Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening

We probably all dream of an expansive, tillable garden space with endless possibilities, and not to mention endless weeds! But for some of us with limited space, poor soil or in my case, very little soil because of the ledge, raised beds are a wonderful option.  If you want to grow some of your own produce with minimal long term effort, consider building one or more raised beds.

I have four 12’x3′ beds, three raised beds in my hoophouse, two rocked herb beds and two mound gardens.  We can grow quite a bit of food for ourselves and it doesn’t seem to be limiting at all.  In the summer, I can cruise right on by that veggie isle on most occasions because I’ve got stuff to eat of my own.

Raised bed ready for planting.
Raised bed ready for planting.

Now I hear you, it does cost something to put these beds together.  I understand.  Growing our own vegetables is supposed to save us some cash, right.  Believe me, you will recoup your costs when things start growing.  But, putting that initial cost into the beds really pays off.  You end up with easy to maintain, tidy, veggie-producing powerhouses!

Parsnips in the raised garden.
Parsnips in the raised garden.

Building and filling the boxes will be the hardest part. After the initial work, everything is fairly easy, trust me. Raised beds can be made of wooden boards, logs, bricks, cinder blocks, the list goes on.  Try to avoid using pressure treated lumber, old tires, wood with lead paint or any other toxic substance.  We use three long screws to secure each corner. Size will depend on your space and how much garden you want to take on.  I like to keep them 3′ wide so I can reach across the bed without straining.  Put your ideas on paper, figure up the materials and get started.  Some lumber stores will even do the cutting for you!

Putting the board together for the box gardens.
Putting the board together for the box gardens.

After building the boxes, cardboard can be put in the ground to block out the weeds.  If digging critters are a concern, hardware cloth can be put under the soil.  Add a good amount of loam, then mix in peat and compost or aged manure for a light, fertile mixture.  Because the beds are up off the ground, they dry out quicker than most traditional gardens.  This is great for early planting but be careful in warmer climates.  These beds need to be kept relatively moist.

Some gardeners like to put paths in between their beds. We have grass in our paths.  This way, we just mow in between the beds.  If you are particularly ambitious, stone or bricks would be beautiful!

Raised beds are so much easier on your back!
Raised beds are so much easier on your back!

There are many options for raised bed gardens.  A raised bed would be ideal for adding an herb garden or a small kitchen garden right out your back door.  They are great for season extension.  Making a hoop over the bed makes my winter lettuce production possible.  My blog post  Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen explains a little about the methods. Raised beds are so easy to maintain and much easier on your back.  I can’t say enough about them!

Garlic coming up in one of my raised beds.
Garlic coming up in one of my raised beds.

Do some research.  There are a ton of ideas out there to inspire you.  Pinterest has so many great pictures of what you do.  Once you start looking, you’ll want to fill just about anything with dirt and grow some edibles.  If you have raised beds, what do you like about them?

We love our raised bed gardens!

We had some snow here in Midcoast Maine the other day but the gardens were happy for the drink.  The black flies are beginning to swarm around our heads so we know spring is here.  Thanks for joining me today.  You can always see what I’m up to in the garden by following me on Instagram @everlongardener, Pinterest or subscribe in the sidebar to receive weekly blog posts!  Have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Cultivating Colossal Carrots

One of the greatest gardening moments last year was when I showed my son how to harvest carrots.  What a thrill it was for him as he pushed on each little carrot in the row and then pulled them out.  We got a whole tote of carrots from the garden.  They were on the small size though and I’m determined to do better this year.  I want real carrots!  Carrots that have some size to them.  I guess I had better figure out how to do it!

Homegrown carrots are the best!
Homegrown carrots are the best!

Types of Carrots

Now, you may be thinking that a carrot is just a carrot.  It’s not that easy.  There are miniature types, round golf ball sized ones, long, slender Imperaror types, just to name a few.  I’ve been having some success with the Chantenay varieties.  They have broad shoulders, stocky bodies and they get sweeter with cooler fall temps.  Read the seed packets, you’ll find a wealth of information to help you decide.  We also grow different colored carrots for fun.

My brother-in-law grew some gorgeous carrots last year!
My brother-in-law grew some gorgeous carrots last year!

Location, Location, Location!

