Cascadian Farm Organic Goodness

WELCOME TO OUR ALMANAC! READ ABOUT ALL THINGS ECO FROM ORGANIC VEGGIE
GARDEN TIPS TO GREEN FAMILY ACTIVITIES.

In organic gardening, a great expression to keep in mind is “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." There are a number of steps you can take to considerably reduce instances of disease and pests before they become a problem. Most of the following practices are inexpensive or even free but are invaluable for maintaining a healthy garden.

Water early in the day. Watering before noon allows plants to dry before dark, which can prevent fungus from growing.

Avoid standing water. Bird baths are fine, but large pools of stagnant water can attract insects.

Clean garden tools regularly. It’s good to get in the habit; it can prevent spreading bacteria. It may go without saying, but always disinfect tools that have been used on diseased plants. Also, avoid touching healthy plants after diseased plants, or handling plants when they are wet.

Weed early and often. Weeds in and even near your garden can attract bugs. Regular weeding started early in the summer can help keep weeds at bay and pests to a minimum.

Feed the soil. Feed the soil so it can feed the plant. Adding compost to the soil helps keep it and your plants healthy, and protects beneficial insects.

 

What preventative measures do you take to keep your garden healthy?

 

Sources Cited: “Preventing Lawn Diseases” from Gardening by the Yard on HGTV.com, “Basic Gardening Pest Control Tips” from Lawn-Pro, “Disease Control – Cultural Control” from Plant Path University of Wisconsin, “5 Things You Can Do Now to Prevent Next Year’s Pest Problems” from Debbie Hadley on About.com, “Beneficial Insects: Keep Your Garden Pests in Check” from ezgarden.com

 

Photo Credit: “Big Horrible Pest,” by Daniel Pink

This year in our new yard, we have decided to build a raised bed for our garden. A raised bed can be built with a variety of non-toxic materials: concrete blocks, brick, untreated wood. (Treated wood contains toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil and enter the plants.)  Sunset has great step-by-step instructions to create a 4’ x 8’ wood bed. A four-foot width, with sides 12–16 inches high, is ideal because it allows you to sit on the edge and reach into your plants. A raised bed has many other advantages:

  • Space saving—since you do not need walking space between each row (only between beds), they take up less space.
  • Longer planting season—raised beds warm up earlier in the spring and hold onto heat longer in the fall, allowing you earlier and later planting.
  • Reduced soil compaction because you don’t walk on the growing medium.
  • Better drainage and retention of water, as well as aeration of the soil due to the minimal soil compaction.
  • Bigger yields due to greater root development—the benefits to the soil benefit the plants!

 

Do you have raised beds in your garden? What benefits have you found?

Image Source: “raised bed” by Aka Hige

I have to admit that I love lush, green, traditional grass lawns. For me, they conjure up wonderful childhood memories. For others, they’re a calming reminder of a leisurely day on the golf course. That being said, the grass in my backyard has never come close to looking like a golf course. There are always dandelions, patches of dead grass, and yellow spots. I’m convinced that the only way to achieve a beautiful grass lawn is by using toxic weed killers and inorganic fertilizers—something I REFUSE to do. And then there’s the amount of watering required, which, in my drought-prone area, makes me wasteful. Here are a few alternative options to a typical grass lawn.

Native Plantings

It has become increasingly popular to replace grass lawns with native, drought-resistant plants and/or edible gardens. It creates a beautiful, varied landscape that is far from a boring grass lawn. Small “hard-scaped” areas (using pavers, concrete, etc.) can easily be integrated into this type of landscaping to create a seating or play area.

Green Ground Cover

It is possible to get a sea of green without the grass by using a ground cover like moss or clover. Moss is low-growing, great for shady areas, and has a lush appearance. Clover can actually be mowed to create a “lawn.” Clover is low maintenance, drought tolerant, doesn’t get yellow dog spots, and is insect resistant. In fact, it attracts beneficial insects, great for your vegetable garden! If you’re like me and want a soft spot for your kids and pets to play, without all the upkeep of grass, then clover may be the best option for you.

