Tag Archive for: Gardening Tips

Tomato Seedling

When it comes to starting their own heirloom seeds, home gardeners seem to be in two distinct camps- those that are really positive about the process and results, and those that aren’t. The folks that aren’t too excited about starting their own seeds usually have a good reason- they’ve had some failures with die-off and had to scramble to buy starts at the local garden center and wound up with something that they didn’t really want. Others haven’t tried their own starts, but feel that it is complicated or difficult. There are some very compelling reasons to start your own seedlings, but there are some challenges to overcome as well. We will look at several items to consider in making the decision of whether or not to do your own starts, along with some tips to get you started successfully.

Why start your own seeds? What advantages/disadvantages are there?

  • You have a much greater range of choice on what to grow as you are not limited to what’s available at the local garden center, hardware store or Farmer’s Market.
  • Gives a great creative outlet to “cabin fever” that sets in before the garden can be worked, allows you to be “growing something” early on.
  • There is greater flexibility on timing to get them started. You can start them to work with your schedule, or to take advantage of getting bigger, earlier producing plants in the garden sooner.
  • Starting your own seeds gives earlier veggies from the garden, as you start on your schedule, not depending on a regional greenhouse schedule.  For example- here in AZ, most starts come from the central valley of CA, where timing is completely different, sometimes by a factor of several weeks.
  • Home gardeners can usually  grow bigger, healthier plants than a commercial greenhouse, as there is more attention per plant. Less diseases/issues than from large scale grower.
  • Seed starting does require some planning and effort, not as easy as going down and picking out what seedling to buy.
  • Does require some set up and equipment, but not much to get started. Will require some space, but not much on start-up.
  • Transplants give you a head start on weeds and the weather. A tomato or pepper that is 2 feet tall will have little to no competition from weeds that are just getting started.

Now that you know the pro’s and con’s of starting your own seeds, how does one go about actually doing it? As with just about anything, there is some planning and preparation involved, but not too much. Remember how we talk about getting started in the garden- start small, start simply, but get started? The same thought process applies here as well. Set yourself up for success, not frustration, headaches and failure. Take the time to do some initial planning  and set up and you’ll be off to a great start.

Plan and arrange the seed starting area

  • Start simply and easily, you may have most of the items on hand.
  • A key factor for successful germination is a warm area to sprout seeds- can be the top of a refrigerator, freezer, window sill in south-facing room. etc. Most of the calls we receive about seeds not germinating is traced to this factor. When the temperature of the soil is optimum- seeds can and will “pop” in 5 days, no matter if they are tomatoes, peppers or eggplant! When the soil temperature is less than 70F, it can take 2 weeks to sprout- there is that much of a difference!
  • Supplemental heat may be needed. Soil temperatures need to be above 80F for faster germination. The ideal soil temperature for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant is 85F. Rarely are people comfortable at that temperature!  Air temperature may be 5-10F different than soil temperature due to evaporative effects of moist soil. Heating pads, germination heat mats, old electric blankets, etc can work to raise soil temperature to where it needs to be. Monitor soil temperatures to avoid over-heating. A heat mat will work even if the air temperature is 60-65F.
  • Supplemental lighting may be needed after seeds sprout and develop true leaves. This can range from specific grow lights to common fluorescent fixtures with grow bulbs. Lights need to be moveable to keep about 2-4 inches above plants. Seedlings need 14-18 hours of light per day.
  • Humidity levels need to be high when seeds are sprouting, then less so as they develop and continue to grow. Domed lids on grow trays are great and have adjustable vents to maintain humidity levels. Plastic sheeting, such as painter’s drop cloth, will work just as well. Make sure to inspect the seedlings for mold or fungus growth on top of the soil, which is an indication of too much humidity and too little air circulation. After the seedlings grow their second set of true leaves, humidity is less important.  Of course, in areas of high humidity, often nothing else is needed.

Once the area is planned and prepared, the equipment is all that is left and you’re ready to start some seedlings! The equipment can be very basic of pretty involved, but again- start small and simple. It is amazing how well seeds sprout in a soil block that is free or paper pot that is next to free! Sometimes they sprout better than in much more expensive and complex equipment.

Gather the equipment needed

See our Seed Starting Department for books and tools to help you be more successful in starting your seeds.

  • Plastic trays for seedling sets and containers for individual seedlings. Domed lids or plastic sheeting may be needed in low humidity areas.
  • Seed cups or containers. These can range from peat pots to homemade paper pots to handmade soil blocks to recycled yogurt/dixie cups. What is needed is something that will support the individual seedlings and feed them until they are ready for transplanting.
  • Soil or seed starting mix. These range from several readily available commercial ready to use seed starting mixes that have no soil and are sterile to lessen the chance of fungus and diseases, to a number of ingredients that make for a great homemade seed starting mix.  We will cover some of these in more depth in another article.
  • Misters or sprayers. A small squirt bottle sprayer or mister works great to apply very small amounts of water to the seedlings. A small hand pump sprayer can be valuable as well to give a bit more water without having to pump constantly, especially for larger amounts of seed trays.
  • Soil thermometer. This gives you an accurate indication of what the soil temperature is, regardless of the air temperature.

Introduction to Seed Starting video with Terroir Seeds

We have created a short video showing how we have started seeds for several years now. This is the result of many experiments and really works well for us. By no means is this is the only way to do it, as we know of several different but equally effective ways to get seedlings started at home. This is just what works for us, and the expense didn’t break the bank. We constructed this in stages after experience and experiments taught us what works in our situation. This takes up little space and produces a lot of seedlings for our trial garden. Take a look and please let us know your thoughts, ideas and experiences that we can share with everyone else!

