What To Plant Right Now!

It may be too early to set out your peppers and tomatoes, but are there any seeds to plant now? If you have the right conditions, many cool season crops can be planted very soon! Get your garden ready and plant these vegetables right now!

Some veggie seeds can be planted well before your local date of last frost. In seed packet directions it’s not uncommon to see the expression ‘as soon as the ground can be worked’. This means that the frost must be out of the ground and the garden has warmed up. Moisture level is another factor. If the soil is too wet, seeds will surely rot in the dirt.

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Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Working your soil too early can also destroy the delicate soil structure. Digging or tilling will compact the garden, making it less able to dry out. Try the old squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. The garden soil should be fluffy and light, not forming a ball in your palm. The type of garden you have may also determine when you are able to plant. Traditional gardens may take more time to fully dry out, while raised beds tend to dry out more quickly. If a garden is in a low area, soil may take longer to get to the proper moisture level.

What to Plant Now

If you want to plant early, think of cool season crops. Root crops such as carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips can be planted.

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Radish harvest.

Many salad greens seeds can be pushed into the soil with great growing success.

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Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

Beets and chard thrive in cooler temps and it’s a great time to think about getting members of the onion family in the ground as well.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

Different varieties of mustard greens excel with the absence of pests in early spring.

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Peas climbing on wire.

Planting peas is one of the first things we do. My neighbor is an avid gardener and we are always watching for him to plant his peas. The age old goal is to have fresh peas by the 4th of  July and usually we make it. I soak my pea seeds the night before planting. This gives them a little head start when they get into the ground. If the forecast is calling for a week of rain, hold off on direct seeding. Wait until it’s a bit drier and your seeds will thank you.

Under Cover Crops

If you are concerned about night time temps, a secured floating row cover could be placed over newly emerging seeds. Some growers plant and then place a milk jug over the plant to act as a mini greenhouse.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

The brassica family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Seed packets will tell you to plant seed directly in the garden maybe 3-4 weeks before date of last frost. I don’t know anyone who directs seeds around here. Let me know if you do. Your best bet is to start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost or purchase healthy seedlings at your local greenhouse. Then, 2-4 weeks before last frost, set out seedlings into the garden. Watch the weather and night temperatures. You could also erect a temporary greenhouse to get a jump on the season. If you can successfully grow brassicas, you will love the flavors!

Choose the Right Varieties

When choosing garden seed for cool season crops, read seed packets carefully. Choose varieties that do well in cooler temps. Some lettuce types love cold weather, where summer varieties keep going through the heat of summer. Certain carrot varieties can withstand cool or very cold weather. I explain figuring out seed lingo in Decoding The Seed Packet, a post designed to help gardeners understand seed packet information.

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Pea seeds soon will go in the ground!

Better to Wait

Warm season veggies should be set out after all danger of frost. It’s just so much better to wait for things like tomato and pepper seedlings. I usually direct seed cucumbers, beans and squash in late May here in zone 5b Maine. Early planting of these vegetables may lead to killing the plants and making you a very discouraged gardener! So, be patient and you will enjoy a more successful garden.

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Early season seeds!

If you plant soon, you will be thinning those first beet greens out of the garden before you know it. Within the next few weeks I will be sowing some of these cool season seeds in my gardens. I plan on getting my heat tolerant salad greens and radishes in the ground soon too. i usually put the seeds that I want to plant first into a small basket. Every time I have a few minutes, I go out and plant one or two things. Check out your garden. Planting time may be sooner than you think !

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Garden harvest.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”-William Shakespeare. I saw this quote the other day and it made me think of many that I know who want to be in the garden but cannot because of poor health or circumstances. That is a harsh reality but I do hope that this post has made you feel like getting out in your garden. Spring chores can seem overwhelming. Just pick away at them a little at a time and you will get there! Thank you!

If any if you are going to be in the Rockland, Maine area this Saturday at 1pm, I will be teaching a mason be class at ArtLoft Rockland. We will be learning how to attract our native bees to our gardens and making bee houses from natural and recycled materials. Go to www.artloftrockland.org to register!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Protect Yourself in the Garden

With this gorgeous warm weather we’ve been having, everyone is heading outside with wild abandon to get gardening! But I’m warning you that you need to protect yourself. In the midst of all of the flowers and butterflies, there are dangers my friend and lots of them!

Now, I know that you are sick of cold weather and just want to get outside. That’s how I feel too. By taking a few precautions, we can all have a safer, much more enjoyable garden season this summer!

Here Comes the Sun

When I was younger, gardening seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on my tan. As time went on though, I started to see that the sun wasn’t necessarily my friend. I began to seek the shade. I started wearing a straw hat every day. Some logger friends of mine had always worn old dress shirts to keep cool and cover the skin. I started doing the same. These days you can even purchase clothing with an spf factor built right in.

A straw hat is invaluable!

If you plan on working all day in the sun, try to work in shady areas in the most intense part of the day. Typically between 10 and 2 using the day. Keep hydrated and take breaks as needed. Don’t forget to apply sunblock throughout the day.

Bugs, Oh My!

In Maine, there is this brief span of time before the black flies come out. A time when you can easily forget about them. Just as they start to die down, then come the dreaded mosquitoes! These can be worse in wooded areas. Thankfully there are some pretty decent natural bugs sprays out there. I’ve found that a bug net is effective if you can tolerate wearing one. Of course these ravenous, blood-hungry insects will bite right through your shirt so sometimes working outside is a bad idea. Freshly washed hair smells really nice to them too. If you plan on being outside, put off the hair washing  for later.

Ticks are a huge concern around here. Try tucking your pants into your socks. Do regular tick checks. Nymph ticks can be the size of a grain of sand. Quite a few essential oils are good for keeping ticks at bay like Rose Geranium, lavender and Texas cedar. Another trick is using diluted white vinegar sprayed on your pants. Getting sick from ticks is serious business. The consequences of Lyme disease can ruin your life, so take as many precautions as you can.

