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!
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.
Spring is always a busy and exciting time for gardeners. I’m no
exception. Logically I spent a lot of time in the garden this spring,
planting, prepping and simply enjoying the sights and sounds of nature
waking up from her winter nap. One of the things I enjoy most about
preparing the spring garden is the sight and smell of our neighbor’s
apple tree. Apple blossoms are some of my favorite flowers! This spring,
for the first time ever, as I looked around me I noticed that the
deluge of beautiful white blossoms gracing my neighbors tree were echoed
underneath a bramble of pine branches and other tree limbs at the back
of our property.
After further investigation I discovered that in the back corner of
our one-acre yard there was an apple tree growing! Sadly, the apple tree
was growing in the shadow of a mulberry tree (planted only few feet
away) which itself was growing in the shadow of a large, scraggly pine
tree (just a few more feet away). All three trees were living but doing
I knew right away that I needed to rescue that poor little apple
tree! Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have anything against pine trees or
mulberry trees, but I’m an opportunist, and the idea of a ‘wasted’ apple
tree already established on my own property was too much. The obvious
first step was to cut down the two overbearing trees growing so
intrusively nearby. That first step also lead us down the path of
finally deciding where to put our micro-orchard. This back section of
the property was also home to a medium-sized pine tree and a large
cherry tree (not the kind with edible fruit). We never (ever ever) use
that part of the yard for anything. (In fact, it probably only gets
mowed a handful of times each year.) The area gets great sun so we
decided to cut down the other two trees and replace each with an apple
So down came the trees – Ryan and my father-in-law did most of the
work (although my mother-in-law and I helped considerably with the clean
up). My in-laws heat their home with a wood-burning furnace so the bulk
of the lumber went to them. I kept a few logs for hugelkultur expansion
and for edging a few mounded beds. I also kept some of the straightest
branches to create tee-pees for caging tomatoes. But when all was said
and done, the main thing we were left with was a big fat empty space.
It’s amazing how much larger that part of the yard looks without the
trees there! Before I thought of it as a tiny sliver of space occupied
by a random pine tree. Removing the trees has revealed its true identity
– another sunny section so wide that I could easily fill it up by
doubling the size of our already large garden. (In case you’re
wondering, I’m not interested in adding any more space to our roughly
1,500 square foot garden.) It’s a great space for fruit trees!
Around that time we purchased two trees on sale from Lowes. We didn’t
have a very big selection to choose from so we went with a good cooking
variety (Macintosh) and a good fresh-eating variety (Golden Delicious).
We were careful to read the labels to make sure they would pollinate
each other (apples need another tree in order to pollinate and produce
And then… we got busy…
And then… the CSA season came to a close….
And then… the weather started turning cooler…
And then… it straight-up snowed…
And all the while that little voice in my head kept saying “Blerg… I need to get those trees planted!”
Finally this week we had a little warm up. (Ok, a big warm up followed by a quick cool down that caused massive storms in our corner of the Midwest!)
You never know when the weather will turn in Michigan, especially
during the months where seasonal transition are common (October and
November are on that list) so I knew I needed to make my move this week
or risk losing my chance completely.
I did some quick research about tree planting. Everyone recommends
doing this in the early spring. Of course… Not surprisingly there were
several cautionary tales about fall planting. But then without too much
more effort I found instructions on planting trees in fall. I even found
a few forums where experienced gardeners said that fall was an
excellent time to plant fruit trees because it gives them a jump start
in the spring. Really, I only had two other options. The first
alternative idea was to “heal them in” which sounds an awful lot like
just planting them to me (only in an area that will be more protected
from cold and wind). I’m not a fan of planting them twice, thanks.
The other option was to overwinter them in the green house. I wasn’t a
big fan of this either because of that time in late winter where the
temperate outside are still very cold (mid-30s or colder) but the sun is
warming the greenhouse to spring-like temperatures that might cause the
trees to bud too early. I couldn’t think of a good place to move them
to during this time period without sending them into shock.
So at any rate, I planted them. It was super-easy. Here’s what I did…
Planting Fruit Trees in Fall
Step 1: Dig a hole about twice the width of the root ball and just as deep as the root ball.