Szechuan Buttons CACloseup

Szechuan Buttons – Secret Ingredient of Celebrity Chefs and Master Bartenders

One of our best selling herbs is the Toothache Plant or Szechuan Buttons. Spilanthes oleracea, also known as Acmella oleracea is a low-growing plant with bronze-purple leaves hosting yellow/red “gumdrop” flowers that bloom repeatedly summer through fall. The medicinal uses of spilanthes have been around for a long time. A mouth rinse of spilanthes extract can be used daily to promote gum health. In vitro testing has shown that the plant’s extract has strong effect against E.coli, pseudomonas, salmonella, klebsiella pneumonae and staphylococcus albus, as well as inhibiting the growth of candida albicans. Improves digestion, eases flatulence, improves the appetite, and helps to overcome nausea and vomiting by its stimulating effect on the salivary glands.

We don’t sell spilanthes soleley for its medicinal properties but also for its “Rock Star” qualities. NPR has a story about using the Szechuan Buttons in high-end restaurants and bars. The Washington Post did one as well. We were very intrigued and had to grow these amazing little plants last summer to see for ourselves, had a nibble of the traditionally used leaves and it makes your mouth tingle. It is like the old pop rocks candy, a very effervescent feeling. The fresh buttons sell for somewhere around $40 for a bag of 30 buttons, but if you grow them yourself it’s around $3.50 for a packet of 30 seeds, and you’ll grow hundreds of buttons! Freezing does not hurt their buzz, so you can have them year round.

Get your seeds here!

We also had to try out the buttons on a cocktail. What follows is a short photo essay of this experience. We would highly recommend growing the plant for its rock star presence but also for the beauty it adds to the garden.

 

Starting with this –

Szechuan Buttons

Szechuan Buttons in the garden

 

We selected three great specimens.

Szechuan Buttons in hand

Szechuan Buttons ready for use

 

With the ingredients gathered, we were ready to start.

Szechuan Buttons ready for use

All ingredients are ready

 

After the drink is made, the magic is ready to be put into play! The Buttons must be pressed into the rim of the glass firmly, as the bud needs to be slightly crushed to release the “Buzz”.

Szechuan Buttons on glass

Szechuan Buttons in action

We were surprised at the strength of the tingle and how long it lasted. Any part of our mouths or tongues that touched the rim of the glass had an immediately noticeable tingling or buzzing feeling, along with some numbness of the tongue that lasted at least 20 minutes. The height of the effect easily lasted 10-12 minutes, with a slow tapering off toward the end.

Seeing how easy it is to grow these, you can be the producer of a lot of “Buzz”!

Moscow Spring Garden

Now that the days are becoming slightly longer, the holidays are over and life is getting back to whatever consists of normal for you and your family, it’s time to dig into our garden seed catalog and start planning the eternally anticipated Spring garden.

After spending a little time reading – and realizing that you want to plant one of everything – the realization sinks in that this could be some work, and that’s before the real work of actually digging in the garden even begins!

What to plant, how to plant, when to plant, what will grow for me, should I start my heirloom tomatoes from seed or just buy starts, what do I need to do for my soil, and what exactly is succession planting are all questions that crop up and need answers.

All of a sudden, a garden seems pretty intimidating, definitely not for amateurs and something that might be best left to the experts. Well guess what? Everyone was an amateur at some point, starting out with not much knowledge and needing some help. It is easier to start your home garden today than in any other time in history, as there are mountains of information and education out there and it is all pretty easy to find. The Internet is full of good gardening advice in many areas.

What we will look at today are some points to consider about your home garden, we’ll do some initial planning and pass along some tools that will be very helpful in building your toolbox of gardening knowledge and problem solving. Let’s get started!

Now is the perfect time to start planning for what you want to do in your garden next year. Just get the planning started, then work on it as ideas bubble up from your subconscious. This way, you won’t be caught short when time becomes an issue in a couple of months.

To help you get the process rolling, we have the following points to consider, along with some tools to help get you there sooner.

1. Review last year’s garden. How did it do? Did you start enough seeds/seedlings to compensate for losses due to transplanting, weather, critters etc.? Were plants healthy and productive, or were there issues that need some researching, such as pests, insects, disease, weather conditions to plan for or try to mitigate?

We found that the rabbits and deer were a factor we didn’t even consider in planning how much of the White Eagle corn we planted as a test plot for growing our own heirloom seed corn. They took out almost a third of our crop! This is something that we will be planning for (in a couple of ways) in this year’s planting.

2. Plan early for varieties that might need a longer growing season, or take longer to germinate. This isn’t just a beginner’s mistake, many experienced gardeners get caught out on the timing for their garden. We’ll show you how to do the date planning later on in this article. Then it is just a matter of writing down the seed starting dates on a garden calender and sticking to the plan.

If you give yourself at least a week “cushion” on the timing, you won’t be stressed if you can’t get the seeds started or transplanted on the date you’ve chosen, whether due to busy schedules or the weather or some other unforeseen happening.

3. Try one new variety this year that you’ve never had out of your garden. It may be something that you don’t think you’ll like, or it may just be something that you’ve never had fresh just moments before from your own garden.

This was eggplant for me, and I now love it- from my own garden. This year it just might be turnips, as I’ve never had fresh turnips!

4. Make a garden plan. This can greatly help with spacing, intensive planting, succession planting and growing more food in your existing space. Also helps with small space/container growing.

Download and use our Garden Journal for more information and help.

Mother Earth News has a Vegetable Garden Planner that has several short videos showing how to get started. It is free for the first 30 days, and is $25 for a years subscription. There are other free garden planners if you do a search online.

5. Grow an herb this year. You won’t believe the exquisite flavor that one fresh heirloom herb can bring to your kitchen and meals. If you’ve grown herbs before, or are growing some now- try a new one.

