogging away day after day trying to kill the multi headed-hydras of the plant world. Weeding is by and large unnecessary if your garden is designed well, and although getting to the point of a nearly weed-free garden is an art and science in itself, sheet mulching for weed control is a good place to start.

Sheet mulching, or lasagna gardening as it’s also called, is a technique for smothering and permanently killing weeds in existing garden beds, building soil fertility and organic matter, and starting new garden beds. The basic idea is to create rich soil on the spot through compost building using alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen rich materials (see below). Now that you know the basics, let’s get down to the steps involved:

Step 1: Collect materials

To increase decomposition speed and create balanced compost during a regular composting process, it is recommended that you aim for a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of about 30 to 1 in the materials used. When sheet mulching, it’s fine if that ratio is a little off, but it’s still a good idea to shoot for a ratio somewhere between 30 to 1 and 100 to 1.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

The Low-Maintenance Secret To A Weed-Free Garden

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Four to eight yards of mulch will be needed for about 100 to 200 feet square, which is about 6 to 10 bales of very rotten hay or seedless straw, for example. Ideas for materials: Nitrogen-rich materials include things like kitchen scraps and manure, while carbon rich materials include things like leaves, sawdust, cardboard, small branches and wood chips. A good base layer of cardboard can often be acquired from farm supply, appliance or bike stores.

Step 2: Water the soil
The evening or day before your sheet mulching project, water the soil at the site if the ground is not already moist. This helps kickstart microorganisms and will make it easier to ensure the bottom of your pile starts off moist.

Step 3: Cut existing vegetation

Simply cut the area to make putting down your layers easier and leave the debris where it is.

Step 4: Add soil amendments

To create a rich soil add organic fertilizers like greensand, seaweed powder, rock dust and other amendments directly to the existing soil. You might also consider doing a pH test and amending based on pH. For example, overly acidic soil can be amended with lime while overly alkaline soil can be amended with sulfur or gypsum.

Step 5: Break up compaction

Use a spading fork or broad fork to break up and loosen the soil and work in your amendments. This brings oxygen into the soil and helps prepare it for better water and root infiltration. Avoid mixing soil layers, which is bad for the soil ecology.

Step 6: First layer

The first layer is a nitrogen rich layer such as compost, composted manure or livestock bedding (or non-composted things like manure or restaurant kitchen scraps if you’ll be giving it a few months before using the bed). Moisten this first layer, but do not make it soggy.

Step 7: Smothering layer

The second layer is your smothering layer, usually a layer of cardboard or newspaper. I recommend cardboard, which is fairly easy to find and creates a thicker layer more easily. The bigger the pieces you can get, the better. The smothering layer pieces should overlap by at least 6 inches, if not a full foot, and it should be 1/8 of an inch thick. Water the material to keep it from blowing away and avoid walking on it so it doesn’t tear.

Step 8: Nitrogen layer 2

Self-explanatory: another layer similar to the first.

Step 9: Bulk carbon

Now it’s time to add a thick layer (8 to 12 inches) of carbon material such as weed-free straw or rotted hay. If you only have potentially seedy mulch, you can still use it, but in that case it’s important to add further layers on top to ensure the seeds rot rather than germinate. You can also sprinkle in seaweed powder or other nitrogen-rich material here, and water every few inches to dampen.

Step 10: Repeat

Continue adding layers as deep as you like.

Step 11: Compost layer

When you get to your second last layer, it’s time to add at least a couple of inches of compost, or several inches of compostable materials if you will be letting it compost on the spot for a few months prior to planting. This will be your seeding or planting medium.

Step 12: Final layer

The Low-Maintenance Secret To A Weed-Free Garden

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Finish it off with at least 3-6 inches of mulch that is completely weed- (and root-) free. Wood chips are great for this layer if possible since they last longer before decomposing. Leaves, rotted hay or seedless straw also will work.

Step 13: Plant

To plant seeds, separate the mulch aside into your desired planting patterns and plant away, leaving the mulch where you don’t plant. Sprinkle a small amount of mulch on top of the seed areas to prevent evaporation and increase seed germination. For plants, make sure to plant into the soil, and tuck the mulch right up to the plant once planted.

That’s all there is to creating low-maintenance, nutrient-rich, moisture-retaining garden beds. It might be a little more work to start, but it is more than worth it once you experience the freedom of a (mostly) weed-free garden full of healthy, disease-free plants. Even the few weeds that do manage to poke their way through or germinate among your plants will be easy to pull since the soil will be loose and moist (as long as you do double-reach, no-walk beds to avoid compaction). At this point, all you have to do is add more mulch each year, or gradually replace it with living mulches to maintain an even lower maintenance, weed-free garden.

Do you have any experience with sheet mulching or other time-saving methods for new garden bed creation? Please share your own experience and comments

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

What To Do When Your Tomato Leaves Turn Yellow

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

Old Leaves

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

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

Too Much or Too Little Water

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

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

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

Nutrient Deficiency

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

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

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

Diseases and Pests

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

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

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

12 Clever Ways To Keep Rodents (Including Chipmunks!) Out Of Your Garden

12 Clever Ways To Keep Rodents (Including Chipmunks) Out Of Your Garden

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Every gardener knows that enemies lurk in the bushes and trees – from chipmunks to rabbits to squirrels. In some ways, they can be the toughest to repel in the garden.

But if you know what you’re doing, you can deter them naturally. In this article, we’ll first examine the type of small animals that can cause havoc in your garden. Then, we’ll turn to ways you can get rid of them.


The Vole is a good example. It looks like a mouse but is actually larger and has an incredibly accelerated metabolism. In fact, a vole must consume its body weight on a daily basis just to stay alive. This makes the Vole an indiscriminate feeder; everything in a garden becomes fair game for a hungry vole. They’re also excellent burrowers and can find their way under a fence.

Field mice

Not to be outdone, field mice can squeeze through the smallest spaces and are also indiscriminate feeders. They don’t eat as voraciously as a vole, but can do equal damage and also reproduce prodigiously.


Chipmunks may seem cute, but they are active burrowers and can kill plants at the roots if they decide to live under your garden. They’re notorious for taking small bites of fruits and vegetables and ruining crops.

Rats and rabbits

True, they’re no longer technically considered rodents, but the tricks mentioned in this article will deter them, too.

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Rats and rabbits are larger than mile and voles, and their body size means they can and will consume more of your harvest. They’re also nibblers who can ruin a tomato or pepper with a few bites.


Squirrels are active nibblers. It’s easy to assume they only eat nuts, but they will pursue any seed in any plant if given the opportunity.

Natural Solutions

I’m an organic gardener. As I result, I’ve had to improvise natural solutions for repelling rodents and rabbits, often in combination. Those combinations are defined by three fundamental approaches: physical barriers, natural “chemicals,” and various aromatic herbs and flowers.

Physical Barriers

1. A fence

A physical barrier is as simple as a fence. Of course, the mesh needs to be a finer mesh than standard chicken wire and should be buried in the ground around the perimeter of the garden to discourage the burrowing habits of voles and chipmunks. However, varmints can still find their way underneath if determined. In fact, most mice find their way into a garden through the gate leading into the garden, where gaps are prominent. As a result, additional solutions may be necessary.

2. Plastic predators

This may seem a bit odd, but you can buy plastic replicas of owls and coyotes to places in or around your garden. One replica should do the trick, depending on the size of your plot.

3. Rubber snakes

Novelty stores and dollar stores sell rubber snakes. Mice, voles and chipmunks are terrified of snakes. You may cause a bit of alarm when you’re showing your friends your garden and they spot a rubber snake, but they’ll get over it.  The rodents won’t.

Natural ‘Chemicals’

4. Blood meal

Blood meal is a by-product commonly made by meat-packing plants. Its appearance is dried and flaked, and all animals, including rodents, are repelled by the scent. That’s because it indicates the presence of a predator. Blood meal is high in nitrogen but only apply it to the ground. The high nitrogen content can burn the leaves; personally, I don’t like the idea of dried animal blood on my lettuce leaves.

5. Good old garlic and hot sauce

Strong smelling spices, like hot sauce and garlic, also repel rodents. In addition, if they choose to taste one of your vegetables, they will quickly turn away and seek food that is not as harsh. Mash 10 garlic cloves and add a cup of hot sauce plus a pint of vinegar. Let it sit in the sun for a few days and apply to the base of plants with a hand spray bottle. Reapply after a heavy rain.

6. Human hair

The scent of human hair tells a varmint that a human is nearby; rodents simply don’t want to be anywhere near us. They may like our fruits and vegetables but they don’t like us. Your local barber might be able to help if you don’t do hair cutting at home.

7. Coffee grounds

Many of us love coffee, but most animals can’t stand the smell or the taste. You can sprinkle used coffee grounds around you garden and between your plants. In fact, coffee grounds make an excellent compost, and Starbucks likely will give you free bags of coffee grounds for composting. Because most rodents are so close to the ground, coffee grounds can make an excellent barrier.

Various Aromatic Herbs and Flowers

This is a win-win approach. You have the benefit of herbs growing in your garden and the beauty of flowers while repelling rodents and rabbits. Here’s the list of the most popular plants that repel rodents:

8. Sage is a strong smelling, aromatic herb that rodents simply don’t like. It’s also a great addition to dishes made with chicken or pork.

9. Oregano. The great thing about oregano is that it’s a perennial plant. Unlike sage, which is an annual, you don’t have to replant every year. Better yet, oregano is a great complement to many of the recipes you might be making with vegetables from your garden. Plant the oregano around the perimeter and pick a spot in the center of your garden for an additional deterrent.

10. Basil is another winner when it comes to repelling rodents and works great in tomato-based recipes. It’s also an annual and very sensitive to any frost, so don’t abandon the oregano altogether.

11. Rosemary is another aromatic herb that repels animals. It’s also an exceptional herb for cooking. It’s a member of the pine family and is highly scented. It, too, is an annual in most parts of North America so you may have to replant in the Spring.

12. Lavender. The flowers are beautiful and the scent is delightful, unless you’re a rodent. They can’t stand the stuff. This is another perimeter plant you could consider. Or, interplant them with your vegetables.

Final Thoughts

Keep an eye on your garden. If you notice a rodent or signs of a rodent, then reapply your natural chemicals, move your plastic replicas to a new location, and check for gaps or holes under or around your fencing. The degree to which you take these steps depends a lot on where you live, but rodents are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, from cities to suburbs to the countryside.

Hopefully some of these solutions will give you relief from the rodents. If not, you always could let the dog or cat take a nap next to the garden.

How do you keep rodents out of your garden? Share your tips in the section below:

5 Tricks To Help Your Garden Thrive During A Drought

5 Tricks To Help Your Garden Thrive During A Drought

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

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

1. Apply mulch

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

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

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

2. Apply compost

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

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

3. Stay on top of weeding

5 Tricks To Help Your Garden Thrive During A Drought

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

4. Create windbreaks and shade

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

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

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

5. Be water smart

Use available water wisely. Here are some tips:

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

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

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

23 Herbs and Veggies You Can Grow on Your Porch

Urban gardening is all about making the most out of the space you’ve got. All it takes to turn your outdoor balcony or back porch into a full-on garden is a pinch of creativity and a dash of strategy. Rather than planting one crop in one small pot, we are going to focus on planting […]

The post 23 Herbs and Veggies You Can Grow on Your Porch appeared first on Urban Survival Site.

The 4 Fastest (And Best) Ways To Ripen Green Tomatoes

The 4 Fastest (And Best) Ways To Ripen Green Tomatoes

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Ah, the timing of nature. Each summer, I wait patiently for the delicious bounty from my tomato plants, and each autumn as temperatures start to tumble, I am left with many healthy green tomatoes on my vines.

If you experience the same problem – or if you have a ton of green tomatoes that have fallen to the ground – then you may be wondering the best ways to ripen them.

Here are the steps to follow.

First, for best results, cut the healthy green tomato off the vine with part of its stem still attached. If you have cherry tomatoes, snip the whole bunch off the vine. Only choose mature green tomatoes for indoor ripening. When in doubt, check for a shiny skin color. Small tomatoes that have a dull matte skin color will not ripen indoors.

Additionally, although tomatoes that are shiny green in color can ripen indoors, you will have the best luck with fruit that has started to show a bit of yellow or orange color.

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Next, find a warm spot to place the fruit. Many people think tomatoes need direct sunlight, so they place them in the windowsill. However, tomatoes need warmth, not direct sunlight. In fact, too much direct sunlight through a window can make a tomato’s skin tough.

The 4 Fastest (And Best) Ways To Ripen Green Tomatoes

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Finding a warm, dry spot is your best bet for the ripening process. Here are a few options to try, depending on how quickly you want your tomatoes to ripen:

1. Place your green tomatoes in a single layer in a loosely folded-over paper bag along with a banana or an apple. These fruits release a gas called “ethylene” that speeds the ripening process naturally. Check the tomatoes regularly for signs of molding or rotting.

2. Put your tomatoes with an inch or two of space between them in a single layer in a cardboard box that is lined with a layer of newspaper. Cover them with another layer of newspaper. Check them every 24 hours or so.

3. Concentrate the effects of ethylene by placing the tomatoes in a sealed plastic bag or a large glass jar along with a banana or an apple. Caution: This environment can encourage mold growth, so check the tomatoes often for mold formation.

4. Hang up the whole tomato plant – roots and all — upside down in a garage or basement where temperatures remain above 50 degree Fahrenheit. This method takes the longest, but many people say tomatoes ripened this way taste the best.

Tomatoes stored in temperatures 50 to 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) usually ripen in four weeks or even longer, and tomatoes stored in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees can be ready to eat in just two weeks.

Sorting and storing by ripeness levels is a good idea, since it allows you to check on each batch more consistently. If you have an abundance of green tomatoes this fall, you might want to store some in different temperatures to stagger your late harvest.

Whatever method you choose, be careful not to crowd your ripening tomatoes. Adequate air circulation helps prevent mold formation. Separate out and discard any damaged fruit and safely dispose of any diseased fruit.

How do you ripen green tomatoes? Share your tips in the section below:

Wise Preppers Don’t Just Stockpile Food. They Do This, Too.

Wise Preppers Don’t Just Stockpile Food. They Do This, Too.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Most people are familiar with the old proverb, but not everyone has considered how its wisdom can be applied to disaster preparedness.

Food procurement and processing skills are more valuable than food stockpiles in the long term. I will not deny that a well-filled pantry is vital, for myriad reasons. Hurricanes, blizzards, job loss, interrupted supply chains, and dozens of other scenarios are perfect examples of why people always should keep plenty of food stored. Emergency management guidelines advise that every household keep at least three days’ worth of food, water and necessities on hand.

I admit that my own food storage room contains more like three months’ worth, and likely even more. The shelves are chocked full of jars of food, everything from green beans to tomato sauce to applesauce to chutney to barbecue sauce to chicken stock. There also are containers of dehydrated produce, jars of homemade maple syrup, and root cellar foods such as onions and garlic and pumpkins. The freezers contain berries and vegetables and meats.

If a short-term crisis occurred which prevented me from purchasing food, my household will not go hungry. At worst, we’ll be inconvenienced, or end up growing weary of certain foods and yearning for others.

The Problem With Stockpiles

But here’s the thing. If food suddenly became scarce for a long period of time, the food I have stockpiled would be nothing more than a good start. The same is probably true for many — if not most — people who store any volume of food.

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In the end, however, no matter how much is stored, food supplies will run out. And long before the stocks are depleted by consumption, other losses can occur. Food can be stolen. Containers can break. The storage facility can become inaccessible. Floods, earthquakes, fire, insect or varmint infestation, mold and general spoilage can destroy stockpiles. Unexpected events happen — which is, of course, the entire premise for storing food in the first place.

Much of my food stockpile is comprised of food which I made myself. I planted, tended and harvested the vegetables and fruits and berries on my homestead, and then preserved enough of it to last my household through the winter. The meats come from animals I raised myself or bartered for with other homestead products, and the cheeses are homemade from my own goats’ milk.

Wise Preppers Don’t Just Stockpile Food. They Do This, Too.

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I keep a good supply of whole food staples on hand, as well, which I use for making homemade items. A variety of flours and grains, bought in bulk and stored long-term in smaller bags in the freezer, keep my household supplied with bread. There are other store-bought goods I cannot make for myself, such as cooking oils and nuts and sugar and leavening. Like all stored food, it would eventually run out, but being able to generate as much of my own food as I do still serves me well, both now and later.

The Solution Is Simple: Skills & Knowledge

The ability to rely on one’s own skills and knowledge is of real value in any situation, and certainly no less so when it comes to putting food on the table. Being at the mercy of whatever can be bought at the grocery store when our own supplies run dry is not a good position to be in — ever. Not in normal life today, not in a short-term crisis, and certainly not in the case of a serious catastrophe.