I ended up widening this hole after taking the picture.
Step 2: Loosen the roots so that they are encouraged to grow outward.
Before loosening the roots…
After loosening the roots…
Step 3: Place the tree in the hole. For directions on how deep you should plant the tree, I recommend that you read this.
Depth matters – big time! In summary, it’s better to err on the side of
planting too shallow than too deep. Be sure to avoid planting soil
above where the tree is grafted to the root system to avoid scion rooting.
Step 4: Cover the roots with quality compost. Ideally the
compost would be aged. I ended up using a mixture of mulched fall
leaves, rabbit manure (not composted) and compost from this year’s pile
(garden clippings, food scraps, etc.). Be sure to tamp the compost down
as you go along. The purpose of this is to reduce air pockets which can
cause root issues.
This baby apple tree has been planted with a compost mixture and tamped down to get rid of air pockets.
Step 5: Water your trees and add a layer of mulch to keep them
warm and retain moisture. I didn’t read this anywhere, but for the same
reason as Step 3 (scion rooting) I made sure to keep the mulch away
from the base of the tree. Ironically, our mulch comes from the large
branches of the trees we cut down to make room for the new apples.
the mulch used to surround this tree came from the branches of the
trees that came down to make way for the micro orchard.
This apple tree is ready for winter (I hope)!
So after putting it off for months and months… about 30 minutes of
work (maybe less) has finally made us the proud owners of a micro
orchard. I can’t wait for the beautiful flowers next spring – and the
amazing fruit in the future!
More to Do
Want to know a little secret? I still have a cherry tree and two
blueberry bushes to plant! I planned to plant them on the same day as
our apple trees but ran into some questions. The cherry tree is destined
to take root very (very) near a place in the front yard where we
previously had a diseased ornamental cherry tree. (We cut that little
guy down at the same time as the trees out back.) I want to do some
research to find out how to safeguard the second tree from the same
health issues that overtook its predecessor before moving forward. Part
of me is worried that I just may not be able to plant there at all (the
original tree stump is still there… rotting as it sits in the ground).
As far as the blueberry bushes go, I just wanted to check one last time
that the site I had chosen for them gets enough sun. Hopefully they’ll
be in before this weekend! I can’t wait for all the delicious fruit to
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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.
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
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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Back in April I wrote this post about planting experimental potatoes. They were experimental in that they are:
Planted from spouting (organic) spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
Planted (mostly) in hay.
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.
Part way through harvesting.
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.
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.
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.
More overgrown potatoes.
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
On the South Fence: All potatoes from store-bought organics, but some planted with waste hay and some with grass clippings.
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?
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.
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
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.
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:
I also threw pie pumpkins and cabbage into the mix as recommendations.
Spring Garden (8’ x 8’)
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.
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
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’)
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.
If the Heiligs are feeling adventurous, they could try substituting Golden Zucchini for the traditional green variety.
Fall Garden (8’ x 8’)
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
The moral of today’s post is that a
major component of suburban/urban chicken keeping involves being a good
neighbor… sweater or otherwise.
Let’s face it – not everyone thinks keeping chickens is a super idea, regardless of how many benefits there are to be had.
Your neighbors might be some of those people. Whether your neighbors
are obstinate, hesitant or exuberant about your flock, here are some
considerate things you can do to keep their interests in mind without
hampering your own.
People like their privacy. In general,
people also like control. When it comes to their own property, they have
a right to control its use and appearance. While your neighbors don’t
have a right to control the use and appearance of your property, good
neighbors keep their neighbors interests in mind. Considering all of
this, fencing is an important feature in a suburban homestead that
includes chickens. Fences serve three purposes. First, they keep your
chickens contained on your property or a portion thereof. Second, they
help to keep predators away from your chickens. And third, they help to
control views into and out of your property. Let’s talk briefly about
Keeping Chickens In
require that suburban/urban chickens be contained by either completely
enclosed arrangements (chicken run) or four foot high fencing. Besides
being a matter of law, this is also a good idea. Keeping your chickens
contained gives you more control over their access to portions of your
property and keeps them from invading the neighbor’s yard.
