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

 

5 Easy Vegetables For The Beginner Gardener

So many of the beginner gardeners that I talk to have an idea of what they want but don’t know how to get there.  The first vegetable garden I had in my adult life was very simple.  A few tomatoes, green beans and some lettuce.  Over the years, little by little, more types of flowers and vegetables have been added to my garden.  This is my list of 5 easy vegetables for beginner gardeners.

Green Beans

Whether you choose bush or pole beans, this easy vegetable can be a sure-fire crop.  Grow it well and you may be harvesting tons of beans.  Tasty, fresh green beans can be pricey in the stores but with just one packet of seeds you could be feeding quite a few people.

Wax bush beans.

First, decide if you are growing bush or pole beans.  Bush beans grow in a low, bushy formation and are fairly early.  Pole beans grow up a support and produce beans later than bush types.  For the first time gardener, you may want to start off with a few rows of bush beans.  If you are a bit more adventurous, add in two poles and grow climbing beans.  They will extend your bean harvest and can be easier to pick.

A mixture of wax and green beans.

We plant our bush beans in short rows and hill dirt around them as they grow.  To grow pole beans, you will need to plan for adequate supports well before planting day.  Bean teepees are popular or a trellis can be used.  We have an abundance of young trees in our woods, so we tend to set 10′ saplings in the ground fairly deep.  This may sound like overkill, but believe me, the bean vines are heavy and summer winds can be strong.

‘Romano’ pole beans climbing.

Look for tender varieties such as ‘Provider’, ‘Jade’ or French beans like ‘Hardicots Verts’.  Wax beans are pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.  Pole beans come in many lengths and colors.  Some favorites are ‘Romano’, a flat Italian and good old ‘Kentucky Wonder’.  I have to tell you that they are better than gold!

Lettuce

There are few things as glorious as making a salad from ingredients that you have grown yourself.  That being said, the foundation of such a salad is of course the lettuce.  Start with seeds in early spring.  Save some of your seeds for successive plantings.  With a little careful planning, you can harvest lettuce into the fall.

Leaf lettuce in the garden.

Some of the easiest lettuce varieties to grow are loose leaf types.  By cutting outer leaves, the lettuce plant is pushed to grow more leaves.  Pick colors and textures that appeal to you.  ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is an old standby that sports bright green ruffles.  ‘Red Salad Bowl’ is a staple of the spring garden.  ‘Mesclun’ mix is an easy choice for a colorful mix.  For some warm season types, try ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.  Other companies will carry a similar mixture that will be slow to bolt in the summer heat.

Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

Plant a few rows of lettuce seeds as soon as ground can be worked.  Pick up a few lettuce seedlings if you want to get a jump on production.  Then, plant a few seeds every two weeks or so.  You can count on a continual harvest.  Sow additional seed in August for months of fall salad greens.  To learn about extending the harvest, read about Succession Planting.

Peas

One of the earliest of vegetables is the garden pea.  Like beans, they come in bush and climbing varieties.  At our house, we like our garden peas for fresh eating.  They rarely, if ever, make it to the table.  We relish those first sweet, firm green peas.  Fresh peas are also excellent in green salads.

Peas climbing up the support.

Peas will need a support if they are climbers.  3′ chicken wire between two garden stakes works just fine.  Some gardeners use strings with much success.  Pick out early types like ‘Sugar Ann’ or ‘Sugar Snap’.  Peas can be planted out very early.  Make sure soil is not too wet.  Attempting to grow enough for the freezer may be a stretch for the beginner gardener.  Plant according to your space.

Radishes

Nothing makes you feel like a gardener more than pulling those first crisp radishes from the garden soil!  How many other vegetables can you really grow in less than 30 days?  Radishes are an obvious choice for adding into salads but their greens can be used in soups and stir-fry’s.

Radishes with salad greens.

One of the great things about growing radishes is that they are generally a cool season crop.  Plant your first seeds in early spring and plant another round in fall for a second harvest.  Radishes take up very little space so they can be planted on there own or inter-planted with other vegetables such as lettuce.

Radish harvest.

For spring radishes, choose a traditional red like ‘Cherry Belle’ or go for a mix of reds, purples, whites and pinks.  ‘White Icicle’ has a long cylindrical formation.  ‘French Breakfast’ is alwaysan elegant choice.  Make sure when choosing radish varieties, that you take the hotness factor into consideration.  You will want to be able to eat what you plant.