Having the ability to produce our own sustenance is a distinct advantage. Knowing how to raise a wide variety of both plant-based and animal-based food, having the skills to process and preserve those ingredients, and being able to create palatable nutrition from the basics are crucial components to feeding oneself.

Foraging skills are also useful. Depending upon the season and geography, the natural world often provides a buffet of edibles. Knowing how to safely locate, harvest and prepare wild plants and fungus could be crucial in a wide variety of situations, from getting lost overnight while out hiking or hunting to being completely destitute.

These skills will not be depleted, stolen, lost or destroyed. They will last forever and can be used not only to feed oneself and one’s own household, but can help serve communities or can be used to barter for other goods and services. Anyone who has invested time in learning how to do things like plant a garden, milk a goat, make cheese, can green beans, keep pigs from escaping their pen, keep pests out of the berry patch, boil down sap into syrup, churn butter, knead bread, identify edible mushrooms, dig up wild roots, and other food-related skills will always have that experience to fall back on.

Armed with know-how and practice, we are all better prepared for whatever comes along, whether it is everyday life now, a minor weather-related emergency or personal crisis later, or an earth-shattering event sometime in the future.

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

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In Drought Conditions

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In Drought Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In Drought Conditions

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

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

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

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

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


How To Grow Bananas — No Matter Where Your Live

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Bananas are a colorful, well-loved, widely enjoyed snack. They also are known for being a tropical food. If you’ve ever wished that you could grow your own bananas but are concerned that the climate where you live is just a bit too cold, then you’ll be happy to know that it is possible to grow this delicious treat even in areas where the weather is a bit cooler than you might consider ideal.

The first thing that you will need to do is determine which variety of banana you are going to grow. There are many plants which are marketed as “cold hardy” bananas, such as the basjoo. It is important to keep in mind, however, that while these make a beautiful addition to your landscape, many of these are considered ornamental.

For edible bananas, you might want to consider something that is a bit more tropical, but small enough to move indoors when the weather turns frigid – such as the dwarf canvendish. In some cases, you may have to pick the fruit early and let it ripen indoors, but it is possible to get edible fruit.

How to Plant

Bananas like a lot of sun. They do best with at least 12 hours of sunlight a day. They need well-draining soil. Normal potting soil or yard dirt is too heavy for most banana plants so you need to take care when choosing soil. The soil must be light and deep. Some people plant bananas in raised beds to assist with the draining. If you use a container to grow you bananas, make sure they have plenty of drainage. Bananas don’t take well to flooding.

When you choose an outdoor planting site, you’ll need to find one that is protected from wind and the cold weather, if possible. Pick a warm location on the south or southeast side of the house. Place the plant upright and plant four to six inches deep. Make sure to cover the roots well. At least half of the base should be covered in soil. It is recommended that you fertilize the banana plant lightly each time you water as bananas are considered heavy feeders. Only fertilize the plants when you see growth and water when the soil is dry to a depth of one-half inch.

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Take precautions to protect the banana plants as the weather grows colder. Bananas can’t handle below freezing temperatures on their exposed stems. The main stem and root stock are important to maintain so the plant will come back the next season. The bulb-like root structure at the base is called a corm. This is what you must protect so you can grow your own bananas.

How To Keep Your Banana Plants Through the Winter

banana plantThe severity of your typical winter weather will determine the amount of protection that your plants will need.

For areas with milder winters:

  • Gather thick mulch around the root of the “tree.” This will prevent the corm from freezing. You can cut up banana leaves to mix in the mulch, as well as grass-trimmings, wood chips, shredded paper and leaves. Do not use peat moss as it will keep the soil too wet and will ruin the corm. For wet winters, put the mulch in plastic bags and put them over the corms. The mulch will still insulate but not be wet.
  • Keeping the banana stem from freezing is the next important thing to accomplish. As long as the summer growth – the green stem – stays green and unfrozen, it will continue to survive and grow. The summer growth includes the fully-formed flower with a bud inside. Keeping that alive will give you a jump on the next growing season since the plant doesn’t have to start all over again in the spring. It also gives you a head start on producing fruit by next winter. Bananas take 15 months to two years to grow fruit.

For areas with moderate winters:

  • If you are in an area that has intermittent cold winters with a few freezes, you can make covers for your banana plants. Tomato frames, or cages, can be used and covered with plastic sheeting. They work well for those cold nights and may be taken off when not needed. It’s not a good idea to wrap the banana stem. If wrapped, the wrap can freeze where it touches the stem. In warm weather, the wrap touching the stem can allow the plant to overheat and die as a result.

For areas with cold to harsh winters:

  • For those good, solid winters with a steady freeze, use burlap or blankets to wrap around the stem (for winters where the ground will freeze solid and temperatures remain low, this is needed.) Next cover the wrap with plastic to protect the plant from wetness. Plastic bags work well. A plastic pot, with garbage bags on top to keep water off, and string wound around it, will keep everything intact when the winter winds blow. If you have bags of fall leaves, you can place them against the stems. Patio cushions work well as insulation, too.
  • For the harshest winters, where the ground is frozen deep, digging up the corm and storing it inside where it is dry is the best solution. Digging it up won’t be difficult because bananas have a root system that is very shallow. Simply dig up the whole corm and stem, dust off any loose soil and store the plant either laying down or against a wall. It needs to be kept under 60 degrees Fahrenheit and dry. Support the plant with stakes when you replant it outside in the spring. Remember to use wide strips of cloth, and not string. String is too rough.

By following these tips and hints, you will be able to enjoy your banana plants, care for them over the winter, and be able to have a taste of the tropics even in cooler climates.

Have you grown bananas? Do you have any tips? Share them in the section below:

Learn Everything You Need To Know When Growing Herbs. Read More Here.

6 Tricks To Saving Time & Money In The Garden (No. 3 Would Trim HOURS From Your Work!)

6 Tricks To Saving Time & Money In The Garden (No. 3 Would Trim HOURS From Your Work!)

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Whether you’re a new gardener, or a long-time student of the land, there are many things you can do to cut back on inputs and save time and money in the garden.

In fact, there is a growing movement of gardeners who have found great success in shifting more and more of the work in the garden onto natural processes, taking hints from natural ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, marshes and savannas, which maintain healthy “gardens” of immense biomass with no human inputs whatsoever.

It turns out we can mimic these natural systems in the garden to virtually eliminate weeding, controlling pests, fertilizing and if you desire, even planting. Here are a few of the main ways we can do this:

1. No tilling. The fact is that tilling is an outdated gardening method. New research, along with the direct experience of countless farmers and gardeners around the world, indicates that tilling to temporarily set back weeds and/or loosen the soil has the exact opposite effect in the short term: stirring up the seed bank and bringing more weed seeds to the surface to germinate, while destroying the soil structure and decimating microbe and earth worm populations that are so vital to soil health.

2. Mulch and solarize. As mentioned above, the only truly effective way to kill weeds without disrupting your other plants is to smother them. Sheet mulching is my preferred method, which is simply smothering the weeds with alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen rich material, starting with a layer of cardboard (with no shiny labels or tape, etc.), and finishing it off with a nice thick (4 to 6 inch) layer of mulch.

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My first gardening mentor once told me that the first 3 rules of gardening are: mulch (for weed suppression), mulch (for evaporation prevention), and mulch (for soil organic matter and microbe health). Another technique is to first “solarize” an area to prepare it for garden beds, which entails covering the area with a black tarp for 1-3 months during the warm season to cook the weeds to death. Once the tarp is removed, it’s important to reestablish a healthy soil food web with compost, compost teas, and of course, mulch!

3. Minimize weeding. Over the past 13 years, I have done very little weeding in my garden, or in my landscaping company. Yet, my clients’ gardens and my own gardens have very few weeds, and the “volunteer” plants that do grow in my gardens are ones that usually benefit the other plants around them. If I do see some aggressive quack grass or similar coming up, I simply smother it with a good sheet mulch (see below) and then never have to deal with it again. Trying to pull grass, and many other weeds, is absolutely futile, as you’ll quite often only encourage their regrowth by splitting their roots up so that they can come back as many different plants, like a garden dominating hydra. Weeding can also contribute to soil disturbance and soil structure disruption, leading to more weed seeds germinating, and less water and nutrient holding capacity.

6 Tricks To Saving Time & Money In The Garden (No. 3 Would Trim HOURS From Your Work!)

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4. Build rich soil. Weeds are often a response to poor soil structure, soil compaction and nutrient deficiencies, so building your soil by adding organic matter via green manures, ground covers, compost and compost teas, along with chop and drop techniques, will make a less-than-ideal growing situation for many species of weed, particularly if you keep a constant cover crop and/or heavy mulch on the garden (including on pathways!). When a soil is healthy, with a diverse ecosystem of microbes, and is high in organic matter, there is little-to-no need for ongoing fertilization, and much less watering is needed. Plants also will be much healthier, of course, and will get fewer disease and pest problems.

5. Use a diversity of plants. Growing only a few different types of plants is a sure recipe for pest problems and inefficient nutrient cycles. Growing only a few types of annual crops, for example, means your garden will be full of only shallow roots, all competing at the same soil depth for the same nutrients, while creating an easily accessible buffet for pests to get out of control, and limiting habitat and supplemental food for predators of these pests. Planting a variety of perennials with deeper root systems will create a more efficient nutrient cycle, bringing nutrients and moisture up from deeper down and competing less with your annuals, while also providing habitat and food for predators such as lacewings and parasitic wasps. Using more perennials, including edibles and medicinals, means less replanting year after year, as well, and often leads to earlier harvests in the spring of things like perennial onions, or perennial greens like Good King Henry.

6. Minimize direct pest control. Notice that I’m not saying to stop trying to control pests. What I’m advocating is to minimize direct interventions such as spraying pesticides. When you kill pest populations, not only are you usually also killing their predators, you’re ensuring that their predators don’t have time to build up their populations so that they can establish themselves and take the burden of having to control pest populations off you. Instead of trying to kill all the things eating your plants, try to identify what they are, and then, find out what eats them, and what habitat and food requirements that predator has. For example, slugs are a common pest on greens such as chard or lettuce, and they just happen to be a favorite food of frogs. Most frogs require a pond, and shade and hiding places that are created from large plants, logs and other structures in the garden.

There are many other things you can do to minimize inputs of time, money and energy in the garden, many of which are intuitive and simple once you start. The key is to slow down, observe and strive to understand the natural processes at work in the garden so that you don’t spend your time fighting an uphill battle that simply leads to needless work and unnecessary expenditures.

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

Seed-Saving 101: Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

Seed-Saving 101: Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

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A legitimately independent gardener/homesteader incorporates some aspect of both plant breeding and seed saving into the list of skills that are required for supporting a family through good times and bad. Fortunately, learning to save seeds is relatively easy.

First, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some necessary terminology. For seed-saving, these terms include “annual,” “biennial” and “perennial.”

Annual plants are those that grow to maturity and produce seed within one growing season. A few good examples of annual plants include head lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant cucumbers and melons. This category also covers several important medicinal flowers and herbs, such as dill, cilantro, calendula and nasturtiums.

Biennial plants are those that produce a crop within the first season but will not produce seeds until the second year of growth. Some examples of biennial crops include carrots, parsnips, shallots, onions and leeks.

Perennial crops are those that come back year after year. Although seed can be saved from perennials, typically these plants are propagated by divisions or cuttings. Some examples of perennial crops include rhubarb, raspberries, grapes, horseradish and asparagus.

Open Pollinated, F1 Hybrid, Grafted Stock

Another important set of terms relates to how the seed was originally bred. This terminology is also important to understand because it can affect the overall outcome of your success as a new seed-saver. Some terms used to describe breeding techniques include “open pollinated,” “F1 hybrid,” “grafted stock” and “genetic modification.”

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Open-pollinated seeds are the best planting stock for folks who are truly interested in experimenting with at-home seed saving. Since they have been allowed to cross naturally with each other, these seeds still have the ability to adapt quickly to their host environment through the exhibition of a large variety of traits that still remain present within their genetic make-up … in other words, they are still a little bit “wild.”

F1 Hybrids are plants that are bred using traditional breeding techniques — usually hand pollination by humans. Some F1 Hybrids produce sterile seed, making them less ideal for at-home seed-saving. However, many of today’s F1 Hybrids have been in production long enough to be incredibly stable, and the seed that is produced is frequently still viable.

Seed-Saving 101: Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

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Grafting stock usually refers to fruit trees. During this process, a branch is clipped from a tree that produces a known variety (such as Fuji Apples) and is attached to a hardy rootstock via a graft. There are multiple rootstocks available for the same variety. Each rootstock is geared toward a specific overall tree size, disease resistance or a certain soil type. It is possible to graft trees at home; however, unless you plan on growing your own rootstock, grafting is less sustainable than other forms of plant breeding.

Finally, genetically modified organisms are those that are created within a laboratory. To date, it is not practical to produce genetically modified crops at home. Of course, supporters of organic gardening wouldn’t want to do so, anyway.

How I Save Seed

So now that you have a small vocabulary of terms at your disposal, what is the next step? Start by identifying the crops that you utilize most regularly within your garden. At my house, we eat a lot of lettuce, so it makes sense for us to save our own seed. During the early part of the season, we identify individual plants that seem to be doing exceptionally well within our climate. We look for characteristics that are important to us, such as speed of growth, overall size, color, texture and (most importantly) flavor. We then mark those individual plants with a flag or some other type of marker – and we do not harvest them.

As the season goes on, these plants will continue to grow and will eventually send up flowers. We allow them to pollinate naturally via insects or the wind. Once there are mature seeds available for harvest, we clip the entire flower stalk and place it upside down in a paper bag. Using our fingertips, we roll the seed free from the chaff and discard the hard and poky stems. We agitate the seed slightly to shake the fluff off the seed and then use a blow dryer to blow out the lighter material. We then have hundreds and hundreds of beautiful lettuce seeds that we can plant again the following season. We place these seeds into a sealed glass jar and store them in a cool and dark location. The jars are labelled with the year the seed was collected and the original variety. For most annual plants, this is about as complicated as things get.

For more information on how to save seed for other crops in your garden, check out the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. She does an amazing job of helping newbie seed savers understand the process of both creating and saving seed at home.

Happy gardening!

Share your tips on saving seeds in the section below:

9 Edible Perennials You Can Plant Once & Enjoy Forever

9 Edible Perennials You Can Plant Once & Enjoy Forever

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Who doesn’t love fresh produce straight out of the garden? Crisp, green snap peas, juicy tomatoes, crunchy zucchini and cool refreshing cucumbers are worth our gardening efforts.

But wouldn’t it be great to reap the rewards of a harvest year after year with just one planting effort? You can, with edible perennials. Edible perennials can decrease your annual workload while you still get to harvest some delicious crops.

Here are nine edible perennials to consider adding to your garden.

1. Asparagus. Plant once and enjoy fresh asparagus for years with minimal work. Asparagus can take three years to become established and ready to harvest, but they can produce for as many as 20 years before needing to be replaced. Once you plant the initial bed(s) of asparagus, all you need to do is mulch annually, and enjoy fresh asparagus year after year.

2. Rhubarb. This perennial is frequently used in jams and desserts, but it also can be used in savory dishes. The leaves and roots are poisonous, so use only the stems. Rhubarb should be divided every 3 to 4 years during the spring or fall when the plants are dormant.

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3. Jerusalem artichoke. These are a species of sunflower with a tuberous root similar to a potato when cooked, or a water chestnut when eaten raw. They store sugars as inulin rather than starch, so they could be beneficial to those with diabetes or those trying to cut down on sugars and starches. When harvesting, just leave the smallest tubers, and you will have another crop the following year. Cutting the flowers and enjoying them as cut flowers later in the season will prevent them from spreading seeds, and the plant will put its energy into producing bigger roots.

4. Chives. Like many herbs, chives can be grown as a perennial. If you live in cold climates, then you can bring your chives indoors during the winter months. Just transplant them into a pot and put them in a warm place with plenty of light. Clean the dirt off the roots so you are not bringing in any bugs or diseases, and then plant the chives in a good potting soil mix. Use the flowers and stems to add flavor to lots of foods, including chive vinegar and chive butter.

5. Walking onion (Egyptian walking onion). This plant forms bulbs at the top of its stems, which then fall over onto the ground as they get bigger and heavier, and if the conditions are right, will grow a new plant from the bulb. You can eat the top bulbs, the green stems of the onion, and the underground bulb. Just make sure to leave some to grow for the following year.