Artificial Grass

I know, I know! Fake grass?! I have never been a fan of any type of artificial plants. In fact, a few years ago I considered fake grass one step above paving over your yard and painting it green. But the ecological benefits to using artificial grass have begun to change my opinion. First of all, it is made of recycled plastic and uses recycled tire “crumbs” to hold it in place. It requires zero water, fertilizer, or weed killer to keep it green. And the zero-maintenance lawn it provides is not just a matter of convenience—think of the carbon load that is eliminated without the need to cut it with a gas lawnmower. Aesthetically, artificial grass has come a long way. It really does look good—it has its place. However, it is still synthetic, and I personally think it’s best for small areas and places where growing is very difficult. How do you feel about fake grass?

Are you considering replacing your traditional grass lawn?

Photo Sources: “Clover and Little White Flowers” by roens, “Fake grass – love it! Low Maint, always looks good!” by Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ

The time has come to start making your dream garden a reality - start planting seeds indoors. Vegetable garden favorites like tomatoes and peppers have a long growing season so you can start seeds now to have seedlings ready to plant by May.

First, select a container. You can use a cell pack or individual containers. I typically recycle plastic containers, approximately 4 inches is a good size. Regardless of the container, make sure that you clean it thoroughly first. Soak it in a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach for a half hour to kill any bacteria.

Next, fill pot with potting soil or a seed starter. You can make your own using one part each of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. Saturate the soil with water and let it drain. Read seed packet instructions for planting depth, then scatter seeds, cover with recommended amount of soil and water lightly.

Keep seeds warm (between 75F and 90F) until they germinate. Most nurseries sell thin waterproof heating pads you can use to maintain temperature if necessary. Once the seeds sprout, they can be moved to a brightly lit area with temperatures between 60F and 75F.

Lastly, vegetable seeds need a lot of light. If you don’t have an adequate spot, you can supplement with a fluorescent grow light. Make sure the seedlings are in a location with good ventilation and try not to over water them - you do not want them standing in water for too long.

Have you started seeds yet?

Photo by jeremy_w_osborne

Gardening and children are a perfect fit. Children love being outside and playing in the dirt. Most are fascinated by plants and flowers, so why not teach them to garden where they can learn about a plant’s life cycle firsthand? There are many benefits to gardening with children. It’s the perfect way to teach them about responsibility, healthy foods and respect for the environment. This has been recognized by many schools across the country, who are incorporating gardening in their curriculum. (Learn more about programs and find great resources for gardening with children at Kids Gardening.)

So how do you encourage your children to garden without making it a chore? I think the most important thing is for them to see how much you love gardening and spend a little time with you in the garden every day. Here are a few more tips for gardening with your children.

  1. Let them have their own garden or area - a space that is all their own. Their age will dictate how much you will need to help out with the watering and weeding, but try not to take over.
  2. Allow them to choose the plants, but steer them towards those that are easy to grow - Lettuces, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and carrots are few favorites. And no child’s garden is complete without quick growing, sunny sunflowers!
  3. Start from seed - children enjoy watching seeds sprout up from the soil and they learn so much more than starting from seedling.
  4. Have fun! Make time for digging holes and inspecting insects. Don’t forget to express how proud you are of their hard work. Be sure to show off their garden when guests visit your home.

 

How do you get your children involved with gardening?

Photo by tm-tm

To prune or not prune...that is the question. Back in September we moved into a new home which, to my delight, has a large lime tree in the back yard. Having fresh lime a few steps away from my kitchen has been wonderful! Fish tacos... guacamole... margaritas... need I say more? However, now that winter is here I’m left wondering how to care for the tree. Does it need to be pruned to insure healthy growth and fruit production? And if so, how? And when? I did a little research and here are the most important factors to consider when pruning:

Have a plan. Whether you want to prune your plant or tree to improve the quality of fruit, train it to grow in a certain direction or to improve the health by removing diseased foliage it's important to have a plan. If you start with your desired outcome in mind it will help you avoid making unnecessary cuts.

