Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Seed Starting Resources

Those of us who live in cooler climates and who want to get a jump-start on the growing season have been thinking about seed-starting recently. Last winter I shared several informative posts about how and when to start seeds. This winter I thought it would be beneficial to present all of those resources to you in one easy-access post. So without further ado – here are some of my favorite resources for seed starting.

Arcadia Farms Seed Starting Plans

Here’s a peek into how we’ve put all of the advice below together to create our own seed starting plan.

2013 Seed Starting Plan

2014 Seed Starting Plan

Resources

soaking onion seeds in water

Seed Starting Spreadsheet Template

Instructions for how to use this spreadsheet are included on the first tab.

Seed Sources

Here are my favorite sources for seeds (heirloom and open-pollinated).

Soaking Seeds

Soaking seeds before planting speeds up germination by stirring up the process of the dormant baby plant inside the seed’s hull coming to life.

Optimum Transplant Age

Starting seeds indoors helps gardeners in cooler climates to get a jump start on the growing season. But how soon should you start your seeds? This chart provides guidelines for optimum transplant ages of select crops.

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing

Here’s a cheat sheet chart to let you know how many plants to sow per square foot. It’s easy to read on your mobile device so that you can use it in the garden.

Planting by Moon Phases

Did you know that the gravitational pull of the moon actually impacts the success rate of seedlings? Check this article out to learn more about the phenomenon and how you can use it to your advantage in the garden.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Planting in Newspaper Pots

When you start seeds indoors, you need media – a substance to start your seeds in. I’m now using potting soil in plastic trays, but there are several options. Here’s an analysis of them all, along with details on how to make your own newspaper pots.

Keeping a Garden Journal

A garden journal is a tool you can use to keep track of important garden stats and observations. Being able to look back on this information will help you to plan for next year and will help you to identify patterns in your garden that you otherwise wouldn’t detect. In general, a garden journal allows you to record your successes and failures and details that may have impacted the outcome.

Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

Here’s an easy way to prepare for your spring garden while the snow is still on the ground. Seed tape helps you evenly space your seeds for maximization of resources.

Setting Up Your Garden for Seed-Saving

Here is a fabulous webinar video by Seed Savers Exchange on how to design your garden for seed saving. The post includes my summary notes to highlight the key concepts for those of you who don’t have time to watch the whole thing.

Container Gardening Tips

Everyone can have a garden, including renters and apartment dwellers. Here are some tips on container gardening to make yours a success.

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

Chitting potatoes is the act of sprouting them before they are planted. It speeds up the maturity process and it’s super easy. This guide will show you how.

bean seedling

Planting Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. Here are tips for the best type of garlic for your garden, when to plant it and how to plant.

Garden Apps Wish List

For the technologically inclined among us, here are some apps that can streamline the gardening process.

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Square Foot Garden Seed Tape

how to make seed tape

Seeds come in many shapes and sizes. The tiniest seeds – such as radishes, carrots and onions – can be difficult to sow with precision. One way to address this problem is to use seed tape. Fortunately seed tape is easy to make, store and use, both in traditional row gardens and Square Foot Gardening raised beds. Seed tape helps you conserve seeds, minimizes (or eliminates) the need to thin plants later in the season, and makes a great winter-time project to give you a jump start on spring. Also gardeners with back issues will find this method of sowing seeds much less painful than bending over a garden bed. Plus if you’re a neat freak, it will give you control over having a beautifully, perfectly spaced garden. Won’t the neighbors be jealous?

For pictures and all of the instructions for creating square foot garden seed tape, click here.

 
 

2014 Seed Starting Plan

free seed starting plan software

Earlier this month I shared the 2014 Main Garden Plan for Arcadia Farms (and you can see it by clicking here). I’m still working on plans for the Fenceline Garden because I’d like to transition it from a garden of annuals to a space for perennial fruit and herbs. (Here’s a picture of what it looked like last year.)

The seed catalogs have started pouring in and, just like last year, I’m looking to get a jump start on my spring garden by starting seeds indoors. Because last year’s garden was the source of my CSA produce, I needed to consider criteria such as yield (high), days to maturity (short) and uniqueness as I selected seeds. This year the Main Garden’s primary function is to feed our family although I will occasionally be selling excess produce or crops planted especially for our brokerage customer(s). That allows me to have different criteria, including:

  • Suiting our family’s tastes and needs
  • Limiting varieties to better facilitate seed saving (less chance of cross-pollination)
  • Timing for personal consumption (spread out) rather than commercial (large amounts maturing at once)

Fortunately I’ve assembled quite a collection of seeds over the last few years – including purchases and seeds from my own garden – so I have relatively few seeds that I need to buy. My plan is to save even more seeds from the garden this year and slowly reduce my dependence on outside sources.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including:

 
 

2014 Main Garden Plan

The Garden in Fall

Welcome to 2014! I’ve decided to ring in the new year by sharing my 2014 garden plans with you. For those of you who are unfamiliar, our farm consists of two principal gardens: The Main Garden and the Fenceline Garden. Today I’m going to be sharing the Main Garden plan. This year is certainly a transition for us because it is the first year we’ll have a giant garden but no CSA. The planning was made simpler by my established crop rotation plan.

Click on the image below for all of these details:

arcadia farms main garden 2014

 
 

Planting Garlic

Garlic

Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. With just a small amount of garden space you can enough garlic to be self-sufficient for the better part of a year.

If you’re like me, you’re destined to spend a decent amount of time this winter dreaming about what you’ll plant in the garden when spring arrives. But if you plan to incorporate a garlic harvest into next year’s season, you’ll need to act much sooner. Though you can plant at any time, for the best results, garlic should be planted in the fall. According to Lynn Byczynski, owner of Seeds from Italy, “Your goal should be to plant within two weeks of the first frost (32°F) so that the cloves develop roots but do not emerge above ground by the time of the first hard freeze (28°F).”

Since we experienced our first frost this week, I’m planning to have my garlic in the ground by the end of this weekend. Here are some things I’ll be keeping in mind as I go (and that you’ll want to take note of as well) for a successful harvest next summer.

Choose Between Hardnecks and Softnecks

Garlic falls into two main categories: Hardneck and softneck. The Daily Green describes the difference like this:

Softnecks, the standard garlics of commerce, are the easiest to grow in regions where the weather is mild. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they are less hardy and more prone to make small, very strong-flavored cloves. Hardnecks do best where there is a real winter and are more vulnerable to splitting – or simply refusing to produce – when grown in warm climates.