9 Edible Perennials You Can Plant Once & Enjoy Forever

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6. Lovage. Similar to celery, lovage can be used in soups and salads, and every part of the plant is edible. Lovage is easier to grow than celery and can grow up to six-feet tall with proper growing conditions, so give it plenty of space. Lovage should be divided every few years just like rhubarb.

7. French sorrel. The broad green leaves of the French sorrel plant are tangy and sour, so you want to use this one in combination with other ingredients. Just like any other herb, use it sparingly as you get a feeling for how much you need to use.

8. Chinese artichoke (crosne). This is a member of the mint family and spreads through rhizomes underground. Just like mint, it can be invasive, so consider giving crosne its own space rather than mixing with other plants. The tubers are small but plentiful, and like the Jerusalem artichoke, flowering reduces the yield of tubers

9. Chrysanthemums. All chrysanthemums are edible, but the taste can vary widely. Garland chrysanthemum, or Chrysanthemum coronarium, is the most popular for eating because of its mild flavor. People use the leaves and the flowers of this plant to enhance salads and stir fries.

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



8 Tomato-Growing Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make

8 Tomato-Growing Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make

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

1. Not rotating crops

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

2. Not enough sun

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

3. Too much heat

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

4. Crowding the plants

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

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

5. Not planting deeply enough

8 Tomato-Growing Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make

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

6. Not pruning

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

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

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

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

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

7. Not humoring the picky feeders

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

8. Watering frequently

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Spray with a garden hose

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

2. Remove by hand

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

3. Apply soapy water

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

4. Use essential oils

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

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

5. Make tomato leaf or garlic oil sprays

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

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

6. Use reflective mulch and row covers

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

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

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

7. Consider companion planting

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

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

8. Introduce more beneficial insects

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

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

How To Trick Nature & Stretch Your Hardiness Zone

How To Trick Nature & Stretch Your Hardiness Zone

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As more and more households move toward self-sufficiency, there’s a pressure to be able to grow it all, right in your own backyard. If you live in a particularly warm or cold hardiness zone, though, there are certain things that you’re told you just can’t grow successfully.

People living in the north country want to grow peaches, while those in the California heat yearn for rhubarb.

But hardiness zones don’t have to be that limiting. With a few simple tricks, you can stretch your hardiness zone and grow things you never thought possible. Though you may never be able to grow mangoes in Vermont, with effort you can increase (or decrease) your hardiness zone by one zone to dramatically expand the types of crops available on your own homestead.

Growing Warm-Weather Crops in Cold Climates

For warm-weather crops, it’s important to understand exactly why they’re considered incompatible with your zone. Is it that the minimum annual temperature in the winter gets too low? Is the growing season just not long enough? Maybe the growing season is long enough, but it’s a fruit tree that flowers too early in the spring and the blossoms are killed by late frosts before they can set fruit. Perhaps the growing season is long enough, but it’s either too rainy or soils never seem to warm up enough to keep the plants happy.

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All of these represent very different problems with different solutions.

It Gets Too Cold

If the minimum winter temperature gets too cold, which can be a problem for some perennial crops and fruit trees, then you need to find a micro-climate that stays just a bit warmer than the rest of your land. Even small yards have warm spots. If you have a pond, stream or fountain, the water has a moderating effect on temperature and plants near them will stay warmer on the coldest days.

Perhaps your house has a brick wall that absorbs heat during the day and can help moderate the temperatures at night. Espaliered trees, or trees that are pruned to grow flat against a wall, were developed for this reason. They help to maximize the moderating effect of warm walls and allow you to grow trees that shouldn’t thrive in your region.

Growing Season Isn’t Long Enough

This is one of the easiest problems to solve. If your growing season isn’t long enough for long-season tomatoes or really big pumpkins, the solution is as straightforward as the problem. Just extend your growing season. There are many simple ways to do this, like starting transplants indoors, using cold frames or mini-greenhouses, or taking advantage of row covers to extend the season early in the spring or late in the fall when there’s risk of frost. Speaking of that problem …

Late Frosts

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, if you’re plagued by late frosts that kill your fruit tree blossoms, the best thing to do is keep your fruit trees colder. Provided they can take the coldest winter temperatures in your area, planting them in a cold pocket or a bit of shade will prevent early spring heat from causing them to break bud. If they break bud later, then they’ll be less likely to flower early and lose blossoms to late frosts.

Too Little Heat Or Too Much Rain

How To Trick Nature & Stretch Your Hardiness Zone

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For annual crops especially, too little summer heat or too much rain can be a problem. Raised beds stay warmer and dryer than the surrounding soil and can be a solution if it’s just a little bit too cold or wet. For more warmth and dryer conditions, consider a small hoop house or row covers, or for a quick and easy solution, try black plastic row covers to both heat the soil and allow extra rain to run off.

Growing Cold Weather Crops in Warm Climates

While keeping things warm enough is a problem in the north country, some plants require winter frosts or a chilling period to cause them to break dormancy in the spring. Cherries, for example, need a certain number of chilling hours each winter so that they’ll produce in the spring. Other crops, like rhubarb, require winter frosts to go dormant in the soil and regenerate.

Low-Chill Varieties

By choosing low-chill varieties, you can extend your growing capacity to plants that otherwise wouldn’t experience enough chill days to thrive. Cherries often require 500+ chilling hours to grow, but some varieties, such as “Royal Lee” and “Minnie Royal,” require only 200-300 hours of chilling time. That can make a big difference if you only have a few cold days to work with.

Creating Artificial Chilling Days

If your climate doesn’t even have 200-300 chill hours, like in some parts of Texas and Southern California, you can create artificial chill days mid-winter. You don’t actually need to get the soil to freeze to count as a chill day. Temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit work great.

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Plant the tree in the coolest part of your yard, ideally with some shade. Keep some milk jugs filled with water in your freezer and when it’s going to be a cold day, but perhaps not quite below 45, bring them out and make a circle around your tree’s trunk on the ground. When they’ve defrosted, bring them back in, refreeze and repeat. This will allow you to create an artificial cold spot that might just be enough to get you fruit in the hottest climates.

Digging Up Perennials & Refrigerating

In northern climates, digging up perennials and forcing them in the winter is a normal practice. Dig up rhubarb roots and store them indoors in the refrigerator or root cellar. Then, set them by the wood stove to “force them” to grow mid-winter for a cold weather treat. Gardeners in hot climates can make use of this, too.

Rhubarb, in particular, requires 500 chilling hours (or roughly 20 days) at 28 to 45 degrees each winter. In the early winter, cut off all the shoots and leaves and dig up the roots. Place them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about a month and then replant.

What tricks do you use? Share your tips in the section below:

17 Vegetables In Your Garden That Require Bee Pollination

17 Vegetables In Your Garden That Require Bee Pollination

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So, you have planted your garden and are looking forward to eating all that fresh produce. Did you know that you can make your garden even more productive by planting flowers? That’s right, flowers. Attracting pollinators to your garden can impact how well your plants produce.

Different Categories of Plants

Garden crops fall into four different categories for pollination, according to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss three.

The first group is self-pollinating, and they don’t need insects or wind for pollination. Beans, peas and tomatoes are in this category.

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The second group needs pollination from an unrelated plant. Radishes and cabbages are the only vegetables in this category, but because we eat the root part of the radish you still can get a good crop without pollination.

The 17 Vegetables

The third and largest group is vegetables requiring cross-pollination. Cross-pollination is accomplished through windblown pollen in beets, carrots, celery, corn, onions, spinach and Swiss chard. But a large list of vegetables usually require pollination by insects. These 17 vegetables are: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, lettuce, muskmelon, mustard, okra, parsley, peppers, pumpkins, rutabaga, squash and watermelon.

Bees are one of the best pollinators, but butterflies and hummingbirds can also help with pollination.

How to Attract Pollinators

So how do you get more bees, butterflies and hummingbirds into your garden? Make it a pollinator-friendly place by implementing some or all the following ideas.

1. Find space in your garden for nectar and pollen-rich plants that will attract bees and butterflies. Mint is great for attracting bees. Mint spreads quite a bit, so you want to have a space where it can grow and fill in without crowding out other plants, or take some steps to contain it, like planting mint in a pot in the ground to help keep the roots from spreading.

17 Vegetables In Your Garden That Require Bee Pollination

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Other herbs, such as chives, thyme, marjoram, sage, lavender and Echinacea, also attract bees and butterflies. Planting an herb garden, or planting herbs interspersed with your vegetables, will bring bees and butterflies to the garden. Pineapple sage is another great flower to attract birds, bees and hummingbirds. In warm climates, where pineapple sage grows year-round, it can get to be six feet high. A hedge of pineapple sage is constantly filled with hummingbirds and butterflies when the red, trumpet-shaped flowers are blooming. In colder climates, you can still grow pineapple sage, but it behaves like an annual instead of a perennial so it won’t get as big.

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Bees, of course, also love flowers. Wildflower mixes contain a variety of bright-colored flowers that will attract bees. If you are wanting a more cultivated look in your yard or garden, try some of the following flowers: Cosmos, calendula, bee balm, sunflowers, rose mallow and cornflowers. It doesn’t take much space to plant flowers and herbs that will attract bees and butterflies to your yard or garden. You can plant something as small as a container with a few flowers, or a large field covered with flowers and herbs, or anything in between.

2. Add water. Butterflies and bees all need water. Consider adding a birdbath or installing a water garden or catch basin to provide water. Hummingbird feeders will attract hummingbirds, who also can help with pollination, and you will find that bees and butterflies also use the feeders when the hummingbirds let them.

3. Provide shelter.You can purchase or build man-made bee boxes or homes, or you can allow natural spaces where bees can create nests, such as an old tree, allowing part of your yard to grow wild to provide shelter for ground bees, or leave a decomposing log in a sunny place.

4. Watch the pesticides … and go organic. Pesticides not only kill harmful pests, but they also kill beneficial insects. By using organic methods, you can control pests and diseases by working with nature. Using organic methods also helps protect the pollinators.

Attract more pollinators to your garden this year, and see how much better your garden grows.

How do you attract pollinators to your garden? Share your thoughts in the section below:

4 Tricks To Keep Deer Out Of Your Yard (No. 2 Is Gross … But Works)

4 Natural Ways To Keep Deer Out Of Your Yard (No. 2 Is Yukky … But Works)

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It’s intriguing to watch a small group of deer prance through the yard, until they decide to stay.

I remember planting a small orchard of mixed fruit trees — apples, pears and peaches. They were saplings with a trunk about an inch in diameter and about five to eight feet tall. There were about 20 of them, and they weren’t cheap. Digging the holes, composting and watering required a lot of effort, but I considered it an investment in the future and I looked forward to the day of the first harvest. That day never came.

Over the winter, a small group of deer stripped the bark from every single tree – girdling all of them. By removing the bark around the circumference of the trunks, they had killed my young orchard.

Deer also can do damage to a garden, as they forage on tender plants and shoots.

But for organic gardeners and homesteaders, there is hope. Here are four ways to keep deer off your garden and property:

1. Simple fencing.

A high fence around any garden will keep a good number of animals out, including deer.  But when you’re planting individual saplings across a large area, a fence can be tough to do.

The solution for saplings is a cylinder of fencing about six inches in diameter buried at the base of the tree up to the leaf line. This will make it difficult, if not impossible, for deer to nibble on the bark. It’s a bit unsightly, but once the tree has matured for three to four years, the bark has hardened and is not as attractive to deer. At this time, the fencing can be cut away, but there’s still a chance they’ll take advantage. That’s where some other solutions become necessary.

2. Coyote urine.

Yes, you can actually buy coyote urine. It’s usually sold through the Internet, but some garden centers even carry it on their shelves. Coyotes are a natural enemy of deer, and their scent will repel them. Like many liquid repellents, it needs to be reapplied after a heavy rain. The urine is usually sprayed onto the bark of the tree from the base to leaf-line, but it’s obviously not recommended for vegetables in the garden. However, you could spray the stuff around the perimeter of a garden to create a barrier.

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4 Natural Ways To Keep Deer Out Of Your Yard (No. 2 Is Yukky … But Works)

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You should know that coyote urine comes with a catch. While coyote urine will repel deer, it might attract coyotes. Coyotes are wild dogs, and if you’ve ever owned a dog you know how much they love to mark their territory by lifting a leg when they pick up the scent of another dog. But there is an alternative.

3. The plastic coyote.

I’ll admit: I was alarmed the first time I encountered a plastic coyote. My neighbor had it in his backyard, and it was life-sized and painted to look like a real coyote.

My neighbor was a good friend, so I wheeled into his driveway to ask him about the coyote in his backyard.  He laughed and said, “You wanna meet him?”  I was a bit confused and hesitant, but as we approached this “coyote,” it occurred to me the animal was frozen in place. He said he bought it at a local hardware store to repel deer and other varmints. I asked if it worked and he gave me a very definitive, “Yes.” You also can find them on the Internet.

4. The hot sauce cocktail.

The good thing about the hot sauce cocktail is that it’s safe to eat on vegetables after they’ve been well-rinsed. This hot sauce cocktail also works great on tree bark. As you might suspect, it’s made of a mix of hot stuff you probably have in your kitchen. This makes any target for deer highly unattractive. Here’s my recipe and some of my favorite hot stuff.

  • 1 quart of vinegar (white or apple-cider vinegar)
  • ¼ cup of hot sauce. I like “Dave’s Total Insanity Sauce.”
  • 3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of black pepper

Combine everything in an empty milk jug and shake. Let the jug sit in the sun for three days and shake again. Add enough to a spray bottle to fill it, and spray liberally on anything you think might tempt a deer to taste. After one taste, they will stop and probably not return for a second sample. Here again, reapply after a heavy rain.

Final Thoughts

These solutions will not only repel deer but other critters and opportunistic varmints, too. Your response to the deer problem is directly related to where you live and the deer population. If deer are abundant, they will — sooner or later — cause you some distress. Pass the stress onto them, and consider these natural approaches to preserve and protect your hard work.

How do you repel deer? Share your tips in the section below:

6 Secrets To Growing Better Bush Beans

6 Secrets To Growing Better Bush Beans

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Also known as snap beans for their distinct “snapping” sound when ripe, bush beans are the most popular home-grown beans for novice and expert gardeners alike. They also are easy to grow.

As an added bonus, these plants tend to ripen all at once, which means you’ll have a large number of beans and you won’t have to keep guessing if the plant is going to produce. This can make it easier to freeze or can the vegetables.

Interested in giving bush beans a try in your garden this summer? Follow these tips:

1. Make sure it’s warm

Beans love warm – even hot — weather. While they can grow in poor soil conditions, they cannot grow when it’s cold or the region is still experiencing frost at night.

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If you jumped the gun and planted before it was warm enough, that doesn’t mean the crop is ruined, but beans planted in cold soil just don’t grow as fast; it also makes them prone to rot or various diseases found in soil.

2. Soak the seeds

If you are looking for an even faster turnaround time, try placing the seeds in water overnight before planting. The seeds will swell up with water and they’ll be ready to germinate, meaning you will get your beans even faster.

3. Water, water, water

6 Secrets To Growing Better Bush Beans

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Beans grow better with a good water supply, but they don’t do so well when the soil is too wet or doesn’t drain properly. To ensure the soil drains properly and your beans don’t rot, use organic material, like compost, before you plant the beans. After the plants have started sprouting, allow them to dry out – just a bit – before watering again.

4. Place them close together

Unlike other plants, bush beans can be planted close together, without impact to the growing process. When the bean plants begin to sprout, they will form a canopy of shade over the soil, keeping it cool. That then will deter weeds from growing, which ultimately will provide you with a much better crop.

5. Pick a new spot

Gardeners who have grown beans for years often will recommend not growing beans in the same spot two seasons in a row. Beans are very vulnerable to soil-borne diseases, so crop rotation helps. You also will stop the formation of diseases.

6. Get the weeds out

Bean plants tend to have shallow roots when compared to weeds, which means they won’t get the nutrients from the soil when weeds have deeper roots and hog all the nutrients. For this reason, it is recommended to keep your bean garden well-weeded so the plants stay healthy and will produce.

What advice would you add on growing bush beans? Share your thoughts in the section below:  

4 Free Mulches That Can Revolutionize Your Garden

4 Free Mulches That Can Revolutionize Your Garden

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Gardening season is well under way, which means it is time to think about mulching. Instead of running to your local lawn and garden store, though, consider organic mulch choices, which are readily available and provide more benefits than basic wood chips.

Benefits of Organic Mulch

You might be surprised at the multitude of choices gardeners have when it comes to mulching. Some people use newspaper, grass clippings, leaves and other options. While some people do spread landscape fabric around their plants to reduce weeds, organic mulch is a better choice.

