May 8, 2014

How To Garden: Seasonal Planting and Zones

I hope you have dirt under your fingernails and seeds in the ground! And that you’re enjoying all the awesomeness of gardening. To catch up, click on the links below:

Monday: Choosing the Right Style of Garden for You -and- Mixing Your Soil
Tuesday: Companion Planting -and- Pollination
Wednesday: Pest -and- Animal Control

SEvilsizer Vintage Week

Today it’s all about Seasonal Planting and Your Zone!

When you think of planting a garden, what season comes to mind? If you said summer, you’re not alone! I used to think that I was limited to gardening May -August too. But we’re not!

Veggies are grouped seasonally, so you have warm weather (a.k.a. spring/summer) and cool weather (a.k.a. autumn/winter) crops. Neat, huh?

So what’s the difference? 

SPRING/SUMMER VEGETABLES
When do you plant them? Every vegetable has a different germination period that will be noted on the back of a seed packet or can be found through an online search. You can start your plants from seed indoors several weeks to several months prior to the last frost of the season. After they have bloomed and are growing, you’ll want to transfer them to a bigger pot before moving them outdoors. Make sure you ‘harden’ them up by setting the seedlings outside for increasing lengths of time until they are ready to go in the ground. Once any risk of frost is past, you are free to plant seedlings in the ground. In case of a surprise frost, cover your crops at night with hardware cloth or an old bed sheet.

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Keep in mind that many factors affect when the best time for YOU to plant is: climate, altitude, seasonal temperatures. I live in the south, so my growing season runs from late March – early November {sometimes later with a mild winter}. However, those in the northeast generally grow from May-September. Here is a great resource for you to plug in your zip code and find specific growing dates per vegetable for your area from All Things Plants.

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A useful frost map

What are summer vegetables? Most summer veggies are almost always grown for their fruit (Think: tomatoes & cucumbers). They include, but aren’t limited to-

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Zucchini and Yellow Squashes
  • Peppers
  • Okra
  • Sweet Potato
  • Herbs
  • Watermelon
  • And more!

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How much sunlight do they need and what kind of temps?
Ideally your seeds need to germinate & grow in temperatures over 70 degrees with 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Each vegetable has varying needs for sunlight and shade, so be sure to read up on your crops before planting.

How much water do they need? If you start your crops by seed, water consistently with no more than 1 inch per week. Once your seeds sprout, continue consistent watering from the base down. Summer plants enjoy drinking long and deep at their roots. Avoid watering the leaves as many diseases grow in wet conditions. If you do water the leaves, do so in the morning so the water evaporates before nightfall and cooler temperatures.

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Side Note: Inconsistent watering can cause damage to your crops, especially when the temperatures are very high. One thing you might see when watering is not done at regular intervals in the same amount are cracks on tomatoes. The epidermis (skin) on the tomato can’t stretch fast enough to keep up with the excess fluid inside the flesh of the veggie. A common question is, Can I still eat cracked tomatoes? Absolutely! Just check to be sure there isn’t mold, fungus, worms or flies in it. Cut around the cracked part and enjoy!

BONUS: If you live in a warm weather area you can plant some of your crops twice if you plant your first rotation early enough, like green beans. Once one batch is done growing, pull it up by the roots and plant another round of seeds. You can do this with some fall crops too, like kale.

FALL VEGETABLES:
When do you plant them? Most fall vegetables can tolerate a light frost–some can even deal with a light snow–but just like summer vegetables, cover your crops with hardware cloth or a sheet overnight if it suddenly turns cold or you’r expecting a heavy frost.

As I mentioned above, every area around the world had different growing seasons. This will affect when you put your fall crop in the ground. Plug your zip code in this link for specialized information.

What are fall vegetables? There are a few different categories these fall under-

  • Salad vegetables: lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard
  • Kid Won’t Eat These Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale
  • Root vegetables: carrots, beets, and parsnips
  • Leggy vegetables: celery and fennel
  • Flavorful vegetables:  garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives

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How much sunlight do they need and what kind of temps? Ideally your seeds need to germinate & grow in temperatures between mid-60′s to l0w-70′s degrees with 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Each vegetable has varying needs for sunlight and shade, so be sure to read up on your crops before planting.
How much water do they need? Water your fall harvest every day to keep the soil moist. This will protect them if a frost comes. These crops actually DO like water on their foliage, so feel free to water from the top down, making sure soil is wet.
Side Note: Fall crops have a tendency to ‘bolt’ if there is a spurt of warm weather, or inconsistent watering. This is when the vegetable sends a flower straight up. Once this happens, the plant pretty much should be allowed to go to seed (you can save these for next year!). Most plants will taste bitter once they bolt.
wp_000705                                                                                                                        Broccoli that bolted