Prepare Garlic Seed

Garlic is traditionally planted from cloves which are the smaller sections that can be separated from the larger bulb. It is recommended that you plant garlic from “seed garlic” rather than from a bulb of garlic purchased from the grocery store. However, you can certainly plant garlic from bulbs purchased at a farmer’s market or from the produce section. The risk here is that garlic from the grocery store may be an imported variety that is not well-suited for growing in your climate, or it may have been treated with chemicals that make it difficult to sprout/grow. I’m going to experiment with planting from three sources: Farmer’s market garlic, seed garlic (Chesnok Red Organic) and organic garlic purchased at the grocery store.

Start your planting process by pulling the cloves apart from the bulb. Be sure to leave the papery skin intact. As an optional step, Organic Gardening recommends soaking cloves in the following mixture for two hours prior to planting in order to “prevent fungal disease and encourage vigorous growth”:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed

Avoid planting cloves that are tiny, dried out or that show signs of discoloration and mold.

Prepare the Soil

Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil. Garlic does not do well in clay soils, which means you may need to amend with sand or vermiculite if you have predominantly clay soil. The soil should also be free of weeds.

Plant the Cloves

To plant your garlic cloves (“seeds”) first dig a 3-inch-deep furrow in the garden bed. Place the seeds with the flat root section down and the pointed section up. If the weather has been dry and you don’t expect rain any time soon, you may want to water the seeds before moving on to the next step.

For those of you with square foot gardens, you can plant either 4 (large varieties) or 9 (small varieties) per square foot. For those of you who garden by the row, 6-8 inches between cloves should be your guideline.

Garlic should be planted in full sun.

Side-dress Furrow with Organic Matter

To make sure your garlic has a rich, fertile environment in which to grow, you’ll want to side-dress your seeds with organic matter. Suggested materials include composted manure, alfalfa meal, garden compost or other organic fertilizer. Personally, I plan to use rabbit manure.

Mulch Away

After you’ve planted your seed and added fertilizer, cover everything with 6-8 inches of straw mulch. I’ve also used grass clippings and mulched leaves. The mulch will help to keep weeds at bay but will also help to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. In the spring, carefully rake back the mulch to allow the green shoots to more easily emerge and soak up some sunshine.

 

That’s it! With these few simple steps you can easily grow all the garlic your family will need for the summer, perhaps even for a whole year. Later in the season I’ll share information with you about caring for, harvesting, curing and storing garlic. But for now you know all you need to make sure you don’t miss this perfect opportunity to get out there and plant your garlic before the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.

Alternative Garlic Growing

An alternative way to grow garlic is by planting garlic bulbils. This is a method I discovered while preparing to write this post and is something I’ll spend more time studying this winter. I do love a good experiment so I hope to harvest some garlic bulbils and attempt to propagate more garlic this way in 2015. For more details, click here.

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Perennial Ground-Cover for Garden Aisles

School started a couple of days ago. That means many things for me. It means I can get back to blogging with regularity. It means Pandora doesn’t have to be perpetually set at the Alvin & The Chipmunks channel. It means I can walk through the glass section of Hobby Lobby without worrying that a precious but energy-filled person half my size will topple an entire display with one curious, clumsy touch. And it also means that I have time to do some maintenance projects in the garden which are long overdue.

Any guesses as to what facet of my garden needs the most attention? If you guessed aisle space, then you’d be right! This year my aisles are especially overgrown with weeds (crabgrass, blackberry vines, clover, tall things that look like saplings, etc.). One reason is that last year’s mulch has deteriorated – decomposed, blown away, washed away, carried away – who knows exactly where it went. Despite having black landscaping fabric down in 50% of the aisle space, weeds are still growing through overlapped sections, on top of and sometimes through the fabric. And honestly, I’m just not interested in using wood mulch. The cost to purchase enough to cover my large garden effectively (several inches deep) and then to continue to replenish it every year or two is more than I want to spend.

On the other side of the garden, I have hardly anything in place to control weeds (and you can tell!). This 50% is comprised of the hugelkultur beds we put in last December. Some (maybe half) of these aisles are defended by a layer of cardboard which works reasonably well despite looking very tacky. The others look like… well… this…

weed control garden aisle weed control garden aisle weed control garden aisle weed control garden aisle

I spent a couple of hours today clearing away weeds from one of the beds most aggressively surrounded by tall weeds. The process got me thinking again about something I had considered last year: Intentionally covering my aisles with perennial ground cover. Something that stays green all season long, keeps other weeds at bay, will be pleasant to walk and kneel on, won’t be completely crushed by foot traffic, and won’t grow tall enough to overcrowd (or send seeds into) my raised beds. I’m also looking for something I don’t need to mow, which takes grass out of the equation. I’m not sure if its possible to find a ground cover aggressive enough to be the blanket I need without being so aggressive that it weasels in under the raised sides and takes over my beds from the ground up. (I have determined that I absolutely want to add sides to my hugelkultur beds to help keep the weeds away.)

So…

Who has ideas?

DSC04039I’m currently thinking about violets. We have gobs of them in the wooded section of the property so I think I could transplant and propagate them for free. They don’t get very tall at all, they certainly spread, and in the spring I can actually harvest food from aisle space. The violets currently found on our property are very small and low – likely because they grow in shade and only receive water when it rains. I do worry a smidge about how tall they will get in full sun and with consistent watering. (I irrigate with an oscillating sprinkler.)

What do you think? Would violets work or am I crazy? Any other plant you think I should look into?

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Finding Neem Oil

neem oil natural pesticide

{Image Credit}
Home Depot

Last year I shared this post about my great love for zucchini and my complimentary great hatred for squash bugs and vine borers. I also shared about my equally passionate distaste for white powdery mildew and anthracnose. All of these pests/problems plagued my curcurbits (zucchini, melons, squashes) in our 2012 season. Since then I’ve taken steps to minimize the impact of these Axis of Evil members on my garden, including:

1. No mulch around squashes (it provides a place for bugs to hide)
2. Companion planting of radishes as a trap crop for vine borers
3. Companion planting of beans to provide extra nutrients to cucumbers
4. A bi-weekly application of neem oil

I can’t comment on how effective my no-mulch system has been because it’s difficult to measure how much squash bugs hide. However I can say that with all of these methods combined, I have seen only one case of vine borer damage and only recently (last week) have I seen any squash bugs. Also, I have had zero anthracnose issues and only a limited powdery mildew issue on some golden zucchini. (The golden zucchini are planted in a hugelkultur bed where the soil is 100% native, sandy soil. These plants – presumably – are suffering from having fewer nutrients than our compost-planted crops in other hugels and they have struggled the most of all the producing plants this summer. That being said, they are still producing, even if only a small amount.) Though I clearly still have work to do regarding the insect invaders in my garden, I’m pleased to say that I seem to have found just the right trick to keeping mildew and anthracnose at bay: Neem oil.