This year I decided to plant the carrots in a spot where they did well a few years ago.  You will want to choose a space that has very few stones and has deep enough soil. Make sure you’ve got the tilth before attempting to grow really long carrots.

This is my freshly tilled carrot bed.
This is my freshly tilled carrot bed.

When Should You Plant?

After picking a well-worked, fertile area, planting can start pretty early in spring.  Just wait until soil is sufficiently dried out and around two to three weeks before last frost.  This may vary in your area.  Succession planting is also a great idea for extending your harvest. Fall and winter carrots are the sweetest!

I think this soil will do!
I think this soil will do!

How Do I Plant?

Prepare your carrot bed at least a foot deep if you can.  Add a layer of compost and work it in.  Make lines about 1/4″ deep and a foot apart.  I tend to be really careful when sowing so I don’t waste a lot of seed and this also limits the amount of thinning I have to do later.  I have this vision of maybe my great uncle planting till the seeds were gone, then attaching the packet to a stick at the end of the row.  It is not necessary to plant all the seeds that you have!  It’s hard to hold back, I know, but this pays off later.  It’s a good idea to keep soil moist during the germination period.

Feeds and Needs

Carrots are not crazy about nitrogen, so skip all of that high nitrogen fertilizer.  They prefer compost or aged manure. These should be worked into the garden long before planting.  I was learning about using fish emulsion on carrots the other day, but need to do some more research on the nitrogen content first.  To prevent the tops from turning green, cover the shoulders of the carrots with soil.

Harvesting and Storing

It takes a ton of patience to let those wonderful, sweet carrots fully mature.  Use some carrots mid to late summer.  Let the rest keep growing. Cooler temps actually sweeten them up. Push in the carrots shoulders, then grasp and pull out.  You can also carefully use a garden fork for harvesting.  Remove tops, wash well, dry them off and store in the fridge.  Of course, canning, pickling, drying and freezing are all options. But, I’m not that ambitious!  I usually leave them in the garage until it gets too cold out then put them in my spare fridge.  I roast veggies several nights a week and carrots are fabulous this way!

Roasted root vegetables, including carrots, are a favorite in our family.
Roasted root vegetables, including carrots, are a favorite in our family.

Now I just need to get out there and get my seeds in the ground.  This year I’m trying for colossal carrots.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  What kind of carrots are you planting this year?  If you are having trouble getting out there this year, click on over to my post Getting Started In The Garden for a little pep rally.  As always, thanks for checking in with Everlongardener.

 

Decoding The Seed Packet

Picture the scene.  You are at the garden center wondering what to buy.  This can be a daunting task if you don’t have a specific plan. Especially with all of those shiny, colorful seed packets just begging to be purchased.  Seed overload might set in at this point.  You will probably leave without buying enough or end up spending way too much on a bunch of beautiful seed packets of things that you never intended on buying.  This takes focus. Carefully write your list and stick to it.

Let’s start with decoding the seed packet.  What does this all mean? How many days.  Type. Determinate or indeterminate. Bush or climbing. Spacing.  Planting time.  We need to break it down a little.

Variety

This is a packet of ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’.  Does the name tell you anything?  It happens to be a heat resistant, slow bolting cutting mixture.  With other vegetables such as beans, a variety might be a bush type or climbing.  For a tomato it may say determinate or indeterminate.  Buying carrot seeds? What do you want in a carrot? Short and stocky? Long and slender?  Rainbow colors?  When considering a variety, pay attention to the details.

Typical seed packet.
Typical seed packet.

Seed Dates

Notice on the above packet the line that says packed for 2016.  This means that the seeds were harvested in 2015 for use this year.  Many seeds can be used for quite a few years.  A few things, like parsnips for instance, really do better with fresh seed.

A different view from another seed company.
A different view from another seed company.

Days Until Harvest

These are the numbers that you see, 45-68.  With this lettuce, you would expect to cut small leaves in about 45 days or wait a while longer for more mature leaves.  Do the math.  Some things my take too long for your area.

Depth and Spacing

How much can you cram in your garden?  Don’t be tempted to over plant.  I know it’s hard when your planting.  It looks like you have all kinds of space. Remember, everything is going to grow.  When I plant lettuce, I use the temporary space between the rows to plant out a quick crop of radishes.  This eliminates the need for a whole section of radishes.  Give the seeds enough space.  You won’t have to thin them as much.  Planting depth is also not to be overlooked.  Follow the packet instructions to ensure proper germination.