Keeping Predators Out
You and I aren’t the
only ones who like a plump, juicy chicken breast. Predators ranging
from your neighbors dog to area raccoons and many things in between
would like to make lunch out of your birds. While a fence won’t keep
them all out, it will keep some of them out and possibly deter others.
For ideas on good predator-proof fences, click here.
your budget allows, a good way to ensure your neighbors won’t be
offended by your homestead’s chickens is to install a beautiful (or
maybe even standard) privacy fence around the whole of your property.
This fence provides you with privacy but also keeps your avian-averse
neighbors from seeing your chickens. This kind of fence (usually made of
wood) can also serve to keep chickens in and predators out as we
discussed above. However if your primary concern is controlling views,
you can also plant a hedgerow (a living fence made of a line of shrubs
or trees) that grows over time or grow vining flowers/fruits on fences. A
hedgerow can provide benefits like nuts and berries (for you or the
chickens!) depending on varieties you select. (even blueberry bushes can
make a good hedge.) A hedgerow might also consist of tall ornamental
grasses. Perennial vining plants may offer the benefit of beauty,
attract pollinators like bees and/or provide other edibles like fruit
and veggies. The benefit of using vining plants is that you can work
with existing fences (especially chain link) for a nominal fee. In our
garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and nasturtiums climb the chain link
fence to partially obscure views from the east. This year we’ll also
plant perennial berries on the west fence specifically to provide a more
pleasant view to our neighbors (the chicken coop is on that side of the
yard). We’ll also be planting climbing nasturtium and beans on the
south side of the chicken paddock and evergreen underbrush throughout
(such as variegated japanese sedge). These plants serve multiple
purposes: Food, shelter and aesthetics for both us and the neighbors.
Some people say chickens are smelly.
While this may seem like an unnecessary observation for me to make, let
me just say that chickens aren’t smelly: Their poop is. If you were
stuck in one spot for a long time and your poop accumulated in one spot
without being moved, people would think you were smelly too. (I’m just
All the same, chickens do make waste and
depending on your management method, it can pile up. Here are some
good-neighbor ways to address smells.
Avoiding Coop-and-Pen Chicken Raising
The first tactic I
recommend is to stay away from a chicken keeping method that involves
your birds being confined to one place forever. In the typical coop and
run management method, chickens live and eat in the same place where
they make waste… and it all piles up. That’s where the ammonia smells
affiliated with chickens comes from. For ideas on other ways to raise
your chickens, check out this post.
Unless your birds
are truly free range (which seems unlikely and unwise in an urban
setting) you’ll have a coop for them. You could opt to clean their coop
frequently (once or twice a week) to reduce odors, especially if you
can’t avoid the coop and run method. The problems here are 1) that’s a
lot of work 2) it’s expensive to replace bedding that often 3) that’s a
lot of work 4) the waste you clean out has to go somewhere 5) that’s a
lot of work and 6) every time you clean the coop, all of that yuck is
airborne. Also, it’s a lot of work.
To avoid having to continually clean your coop, try the deep liter method. Click here for
a great article on how and why to use this method, but in a nutshell,
you use a large amount of bedding and as the chickens scratch in it, the
bedding and feces naturally compost and reduce pathogens. This method
dramatically reduces odors and amounts to cleaning the coop much less
often (between one and four times a year).
If your birds have
access to roam the yard (or an area of the yard) and you’re using the
deep liter method, you’ve likely eliminated the bulk of any odors
normally associated with chickens. If you want to take your quest for
good neighborliness a step further, you could also add fragrant
plantings to your landscape. According to the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom,
the following plants are both durable and fragrant: Daphne,
honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, roses, sweet box, viburnum and witch
hazel. Fragrant plantings are best placed near the chicken coop, near
property lines or both places.
Even the most docile of chickens will make some
noise. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it won’t even
compare to all of the barking dogs and squealing children. All the same,
here are some things you can do to reduce the impact of chicken-noise
on your neighbors.