Leaves of Three

If you’ve ever come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, hogweed or any other similar plant, you know how miserable a reaction can be. A number of years ago I came in contact with one of these and proceeded to accidentally smear the plants oil all over my body. I was out of work for days and even needed a Prednisone shot! Just become familiar with the plants that are a problem in your area. If you come in contact with anything suspicious, wash your clothes in hot water. Clean your hands, tools, pets, anything that has potentially come in contact with the plants.

Gardening Gear

Comfortable, practical gardening clothes are one of the best ways of protecting yourself in the garden. Canvas work pants or jeans are ideal, although I’ve been know to do some early morning lettuce picking in my pajamas!

Many of you love the feeling of dirt on your hands. A good pair of gloves can go a long way to protecting your hands against cracks, splinters, cuts and blisters. As you can see, I keep a glove around for every job. Soft leather is my personal fave and a nice rubber coated glove is great for keeping your hands dry. Line them with a thin pair of knit gloves, and your hands will stay warm on colder days.

A great selection of gardening gloves.

Footwear is extremely important for protecting your feet and your back. I’ve noticed that if I’m not wearing the proper shoes for the level of gardening that I’m doing, I pay for it later with sore feet and fatigue. Light garden chores generally require no special shoes. Some jobs may only require sneakers, while edging is so much easier when wearing work boots. A good pair of boots will last for years to come for most home gardeners. A pair of rubber boots can make it possible to garden in wet weather. It’s no fun having wet feet!

Boots are always a good idea.

My Aching Back!

One of the first things that bothers me in the garden is my back. Most of the time it’s because I’m working in the wrong position or leaning over when I should be sitting. This is where being mindful of your posture is very important.

The right equipment can save on your back.

Items like a kneeling pad can prevent aching knees and are comfortable to sit on too. I try not to work on my knees very much anyway. A garden seat is an excellent way to do gardening tasks need a lower level. The seat is great for harvesting lettuce and makes gardening during pregnancy possible. True story!

One of my favorite indispensable garden tools is ‘the claw’. Pictured above is my garden cultivator. I use it for so many things. When edging,  I break up the sod with it instead of using my shoulder. It makes it so much easier especially with bigger chunks. You can use it to distribute mulch or compost. It can also be used to break up masses of weeds.

Remember, take care of your tools and they will help you in the garden. Keep them clean and sharp. Keep them nearby and ready to go. For tips on keeping your tools in tip top shape, go to How To Take Care Of Hand Tools.

I have been through many things in my years of gardening. I’ve been attacked multiple times by fire ants. Attacked and bitten three times by a customers psycho cat. Still have the scars to prove it. Come in contact with  horrible plants that cause raised, painful, oozing blisters. These are just a few examples of why it’s important to be careful out there. Just take a few precautions before you start and your gardening experience will be so much more enjoyable!

The rhubarb has emerged!

Along with last weeks frog emergence, we now have frog eggs floating in our vernal pool. The rhubarb is just starting to put on leaves. It grows so fast! Daffodils are up about 5″. Flowers soon!

Baby garlic!

Found these cute little baby garlics in last years garlic bed. At first I didn’t know what they were. We quickly moved them to the new garlic bed to let them grow there for the summer.

Salad greens in full swing!

Lettuce picking is in full swing around here. Wintered over salad greens are the best! We have been raking leaves and trying to get rid of all of these acorns. What a job! Are there any gardening topics that you would like me to write about? Leave me a message in a comment, I would love to hear from you! Get out there and be careful. But most of all, enjoy it. Thanks for coming along this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Gardening With Herbs

Want to add spice to your garden this year? Planting herbs in your garden and landscape contributes more edibles to each seasons harvest. Perennial, annual or biennial, gardening with herbs brings tasty rewards!

Whether you want culinary herbs for cooking or herbs for making tea, gardening with herbs can be a real joy. Herbs have so many uses. Flavor soups or spice up other meals. Add them to homemade soaps, room freshening pouches or you can use along with flowers in floral design. Many herbs have medical qualities too!

Dill is gorgeous in floral arrangements!

Perennial Herbs

When you purchase a perennial herb plant, you are likely going to have it for many years to come. Herbs such a oregano, chives and mint, once planted will probably take up permanent residence in your garden. Planted in the wrong places these can quickly become invasive. If you want to control them more effectively, cut flowers after bloom so the plants don’t go to seed.

Peppermint is a hardy perennial herb.

Planting herbs such as mint in a pot, then planting the pot, can contain it from turning into a sprawling mess. Oregano easily creeps its way through the garden bed if left unattended. Creeping thyme is wonderful for establishing between pathway stones and rock work.

Thyme blooming providing food for bees!

Sage, lavender and culinary thyme can become great structural plants in the herb garden or elsewhere. These all have a woody stemmed base and should not be cut down. They are usually drought tolerant and hardy once established. Use perennial herbs in a dedicated herb garden or intersperse them throughout your herbaceous borders.

Lavender has many places in the garden.

Annual Herbs

More tender herb plants may include basil, parsley, cilantro and dill. With the exception of parsley, these herbs are not likely to survive a frost and generally need replanting yearly. When properly used, these potent herbs can produce all summer long in most northern climates. Rosemary, although not an annual, is a woody evergreen that is hardy in zone 8. If you live outside of this area, rosemary must be brought inside for the winter. I usually manage to kill every rosemary that crosses my threshold. I keep trying though!

Basil is so prolific!

Parsley is actually a biennial herb. Parsley can be wintered over in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse when given an extra layer of protection. Floating row cover is very helpful in making sure parsley survives the winter. Wintered parsley often goes to seed, so use it through the winter months. Do you prefer flat leaf or curly parsley?

Hardy parsley plants!