HARDINESS ZONES:
The world is divided into different hardiness zones. Every area is mapped according to average annual minimum winter temperatures. They are divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones. This map helps gardeners determine when to plant. To use, simply locate where you live and compare the color on the map to the legend on the right-hand side. For example: northern Georgia is 7a and 7b. You can compare this to seed packets or online resources and use it to determine planting time.

That’s all for now folks! Please stay tuned for our last day tomorrow when we’ll talk about Pruning & Harvesting. You’ll be amazed at the results!

xoxo,
Sam

May 7, 2014

How To Garden: Pest & Animal Control

What do you think so far? Any thoughts on growing your own garden? I hope so! If yes, today’s post is a must-read to avoid frustrations. Just this morning we were watering our garden and who greeted us but a small brown bunny. We were wondering who had been munching on a few of our plants!

One of the reasons I love to work the land is to honor our Creator. I view it much like being a good steward of a fine piece of art. Though I know one day this earth will pass on, for now I want to be faithful to what the Lord has given me: a backyard, soil, seeds, sunshine and water. And  Part of raising a garden is learning how to live in tandem with critters (like our rabbit). And part is learning how to control the detrimental pests without toxins that could harm you or animals.

“O LORD, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures.” Psalm 104:24

Monday we talked about Choosing the Right Garden for You & Mixing Your Soil. Tuesday we discussed Companion Planting & Pollinators. It has been so fun hearing from you this week about your own gardening experiences!

SEvilsizer Vintage Week

Today we’re talking about pesticides and animal control. I’ll preface this by saying Joshua and I only use organic, non-harmful solutions.

I’ll start by saying, there are a TON of homemade recipes out there to deter or delete harmful pests from your gardens. If you have found something that works for you, by all means use it. That’s awesome! After trying quite a few ourselves, we’ve found these solutions just aren’t that effective. Sad, but true (at least for us).

For instance, we read that used coffee grounds kill ants, so we tried two tactics.
1. Dump grounds on ant hills. RESULT: Angry, caffeinated ants that moved 3 feet over and came back in double force with a vengeance. That was fun.
2. Line the exterior of our beds with coffee grounds. RESULT: Ants were kept at bay, but the grounds washed away after a few rainy days. That was a lot of work with little benefit.

aphids

Over the years I’ve tried hot pepper spray, vinegar, salt, herbs and more homemade recipes as pesticides. The only one I’ve found useful in getting rid of pests is a soapy water spray on my snap peas infected with aphids. I mixed a tablespoon of dish soap with water in a spray bottle, wet my peas, and gently rubbed the top and bottom of each leaf, getting rid of the pests. Keep in mind this only got rid of the aphids, it didn’t deter them from coming back. Bummer.

So, after much trial and failure of homemade pesticides, we’ve turned to commercially produced products. Please don’t let those words send you running. Every pesticide we use is food grade: this means you can eat it. Yes. EAT IT. No joke.

ORGANIC, NON-TOXIC PESTICIDES:
1. Diatomaceous earth (food grade, NOT pool grade. Repeat: NOT pool grade): DE is naturally occurring, soft sedimentary rock that easily crumbles into a fine, white’ish powder. It’s made up of all kinds of cool things like fossilized skeletons, organisms found in water, algae, and silica. When crushed, all these things break up into tiny pieces that feel like glass to insects. To humans, it feels like baking flour.

How Does It Work? The sharp pieces pierce and scratch the outer layer of insects, puncturing holes in to which DE is absorbed. This causes dehydration. When the insect dries up, it dies.

Benefits? Well, it’s non-toxic, so that’s a good thing. People actually eat this by the spoonful in the thought that it will rid them of any internal parasites. We haven’t done this ourselves, but probably have eaten it unbeknownst to us. Grain farmers toss DE in their silos en masse to kill insects. Hence, DE is packaged in our rice, flour, wheat and barley products. You may have had some in your Reuben at lunch!

It’s easy to use. Read the directions on the back of the bag for instructions and then decide what is best for you. We simply sprinkle it by the handful around the base of our plants.