Tomatoes

What beginner garden would be complete without a few tomatoes?  Choose tomato types according to what you like to eat.  If you like to make sauce choose ‘San Marzano’ or ‘Amish Paste’.  For the salad eater, try currant, grape or cherry varieties like ‘Sun Gold’ or ‘Super Sweet 100’.  For the BLT lover, go for slicers like the reliable ‘Jetstar’.

A variety of beautiful tomatoes.

Tomatoes are generally prolific.  A gardener can stake, cage or string tomatoes for support.  Pruning suckers can ensure an earlier harvest as well as managing plant size.

Place tomatoes in zipper bag to freeze.

Preserving the harvest can be as easy as freezing whole tomatoes.  If you want to put up a few and don’t have time to can, simply cut out the blossom end and toss into a freezer bag.  When you need tomatoes for a recipe that calls for crushed tomatoes, place a few frozen tomatoes in a saucepan.  Add a bit of water and cook down.  Remove skin and pour thawed tomatoes into your chili or soup.  For more details, go to Quick Food Preservation Tips.

Small Garden Planning

Depending on the size of your garden space, you can stick with the 5 easy vegetables or add a few more favorites.  Understandably, a new garden will probably be one garden but I took the liberty of designing a two bed system.  Boards often come in 12′ lengths, so with 5-12′ boards, you can make 2 raised beds and only cut one of the boards.  One board can be cut in 3′ lengths for end pieces.  I have more tips for raised beds in the article Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening.

A small garden plan.

Notice that I’ve made room for our 5 easy vegetables.  This space allows for a few extras.  Two zucchini plants and two cucumbers are planted at the base of each bed.  There is room for 6 tomato plants along with bush and pole beans.  Flowers such as marigolds can be planted for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.  Try planting a few favorite herbs if you have the room.  Whatever you choose, start small.  You can always expand upon your garden next year.

Common marigold.

Some of you may be making a vegetable garden for the first time this year while others are looking to simplify their garden.  Of course, not everyone likes all of these vegetables.  Just swap out one for another.  Grow what you like.  If your plot is smaller, grow only two tomatoes and just grow the bush beans.  Play around with the dimensions on paper.

Spring officially begins next week.  I’m not sure if the weather will feel like spring though!  Keep on planning your garden, we will be there before you know it.  Here at Everlongardener, we are starting a few seeds and shoveling snow this week.  Thanks for reading this week and don’t forget to subscribe in sidebar for weekly blog posts.

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

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

DIY Pressed Flower Notecards

Ever since I was little, I’ve been pressing flowers in the summertime.  Every dictionary and encyclopedia we had was jammed with Queen Anne’s Lace, roses and just about any other wild flowers I could get my hands on.  Nowadays, I have my trusty 5 year old helper to assist me with all of my crafty projects.  With some blank cards and pressed plants we were ready to make some DIY pressed flower notecards!

In August, we went out to the garden to find flowers for pressing.  Not all flowers work well for this.  Look for flowers that have single petals.  You can even plant ahead for your future projects.  We like cosmos, nasturtiums, lobelia, individual hydrangea blossoms and French marigolds.  Pansies, daisies, borage, California poppies, delphiniums and ferns.   The possibilities are endless!  In fall, we collected various fallen leaves to press also.

On a dry day, pick the freshest specimens.  Fully opened flowers work best.  Bring a basket and scissors with you into the garden.  Press them as soon as possible to prevent wilting.

Pressing flowers last summer!

If you don’t have a real flower press, any heavy book will do.  Make sure that you use sheets of paper under and over the flowers that you press so they won’t bleed in the pages of your books.

Checking to see how our flowers turned out.

We were excited to see how our sweet little blooms did, sandwiched between the layers!  Like tiny jewels, our pressed flowers were adorable and glowing with color.

Make a flower garden picture!

Using a glue stick, we carefully placed the tiny flowers onto the cards.  Use your imagination!  Patterns, abstract, wherever you want to place them.  Pressed flower creations can even be framed under glass.

Position flowers where you want them to go.

Tweezers are very helpful.  But, these little fingers were eager to participate!

Add some foliage to your flowers.

Because we pressed foliage along with the blossoms, the cards have a very natural look.  Like miniature flower gardens ready to send in the mail!

