Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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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 Main Garden Plan

The Garden in Fall

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

Click on the image below for all of these details:

arcadia farms main garden 2014

 
 

Planting Fruit Trees in Fall

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 poorly.

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 tree.

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 fruit).

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.

planting fruit trees in fall

I ended up widening this hole after taking the picture.

Step 2: Loosen the roots so that they are encouraged to grow outward.

planting fruit trees in fall

Before loosening the roots…

planting fruit trees in fall

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.

planting fruit trees in fall

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.

planting fruit trees in fall

Ironically the mulch used to surround this tree came from the branches of the trees that came down to make way for the micro orchard.

planting fruit trees in fall

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 come!

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Planting Garlic

Garlic

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

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

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

Choose Between Hardnecks and Softnecks

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

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

Prepare Garlic Seed

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

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

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

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

Prepare the Soil

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

Plant the Cloves

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

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

Garlic should be planted in full sun.

Side-dress Furrow with Organic Matter

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

Mulch Away

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

 

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

Alternative Garlic Growing

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

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

 
 

Potato Experiment Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Part way through harvesting.

Part way through harvesting.

Amazing!

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

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

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

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

overgrown potatoes

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

overgrown potatoes

More overgrown potatoes.

overgrown potatoes

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

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

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

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

 
 

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.

 
 

The Chickens Next Door

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.

Fencing

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 each purpose.

Keeping Chickens In

Many ordinances 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.

Controlling Views

View of trees lining a country road against blue skyIf 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.

Smells

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 saying…)

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.

Frequent Cleaning

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.

lilac

Lilac flowers

Deep-Liter Method

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).

Fragrant Planting

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.

Noises

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.

No Roosters

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 settings).

Wind Chimes

Be careful. 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.

Bring on the Birds

Not chickens – song birds. Here’s a list of ways to attract songbirds to your property. But keep in mind – some of these birdies start singing in the morning just as early as a rooster!

robin

A Water Feature

If you’ve always wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed waster feature may muffle chicken noises.

Melodious Plantings

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.

Other Considerations

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 good stuff.

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

 
 

Planting Experimental Potatoes

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.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

I was also able to plant some taters. These are ‘experimental’ potatoes in that:

  1. I’m planting eyes from spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. I’m planting them in hay.
  3. 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.

planting potato in hay

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 too curious!

young spring garlic

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.   

 
 

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

pie chart

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:

“American eaters 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.”

What America Spends On Groceries

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 shopping).

grocery bag

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

lunch bag

A 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

Overhead of Gardening Woman

Starting 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.  

 
 

Planting by Moon Phases

full moon

Guess 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.

Yes, you read that right. I said the moon. As I was doing research on the best times to plant certain seeds I ran across information from The Old Farmer’s Almanac explaining that for generations farmers have had “an age-old practice that suggests that the Moon in its cycles affects plant growth.

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 phases.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including a straight-forward chart to planting by moon phases and a video providing more information.

 
 

2013 Seed Starting Plan

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 update soon!)

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 website.

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.

lettuce seedlings in seed starting medium

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.

Companion Planting

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:

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

thorns in the garden

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 requests: Katie@arcadia-farms.net.

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.

 
 
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