Application: Outdoors in your garden, you can sprinkle DE on or around your veggies from seed to harvest with no harmful effects. Indoors, you can use DE to get rid of fleas, bed bugs (hope you don’t have these!), earwigs, cockroaches and virtually any other bug. The wonderful thing about DE is that it’s not chemical based, so if used indoors, you don’t have to reapply constantly. Just leave a pile of this stuff where bugs are coming in. They’ll die.

You will need to re-apply outdoors after it rains if you see pest activity or for preventative measures. Read the directions on the back of the bag for instructions and then decide what is best for you.

 2. Fertilome Triple Action Plus II: FTAP is a mixture of pyrethins (natural, organic compounds normally derived from the chrysanthemum cinerarifolium), piperonyl butoxide (an organic compound derived from safrole which is an oil extracted from the root-bark or fruit of the sassafras plant), and neem oil (an organic oil pressed from the neem tree).

How Does It Work? FTAP is an insecticide, fungicide, and miticide that kills eggs, larval and adult stages of insects, and controls plant diseases. Pyrethins attack the nervous system of insects and act as a repellent. Piperonyl butoxide increases pyrethins’ effectiveness. Neem oil’s potent odor repels a wide variety of pests and it interferes with insect hormone systems, i.e. insects have a harder time laying eggs.

The important thing to remember when spraying this is to only get it on the leaves that your harmful insects are eating. They will either ingest it or be deterred by the smell. Be sure to not spray your flowering veggies that your beneficial insects will flock to, such as your bumblebees collecting pollen.

Benefits: FTAP is non-toxic and organic. You can use it up to the day of harvest.

Application: Follow the directions on the bottle. You will mix a small amount with water in a spray bottle. Apply on a 7-14 day rotation.

There are a lot of great organic pesticides and homemade recipes out there, but these are the two pesticides we use and have found effective. You will need to decide what is best for your budget, family, time, and insect action.

1234861_10151680721213391_527383340_n Make sure to look under leaves for camouflaged bugs

Remember some of the other natural ways to control harmful insects we’ve talked about already!

  • Plant flowers that attract beneficial insects that will prey on harmful insects.
  • Plant companion plants close together to confuse harmful insects.
  • Plant flowers that detract harmful insects (our favorite is marigold!) and ones that attract harmful insects (nasturtiums are great to lure aphids away from tomatoes).
  • You can set out traps for your pests such as beer in a bottle laid on it’s side. This will attract slugs.
  • Pick up decaying veggies/fruit that are lying on the ground.
  • If you have mulch around the base of your plants, be sure harmful insects aren’t making their home under it and feeding on the stalks of your plants. If so, pull it back.

ANIMAL CONTROL:
Chipmunks and rabbits are so cute with their chubby little cheeks and furry tails, aren’t they? Um, sort of. They’re not so cute when those cheeks are full of leaves and their tails are shaking in victory over consuming yet another squash plant overnight. Yep, that happened to us last year. For several days in a row, every morning we’d wake up, check the garden, and another plant would be nibbled to the ground. Ugh.

What can you do? Several things!

1. Study your yard to be sure what animal(s) are eating your harvest. This will help you determine what kind of controls you need.

2. If you have a fenced-in yard, be sure to patch up any holes where critters can sneak in for a midnight snack.

3. If you don’t have a fenced-in yard, never fear! You have lots of options.

  • Build a solid fence around your garden out of cheap material like bamboo or chicken wire.
    ~ If you can build a tall fence, do so at an angle as deer can jump high. A 45 degree angle will give them pause before jumping.
  • Cover your plants in wildlife netting, a mesh tent, or a greenhouse.
  • Plant protective plants on the perimeter of your yard such as bushes with thorns (blackberry/raspberry), bamboo, or evergreen trees. Think thick, dense, and prickly.
  • Research repellents for your critters such as egg/water spray (for every 1/4 acre, spray a solution of 5 eggs with 5 quarts of water). There are commercial repellents you can buy as well (ask your garden center for an organic one).
  • Some people say hanging up bags of human hair in a net, strongly scented bars of soap, or urinating around your yard deters deer. We haven’t tried any of these, but would sure love to know if you do and they work … haha!
  • Hang up metal pie pans to clang against each other. The noise can startle critters.
  • Try other visual deterrents like scarecrows or predatory animals like a plastic owl.
  • Set out baited traps (appropriate for the size of your identified critter). Place nuts or leaves inside to attract them.
  • Lay 1 inch or smaller chicken wire on the bottom of your garden bed to help prevent critters from burrowing from underneath.
  • You may also want to vary your perimeter plants to ones that are repellents to your critters. Here is a list we found of deer repellent plants (that will also attract pollinators. Yay!)