  • It is inexpensive. Living a sustainable lifestyle requires a sort of craftiness and ingenuity. We have to rely on the items we have at our fingertips. Instead of purchasing bags of wood chips, organic mulch can be things readily available in your backyard. The only cost may be the labor and time it takes.
  • It prevents weeds. The obvious reason to use mulch is to prevent weeds. Mulch stops sunlight from reaching the weeds. If your primary goal is to reduce weeds, then two inches of mulch is the recommended amount.
  • It adds nutrients to soil. One of the best reasons to use organic mulch is because it adds nutrients back into your soil. Over time, the mulch will decompose, putting nutrients right back into the ground. Grass clippings, for example, decompose quickly and are a great source of nitrogen.
  • It retains moisture. It can be a daunting task to water your garden regularly. Mulch helps to retain the moisture already present in the ground.

Organic Mulch Choices

If you are interested in using organic mulch, there are several choices available to you. Let’s take a look at each one and the benefits.

1. Pine straw. This is a fantastic choice for suppressing weeds. Once wet, the straw tends to mat down, making it nearly impossible for weeds to break through. If you have pine trees on your property, the mulch will be totally free. You also should know that it does take a while for pine straw to decompose.

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Another downside to pine straw: It is a source of acid. Your soil will increase in acidity, which is OK for some plants. Gardeners must consider the plants they are growing and if those plants like acid. Veggies such as sweet potatoes, radishes and peppers are good candidates.

2. Grass clippings. We all love free, and grass clippings fall into that category. If you cut your grass, you have clippings. The abundance is a positive reason to use grass clippings. They also are a fantastic source of nitrogen. All plants need nitrogen to grow, but some plants, such as lettuce and spinach, benefit from extra sources.

There are two negatives to using grass clippings. They decompose quickly, so you will have to continue to add layers throughout the growing season. Also, some gardeners despise the smell of decomposing grass. You’ll notice it heavily after rain.

4 Free Mulches That Can Revolutionize Your Garden

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3. Shredded leaves. Fallen leaves contain minerals that the tree absorbed from the soil to aid its growth. As they decompose, leaves feed the earthworms, adding nutrients and microbes back into the soil. Gardens with sandy soil benefit from shredded leaves because they help to lighten the soil and retain moisture. Carbon, essential for balancing nitrogen, leeches into the soil as the leaves decompose.

The biggest negative is the look. Chances are you won’t win an award for the “Most Beautiful Garden of the Year.” It is worth the downside. Leaves must be shredded before used as mulch. Otherwise, water may not reach the soil. Also, never use leaves from walnut, eucalyptus or camphor laurel trees, as they have chemicals that stop plant growth.

4. Old hay. If you have access to old hay, your garden will thank you. While you could use fresh hay, the spoiled bales are cheaper and will add more nutrients to the soil. Over time, hay helps to act as a buffer and neutralize your soil. This could be a problem for some plants, but it is great for soil that is a bit too acidic.

The problem with using hay is that it is made from grass. It will have grass seeds that can cause weeds to grow in your garden. Since you probably want to avoid weeds, the best solution is to pile the old hay about a foot thick. At this depth, it is nearly impossible for weeds to grow through.  

What organic mulch would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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

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

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

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

1. Keep them Dry

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

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

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

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

2. Use the Right Storage Containers

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

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

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

3. Make Labels for Them

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

4. Keep them Cool

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

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

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

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

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

7 Things Rabbits Absolutely Hate (So Put These In Your Garden!)

7 Things Rabbits Hate (So Put These In Your Garden!)

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I’m an avid gardener and prefer to do things the natural way. That means I spend a lot of time composting, planting heritage fruits and vegetables, and using natural ways to control insects.

But while the bugs can be bad, rabbits can wipe out a garden overnight. So, I’ve developed a number of ways to deal with those critters — sometimes use them in combination.

Whichever method you use, it is best to implement it from the day of your first planting. Rabbits love sprouting plants.

I’ve tried all these methods, and they do work.

1. Geraniums. Believe it or not, rabbits hate the smell of geraniums. They’re an annual plant, but the seeds are easy to harvest in the early fall to replant around the perimeter of the garden during spring. They’re not a foolproof solution, but when used with other rabbit repellents they can create an effective barrier.

2. Human hair. Sprinkle some hair from your last haircut around the perimeter of your garden and in between rows. Rabbits are repelled by the scent and may think a human is in close proximity. The hair decomposes and adds to the compost variety in the garden. Dog or cat hair also can work.

3. The plastic owl. This is an odd one, but it works. Many garden centers sell life-size plastic owls. When mounted on a stick above your garden, they will repel most rodents, including rabbits.

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Owl prey on rabbits, mice, chipmunks and squirrels. The site of your fake owl most likely will keep them some distance from your garden.

7 Things Rabbits Hate (So Put These In Your Garden!)

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4. Rubber snakes. You can buy rubber snakes at some novelty stores. Scattering a few around your garden will add an additional stop sign to rabbits and most other rodents. Rabbits hate snakes. Of course, if you also hate snakes it may be a bit unnerving to have rubber snakes scattered around your garden, but that’s up to you.

5. Fences. It’s the standard chicken-wire solution. You drive in some stakes and surround the garden with chicken wire. It requires work and is a bit unsightly, but it’ll at least keep the rabbits out.

6. Noise. Anything that rotates in the wind to create noise will repel most rabbits. Of course, you need wind to make them work, but as an added rabbit repellent you should see good results. Here again, some garden centers sell these types of garden noisemakers, so ask around.

7. Home-brewed rabbit repellent. Imagine the hottest and stinkiest stuff you have in your kitchen and you’re halfway to a home-brewed rabbit repellent. Think garlic, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes — anything that will make one taste of one of your vegetables objectionable to a rabbit. Here’s a recipe but you can improvise:

  • 1 gallon of water.
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed red peppers.
  • 10 garlic cloves diced.
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (“Dave’s Total Insanity Sauce” is the hottest).

Put everything in a gallon milk jug and let it sit in the sun for three to four days to get those flavors infused. Spray or splash onto plant leaves and fruits where you have a rabbit problem, or think you’ll have one.

One note: Some vegetables will need to be rinsed after this application. A first rinse in half and half water and vinegar followed by a clear rinse in cold water should do the trick. This is less of a problem with root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes and rutabaga, because you’re only spraying the top leaves and the roots will not pick up the hot stuff. Of course, if you’re harvesting those green tops you’ll want to do the vinegar and water rinse.

Final Thoughts

It’s tough when you want to take a natural approach to gardening. The bugs and fungus and critters love to show up at your garden table. Hopefully, though, some of these ideas work for you when it comes to rabbits.

How do you keep rabbits out of your garden? Share your thoughts in the section below:

7 Edible Perennials You Should Grow For ‘Survival Insurance’

7 Edible Perennials You Should Grow For ‘Survival Insurance’

Good King Henry. Image source: Wikimedia

Imagine being able to store fresh food and medicines in the ground indefinitely for emergency purposes, not only maintaining their nutrients, potency and freshness, but actually increasing their quantities and quality from year to year with little or no work.

This is exactly what you can do by growing perennial plants that are edible and/or medicinal. Here are some of the best ones for nutrition and ease of maintenance. Consider it your “survival insurance.”

1. Perennial brassicas (Brassica species)Perennial brassicas like kale, broccoli and collards are super-nutritious and packed with health-promoting compounds. On top of this, their deeper root systems make them more drought-tolerant and possibly more nutritious, considering they have more potential to suck up nutrients. Brassica species, also known as the cruciferous family, require full sun and a rich soil fairly high in nitrogen. Some species to look out for include Tree Collards, Sea Kale, Pentland Brig, and Perennial Five Star Broccoli.

2. Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)This perennial green was once grown as a popular addition to salads, and is nutritious and easy to grow. It requires moist soil, preferring part shade, but tolerating full sun, and grows in most soil types.

3. Chinese toon (Toona sinensis)Although Chinese toons are technically trees, they are also an excellent salad green right away, since their leaves are edible and have a unique onion flavor, so they can be counted as a perennial green.

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Their seeds also can be sprouted, as is done in China, for a high nutrition sprout similar to alfalfa or bean sprouts. The leaves are high in vitamin A and protein, and they require full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

7 Edible Perennials You Should Grow For ‘Survival Insurance’

Jerusalem artichokes

4. Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) — Also called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes are a prolific and aggressively spreading root/tuber crop related to sunflowers. They require full sun and plenty of space, ideally separate from the rest of your garden since they can take over. Best grown in loose, deep soil for better root production. The best varieties have smooth tubers that are easier to wash. As with beans, it is best to start off eating a small amount until your system adapts to eating them.

5. Moringa (Moringa oleifera) — Moringa is a tropical tree that can only be grown in areas without frost as a perennial. However, in other areas this highly nutritious and medicinal tree also can be grown as an annual or as an indoor or greenhouse specimen. Its leaves are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, having been used for decades by aid agencies in major plantings around famine-stricken areas to supply a wide spectrum of nutrients. Its seeds are highly medicinal, as well, and can be used to help purify water by killing microorganisms and viruses. Some say you can get seeds in one year if you start them indoors several months before the last frost and then plant them out in full sun with plenty of good organic fertilizer for the growing season.

6. Chinese yam (Dioscorea polystachya/Dioscorea divaricate/Dioscorea opposita) — This edible and medicinal vine produces a large root — up to three feet long — that has been eaten in Asia for centuries for its health-promoting properties. It is a good low-maintenance calorie crop, but great care should be taken anywhere warmer than zone 5, as the plant may become invasive. It requires full sun and a trellis to grow on, and will produce aerial tubers (small berry-like balls) that can be planted to produce new plants, or cooked and eaten.

7. Nettles (Laportaea and Utrica species) – Nettles are high in iron and protein, among other things, and also have medicinal value. Their leaves and seeds are both highly nutritious, although they must be steamed to neutralize the sting prior to eating. The younger more tender leaves are best. Wood Nettle (Laportaea canadensis) can grow in part to full shade while Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) prefers full sun to part shade, and they do best in rich, moisture retentive soil. Plant these somewhere out of the way (or in the way if you’re protecting something) to avoid the sting. Use gloves to harvest.

Final Thoughts

The best thing about perennials is that as long as you keep them well-mulched and build organic matter-rich soil, they’ll pretty much take care of themselves, giving you a low-maintenance way to continually increase your food supplies.

What perennials would you add to our list? What is your favorite edible perennial? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Mulching (But Didn’t Want To Ask)

Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Mulching (But Didn’t Want To Ask)

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The question came during a car ride to the annual co-op tree sale, when my farm apprentice asked one of our passengers, a seasoned self-described permaculturist, for a definition of what she did.

After a few halting starts describing site-planning and sustainability and organic and natural, she said, “Basically it just means I mulch a lot.”

We all laughed, but the truth is that mulch is a really big deal. So much so that I consider it to be every gardener’s secret weapon. It is simple, often inexpensive or even free, easy to use, and effective — yet many people are not aware of the wonders of mulch.

It may be easier to define mulch than permaculture, but it, too, is a practice which is wildly diverse and highly personalized. It can be made of virtually any material, used in multiple ways for myriad purposes, and infinitely customized.

What is mulch, exactly? An Internet search of the word yields plenty of opportunities to purchase it but not much in the way of actual definition. In two words, mulch is “ground cover.”

Why Mulch?

The reasons I use mulch are mostly about utility and efficiency. Covering the ground around my garden vegetables, perennials such as rhubarb and blueberries, and fruit trees accomplishes many desirable outcomes for me as a homesteader.  It discourages weed growth, helps retain water, defines walking paths, improves soil health, and discourages my cat and other animals from eliminating and digging. It also makes it easier to mow and trim around vegetation.

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Other reasons to use mulch are more focused on aesthetics. A manicured layer of ground cover around flower beds, bordering everything from household structures to fences to walls to ornamental trees and shrubs to pools, is generally considered attractive.

Other mulching uses include covering steep banks and other areas which can be challenging to mow and where erosion control is a factor.

Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Mulching (But Didn’t Want To Ask)

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There is a great deal of overlap among reasons for mulching. Although my reasons are primarily practical-minded, I enjoy the pleasing visual quality of the neat appearance. Likewise, I expect that homeowners whose objectives center upon visual appeal are glad for the added bonuses of weed control, reduced water usage and facilitating trim work.

What to Use?

Hang on to your hat — here comes the best part! You can use just about anything for mulch. Grass clippings, weeds, leaves, cardboard, newspaper, wood scraps, rubber, plastic, and more are all great for mulching (although rubber and plastic won’t decompose). Sourcing possibilities are also widely varied. You can get mulch from farm and garden retailers, landscapers, recycle facilities, or your own backyard. You can pay a lot of money or you can find many options for free.

When most people envision mulch, they think of coarsely ground-up bits of bark and other wood products, purchased by the cubic yard. It can be natural colored or dyed in shades of red or black.

I use a lot of other substances for mulch. I use three-foot-wide strips of used carpet as a semi-permanent border and weed barrier around the edge of my in-ground garden. They can be moved out of the way for rototilling and neatened up every season. The carpet kills the lawn grass beneath it, allowing me to easily expand the size of my garden every year, but is permeable enough to allow air and water through it. One of my favorite things about my carpet border is that it is soft enough to allow portable electric fencing to be installed over the top of it, keeping out animals by either electrifying the fence or using it as a simple physical barrier, and removed during the off-season.

Between rows of vegetables, my go-to is simple newspaper and lawn grass clippings. I lay a complete cover of newspaper, add a thick — six inches or more — layer of fresh lawn grass, and water it well to keep it in place until it forms itself into a mat that will resist being blown away. This method is generally sufficient to avoid most weeds for the entire season and can be turned into the soil in fall.

I use layers of industrial cardboard, which I get from my local recycle center, under my raised beds. This helps keep weeds out and water in; it is not foolproof, but it makes a difference.

Between rows of highbush blueberries, I use purchased landscape fabric. It is expensive stuff and took a period of years to get it all installed, but it impacts lawn care effort. Landscape fabric lasts many years, is air- and water-permeable for the health of plant roots, and has a tidy appearance.

I use round rubber mulch mats around the base of some of my young trees. These are thick flexible mats, two to three feet across, that lay on the ground around a tree much like a Christmas tree skirt. These, too, can be costly, but last a long time and are very versatile and time-saving.

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Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Mulching (But Didn’t Want To Ask)

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Other materials I use incidentally or have tried in the past include empty plastic grain bags for weed blockage underneath decorative or bark mulch or crushed stone or sand in areas where soil aeration doesn’t matter and I do not want anything to grow.

Sometimes mulching happens in tiny steps. When I harvest rhubarb, for example, I cut the leaves and lay them on the soil around the base of the plants, and sometimes pile other plant discards or pulled weeds over top of existing mulch to help weight it down.

Are There Any Downsides to Mulching?

One major caution in this kind of creative thinking is this: remember that crucial life exists below the surface. Bear in mind that plant roots need air, water and nutrients, as do beneficial organisms in the soil itself. Use impermeable materials with wisdom and forethought.

Also, consider the presence of chemicals. While it is possible to acquire free pieces of leftover carpet from flooring installers, I generally avoid new flooring and instead opt for that which has had the opportunity to adequately off-gas that it will not add anything undesirable to the soil or air.

Another possible disadvantage of mulch is that it can provide appealing habitat for wildlife. Snakes, mice, voles, rats, and insects might be glad to make their homes in, under, and around a layer of insulated and camouflaged mulch.

When and How?

Getting mulch applied early is key. It is much harder to eliminate weeds once they have appeared than it is to prevent them in the first place.

Volume is also important. A thin layer of grass or newspaper will be of little use and could result in more frustration than anything else. Pile it on thick and cover the area thoroughly.

Any effort made in mulching will pay for itself many times over. In the end, mulch might be easier to use than it is to define, but any gardener who uses it will be glad they did — having fewer weeds, healthier soil and an attractive yard is always beneficial.

What types of mulch do you use? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

5 Beneficial Garden Bugs You Should NEVER Kill

5 Beneficial Garden Bugs You Should NEVER Kill

Praying mantis. Image source: Wikipedia

As a professional gardener and farmer, one of the questions I field most frequently from people sounds something like this: “I have XYZ in my garden … how can I kill it?”

Usually, this refers to some form of insect. The problem with this approach is that it insinuates that all insects are problematic and should be eradicated. The opposite approach, though, requires gardeners to understand a little more about the complex relationships that occur within nature.

Typically, if you see a specific insect in your garden, it can be indicative of other unobserved conditions. For this reason, I have begun to reach out to new gardeners in the hope of changing the overall mindset to one of working with nature rather than trying to fight against it.