Remove dead or diseased limbs first. Trimming back limbs to a strong lateral branch or shoot is often the only pruning necessary.

Timing is everything. Although there are exceptions, typically the best time to prune most plants is during late winter or early spring. Pruning after new growth begins in the spring not recommended as it can weaken the plant and stunt growth.

Make the right cut. It's essential to make clean cuts using sharp shears when pruning to make sure the wound heals quickly. Jagged cuts or tears in the bark can encourage disease and insect infestation. It's best to cut limbs that intersect at no more than a 45 degree angle.

In short, do some research for your specific plant and situation before you pick up the shears. This page, here, is a great place to learn pruning terminology and view diagrams of various cuts.

 

Photo by Kari Burks

Now is the perfect time to start planning for your garden. And I love planning. Seriously! It may be my background as an interior designer or just my (sometimes obsessive) desire to organize all the thoughts in my head, but creating a plan is fun for me. It can be for you too! The first step is to create an exciting concept for your garden that is uniquely yours – try these steps to get started.

  • Find Inspiration

Look through home and garden magazines and blogs; tour and photograph botanical / community gardens. Notice what draws you to a particular garden. Is it the color, the layout? Try to incorporate these things in your garden plan.

  • Consider a theme

Do you love Italian cooking? Why not design a garden full of Italian herbs, tomatoes, and peppers? Love to be surrounded by bold color? How about a cutting flower garden featuring yellow, orange and red flowers to fill your home?

  • Focus on what’s important to you

Conserve water using drought tolerant plants and rock. Create a butterfly and humming bird sanctuary with feeders and fragrant flowers. Create a resting spot in your garden to read, rest and reflect. I love the idea of having an outdoor dining spot in the middle of the garden – being surrounded by food growing as we eat!

  • Sketch up a garden plan

To create a rough blueprint of your garden first measure the area you want to plant. Determine the approximate size and spacing necessary for the plants you want to grow. Then draw out the area on graph paper or using drafting software. (This one on Better Homes and Garden is free and easy to use). This will help ensure you have room for everything you want and allow you to make any necessary changes before you start digging.

 

Photo by MyArtfulLife

My garden is covered in three feet of cold white fluff. There is a pretty good chance I won't see dirt until sometime in May. My stores of canned goods and frozen produce are being knocked down daily. Still, I'm thinking about getting my hands dirty. In the middle of January when the temperature outside is frightful.

So, while your compost pile is working on the grass clippings, fallen leaves, food scraps and other lawn waste you threw in there to get ready for planting season, you should be sitting inside nice and cozy planning out your garden. Here are a few things to get you started.

  1. Determine your space. Figure out how large your garden areas are and decide if you'll be adding more this year. This will help you when determining the number of plants. Think about hours of sun each garden space gets to help figure out which varieties will grow best in which areas.
  2. Decide seed versus starter. If you are going to grow from seeds, you'll need to start your seedlings 4-6 weeks before your last frost date for your area when you'll be moving them to the garden area.
  3. Order your seeds and other supplies. If you are looking for specialty seeds like heirlooms or specific varietals, check out different companies and get your order ready. Also start collecting necessary seedling trays and soil so that you have it on hand when it's time to plant.

Then, when you've got your garden planned and you know when your seeds can grow in the ground, get ready to plant. Your location will determine when you should start seeds, and if you're going the seedling route, you can still figure out how many plants you'll need to get and start finding the best local growers and sources for those plants.

Have you started thinking about gardening yet?

 

Photos by Shaina Olmanson

I love thyme. And rosemary. Oh and sage. The bright scent of fresh cut herbs is heavenly. Any meal cooked with fresh herbs is bound to be flavorful - especially cold-weather comfort foods. With winter weather already showing up across the country, growing organic herbs indoors is a great way to get your gardening fix. It can also be a great place to start if you’ve never grown anything before. An indoor herb garden can be as simple as a few small pots on a sunny window sill. The important thing is to select the herbs that you will use most often. My three favorite herbs to have on hand in the winter are rosemary, thyme, and chives. They’re versatile and hardy and all you need to create amazing dishes. Here are some gardening tips and recipes for each herb.