What is Neem Oil?

Last year’s issues with these diseases was awful with a capital BAD! In researching the issue, I discovered that neem oil can be a natural solution. What is neem oil? So glad you asked…

According to Wikipedia:

Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the neem (Azadirachta indica), an evergreen tree which is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and has been introduced to many other areas in the tropics. It is the most important of the commercially available products of neem for organic farming and medicines.

The site goes on to say:

Formulations made of neem oil also find wide usage as a biopesticide for organic farming, as it repels a wide variety of pests including the mealy bug, beet armyworm, aphids, the cabbage worm, thrips, whiteflies, mites, fungus gnats, beetles, moth larvae, mushroom flies, leafminers, caterpillars, locust, nematodes and the Japanese beetle. Neem oil is not known to be harmful to mammals, birds, earthworms or some beneficial insects such as butterflies, honeybees and ladybugs if it is not concentrated directly into their area of habitat or on their food source. It can be used as a household pesticide for ant, bedbug, cockroach, housefly, sand fly, snail, termite and mosquitoes both as repellent and larvicide (Puri 1999)[not specific enough to verify]. Neem oil also controls black spot, powdery mildew, anthracnose and rust (fungus).

Where to Get Neem Oil

You can order neem oil online or you can buy it at most home improvement stores. I purchased Natria Neem Oil from Home Depot for about $15. Options include a concentrate which you mix with water or a ready-to-spray formula that has already been diluted with water. I selected the concentrate because I felt it would stretch farther based on the quantity in each bottle. (I also purchased a 1 gallon sprayer similar to this one so I could have a dedicated container.) The Natria Neem Oil says “for organic gardening” right on the package, however I’ve noticed since that other neem oils are listed as being organic themselves while this is not. The next time I purchase neem oil, I’ll select something from the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved list, which you can find here. The OMRI website also has a “Where to Buy” section.

How to Use Neem Oil

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you must follow the direction on the container! My neem oil is concentrated so I combine a small amount with water. Because neem oil can burn plant leaves under lots of sun exposure, its best to spray plants early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I usually spray in the afternoon because there is still enough daylight/warmth to dry the leaves but I don’t have to worry about a noon-day sun showing up a few hours later. I use neem oil on plants which tend to have disease or pest issues in my garden: Broccoli, cauliflower, squashes, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes. Although the packaging gives no limitations regarding spraying greens, I don’t spray it on any crops where the leaves are going to be eaten. The packaging for my neem oil says that weekly applications are permissible and recommends use either once a week or every-other week. I started in May with weekly applications and transitioned to bi-weekly in June. (On off weeks I fertilize the garden with diluted fish emulsion. With that said, things grew well in July and I confess that I haven’t fertilized in over a month.)

More Info

For more info about neem oil – including info on toxicity in humans and animals (hint: there is little to none) check out this link: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html#whatis

So far, I’m thrilled with the results. Neem oil has enabled me to effectively stave off white powdery mildew and anthracnose in my garden. Although I can’t say for sure that it has been effective at warding off vine borers and squash bugs, its effectiveness might increase if I used it weekly instead of bi-weekly. Before I go there, my next attempt at squashing squash bugs is going to involve a hungry chicken! I’ll let you know how that goes…

Anyone else use neem oil? Other natural fungicides or pesticides? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 
 

Preserving (Freezing) Zucchini

Swimming in zucchini? Giving some away to the neighbors seems to be the common cure for an overzealous squash plant. If you’re feeling a bit miserly… or in a positive light, if you wish there was a way to enjoy home-grown zucchini all year round, here’s a fabulous tip for you!

This entire idea – word for word – came from www.nwedible.com. They have a great website with lots of great tips for eating healthy and gardening. Like this…

1. Shred zucchini and drain, squeezing out excess moisture. I always toss my zucchini for baked goods with a bit of sugar to help draw out excess moisture.

2. Measure out shredded zucchini in 1-cup portions (or whatever measure is most appropriate to the recipes you follow).

3. Freeze the pre-measured portions into “pucks” on a sheet pan.

4. When the pucks are frozen solid, toss them into a zip-top freezer bag or other freezer safe container.

5. When you want to make some holiday zucchini bread, just pull out as many pucks as you need for your recipe and let thaw while you preheat the oven and assemble the rest of your ingredients.

frozen zucchini pucks

{Image Credit}
Northwest Edible Life

 
 

Potato Experiment Results

Back in April I wrote this post about planting experimental potatoes. They were experimental in that they are:

  1. Planted from spouting (organic) spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. Planted (mostly) in hay.
  3. Planted outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Today I spent the better part of the evening digging up these experimental potatoes and I’m pleased to report that they are amazing! Even better than the potatoes planted from official ‘seed potatoes’ in the main garden!

Here’s a quick recap of what I did – along with thoughts on what worked well and what I’ll do differently next year.

First, I started with chitted potatoes – potatoes with eyes growing on them. (Click here to learn how and why to chit potatoes before planting.) Next I dug pits along the outside of the fence which were 10-12” deep. I put the potato pieces (with at least 2 eyes) in the pit and covered them with composted waste hay from the bunny. I didn’t go out of my way to water these at all – occasionally they would get some overspray from watering the garden and they definitely received their fair share of rain! When the plants grew about 6-12 inches above the hay, I added another layer to “hill” them. Unfortunately I ran out of hay before I had hilled them all so I added some compost to two of the sections.

That’s it! No fertilizer, no watering. And here’s what I received…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Part way through harvesting.

Part way through harvesting.

Amazing!

Planting the potatoes in hay (or you could use straw) really did make it much easier to harvest them. (Trust me… I am WAY over digging for potatoes in the 100% compost bed!). Now that the hay has broken down, the soil in these areas looks quite rich. This should be a good way to add organic matter to the area surrounding the garden.

Also, I originally planted onions and garlic in between sections of potatoes to keep critters (especially deer) away. I’ve seen many deer tracks in that area, starting as early as the week I planted the potatoes. On the face of it, the garlic/onion strategy seems to have worked. However, a friend (who has much more gardening experience than I do) pointed out to me that deer won’t eat potatoes because they have a high amount of a certain acid in them. (I wish I could tell you the name of the acid…) Still, with anecdotal advice I received from the stories of other gardeners (both in the area and online) it seems that the real test of whether or not a deer will eat potato plants is whether or not his belly is full when he finds the potatoes. So whether the garlic kept them at bay, the potato plants are too acidic for their taste or they’ve been feasting elsewhere by the time they get to me, the deer have left my potato plants completely alone.