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Following is a short list of some of the more common uninvited garden visitors and why they are your friend — rather than your enemy. Many of these insects are so helpful that it is actually advantageous to encourage them to make a home in your garden by providing additional habitat so that they can breed and reproduce.

5 Beneficial Garden Bugs You Should NEVER Kill

Syrphid flies. Image source: Wikimedia

1. Syrphid flies — These are also known as sweat bees or hover flies. Many people assume that these little flies are equipped with a stinger, since they share some of the same colors and markings as yellow jackets and hornets. However, these harmless little flies are actually nectar- and pollen-feeders during their adult stage. During their larval stage, they are voracious feeders and prefer to eat aphids, scale insects and thrips. One way to encourage Syrphid flies is to keep a continuous nectar source in your garden throughout the entire growing season. Among the best plants for this is sweet alyssum. Alyssum is easy to grow and makes an excellent and attractive choice for flowering baskets and beds.

2. Praying mantis — Sure, mantis can look intimidating, but they are excellent hunters and harmless to humans. Mantis are ambush predators and prefer to eat soft-bodied pests such as caterpillars and grubs. They also will eat cabbage moths if given the chance. The egg sack of the mantis is equally strange looking and can startle people who are not accustomed to their rough papery appearance. To encourage mantis, learn how to identify its egg sack so that during garden clean-up you can set it aside in a safe place.

3. Spiders — Be kind to your eight-legged neighbors while out in your garden. There are many different species of garden-friendly spiders, and all of them are doing their part to defend your plants from harm. Spiders tend to feed on caterpillars, leaf hoppers, aphids, cucumber beetles, thrips and flies. An abundance of spiders in the garden means there’s a lot of prey around. A healthy garden will have a diversity of spiders that includes both orb weavers and ground hunters.

4. Wasps and yellow jackets — Believe it or not, these stinging insects aren’t too interested in humans. The overly large stinger of most nectar-feeding wasps is often used as a method of injecting eggs into a soft-bodied host. As the larvae from these eggs mature, they will devour their host from the inside-out. To encourage beneficial wasps, provide a continuous nectar source throughout the growing season. One of the best nectar sources for beneficial wasps comes from flowers in the allium family. Yellow jackets are meat eaters and are ruthless killers of caterpillars, grubs, flies and moths. Although they can be problematic for humans when present in large numbers, a small population of yellow jackets can be extremely useful in controlling soft-bodied insects within your garden.

5 Beneficial Garden Bugs You Should NEVER Kill

Pirate bug. Image source: Flickr / creative commons

5. Pirate bugs — This is a scenario where nature gets a little bit complicated. There are some cases where large numbers of pirate bugs can be a nuisance to people, even biting them. However, as a beneficial insect, pirate bugs are exceedingly good at hunting thrips, mites, insect eggs, caterpillars and aphids. As a gardener, one must decide if the benefit outweighs the side-effect. Personally, I have only found them to be of benefit. When prey levels are low, pirate bugs will choose to feed on nectar and plant juices instead. These garden allies are very susceptible to pesticide applications which can have deleterious effects on their numbers.

What insects/bugs would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

How To Grow A Lemon Tree … From A Store-Bought Lemon

How To Grow A Lemon Tree ... From A Store-Bought Lemon

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Do you wish you could grow your own lemons, but don’t know where to start? If you’ve been to garden centers and considered buying a few trees, you may have been shocked by the price of just one. But you can start growing your own lemons — or any citrus you like — for next to nothing.

The price to get started: whatever lemons cost at your local grocery. Just don’t toss out the seeds! You’ll also need a zippered freezer bag and some paper towels. Once the sprouts appear, you’ll also need some good potting soil, a pot (or pots) for planting, and a breathable plastic cover (or regular plastic wrap with tiny holes punched in it.)

Ready to get started?

Purchase some nice-looking lemons on your next shopping trip. Organic is best, if you can get them, because non-organic lemon seeds may not germinate. After slicing your lemon open, carefully remove the whole seeds with the tip of a small knife and drop them into a cup of water. The seeds must not dry out, or they won’t sprout. Set the cup aside. (You also can leave them in the water until you’re ready to start sprouting them.) Remove all the pulp by wiping them clean with a paper towel.

Fold up and moisten a paper towel or two and place them in a freezer bag; set them aside. You’ll use this as a sprouting medium.

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On another folded paper towel, lay one seed out, and with the same knife point, carefully poke through and remove the outer husk of the seed. This allows the seed to germinate. Once you remove the husk, place it into the freezer bag on the damp paper towel. Remove the husks from all the seeds and add them to the bag, flatten it and zip it closed.

Place the bag in a window or other sunny spot for a few weeks until little green sprouts appear. Those are your seedlings, and you’re on your way!

How To Grow A Lemon Tree ... From A Store-Bought Lemon

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Once you’re ready to start planting your tiny trees, prepare your pot and soil. You’ll need a good potting soil suitable for fruits and vegetables, and a pot that’s six inches wide and six inches deep. There should be holes in the bottom to allow drainage—stagnant water can cause mold growth and other problems. Plant your little seedlings about a half-inch below the soil’s surface, and lightly spray the soil with water so that it’s damp. Cover with the plastic film (make sure there are tiny holes) and secure around the edges with a rubber band. Leave it in a sunny window, or under a grow light until the tiny leaves break through the top of the soil.

Your lemon tree will need at least eight hours of sunlight a day (or from a grow light) and some watering. Your soil should be moderately moist, but not soaking wet. About a month after leaves start appearing, add more nutrients to the soil with a good fertilizer.

When the plant gets bigger, you’ll need to move it to a larger container. These trees grow best in a container that’s wider than it is tall. Once your lemon tree is big enough, plant it in an outside garden area, if you have the space (and climate). If you don’t, a suitable indoor container with adequate sunlight will allow you to grow your lemon tree and pick fruit indoors.

Keep an eye out for things like browning leaves, pests underneath the leaves, and other potential problems when you water it. Your local extension service can give you advice on growing in your specific area.

Although younger trees are known to produce some fruit, you can reasonably expect to start picking your own lemons within three to six years.

With a little time, money and patience, you can have your own lemon tree — or orchard — and may never have to buy lemons again.

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


How to Grow a Lemon Tree from Seed, Growing Wild Ceeds, 3/10/2012

Grow Lemon Tree Seeds Easily At Home, Unknown Remedy, 10/28/2016

Grow a Lemon Tree Seed,


6 Reasons You Need A Gardening Journal This Year

6 Reasons You Need A Gardening Journal This Year

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Each growing season brings a new opportunity to create a fantastic garden, but every year also brings its own learning opportunities and challenges.

The best way to make the most out of these challenges is to remember them so that you don’t make the same mistakes.

This year, consider keeping a gardening journal. Here are six reasons why you should do so:

1. Track specific time frames

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew the exact date past frosts happened in your yard? By writing down when the growing season started and ended in the area you care about most, you can optimize the amount of time you have for growing plants.

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This can be especially important if you live in a climate that experiences drastic differences between seasons, like summer and winter.

2. Track temperatures

Along with tracking specific time frames in your area, you also can log daily temperatures. That way, you can see patterns over various growing seasons and be able to figure out correlations between specific temperature patterns and harvests (whether good or bad).

3. Track plant production

6 Reasons You Need A Gardening Journal This Year

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Track how certain plants do and how fast they grow (such as the time from planting to harvest). Create a page for each type of plant you grow and keep notes about anything related to this plant, including specialized details about the plant.

4. Track soil issues

You may find that the soil in your garden reacts differently at various points during the growing season. Keep track of the dates when you add compost, and write down the watering patterns and how dry or wet the soil is. This helps you see the “broad picture” so you can learn how plants react to different levels of watering and fertilization.

5. Track your garden plot

Most of us don’t have an unlimited space for gardens, which means we must pick and choose which plants we want to grow.

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Use your journal to map out the space you have and where you plan to grow specific vegetables in the garden. That way, you can plan next year’s garden based on what happened this year, without guessing from a faulty memory.

6. Track local seed swaps and community events

There may be people in your community who grow plants you haven’t thought of growing or have the room to grow. You can meet people in your area who share your passion for gardening, and perhaps even get some tips and tricks from them.

There isn’t a formula or exact method to creating a creating a gardening journal, so make it work for you and ensure you get the most out of it. Let it grow and bloom into something beautiful.

Have you ever kept a gardening journal? Share your tips in the section below:

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

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

Kohlrabi. Image source:

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

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

1. Black tomatoes

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

2. Kohlrabi

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

3. Mexican sour gherkin

cucamelon -- pixabay

Cucamelon. Image source:

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

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

4. Stevia

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

5. Amaranth

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

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

Lettuce Has … No Nutrition? Perhaps, If You Eat The Wrong Kind

Lettuce Is … Void Of Nutrition? Perhaps, If You Eat The Wrong Kind

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Nature gives us a great hint for choosing healthy fruits and vegetables – color. The darker the berry, the higher the antioxidant value. Similarly, the darker the shade of lettuce is, the higher its nutritional content.

Take iceberg lettuce, for example. The longtime and popular American salad staple has a pale color and, accordingly, offers little in the way of vitamins and minerals. In fact, it ranks last on our list of healthy lettuce.

If you love the crispiness that iceberg lettuce brings to your sandwich or salad, never fear. Just combine it with one or more of these more nutritious choices.

Romaine – With its dark red and green color and its elongated leaves, romaine (also called “cos”) is rich in folate and vitamins A and C. It also contains a healthy dose of Vitamin K, zinc and potassium. Each romaine leaf has a sturdy rib that helps it stand up well in salads and on sandwiches, but its flavor is surprisingly sweet. Even better: Romaine will last for 10 days or more in your fridge.

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Lettuce Has ... No Nutrition? Perhaps, If You Eat The Wrong Kind

Image source: Flickr / Creative Commons / Lawrence Farmers’ Market

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, just one leaf of romaine lettuce contains 17 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes healthy vision, bones and cell division, as well as respiratory, intestinal and urinary functions.

Loose leaf lettuce — Second only to romaine in Vitamin A content is loose leaf lettuce. As its name implies, loose leaf lettuce appears to be barely joined to its stem. Loose leaf contains the most fiber of any lettuce and also is rich in potassium. Plan to eat loose leaf soon after harvesting or purchasing, however; it is quite delicate.

Butterhead – Soft green in color and sweet in taste, butterhead lettuce includes the Bib and the Boston varieties. They offer a soft, almost velvety texture, to salads. Butterhead has double the magnesium content of any other lettuce and is a good source of vitamin A. It also has small amounts of calcium and iron. Butterhead is fragile, however, and will stay fresh only a few days in your refrigerator.

Leaf lettuce — With its bright red or green colors, mild-tasting leaf lettuce adds visual variety to your meal. It is a good choice for sneaking some Vitamins A and K into the diet of the picky eaters in your family. The greener or redder the leaf, the more nutrients this lettuce provides, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

And now a word about iceberg lettuce. It has gained a bad rap in recent years, but, like all lettuce, iceberg still offers some benefits. This inexpensive variety may be low in nutrition, but it is also low in calories, and it has a high-water content that can contribute to your daily hydration.

When you mix iceberg with other lettuce varieties or with tasty nutritious greens — including kale, spinach, Swiss chard, endive, escarole, arugula, chicory, radicchio or watercress — your salad will be a nutritional powerhouse.

What is your favorite type of lettuce? Share your lettuce tips in the section below:


Cicero, Karen. Giant book of kitchen counter cures. Jerry Baker publisher, 2001. Print.

Summer Squash: The Gardening Staple You Can Grow In 40 Days

Summer Squash: The Gardening Staple You Can Grow In 40 Days

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For a lot of people, the thought of summer squash brings to mind just a few varieties. The entire list probably consists of little yellow crooknecks and zucchini, with no more than one or two choices of each.

However, there is a bonanza of summer squash taste available to home gardeners, much of which is very easily raised in most growing zones across the United States. If you like squash even a tiny bit, you will want to grow your own. Fresh summer squash in your backyard provides daily fresh young produce throughout the season, the ability to eliminate food miles, and the opportunity to try dozens of unique varieties that are not available at stores or even farmer’s markets.

Summer Squash or Winter Squash?

It may be useful to begin by defining “summer squash” as opposed to winter squash. Summer squash, as suggested by the name, are those varieties which can be harvested during the summer. The first fruits of summer squash can be ready for harvest in as few as 40 days after planting and continue to yield for the duration of the season as long as they are picked regularly. Winter squash generally requires a longer growing season and is not harvested until fall.

Summer squash is best eaten fresh and does not store well, while winter squash can be stored in a root cellar for months and often even improves in storage.

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The other main difference between summer and winter squash is the skin texture. The skin of summer squash is tender and thin and is usually eaten, while that of winter squash is generally peeled off and discarded because it is tough and unpalatable.

Summer squash comes in all shapes and sizes, and falls into three major categories: yellow, zucchini, and pattypan.

Some people think of “summer squash” to mean specifically yellow crooknecks, the light banana-colored ones shaped like a lightbulb with an elongated curved end. These are included in the “yellow” category, and come in a variety of cultivars. Most of them are the classic crookneck shape, but some have straighter necks than others and a few are more lemon-shaped with little or no neck at all. They are mild and sweet, best eaten very small — six inches or less in length — as they can quickly become thick-skinned and less appealing. Yellow squash skin can be either smooth or bumpy.

Zucchini Squash: The Type That Make People Run

There is vast variety among zucchini squashes, ranging from the classic green cucumber-sized fruit available year-round in the supermarket to the baseball-bat-sized produce that home gardeners are all too eager to give away during peak season, to the “Holy-cow-what-is-that-thing?!?” varieties.

Zucchinis can end up the brunt of jokes, largely due to their potentially highly prolific habits. People in my region quip that the only time of year they lock their cars is during zucchini season, lest a desperate coworker or passerby seize the opportunity to divest themselves of excess squash. Cookbook author Andrea Chesman advises in her book “Serving Up the Harvest” that “two summer squash plants will provide sufficient squash for…[a] family,” and she warns that “more plants is an embarrassment.” However, zucchinis being my personal favorite, I never heed her advice. I usually plant at least five zucchini cultivars, and only sometimes regret it.

In addition to the Kelly green varieties found in supermarket produce sections and unlocked cars, zucchinis range from light green to almost black, and also can be golden. They are sometimes all one color with smooth skin, but often sport lengthwise contrasting stripes or raised ridges. Their shapes run the gamut, from lightbulb to cucumber-like and are also sometimes round.

More Rare Types of Squash

One particularly unique type of squash is called a “tromboncino” or “rampicante” squash. It is usually found in seed catalogs with zucchinis, even though it has little in common with them. Unlike other zucchinis which come from the Mediterranean region, the tromboncino originates from Central America and is related to butternut winter squashes. The tromboncino takes well to climbing instead of spreading out like most zucchinis, and needs a stout cage to contain it. The fruits are long and thin, as much as two feet long, while still as slender as a large carrot except for the bulb on the blossom end, and often coil up into a curlicue shape. Immature fruit are eaten and prepared as other summer squash, but tromboncinos can be left on the vine to mature and then eaten as winter squash instead.

Summer Squash: The Gardening Staple You Can Grow In 40 Days

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The third category of summer squash is the pattypan type. Also known as “scallopini,” these cute little squashes look like tiny flying saucers, or little pastry tarts, with rounded centers. Pattypans range from light green to dark green to yellow to orange in color, and are best harvested when they are smaller than teacups. Like other summer squashes, pattypans have distinctive mild nutty flavors and their share of devoted followers. And also like other summer squashes, they need to be picked often — almost daily during peak season — to keep them from getting out of control and to encourage regrowth.

A possible fourth category of squash is the “Lebanese” type, also known as “Mid-East” or “cousa” squashes. They are an ultra-mild white or light green variety and are often included in the zucchini section of seed catalogs. They strike me as something between zucchinis and yellow squash — a little milder than zucchinis and a little less watery than zucchini.

Summer squash is easy to grow at home, as long as you have plenty of these two things:  sunshine and space.

Squash is finicky about soil temperature. It likes very warm soil and should be planted only after the danger of frost has passed. Planting it too early will result in sluggish — if any — germination.  Seed packet directions are pretty simple, generally advising to direct-seed 3-5 per hill and thin to 2-3 seedlings per hill. They do best in rich, well-fed soil. Once sprouted, squash will flourish best with a lot of warm sunshine and plenty of water.

Summer squash can be planted in hills or rows, and a few varieties work well on trellises. But wherever they are, they will need plenty of space. A tiny seedling, given the right growing conditions, will seem to explode quickly into an enormous plant, often as much as five or six feet across.

