Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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How to Keep Deer out of the Garden

One of the farm’s Facebook friends recently asked about keeping deer out of the garden. I don’t know what kinds of pests you deal with in your neck of the woods, but in Southwest Michigan this is a very poignant question! There are lots of supposedly repellent chemicals and plants you can purchase to protect your plot of veggies from deer. However, most gardeners I’ve spoken with find these don’t do an adequate job of keeping deer at bay. I’ve never personally tried chemical repellents, but have yet to hear a favorable review and am frankly not interested in using them for residual reasons. The problem with deer-resistant plants (such as marigolds) is that a deer’s diet is a fickle thing. There are several plants that deer tend to avoid, but if Bambi’s hungry enough, nearly anything is fair game. Shorter repellant plants such as marigolds and onions might not be eaten but can be easily stepped over to get to the good stuff!

In my personal experience, and that of many other gardeners, the most effective way to keep deer out of the garden is with a barrier. The kind of barrier you used depends on many factors, including space and budget. Here are some chemical-free ideas that should help you out.

For all 11 ideas, including photos and links to additional resources, click here.

DSC03023 768x1024 Keeping Deer out of the Gardengrow it eat it fishing line deer fence Keeping Deer out of the Garden

{Image Credit}
Grow It Eat It

deer netting Keeping Deer out of the Garden

{Image Credit}
Collections Etc

 
 

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.

 
 

Chicken Paddock Planting Plan

chicken coop in paddock area

Last spring’s Chicken Week seems a world away now as I look out onto giants mounds of fluffy snow. That week of posts introducing our first flock of chickens also discussed our plans and tips for chicken keeping. One of the central concepts in our plan is a paddock system. Chicken paddocks provide several benefits, including the reduction or elimination of expenses for commercial chicken-feed. In a nutshell, the paddock system works like this:

Multiple (i.e., four) fenced areas can be accessed from the coop. These areas are deliberately planted with vegetation that is healthy for chickens to self-harvest. The paddocks are also planted with an overstory (trees to roost in, especially for protection) and an underbrush (especially to hide from airborne predators). By planting perennial food, you further minimize the amount of work necessary on your part to feed the chickens (the plants come back every year). Paddocks are designed to be large enough so that chickens can forage there for an entire week without decimating the vegetation available. After a week, they move on to a new paddock. In a system with four paddocks, the first paddock will have three weeks to “recover” before the chickens are back to eat more.

Implementing our paddock system has been a slow process because it fell low on the priority list during warm weather. By the end of last summer (2013) we had created two paddocks to surround our coop. (The original plan called for four paddocks but we decided that two larger paddocks would be better.) This spring (2014) we’ll finally be ready to fill the paddocks with gobs of perennial, chicken-friendly food to give our girls plenty of yummy foraging material.

The Plan

chicken paddock plants

Click here for the complete site assessment, as well as details about what we're planting and why.
 
 

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 Fenceline Garden Plan

daisies 300x201 2014 Fenceline Garden Plan

Earlier this month I shared my Main Garden Plan for 2014. If you’re interested in seeing what I’m growing in our 1,152 square feet of raised beds, click here. In that post I mentioned that I had not yet created a plan for the Fenceline Garden, a 100-foot x 2.5-foot raised bed along the perimeter of our fenced backyard. For the last two years I used this space to grow vegetables for our CSA. This garden is divided visually by the ten 10’ sections of fence behind it. I typically treat each 10’ section as its own bed. Since we are no longer operating a CSA this space can be re-imagined. In fact, as soon as we determined that a CSA wasn’t in the cards for 2014, I started thinking about transforming the Fenceline into an herb, cut-flower and kitchen garden. Herbs because I would love to produce all of my own (and I use a lot of herbs in my cooking); cut-flowers because I love flowers indoors and the beauty they bring to the yard; and a kitchen garden because I’d rather walk 20-some feet to pick lettuce for a sandwich than 200+ feet to the Main Garden.

Despite the fact that I’ve been pondering this for nearly six months, I could never quite seem to land on a design that seemed ‘right’ and sustainable. I won’t bore you with all of the failed approaches I took – but I will bore you do want to tell you about the design I finally felt was just right!

Click on the image below for an expanded view of the chart and all of the details, including companion-planting ideas.


Fenceline Garden 2014 Arcadia Farms

 
 

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

 
 

FREE Custom Garden Plan & Seeds

I am so grateful for Local Harvest. They provide an amazing interface for consumers to connect with local farmers, and if you're reading this post you're probably already convinced about the myriad reasons why that's healthy for our communities. The Local Harvest blog rules request that bloggers don't get "spammy" in their entries and out of respect for the organization, I want to be sure to abide by that request. 

However (you saw that coming, right?) during this Christmas season of giving Arcadia Farms (that's us!) is giving away a FREE custom garden plan (and seeds!) to one lucky winner. Having a home garden to supplement food from your local CSA or farmers market is priceless, so I didn't want to hold out on sharing this awesome opportunity with you.  To avoid being "spammy" about it, I'll refrain from posting the giveaway app directly on this page. If you're interested in entering the giveaway, you can do so by clicking on this link: Custom Garden Plan Giveaway!