All things considered, this feels like a pretty successful way to grow my potatoes. The best part is that it frees up space in my raised garden beds (I only have so many!) and makes use of what would otherwise be unused space while still keeping things pretty central to the garden area. In fact, these potatoes are from just one side of the garden. There are two other sides which would be suitable for tater-growing. Giddy-up!

The only downside in this year’s potato-growing endeavor was this: Overgrowth. The pits I planted my potatoes in were simply dug with a shovel. In early spring, this fence-line row of garlic and potatoes looked quite neat. Meanwhile, piles of overturned sod created a bit of a berm to the west of the piles. I kept telling myself I’d “get to moving those piles eventually.” Well, I never did, save for one small section. Because the ground is freakishly uneven there, Ryan won’t mow it. Which means weeds and grass have taken over and are growing quite snuggly in with my potatoes. Next year I’ll till everything up properly and I’ll be sure to level the area so it can be mowed.

overgrown potatoes

Without proper tilling, the potatoes and garlic quickly became overgrown with grass and weeds. Next time I’ll be sure to clear the area and keep the ground level so we can mow.

overgrown potatoes

More overgrown potatoes.

overgrown potatoes

Here’s a view of the west side of the garden where the potatoes and garlic were planted along the fence. There are more potatoes on the south side of the garden as well.

Based on what I’ve learned, I have plans for a new experiment next year. Along the West fence, I’ll plant potatoes just like I did this year. Here are some variations I’m planning for the other two fence lines.

  1. On the South Fence: All potatoes from store-bought organics, but some planted with waste hay and some with grass clippings.
  2. On the East Fence: Using waste hay, I’ll plant some potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, some from store-bought organic potatoes that have sprouted and some from ‘seed potatoes’ from my own garden.

So there you have it… I’m considering my experimental potatoes to be a smashing success! Anyone else harvesting potatoes? What other things are you harvesting right now?

 
 

June 2013 Garden Update

Howdy folks! It has been quite a week for us. On the family side of things, our first foster child went back to his family yesterday. On the farm side, the weather has finally been warm. A healthy mix of rain, humidity, sun and some natural fertilizer (fish emulsion) have proven to be very beneficial to the gardens. On one hand I’m very pleased with how healthy everything is and how it is progressing along given this season’s circumstances. But on the flip side, I was bummed to have to contact our members today to let them know that we’ll have to skip a week of deliveries since nothing is quite harvestable at this point. (We’ll still provide 20 weeks of produce… just with a one-week break in the middle.)

For now, I wanted to give you a quick photo update on what the garden looks like. I didn’t take pictures of everything, but this will give you a general idea of what we’re growing right now. There are also eggplants, peppers and various squashes (including pumpkins) in the greenhouse.

Sugar Ann Snap Peas

Sugar Ann Snap Peas

Quinoa

Quinoa

Lettuce

Lettuce

Lettuce and Arugula

Lettuce and Arugula

Rat's Tail Radishes

Rat’s Tail Radishes… You don’t eat the roots of these pretty plants: See the long seed pods?

Onions

Onions

Beans

Beans

Boothby's Blonde Cucumbers

Boothby’s Blonde Cucumbers

Potato Plants

The potatoes are doing AWESOME this year!

Zucchini

Zucchini

Carrots

Carrots… which are in need of some thinning!

Cauliflower Platns

You can’t really tell in this picture, but these cauliflower plants are really big!

Watermelon Plant

A baby watermelon plant… can’t wait!

Red Cabbage Plants

Red cabbage in the Fenceline Garden

Tomato Plant

Tomato Plant

Banana Pepper Plant

Banana Pepper Plant – with a pepper! Not all of them (in fact, hardly any of them) are this far along.

Beans in the Fenceline Garden

Beans in the Fenceline Garden

Blackberries

Blackberries (or at least they’ll be black soon!)

Tags:
 
 

Frost! (And Other Updates)

There’s a reason why the last frost date in Michigan (the reasonable date on which you can plant outside in the spring without worrying about frost harming your plants) has been moved to May 18. Last night (May 12/13) we had a visit from good ole Jack Frost! Pretty strange considering the old Last Frost Date was May 10 and we’ve been having beautifully warm weather before this sudden cold snap. Then again, this is Michigan, and it wouldn’t be spring if you didn’t have to trade your flip flops for the winter coat all in the same week at least one time…

I’m not sure if you would call it impatience or optimism, but it was sooo warm last week that I couldn’t resist the urge to plant out at least one warm-weather crop. My original plan was to transplant just three golden zucchini plants… I planted six. Here’s what I did to keep these little guys cozy over the very cold weekend (and right through last night’s frost).

Row Cover

On Friday afternoon I covered the raised bed with a plastic row cover. The row cover is attached with utility clips to hoops made from PVC pipe. The zucchini share a bed with radishes which actually prefer the cold weather. Fortunately these are the Rat’s Tail radishes which I’m growing not for the root but for the edible seed pods. The row cover will warm them up substantially in sunny conditions, causing them to bolt (grow faster and produce a flower). Bolting is bad for regular radishes because it alters the taste and texture of the root, but in the case of these radishes, a little extra heat will just move the I-want-seed-pods process along a smidge faster.

row cover

This row cover was put in place to protect golden zucchini plants from May frost.

Cloches

In theory, a row cover should be enough to keep my precious golden zucchini plants from being frost-bitten. But since I got a little overzealous and planted out six instead of three, I decided to bring in some insurance. Enter the cloche (pronounced “klohsh”). A cloche is a tool that originated in France to keep plants from being harmed by frost and to force their early growth. The cloche is typically bell shaped and made from glass. Here’s a picture of a classic cloche.

classic French garden cloche

{Image Credit}
betterlivingthroughpermaculture.com
Click on the image for a DIY cloche idea.

I’m not fancy enough to have beautiful French cloches like the one above so I used my own micro-farm-style cloches: mason jars.

diy cloche

The zucchini plants get double frost protection – glass cloches made from mason jars and a plastic row cover.

diy cloche

The upside down jars keep the plants warm and safe from frost.

The zucchini plants were covered from late on Friday afternoon all the way through this morning (Monday). When I first placed them over the plants, it was chilly and windy but the sun was shining, and they looked like like the picture above. When I retrieved the cloches this morning, the plants looked like this:

diy cloches

The “after” shot is pretty much the same as the “before”!

diy cloche

Despite a smidge of mud on one leaf, this plant
(just like the others) looks great!

So based on my experience, the combination of row cover and cloche worked beautifully! My zucchini plants are ready for spring!