Squash Have Pests, Too

As easy as it is to grow, summer squash is not immune to pests. Cucumber beetles, squash bugs, aphids, squash vine borers, and cutworms are insects that can attack summer squash plants.  Good ways to control bugs include row cover and organic or conventional pesticides. It is always easier to prevent pest problems than to treat them, but plenty of expert guidance is available to help curtail infestations when they arise. Cooperative extension professionals and volunteers can provide a wealth of information and assistance with identifying and treating plant problems.

Diseases such as blossom end rot, powdery mildew, mosaic virus and verticillium wilt can affect summer squash plants, as well. Combating these conditions can sometimes be a little more challenging than dealing with insects, but perseverance is key. Remedies often can be as simple as adjusting watering habits, but also can include copper fungicide application or soil amendments. Sometimes by the time a problem is visible, it can be too late for that particular plant, but luckily squash grows quickly and it may not be too late for replanting in a different area after destroying the affected plant. For many diseases, it is helpful to look for resistant cultivars. For example, in an area where powdery mildew is a persistent issue, purchasing seeds said to be powdery mildew-resistant is a smart choice. As with any gardening issue, it is wise to seek advice from local and regional organizations and programs.

Growing summer squash is a joy and will provide households — if not entire neighborhoods and workplaces — with a bounty of fresh delicious produce.

What are your favorite types of squash? What are your best tips for growing squash? Share them in the section below:

Composting Guerrilla Style

This is an entertaining video from The Urban Farming Guys who are doing their best to make urban farming exciting. There is no shortage of talent and resource in most urban areas, but there is a serious shortage of fresh foods. This is a giant problem in America today. This food shortage would only be […]

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The 8 Seeds That Can Store At Least 5 Years

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.

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:

8 Ways To Fertilize Your Garden With Household Items

8 Ways To Fertilize Your Garden With Household Items

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Self-sufficient gardeners avoid the use of pre-packaged fertilizers and soil from the store. But chances are you have plenty of items in your house that can be used to fertilize your garden, saving you money and time – and giving your vegetables a healthy boost.

Let’s take a look:

1. Coffee grounds. Do you start the day with an overflowing cup of coffee? Those dried coffee grounds add nitrogen, potassium and magnesium to your garden — all vital nutrients for the growth of your plants. Just remember that coffee grounds can change the pH of your soil, possibly affecting plants that need a delicate balance.

2. Tea bags. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, tea bags have a very similar effect on the soil as coffee grounds. Remove the tea grounds from the bags and allow them to dry before application. Many gardeners notice tea grounds are particularly beneficial around tomatoes.

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3. Egg shells. Your chickens can contribute to more than just breakfast. Egg shells are a fantastic calcium source.

After breakfast, wash out the shells and let them dry. Break the shells into smaller pieces and put them in the ground when planting tomatoes. You also can add them around the base of already-planted tomatoes. Tomatoes require more calcium than other plants.

4. Fish scraps. Early Pilgrims had trouble growing crops when they arrived in North America, mostly because of nutrient-lacking soil. The Indians who came to their aid, including the famous Squanto, taught the Pilgrims a trick – burying fish with the seeds. You don’t need to plant multiple fish inside of your garden, but using the scraps can help.

If you have an aquarium, don’t dump the water down the drain. Use this water to hydrate your garden beds and potted plants. The fish waste provides vitamins to the plants without any extra steps for you! If you filet a fish, save the bones and scraps. Some gardeners like to puree them with water and milk, creating a strong fertilizing mixture. You could bury scraps, as well.

8 Ways To Fertilize Your Garden With Household Items

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6. Wood ash: Those who have a wood stove or fireplace have a free source of fertilizer, adding potassium and calcium carbonate to the soil. Remember never to use the ash if you added anything else! Ash is an easy way to increase your soil pH, so don’t use it if your soil is alkaline. Ash also can keep slugs away from your plants.

7. Bananas. Do you have kids who eat bananas like candy? Don’t toss those peels! Putting them in your compost pile is a good first step. You also can put them right into your garden to give the soil a quick potassium boost. Peels degrade fairly quickly, and they don’t produce a nasty odor. A benefit of using banana peels is that they repel pests!

8. Grass clippings. Free makes everything better, and you likely have an unending source of grass clippings. Yard waste is the perfect organic matter to add to your garden. Add them to your garden to work as mulch. Every time you mow and rake, continue to add more. As it decomposes into the soil, grass clippings release nitrogen.

Powdered milk. Do you have powdered milk in your cabinet that is past expiration? Don’t throw it away! You can mix one part milk into four parts water. (You also can use expired milk in your fridge for this.) Milk is a fantastic source of calcium for more than just humans! It also contains proteins, vitamin B, and sugars that improve the overall health of the plant. Plants that are failing to grow to their full potential can benefit from a boost in calcium. Milk also helps with blossom end root, commonly ailing squash, tomatoes and pepper plants.

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

7 Little-Known Tomato-Growing Tricks You Should Try This Year

7 Little-Known Tomato-Growing Tricks You Should Try

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Tomatoes are one of those things that just about everyone – from the most novice of gardeners to the most experienced – likes to grow.

So, it’s no wonder that new varieties are constantly being bred and that everyone and their neighbor has advice on how to grow the biggest, juiciest and most delicious tomatoes on the block.

We have combed through the advice and found seven of the best tips for getting an amazing tomato harvest this year:

Tip No. 1: Choose indeterminate varieties

If you are growing tomatoes in a compact space such as an apartment balcony, then you may want to choose determinate tomatoes, as these plants are compact and will stop growing once fruit begins to appear.

But if you’ve got the space and you’re looking for a big yield, it is best to choose indeterminate varieties, as they will continue growing and producing fruit throughout the season.

Tip No. 2: Plant horizontally

Especially for the new gardener, this tip may sound counterintuitive. But whether you have bought a plant from a nursery or whether you are transplanting your own seedlings, tomatoes do better when they have been planted in the ground horizontally.

To do this, dig a shallow trench and lay the seedling on its side, covering up all but the top leaves. (Remember to strip off any leaves on the parts of the stem that you are burying.)

Following this advice will help your tomato plant develop a bigger root ball – and that means more tomatoes for you!

Tip No. 3: Side-dress with compost

Side-dressing is simply adding more nutrients (fertilizer or compost) around your plants. Once your plants start to flower, side-dress them with about two inches of compost and the next time it rains or when you water your plants, nutrients from the compost will be carried to the roots.

You can repeat this process every three weeks or so.

Tip No. 4: Use seaweed

7 Little-Known Tomato-Growing Tricks You Should Try

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To be at their best, tomato plants require a lot of nutrients – and if you want to garden organically, then seaweed fertilizer is a good option. Seaweed contains nitrogen and many other important minerals such as iron, zinc and potassium. Fertilize your plants with a diluted seaweed or kelp solution every other week and it will help stimulate growth and fend off disease.

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

Seaweed also can be used as a mulch near the bottom of your tomato plants. Keep in mind, however, that as it dries out it will shrink to about a quarter of its original size – so four inches of mulch will give you one inch once it has dried out. An advantage to using seaweed as a mulch is that because of its saltiness, it acts as a natural slug repellent.

Tip No. 5: Keep young plants warm

Tomato plants that are exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit will not produce fruit. If you find you’ve planted your seedlings a bit too early, or if you get some surprise cool nighttime weather, protect your plants with row covers overnight until the weather warms up.

If you do not have row covers, you can improvise using some tomato cages and old blankets. Just be sure to uncover again in the morning.

Tip No. 6: Harvest regularly

The moment of truth in tomato gardening comes when the delicious fruit begins to ripen. Once it appears that you are close to getting a ripe tomato, check the vines every few days and harvest as necessary.

This will help your plants to produce higher yields because the plant’s energy will be focussed on producing new fruit rather than on tomatoes that are already ripe.

Tip No. 7: Rotate your crops

To help keep your plants free of disease, you should wait at least three years before planting them again in the same spot. Tomatoes can be rotated with unrelated crops like lettuce, beans and corn. They should not be rotated with other members of the nightshade family like potatoes, eggplants or peppers.

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

Frost-Tolerant Vegetables You Should Be Planting Right Now

6 Frost-Tolerant Vegetables You Should Be Planting Right Now

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

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

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

Here are a few ideas:

1. Peas

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

2. Spinach

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

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

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

3. Chard

6 Frost-Tolerant Vegetables You Should Be Planting Right Now

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

4. Beets

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

5. Carrots

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

6. Lettuce

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

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

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

4 Common Soil Problems (And How To Easily Fix Them)

4 Common Soil Problems (And How To Easily Fix Them)

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The key to a healthy soil with balanced nutrients may be easier and more complicated than you thought.

It’s not just about spraying the right fertilizer and watching it be miraculously sucked into your plants in the exact quantities they need. That’s because plants work in harmony with specific types of soil structures, microbe populations, and pH balances, so the best thing you can do for your plants is learn about creating a healthy soil through mimicking natural processes in natural soil ecosystems and begin to think of your soil as just that: an ecosystem.

Treatment of Nutrient Deficiencies

There are three main ways of treating soil nutrient deficiencies: increasing bioavailability/absorption of existing nutrients, adding non-harmful nutrient sources, and creating an efficient nutrient cycle.

Nutrient absorption can be increased through creating a healthy soil food web by using composts, compost tea, chop and drop techniques, effective microorganisms, green manure and cover crops, and lots of mulch. With the healthy soil food, web microbes will predigest nutrients for plants, while helping to bind them in the soil within their bodies and within the rich, well-structured soil they help to create.

Efficient nutrient cycles are created through having a diversity of plants with different root depths and patterns, especially perennials (and including trees). This ensures nutrients are pulled from deeper in the soil, while creating less root competition. Protecting your soil from erosion and nutrient leaching through mulch (4-6 inches) and/or cover crops is essential.

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It’s also important to test your soil, both nutrients and pH, ideally at a soil testing lab. You’ll most likely have to mail in samples following their collection instructions. This will then give you a picture of how to proceed.

Treatment of Nutrient Oversupply

It can be easy to over-fertilize with concentrated chemical fertilizers like ammonium sulfate or sulfur coated urea, for example. These fertilizers are damaging to soil ecosystems. Many fertilizers are directly toxic to soil organisms, particularly in high amounts, reacting with other elements in the soil to create toxic substances such as sulfuric acid, hydrogen sulfide, and chlorine. Hydrogen ions released from some processes disrupt the soil’s nutrient-holding capacity, while chemical fertilizers also may increase mineral salts in the soil, stealing water from the plants.

It’s always best to go the slow-and-steady route to building your soil, using natural compounds that a healthy soil food web can break down and make available to the plants as they need them, rather than trying to force feed your plants, disrupting their ability to get what they need by themselves, and creating more work for you.

The best way to treat oversupply is to stop fertilizing with fertilizers high in the nutrient in question, and rebalance the soil if the nutrient oversupply may have caused deficiencies in other nutrients.

Following are four common soil nutrients, along with how plants react if there is an undersupply (deficiency) or oversupply.

1. Nitrogen deficiency/oversupply

Deficiency: Leaves turn pale green or yellow before finally dying, starting in older leaves, and overall plant growth slows.

Fertilizers: Seaweed, compost, compost teas, bone meal, and fertilizers containing natural sources of nitrates, ammonium or urea. Nitrogen “fixing” plants can help, since they have a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria that pull, or fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Plant things like peas, beans, honey locust and alder tree with your other plants.

Oversupply: Excess foliage growth, lack of flowering and fruiting, stunted root growth, browning of leaves, a buildup of mineral salts in the soil.

2. Potassium deficiency/oversupply

Deficiency: Leaf tips curl, leaves turn yellow between the veins before browning and dying, root growth slows, and plants have poor seed and fruit quality and quantity. Leaves may also develop brown or purple spots on underside.

Fertilizers: Compost and compost teas, langbeinite, potassium sulfate, sylvinite, seaweed, greensand, rock minerals and wood ash.

Oversupply: Calcium deficiency, low oxygen levels in soil, production of toxic compounds, loss of soil structure leading to compaction and poor water infiltration.

3. Phosphorous deficiency/oversupply

4 Common Soil Problems (And How To Easily Fix Them)

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Deficiency: Poor leaf, shoot and root growth; deep green, purple or red leaf color; delay in the maturity, including with fruit and seeds; poor nitrogen fixation in nitrogen-fixing plants.

Fertilizers: Compost and compost tea, mulch such as wood chips or straw, chicken manure, bone meal, rock phosphates (with no phosphoric acid added) and fish bone meal.

Oversupply: Yellowing of the leaves (especially just beyond veins), brown spotting, death of leaves, inhibition of beneficial fungi growth, decreased uptake of iron and manganese.

4. Sulfur deficiency/oversupply

Deficiency: Common in weathered soils and areas with heavy rainfall. Yellowing of leaves (especially younger leaves), dying leaf tips, stunted growth, high seedling mortality, few flowers. Similar to nitrogen deficiency, but with reddening of veins in young leaves.

Fertilizers: Compost and compost tea, langbeinite (as long as you need all of the nutrients contained), potassium sulphate (also includes potassium), gypsum and Epsom salt.

Oversupply: Rare, but causes acidity and deficiencies in selenium.

To recap: The most effective, low-labor and low-cost way to prevent and treat nutrient deficiencies and oversupply is to start conceptualizing your gardens or landscape as an ecosystem, and to begin treating it as such.

Just as a forest has a constant layer of mulch, so, too, should your plants. Just as an oak savanna has healthy and diverse soil ecosystems supported by multiple species of plant roots at varying depths, so, too, should your landscape. We indeed can mimic natural ecosystems while still achieving our own aesthetic, using the plants we prefer while giving them what they need to (largely) take care of themselves.

What advice would you add on taking care of nutrient deficiencies in the garden? Share your tips in the section below:

15 Most Nutritious Plants To Grow In Your Garden

When planning a survival garden, you can’t just focus on the number of plants you can grow–you also have to think about the nutritional value of those plants. Most survival food isn’t very nutritious due to all the processing and preservatives, so it’s a good idea to supplement your stockpile with healthy produce from your […]

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Why You Should NEVER Use Rows In Your Garden Again

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:

8 Insanely Fast Vegetables You Can Harvest In One Month

8 Insanely Fast Vegetables You Have Harvest In One Month

Arugula. Image source:

Let’s face it: gardening can be challenging. The idea of waiting weeks and weeks for produce to be ready seems disheartening.

This is particularly true if you live in a suburban area, like I do, where the nearest grocery store is less than a quarter-mile away. If I want fresh tomatoes, the expansive produce department at my favorite store has an ever-present supply. Why go through the trouble of waiting so long for a harvest when I can simply pick up what I need at the market?

There are plenty of reasons you should be gardening, but did you know that some plants can be harvest-ready in a matter of days? Yes, days. If you struggle wondering if the effort of a garden is worth it, then planting a few of these fast-growers gives you (almost) immediate results and can help you hold on through the long days of waiting for harvest.

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As you’re planning your garden, add in a few of these plants to jump-start your production. Of course, spinach and lettuce are popular quick-growing varieties, but here are eight others:

1. Sunflower Shoots. These tiny sunflower shoots are ready to harvest in about 12 days. Ready to be used when the stem has two leaves, they are a wonderful addition to salads. Even better, they’re packed with nutrition, so they’re a healthy “fast food.”

2. Radishes. Green shoots show up in a matter of days; most have growth three days after planting seeds. If you want continual growth, plant a few seeds every week to maintain a steady supply of this peppery vegetable. Use heirloom radishes to get a variety of colors and flavors These are a great starter veggie for small children to grow, as well.

3. Arugula. A popular salad green, arugula grows quickly and easily. It’s slightly peppery taste gives your salad a kick, and the quick growth gives you gardening satisfaction in around 20 days. Simply cut the leaves when they are large enough, and continue to enjoy fresh arugula all summer long.

4. Green onions. Sometimes known as scallions, these easy-to-grow onions are ready for harvest in 21 days. Harvest the green shoots when they reach about six inches tall. Leave the onion bulb planted for a continuous supply of shoots.

8 Insanely Fast Vegetables You Have Harvest In One Month

Bok choy. Image source:

5. Bok choy. An Asian green, this plant not only tastes good, bit it’s beautiful to grow, too. Leaves can be harvested individually, or you can use the entire plant and use the bulb, as well. Plant seeds staggered through the spring for a sustained harvest of this exotic lettuce. Baby Bok choy is ready to harvest in 30 days.

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6. Tatsoi. Another fast-growing green, tatsoi is a mustard green that is perfect for salads and soups. Harvest when the leaves are four-inches tall, or wait until they reach full maturity at 40 days.