I love sleep. I
wouldn’t want to awoken at dawn by my own rooster and I can’t imagine
how annoyed I’d be if that rooster belonged to my neighbor! Most
backyard flocks exist for egg production – skip the rooster. You don’t
need him. (Also many ordinances forbid roosters in urban/suburban
Depending on the sound of the chime, this could be just as or more
annoying as hearing your chickens clucking. If you have a good
relationship with your neighbors, ask them in advance what they think
about wind chimes.
If you’ve always
wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed
waster feature may muffle chicken noises.
According to Free-Range Chicken Gardens,
the following plants will create a rustling sound in the wind that may
help to muffle chicken noises: Bamboo, love-in-a-mist, maiden grass,
quaking aspen and quaking grass.
We’re fortunate to have great neighbors
whom we talk with frequently. If you also have great relationships with
your neighbors, let them know that you’re getting/you have chickens.
Talk with them about your plans to keep chickens in a way that is
respectful of the views and smells and sounds coming from your property.
If your plan will take time to implement (as portions of ours will)
it’s also important to share that with your neighbors. At a minimum,
they’ll appreciate knowing that you have their interests in mind.
Picking a chicken breed that is docile and quiet is also a good move for suburban chicken owners. Click here and here for resources to help you pick the right breed.
Also, the appearance of your coop is
important to your neighbors’ perception of chicken keeping. You’ll need
to get creative, get resourceful or cough up some cash, but it’s in your
long-term best interest to make sure your coop isn’t an eyesore. Other
Mr. Rogersish things to do would be sharing eggs and teaching neighbor
kids about the chickens (with their parents’ permission).
Being a good neighbor is an important
part of urban/suburban chicken keeping. If you put these tips into
practice, you’ll be doing your part to minimize complaints and concerns
so that your neighbors can see the true value of a backyard flock rather
than focusing on stereotypes or issues that might make them miss the
Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.
Since it didn’t snow yesterday (yes!) I spent some time planting
potatoes and lettuce in the main garden. Lettuce will go in under
plastic row covers in some of our narrow beds (2' x 12'), along with
spinach which overwintered and is already growing. I’m scheduled to
plant lettuce in two additional narrow beds on the hugelkultur side of the garden…
the problem is, they’ve not yet been built. (This past December we put
in 4' x 12' hugelkultur beds but skipped the 2' x 12's since they were
too narrow to dig with the bobcat.) I guess I better grab my shovel and
get on that…
Meanwhile, I cleared a blanket of leaves that have been keeping fall-planted onions sung over the winter.
I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.
Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.
I was also able to plant some taters. These are ‘experimental’ potatoes in that:
I’m planting eyes from spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
I’m planting them in hay.
I’m planting them outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.
Planting from Potatoes that Sprout in the Cupboard
From everything I’ve read, the most reliable way to get great potatoes is by buying seed potatoes. That’s because some potatoes you buy at the grocery store have been sprayed with a chemical sprout inhibitor
to keep them looking tip-top on the grocery shelf. Despite all of this
sound advice, the potatoes we grew in our very first garden came from
store-bought potatoes… and they were delicious! We typically buy organic
potatoes so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Fortunately twice now I’ve
discovered forgotten potatoes in the pantry with some hefty eyes on
them. In one case I was able to simply cut the eyes out, store them in a
brown paper bag, and use the potatoes for dinner. The other time they
were way too far gone to be eaten. This afternoon I planted those whole. No waste here!
Planting Potatoes in Hay
Ever heard of planting potatoes in hay? The benefit is that its easy
to “mound” the potatoes with more soil (ok, hay really) and its super
easy to dig the potatoes up when they are ready to harvest. The danger
in planting with hay (or straw) is that you have to make sure the
potatoes stay covered so that no light gets to them. Potatoes exposed to
too much sun will go green and become toxic.
(Don’t eat green potatoes!) I planted our “experimental” potatoes in 1
foot deep holes outside the Main Garden fence and piled on about 8-10"
of composted waste hay from Nacho’s (the bunny) cage. Nacho’s hay (and
poo) has been composting all winter in a special bin. I think the recent
sunshine has kicked the process into overtime because a good deal of it
has already turned into soil.
