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.

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.  

 
 

Planting Herbs in Upcycled Tin Cans

This winter I shared with you that I want a beautiful, traditionally styled, super-sized tea garden full of straight-up tea plant (Camellia sinensis) hedges and oodles of herbs. Despite my grandest dreams, our micro-farm only has room for a micro tea garden. So instead of having something like this…

formal garden

{Image Credit}
www.dnalandscape.com

I’m going to have something like this…

tin can herbs

{Image Credit}
http://fotofraulein.blogspot.com

I’ll be growing herbs for tea in upcycled tin cans which will hang from the posts of our garden fence. I’m also hoping to add some herb containers closer to the house. This weekend I got started on planting my first herbs – stevia.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with stevia, it is a natural sweetening alternative to cane sugar. I’m going to use the leaves in tea but you can also use it in powder form for baking. (Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the aftertaste it leaves in baked goods.) I’m starting small with just five containers. Here’s what I did.

I’ve been collecting an assortment of tin cans all year. I grabbed five of them and used a drill to make holes in the bottom. Because stevia likes well-drained soil, I wanted to add a little something to the bottom of each can to create air pockets for drainage. What better to use than some of the myriad twigs lying around my yard? Cleans my yard up a smidge (ok, a very tiny smidge), makes good use of what would otherwise be yard waste and creates a mini-hugelkultur climate in my herb containers. Win win win!

holes in tin can planter for herbs

I started by drilling drainage holes in the bottoms of my tin cans.

tin can herb planters with twigs for drainage

Next I added a layer of fallen twigs. These will aid in drainage by creating air pockets and will also add a hugelkultur effect to these tiny planters.

planting stevia in tin can herb planters

I’m planting stevia from Seed Savers Exchange in these mini-planters.

I’ve never grown stevia before… can’t wait to see (and taste) what lies ahead! And I’m super excited about all the other tea-worthy herbs that are yet to come.

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

 
 

A Micro Tea Garden

I want a tea garden. And by ‘tea garden’, I mean a garden with hedges made of true tea plants (Camellia sinensis) and tea-worthy herbs that I can harvest at my leisure (<— said with my best British accent) then steep for a delicious homemade tea minutes later. On top of that, I wouldn’t mind sitting in the midst of all those beautiful hedges and herbs while I sip said tea. The ideal tea garden would be very near my back door. I have visions of something marvelous and much like the following:

Source: flickr.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

Source: mydeco.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

Source: everythingfab.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

 

 

Source: ripe6.net via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

 

But the unfortunate reality is that there just isn’t a great space available for my fantasy tea garden. While I do plan to incorporate some herbs like chamomile and mint into the main garden this year, the bulk of the garden space (Main Garden and Fenceline Garden) is rightfully set aside for growing vegetables to support our CSA. I considered planting around the perimeter of the house (that would be pretty and practical!) but I know that there was a previous application of insecticide for termintes applied here and I’m reluctant. (Apparently this treatment bonds to the soil and stays put so its not an issue for the rest of the property – the garden is at the complete other end of our acre – but I’m not taking a chance of growing edible plants right above or next to it.)

What’s a tea loving girl to do? How about this: I intend to have my tea garden in containers. I’ll be reusing (up-cycling, if you will) tin cans as planters which will be affixed to the posts of our garden fence. They’ll get plenty of sun out there, they’ll be conveniently close to our water source and they’ll just be pleasant to look at and smell as I work in the garden. After drilling a few drainage holes in the bottom and filling them with compost, they should be well-suited to growing little bits of beauty. I’ll have several cans of yarrow, thyme, spearmint, sage, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, lemon grass, fennel, chamomile and anise. Those herbs with fragrant flowers will hopefully also attract more bees and butterflies. I’m not 100% sure yet what they’ll look like or how I’ll secure them to the fence (maybe just nails?) but here’s a gallery of inspiration that the final product is sure to come from.

 

What do you think? Any suggestions for how to hang them? Or suggestions for tea-worthy herbs to grow in them? 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.  

 
 
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