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 An example of a bamboo fence

 

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 Use what you have! This is wildlife netting, a trellis, and a screen door to guard against critters.

 

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Covered Greenhouse

That’s all for today folks! Thanks again for joining us this week. We have two more exciting days to go. Coming up tomorrow we’ll discuss seasonal planting and zones. Friday, we’ll cover pruning and harvesting.

xoxo,
Sam

May 6, 2014

How To Garden: Companion Planting & Pollinators

Welcome back to our Gardening Like Grandma series. Yesterday we covered Soil and Style of Garden. This week we’re looking at how to start and maintain a successful garden. When done properly from the ground up, gardening doesn’t take much extra time out of your schedule. Plus, it puts fresh food on your table year-round, saves you money, and nourishes your body with real food!

And my favorite reason to garden is found in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” Being a responsible steward of God’s creation honors Him. 

SEvilsizer Vintage Week

Today we’re talking about two of the coolest aspects of gardening: Companion Plants and Pollinators. Let’s jump in!

What is Companion Planting (CP)? CP is planting a diverse mix of plants in close proximity to each other that are beneficial to one another and ‘get along.’ Plants actually have friends and foes. Planting two ‘foes’ next to each other can cause one or both of them to wither and even die. Amazing, huh? How?

11aa Nasturtium lure aphids away from tomatoes

You may have heard of the “Three Sisters” as the most famous CP: corn, beans, and squash are planted together on a small soil mound. Why plant these crops next to each other? Great question!

~ The beans use the tall corn as a trellis.
~ Squash is a dense ground cover which deters weeds from growing, soaking up nutrition that the beans/corn needs.
~ Beans provide their own nitrogen so the corn isn’t depleted.  

a2 A bed of Marigold, Carrots, Basil, Onions and Strawberries.
The basil and marigolds are 2-3 feet tall!

What are the benefits of CP? 

  • Growth Aid: Short plants deter weeds from growing that could harm tall plants. Tall plants offer shade and support to shorter plants.
  • Natural Pest Deterrents: Pests will often find our veggies (a.k.a. their dinner) by smell. Potent smelling flowers and herbs repel insects, and even some animals, by confusing them. They aren’t sure which plant to eat!
  • Natural Pest/Insect Attractors: Some CPs attract harmful pests to themselves and away from veggies.
    ~Other CPs attract beneficial insects (like spiders, praying mantis, and ladybugs) that eat harmful pests.
  • Space Savers: Interspersing fast growing, tall plants in with shorter, viney plants gives you the freedom to triple or quadruple the amount of crops you harvest. Some will grow up, while others grow out.
  • Avoid Monoculture: Having one crop in an area is like hosting a buffet for pests, but several rows of plants of different colors, aromas, and times they ripen doesn’t give pests who like one particular type of veggie much to munch on.

What are common CPs?

That’s a great question. One day I may come up with my own list, but honestly, there are so many great ones already out there that it’d be crazy right now to reinvent the wheel. Below is a very useful chart that has proven successful for us. However, if you don’t see a plant on here that you want to grow then a quick internet search should provide you with its ‘friends’ and ‘foes.’

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Pollinators and Pollenizers:

Odds are you’ve heard of pollinators such as honey bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. But did you know YOU can be a pollinator too? How? Easy!

That old saying about the birds and the bees is spot on. Pollinators move pollen from the male anthers of the flower to the female stigma of the flower to accomplish fertilization. There’s a whole lot of other scientific facts we won’t get in to, but needless to say, many veggies and fruits have female/male parts and the female flowers need the male’s pollen in order for it’s fruit to mature.

12 A bumblebee pollinating a female flower on a squash plant

Bees and butterflies, birds and bats are all wonderful pollinators. They collect the nectar from the flowering part of the plant, and while doing so, get pollen on their bodies. Flitting from flower to flower, these pollinators take pollen from male flowers and deposit it on the female flower, hopefully causing fertilization.