Other Plants in the Garden

Everything else that is planted out in the garden is frost tolerant – lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, peas, carrots (teeny tiny seedlings), beets (just now coming up), onions, strawberries and a few other things I can’t think to name right now. There is one sad exception: The potato plants.

Since potatoes are planted out so early, my novice-farmer brain assumed that they are frost tolerant. But as I was coming in from the garden this morning I noticed that many of the leaves looked very frost bitten and dark. What a giant bummer because they have been coming up SO nicely (about 4 to 6 inches each)! One of the garden tasks I was planning for this afternoon was hilling potatoes. After doing some quick research it appears that I just need to trim the dead/damaged leaves and the plants should continue to grow just fine. Next year I’ll throw a row cover over these too!

potato plants

Here are the potato plants before last night’s frost. They don’t look as cheerful this morning…

The only thing planted in the Fenceline garden right now is turnips… or perhaps I should say “was” turnips. These are frost-tolerant and were coming along nicely… until one or two certain four-legged creatures who are otherwise quite lovable dug half of them up. Not. Happy. Time to get that electric fence fixed

The other heat-loving plants have been hiding out in the greenhouse snuggled together on the shelves near the heater which came back into action for the weekend. After today the heater should be going into hibernation until fall.

Also the blueberry bushes are starting to blossom! This is exciting but also a bit sad because I was planning to transplant them to their permanent home before they blossomed. (They are currently in large pots inside the garden fence.) I suppose that task will now have to wait until fall, which is ok, because I’m still not sure where I want to put them.

If you look closely you can see closed buds on the branches. There are a few open blossoms this morning.

If you look closely you can see closed buds on the branches. There are a few open blossoms this morning.

Did you have any frost issues in your garden? Is anyone out there going to be adventurous and transplant heat-loving plants before the actual last frost date? I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Container Gardening Tips

Plants in a WindowThe more I learn about sustainable living, the more convinced I become that everyone can grow fresh food at home. Not everyone can have the same 1,500 square feet of garden space that we have here at Arcadia Farms, but even renters and apartment dwellers can grow a significant amount of food in a container garden. Container gardening is also a great place for reluctant homeowners to start. If you’re convinced that growing some of your own food would be beneficial but are hesitant to rent a rototiller and start digging up your backyard, consider starting with a container garden. Today I want to share some tips with you on how to make your container garden a successful one.

For the most part, growing veggies in containers is the same as growing them directly in the ground or a raised bed. One obvious difference is that you have less soil to work with. With less soil, you’ll need to pay close attention to your plants nutritional needs (small space means soil nutrients can be used up more readily). You’ll also need to keep a close eye on moisture (it’s easy to over or underwater a container garden). Let’s talk about those two factors – and a few other things you should keep in mind.

1. Give Your Plants Nutrients

raw egg fertilizer

{image Credit}
www.redbookmag.com

To make sure your plants get the nutrients they need, I recommend starting with good quality compost. Because the soil in your container is more likely to become compacted over time, mixing in some vermiculite would also be preferable. There are also many ready-mixed organic garden soils that provide a good supply of nutrients while still being lightweight.

After your plants are established (are showing their true leaves), you’ll want to give them with a natural fertilizer. Good choices are fish emulsion (diluted in water per the bottle’s directions) or an organic soil amendment (such as Jobes organic tomato and vegetable fertilizer.) Fertilize every 1 to 2 weeks after your plants begin to show their true leaves. Here’s another idea for fertilizing your container: A whole, in-shell, raw egg. Warning: I’ve never actually tried this myself, rather, I found the idea on Pinterest. The idea is that the egg will decompose slowly and add nutrients to the soil as it does.

If you intend to use the same containers over and over again, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to soil fertility. First, you should add new organic matter every year. Fall is a good time to do this so that the materials have time to breakdown over the winter. You can accomplish this by adding grass clippings, shredded leaves, table scraps, store-bought or homemade compost. The second thing to keep in mind has to do with crop rotation. Just like an in-ground garden, plants of the same family ‘eat’ certain nutrients in the soil. If you continue to plant the same type of plant in the same container, over time the nutrients necessary for the healthy growth of that plant will be depleted. To avoid this issue, rotate similarly sized containers through various crops of different plant families. If your season and container are conducive to this, consider sowing some manner of nitrogen-fixing crop after your summer veggies are spent. This cover crop will keep weeds from inhabiting your container over the cooler months and will also add nitrogen to the soil. For a list of nitrogen-fixing cover crops, click here. In general, any legume will do the trick, such as peas and beans.

You can also add nutrients to your container by adding a layer of woody debris – such as broken branches, twigs or even small logs – to the bottom of your container. As the wood breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil, among other benefits.

2. Manage Moisture

{Image Credit} www.amazon.com

{Image Credit}
www.amazon.com

Another benefit of adding woody debris to your container is that it helps to retain moisture. As wood breaks down it acts like a sponge, attracting water and then releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil as needed. This is the primary function of wood in hugelkultur – a system where raised bed gardens are built over piles of well-rotted (spongy) wood to help retain moisture and reduce (or eliminate) the need for irrigation. You can put this hugelkultur benefit to work for you on a container-sized scale. I even read that one blogger found better success with logs placed vertically than horizontally, essentially because the grain of the log acted like a straw for moisture to move up and down. (As soon as I can re-find his post I will link to it here!).  Keep the following tips in mind when selecting wood for your container:

  • Avoid wood so large that will interfere with the growth of root crops (i.e. carrots)
  • Avoid treated lumber
  • Avoid wood from plants that contain natural herbicides, such as black walnut
  • The more rotten the wood, the better
  • Fresh wood that contains a significant amount of tannin (i.e. pine) should be avoided until the wood is older (6 months old at earliest, just my opinion)

Don’t feel like you need to use a giant log in your 12” pot – just a handful of fallen sticks from the yard will help! These sticks will also help provide some air pockets for drainage at the bottom of the container which is of critical importance in container planting. (You don’t want to drown the roots of your plant – they need air too!)

Because containers can dry out easily, try mulching the top to keep the soil cool and water from evaporating. If your container is large enough, you may consider using an olla to reduce the amount of time you spend on watering.

And lastly, because moisture management is so important in container gardening, you’ll want to invest in a moisture meter. For $5-$10 you can find something like this (image above) which takes the guesswork out of whether or not to water – just stick the probes into the soil and you’ll find out how much moisture is already present.