To start, try something that is used extensively in cooking like Basil, Oregano or Thyme. All of these can be dried and used year round, with the added benefit of saving you money buying expensive dried herbs.

6. Plant some pollinator attractants. These can be herbs or flowers and will dramatically help your garden’s production. Just one or two varieties planted throughout the garden can make a huge difference.

7. Plan to save one variety of seed this year. Start with something easy and something that you are interested in. Read our Seed Saving articles to get started, or take a look at these books-  “Saving Vegetable Seeds” is a new book that has great illustrations and introductions, while “Seed to Seed” is the established reference for all things seed saving.

8. Plant enough to share with a neighbor/senior center home or food bank. Plant an extra row if possible, a couple of plants extra if space is small. The difference even one gardener can make in another’s life is extraordinary!

Plant a Row for the Hungry is a public service program of the Garden Writers Association and has donated over 14 million pounds of food since 1995 to feed hungry folks in our local neighborhoods and communities across the nation. This is without government assistance, oversight, subsidy or bureaucratic red tape — just people helping people. It was started in Anchorage, Alaska by Jeff Lowenfels to provide food for Bean’s Cafe, a local soup kitchen.

9. Get your kids or grand-kids involved. Have them help plan the garden and plant something just for them. Don’t have kids or grand-kids? Use the neighbors, friends, etc. Start them on growing food and learning where our food comes from and how it gets to the plate. You will be surprised at how interested kids are in the garden once they are there. Combine this with #7 above and help them learn the full cycle of the garden from planting a seed to harvesting a seed.

10. Cook a meal with those kids mentioned above. Plan a simple, easy to make meal. Have them help harvest, clean and prepare the meal.

11. Review our website. If you have questions or need help, please, email or call us. We’re here to help you be more successful in your garden. We make our living on the sale of heirloom seeds, tools, books, etc. but if we can help you be more successful in your garden, everyone wins.

Here’s how we see it: you have a better garden, more fresh veggies and more food. You give some to your neighbor, who notices your garden is much more productive, disease, insect and pest resistant and they ask how you do it. You share what you’ve learned and they have a better garden with more food. They then help create a better, more resilient local food system.

Yes, we may get a few more customers, but that isn’t the point or the focus. Another possibility is that you do plant a row to donate, and make the local food bank, soup kitchen or retirement home’s day with fresh, healthy and tasty food.

All right, then- now that you’ve got plenty of ideas of what to do with your garden this year, how do you get started?

Getting the timeline down is one of the hardest parts, as there is some real confusion on when to start seeds, when to till the soil, when to direct sow these seeds and transplant those to get some great food growing in your garden. There is no fail-proof method, as even experience can be tripped up by an early spring followed up by a sneaky late cold snap that kills your tender seedlings.

Here is a good tool to get some real world, historical weather data from the three closest weather stations to your zip code- the First and Last Frost Dates by Zip Code. Once you are there, add in your Zip code, click Go and this is similar to what you will see:

First and Last Frost Dates by Zip Code

First and Last Frost Dates by Zip Code

We are using our Zip code of Chino Valley, AZ for this example. Click on the photo to make it bigger.

There is a lot of useful information here, so let’s break it down a bit to make sense of all of this. The three weather stations are included for locations that might not be really close to any one of the stations, so you can make an educated guess on dates. We are closest to the Chino Valley weather station, so that is what we will use.

The first box says this-

  • Each winter, on average, your risk of frost is from October 5 through May 26.
  • Almost certainly, however, you will receive frost from October 22 through May 5.
  • You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from June 15 through September 17.
  • Your frost-free growing season is around 132 days.

This is good information to use in planning your garden and in choosing varieties to plant that will be able to grow in your garden, with your growing season. For instance- if your growing season is 60 days, like our friends in Flagstaff, AZ, then you want to be careful in choosing too many things that need 90 days to produce food, if you don’t have a greenhouse or shelter for protection. This information also gives you a good idea of first and last frost dates, but we can get more selective with the information below this top box.

The next three boxes are the historical data from the closest weather stations to your Zip code. The top line of each box is the chance- in percentage- of a frost happening. So 10% is a really low chance, while 90% is a high chance. The temperatures on the left side represent the different frosts- 32F is considered a light frost, 28F is a moderate frost and 24F is a killing or hard frost. For garden planning, look at the 32F line. I usually choose the 50% column to start, then work from there. In our example 50% chance of a 32F frost in Chino Valley in Spring is May 4. This corresponds with the traditional time to direct sow and transplant of May 7-10 locally. Direct sowing cool season crops can be done up to 4-6 weeks earlier in some locations.

To get the timeline correct on starting seedlings like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant- subtract at least 6-8 weeks to allow the seedlings time to grow and get strong enough for transplanting. The more time seedlings have, the bigger and stronger they will be. They will also take up more space, so allow for that as well. We try to give the tomatoes and peppers a minimum of 8 weeks before transplanting them, as we always seem to have some weird weather event that causes havoc with younger, more tender seedlings. We’ve found that the larger ones blow through a heavy wind or late frost without too much worry.

So here is how the math looks and works-

In our example May 4 is the earliest date to direct sow and transplant tender varieties. We want to subtract 8 weeks from that to determine our seed starting date for transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. This takes us to March 9, give or take a week or so. This is where the beauty of planning comes in, as you can “fudge” the dates by a week or so on each end if needed and still be very successful. For example: you are swamped the week you are scheduled to plant seeds for transplants, and get them planted one week late. On the other end, you can very easily just wait one more week if needed (weather, hectic schedule) before transplanting the seedlings into the garden. Getting them started a little earlier and waiting a little longer will only give you bigger, stronger transplants.