This potato started sprouting in our pantry. Now its growing underneath composted waste hay.
At any rate, here’s a video about how and why to plant potatoes in hay.
Keeping Taters Safe from Critters
I’ve done some research about what deer
will and won’t eat. Turns out – during cold weather when plants are
scarce – they’ll eat anything green they can get to. During more
abundant seasons, there are some things they’ll avoid, including onions
and garlic. I’m interested in growing lots of storage potatoes this year
but just don’t have the kind of room I need in our raised beds. So I
decided to do a little experiment and place a few potato plants between
sections of garlic. So now on the west side of the Main Garden I have
alternating plantings along the fence – about four feet of garlic (which
is coming up beautifully already!) and about four feet of potato plants
(1 per square foot). I plan to direct seed a few scallions in with the
potatoes for extra insurance. Here’s hoping these city deer won’t get
Our garlic is coming up! It’s going to be a good spring.
Anyone out there have advice on how to
best grow potatoes? Have you tried planting in hay or straw? 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.
If your household is similar to ours,
the grocery slice of the budget pie is sizable enough to get your
attention. Most “experts” recommend budgeting 14-20% of your take home
pay for food (groceries, lattes, eating at restaurants, etc.). A recent study
shows however that Americans are spending less on average than ever
before on groceries – 11% of income. That might sound like good news,
but consider the story behind the numbers.
A separate study from 2012
shows that while prices – for meat in particular – have gone down,
American consumption has in fact gone up or remained the same. What
happened? The advent of the factory-farm has succeeded in pushing the
price of meat way down. A 2012 article by Tom Philpott (The American Diet in 1 Chart) explains the phenomenon well:
have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in
the early ’80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be
replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap,
subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter
weight with daily doses of antibiotics. Regulators looked the other way
as these gigantic facilities created messes they didn’t have to pay to
clean up. Meanwhile, as Mother Jones’ Ted Genoways showed in his
blockbuster piece last year on Hormel, corporate meatpackers managed to
bust unions, speed up kill lines, and drive down employee wages. It all
added up to bargain-priced meat.”
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR
Consequently, our consumption of
processed (read: cheap) food has skyrocketed. In 1982, 11.6% of a
family’s budget was spent on processed food and sweets. Today processed
food tops the budget break down at 22.9% of the budget, followed by meat
(21.5%), fruits and veggies (14.6%), Grains and Baked goods (14.4%),
beverages (11.1%) and dairy products (10.6%). So in layman’s terms, we
spend less money on food now because the bulk of our diet is ‘food’
processed and engineered with more regard to its cost than its quality.
Save Money, Eat Healthy
So what do you do if you’re interested in saving money AND eating healthy? Don’t despair – here are some tips.
Cook at Home
When you buy
pre-packaged food or eat at a restaurant, you’re paying for more than
just the ingredients you consume. (Someone has to pay to keep the lights
on, right?) With practice, cooking at home can be just as delicious
(sometimes more delicious!) than eating out. Eating at home can save you up to $2,600 a year!
And with some savvy, budget-friendly tips (like the tips you’re about
to read) you can save even more money! If you’ve never been much of a
cook, don’t let that stop you. (Everyone has to start somewhere, right?)
I recommend beginning your journey into homemade meals by using a crock pot. It’s so easy – I promise – and the great-tasting meals you produce will give you a boost of confidence to try something new!
Make a Plan
Like a lot of things
in life, it’s hard to win without a plan. Your grocery plan starts long
before you jump in the car to head to Meijer. Here are some tips.