Plant herbs in your perennial herb garden or grow along with vegetables. Garden herbs are well suited to container growing and can be grown in window boxes or pots. By placing containers of herbs on the deck, the need for a garden is eliminated. Mix with annual flowers for a stunning summer look.

Basil is great in containers! Photo by L. Labree

For The Bees

Humans aren’t the only ones who love garden herbs. Bees and other pollinators benefit from flowering herbs. Some favorites are basil, borage oregano, hyssop and lavender. By adding a variety of herbs to your existing garden, pollinators have more plants to choose from.

Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.

Seeing all of these lush green pictures is making me want everything to grow right this minute! I really need to be patient. There’s plenty to do before it’s time to be harvesting herbs. Plant a few herbs this garden season. Freeze or dry them for winter use. So many of the herbs and spices we use can be produced at home. Here is a simple herb garden plan for all of you! This plan uses perennial herbs and leaves spaces for annual herbs and beneficial flowers.

A small garden plan mixing annuals with established herbs. Painting by Hilary Mank.

Gardening with herbs makes you more self-sufficient. Once you get started, growing herbs makes cooking with herbs very economical. These herbs mentioned here are the very basics. The world of herbs is truly vast. If you have personal favorites, by all means grow them!

The frogs are croaking here in Maine this week. The ice is leaving our lakes and the gardens have awakened. I thank you so much for reading Everlongardener this week. There is more to come this spring including mason bees and ways to protect yourself in the garden. Sign up to subscribe in the sidebar for all things gardening!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Poor Man’s Fertilizer

There is a reason weather forecasters jokingly refer to April as another winter month. Sometimes the end of March brings warm spring weather. Other times, spring comes in it’s own sweet time. All the time that I was growing up, the expression ‘poor man’s fertilizer’ would make it’s way into springtime conversation.

It turns out that this silly expression is not an old Yankee farmers tale or some New England legend. There’s real science at work here. I know what you are thinking. The ‘Salad Green Queen’ doesn’t usually get very scientific but I will explain. I’ll also ask for forgiveness in advance for mentioning the word snow here and for posting pictures with this stuff.

Snow that will slowly trickle into the garden.

With all of the shoveling, snow blowing, plowing and generally terrible traveling conditions that snow brings, it’s hard to think of the benefits that it brings. One major plus of having a snowy winter is the insulation it provides for garden plants. Perennials, no matter how hardy, enjoy a thick cover of snow to protect their roots from the freeze and thaw of an open winter. I was amazed to read in the Garden Rant article Poor Man’s Fertilizer, that approximately 10″ of snow can be compared to an insulation value of R18! Wow!

Snow on the perennial garden.

Now for the fertilizer part. As snowflakes form many in the sky, they gather nitrates from the atmosphere. When the snow slowly melts, the nitrogen is distributed through the soil. Of course some will be lost to run-off but hey, it’s free fertilizer. The nitrogen cycle is quite fascinating. Certain plants help fix the nitrogen into the soil but is soon taken up by plants and air. Therefore, there is a constant need for this cycle to go on.

Winter wonderland.

The same process happens with rain and lightning. With snow melting at a slow rate it may be more effective at delivering nitrogen than a big thunderstorm.

Moody storm skies.

Snow fall in April may have a special advantage in that the ground is not frozen. This allows the snows nitrogen supply to leach out and actually seep into the garden soil. Poor man’s fertilizer indeed!

Milkweed seed looking for a home.

With all of those affectionate words about the aforementioned white stuff out of the way, I must say that I’m ready for spring weather. Ready to get out in the garden and start working. Ready to stop wearing so many layers. Ready to feel the warm sun on my back and see green things again. Anybody with me?

Soon, we will be seeing more of this!

We have been harvesting some decent amounts of salad greens from the greenhouse and the covered bed for a few weeks now. They taste so good this time of year. There’s nothing like spring greens straight from the garden. If you missed how we grow through the winter, check out How To Harvest Salad All Winter for more information.

Greenhouses are full of blooms!

Soon, we will be picking out pansies to fill pots or to plant by our front doors. Yellow, purple, white, red. Little ones, big ones, I’ll take them all!

A friendly owl!

I spotted this owl in my travels last week. Can you believe that it let me get about 10′ away from it! It was one of those dark days so the color didn’t come out very well but it’s the best owl picture I’ve ever been able to take. He was sitting in a tree with a few crows. I have no idea what they were doing all together like that.

Spring means baby lambs.

Spring also means new lambs on my neighbors farm. My son requests daily visits to check on the latest baby. Mama sheep was making it very hard for me to get a decent picture of her new baby. There will probably be a few more before it’s over. We are really falling in love with these friendly sheep.

Flowers blooming closer to the water!

Although these spring bulbs are not mine, soon flowers will be blooming in my yard. I find that anywhere close to the ocean is much farther along. Always more to look forward to. By next week we will be having warmer temperatures here in Maine. Before we know it our gardens will be bursting with life and there will be plenty of work to do. Thanks for giving in and reading about the dreaded poor man’s fertilizer this week with me. I promise that I won’t dwell on snow any longer! More gardening posts are coming so don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar for more springtime garden motivation!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Start A New Garden

Sometimes the biggest obstacle a potential gardener can have is simply starting a garden.  The fear of failure prevents them from jumping right in.  I’ve been asking various people a question.  If they were to move into a new house, how would they start a new vegetable garden?  Some said raised beds, others said cardboard and mulch.  How would you start a new garden?

Traditionally, gardeners begin their years of toil by tilling a plot.  Nothing like that fresh dirt in neat, long rows!  But, then what happens?  Shortly after planting, a myriad of weeds emerge, ready to drown out any small plant pushing through the surface.  Better get out your hoe for hours of endless weeding!  Let’s explore a few ways to start a new garden and how to minimize some of the work!