This tool also works very well for planning your timeline for direct sowing those early season, cool weather crops that go in earlier than anything else. All of our seed packets have planting instructions on the back, and some will indicate that they can be planted a certain number weeks before the last frost.

One last tool to leave you with is your local Master Gardeners. Click on the link, select your state, then county to see where your local Master Gardeners are located. These are volunteers through the land grant universities in each state. They will have really good, accurate information on your local conditions, pest and disease pressures and general gardening information. They are good folks to get to know. Some are mainly flower gardeners, while others focus more on vegetables, so talk with a few of them.

The Master Gardener manual lists good planting timelines for local conditions for pretty much all of the garden crops, what kind of production can be expected for each crop and how many feet of garden to plant per person. You can also do a search for “Arizona planting guide” or “Arizona garden planting guide” substituting Arizona for your state. The search results will show something like “Arizona Master Gardener Manual”. You can then download or print this to have for your future reference. The local Master Gardener office can also make copies for you if you ask.

There you have it, a lot of information to help you get more out of your garden and some great tools to get the planning and timing under control. It can seem daunting at first, so start small and simple, get a good feel for how it works for you, then expand as needed. Make sure to use the Garden Journal to keep track of what worked well and what didn’t so you don’t get frustrated and repeat your mistakes. As always, we are here to help and advise you on growing a better, bigger garden!

The Dirty Life

One of the things that I most enjoyed about The Dirty Life is that it is a story about a real woman in today’s world.  She begins as a savvy New York freelance writer, and winds up as a deeply devoted farm wife.  This journey is not something that she consciously chooses in the beginning, but becomes something that takes hold of her and pulls her in an entirely new direction.

She is completely unprepared for her first meeting with the farmer who becomes her husband, but soon realizes that there are deeply rooted forces in her life that cannot be ignored.  To her credit, she does not run away from a completely alien experience on her first meeting with Mark, her future husband.  She believes that she is happy with her New York life, but soon realizes that the simple farm life offers a deep soul satisfying choice that is completely unmatched in the superficial, upwardly mobile city.  This is not to say that the farm life is easier than trying to make a living in the city, as it is much more difficult physically and emotionally yet is in many ways more rewarding.

Kristin tells the story mainly from her point of view, yet offers insights into the conviction that drives her husband on the farm.  She tells her story in a real, unglossy way that shows both the beauty and the heartache of farm life.  The audacity of two young, somewhat inexperienced people in starting a farm that supplies all of the food for a small community of subscribers comes through clearly.  Food is a focal point of the book; from the fresh, vibrant produce of the farm to the upscale cafes in New York.

Part of the core of this book is about chasing a dream and the joys and frustrations experienced in the chase.  Another  is a young woman’s journey into a deep relationship that she had hoped for but never expected to have.  Yet another shows the daily challenges involved in growing our food.  Watching the success happen only after much hard work is refreshing to see in today’s age of expected instant gratification.

This is an inspirational yet cautionary tale for anyone thinking of taking up farming as a profession.  She clearly shows that success is very possible, but the work is hard, long and arduous.  Watching her travel the path to the dedication needed to make both her marriage and the farm work is part of what keeps this book open and approachable.

A very enjoyable read, and one that’s worth going back to several times.

Cool Season Vegetables

Fall and Winter Gardening- Plan in the Summer for Cool Season Harvests

Fall and Winter gardening starts in the heat of summer, when most gardeners want to wait before planning or planting anything.

Plan for a spectacular cool season garden delivering delicious, crispy vegetables when the weather is hot.

Plant as the weather starts cooling down, but with plenty of time before the first frost.

Fall and Winter gardening is somewhat counter-intuitive for many gardeners. The traditional “Plant in Spring, harvest in Fall” approach limits how much food can be grown.

Most home gardens in North America can grow vegetables for 3 seasons a year, or up to 8 or 9 months in your current garden. With a little more structure, growing year-round is possible and realistic.

Don’t believe me?

Eliot Coleman is perhaps the best known spokesman for year-round vegetable production. He has been successful in growing almost year round on his small acreage in Maine since the late 1970s. After discovering the best systems for his farm, he routinely out-produces farms 3 times larger.

If this is possible in Maine, a state not known for its long growing seasons, can it be possible in your garden?

Absolutely!

Plant Fall and Winter crops 8-10 weeks before the first frost. This gives the seedlings a head start before cool weather arrives.

Plan for Success

Dave’s Garden has a great first and last frost dates guide by ZIP code. Click the link, enter your ZIP code, click “Go” and you’ll see a chart that starts like this, but with your data:

Frost Dates Header

The detailed data shows 3 charts based on historical data from the weather stations near your ZIP code. Choose the one closest to you, even if it isn’t right in your neighborhood.

For this article, we are using our home data from Chino Valley, AZ.

Chino Valley Frost Dates

The red circle shows our first expected frost date, based on historical temperature data. This is the intersection of the Fall 32°F line and 50% column, meaning this is when we should expect a mild frost. 

32°F is a mild frost, with 28°F being a medium frost and 24°F a killing frost.

Our first expected frost is October 21, with the killing frost November 8. Find your first frost date exactly the same way – the 50% chance of a Fall 32° night. 

There is a lot of information packed into these dates, so here’s how to have a better garden using these details.

A successful Fall planting comes from knowing a few details and working to the ideal dates on a calendar. You need to know the expected first frost date and the number of days to maturity for what you want to grow. 

The following formula will give you the perfect time to plant –

Fall Direct Sowing Formula

Average days to maturity (harvest time frame) + 2 weeks for Fall weather factor = number of days to count backwards from first frost date for good garden production.