Rosemary grows best in an area with a lot of sun and good air circulation. As with all plants in containers, it is important to have proper drainage to keep the soil moist but not oversaturated. Rosemary is a wonderful compliment to grilled meats, roasted vegetables and is delicious baked in breads. These Garlic Rosemary Dinner Rolls sound perfect for the holidays.

Chives are so easy to grow and you only need trim them back to keep them from toppling over. Chives can be used in every meal – think chives and cheese added to scrambled eggs, a baked potato or pasta. These Mascarpone Chive Mashed Potatoes are definitely worthy of a special occasion!

Thyme has a number of varieties (French thyme, lemon thyme) and you can’t go wrong with any of them. It grows fast and should be pruned often. I use thyme in many savory dishes, stews and sauces. This roast turkey recipe with Pear Chestnut Stuffing uses both fresh thyme and sage.

I live in a mild climate that allows me to have an outdoor herb garden year round, but no matter where you live you can grow fresh herbs. This year I am going to make a tiered herb container garden like this one I saw in Sunset. How do you grow your herbs?

 

Photos by ccharmon (Rosemary and Thyme)

I am sure everyone would love to pick fresh, organic produce right from their yard, but not everyone has a green thumb or the time (or desire) to learn to tend a garden. That’s where businesses like Urban Plantations come in. They not only design and plant edible, “urban landscapes”, they also help maintain the garden for you as needed. I had the opportunity and pleasure to speak with the owner of Urban Plantations, Karen Contreras, in one of their creations here in San Diego.

The home is located in a lovely pocket of North Park, where each home is more charming than the next and Karen was hard at work as I approached. She and her staffers were preparing for their winter plantings: Brussels sprouts, lettuces and “Purple Peacock” broccoli, among others. What struck me most about this front yard garden was how little it looked like a vegetable garden. The many fruits and veggies (tomatoes, heirloom “Moon and Stars” watermelon, and persimmon to name a few) are seamlessly integrated with beautiful ornamentals – including a cutting flower garden. It’s inspiring how gorgeous a fruitful garden (which, as Urban Plantations states in their mission, “provides nourishment for body and soul”) can truly be! Watch the short video interview below with Karen as she discusses the transformation of this home’s typical front yard into the unique environment it is today. You can also click here to see the before and after, I hope it inspires you to consider a well designed garden in your front yard.

As the weather cools, it's important not to forget about your garden. Now is the time to finish the harvest, put food up for the colder months and get ready for the growing season to come. So often people just abandon their growing efforts late in the season, figuring they are done, but a little preparation now will go a long way in the spring.

Here are a few things you can do for your garden in the fall:

Perennials

Divide and split plants that have outgrown their space about 4 weeks before the frost date in your area to give the plant time to send roots down before it gets too cold for them to do so. Cut back dead foliage, leaving the basal crown on plants like Shasta daisies and down to the ground for herbaceous plants like hostas and daylilies where all the above-ground foliage dies during the winter. I like to leave my hydrangea flowers up after they've browned and dried to catch the snow. It adds some visual appeal to that part of my garden even after the snowfall.

Composting

Cut foliage and leaves can be added to your compost pile before the frost to break down to use as fertilizer come spring. You can also spread compost on your strawberry plants in the fall after the harvest is over.

Turn the Soil

After you've harvested all your plants, pulled up dead ones to compost and have an empty garden bed, fall is the perfect time to turn the soil. Turning the soil will mix the nutrients and get the ground ready for spring planting.

Plant Seeds

You can plant some reseeding perennials in the fall so that they come up in the early spring. There are fantastic online resources to help you decide which seeds can or should be planted now so that you are enjoying them as soon as possible. You could also try your hand at having a winter garden as well, planting seeds now and growing them in the winter. Your ability to do this will depend on your geographical area and climate, but it can be very rewarding to have winter carrots and leeks to cook with.