7. Chinese cabbage. A unique garden variety, this plant doesn’t tolerate heat well, so plant in a shady area of your garden. Harvest the entire head of greens in 30 days for a delicious addition to your salads.

8. Turnips. An old-fashioned garden staple, turnips are easy to grow and can be used in their entirety. Tender roots are mild when harvested early (around 30 days after planting), or you can let them reach maturity (in 60 days) and use the greens. Let bulbs grow to a diameter of about three inches before plucking at full growth.

Add some of these quick turn-around plants to your garden to give you immediate gardening gratification. Not only will it make your efforts pay-off, but the plants will add variety and interest to your table!

What are your favorite fast-growing plants? Share your tips in the section below:

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

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

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

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

Making the Bed

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

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

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

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

Filling the Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding Your Plants

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

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

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

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

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

9 Best Edible Plants You Can Grow Indoors

Yes, we’d all love to have a sprawling garden full of fruits, veggies and magical beans that lead us up to a castle in the sky–but life’s not fair. Maybe you are working with a small space, or perhaps winter is coming and you want to actually give your crops a fighting chance. Regardless, it’s […]

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The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In A Raised Bed

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In A Raised Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Very Best Vegetables To Grow In A Raised Bed

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

Problems With Shade?

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

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

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

Have Young Gardeners?

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

Want a Photo-Worthy Garden?

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

4 Fruit-Bearing Plants You Can Grow In A Teeny-Tiny Yard

4 Fruit-Bearing Plants You Can Grow In A Teeny-Tiny Yard

Shiros plums. Image source:


I first became interested in homesteading when my husband and I purchased a house on a small suburban lot. The yard was filled with typical city landscaping — a boxwood hedge, a couple of potentillas, a lilac, some overgrown evergreens and a lot of grass taking up the space in between.

The one bright spot in all of this was the fruit trees. Instead of the usual arbor vitae, the former owner had planted an apple and two cherry trees along the fence line — not decorative cherries but a real-life Bing and Rainier. When summer arrived, all three trees produced a prolific amount of fruit. So much so that the neighbors often stopped by and asked if they could join in on the harvest. We were happy to oblige.

It was then and there that my ideas about the “right” way to landscape changed. Since homesteading was a priority for us, why not tear out a few of the ornamentals that came with the house and replace them with fruit-bearing bushes and ground covers? The formal landscaping “look: would still be intact but it would also come with the added bonus of producing fruit.

Over time and with a lot of experimentation, I was able to determine a number of trees, shrubs, flowers and ground covers that behaved well in a suburban landscape but also took me one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming more self-sufficient. Here is a list of some of my favorites.

1. Plums — The size of a fully mature plum tree varies depending on the rootstock. Smaller-sized trees use the semi-dwarf root stock Mariana 2624. This rootstock will produce a tree between 10-15 feet in height at maturity. It acclimates well to a variety of climates and soil types. My favorite plum is the Shiro.

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Shiros tend to be loaded with an outstanding display of white blossoms in the spring, an abundance of golden orb-shaped fruits in the summer and a fiery gold display of foliage in the fall. The plums themselves are tangy and sweet at the same time without the squishiness that can be a turn-off to non-plum lovers. They make excellent jam and can be dried for later use. These trees respond well to regular pruning and are fairly forgiving to individuals who are new to the art of bonsai.

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2. Mulberries — Mulberries are incredibly easy to grow and can reach a mature height of more than 30 feet with a spread of 35 feet. They have an open form when properly pruned during the first years of growth, and naturally exhibit generous, graceful spacing between branches. For this reason, Mulberries make excellent shade trees. The fruits are delicious and attract a variety of seasonal birds, such as cedar waxwings and tanagers. Mulberries can be eaten fresh, made into pies and jams, or dried for later use. Mulberry juice can be fermented into an excellent wine. Mulberries are rich in anthocyanins, iron, protein and a host of vitamins and minerals that combat cancer and premature aging. In the fall, mulberry leaves morph into a breathtaking display of canary yellow foliage that will be the envy of the neighborhood.

3. Honeyberries — Honeyberries are a small shrub native to Russia. At maturity they are loaded with elongated blue fruits that have a similar flavor and texture to blueberries. Honeyberries are hardy and easy to care for. Harvest often falls a week or two before blueberry season, which is ideal for individuals who are interested in having a continuous source of fresh fruit in their yard. In the fall, honeyberries exhibit a rainbow of red and gold foliage.

4. Strawberries — As a groundcover, strawberries can’t be beat. Over the summer, they produce a profusion of runners and can quickly cover a patch of abandoned ground. Strawberries require very little care once established, provided they are watered regularly. To propagate strawberries, transplant runners in the spring or fall. Occasionally remove older, woody plants to keep beds productive. One of the most flavorful strawberries for jams and fresh eating is the variety Shuksan. For long-term storage, strawberries can be frozen whole or in pieces. They also can be pureed and dried into fruit leather.

This list is by no means comprehensive. Edible landscaping is all around us, once you know where to look. Now is the time to start transitioning your yard into a homesteader’s oasis.

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

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

The Simple, 7-Ingredient Compost Tea That Will Revolutionize Your Garden

The Simple, 7-Ingredient Compost Tea That Will Revolutionize Your Garden

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Earth, by its very nature, is in a partnership with microbes of all kinds. From the deepest seas, to the highest mountains, microbes such as bacteria, yeast and fungi are a key part of our planet’s ecosystems, performing vital functions like making nutrients bio-available to plants and animals, and helping our soils maintain structure and moisture.

It turns out that we can take advantage of these symbiotic soil allies to great effect, and one of the easiest ways we can do this is by creating our own aerated compost tea. We’ll get into the how of compost tea, along with a recipe, in a moment, but first, let’s look at the why.

The main purpose of compost tea, besides adding a nice dose of pre-digested fertilizer to your garden, is to increase the number and diversity of beneficial microbes in the soil. How are they beneficial? Fungi, for example, help plants take up phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iron and copper, secreting digestive enzymes that dissolve and break down compounds so that plants can absorb them. They also dramatically increase the amount of water plants can take up, and act like a huge extension of their root systems. Other microbes predigest different compounds and help plants take up different nutrients.

In addition to the aid they give us below-ground, microbes on the leaves of plants also may be important allies, helping in the fight against disease by both filling an ecosystem niche that would otherwise be open to pathogens, and creating conditions that make it difficult for existing pathogens to live or reproduce.

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Many beneficial bacteria, for example, produce acids that make it difficult for pathogenic yeasts and fungus to thrive. Although there is less scientific study in this area, the theory that aerated compost teas help with above-ground diseases is borne out by my own experience. Last year, some haskap bushes on my farm had a nasty fungus infection on their leaves, so I mixed up an aerated compost tea and sprayed it on them. Within days the fungus had completely disappeared.

So, now that you know why it’s good to use compost teas, let’s get into how you can make your own. I’m going to go over making aerated and aerobic (oxygenated) compost tea specifically, but you can also make anaerobic (lacking oxygen) compost tea by simply putting a bunch of (ideally, deep-rooted) plants like comfrey into a bucket or barrel with non-chlorinated water, letting it sit for about a week until it gets really nasty smelling, and then putting it on your soil. (I would avoid plant leaves with this stuff). Another anaerobic mixture known as effective microorganisms is also incredibly useful and can be purchased online and then mixed up at home.

Aerated Compost Tea

The Simple, 7-Ingredient Compost Tea That Will Revolutionize Your Garden

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Materials Needed

  1. Bucket or barrel. At least 25 gallons is ideal for anything but the smallest garden.
  2. Air pump sufficient for the amount of water. You can get good ones at hydroponic shops. Tiny fish tank aerators are not the best ones, although they may be sufficient for a 5-gallon bucket.

Recipe: Ingredients 

  1. Non-chlorinated water. Chlorine in the water will kill microorganisms.
  2. Vermacompost and well-aerated compost are best. The more diversity of compost, the better. It should smell good, like forest soil, and not stinky. 5 pounds per 25 gallons.
  3. Unsulphured molasses. Food for bacteria, etc. 1 ¼ cup per 25 gallons.
  4. Liquid kelp. Fertilizer and microbe food. ½ cup mixed into 5 cups of water before adding to the mixture.
  5. Humic acid. Microbe food and soil conditioner: 1-2 tablespoons per 25 gallons, mixed into 2 cups of water before adding to the mixture.
  6. Rotten wood chips, straw or hay (optional). Decomposing high carbon materials encourage fungal inoculation. 1-2 cups per 25 gallons will do.
  7. Steel cut oats. Food for fungus. 1 cup per 25 gallons.


First, put the water in, then the molasses, and then add everything else. Some people like to put all of the solid materials into a pillowcase or similar (like a tea bag), but I prefer to mix them directly into the water. If you’re a little off in the amounts, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have enough molasses to sustain the microbe populations for the amount of time you will be bubbling your brew. I should also note here that a compost tea recipe can be as simple as compost and molasses. The other things will take it to the next level.

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Next, stir the container well, and put in your air pump bubbler. It’s good to stir the mixture from time to time. Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours (the full 48 is better).

Once you’re done bubbling, remove the air pump and give it another good stir. Now it’s time to apply it to your plants. If you’re going to create a foliar spray for leaves (definitely recommended), let it settle and skim the liquid off the top so that it contains fewer solids and won’t clog your sprayer. To spray it, simply evenly cover the leaves on the top and bottom. For soil application, use buckets or other manageable vessels and dunk them into the stirred up mixture in order to get the solids as well as the liquid. Then, apply to the soil around the plants, ideally covering up to or beyond the drip line.

That’s all there is to it. You should notice a significant kick to your plant growth, especially if you do this every couple of weeks during the growing season. Just make sure not to fertilize beyond the first two weeks of summer in temperate climates, as this could prevent new growth from hardening off in time and you may lose it to frost.

Have you made compost tea? What recipe did you use? Share your compost tea tips in the section below:

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

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

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.

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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:

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

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

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

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

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

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

Sterilizing Garden Soil

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

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

Microwave Method

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

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

Image source: Jacki Andre

Conventional Oven Method

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

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

Amending Garden Soil Into Potting Mix

How To Turn Ordinary Garden Soil Into Organic Potting Mix

Image source: Jacki Andre

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

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

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

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It’s The Pain-Free (And Overlooked) Technique To A Bigger Garden Yield

Succession Planting: The Pain-Free Path To A Bigger Garden Yield

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Succession planting is a great technique to use in your garden that will provide you with delicious benefits for little extra work. The primary goal of succession planting is to produce more food from your garden by continuously planting crops throughout the growing season.

If you’re like many of us fellow food growers, maximizing your garden’s production is a yearly goal. The idea behind succession planting — an often-overlooked technique — is to replant another crop immediately after you harvest, sometimes repeating more than once, depending on your climate and ability to utilize season extension methods.

To prepare yourself for a full season of succession planting, it is helpful to sit down in the spring and map out what crops you are planting where, and when. This will serve as a reminder when to start new seeds indoors so you always have strong and hardy seedlings on hand.

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There are different types of succession planting, and you can use one of these methods or all of them in your garden simultaneously.

Same Crop Succession Planting

“Same crop succession planting” refers to re-sowing the same crop at regular intervals throughout the season to ensure that you always have some of this crop to harvest. This is used most often for lettuces, radishes or scallions. By planting a smaller quantity every 1-3 weeks, you will harvest smaller amounts continuously, rather than a large amount all at once. Not only will you enjoy fresher produce from your garden, but you will surely reduce the amount of food waste your household generates, as well.

Different Crop Succession Planting

Another type of succession planting incorporates different crops in succession, and is very effective in accommodating the changing climate throughout the year. Follow the first cold-weather crop with a different species of plant that thrives in the hot summer sun. You can then follow this up again with another cold weather crop that will hold up to overwintering. If you plan accordingly, you can plant the same spot multiple times throughout the year, using many different scenarios. For example: Plant cold-weather crops in the spring (such as spinach, cold-hardy lettuces, peas) under row covers, hoops or cold frames; followed by quick-maturing, heat-loving crops (beans, radishes, carrots, scallions, summer squash); followed again by cooler-weather crops that you can overwinter (kale, leeks).

Intercrop Succession Planting

A less commonly used method is called “intercropping” and involves planting more than one species of plant in the same spot at the same time. Each crop matures at a different time, usually in succession, and allows you to maximize your production by growing a harvest of more than one crop in one space.

Succession Planting: The Pain-Free Path To A Bigger Garden Yield

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There are a few things to keep in mind to facilitate greater success with this type of a succession-planting schedule.

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By starting the seeds of your second and third plantings inside, you will have strong and hardy seedlings ready to go, increasing your garden’s efficiency.

Each time you harvest and replant, be prepared with soil amendments to feed your soil. Organic compost, manure, glacial rock dust, Epsom salts or your favorite organic fertilizer will help to ensure that your soil remains as nutrient-dense as possible to support a lush and vibrant garden. The more nutrition you feed your soil, the healthier your plants will be and the more nutrient-dense your food will be.

Utilizing nutritious mulch throughout the year will help retain moisture and nutrients in the soil, while greatly reducing those pesky weeds.

Lastly, intensively planting a space in your garden with multiple crops in one growing season can take its toll on your soil. Follow an intensive season with a nutritious green-manure cover crop; that will help regenerate the soil and prepare it for the next round of edible production. Rotate your bed of intensive succession plantings to a new place in your garden each year to reduce stress on the soil and the risk of pests and disease.

By simultaneously utilizing a few tried-and-true techniques in your garden – succession planting, mulching, and crop rotation with green manure cover crops — you can increase your production potential to a whole new level.

Do you use succession planting? Share your tips in the section below:

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6 Reasons Raised Beds Beat Traditional Gardening Nearly Every Time

6 Reasons Raised Beds Beat Traditional Gardening Nearly Every Time

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

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

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

1. Improved soil quality.

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

2. Pest management.

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

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

3. Increased production.

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

4. Improved drainage.

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

5. Improved aeration.

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

6. Improved weed control.

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

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

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

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

10 Strange (And Common) Vegetables Your Ancestors Planted

10 Strange (And Common) Vegetables Your Ancestors Planted

No matter how small a person’s yard was during the 1700s, there always was a need to plant at least some vegetables to help feed the family. Grocery stores were virtually unheard of, and seedlings or even packaged seed were not available until much later.

This is why almost everyone had some sort of vegetable garden outside the kitchen or back door. The family ate most of it, of course, the extras were canned or dried, and if you were fortunate, you had still more that you could sell at the market.

In the 1700s, almost everyone used seeds from the previous year — heirloom seeds — which were passed down from generation to generation, or seeds were sometimes traded within the community. Many seeds planted in “the new world” came from the native people who lived there.

This is why most gardens contained plants that gave you the most bang for your basket, if you will. High-yield plants that took little space were highly prized, although some people planted their favorites because, let’s face it, no one wants to eat squash all year long.

What kind of plants would you expect to find in an 18th century garden? Frankly, I was a bit shocked. I was certain I would see tomatoes and sweet strawberries, but I was mistaken.

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Let’s look at the top 10 plants that were commonly found in an 18th century garden,

1. Cardoon

These are related to the artichoke, but are not nearly as common today. Cardoon is native to Europe and was said to have been brought to the Americas by the Quakers. I must admit that this is a vegetable I’ve never even heard of. Speaking of artichoke …

2. Artichokes

I never imagined this one! But did you know that Thomas Jefferson loved them and grew a great many in his own gardens? Artichokes have been cultivated since at least the 1500s, but I never imagined them in the everyday garden.

3. Fava beans

Fava beans. Image source:

Fava beans. Image source:

I was certain that green beans would have been a favorite, but fava beans, sometimes called broad beans, beat out green beans by a mile. These were popular right into the 19th century. The most popular variety was Broad Windsor. Fava bean seeds are hard to find in today’s world, but they were an 18th century staple.

4. Pumpkins

A certain variety called Connecticut Field was the popular seed. These were grown for both human and animal consumption. Thomas Jefferson, again, had these in his garden after acquiring seeds from the native tribes.

5. Lettuce

That old gardener Thomas Jefferson loved lettuce, and he grew several different types. The most popular was at that time called Parris Island. Today, we call it Romaine lettuce. This is still as popular today as it was in the 1700s.

6. Cucumber

During this time period, it was white cucumbers that were favored over other varieties. One named White Wonder is listed in a 1727 book about gardening. Cucumbers are so versatile that it’s no wonder they are still used in gardens today.

7. Lemon balm

This herb has been cultivated since at least the 1500s. It’s a natural calming agent that was probably used often by the women of those times. The leaves can be used dried or fresh, and it has a delightful lemon taste when made into tea.