First, keep a pad of paper in an accessible area (on the side of the
fridge?) so that you can keep track of grocery needs on an ongoing
basis. Did you use the last of the olive oil? Write it down now so you
don’t forget it later. The next two tips go hand-in-hand – make a menu
and check for sales. Making a menu
(meal planning) helps you make purchases that will form complete meals
rather than buying a bunch of things that sound good but don’t add up to
a complete meal. Having a pre-made meal plan
saves time as well because you don’t have to figure out what to make
each night. Planning a menu around what’s on sale will naturally save
you money. The next tip is to take stock of what you already have so you
don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. All of this should be complete by the
night before you’re going shopping: Menu created (check!); Inventory
taken (check!); List created (check!). Now when you get to the store,
you’ll be able to stick to your list without worrying that you’ve
forgotten something, and perhaps with a little more resolve to skip over
impulse buys! (You can also decrease impulse purchases – like a candy
bar at the checkout aisle – by having a small snack before you go
Buy (and Preserve) Produce In-Season
There are lots of great reasons to buy
produce when it is in-season. First of all, the taste is so much better
than out-of-season veggies
that you may never want to go back! Second, buying in-season, local
produce (check out your local farmers market) is great for your
community and area farmers. And third of all, it costs less to buy food
in-season than it does to buy it when it has to be grown hundreds of
miles away and shipped to you through the snow. And if you team up with
tip #9 below, you could save even more money at the farmer’s market;
Many sellers are willing to give you a discount for buying large amounts
of produce if you ask politely. Worried about what you’ll do with all
those [fill in the blank here]? If you can’t eat it all now, preserve
some of it! Can it, freeze it, dry it. Don’t be intimidated – you can
find tons of how-to help on the web
(or by asking your Grandma). Then in January when you want wholesome
[fill in the blank here] you can skip the trucked-in-from-California
produce section of your grocery store and turn to your pantry instead.
Use Sales and Coupons
I confess – I missed
the Extreme Couponing movement. I’m not coupon-wielding expert, but I
do know that the Sunday paper is full of coupons. As long as those
coupons are for things you will actually use, you can save money by
using them. Consider taking advantage of frequency type clubs for items
you usually buy or places you usually shop (i.e. “buy 10 get the 11th free”). Meijer has a great website (and a great app for your mobile device)
for looking up sales. Planning meals around what’s on sale can save you
big bucks. If you can swing it, try keeping a “Sale Fund” set aside
(perhaps $50 or $100) so that when a great sale comes up, you can stock
up and fill your freezer. (Earlier this year we scored some unbelievable
Buy One, Get Two type deals at Harding’s… our freezer has never been so
full of meat!) Just remember – using a coupon to buy something you
otherwise wouldn’t buy doesn’t save you money, even if you get 10% off.
Buy in Bulk
Our favorite place to buy in bulk is from Country Life Natural Foods
in Pullman, MI. It’s quite a drive (about an hour) from our home in
South Portage, but if you buy several things at once, the trip is
worthwhile. We’ve saved money on organic Quinoa (a year’s supply for
$30), a year’s worth of honey (1 gallon for $38.50) and 7 pounds of
coconut oil ($12.90). They have practically everything you can think of
and some of it is Michigan-made. Check out their catalog here.
To save even more money, carpool with a friend (thanks Darci!) or take
orders from each other and take turns doing the pick up. I’ve never
tried it but apparently they also deliver for certain order sizes. We
also now save money by buying our herbs and spices in bulk at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo.
Leftovers? What Leftovers?
A great way to save
on food is to avoid wasting it. Plan your meals to make the most of
leftovers. Here’s an example from our life: Every other Sunday we have a
roasted chicken for dinner with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, onions
or other in-season veggies. Monday I use the leftover chicken and
veggies in a meal like chicken salad over spinach or a chicken pot pie.
After that, I turn the chicken carcass into stock and make soup with it
(sometimes using remaining veggies from Sunday’s roast). Even sour milk can be saved from going to waste!
You can’t stretch everything that far, but there are lots of leftovers
that would go great in an omelet, a salad or soup. If all else fails,
send unwanted leftovers to the compost bin rather than the garbage can.
Brown Bag Lunch
great way to bloat your food budget is to eat out for lunch every day.