What do you do with your garden in the fall?

Photos by Shaina Olmanson

Now that fall is here and winter is closing in, it’s easy to assume that it’s time to put your gardening tools into hibernation and forget about your garden until next spring. But, in actuality fall is an essential time to prepare your garden so that you can ensure a successful growing season next spring. Jim is busy planting cover crops to prepare for winter (more on that next week), but here are a few tips you can use in your own garden.

Depending on where you live, it may or may not be this cold yet, but when night time temperature drops to less than forty-five degrees Fahrenheit for more than four days in a row it’s time to start taking precautions to get your garden ready for winter. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

1. Evaluate Your Garden- Take a look at which crops you planted this season and evaluate if they worked well for you or not. Think about which ones should stay and which ones should go.

2. Clean and Clear- It’s important that you weed your garden and remove any diseased leaves that may be lying around. Weeds and rotten leaves have a tendency to carry insects and diseases that may be harmful to your garden.

3. Mulch is a Must- Putting mulch or a cover crop over your garden is essential to protecting your plants from extreme temperatures and heavy snow. To make mulch you can use a number of materials including grass clippings, bark or pine needles.

4. Clean Your Tools- Take the time to clean and sharpen your tool so that they don’t rust and they’ll be all set to go for the spring!

Do you have any gardening tips that you’d like to share? We love to hear them. Leave them in the comments box below or on our Facebook page.

 

When Peter and Lynda invited us to lunch at their home so they could meet our baby, I couldn’t wait to go. Not only for the great food and company, but to see the organic vegetable garden that I’d been “hearing” about on their Facebook pages. They recently moved into a new home and had been busy make improvements inside and out, including a garden.

The garden work was a family affair; Peter built a lovely fence and arbor to define the space (and presumably keep their adorable dog out) and Lynda’s three teenage sons all helped prepare the ground for planting. They planted corn (which Lynda said “LOOKED beautiful but tasted AWFUL, don't know what I did wrong?”), sunflowers, green beans, peas, peppers, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, green onion, carrots and strawberries. Not to mention herbs: parsley, cilantro and basil – or BAA-ZIL, as Peter says with his neat British accent. This is not their first attempt at growing veggies, Lynda had a garden every summer when she lived in North Carolina but this was her first real garden here in Southern California. Our dry conditions are a big change from the Southeast where it rains almost every afternoon in the summer.

Drew and I were lucky enough to taste some of their harvest in the delicious Asian chicken salad Lynda prepared – and fresh picked berries for dessert. Peter and Lynda have been enjoying the fruits of their labor all summer. They especially loved the green beans and pea pods. “My boys really loved the tiny green peas straight out of the pod while standing in the garden” Lynda exclaimed. “Not one of those ever got cooked because they were so sweet and tender straight off the vine.” The tomatoes took a little long to ripen, due to an unusually cool and cloudy San Diego summer and the radishes may have stayed underground just a tad too long (they are enormous – check out the photo!) but overall Lynda and Peter’s garden is a great success. I’m so inspired by them – I’m definitely going to plant green peas next year! 

What have been your biggest successes in your garden this year?

Radish, beans and pea photos by Peter and Lynda Toner

Basil photo by Kari Burks

 

Since I don’t have a garden of my own this year (you can read about why in my previous post, here) I decided to visit with fellow green thumbs and have them show me what they’re growing this year. So it was only natural that I start with the gardener who inspired me to grow vegetables, my dear friend Candice. Candice started gardening four years ago when her stepmother gave her two tomato plants. At the time she wasn’t too invested, but loved having fresh tomatoes come harvest time. With every season her enthusiasm grew and so did her garden. She loves to grow vegetables that yield a long or big harvest, like lettuces, tomatoes and zucchini. She found the broccoli she grew this winter to be anti-climactic. J This summer Candice’s garden includes tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, a grapevine and Swiss chard still going strong. All started from seed (except for the bell peppers which never seem to take) and all organic. That was the only option for her. Her favorite thing about organic gardening is that her six year old daughter loves eating the fresh vegetables that they grow. The other day Ava picked a tomato off the vine and ate it like an apple. “She never would have done that with a tomato from the grocery store”, Candice told me. And although Ava is a notoriously picky eater, she always willing to try veggies from the garden and loves Swiss chard!