Raised Bed Gardens

If you’ve read my post Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening, you know that I’m a huge advocate for the raised bed.  I find that they cut my work literally in half.  With the garden raised up above the ground about a foot, you can easily sit on the side to harvest and work.  Weeding is minimal in a raised bed garden so most of your work will be planting, watering and picking.

Raised beds fix many gardening problems.

Raised beds can be made from many different materials.  Logs, cement blocks, pallet beds, brick.  Wooden boards are probably the most common thing used for the sides.  When the boards are 12″, the bed allows for growing longer crops such as carrots and parsnips.  Cedar, pine and our personal favorite hemlock are often used.  Hemlock boards can last for over 10 years.  Never use treated lumber when building a food garden bed because the toxic chemicals can leach into the soil.  Of course, if the soil is okay under the bed, don’t feel pressured to have 12″ beds.  I’ve even seen raised garden tables for no bending over whatsoever!  Talk about easy on your back!

We love our raised bed gardens!

Raised beds can be built with any dimentions that you like.  Since boards often come in 12′ lengths, we have built 12’x3′ beds.  A 3-4′ width across the bed makes for easier picking and sowing.  Our beds are secured with 3″ screws.  Lay one layer of cardboard in the bottom of the bed.
This will suppress weeds that may be under the new bed.  Our boxes have been filled with garden loam and then topped with compost or aged manure, which get worked in over the summer.  Every year, additional topdressing ensures soil fertility.  Cardboard can be placed on the ground between beds to establish a weed free path.  This can be covered with bark mulch or crushed rock.

Putting the board together for the box gardens.

Once you have your beds in place, many gardening methods can be used.  Mulch or no mulch, square foot gardening, it works well for so many things.  Worms can come right up from the ground below to start cultivating your soil.  There is some initial cost up front but the rewards will outweigh this very quickly.  I actually made a friend into a raised bed convert a number of years ago.  Now her whole front yard is full of them!

Simple No-dig Method

The no-dig method is making great strides in the gardening world.  There have been many similar garden types out there such as heavily mulched gardens and lasagna gardens.  The idea is to cover existing weeds with a layer of cardboard or newspaper, then add your soil right on top.  Compost or aged manure is then used to dress out the bed.  Beds can be made with sides or no sides.  In this type of gardening, no digging goes on.  Put away your spade and tiller.  Only a trowel is used for digging surface weeds.  This idea appealed to me so much, that last year I began to implement Charles Dowding’s no-dig advice.

Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Many of us want to save money by having a home garden.  If you are starting a new garden, try not to skimp on soil.  I read somewhere recently to spend 75% of your garden budget on soil and soil amendments.  That may seem pretty steep but in the case of soil you really get out what you put into it.  For more detailed information on this topic go to No-dig Gardening or look up the expert himself, Charles Dowding.  I’m really excited to see how the results turn out for us in the coming gardening season.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

Incorporating Edibles Into The Existing Landscape 

So, what if you can’t start a new garden but you want to grow more of your own food?  Container gardening is a fantastic way to utilize deck or driveway space.  Mix herbs into your flower boxes for an aromatic display.  Try planting deck tomatoes.  There are many self-watering planters on the market and the internet is full of do-it-yourself planter ideas.  Check your shed, you may have some pots that you can use out there!

My mothers beans in a container.

This picture above shows young pole beans planted in a horse grain container.  Almost anything that will hold dirt and keep in some water will work.

Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

If you have existing perennial gardens, could you make room for some edibles?  Think about placing a few tomatoes or a bean teepee in between shrubs.  A potted cucumber tower could provide plenty of cukes with vertical growing.  Spots between perennial flowers can be cozy homes for clumps of lettuce, kale, carrots or chard.  Ever-bearing alpine strawberries make an adorable garden edging.  Add in a few high bush blueberries to the side of your yard.  Get creative, the more you plant, there will be fewer places for weeds to come up!

Leaf lettuce can provide an abundant harvest!

Whatever you choose to do for a garden, why not try something new? Many gardeners are proving that these methods really work and make gardening a whole lot easier.   One of the biggest rewards is the taste of homegrown produce!

We are in our first week of spring here at Everlongardener.  The weather feels a bit more like January but maybe March is going out with a bang!  Thanks for giving this a read this week and feel free to subscribe in the sidebar for more weekly gardening motivation.  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.  Remember, anyone can garden!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Start Your Own Seeds This Year

What’s one of the best way to kick off the gardening season?  Starting your very own garden seeds!  Until you successfully have a try at it, you may be missing out on the joy of seeing a seed go from seedling to harvest.  Let’s get into the why and how of starting your own seeds!

This time of year, when the weather can’t make up it’s mind what it’s going to do, many of us are Itching To Garden.  If you have a garden of any size you will quickly notice that the cost of seedlings can be pretty high.  By starting seeds at home you could grow dozens of plants for the price of one greenhouse seedling.   You can grow many different varieties and maybe even types that are unavailable at the nursery.  Perhaps, you have been saving seeds from open-pollinated plants that you want to use.

Seeds
Garden seeds!

If you are anything like me, you may have attempted starting seeds in the past, only to end up with a few leggy, miserable specimens.  I think we’ve all been there.  It seems hardly worth the effort.

Nasturtium and Winter Marvel lettuce seeds.

How?

Some gardeners are able to successfully grow seedlings on their windowsill.  I have been getting tomato and broccoli plants from a few friends for years.  Without lights, they are growing some really healthy plants.  In my attempts to start seeds at home, I have been quite disappointed.  Probably the conditions have been too dry or there’s not enough light.

Peet pellets
Peat pellets are fun to use!

You can literally start seeds in any type of container, but if you streamline your efforts you can make the process a lot simpler.  Peat pellets are cool to use because they are compressed.  After adding water, they expand to make little seed starting vessels.  Peat pots, pictured below,  can be planted directly into the garden when the seedling is ready.  Whole plant cell trays can be purchased for a very slick operation.  Saving plastic food containers is an idea for a cheaper fix.  Mushroom, yogurt and salad containers work well.  Always add drainage holes and use trays under containers to avoid messes.