When my day job involved working from an office instead of working from
my living room I discovered some tips to making the brown bag lunch
work. I don’t know about you, but there were typically three reasons why
I ate lunch at a restaurant instead of from a lunch bag. The biggest
hurdle to jump is just remembering to bring a lunch. If you’re serious
about saving money, taking a few minutes the night before to pack
tomorrow’s lunch is key. Another issue: What’s in the bag just doesn’t
sound appetizing. The simplest way to avoid that conundrum is to bring
food you’ll look forward to eating! My main way of addressing this was
to make fabulous dinners and make sure there were always leftovers for
tomorrow’s lunch. The other reason I skipped a bagged lunch was because
I just needed to get out of the office! In warm weather, you can
accomplish the same thing by taking your lunch to a nearby park. In
yucky weather, sometimes just sitting in your car provides enough peace
and quiet to count as “getting away.” I also made sure to bring or keep
healthy snacks at work to curb my desire to buy a little something in
the afternoon. I always had something sweet (yogurt, a cucumber, dried
fruit, etc.) and something salty (crackers,
mixed nuts, etc.) on hand to keep my snacking healthy and cheap.You
could save more money by stashing homemade snacks like granola.
Frozen and Dried
Frozen and dried
fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh and in some cases
contain the same amount of nutrients. Resealable packaging helps you
avoid waste. For tips on how to store frozen vegetables so they keep as
long as possible, click here.
Use Cheaper Protein
Meat is expensive.
If beef and chicken are choking your budget, try getting your protein in
other ways such as beans, eggs, quinoa or legumes. If you grow your own
(including raising backyard chickens for eggs) think of all the money
you could save by opting for non-meat alternatives. For fabulous egg
recipes, click here.
Shop at Home
this spring, we hope to transition to a family that produces more of
our food rather than buying it elsewhere. What if you could remove
vegetables, fruit and herbs from your grocery list because you’re
shopping in the backyard? Now think about what a difference it would
make to take eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and maybe even
meat off the list? We may not all be able to raise our own meat birds or
raise goats for milk, but almost everyone (even apartment dwellers) can
grow fresh herbs and vegetables. By using an intensive planting method (like Square Foot Gardening)
you can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. Start small
with a garden size you’ll be able to easily manage. I think you’ll be
amazed at how much you get – and how much you’ll save!
Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.
what? I started planting this past week! Nearly all of my onion seeds
have met their soil! I’m planning to start more onions this weekend
(scallions), rhubarb the following weekend (Glaskins Perpetual) and the
in early March then I’ll be sowing all kinds of things: Cabbage,
cauliflower, kale, chard, broccoli and lettuce to name a few! If you’ve
been following this blog you know that I posted my detailed seed-starting plan here,
including a spreadsheet showing my start dates. (If you would like to
use my Seed Starting Planner, you can download it for FREE right here!)
As wonderful as that all is, I’ve already run across some… things…
that have made me reconsider my plans. One of those things has to do
with seed starting medium (what I’m growing my seedlings in) and space.
Last year I started some of my seeds in potting soil (soilless mix) in upcycled yogurt containers and some of them in Jiffy pellets.
Both have their pros and cons… and I’m pretty disappointed with the
cons. But with so many options for seed starting, I started to wonder if
I could find something better. Next week I’ll share with you what I
found and what I decided.
The second thing that has me reconsidering my original seed starting plan is this: The moon.
I made a mental note to look into it. Before it could get far from my
mind the topic came up during a conversation with another farmer who is
planning to try planting by the moon this season. I decided to dig a
little further and found this gem of an article on planting by moon
I’m getting giddy about spring now that I’ve purchased seeds for our
2013 gardens! I spent a lot of time looking through websites and
catalogs last week to make my selections. I started my seed search
having a general idea of what I wanted to grow (thanks to our members!)
but I needed to explore all the available varieties for crops that have
just the right qualities for our gardens. I considered things like:
Drought-tolerance (what if this year is like last year?)
Yield (plants with ‘heavy production’ sound like a winner for market gardening)
Days to maturity (how long it takes a crop to grow from seed to harvest time)
Uniqueness (it’s fun to have something special in the garden)
Once I found varieties I liked, I tried to find the best deal, which
involved comparing price to the number of seeds per packet. My seed
sources are listed in this blog post.