The average days to maturity can be found on the seed packet or the description page of our website. The Fall weather factor accounts for slower growth in cooler weather and shorter days.

Direct sowing example –  

  • our 50% chance of frost to 32°F is Oct 21
  • the Bull’s Blood Beet is a 55 day beet  
  • we add 2 weeks for the Fall weather factor

This adds up to 69 days – 55 days for the beet + 14 days Fall weather factor = 69 days, or 10 weeks. From Oct 21 we count backward 10 weeks which is the week of August 12.

Fall Transplanting Formula

For even more production, transplant leafy crops like kale, lettuce, cabbage, spinach and such. These seedlings only need to be three or four inches tall, unlike tomatoes and peppers in the spring garden.

Use the direct sowing formula, but add 10 – 14 days for growing the seeds to transplanting stage. For transplanting, the formula looks like this –  

Transplant stage (10 – 14 days) + average days to maturity (harvest time frame) + 2 weeks for Fall weather factor = number of days to count backwards from first frost date for good garden production.

Transplanting example – 

  • our 50% chance of frost to 32°F is Oct 21
  • the Spinach Beet-Greens is a 60 day Swiss chard  
  • we add 2 weeks for the Fall weather factor
  • add 10 – 14 days for transplant stage

This adds up to 84 days – 60 days for the Swiss chard + 10 days for transplant stage + 14 days Fall weather factor = 84 days, or 12 weeks. From Oct 21 we count backward 12 weeks which is the week of July 29.

Many fall crops do well when started inside then transplanted into the garden. You transplant the seedling as soon as it is three inches tall.

Plant them a little deeper than normal, so they don’t dry out as fast once transplanted in the garden. A thick layer of straw mulch will help get them off to a great start, helping to keep needed moisture. Remember, these are transplanted in the heat of the Summer so they need different protection than in the early Spring.

Here’s Why it Works

This approach gives us a couple of hedge factors, as the 32°F date is at 50% – meaning a medium chance of a lighter frost, which will usually give us a week or more past that.

We don’t count on it, but will use it if given the extra time. This is where the Garden Journal comes in handy, as you can record the frost dates for use in the coming years. Another hedge factor comes into play when planting fast-maturing varieties- this gives you an extra edge in time over slower maturing ones. For example – a smaller 40 day carrot vs a larger 60 day one. 

These examples assume the garden is finished when the frost hits. You can extend the season with row covers, low tunnels or other frost protection, sometimes several weeks!

What to Plant 

Now that you know when to plant, what should you plant?

The obvious answer is to start with what you like to eat and go from there. The list of what will do well in the Fall garden is pretty extensive- many familiar and some not so much.

Kale, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, leeks, spinach, lettuces and onions are pretty easy. Maché, radish, mustard greens, kohlrabi, parsley, radicchio, sorrel, turnips and cress are not so familiar to most gardeners, yet are both delicious and nutritious. 

 

How to Get Started Planting

How do you integrate this into your existing garden?

That’s the easy part!

Space opens up as you harvest, making room for the Fall and Winter planting. Start with rows of fast-growing vegetables such as lettuces, carrots, beets, radishes. Start small and go from there. See what works, what you like and adjust the size as needed.

You now have the tools to grow the tastiest vegetables and greens from your own Fall and Winter garden! Most varieties that do well for Fall gardening gain flavor as the weather turns cool. Many become sweeter while others gain richness in flavors. You will only find these flavors in your own home garden!

…and here’s some reasons why!

This was actually the second snow of this weekend, the first came in Friday night and was melted off by mid-morning Saturday. We got a second snowstorm Saturday afternoon that left the garden like this Sunday morning- April 10! Our normal direct sowing date is just under a month away- about May 7 or so.

By this afternoon the garden had returned to looking normal…

 

April's Frosty Weathervane

April’s Frosty Weathervane

I just couldn’t pass this up, much too charismatic! I love how the snow/frost has crystallized on the surface, making it look almost furry.

 

Fogbound snowy neighbor

Fogbound snowy neighbor

1920’s Sears and Roebuck Craftsman style house, across our back horse pen. Moved here a few years ago from just a couple miles down the road when the alfalfa farm was sold for development. Originally built by a Russian immigrant family. Dad spent 11 years making the bricks to build the house, by hand, each and every day. Tastefully refinished with a nice wrap around porch and the original oak hardwood floors brought back to life.

Never has sold, was finished just before the market blew up. I love the feeling this has.

Hope you enjoyed some beautiful sights this weekend!

 

 

The snows have melted off, but the clouds are gathering for more rain or possibly snow showers on Monday. We have gotten some prep work done in the garden, and are ready to broadfork the raised beds, apply the Azomite and lay in some compost. First, though, we will need a less windy day.

After the first week, we have some seedlings up! Here are a partial listing of what is up-

Principe Borghese tomato

Goldman’s Italian-American tomato

Wild Galapagos tomato

Silvery Fir Tree tomato

There are a few more that we are trialing this year, so we can’t say quite yet what they are. After we get some good indication, we will let you in on what might be a new offering in the next year or so!

 

This video is from March 6,2011.

Enjoy!

Let us know if you have questions, or want something covered in more detail.

Tomato Seedling

This year, we will show you how our garden grows!

Through a series of videos, you can watch how we start seeds, what equipment and techniques we use, and see the growth of our trial garden. We will share our successes as well as the challenges and failures. At this point, we are planning to update this post once a week, so check back often to see the latest. We will post updates on FaceBook as well as our eNewsletter.

The first video is from February 27, 2011.

Enjoy!

Please ask us your questions, or if you want details on something that we cover, please ask about it!