When I asked Candice her best trick or favorite gardening tool, she immediately said the drip irrigation system she and her husband Chuck installed last year. La Mesa is a town in the east part of San Diego County and it gets hot there, regularly reaching triple digits in the summer. Watering the gardening quickly became a chore. When her gardening “guru” (a friend’s mom whose been gardening for years) suggested she install drip irrigation she thought it sounded “hard core” - like a complicated and expensive thing. She was delighted to find out that $20, a trip to Home Depot and about an hour’s worth of work was all it took to change her garden forever! Everything began to thrive because it was watered more thoroughly and efficiently.

I’m excited to see how Candice’s garden does each year. The great (and sometimes frustrating) thing about gardening is that every year is different. It’s a lot like life, as Candice said “you get better every year, but still some things don’t do well and then there are surprises that do. You just never know.”

Photos by Kari Burks

I grew up with a modest vegetable garden along the side of our house. My mom would have me pick vegetables for nightly meals or for a rhubarb dessert. In the summer we'd visit the local farms, and there were many, picking fresh berries or buying from their stands.

What I took away from those experiences was a respect for where the food at the dinner table every night was coming from. I could identify with it, and I felt connected to it, especially when I had been to the source that it had come from.

One thing I hated about the apartment living I did for so many years was the lack of space to grow anything. I quickly learned how to grow herbs in a container successfully, even when there was limited sunlight on the covered deck, and I soon moved on to bigger things once I had a yard. But why? What is it that motivates me to get my hands dirty in my backyard?

1. Fresh always tastes better. A tomato that is still warm from the afternoon sun tastes exponentially better than one that was picked green ripened with ethylene to increase its shelf life.

2. Gardening is good exercise. Bending to weed and harvest, walking with buckets of water, it all takes energy. Gardening is exercise in my own backyard that I am not paying a monthly membership fee for and keeps me in shape, gets me outside and away from the computer.

3. I'm teaching my children. One of the most important reasons for me is sharing the knowledge of growing our own food with my children. I believe it's important for them to know that food starts as seeds that are cared for until they become edible. We even go as far as harvesting seeds from the fruits and vegetables to plant next season.

4. I know exactly where my food has been. In addition to shopping at the farmer's market and getting to know where the food I'm buying comes from, growing my own means I know exactly what is in the soil and on the vegetables.

5. Having fresh produce available leads to healthier eating. When all that's in your cupboard are prepackaged cookies, you're more likely to eat prepackaged cookies. When you have fresh produce growing in your backyard just waiting for you to pick it, you're more likely to make a meal from it.

6. Gardening is fun! My kids love to dig in the dirt. They are constantly putting holes in places I'd rather there be no holes. Embrace your inner child and start digging. Plus, when you're gardening, there's a reward at the end!

Why do you garden?

 

Photos by Shaina Olmanson

You could have told me, but I wouldn’t have believed you… No summer garden, just because I had a baby, in November?! Crazy. But true nonetheless.

This time last year I was five months pregnant picturing how life would be with an infant. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but somehow I’d manage to take care of the house, the husband, and the dog, prepare delicious fresh meals, tend the garden, blog and socialize all with baby attached to me, snuggled up in the Moby. Ha! The past 7 months with my son have not been quite as idyllic as I dreamed. Is it for anyone?! Even though “they” told me having a baby would change everything, I couldn’t fully comprehend how. I do now. Many of the things I enjoy doing most, like gardening and blogging, have taken a back seat to caring for the baby, the house (we’re moving next month) and adjusting to my new role as a mom.

So here we are in the midst of a beautiful summer, but am I picking beautiful fresh strawberries or anticipating the harvest of sweet corn right from my backyard? Noooo. Am I bitter? Honestly, no, I’m not. I can’t say I’m not disappointed. Mainly that I’m not one of those Super Mom types that seems to effortlessly find time to get everything done and look beautiful doing it. But this first year with my baby, however difficult, is so precious and brief, I really don’t mind.