Sadly, natural pollinators, especially bees, are on a rapid decline. And if you live in a neighborhood, they’re even less likely to be buzzing around your garden. Did you know that bees perform 80% of all pollination? Without bees, the fresh fruits and veggies we eat would cease to grow. “Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.” {source}

67810_10151535079728391_1191444726_n A butterfly enjoying a butterfly bush

You have two options if natural pollinators are low:
1. YOU be the pollinator! This is an easy, yet tedious task. Research your plant to find out which flower is the male and which is the female. Open the male flower and either pull out the inside or swab it with a cotton swab or paint brush (the point is to collect pollen). Very gently open the female flower and lightly swab the male flower parts, paint brush, or cotton swab around the inside of the female flower.

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2. Plant flowers that attract natural pollinators. We have sunflowers, several butterfly bushes, plenty of bulbs (lilies/irises), and a whole lot of other flowers spaced strategically to invite pollinators. We placed flowers in a diamond pattern around our yard to direct natural pollinators flight over our veggies. When our yard was just grass, we saw a few bees here and there, and never any butterflies. Now that our backyard is a garden, the bee, bird, and butterfly populations are much improved.

One reader wrote that her husband doesn’t like to spend money on flowers, especially annuals, and asked my thoughts on that. I totally agree. My husband and I are very frugal and don’t like to spend money on needless things. However, in the case of companion plants and pollinators, we do buy annuals and perennials. Particularly when they double up as edibles, such as sunflowers, nasturtiums, chives & basil (once they go to flower). Click here to read about more edible flowers and how to use them in cooking. {p.s. not all flowers are edible, so please do research before taste-testing!}

Also, a great idea is to swap bulbs and flowering bush clippings with others. Last year we were walking around our neighborhood and stopped to check out an older woman’s flower garden. She popped out of her house to say hello and it turns out she was looking to thin out her flowers. Guess who became the delighted recipient of what had to be 100 or more bulbs?! (that’d be me) Also, our black eyed Susan & lemon balm are both gifts from a friend re-landscaping her yard. Ask around for who has what to give … and share what you have!

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Back to pollination: between the two options above, I would recommend inviting natural pollinators in to your yard. You’ll have beautiful flowers (many which can be edible if you plan for it) and a lot less work! One of my favorite rules of thumb: let the garden work for you, not the other way around! With proper and wise planning, you can limit much of the excess grunt work that deters many from gardening.

What If I’m Afraid of or Allergic to Bees? That’s a very valid question. I once raked under a row of azalea bushes and uncovered more than old leaves. A large underground nest of bees swarmed and liberally stung me. More than 30 times. Ouch! But I want to reassure you that neither Josh nor I have been stung in our yard. We haven’t even been chased by a bee. In fact, we often work side-by-side with our pollinators. Sure, they get a little flustered when we have to shake up their feeding time by picking veggies next to flowers, but they always go straight back to their flowers … not us!

However, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves, pants, and a hat, and have an EpiPen or other form of allergy medicine with you. And while I know swatting at bees or running from them can be a knee-jerk reaction, that tends to aggravate bees. Stay calm. Remember, we’re working in tandem with them! Give them their space and they’ll give you yours. (side note: this should go without saying, but if you find a nest that is in a place where you, your kids, or pets frequent, it might be best to have it re-located).

One last note: many bees aren’t active during early morning or after dusk. Observe your yard for flight times and patterns of your bees and if you can, work around the times they are least active.

15 Bees and the most beautiful birds covered our sunflowers .
If you have space, these are some of the easiest and most prolific pollinating flowers.

Last, but Not Least: Pollenizers:

I had a blueberry bush last year that budded with fruit, but the small, hard, bitter balls weren’t edible. Lesson learned: fruit trees and bushes come in two types- self-fruitful and cross-pollinated. If you are growing fruit, you’ll need to take into account their special pollination needs.

1. Self-Fruitful trees/bushes only need pollen from the same kind of tree/bush as it is. This means you don’t necessarily need a different variety for your fruit to set.

2. Cross-Pollinated trees/bushes need pollen from a different variety of the same type of tree for it’s fruit to set. For instance, we have three different varieties of blueberry bushes planted near each other so their pollen can mix it up!

What needs Cross-Pollination? Apple, Pear, Blueberry, Japanese Plums, sweet Cherries.