We’ve talked about how the squash bugs were wreaking havoc on our squash, zucchini and pumpkin plants in several of our Newsletters and asked our readers to talk to us and let us know their ideas and experiences in dealing with this critter that destroys otherwise healthy and productive plants overnight.

We found out that these bugs are a serious threat all across the US and Canada as well, so no area is more vulnerable or immune to them. Several people shared their experiences with companion planting, with mixed results. Some had good results, some had no change and some had differing results depending on the year. Many of you have said this is the most difficult garden pest to deal with, as it doesn’t seem to respond universally to anything or any approach. The bugs will overwinter under almost any debris, woodchips or other small shelter and re-engage their destructive behavior in the Spring, making their control a multi-year program.

The two most successful methods were spraying of Neem oil, either by itself or mixed with water, or Guinea hens in the garden. The Guinea hens seems like the most reliable method of controlling the bugs, if you’re able to get and keep the hens. They also seem to be the favorite bug controlling critter, regardless of what bugs you have. The Neem oil not only smothers the bugs, but slows their feeding and greatly reduces their reproduction if they ingest it. Several resources mentioned Neem oil as one of the foundational treatments for the squash bugs.

We were hoping for a somewhat universal approach, and one of our readers, Joann from Michigan sent us this recipe, and she says it will kill the bugs, not just drive them away! This looks to be a promising approach that will not only help with the immediate problems but speed up the decrease in population for next years program.

Garlic Juice Concentrate for Squash Bugs
This recipe should kill the squash bugs, not just drive them off.
Ingredients
  • 4 Tsp baking soda Anti fungal properties, also stops powdery mildew type problems
  • 1 Tsp vegetable oil Smothering agent Neem oil would work well here. The amount could be doubled.
  • 1 Tsp organic soap Emulsifier/sticker/smothering agent Best to use a natural soap such as Dr. Bronner’s and not a detergent that can harm the soil organisms as it sticks around much longer. The peppermint variety seems to work well from Dr. Bronner's.
  • 1 to 2 Tbs garlic juice To make juice: 1 medium bulb (not clove) of garlic blended with 1 to 2 cups of water. Let sit a minimum of 15 minutes and strain.
  • 1 medium onion Made into a juice concentrate as above.
  • 1 Tbs dried cayenne pepper.
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients together in a bottle with a screw top and shake well to mix.
  2. Add concentrate to a gallon of water and spray liberally. Repeat as often as needed to drive off or kill the squash bugs.
Recipe Notes

Daily hand-picking seems to be very effective as well. Some of our readers use a battery powered vacuum to help with this chore!

Add concentrate to a gallon of water and spray liberally. Repeat as often as needed to drive off or kill the squash bugs.

We will be trying this recipe to see how it works for us. Please let us know your experiences, or if you have a different approach that has proven to be effective, please let us know so we can share it!

We recently completed our second salad growing bed in our greenhouse, and here’s how we did it!

 

We started the salad growing bed so that we would have fresh salad greens during the Fall, Winter and early Spring when the garden wasn’t growing or things were just coming up. We can supplement our diet with fresh, healthy and extremely nutritious greens like lettuce, Swiss Chard, beets and beet tops, carrots, mustards and even some kale if we want to.

The salad bed has it’s own heat cable buried at the bottom of the sand under the growing soil, so the roots stay warm and don’t need external, expensive heat in the greenhouse during the colder seasons. We grew fresh greens almost all winter in one bed, and have expanded into a second bed.

Both beds are 6 ft long, 18 inches wide and 13 inches deep. The material was from a local metal recycling facility and is really heavy corrugated sheet metal. We bought 3/4 inch thick exterior grade plywood, drilled 21 drain holes in the bottom and sealed it with an exterior decking stain. We then screwed the corners of the sheet metal together and inserted the plywood bottom into the bottom slot made by the corrugations, and screwed it to the sheet metal as well.

Next we put the heating cable in. This is a sealed unit made to heat seed beds that has a built in thermostat. We attached it to the bottom side of 1/4 inch hardware cloth- a heavy metal mesh- to prevent damage to the cable if we needed to dig into the soil. You can see the drain holes in the plywood here.

This is part of the magic that allows us to be able to grow tender greens year round in an unheated greenhouse. Many people don’t realize how little it takes to be able to grow their own fresh green produce year round at their home. They are used to the idea of the Spring through early Fall garden, but that is it. The thought of growing farther into the year, and starting earlier, is new to most people.

However, there is much more time available to grow if you look at things a little unconventionally, and look at ways to manage the temperature and moisture to extend your growing season. Whether it is a weekend project like this, or it is constructing a small row cover from PVC and heavy weight painter’s plastic drop cloth from your local hardware store, you can positively affect your growing season with a little work that will pay you back for several years.

After the cable/mesh was laid down, we put about 2-3 inches of sand. The sand acts as a medium of heat exchange to heat the growing soil from the bottom up. It is surprising how little heat is needed to make a real difference. We had several nights at freezing after we started the salad pit growing, with a plastic sheet draped over the top, and the little “saladlings” did just fine. The water trickles down and keeps the sand moist, which acts as a perfect heat conductor to the soil above.

The soil was put in next- about 5-6 inches of good organic potting soil. We saved some time and bought some pre-made potting soil that is certified organic and has mycorrhizae added to it to help the roots develop into the soil better. The mycorrhizae are microscopic fungi that help both the plant get more nutrition out of the soil, as they extend the reach of the root’s micro tendrils into the soil and bring in nutrients that were out of reach of the roots. The plants will grow stronger and have more vigor, production and disease and pest resistance. In return the plants feed a sugar substance to the mycorrhizae. A wonderful symbiotic relationship!