Peet pots
Recycled containers and peat pots.

Some containers can be turned into instant mini-greenhouses.  This rotisserie chicken lid keeps precious moisture in while seedlings germinate.  Once you start looking, you will find all kinds of useful seed starting containers.

Mini greenhouse
Rotisserie chicken container turned greenhouse.

In the garden, soil should be teaming with life for best results.  This is not the case for growing seedlings.  Choose a more sterile seed starting mix for your seeds.  For beginner gardeners, pick up some commercial growing mix.  Experienced gardeners sometimes prefer to make their own mix combining peat, perlite, compost, vermiculite and so on.

Although I’m not going all out on the seed starting this year, I decided to grow peppers, tomatoes, some flowers and a few other things.  Knowing that my light situation is a problem, I made a simple seed table setup.  As you can see below, I used some wood to suspend the light above the seedlings.  Make sure that if you build something, it is secure.  The really exciting part of my operation is the 12 watt LED grow light.  Because of the bright sunlight for most of the day, I intend to run the light when it’s dark out.  I also intend to have more seedlings under the light after this week.

Grow light setup
My simple setup for this year.

To maximize the glowing pink light, I’ve seen some growers place foil lined panels on all sides of the operation.  I’m still contemplating that for now.

Read your seed packets.  There is a wealth of information to be found there.  Tips and advice specific for each variety.  Things such as planting depth and spacing.  If you have trouble figuring the information out, check out Decoding The Seed Packet.  It also helps to label your containers to avoid mix ups.

What To Plant?

As great as starting all of your own seeds sounds, remember that a lot of the crops that we traditionally grow do better just planted outside after the danger of frost.  Vegetables like beans, carrots, beats, greens and so many others do even better with direct seeding.  Focus your efforts on peppers, tomatoes, basil or anything else you feel needs a head start.  When plants are grown from seed outdoors, they struggle far less than a leggy plant trying to survive in a harsh environment.

Seeds
Swap seeds with friends to get more varieties!

When To Plant?

When do you start your garden seeds indoors?  Most northern growers start planting sometime in March.   Seed packets will tell you to plant so many weeks before the last frost date.  To determine your last frost date, go to a site like The Old Farmer’s Almanac for specifics on your area.

Zucchini seeds
Zucchini seeds ready for planting!

Hardening Off Seedlings

This process doesn’t have to be hard but the seedlings need special attention.  While the plants are growing, some gardeners find that running a fan on them helps in toughening them up.  This prepares them for easing into the transition of living outdoors.  Gradually introducing seedlings to the outdoors is also essential.  This can be tricky.  Keep seedlings in a place where you can keep an eye on them.  A protected area like a cold frame works really well.  Make sure to bring them back in at night until temps get warmer.  A windy spring day can be brutal for young plants.

Starting seeds
Tomato seedling reaching for the sun!

Most of all, have fun with seed starting!  This is a terrific way to get kids involved in gardening.  They can’t wait to get their hands in the dirt.  Kids love the anticipation of watching living things grow.  If seed starting is too much of a leap for you, there is no shame in purchasing seedlings at the greenhouse for your garden.  I’m always picking up something extra.  Something that catches my eye or maybe something that I forgot.  As you learn and grow in your gardening knowledge, you will be able to do more each year.

There are so many resources out there for seed starting advice.  I’ve been reading a few helpful articles by Creative Vegetable Gardener.   Most good gardening books will have a seed starting section.  One of my favorite in-depth seed-starting books is The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel.  Also, ask around.  Don’t be shy about asking experienced gardener for tips to start seeds at home.

Radishes are great for direct seeding in the garden!

Remember to start out small and build on your gardening knowledge from there.  With each passing season, you will getting closer to your gardening goals.  The first day of spring is just around the corner, so get planning your seed starting strategy today!  I would love to hear from you, either your questions or comments!  Thank you and have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Adventures In Vermiculture (Worm Composting!)

Vermiculture.  It’s a big word.  What we are really talking about here is also known as worm composting.  You probably have heard of it but do you may not know what is involved?  Once you find out, it may be your next little gardening project.  Why don’t we learn what makes worm composting so incredible and how to get started in Vermiculture!

I started my worm composting bin last spring after obtaining some worms from a gardening acquaintance of mine.  I started with a small bin, maybe a 10 gallon tub.  The slimy details can be devoured at Getting Started With Worm Composting.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that this small bin was not going to accommodate my little worm farm.  As usual, my gardening projects have that ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ aspect going for them!  Before starting any slightly hair-brained sceam like this, consider whether you are up to seeing it through.  Worm composting is not for the faint of heart and you certainly need a stomach for it.  That being said, it’s not even that gross.  If you currently deal with a backyard compost pile, you can likely handle a worm bin.

Red wiggler worms.

Materials For Making Your Bin

A great thing about creating a worm composting bin is that it’s simple and inexpensive.  You will need: two 18-20 gallon bins or totes with one cover, shredded paper or newspaper, compost items and some garden soil.  When it comes to containers, many different things can be used.  Just search ‘worm compost bins’ and you will find tons of ideas.  Some have used an old cooler or even a broken chest freezer with great success.  The plan I have used is for someone who wants a typical home sized bin that can be managed with minimal work.

A baby red wiggler.

The last key ingredient would be the worms.  You will need to obtain some red wiggler worms or Eisenia fetida.  Regular garden worms do eat waste but not as rapidly as red wigglers.  Earthworms generally require deeper soil for survival.  It is fine to get worms from someone you know but be advised that their bin may have unwanted pests.  It is possible to find clusters of red wiggler worms in your garden.  Capture them if you like.  Just make sure that they are the type that you want.  If you buy online, purchase from a reputable seller such as Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.  This will obviously add cost to your project.