Other fruit trees/bushes can benefit from cross-pollination, but it’s not necessary. Before buying a tree/bush, research the pollination needs of the specific variety you are choosing.
That’s all for now folks!
Tune in tomorrow for Pest and Animal Control. 

xoxo,
Sam

May 5, 2014

How To Garden: Soil and Garden Type

This week we’re taking a slight detour to somewhere different: the great outdoors! Now, if you’re not a nature-girl or woodsy-kinda-guy, no worries. There is something for everyone in this series, mostly because caring for God’s creation (the earth and ourselves) is a way to honor and glorify Him.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” And 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 asks, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

So this week, I’d like us to take learn the basics of gardening … look at how working the land to bring forth a harvest and nourish our bodies lives out the Scriptures above. Even if you don’t garden, I hope you’ll join us! 

Before we start, I’d like to give you a little background. Every summer, I had the great joy of spending time in Downeast Maine with my grandparents. We dug the ground and sunk our fingers in the soil of their gardens (veggie and flower). The seeds were planted in my heart then. My love for gardening grew as I helped my dad with his raised beds in our family’s back yard and planted cosmos and gladiolas with my mom as a kid. As I grew, so did my knowledge and skill. I tinkered with houseplants, flowers and container gardening.

Now, my husband and I have turned our backyard into an organic garden with a mix of vegetables, fruit trees and bushes and flowers.

Despite my 30+ years experience in gardening, I’ll preface this series by saying there are many different ways to garden. We have figured out what works for us with our soil, amount of sunlight, zone, pollinators, dietary habits, time, and all the other factors you have to, well, factor in! So I encourage you to do the same. That said, the way we do things isn’t necessarily the best or only way. It’s the way that works for us (and many of the experts we go to for advice, from online experts like John Kohler to the 74 year old farmer to our favorite local garden center guy, Clint!)

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To begin, there are a few things to consider:

1. Why do you want to garden? Gardening takes time and energy, so having a passion of one kind or another for it can help sustain you when it’s hot and buggy outside, and you’re done for the day but you still have to harvest.  Start out small and add each season as you become more comfortable with everything.

Joshua and I garden for several reasons. First, we feel the Lord gave us the land to work so it’ll produce food for us. So we honor God and the gift of the earth by gardening. Second, it’s so good for us to eat foods we know are GMO- and pesticide-free and fresh. Third, savings, savings, savings! Fourth, I love it!

“The one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies lacks sense.” ~Proverbs 12:11

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2. Study your yard. Observe the pattern of the sun and how much sunlight you get per day. Most veggies and flowers need ‘full sun’ or 6-8 hours/day. Remember this will be different in the summer and winter, so plan accordingly. Notice bug activity in your yard. You’ll want pollinators (bumble bees and butterflies) and some beneficial bugs too like ladybugs and spiders (ugh! I do not like spiders, but they are good for the garden). Watch to see if you have any rain water that pools in your yard and where the natural drainage occurs. If you have puddles, you’ll need to build that land up if growing in the ground.

3. Location, Location, Location. Pick a location, your crops, and how many you’re going to plant. Then create a ‘map’ for where you’ll plant each crop. (we’ll cover companion gardening in another post to help you decide on this). Try to plant rows in a north-south orientation to take best advantage of morning and afternoon sun. Plant tall plants farthest north {corn, beans, tomatoes}, medium height plants in the middle {cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, squash, etc.} and short plants to the south {radishes, carrots, beets, lettuce, onions, etc.}. This will help your shorter plants NOT be shadowed by your taller plants. But you’ll need to take in to account  your own personal sunlight in your yard, as well as drainage. Do what makes most sense for you.

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The next step: Determining what kind of garden is right for YOU!
Quick! When you hear the word garden, what image comes to mind? A wood pallet? 5-gallon bucket? Rain gutter? OR maybe a 500-acre farm? A 4×4 box?

There are as many ways to garden as there are varieties of veggies! What’s important is to remember: you are NOT limited by your space! And remember that many things can grow up, using things like trellis and cages, so take advantage of limited horizontal square feet. Here are a few different kinds of gardens you can consider to decide what suits the factors mentioned above (time, space, sun, etc.). When I lived in a townhome, I had an 8×8 concrete patio as my ‘backyard.’ I assembled a 4×4 wooden raised bed and had 2 laundry baskets, 3 small pots, and 2 long containers. It was hard to take my trash out without tripping, but well worth the fresh fruits and veggies!