Autumn leaves can be used too!

The colors of these autumn leaves really stayed true!

Cut clear plastic to fit cards.

After you have positioned all of the pressed flowers, it’s time to make sure they are not going to be crushed.  By using clear contact paper or laminating sheets, you can ensure a beautiful card that someone can treasure for some time to come.  They will adore their virtual bouquet!

Pair your card with an envelope.

Feel free to make your own cards and envelopes if you have the skill.  Blank cards and matching envelopes can be purchased in most craft or art stores.

Our finished cards, ready to send!

This project has made me look forward to next years flower gardens.  What to plant and what to preserve.  What crafts do you like to save for winter snow days?  This is an excellent nature craft for kids.  I hope it gives some inspiration to you!  Thanks for checking it out!

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

 

 

 

Good Intentions: Looking Ahead to the 2017 Garden

We often take on too much in life.  Sometimes this means we take on too much in the garden.  Many of our good intentions are never seen through to the end.  Although I have a fair amount of success with my garden, I actually have my share of fails each year.  Do you start out with good intentions?

Many of my readers probably assume that I’m in my garden 24/7. Although that may appear to be the case, I rarely spend more than an hour at a time in the vegetable gardens.  Spring and fall bring times for cleanup.  Flower and vegetable beds need some attention and edging. Dead heading and weeding are done here and there.  I have quite a few gardens now but I try to keep things manageable, keeping work to a minimum.

Frozen geraniums!

We all have some major fails when it comes to gardening.  It’s really part of the learning experience.  Most of the time for me, procrastination is to blame.  Every year, I say that I’m going to bring my geraniums in and I’m going to do just the right thing to keep them for next year.  Then, I put it off, only to realize that they are frozen!

Frozen pumpkin.

Look at all that pumpkin I could have put up for winter.  I kept on thinking that I would do it tomorrow!  Didn’t happen!

Another pumpkin that froze!

I also intended to turn my compost pile and start a new one.  But, there it sits.  No air circulation, compact and cold.

The compost pile…

In Maine, we suffered from very low rainfall this past year.  I never got around to hooking up the soaker hose to the upper garden.  The bed happened to be where all of our beans were planted.  I had a modest bean harvest but it definitely wasn’t as good as years past.  This year, my husband is talking about running a line up to the greenhouse and to the bed in front of it.  This will certainly help my watering efforts and maybe he won’t run over the hose so often with the lawn mower!

Then there were the window boxes on my garden shed.  They did pretty well but by August, if I wasn’t watering every day, they were toast! Maybe it’s time for some self-watering boxes from Gardeners Supply?

Digging up the irises.

Oh yes, then there was that time that I did the article on dividing irises. Well, just the other day I realized that I forgot to replant them after I divided them!  Is it okay to plant the rhizomes with snow on the ground? We will see!

Baby green bean!

Some of the top articles of this year were Growing Great Garlic In 4 Easy Steps, A Friends Garden and Growing Great Swiss Chard.  A few of you seem to identify with my ‘Reflections and Ramblings’ series including A Throwback To Times Gone By and Apple Trees in Bloom: A Window To The Past.  I know that I tend to present a variety of topics but gardening and nature appreciation involves so much of what’s around us.    Gardening involves so much more than the piece of land that we own.  I encompasses the whole area around us and beyond.

Here is a look back at some of my gardening photos for this past year.  Looks like we had a colorful year!  I have many good intentions.  My garden plan is taking shape, seeds are ordered and somehow I’m itching to begin all over again!  I look forward to more vertical growing, getting my Master Gardener status back and implementing more no-dig gardening techniques.  If you also are feeling ambitious, take it slow, put things on paper and be reasonable about the time that you have.

Some of my favorite garden and landscape pictures from 2016.

I feel that this post could have easily been called ‘Confessions of An Overwhelmed Gardener’!  A friend told me the other day that I make it look so easy.  I try to make it easy.  Otherwise I may not do it.  So, after this year of blogging, I sincerely hope that I’ve given inspiration and maybe even pushed you to keep going.  It has been a joy to present all of these gardening topics and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading along.  If anything, I’ve loved sharing my garden with all of you!  Thanks again!  I have a lot in store this coming year!  Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, all under Everlongardener!  And subscribe for weekly gardening emails!

Hilary|Everlongardener