3. Choose the Right Container (Size, Shape & Materials)

When it comes to container gardening, bigger is generally better. That’s because you have more moisture-retaining, nutrient-rich soil to work with. But that doesn’t mean a small container can’t be just as successful! In Mel Brook’s Square Foot Gardening method, nearly everything can be grown in soil that is just 6” deep.  (Root crops will need a minimum of 12”.) The necessary width of your container will depend on what you’re growing – tomato plants do best with at least 2 square feet of space while one head of lettuce requires only 12.5% of a single square foot. Use these plant spacing rules as a guideline for container planting.

Tall or vining crops (such as cucumbers and tomatoes) will need a trellis. Does your container have enough space to hold both your plant and your trellis? Or will you use an external trellis near the container such as a fence or a porch railing? Here are some ideas for container-gardening trellises. Click on the image for more info and image sources.

outdoor trellis string trellis simple diy copper trellis raspberries trellis sapling green ladder trellis

Also consider the material makeup of your container. You’ll want to avoid containers from treated materials, ones that may leach chemicals into your soil or that previously held harmful chemicals/materials.

4. Location, Location, Location

This isn’t real estate, but location is still pretty darn important! The closer your containers are to the house, the less likely you’ll be to neglect them. Plus if you have easy access to your cherry tomatoes and snap beans, you (and your family) will be more likely to grab a few for a snack or dinner than if you have to wander far from the back door.

When choosing a location for your container garden, sunlight is another huge consideration. In general, you’re looking for a location with as much sun as possible. However some plants benefit from a little shade. To determine the best location for each crop, check out the info on the back of the seed packet. Once you’ve identified your shade-loving plants and your sun-loving plants, you can devise a plan for each group. You may even be able to use your large sun-loving plants to provide shade to your shade-loving plants. Shade-lovers staged on the east side of sun-lovers will get plenty of morning sun but will be shielded from harsher afternoon rays.

And when you place your containers, keep pests in mind! Do you have deer nearby? You may want to keep your containers in a fenced area. Is the sunniest spot in the yard also in the path of your pets and kids – you’ll need a plan to keep them from being toppled over. Another way to keep bunnies and other critters away from your veggies is to interplant smelly things to deter them – chives, garlic, marigolds and rosemary are good options.

Inspiration

As you ponder how to incorporate these tips into your own container garden, click here to take a peep at some of these neato ideas for inspiration.

I’m working right now on a custom container gardening plan for growing lots of things like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, potatoes and herbs. I hope to share that with you soon!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Setting Up Your Garden for Seed Saving

A few posts ago I shared that one of the biggest challenges I face personally as a market-gardener is being disciplined to start seeds when I’m scheduled to start them. Life is full of distractions and shifting priorities which means that more than once I’ve gone to bed thinking “Crap! I was supposed to start seeds today!” Now that I’m trying to plant by the phases of the moon, the pressure has escalated.

So you can imagine the giant eye roll I gave to myself when I realized Thursday that I was supposed to start a ton of seeds on Wednesday. It looked a lot like this…


Add to that the fact that I was also supposed to start a ton of seeds on Thursday and you’ll understand why I spent a big chunk of the day folding newspaper pots and stayed up till nearly midnight planting seeds. (But I got done before midnight… technically still Thursday – YES!!)

While I was planting cherry tomatoes (Black Cherries and Tommy Toes), slicing tomatoes (Moneymaker), sweet basil, Golden zucchini, Fordhook zucchini, zinnias, Charleston Gray watermelon, and California Wonder peppers, I wanted something to listen to other than the pitter patter of rain. So I decided to catch up on something else I missed because my life got distracting: A webinar from Seed Savers Exchange on how to setup your garden for seed saving.

This webinar was a great way to multitask and make late-night seed-sowing that much more enjoyable. The information is very complete but straightforward and easy enough for a beginner (i.e., me) to understand. Please don’t think even for a moment that I am an expert on seeding saving, however, I thought I’d take the time to create a very simplified summary of the information provided in the webinar. If you don’t have time to watch the video, I promise these tips will help you… but you should make time to watch the video as well.

Basic Tips for a Seed-Saving Garden

  • You should learn the basics of pollination and specifically how the plants you’re growing are pollinated.
    • Some plants are self-pollinators with ‘perfect’ flowers (both male and female parts in the same flower). Examples include legumes (peas, beans) and tomatoes.
    • Some plants are out-crosses with both male and female flowers on the same plant such as squash plants.
    • Some plants are out-crosses where one plant is male and the other is female. Spinach falls into this category.
  • Know your plant’s genus and species because any plants in the same species can cross-pollinate. Cross pollination means that the fruit that comes from the seed you harvest won’t be true to its parent.
  • Keep in mind that just because plants are the same crop doesn’t mean that they are all of the same species. For example, there are four different species of squash. If you grow one plant from each of the four species, you won’t have to worry about cross-pollination. (For more detailed info on cross-pollination between squash species – and the teeny exception to the rule I just mentioned – click here.)
  • Know the weeds in your area because they may be of the same genus and species as the plants in your garden. For example, Queen Anne’s Lace is the same species as carrots. If this ‘weed’ cross-pollinates with your carrots, the carrots which come from your harvested seeds will turn out… weedy.
  • Preventing cross-pollination requires the use of isolation methods.
    • Complete Isolation: Grow only one variety of a crop (i.e., only one kind of tomato).
    • Isolation by Distance: Click here for information to help you determine how much distance you need to give you a better chance of avoiding cross-pollination.
    • Isolation by Timing: Plant varieties that will shed pollen at different times or strategically plant them to shed pollen at different times (i.e., planted a few weeks apart).
    • Isolation by Barrier: This involves use of tents and row covers. If you have two varieties of a certain species, you only need to use a barrier with one of them.
    • Hand Pollination: You can hand pollinate selected flowers and gather those fruits specifically for harvesting seeds. For more details on hand pollination, click here.
  • To fully represent your plant/fruit population, you’ll want to gather seeds from several plants and fruits. In general, the more inbred your seeds are (typically from self-pollinators) the smaller the population can be (because they are already used to limited diversity.) Out-crossing pollinators will need a larger population size.
  • To better control cross-pollination, you’ll want to know how your plants are pollinated. Do you have lots of bees and butterflies? Lots of wind? What are the other pollination sources in your area (i.e. neighboring gardens and weeds)? Know the plants you want to save seeds from – how far can its pollen travel?