The fine castings from worms.

Worm Food

You are probably asking yourself what you can put in your bin.  Vermiculture is much like regular composting.  Save your kitchen scraps, egg shells and stale bread or pasta.  I tend to use the bread items sparingly.  Animal manure, leaves, newspaper and toilet paper rolls can be used.  All things in moderation.  Avoid using meat, dairy or fatty foods.

Worm castings on all compost items!

Do not over feed your worm bin.  I give my red wigglers one feeding per week.  You will eventually get an idea of how much you should feed them and how often.  I wouldn’t assume that your worm bin will replace your normal outdoor compost heap.  Only a large scale bin can really accommodate a large quantity of waste.

Assembling the Bin

Drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of one tote.  Also drill holes in cover and in the top sides for ventilation.  In the un-drilled tote, place two bricks or similar sized pieces of wood in bottom of bin.  Place drilled tote on top of wood or bricks.  This allows drainage to collect in bottom bin and helps with moisture control.

Drill air holes in the sides and cover.

Next, start layering your materials.  Build it like you might put a new compost bin together.  Layers of ‘brown’ and ‘green’ ingredients.  Add some kitchen scraps, then some paper, then some soil or compost.  After you have added all materials, nestle your worms into their new abode!  They should burrow into the yummy food quickly.  Layer some cardboard on top and this will keep your worms nice and cozy.

Larger bin for the new worm composted.
Worm feeding time! Kitchen scraps, newspaper and toilet paper rolls!

Worm Bin Care

Worried that you are going to spend every day tending worms?  Think again!  Normal maintenance should just involve one or two checks week.  The worms do not like bright like so keep the cover on as much as possible.  After each feeding, cover with fresh shredded paper.  The compost items should be covered.  Check moisture levels weekly.  Paper products should be damp but not wringing wet.  Bad smells could indicate that something is off in your bin.  The compost  bin can become quite heavy.  Get help with moving or use a dollie.

Worm castings on all compost items!

Where should you place your worm bin?  A cool shed, garage or on a shady side of a building are all good places.  Worms do not like warm temperatures.  To keep your red wigglers from getting to ‘aggressive’ keep them below 80 degrees F.  Ideal temps are between 60-80 degrees.  The bin should not be allowed to freeze in winter.  All these guys really do is eat, poop and make babies so you will want to keep them as happy as possible!

Harvesting Castings

Worm poop.  In more pleasant terms they are called worm castings.  Lovely sounding, don’t you think?  When see a quantity of casting accumulate, maybe after 3-4 months, it may be time to harvest.

Remove worms from castings.

Spread an adequate piece of plastic on the ground or a table.  You can then dump some or all of the contents out.  Begin to separate the worms from the ‘black gold’.  It is a learning experience.  Worms will shy away from the light so they will tend to gather together.  It’s really not hard to sift through them.  If a few worms get added to your garden, that’s okay too.   A fine mesh could also be used to sift the castings.  The castings are ready to use on your garden or to make worm tea.  Put your bin back together, layering more ingrediants and snap down the cover.

Placing something heavy on top can keep the worms from escaping.

I like to place a heavy object on the cover.  Some worms may unknowingly slip through the crack around the cover and then die in their escape.

Progress

So far, our worm bin has been working out really well.  Of course there is a learning curve, as with most things.  At times, I have felt like I’m one step ahead of what needs to be done.  I do think it has been a positive experience.  I harvested castings in the fall and got quite a bit for that initial small bin.  One major step was that when cold weather hit, I didn’t anticipate our garage being so cold.  Temperatures dipped down below freezing much of the winter.  What is a girl to do when her vermiculture project is about to turn into a giant worm-cicle?  Well, I had to bring them in the house.  The coolest place for them was in my tub upstairs.  At first, I was a bit terrified about having them so close to my actual living space but things have been fine.  My husband does assure me that this is not normal but hey, normal is overrated!

A healthy batch of worms!

There are some terrific resources out there for anyone interested in worm composting.  Henry Owen has a great web site called Worm Composting HQ.  He offers a blog, a fantastic website and free eBooks.  Another informative blog is by The Worm Monger.  Both provide comic relief and indispensable information for the budding vermaculturist.

The tiniest of worms.

This has been a wordy blog post but there really is no way around it.  I also apologize for these unappetizing photos!  Worm composting is easy but there is a lot to know.  Just like getting chickens or a rabbit.  I’m sure there are many other techniques out there and way more information.  This has just been my experience.  Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener this week!  Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for more wormy content and gardening articles!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

 

Itching To Garden

It doesn’t take long for the weary gardener to start dreaming about gardening once more.  That first seed catalog shows up and it starts all over again.  By November, many of us want that garden to be covered in snow so we can have a well deserved break.  But, as with most cycles in life, we soon find ourselves itching to garden!

Sometimes I hear people talking about living where you can garden year round.  I’m sure I could deal with that but a chance to regroup, recharge and start over also is appealing.  When I worked in gardening with a group of woman, we definitely needed a break from gardening by the time winter came.  While working at a nursing home, my employer would joke about getting older.  “When I get to that point, just replace my hands with trowels and I’ll sit in my wheelchair and move the dirt around!”  Or something like that.

Fresh garden produce!

My garden planning starts in the summer.  As things grow and mature, I think about the next year.  What will I do differently?  How can I improve or simplify something?  I may see new varieties late in the season and add them to my list of ideas.  Or I see plants or methods when I’m out and about that I would like to try.  It’s a never ending process.

Come, sit for a spell!

After a fresh blanket of snow I worry about the tiny garlic cloves nestled in the dirt.  I think about the small salad greens under layers of protection.  I wonder if the carrots that I left in the ground have enough mulch (probably not!).  Yet, there is nothing I can do about it at this point. Just have to wait it out and see what the spring brings.