By the end of last week all of my selections were set and I was ready
to order. Fortunately for me, a friend came over to swap seeds and I
discovered that I had a whole heapin’ mess-o-seeds hiding out. I decided
to be frugal (part of sustainability is using what you have to make the
most of it) and incorporated the seeds I already owned. That meant I
had to make the decision to forgo some of the more “Oh-that’s-cool!”
crops I was going to buy in exchange for some of the
“Well-these-are-nice…” seeds I already owned.
So now after all of that deliberation, the list of crops we’ll be growing for 2013 is complete. Click here if
you’d like to see it. I won’t bore you by talking through each crop,
but there are some I’m especially excited about and would like to
highlight in a later post.
Starting and Transplanting Seeds
Now that it is ‘Garden Planning Season’ I’ve had many people ask me
about when to start their seeds. Here’s the deal: I’m not an expert.
Remember, the whole point of Arcadia Farms is to provide an opportunity
for our family to develop a sustainable lifestyle and to share what we
learn with others. So while I can’t pretend to offer you an
authoritative answer to the “When do I start my seeds?” question, I am
happy to share my thoughts and experience. (As a matter of fact, I’m
looking forward to talking with some other growers/farmers this week to
get their advice on when and how they start their seeds. Look for that
If you click here you’ll find a spreadsheet that shows when I plan to start all of my seeds. (Don’t hold me to it! I may make changes… especially
if I find errors!) My start dates are based on a few different factors.
First, I assessed which plants do best when they are sown directly into
the garden and which plants can be transplanted. Please note that
there are some plants which can be transplanted that I am choosing to
direct seed under row covers. (After a few years of gardening this is
something I have a pretty firm handle on. If the concept is new to you, a
quick Google search like “can radishes be transplanted” should yield
the info you’re looking for.) For those that can be transplanted, I
tried to find information on the best age for transplanting. Next, I
determined which crops could be planted before the last frost date and
which needed to wait until after. (The average last frost date is
the projected date on which the last hard freeze is predicted to be on
during the spring. Cool-hardy plants can survive – sometimes thrive –
through some frost, but more tender plants such as tomatoes will be
damaged by extreme cold and need to be planted past any danger of
frost.) This factor – before or after last frost date – will be fudged a
little on my part because I intend to plant some crops under plastic
row covers which will warm the air/soil and protect from frost, thus
allowing me to plant earlier than recommended. And finally, I determined
the days to maturity for each crop. This information is usually
included on the seed packet and often can be found on the distributor’s
Using all of this information, I setup a spreadsheet that would allow
me to enter the transplant date and days to maturity to find out both
when I should start my seeds and approximately when I’d have a harvest.
Would you like to try a similar approach to starting seeds? If so,
you can click on the image below to download a Seed Starting Plan
template. Instructions are included on the first tab.
Click on the image above to download a spreadsheet that will help you determine when to start your seeds.
The average last frost date for the Kalamazoo/Portage area in 2013 is May 18 according to www.letsgrowveggies.com. To find the average last and first frost dates for your area, click here.
I’ve also recently received questions about companion planting. What
is companion planting? According to Wikipedia, companion planting is
“The close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth
or protect each other from pests.” Creation is pretty cool. All of the
symbiotic relationships that exist in nature are astounding. The whole
thing reminds me personally that God knew what he was doing when He made
it and it emphasizes the value of interdependence in all creation
(including humanity!). On a practical side, companion planting is very
important for organic gardening. Done well, this method can help you to
fight against plant disease and pests without the use of chemicals.
Again, I’m not expert in companion planting, but here are the resources I currently use:
Click the image above for a list of companion plants found at http://en.wikipedia.org
Planning Your Garden
If you’re new to gardening or just have questions about how to plan
yours, I would love to help (FREE)! I can help you select crops that
will work well for your land, climate, family, etc. and to select a
layout. Feel free to email me with any questions or garden-design
Want Free Seeds?
Did you know that right now we’re in the process of giving away
$25-worth of FREE heirloom, non-GMO seeds from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds (a
Michigan-based company)? Click here to enter – it only takes 1 minute! Giveaway ends on February 16, 2013.