Planning Your Garden for Seed Saving


Saving Seeds at Arcadia Farms {2013}

So as I was stuffing compost into newspaper pots I got to thinking – which plants should I select to save seeds from this year? Since this will be my first year (properly) saving seed, I decided to start with some of the easy self-pollinators. Fortunately I laid out the garden to provide some isolation between crops of the same species but different variety so the isolation by distance should help me out. I have lots of pollinators (especially bees) in my garden so, knowing that pollen could travel to my plants from neighboring gardens, I think starting with these self-pollinators (which typically have fully enclosed reproductive parts) is a good place to start. I’ll keep you posted on the nuts and bolts of actually harvesting and storing the seeds. Meanwhile, if you’re a visual person, here’s a map of our garden layout so you can see the distances between each variety. With all of these factors in mind, I’ve decided to keep seeds from the following plants:

  • White Tomesol Tomatoes
  • Black Cherry Tomatoes
  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Dragon Tongue Bush Beans
  • Sugar Ann Sugar Snap Peas
  • Rat’s Tail Radishes
  • Charleston Gray Watermelon
  • Table King Acorn Squash
  • Sugar Pie Pumpkins
  • Quinoa (mostly for eating, though!)

Since my watermelons (Citrullus lanatu) are a different species than my acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo) the fact that they live next door to each other shouldn’t be an issue for cross-pollination. Likewise, all of the tomato plants in the main garden will be far enough apart to minimize my concerns for cross-pollination. Unfortunately the tomatoes I’m planting in the Fenceline Garden (Moneymaker slicing tomatoes and Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes) will be close enough that I’m not going to take my chances with saving their seeds this year. Next year I’ll rotate those varieties into the main garden so that I can save some seeds.

Do you save seeds from your garden? Any tips? Do you use any of the isolation methods discussed above and in the video? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally. 

 
 

Seasonal Family Garden Plan

One of the things I’m enjoying most about this year’s growing season is the opportunity to help others with their home gardens. Last week I had a chance to chat with a friend and former college roommate – Sara Heilig, about the garden that she and her husband Nick would like to grow this year. The garden is driven by three major factors: The family’s veggie preferences, their space and of course Assistant Gardeners – Emma and Hailey.

The Space

This raised bed is surrounded by chain link fence to the North and West and a custom gate on the other sides.

This raised bed is surrounded by chain link fence to the North and West and a custom gate on the other sides.

The Heiligs currently have an 8’ x 8’ raised garden bed in place. The bed is surrounded on two sides (North and West) with a 4’ high chain link fence and on the other sides with a custom-built gate. The sides of the bed are made of three landscape timbers stacked on top of each other. Also the bed was filled with commercially mixed garden soil about five years ago and has clay earth beneath it.

In addition to this 8’ x 8’ bed, the Heiligs are also planning to build a 4’ x 6’ cedar raised bed inspired by a picture Sara saw here.

Both beds get (or will get) excellent sun. While bunnies are a concern, there are no other potential critter problems (such as deer, raccoons or pets). Also, the 8’ x 8’ bed has a path of stepping stones running through it to allow Sara to harvest the hard-to-reach sections of the garden without compacting soil as she steps into the space. I don’t know exactly where those stones are, so please keep in mind that the plantings for this garden will need to be adjusted slightly to accommodate those stepping stones.

Because they have two distinct garden spaces, this seasonal family garden plan calls for planting each space for a different season. The larger garden will be planted now for spring and early summer veggies. The smaller garden will hold summer veggies. Meanwhile, since the early veggies will be gone by midsummer, the large garden will be replanted for a fall harvest. We’ll talk about this more in a minute, but crop rotation and well-planned companion planting are key to this second round of veggies.

Veggie Preferences

The Heiligs (especially the little ones) love snap peas and beans. This plan provides them with a whole heapin’ mess of beans and peas! They’re also fans of zucchini and would like to try summer squash. Sara is interested in canning or freezing tomato sauce this year so the plan also calls for some roma tomato plants. (Her father is a tomato connoisseur with tons of plants each year so there’s no need to plant slicing tomatoes.) Here are the other plants they’d like to grow:

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Summer Squash

I also threw pie pumpkins and cabbage into the mix as recommendations.

Spring Garden (8’ x 8’)

Spring Garden 2

The Spring garden (8’ x 8’ bed) features sugar snap peas (Sugar Ann) growing along the North and West side of the garden. Since peas grow on vines, they can be trained up the fence and no additional trellis is needed. Because the climbing peas are to the north and west, they shouldn’t block much sunlight. All the same, I designed the garden so that the sun-loving veggies are to the south (carrots, broccoli) and the veggies that can handle (and sometimes welcome) a little shade are planted to the north (spinach and lettuce). The wee bit of additional shade from the peas may even help the lettuce and spinach to last longer into the season before they bolt (grow a flower and become bitter tasting). The carrots are furthest south in this scheme because they are the shortest and that way their sun won’t be blocked by the taller broccoli plants.

Fortunately all of these cool-weather veggies play nicely together so companion planting is not a large concern. (There are no “bad” combinations to look out for.) Here are the varieties I selected for this garden:

  • Sugar Ann Snap Peas. This is a common garden pea that matures early.
  • Tom Thumb Lettuce. I just loved the idea of little girls being able to pick cute little lettuce heads from their own garden.
  • Rouge d’Hiver Lettuce. I was initially drawn to Rouge d’Hiver lettuce because of striking purple-red color, but reviews indicate that this variety is also very low maintenance and tolerant of a wide array of growing conditions.
  • Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach. This is a common variety of spinach that resists bolting and has a great taste.
  • Berlicum 2 Carrots. Just a good old fashioned orange carrot!
  • Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli. The majority of the broccoli is this Italian heirloom variety because reviews indicate that it is easier to grow than other varieties and produces earlier.
  • Waltham 29 Broccoli. This is the most common home-garden broccoli variety. Reviews indicated that this one grows well too.

      baker creek berlicum carrotbaker creek spinachBaker Creek Rouge d'Hiver Lettucebaker creek calabrese green sprouting broccolibaker creek waltham 29 broccoliBaker Creek Tom Thumb Lettuce

All of the veggies I’ve talked about so far have high yields per square foot. The exception is Broccoli on the other hand has low yields per square foot (only one plant). Because of that, and because this family loves it, I devoted the bulk of the garden to broccoli.

This plan calls for a lot of greens. If you wanted to add some variety, good choices would be beets (the baby greens are delicious!) arugula and chard.

Summer Garden (4’ x 6’)

Summer Garden

The summer garden is smaller and contains all heat-loving veggies. For the most part these guys play well together with one exception: Beans. Tomatoes and peppers don’t like beans so I designed the garden to keep them as far apart as possible. The end result was that I wasn’t able to plant very many beans (which, remember, the girls love) but don’t worry – we’ll make up for that in the Fall Garden.