Greenhouse surrounded by snow.

During severe weather, I often imagine the early settlers trying to make it through the harsh winters.  I remember the characters in the book Come Spring, a novel by Ben Ames Williams about a local town in the late 1700’s. Trying to grow and put up enough corn to last the winter. Barely surviving the winter and some didn’t.  Scrounging for the first spring dandelions and wild onions to eat. Winter is so different for us these days.  Sure, we have storms, bad roads and cold but it’s not the same as roughing it in a cabin for months on end.  Just a few things that I reflect upon that makes me appreciate being in a snug house when the snow flies.  We can talk about being more self-sufficient but how many of us would survive?  In an interview with “no work” gardener Ruth Stout, she admitted that she hadn’t been to the grocery store in 14 years.  Can you imagine?  Her gardening techniques may have been seemingly haphazard and yet she did fine.

60-70 degrees in the greenhouse.

Although there is very little work to do in the greenhouse, time spent in it is good for the soul.  Temperatures soar on these bright February days.  The plastic sides are usually covered in frost but the sun pours in just the same. It would be a good idea to tidy it up on one of these sunny days before things get too hectic.

Snow on the woodpile.

With our recent blizzard, fine flakes of snow filtered through every nook and cranny of our wood shed.

Anyone home?

I was thinking of all of our pollinators and beneficial critters as I took this picture of our bat house.  I’m not really sure if the bats took up residence in there but I do see bats at dusk and sometimes dawn, flying against the dim sky.

Winter scenes.

Even with the gardens under a blanket of snow, there are plenty of photo ops around the yard.  That blazing sun just makes everything look picturesque!  I’ve especially been enjoying the hydrangeas this winter.

Still flowers to capture in the garden!

Many of you will be starting seeds soon.  I have to admit that my seed starting skills are a bit lacking.  I’m more of a direct seed kind of girl.  A few of my friends grow some very sturdy seedlings.  I have started some onions as part of an experiment and a few tomato seeds that came free from Baker Creek Seeds.

Last year at this time, I was posting about Gardening In February.  The weather was so mild, that I decided to clean up several garden beds right then.  We were also tapping trees for maple syrup.  For now, I’m just as happy that there is snow on the ground and that there is a bit more time for garden planning.  That’s all for this week here at Everlongardener.  How is your garden planning going?  Are you itching to garden?  Leave me a comment or a question.  I would be glad to hear from you!

Hilary|Everlongardener

No-dig Gardening

Before we get into what no-dig gardening means, let’s investigate the following scenario.  This coming spring, you hire someone to rototill your vegetable garden.  The soil is rich and brown.  A perfect blank canvas for this years garden!  But, in a matter of weeks, the inevitable happens.  Tiny weeds come growing in like a carpet.  What can be done? More tilling?  Hours of weeding?  These are some of the reasons why I’ve begun to investigate no-dig gardening!

I had heard about gardening without work years ago.  I even have Ruth Stouts book Gardening Without Work.  Her method involved mulching with old hay.  She had some fantastic ideas.  It’s worth looking up some of her old interviews.  After helping the local Seed Saving group mulch a garden in this way, I didn’t like the hay method because it seemed to harbored snakes. Not my thing!

A friend gave me Lee Reichs book Weedless Gardening.  His strategy calls for more mulching.  Definitely some great ideas for taking a lot of the backbreaking work out of growing vegetables.  I have even used grass clipping for moisture control.  But, I hear what you are saying, aching backs and worn out knees just go hand-in-hand with gardening.  Don’t worry, there is still much to do.  Just no digging!

Ready for next springs planting!

This spring, I was introduced to the term no-dig gardening.  I really didn’t understand because how do you have a garden if you can’t dig in the compost?  Or how do you harvest potatoes and parsnips?  I always thought that any ground good for planting had to be cultivated as far down as possible.  I had never subscribed to idea of double digging, too much work.  Then I began thinking about my own beds.  Raised beds that I occasionally top dressed with manure or compost.  Two of my beds were built on top of rocky ground.  With a cardboard layer spread out to squelch any grass beneath, layers of loam and compost made my two above ground beds.  So essentially, besides mixing in compost, I was doing a lot of the things recommended in a no-dig garden.

Salad greens.

As I became more interested in no-dig gardening, I decided to start reading a book by no-dig expert Charles Dowding, How To Create A New Vegetable Garden.  The book meticulously chronicles how to start beds without digging in at all.  Using layers of materials to achieve fertile planting ground for all sorts of flowers, herbs and vegetables.  Trial gardens demonstrate side by side comparisons of tilled gardens next to no-dig beds.  Amazingly there is little difference in productivity.  Vivid photos and commentary on how he transformed the abandoned gardens at his Somerset, England property called Homeacres.  Mr. Dowding came upon the idea many decades ago after tilling up a garden and then he was faced with a question:  Would he till it again next year?  What would happen if it was just mulched?  This was the start of the no-dig garden.  He has used this way of gardening at many properties.

One of the negatives of tilling is that the disturbed soil is a perfect place for weed seeds to germinate.  Tilling can also mix in weed roots and get them mixed deeper into your garden.   I tend to fight this no-dig gardening idea because nothing looks better than freshly cultivated soil.  But, I’m trying to rethink some of the traditional methods.  We are forced to think that if we want any productivity we must break our backs to get it.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to do in the garden.  Yearly top dressing of aged manure, starting new beds, harvesting and watering.  The idea is that you don’t have to dig everything to get your garden to produce.  Have I lost you yet?

Raised Bed Gardens

If you already have raised bed gardens, no-dig is easy to incorporate.  Simply top-dress your garden beds every season with well aged manure or compost.  Most raised beds don’t need much cultivation anyway.  Any small amount of weeds can be removed while you are working.

Take the work out of gardening!

When plants are ready to be removed, a twist and pull action is recommended.  Most crops do not not need a shovel for harvest but a garden fork may be used for vegetables like parsnips.