Thanks for reading our blog!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 
 

Poultry Personnel

Despite being someone who likes to plan, I’ve developed this trend during the last several years of my life where I put things off until the last minute. Getting my garden ready for fall (and really, winter and spring) has sadly been no different. Last fall I was able to invest lots of time in the garden while Owen was at school. This year we’re blessed to have a precious 2-year-old foster child with us so my time in the garden is significantly more limited.

I have gotten some work done. I spent time digging up and mulching a couple of aisles. Two beds have been weeded and mulched with grass clippings. And I’ve also pulled up all of the summer plants. (Some of them, like summer squash and peppers, didn’t come out until after our first frost.) At this point there are three main areas I need to focus on:

  • Pulling weeds (which is a very extensive job on the hugelkultur side of the garden)
  • Mulching beds with shredded leaves and manure
  • Dealing with weeds in the aisles

I felt really good about the two beds I was able to take all the way through weeding and mulching. But then I looked around the garden at all the work left to do and I felt overwhelmed. As I mentioned, the hugelkultur beds in particular are just overrun with weeds. And in some places there were so many tomato “droppings” that I wasn’t sure how I’d get them all up. (I’m not interested in volunteer tomato plants next year.) And that’s when I thought of it…

Maybe a chicken could help me?

one chicken

We have a little portable cage we use for Nacho (the rabbit) to have outdoor time. I brought that out and set it up around half of a bed. Then I brought out one of the hens and placed her in it. She started scratching right away – yeah! But after an hour or so, she hadn’t made nearly the progress I was expected.

So I brought out a second chicken.

Two Chickens

Still not making the kind of progress I was hoping for… and also the more adventurous chicken showed the first how to hop right out of the cage. Now I was chasing chickens around the garden to keep them away from the few plants I don’t want them eating: Winter crops which include lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, endive, frisée and a handful of beets. And that’s when I thought of it (again)…

chickens in the garden

I placed clear plastic row covers over the beds with winter crops growing in them. Then the next morning I brought all six of the chickens out to the garden and let them feast. Of course if I could speak chicken, I’d tell them to till my hugelkultur beds first – or else! But since I can’t give them quite such clear direction – and clearly caging them in a certain area wasn’t going to work – I let them eat whatever they’d like. I figure that even if they spend time eating from the aisle space, that will still help me in the long run. In addition to quite a salad bar, they’ve also had their pick of crickets and other bugs who’ve been calling the garden home. They’ve also done a marvelous job cleaning up the tomato mess and have tilled several of the beds. And (so long as I’m motivated to move them early in the morning) allowing them to forage in the garden keeps them out of the paddock and gives me a chance to actually start growing things in there. Woot! I wish I’d thought of this a few weeks ago.

So while they’re not quite as efficient as a team of two or three humans would be, I’m still pretty pumped about farming out my labor onto someone else… even if that someone else is a chicken.

Do any of you use chickens in your garden for tilling or pest control?

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

 
 

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?

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

 

 
 

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.  

 
 

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.

 
 

Kalamazoo Social Media Week

kalamazoo social media week 2013

Here’s something I’m crazy excited (if not a little late to share) about: Kalamazoo Social Media Week! According to an article on www.mlive.com by Ursula Zerilli:

“Kalamazoo Social Media Week kicks off on Sunday, April 14-18, 2013 with a week full of events and contests celebrating local businesses, pop culture in Kalamazoo and community engagement…

The community is being asked to vote now for individuals and businesses, who are best incorporating social media into their communications strategy on Foursquare, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Nominees will be judged by a panel of five people comprised of social media experts in the field to avid community supporters.

Award categories include the best local blog, most inspiring Pinterest board, best locally-produced video on social media and the most engaged business.”

Click on the image at right to learn about events hosted by Klassic Arcade, Kalamazoo State Theatre, Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Bell’s Brewery and Old Dog Tavern. I’m especially excited about the food truck lunch Tuesday and the Social Media Awards celebration on Wednesday!

Award?! Best Local Blog?!

Part of our farm’s mission is to share information about sustainable living with our community (click here for more on that). Kalamazoo Social Media Week is a perfect opportunity for us to share what we’re all about with our neighbors! Will you help us?

Show Us Some Love – Vote for Arcadia Farms

If you love this blog, please click here to vote for Arcadia Farms in Best Blog – Individual Category.

If you love our Pinterest boards, please click here to vote for Arcadia Farms in Most Inspiring Pinterest Board.

You can nominate as many times as you’d like… really… scout’s honor!

{Click here to see the 345+ reasons why our 322 followers think this board is inspiring!}

Not Sure What to Say?