Besides, not having a garden this year has given me the opportunity to garden vicariously through other local gardeners. I’ll get to do something else that I love to do - be nosey! I’m going to see what’s going in local gardens and farms and share that with you! I can find out their best tips, as well as their struggles - and maybe even score some heirloom seeds for next year, if I’m lucky ;)

If you are lucky (and live in San Diego County) I may feature your garden! If you have a vegetable garden and would like to be interviewed for a future post, join my Flickr group, Show What You Grow, and upload photos of your garden. We’ll select someone to be featured at the end of the summer.

 

Photo by Kari Burks

In my last post I talked about creating a garden planting schedule for spring to help you keep track of when you can start sowing seeds for various vegetables. Although some seeds do best sown directly into the soil, many vegetables (especially those that are sensitive to cold or have a long growing season) benefit from being started indoors. Growing from seed not only gives you an early start, but you can order more varieties of veggies than you would be able to purchase locally as seedlings. Since starting a plant from seed may be new to some of you I thought a quick 101 course would be helpful. Here are the basics:

1. Purchase high quality seeds or if you’re using seeds from the previous year’s garden test them first.

2. Select the right container for planting. Peat pots or pellets (made of compressed peat) can be planted directly outdoors, which is great for plants with fragile roots. If you are using a terracotta or plastic pot, wash it thoroughly prior to planting. Plastic cell packs are very convenient when sowing a large amount of seeds.

3. Use an organic soilless seed-starting mix comprised of milled peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. Do not use a topsoil mix.

4. Label all seeds with date and variety. A tray beneath the containers is good for bottom watering and covering the seeds with clear plastic wrap aids in germination.

5. Provide adequate light. Set up grow lights (full spectrum fluorescents) directly above seeds to warm the soil and provide required light (raise lights higher as seedlings grow).

These are just five pointers; you can always ask your local nursery for more help getting started. For those readers with gardening experience, please comment and share your best tips for seed starting.

Related post: Veggies 101: How to start a Vegetable Garden

  Did you know that you can start your own vegetable garden from seeds in your home? Not only is it true, but it is super budget friendly, green and fun for the entire family. When choosing the vegetables that you want to grow, remember that plants such as tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and peppers need a longer period of time to grow. Starting them from seeds in your home is a great way to grow plants that will produce a full harvest throughout the season.

What you will need to start growing at home:

* Assorted Organic Seeds.

* Reusable Plastic Greenhouses, Trays, Flats or Pots.

* Expandable Peat Pellets or Soil.

How to get started:

1. Place a pre-soaked peat pellet or moistened soil inside each container. Make a small hole in the center of the peat pellet or soil and sprinkle seeds into the holes. To determine the planting depth, consult the seed packet.

2. Cover the seeds with the recommended amount of moistened soil. Cover the seeds and place them in a sunny south facing windowsill. Label the containers with the name of each plant and the date that the seeds were planted.

3. In 7-10 days the seeds will sprout, at this time thin them until just one plant is remaining. Using a pair of tweezers will give you expert precision when thinning the seedlings.

How to transplant:

1. When the seedlings develop their adult leaves (usually within 4-8 weeks), it is time to transplant them into larger pots. 

2. My family uses 4" reusable pots that are filled with potting soil that has been moistened. Choose a warm and sunny spot in your home for the plants to continue to grow. If you do not have somewhere for the larger potted plants to grow, you may want to consider growing them under fluorescent lights. My family has started our garden in our basement for many years using this method.

3. Once the plants are large enough to be moved outside, you will need to harden them off. Hardening them off means that you are getting the seedlings ready to be planted outside. In Springtime, to harden the seedlings off, you will need to sit them outside in a shady spot during the day and them bring them back into the warmth of your home at night. Gradually, move the seedlings to a sunny spot in your yard during the day. After 7-10 days of hardening, your seedlings will be ready for planting in your garden.