Traditional Garden Beds

To create a new garden bed, blocking out grass and weeds is a top priority.  Boards, tarps or cardboard can be put down in advance to kill off vegetation.  When you are ready to start, add layers of cardboard and compost right on top of the ground.  If the garden has paths, use cardboard.  A thick layer of wood chips would be a great addition.

Perennial border.

Creating new flowers beds can be done in the same way.  Permanent flower gardens love yearly applications of compost.

Top dress beds with compost or manure yearly.

In The Greenhouse

You may want to consider using no-dig if you have a greenhouse.     There are enough new nutrients in the organic matter near the top of the soil where the crops need it most.  Such fertile gardens are a nice home for worms and beneficial insects.

Summer in the greenhouse!

Along with the book that I mentioned earlier, related reading includes Veg Journal and Salad Leaves For All Seasons.  Look up ‘no-dig’ on YouTube and you will find some excellent info to think about.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

When I was in the Master Gardener course, the instructors where always talking about tilling being a necessary evil in the garden.  Chopping up worms and destroying soil structure.  Now I’m beginning to see how gardening can be done in a more natural way.  It just makes sense!

A bountiful harvest.

This may be a foreign way to garden for you.  I know at first I had trouble wrapping my mind around it.  There are many of you out there that I know struggle with getting your garden going and have a hard time producing vegetables.  Just consider what less work in the garden could mean for you and your subsequent harvest.  We all have different ways of gardening but we never stop learning!  I’m sure this is not the last you will hear about no-dig gardening.  Thanks for checking out Everlongardener this week!  Remember that you can subscribe for free in sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Plan Your 2017 Garden Now

What gets me happier than garden planning?  Not much!  Some girls are into fashion and manicures, but not me!  Planning my garden in winter is one of the best parts of the gardening process.  What are your plans for the upcoming garden season?  Do you need help with your 2017 garden plan?  Let’s start planning now!

Get Your Plan on Paper

How many times have I mentioned the idea of a garden journal?  There are many benefits to using one.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a place to record what you’ve done and plan your future gardens.  This way, you can look back to see what you planted last year.  A journal helps immensely with planning for crop rotation and deciding how much you can plant.  Have any of you tried a garden planning app?  I haven’t yet but if I found the right one it could be a thing.  Some gardeners map their garden plans out on the computer in grids.  I’m still in the notebook phase.  Graph paper is great too.

Garden planning.

After making a list of flowers and vegetables of your choice, map out your existing or planned garden spaces.  I have many raised beds, so I draw each one on my paper, make note of what was where last season and go from there.  Remember that a garden can be beautiful as well as practical.  Leaving room for beneficial flowers and herbs can help your plants along and host many pollinators.  You may have room for Succession Planting.  Any structures added to your garden for support can bring style and grace.

A rough sketch of the garden is all you need.

Choosing Seeds and Plants 

As you plan your garden, try to determine what you will grow from seed and whether you will start or buy seedlings.  If you have poor success with starting seeds indoors, maybe you won’t want to put so much effort into it.  You may want to purchase a few seedlings at the greenhouse.  Winter is the perfect time of year to order seeds.   Order early for best availability.  Many of our local garden centers have vast seed displays to choose from.  Mail order is still a very popular way of obtaining garden seeds.

Seed order brings hope of spring!

For more than a few of us, pouring over seed catalogs is a cozy winter pastime.  This is the stuff gardening dreams are made of.  With snow falling outside,  a warm blanket, cozy fire and a hot cup of tea.  Catalogs and pen in hand…let the circling begin!

Seed catalogs coming in the mail one by one!

There’s no need to go overboard though.  First, do a seed inventory.  Figure out which seeds are still good for planting in your collection.  Assess what you need and make a list.  If you have a small space, you may only be able to plant one or two varieties of each crop.  A larger plot will allow more than that.  Catalogs can be a bit overwhelming for a new gardener.  You will need to decide things like how many days to maturity, perennial vs. annual plants, bush or climbing types.  I addressed this in my article Decoding The Seed Packet.  The post includes just about all you ever wanted to know about selecting seeds.  With so many seed companies out there, why not try a company close to you?  Some companies specialize in heirloom varieties, some cater more to market growers.

Some varieties I’m trying this year.

Be Realistic

If this is your first vegetable garden, plan to start out small.  What should you think about when Getting Started In The Garden?  Many ambitious spring gardeners are left feeling exhausted by late summer because they took on too much.  Why not focus on 5 or 6 reliable vegetables, then you can build upon that next year.

Choose a site that offers 8-10 hours of sun a day, a site that is well suited to your landscape and one that is not too far from a water source.  You may even need to observe throughout the day how much sun your intended garden spot will get.

Will you be able to deal with the harvest?

Another question to ask yourself is about the harvest.  Of course, in the spring we are very eager to see all of those seeds we sow in the ground start to produce.  But let’s not forget that garden planning involves planning for the harvest.  If you will not be able to pick lettuce every few days, maybe that’s not the vegetable for you.  Or if you aren’t planning on canning tomatoes, should you plant 10-20 tomato seedlings?  Just some thoughts.

Garden harvest.

I have to say that I’m really excited about this years garden.  I’m not sure if it’s because of this blog or the new ideas that I would like to incorporate.  If anything else, I hope to spark some enthusiasm in all of you.  Not just to grow your largest garden ever, but maybe a garden that’s better than last year.  No matter how much planning we do, factors such as weather and pests can effect the outcome of our garden plans.

Bring in the harvest!

Now is the time to plan your 2017 vegetable garden!  Get out some paper, make some lists and get thinking about spring!  Our weather here has been up and down, hard to know which season it is.  Our pair of snow people have both melted into a puddle.  I guess that’s what they call January thaw! Thank you for reading this week here at Everlongardener.

Hilary|Everlongardener