By all means, I encourage you to use your own words. But in case the whole free-form nomination thing makes you a little woozy, here’s what I wrote (yes, I nominated myself… shameless…):

Blog Name: Arcadia Farms

Blog URL: http://www.arcadia-farms.net

Blog Author: Chief Veggie Whisperer, Katie Shank

Why is This the Best Local Blog? This blog is about a Portage family learning to live a sustainable lifestyle and focuses on eating healthy, buying local and saving money. Katie is a former HR Director who recently quit her desk job to dig in dirt full time and share the story via social media. She offers inspiration and advice from personal, wet-behind-the-ears-but-fearless experiences to other families who are new to topics like homesteading, gardening, seasonal eating and healthy living. This blog is also consistently in the top 10 blogs (often #1) at www.local-harvest.org.

Contact Email Address: katie@arcadia-farms.net

Keep In Touch

Social media is all about up-to-the minute details, right? Get all the Kalamazoo Social Media Week updates by following @tweetupkzoo and @ArcadiaFarmsCSA on Twitter! (Or check us out on Facebook where I’m much more active.)

As of today, there are about 1,500 people visiting this blog each week. If you’ve found the Arcadia Farms blog helpful or inspiring and would like to help us spread the message of sustainable living to others, we’d love to have your vote. Thanks for your support!

 
 

Why Chickens?

isa red chickens group

We have chickens! Why raise chickens? I’m so glad you asked! If you live in the city or the suburbs or think chickens are gross or too much work or you just can’t do it because you don’t know enough or or or… this post is for you. There are lots of benefits to raising chickens. Add in the fact that chickens are relatively easy and inexpensive to care for and you just might change your mind.

Reasons to Raise Chickens

First, naturally raised eggs taste better. Of course this point is completely subjective, but I have consistently noticed that naturally raised eggs are darker in color. In my opinion, they are also more flavorful than the standard white dozen we used to buy from the grocery store. (I also happen to think that naturally raised chicken meat is tastier too!)

Naturally raised eggs are healthier. According to www.backyardchickens.com, backyard eggs contain:

  • 1/3 the Cholesterol of store bought eggs
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2 times the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids
  • 3 times the amount of Vitamin E
  • 7 times more Beta Carotene

Chickens are family-friendly, low-maintenance pets.

Chickens are great pest-control assistants! They eat pretty much any kind of bug. If you’re looking for a way to get rid of insects in or around your garden, or if you have a specific pest issue to address (such as termites or fleas), adding chickens to your backyard is a natural, chemical-free, low-cost way to kiss those buggies goodbye!

Chickens are also great at weeding. Chickens love to eat… if you have an area that needs weeding, let chickens loose; they’ll turn your patch of weeds into a salad. (Be careful – your chickens don’t know the difference between what you call “weeds” and what you call “lettuce.” We’ll talk later in the week about how to safely incorporate chickens into your garden and yard without sacrificing the plants you actually want keep.)

In addition to all of that, chickens can provide you with effective, natural fertilizer for your yard and garden. Chicken manure has great levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are essential for proper plant growth. Because of the high amounts of nitrogen, chicken manure is too “hot” to use directly in your garden. Chicken owners should compost their birds’ manure to breakdown potentially harmful pathogens and render the manure safe as a fertilizer or soil amendment. If you compost your chicken manure in a pile, you’ll need to wait 6 to 12 months before you use it in the garden. If you turn the pile once a week, you may be able to use it as early as 4 to 6 months. Another way to compost your chicken manure is the use the deep bedding method in your chicken coop. We’ll talk about that more later in the week as well, but if you just can’t stand to wait, you can find out more by clicking here.

Raising your own eggs (and potentially meat) and fertilizer can save a gardening family a good chunk of cash throughout the year.

Why We Are Raising Chickens

At Arcadia Farms we desire to keep chickens for several reasons. One of the chief reasons is that the ability to gather naturally-raised eggs from our backyard contributes to the physical and financial health of our family. Another reason is that the symbiotic relationships of chickens to other areas of our farm provide environmental health and cost-savings for our operation. (As I mentioned above, properly composted chicken manure provides fertilizer for our gardens and as omnivores who eat bugs, chickens provide additional pest control to our property.)

Choosing Birds

I’m no chicken expert. So as a newbie I discovered quickly that there are many, many breeds to select from. After some research we initially wanted to purchase Orpingtons (Buff or Blue) but ended up with ISA Reds. These breeds are considered good choices for suburban settings because they are very docile and make less noise than other breeds. They are also known to be good-to-excellent egg layers.

If you’re interested in raising chickens but have no idea where to start, check out this Which Chicken? Breed Selector Tool resource from www.mypetchicken.com. For more super-helpful information check out About.com’s Small Farm guide to Choosing Chicken Breeds by clicking here. And just in case you’re as wet behind the ears as I am was about the world of chicken’s, here is a glossary of chicken-related terms provided by Tractor Supply Company (click on the image below). You’ll probably want to start here so that you better understand the terms used by the other references listed above.

 

Can You Have Chickens?

If you live in Portage, MI and are interested in taking the next step, click here for local ordinance information. For those of you in other communities, be sure to check with your local municipality about the application of ordinances to your ability to keep chickens.

There may be other reasons to raise your own chickens. Can you think of any? Do you have any questions about raising your own chickens?

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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