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1. Container Garden: Rev up your creative juices and go to town! You can use buckets, clay pots, wooden pallets, a laundry basket … the sky is the limit. For best success: create a great drainage system by poking holes in the bottom of your container and giving water ample room to run out (we don’t want to leave roots sitting in stagnant water pooled at the bottom of your container. This will encourage the roots to rot.) Make sure your plants are receiving adequate sunlight based on their individual needs. Be mindful of using pre-treated wood, or other materials that could leach harmful toxins into your soil and get soaked up by the roots of your plants.

BENEFITS: If space if limited, you can get a lot of produce in many pots on a small patio, window box, lined up against your house or anywhere space is limited. If sunlight is limited, you can move your pots around to receive what they need. When weather is cold, you can bring your pots indoors.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Gardening gloves (if desired). A small spade. Containers and drainage trays or risers.

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Pallet Patio Garden

  2. Raised Bed Garden: Here’s another chance to be creative and decide on any length or shape bed. Raised beds are built on the ground, or put on a table, cinder blocks, or any type of structure above ground. If your soil will be on top of the ground, you may want to till the existing soil, but it will be covered with several inches of your own mix of soil. Tilling the soil in the ground gives the roots a softer place to burrow.  You can make your frame of wood, rocks, blocks or any other materials fit to use in your garden. Be mindful of using pre-treated wood, or other materials that could leach harmful toxins into your soil and get soaked up by the roots of your plants.

BENEFITS: Raised beds reduce the amount of weeds (major bonus!). If native soil is of poor quality, you can basically start with a fresh slate in a raised bed by mixing your own soil. Depending on the height of the bed, you save your back by not having to lean over. And you also save the roots of the plant, by not walking on them as you would in a traditional row-by-row garden. Building barriers around raised beds is fairly easy as well. Additionally, when planted in square-foot or hexagonal-style patterns, more produce can be grown. One last benefit: if you have deer, rabbit, chipmunks or other critters who partake of your harvest, it’s easy to build a frame around your raised bed and attach either bird netting or chicken wire to deter the animals.

SIDE-NOTE: You may want to add chicken wire to the bottom of your bed to prevent little voles/moles from burrowing through from underground.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Gardening gloves. Shovel or tiller (especially if your soil is hard). Materials to build your raised bed. And materials to build any animal/critter barriers if desired.

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3. In-Ground Garden: Good, healthy native soil makes for a great garden sown directly in the ground. This method of gardening requires the least amount of extra materials needed.

BENEFITS:  There is no real setup or building required, just put your seeds in the soil. Your harvest will give you a large yield, based on how much you plant. It is easy to walk around your plants.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Gardening gloves. Shovel or tiller. Materials to build any animal/critter barriers if desired.

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(image source unfound)

Now that you’ve decided what kind of garden you’re going to have, let’s talk SOIL!

It’s important to my husband and me to grow organic produce and this starts from the ground up. Roots will soak up whatever is in your soil. So healthy soil= healthy plants! There’s an old saying, “10 cent plant, 10 dollar pot.”  In other words, your soil is the most important part of your garden and it is worth investing in quality soil.

When FIRST starting your garden, this is a good recipe to use as a foundation. Once you have this mixture established for your first harvest, you won’t need to continue adding each element every time you re-plant. Instead, when you pull up last season’s plants and put new seeds/seedlings in the ground, just fill your old hole with compost.

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MIXTURE RECIPE:

We use a mix of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost (try to use different types of compost that suit your dietary habits: cow, chicken, mushroom and/or homemade).

Additionally, we added two other components to increase nutritional value in our soil. Follow the instructions on the back of the bags to determine how much you’ll need based on the size of your garden.

1. Rock Dust
2. Worm castings (these are often found within organic fertilizers, but you can also buy them individually).

Now we acknowledge that this soil recipe is rather tedious to mix on your own, and it can be hard to transport to your house if you don’t have a truck and need more than just a few bags. Two things to help remedy that:
1. Most local garden centers (as in locally owned…yay!) will have a mix that is for vegetable gardens. It’s not their regular topsoil, but a step above geared specifically for vegetables and is organic.
2. Many local garden centers will deliver truckloads for you, though there usually is a delivery fee. This would be worth it to me for a one-time fee and to NOT use the bagged stuff found at big box stores (You know who I’m talking about… they do NOT give ‘miracle’ results (hint-hint). Trust me, I’ve used it in the past and did NOT get the results I’m getting now with this organic mix.)

And, steering clear of pesticides helps keep our bodies healthy!

That’s all for now folks! Stay tuned tomorrow as we talk about Companion Planting and Pollinators. 

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xoxo,
Sam