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How To Start

The instructions often say direct seed (as in plant seed directly in soil) or start indoors.  Some plants benefit from an early start, while some do just as well planted outside.  This takes some planning if you want to start a few things inside.

A variety of seeds!

When To Plant

Have you ever wondered what it means when it says ‘as soon as soil can be worked’?  Barbara Damrosch has a great explanation in her book The Garden Primer about when the soil is ready.  She recommends picking up a clump of soil in your hand and squeezing it.  If it sticks together in one clump, the soil is not ready.  In the spring, the soil needs some time to dry out.  Sure the snow is gone, is it time to get the tiller out?  Not necessarily.  Make sure your garden isn’t too wet first.

Don't get carried away!
Don’t get carried away!

Keep Track Of Things

If you find that this year the radishes you plant are a little too spicy, make a note in your garden journal (you do have a garden journal right?!?) that next year you want a variety that is a bit milder. Renee’s Garden, Fedco, Johhny’s, Botanical Interests, I do love them so. But Fedco has to be one of my favorites.  My post on Why I Love Fedco Seeds  explains why.

I hope this isn’t an information overload!  If you want to get the most out of your garden, follow the directions and choose what’s right for your space. Thanks for checking out my blog today!  You can subscribe to a weekly dose of Everlongardener in the sidebar.  Have a great week and get outside!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Grow Pea Shoots In 4 Super Easy Steps

Want to add something unexpected to your spring salad?  We started growing pea shoots in our garden a number of years ago.  After seeing them for sale at a local farm stand, it seemed like a great addition to my salad greens mixture. They add a whole different dynamic to the salad mix.  They have a pleasant pea flavor that compliments the other greens.  Today, I’m taking you through 4 super easy steps to grow your own pea shoots!

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The benefits of growing pea shoots are that they are rich in nutrients like microgreens and they can be harvested in about 14 days.  I was reading on http://www.healthdiaries.com that they abound in folate, antioxidants, carotene, phytonutrients, vitamins A, C and K.  What a list!  Shoots can be added to smoothies, salads, sandwiches and stirfrys.  They can even be used as a substitute for other greens in recipes. Sometimes when I plant peas to climb and grow to maturity, I use one section of them just for shoots and use them till they get too tough.

Soaking the peas!
Soaking the peas!

So, let’s get into these rediculously easy steps to pea shoot happiness. For materials you will need: a bowl big enough to accommodate swelling seeds, a clean growing container, soil, pea seeds ( I used ‘Sugar Ann’), soil and water.

Look at those little shoots!
Look at those little shoots!

Here are the steps!

  1. Presoak peas in water for a day or so to help them sprout.  If you skip this step, it just takes a little longer for them to germinate.
  2. Add about 2″ of soil to a container.  I used a lettuce container with some holes in the bottom.  Use the lid for a tray underneath.
  3. Evenly scatter pea seeds over soil, cover with more soil.  Use some soil that you would want to eat the plants from.   Some people do not cover with soil, that’s up to you.
  4. Genly water your little seeds and wait.  Water every couple of days.  Stick your finger in to see the moisture level.  Too much water can lead to mold.  Your harvest will be ready soon!  I use scissors to cut the vines and can get multiple harvests from one planting.  Store in the fridge and wash right before use.
Shoots, roots and all!
Shoots, roots and all!

Instead of a traditional crop where you must wait months to enjoy, growing these quick and useful crops in small quantities is pure instant gratification!  For more useful indoor growing tips, check out my previous posts How To Grow Microgreens In 4 Easy Steps or Making Your Own Terrarium.

Beautiful and delicious pea shoots!
Beautiful and delicious pea shoots!

We’ve had a bit of a cold snap here in Maine.  Last week I was out working in my flower beds wearing one layer, this week I’m back in my hat, mittens and winter coat!  The greenhouse was over 100 degrees yesterday though.  Hope you try growing some pea shoots!  They will bring a smile to your face for sure!  Thanks for reading my blog today.  If you subscribe, you’ll never miss the latest posts!  Don’t forget to follow along with me on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook!

Hilary|Everlongardener