After some gentle watering to get the soil and sand below well moistened but not wet, the salad bed is ready to plant! The new bed is in the foreground, with the established bed in the background. You can see the difference in growth in the first salad bed from this photo as compared to the top photo.

One of the hidden benefits to growing salad greens this way is the lack of dirt in the greens when harvested. There is no wind or rains to push dirt up on the leaves and stems, so the greens only need a light rinse before they are ready to eat. As we don’t use any type of chemicals to grow with, we don’t have to worry about chemical or fertilizer contamination to wash off.

The white box in the foreground is a small hydroponic setup, the blue top is rigid foam with 5 holes in it for the lettuce cups and growing medium, which is rock wool. There is a small aquarium pump in the bottom to recirculate the nutrient solution to the roots. We have grown lettuce indoors in the winter in our small house, so the greenhouse will be an expanded experiment. If if works well, and it should, we might expand this to be a vertical hydroponic rack made from several sections of roof guttering along the North wall, which is straw bale and tires.

This could give us a substantially expanded growing opportunity with very little square foot commitment. We will keep you posted on the progress!

If you don’t have your own greenhouse, a similar container system can be done in a sunny window, in your garage under some lights or even on a back deck. Let your imagination be your guide. If you are interested in the heat cables, post a comment. If there is interest, we may carry them in the near future.


Dacha Garden

I came across a great article about how fresh colorful vegetables offer the most nutrition for the money spent. While I definitely agree with this, I believe there are some lost opportunities here; namely growing your own vegetables will prove the truth of several recent findings. Below is the link for the article:

Fresh Vegetable Salads Provide Maximum Nutrition for Each Food Dollar Spent

The first finding is that fresh colorful vegetables have the most nutrition when compared to prepackaged and prepared foods. The second is that naturally grown chemical free vegetables have more minerals and nutrients as compared to conventional chemically grown ones. The third is that the dollar return on money spent for seeds to grow a vegetable garden- even a modest one- is staggering. Several articles I’ve read put the return from $100 in seeds at anywhere from $1000 to $1800 in fresh produce!

“Salads that offer the most nutrition for the money are made with fresh, unprocessed vegetables. Color is the key. Those veggies with the bright, vibrant colors are trying to tell you something. The more colors added to the bowl, the more the salad can keep you looking and feeling young, and put a bounce in your step for the rest of the day. That’s because vibrant colored veggies are loaded with antioxidants, plant compounds that slow the aging process and ward off disease.”

The more colors in the vegetables you eat, the more different types of nutrients, minerals and other vitamins that you get. This is a great start!

“All of these varieties are excellent sources of Vitamins A, E and K. Vitamin A supports eye and respiratory health, and makes sure the immune system is up to speed. It keeps the outer layers of tissues and organs healthy, and promotes strong bones, healthy skin and hair, and strong teeth. Vitamin E slows the aging process, maintains positive cholesterol ratios, provides endurance boosting oxygen, protects lungs from pollution, prevents various forms of cancer, and alleviates fatigue. Vitamin K keeps blood vessels strong and prevents blood clots.

Greens are also excellent sources of folate, manganese, chromium, and potassium. Folate prevents heart disease, defends against intestinal parasites and food poisoning, promotes healthy skin, and helps maintain hair color. Manganese keeps fatigue away, helps muscle reflexes and coordination, boosts memory, and helps prevent osteoporosis. Chromium helps normalize blood pressure and insulin levels. It prevents sugar cravings and sudden drops in energy. Potassium regulates the body’s water balance and normalizes heart rhythms. It aids in clear thinking by sending oxygen to the brain.”

Now if we take this a step further and grow these vegetables ourselves, or at least buy them locally- from the farmers market or “our” farmer/gardener/neighbor that grows way too much to eat themselves- we can stack the advantages of the nutrition in our favor.

Several recently released studies show what is at first glance somewhat common sense- naturally grown vegetables have more nutrients, vitamins and minerals than those grown in the conventional chemically grown manner. The common sense part comes from the fact that chemical agriculture on any scale depends on very few chemicals- NPK familiar to anyone? Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are important, but they aren’t the only elements that plants need to grow and produce healthy fruits and vegetables. One study I’ve read showed that a naturally grown vegetable had 84 minerals and elements that were identified as opposed to 8-10 in the same exact vegetable planted from seeds from the same seed packet but grown conventionally with the standard chemical fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides. Something to note- the test didn’t identify the negative elements in the vegetables- such as chemical residues.

Which do you think has better nutrition, which has better taste, and which would you want to eat or serve as dinner to your family?

Continuing the stacking of benefits idea- this is the introduction to the article:

“It looks like food prices will continue to creep steadily higher throughout 2009, even in the face of an economic crisis that has reduced the purchasing power of most Americans. This makes it more important that ever to get the best nutritional value for every food dollar spent.”

I agree completely with this, and seeing this at the end of 2009, the truth of the cost of food vs purchasing power is apparent. What if we can turn this truth around, and make it pay instead of save money? That’s an exciting idea, as saving money is good, but saving in this case is only a stop to spending money. Growing a garden can actually pay you! It is truly not very difficult to grow a garden that produces more than you and your family can eat. Sell the excess, make some money! Farmers and local markets are the fastest growing segment of agriculture for the past several years. Most have a booth just for the backyard gardener to sell/trade their abundance.

Or trade it to your neighbor in return for services or something you need. This won’t give you dollars, but will give you something of value that you didn’t have to spend dollars to obtain.

Or donate some to your local food bank/soup kitchen/Meals on Wheels/etc. Again, not dollars, but karma is good too. So is the increased community that you’ve just created that can help you in ways unforeseen right now.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I really like the article! I think that there are some ways to capitalize on a good idea and great benefit to achieve much greater results for all of us. Please take the time to read the entire article.