8. Leeks

You may have seen these in your local grocery store and wondered how they were cooked and who ate them. Leeks are something like a cross between a potato and an onion. They have a mild onion taste, but look like potatoes. Even the leaves can be chopped and used in salads. These were probably popular because leeks can be left in the ground over the winter and dug up in the coldest of months. Or, wait until they sprout again in the spring.

9. Cabbage

This is another staple that has stood the test of time. Cabbage is popular due to its ability to be stored for long periods of time. Even if the outside leaves should become moldy, they can be removed, with fresher leaves available underneath. Cabbage is also a cool-weather vegetable, so you can grow it late in the fall or start it very early in the spring.

10. Salsify

This is another vegetable that I have never heard of, but was very popular in 18th century gardens. Salsify is related to parsnip and was used about the same way. Salsify was easy to store and can be boiled, mashed or fried. Even the leaves are edible! This is another cool-weather vegetable that usually was harvested between October and January. In the dead of winter, some fresh leaves and roots must have tasted mighty good.

How many of these seeds have you planted? What are your favorite old-time seeds? Share your gardening tips in the section below:

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

5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

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Those of us who raise our own vegetables know it involves more than simply sowing spring seeds and reaping the delicious rewards at harvesttime. One of the many gardening tasks which requires thoughtful research and attention is purchasing seeds. If you are contemplating your garden for this season, following are six questions worth consideration.

1. How long do seeds last?

The reason this question should be asked first is because you need to know if last year’s leftover seeds will suffice. The answer varies greatly, depending upon the particular vegetable. Overall, seed longevity is improved by storage in a cool dry place, out of direct light.

Some seeds can be expected to germinate well after having been stored for up to 10 years, most notably those of wheat, sorghum, rice and other grains.

Other types of long-lasting seeds include those in the brassica family—broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts—which can last about five years. More types of seeds with a longevity of four to five years include cucurbits—cucumbers, pumpkins, squash and some melons—as well as radishes, turnips, celery, Swiss chard, beets and lettuce.

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Depending upon the source of information and the specific cultivar, spinach may be among the longer-lived seeds or among those which last just a year or two, but it has lasted quite well in my personal experience.

The seeds in the nightshade family vary. Eggplant can last up to five years, tomatoes four, and peppers only two.

The midrange seeds—those which last about three years—include beans, peas and carrots.

Some sources say leeks can last up to three years, as well, and other sources place it in the shorter-lived category with its allium relatives such as onions.

In addition to onions and possibly leeks, other short-lived vegetable seeds which can be expected to last only one or two years include corn, okra, parsley, peanuts, salsify and parsnips.

Keep in mind that there are few hard and fast rules about how long each seed might last. The best thing to do is to give them a try, bearing in mind that the older the seeds and the shorter the general viability, the less likely they are to germinate. But there is no harm in trying.

The ideal way to try questionable seeds is to start them indoors well ahead of time and be prepared to replace them with new ones if they do not germinate. If your situation does not allow you that much wiggle room, buy new seeds.

2. How early should they be started indoors?

The type of seeds, your climate, and your growing conditions all play huge roles in figuring out how early to start them.

The absolute best advice here is to follow the directions on the seed packet, in the seed catalog from which you purchased the seeds, or from the greenhouse or retailer who marketed them.

Some seeds allow a great deal of timing latitude. Others do not. One of the most important things to consider is the needs of the plant as it grows and fruits. For example, does it need intense sun to thrive, or will heat cause it to bolt? Does it need long day lengths, or a long-growing season, or warm overnights, or plenty of rain? The timing of what your plant needs should dictate the timing of your seed starting.

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Long-day onions, for example, will form proper bulbs only when there are 15 or more hours of daylight. Since summer day length increases further from the equator, these types of onions are best grown in northern climates. And since the days are longest in late June, onions need to be ready to set bulbs by then. Onions need to be started before most other seeds—as early as March in some regions.

Other vegetables are typically started indoors in order to make sure they fruit before frost. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are sensitive even to a light frost, and are usually started indoors well ahead of time. Many types of squashes, cucumbers and melons need to reach their growing peak during the height of summer sun, as well.

With other vegetables, the key factor is growing them early to avoid the heat of summer. Lettuce, spinach, peas and broccoli thrive best in cool conditions, which is why they are planted very early—either started indoors or directly sowed in cold soil—ensuring they will have served their purpose before succumbing to heat.

3. Start them at home or buy seedlings?

Many gardeners do some of both. Economy of scale is a primary factor. The cost per seedling is certainly higher from a greenhouse than starting one’s own, but buying them already started can sometimes be a better value. If a gardener is planning just a tiny plot with a few vegetables, it hardly seems worth the trouble and expense of buying potting materials and running heat lamps, or even buying the packets of seeds. (Then again, it is more fun to plant them indoors.)

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On the other hand, the cost of buying flats of seedlings adds up quickly, and paying someone else to start an entire garden full of vegetables can be an expensive proposition.

Another thing to consider is whether you will be able to find the cultivar you want already started. You may not be able to find specialty items at a commercial greenhouse.

It makes sense to start some of the seeds you’ll use the most of and the specialty varieties you want, and plan to purchase a few flats of additional seedlings when planting time comes.

4. How much is enough?

It is way too easy to get carried away when buying seeds! Perusing the pages of seed catalogs during winter makes gardeners want to buy more seeds than can realistically be managed, in the same way that people load up their buffet plates with more food than they can possibly eat.

5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

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One way to control the temptation to buy one of everything is to choose one or two areas in which to splurge. Pick a couple of favorite vegetables and go wild with cultivars—six kinds of eggplants or four varieties of butternut squash, for example—and commit to restraint with everything else.

Another idea is to allow one new cultivar in each category each season in exchange for discontinuing one from last year, thereby keeping the total volume within reason while still enjoying new items and replacing choices that proved less successful.

Good record-keeping is an excellent way to determine how much is enough and rein in overspending. Annotating seed purchases, garden yields, and the preserved food volumes enables a gardener to figure out whether increases or cutbacks are in order. If most of last year’s pumpkins landed on the compost heap and there are still canned green beans from three years ago, consider planting less of those vegetables and delegate the space to something else this year.

5. Open-pollinated versus hybrid?

Open-pollinated seeds are those which can be replicated at home. In other words, the seeds produced by your open-pollinated vegetables can be dried, saved and planted next year, and the result will be the same vegetable as this year.

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Hybrid seeds are genetic mutations. They very often produce a higher quality vegetable out of the seed packet, having been developed for specific purposes such as disease-resistance or drought tolerance or higher sugar content or better productivity. But the seeds from this year’s vegetables will not produce identical offspring next year.

If you are a seed-saver, open-pollinated is a must.  If you are not, then it is OK to choose your seeds based upon other factors.

Lest it seem that the act of buying seeds for the upcoming season is too overwhelming, do not be discouraged. Most gardeners miss the mark on at least one of these questions some of the time, and many gardeners spend a lifetime striving for perfection. The important thing to remember are the reasons for gardening in the first place: the opportunity to be self-sustaining, the reward of choosing your own food—and more than anything, the enjoyment of it all.

What are your most important questions when purchasing seeds? Share your advice in the section below:

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5 Dumb Seed-Starting Mistakes That Nearly Everyone Makes

5 Dumb Seed-Starting Mistakes That Nearly Everyone Makes

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

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

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

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

1. Not reading seed packages

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

2. Forgetting to label

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

Don’t forget to label!

3. Not watering properly

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

5 Dumb Seed-Starting Mistakes That Nearly Everyone Makes

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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.

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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:

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15 Slow-Growing Seeds Smart Gardeners Start In March

15 Slow-Growing Seeds Smart Gardeners Start In March

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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.

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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.

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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:

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6 Ways To Maximize Your Raised Bed Garden This Year

6 Ways To Maximize Your Raised Bed Garden This Year

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

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

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

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

1. Shapes matter

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

2. Location, location, location

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

3. Spacing

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

4. Companion planting

6 Ways To Maximize Your Raised Bed Garden This Year

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

5. Succession planting

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

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

6. Think vertical

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

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

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

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

Magic Food: 7 Vegetables You Can Regrow From Kitchen Scraps

Magic Food: 7 Vegetables You Can Regrow From Kitchen Scraps

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There is a great form of recycling that is easy, fun and nutritious: re-growing vegetables from leftover scraps. You don’t need much to get started — just containers, soil, water and a sunny windowsill. Sometimes you don’t even need the soil.

Many vegetables have the ability to regenerate, and you can regrow quite a few common veggies with as little as a glass of water. It’s a great project for any time of the year, but especially during colder months when you likely don’t have access to your garden.

To help you begin, here is a list of vegetables that are easy to regrow.

1. Lettuce and cabbage — After you prepare a salad or a stew, do you toss the lettuce or cabbage heart in the trash or on the compost pile? Next time, place it in a shallow dish with about a half-inch of water and then put the dish on a sunny windowsill. The water will get cloudy and a bit smelly, so you will want to replace it every day or two.

After three days or so, you will notice new leaves sprouting. When they are large enough for eating, you can harvest them. Leave the head in some clean water, and you can repeat the process.

2. Scallions, green onions, leeks and fennel – Set the white root base in enough water to completely cover the bulb and then place the container on your windowsill.

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Replace the water every few days. After a week or so, you will notice new growth. You can keep regenerating these bulbs and even can transfer them outdoors in the spring.

3. Onions – Onions need a bit more room, but they are still easy to grow. Place the onion’s root section in a cup of water on a sunny windowsill and watch for sign of regrowth. When the bulb has grown back, transfer the plant to a large pot of soil. You can replant it in your outdoor garden during the warmer weather.

4. Garlic – Did you know that you could regenerate a garlic plant from just one clove? Here’s how: Plant the clove root-end down in a pot of soil and then place the pot where it can get direct sunlight.

5. Ginger – To regenerate the root of the ginger plant, which is the part you use in cooking, take a fresh piece and submerge it partially in soil with the nubbins pointing upward.

Place the pot in indirect sunlight and keep the soil moist, and the root will begin growing within about two weeks. To obtain fresh ginger, pull up the plant, harvest some of its root and then repeat the process.

6. Celery – Celery takes a while to regrow, but the results are worth it. Place the base (about an inch or two) in a jar of water on a sunny window ledge. As with some of the other veggies, you will need to replace the cloudy water regularly. Tiny sprouts begin to appear in about a week. After a few more weeks, you will see enough growth to harvest.

7. Bean Sprouts – Soak your leftover dry beans overnight before spreading them out evenly on towels to dry. Repeat this process three or more times until you begin to notice sprouts appearing. You may use the sprouts on sandwiches and in salads. Store any leftover sprouts in the refrigerator.

Like many gardening projects, regrowing vegetables takes some time and some patience. Usually, the fresher the scraps, the better the results will be.

Keep in mind that many plants are sensitive to chlorine or fluoride. If you are on a municipal water system, consider using distilled water for your kitchen scrap garden. Also, if your windowsills do not get much sunlight, grow lights will work well.

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

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6 Simple Ways To Save Money On Your Vegetable Garden This Year

6 Simple Ways To Save Money On Your Vegetable Garden This Year

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Growing your own vegetables is a great way to have fresh produce available at any time — and also to save money. Sometimes, though, even growing your own food can get too pricey.

Here are seven ways to make sure you’re getting the best value from your vegetable garden this year.

1. Save the seeds.

Initially when you were planning your garden for the first year, you might have had to purchase all of the seeds. But once you have a season or two under your belt, you should start saving the seeds for the next season.

2. Find a seed swap.

There likely are people in your community growing plants you aren’t currently growing – plants that you’d like to grow. And, of course, the vegetables you grow will have a ton of seeds in them — and you don’t need all of them. So share them around! If you can’t find a seed swap in your community, then put the word out there to start one; you might get more interest than you think.

3. Plan ahead/preserve.

If you know what you want to grow ahead of time, it will be easier to ensure there’s little to no waste.

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By planning what’s growing in your garden, you can prepare the space needed and know (approximately) how much will be growing. That way, you will be prepared to “put up” all of those vegetables without them going to waste.

4. Sell or trade extra produce.

You might have extra produce due to a great growing season, or maybe you planned it that way. But either way, you need to do something with that extra food. With the extra produce you have, you could team up and trade with others to gain fresh, local produce you didn’t grow in your garden. You even could look into selling the extra vegetables at a local farmer’s market.

5. Make your own compost.

Compost is an important part of successfully growing produce, but it can get expensive depending on the size of your garden and what you are growing. With this in mind, it makes sense to see if you can grow it yourself. All of the scraps and skins of other produce can go into a composting bin. Even if you don’t have a huge backyard or area to make compost, there are compost tumblers you can purchase.

6. Feed your plants scraps.

One of the greatest sources of nutrients for your plants comes from your very own kitchen. For example, the leftover water from cooking and boiling vegetables is rich in nutrients. Most people will dump this right down the drain, but using it to water your plants is a great way to help them grow. Just make sure the water is completely cool before pouring it on your plants.

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

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

The Dirt-Cheap, Frugal Way To Start Seeds

The Dirt-Cheap & Frugal Way To Start Seeds

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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.


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.

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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

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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.


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.

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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.

9 Clever Ways To Jump Start Your Garden During Winter

9 Clever Ways To Jump Start Your Garden During Winter

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While garden season may seem a lifetime away when you’re hauling wood and shoveling snow mid-winter, there are many things you can be doing now to ensure a healthy, productive garden in the coming season.

1. Collect wood ash

Wood ash, used in moderate amounts, makes excellent garden fertilizer. The ash is comprised of non-combustible minerals that the tree took out of the soil to fuel its metabolism. Those concentrated nutrients can go back onto your garden soil or into your compost to give both a boost. Wood ash can impact soil pH, so use in moderation.

2. Browse seed catalogs

Real gardening starts with mid-winter dreaming. Browsing seed and nursery catalogs early can help ensure that you’re organized and prepared in the spring. It also can build a good bit of excitement to keep your mood up until the warm weather comes back. Try something new this year and consider planting varieties you’ve never even heard of.

3. Start a worm compost bin

Compost bins tend to stall in the winter as the cold temperatures slow down micro-organisms from decomposing your food scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer. An indoor worm compost bin is an easy way to keep your compost going all year to ensure you have an ample supply to start seeds in the early spring.

4. Research new methods

Have you heard of permaculture? Back to Eden gardening? Hydroponics? Tomato grafting? Small scale mushroom farming?

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There are all sorts of innovative gardening and food production techniques that go well beyond just planting a few novelty tomatoes in a raised bed. Use the winter to research new methods to keep your mind sharp and your garden fresh and exciting.

5. Build cold frames

Winter is a great time to build a few cold frames either to get your garden started earlier in the spring, or to extend the season later into the fall. Cold frames are like mini-greenhouses that insulate a small area or growing bed from the mild conditions of the “shoulder seasons” or spring and fall. If you get started assembling a few now, they’ll be ready to be set out with greens by late winter, giving you a heads start on the gardening season.

6. Start long-season seeds

9 Clever Ways To Jump Start Your Garden During Winter

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While most garden crops, such as tomatoes, need to be started just six weeks before the last expected frost date, there are others that will need to be started as early as mid-winter if you expect to have a full harvest. Leeks and onions need to be started from seed indoors as much as 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost. Early cold weather crops that you’ll want to plant and hope to harvest before the mid-summer heat, such as broccoli, also might need to be planted well before your other seeds.

7. Trim or cut shading trees

Most annual garden crops need full sun to produce full crops in a single summer season. Winter is a great time to prune back branches to ensure that your garden beds are getting as much sun as possible.  With the trees dormant, winter trimming will do the least damage to them in the long term. Winter also is a great time to cut down trees. With the soil frozen and leaves gone, cleanup will be much easier.

8. Plan a root cellar

If it’s mid-winter and you’re desperately missing your garden produce, perhaps take this time to plan ahead for next year to ensure that your garden provides for you a bit longer. Root cellars don’t need to be complicated affairs involving lots of land or heavy equipment for digging. Even a cold closet on the north side of your house can keep storage squash in prime condition all winter long. Evaluate the space you have and determine if you can convert part of your basement to cold storage, or in warmer areas, perhaps a buried cooler or refrigerator just outside the back door will be sufficient to keep things cool.

9. Force perennials indoors

Consider planning ahead to force perennials indoors. Rhubarb and asparagus roots are some of the simplest plants to dig in late fall or early winter and store in cool moist soil in a basement or back closet until you’re ready to give them an early start. Planted in buckets and brought into a warm room in the house, both rhubarb and asparagus can provide a dependable indoor harvest over a few weeks, even in January.

How do you jump start your garden? Share your tips in the section below:

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3 Space-Saving Ways To Grow Vegetables Indoors

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

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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:

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