Because there is no trellis here, the beans are bush beans. Using bush beans also helps to avoid a shade issue since these are all sun-loving plants. The tomatoes, however, will need some manner of trellis. Here are the varieties for the summer garden:

  • Golden Wax Beans. These are also a common garden vegetable with a creamy yellow flesh and a sweet taste.
  • Dragon Tongue Beans. I will grow these for the rest of my life. I love the flavor and they are so beautiful! For a family that loves fresh snap beans, this one is sure to be a winner.
  • Roma Tomatoes. These tomatoes are also known as paste tomatoes because they are great for sauces. We also like them for fresh eating.
  • Black Beauty Zucchini. A classic home garden zucchini plant. It’s a bush variety so no trellis is needed.
  • Crookneck Early Golden Summer Squash. Also a classic. Matures at the same time as the zucchini.

roma tomatoesbaker creek black beauty zucchiniBaker Creek Crookneck Early Godlen Summer Squashbaker creek california wonder pepper  baker creek dragon tongue bush beans   Baker Creek Golden Wax Bush Beans

If the Heiligs are feeling adventurous, they could try substituting Golden Zucchini for the traditional green variety.

Fall Garden (8’ x 8’)

Fall Garden

June doesn’t seem like the time to be thinking about fall. After all , the summer is just getting started! But by the middle to end of June, the sugar snap peas will be in decline and other veggies like lettuce and spinach will be on their way out too, depending on weather conditions. What a shame it would be to leave this 8’ x 8’ space laying fallow when there is still so much fair weather left to the year. Here’s the plan for making good use of that space to continue the harvest well into Fall!

Peas are legumes, and legumes are nitrogen fixers. That means they add nitrogen to the soil. We’re going to take advantage of that by planting a second crop of “heavy feeders” in the place where the peas used to be. (Heavy feeders are crops which “eat” large amounts of nutrients from the soil.) On the West side of the garden, we’ll plant cabbage. Cabbage might not sound like the most appetizing of garden vegetables, but trust me, you will LOVE the taste of homemade coleslaw from home-grown cabbage! Along the north we’re going to plant two cherry tomato plants and another zucchini plant. (The family loves zucchini and unfortunately I wasn’t able to squeeze as much into the Summer Garden as I wanted to.) There’s also an option to plant pie pumpkins or winter squash (such as acorn squash) here… or another zucchini plant. The nice thing about planting these on the North fence is that the climbers (tomatoes, pumpkins) have a built-in trellis and all of the shade issues I mentioned above apply again. Keep in mind that any large fruit (bigger than cantaloupes) will need slings to keep them from slipping the vines.

The placement of the cabbage and tomatoes is important. These guys don’t like each other, so we need to keep them as far apart as possible. Another tricky thing about this garden is that tomatoes also don’t like beans so we need to give them some distance.

However, remember that whole thing about “heavy feeders”? The broccoli that was in this garden in the Spring has “eaten” a lot of nutrients from the middle of the garden. A great way to replace those nutrients naturally is to plant legumes – like beans! Sweet, delicious, snap, bush beans. And tons of them! To keep the beans and tomatoes happy, I’ve placed two rows of carrots between them. With lettuce and spinach to the south of the garden, essentially now we’ve swapped the “root vegetable section” with the “leaf vegetable section.” That’s important because you should never succession plant (plant a second time in the same soil) crops from the same family (because they “eat” the same nutrients).

The varieties in the Fall Garden are the same as the Spring and Summer with a couple of additions:

  • Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage. Beautiful and delicious. What more could you ask for?
  • Tommy Toe Cherry Tomatoes. I grew these last year – they were my best tomatoes!
  • Tendergreen Bush Bean. These beans are supposed to be excellent for preserving – both canning and freezing. If the girls don’t eat them all before frost comes, there will be plenty to save for the winter.

Seed Savers Exchange Tommy Toe tendergreen bush beans Baker Creek Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage Baker Creek New England Sugar Pie

If garden success through the year brings on a desire to try some more “exotic” crops, here are some suggestions for alternatives:

  • Trade carrots for parsnips
  • Trade some carrots for turnips. Just a few – turnips have a very distinct, almost spicy flavor. The greens are also edible and I like them sautéed.
  • Trade some greens for kale or swiss chard.
  • Swap a cabbage or two for cauliflower.

Note: Many of the selections I made for this garden came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can find the same or similar varieties from other companies like Hart’s, Seed Savers Exchange, Sustainable Seed Company, Victory Seeds or Annie’s Heirloom Seeds.

Challenges

The Heiligs’  garden has some other challenges to address. In the last few years, Sara’s gardens have produced wilty vegetables – or some things have not produced at all. After talking with her about the garden, it sounds like the space is just in need of a nutrient boost since the soil has never been amended in the last five years. Adding a layer (4” thick) of a combination of quality plant-based compost mixed with manure-based compost should do wonders. If necessary, a natural fertilizer like fish emulsion would help during the season. You can find other natural, organic fertilizers (as well as compost) at major home stores like Menards and Home Depot. Follow the directions on the packaging for success.

Basket Full of Strawberries

The garden also has a current, perennial occupant: Strawberries. Sara would like to keep the strawberries, however, they have only produced tiny, colorless berries the last couple of years and clearly need a boost. Once we give the strawberries a boost, they are aggressive enough that they may take over the whole garden! To combat both issues, this plan involves transplanting the berries into containers full of rich, organic soil (same compost mix as the main gardens). For more tips on successful container planting for strawberries, click here.

Another challenge is how to kill some resident grass that just won’t go away. A safe, natural, effective way to kill wayward grass in (or around) the garden is (drum roll) vinegar! The acetic acid in vinegar – especially as it interacts with sunlight – is able to destroy plants without unnatural chemicals. Because vinegar used for household purposes has a relatively low amount of acetic acid, boiling the vinegar in advance may help to concentrate the acid. Some people also say that you can use boiling water to kills weeds (I tried it and didn’t have success) so perhaps boiled vinegar has double the power? Either way, I recommend that Sara apply the vinegar before planting veggies as the vinegar will be just as harmful to desirable plants as it is to weeds and grass. It’s also recommended that the vinegar be applied on a sunny day.

And lastly, we need to talk about a garden pest: Cabbage worms. These guys stink. I ended up picking them off my broccoli by hand last year and it was a stinky way to spend my time. I found that they were also fans of non-cabbage-family things like leafy lettuce. This year I’m going to try placing nylons over my cabbage heads as a physical barrier to keeping the cabbage worms (and white moths that lay the eggs initially) off my cabbage. For more thoughts on keeping cabbage worms at bay, click here.

To download the complete Seasonal Family Garden plan (including info on varieties selected and where to buy them) click here.

 
 
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