Cleaning Pumpkin Seeds

We get a lot of questions on how to save seeds. Most of them are general seed saving questions, but most boil down to how to save seeds for the next year. Most of the seed packets have more seeds than will be used in one year, and most seeds are good for several years in proper storage conditions.

Please realize that seeds are meant to be planted, not stored!

We get a chuckle from the e-bay seed sellers and survivalist stores that proclaim their seeds are nitrogen flushed, vacuum packed in tin cans or aluminum foil pouches, and are good for 5 or 10 years.

That’s great, but if the seeds are tossed out in the unheated/uncooled garage for 3+ years- guess what?

They’re DEAD!

The temperature/humidity fluctuations shortens the life of the stored seeds drastically. Seeds are the plant’s mechanism for propagation and survival. They have evolved to survive for a short time- e.g. a winter or two- in the ground until the optimum conditions arrive to sprout.

For almost all domesticated varieties that are used for food, the optimum conditions  mean next spring. There definitely are seeds that will last longer, but most are non-food plants. Throughout history people would collect and save seeds for the next year or two and have kept plant varieties alive for thousands of years.

Today we have methods to stabilize temperature and humidity; we have advantages in prolonging the life of the stored seed.

The best way to save seeds for future plantings are to keep the seeds in the original seed packets; that way you know where they came from, the name, planting instructions, etc. Then put them in clear Ziplock sandwich baggies with the date on the baggie.

This way you know when you started storing them.

Put all of the baggies in a gallon Ziplock and put it into the freezer.

“But won’t that hurt the seeds?”, people ask. Not at all!

This is why the Vavilov Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia uses liquid nitrogen to freeze seeds for a long time. This is also why the “Doomsday Vault” in Svalbard, Norway is located above the Arctic Circle and dug into the side of a mountain and several hundred feet down, to keep the vault below zero if the cooling system fails.

Your freezer is cold and has low humidity. You probably don’t go into the freezer several times a day like the refrigerator. Each time you open/shut the door, the outside air comes in, raising the temperature and humidity.

This isn’t good for your seeds if they are in the fridge. The freezer is more stable. Please understand the fridge is better than the garage or basement, but the freezer is even better, and you probably have space!

When time comes for planting next spring, take out the packets you will use, take out the seeds you will plant if there are a lot left, and put the bag back into the Ziplock and into the freezer. Let the seed to be planted come to room temperature before planting into the soil.

Most varieties will keep for 3+ years with no loss of germination.

There are exceptions, of course. Onion seeds are good for 1 year, no more, no matter the method of keeping. Garlic only grows from the bulb or clove, freezing kills it.

There are some other varieties that have a short life in storage, but don’t get too caught up in that. If you plant each year, you will be fine.

When you start to save your own seed, the same procedure applies- just be sure the seed is DRY, or else the freeze will expand any moisture in the seed and destroy it.

Label the bag with the name, date harvested, date stored and freeze it.

If you get into seed saving, or want a lot more information on the methods and details for each variety of vegetable, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth is a wonderful book. It is not light reading, but if treated like a reference book or text book, you’ll do just fine. 

We are finishing up our raised bed garden, and wanted to show you what we have been working on.  The raised beds will be both production garden for our family, and a test garden for the seed business.  Our garden is 35 x 70 feet;  smaller than some,  larger than others. There are several projects that we are working on that we will keep you up to date on with the blog, so check back often!

Today is an overview of the gardens, our climate and challenges that we face, as well as an introduction of some of the projects that we are working on.

We are at 5000 feet elevation, with 4 full seasons, and are located between Phoenix and Flagstaff, so we avoid the temperature extremes of both places. Our temperatures range from 110 to 20 degrees F. We are in a high desert environment with about 12 inches of rain annually. The soil here is good, but needs organic matter worked into it to be productive.  Arizona has a lot of microclimates, as does most areas of the US that have hills and elevation changes, so this presents unique challenges to growing depending on where you live.

Some of our challenges include the wind, heat and dry climate.  These combine to dry out a garden severely unless measures are taken.  Wind protection, drip irrigation and lots of mulch are some of the things we do to keep moisture where we need it.  Even with our challenges, we can grow a ton of food, and so can you!

Let’s take a look-

Raised bed

This South facing shot shows the raised beds, the blue wind break on the fence and the wood chips in the walkway. Over the fence in the background is the native grassland. There is weed cloth under the wood chips;  this gives a good walking surface that keeps the weeds out!  We are moving worms into each bed to help build soil and keep the beds aerated and healthy.

Worm bed with drip

Here is a  photo of  the worm bed. We haven’t put the weed cloth and chips in the walkway yet, but the weed cloth under the bed is visible. This is where we will have lots of worms, in addition to charcoal, coffee grounds, and horse manure compost.  The worms love coffee grounds, which also retain a lot of moisture to help jump start the soil building process.  The white PVC piping is the drip manifold with the shut off valves and the garden hose that connects each bed to the next. The charcoal is visible under the drip tape.  It acts as condos for the micro-organisms that live in healthy soil. The humus-like soil will be used to amend or top-dress the other growing beds in the fall and spring. Once we have enough, we can use the excess humus as another product to sell locally. We will keep you updated on the progress.

This should give a good overview of what we are doing and where we are going. We will give more detailed info in the next few posts, so stay tuned!

Please don’t think that this level of gardening is required to be successful, it’s not! A lot smaller garden can be just as productive on a smaller scale- all the way down to 2×2 feet… The most important thing is to just get started! We will go over options on sizes in future blogs. As always, if you have questions or comments, please leave them on the comments section, or call us at 888-878-5247!