Keeping your veggies happy in the garden:

Once your vegetables are planted in your garden, you will want to provide them with a regular supply of water, keeping the soil moist, at least until the seedlings put down their roots. Using mulch in your garden is an excellent way to keep the soil moist. Remember to weed your garden on a regular basis and to use natural pest control remedies to keep the creepy critters at bay.

Do you start your vegetable plants from seed?

Which are your favorite vegetables?

 

 

March is here and spring, my favorite season, is right around the corner. I have garden fever and am anxious to get my hands dirty again! I am starting to think about what I want to grow in my vegetable garden this year. I know the thought of gardening seems really far off to those of you still covered in snow, but you can actually start sowing seeds indoors for certain plants months before the last frost.

But how do you know which plants to start when? Or when you’ll be able to plant directly into the soil? If you’re like me, it’s a relatively new concept to actually plan these things and not just pick a random warm weekend to get started. Well, I found a great online Vegetable Garden Planting Calendar that takes the guess work out of planting. All you do is plug in the date of the last spring frost in your area and it gives you the start date for everything from onion and broccoli to tomatoes and corn.

So how do you know when the last frost is? You can get a good idea from this growing zone map on Burpee’s site which divides the country by average lowest winter temperature. These zones are used in many gardening guides and nurseries to let you know the right time for planting in your area. However, you need an actual date for your city to calculate your planting calendar, which I found here. Now all I have to do is decide what I’m going to grow and mark those date on my calendar. This y ear I want to try a few new things like cucumber and eggplant. What veggies are you going to grow in your garden this year?

Photo by Reuben WhitehouseWell Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but if you're like me and haven't started your holiday shopping I have four great gift ideas for the gardener in your life. The adorable "Eggling" designed by Jun Inui and available at the MoMa Store is a fun stocking stuffer for apartment dwellers or gardening newbies. The extra large egg, hand-made from white ceramic with a terracotta tray, comes with a seed packet of either basil or mint and is ready to grow in the peat mixture. The eggs are $9.50 each and make a cool modern design statement in a grouping of three.

Every gardener, expert green thumbs and novices alike, needs a reference book like this one from the American Horticultural Society's New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques (above). It contains thousands of illustrations, hundreds of color photos and covers a wealth of gardening techniques. It is an incredible resource and at $29 on Amazon, quite a deal.

For the gardener who has everything, these Bionic Gardening Gloves may be just the gadget. Although I love the feel of the dirt in my hands, when it's time for serious weeding you need a good pair of gloves. Designed by a hand surgeon, these leather gloves have breathable zones and cushioned areas to prevent calluses. They are $39 and available at Target.

Lastly, for the stylish gardener who wants to look good even when she's covered in dirt, there's the Orange Mum Garden Belt and matching Hat from Hable Construction. The utility belt features 3 big pockets and 4 loops to hang tools for $65. The wide brim hat made of cotton canvas has a raw edge and is currently on sale for $30! Any one of these gifts are sure to please the gardener in your life - happy shopping!

Harvesting vegetables from my garden is something I look forward to all season, but knowing exactly when to pick can be sometimes difficult. Each vegetable exhibits different signs when they are ripe, either color or size or both. So how do you know when to harvest each vegetable? My dog, Molly, lets me know when the strawberries are ready to be picked, which is when they turn uniformly red. (You can read more about Molly and our garden, here.) However, when it comes to the rest of the veggies I'm on my own.

When my husband and I decided to start an organic vegetable garden, we were so excited! We talked about how satisfying it would be to grow our own food, how convenient it would be to step outside and pick fresh veggies, and how much money we would save on our grocery bill.  The only problem was we had no idea where to start! We had so many questions. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of an amazing free resource, City Farmers in San Diego. This small organic farm and nursery, run for over 20 years by Farmer Bill, offers free classes and has a knowledgeable staff eager to help. If you are ready to start a garden, a small local nursery is the best place to get valuable advice (and supplies). However, before you head off there are a few things you should consider when getting started.