The Bag Method

Published December 18, 2012 by blmercier91

Once you have decided that you want to start a garden, and have selected what you are going to plant, and how you are going to water it, it’s also time to decide how to plant it.

Wait, what? All I have to do is take the seeds and throw them in the ground. No, sorry. Not so easy. You won’t get very many plants that way, and the reason is that plants need space. They need healthy soil. They need friends (which will be another article), and they need as little competition as possible. In other words, they need YOU. It’s like having a pet, or a baby… only without the crying (sorry but the mess part is still there).

One method that is my favorite, especially for new gardeners, is called the bag method. I did not come up with this, I got it from a book entitled “Starter Vegetable Gardens”, which I also recommend not just for beginners, but even advanced gardeners- some of the stuff in there is pretty complex. What you do is lay down a single layer of cardboard where you want to plant (just get boxes and cut one seam open), then get a 50 pound bag of organic top soil or potting soil, I personally use the Ace store brand organic top soil because it’s cheap and I KNOW that it is not affiliated with those corrupt Monsanto monsters, and put the bag on top of the cardboard. Then go inside to your kitchen and grab a steak knife and bring it out to the garden with you- no running! Take the steak knife and cut a window in the side of the bag facing up, leaving about one inch of plastic around the edges. Remove the plastic that you just cut and throw it in the garbage. Now take your steak knife and stab into the bag of soil all the way through the plastic at the bottom and through the cardboard into the ground beneath. If you are planting something like tomatoes or cucumbers, make a few stabs like this directly underneath where you’re going to plant the seeds. If you’re doing something that’s going to be in an orderly row like carrots or peas, make stabs underneath where the row will be, and few outside of the rows line as well.

At this point if you’re going to add anything to the soil such as peat moss or guano or whatnot, do so. If you’re not going to do so, loosen up the soil a bit with your hands, plant your seeds or seedlings, set up your irrigation, and you’re done!

If you are planting seeds and you know that they are going to need to be covered to germinate, instead of cutting out a whole window, cut out only three sides and leave the plastic attached, that way you can lay it back over the seeds. Hold it in place with a decent sized rock or stake it down with tooth picks.

I like this method because not only is it easy, but it has SO many pros. They’re listed below:

1. If your yard has never has never had a garden before, and you don’t do much with it, your soil is probably not very healthy, and difficult to till or work with. It is also probably full of weeds. With this method, the health of your soil is irrelevant because your plants will get almost all of the nutrients they need from the bag of soil that you planted them in. This method also improves the health of your existing soil because at the end of the growing season you can pull up all your dead plants to turn to compost, and dump the bag of soil onto your existing soil. Voila, instant good soil! Tilling or otherwise working your soil is totally voluntary, which cuts down on your back aching, and the amount of time it will take you to get going. I’ve found that a lot of people get discouraged if something seems too difficult, so this will help boost your confidence and motivation to garden again. If you’ve got a ton of weeds, lay down the boxes and put rocks or stepping stones over the edges in the spring before the weeds start growing. Most of them won’t be able to grow because the boxes will smother them while they’re just starting to shoot up through the soil.

2. You’ve probably read my article(s) about watering, and hopefully you understand the importance of water conservation and using only what you need. With this method, you won’t use as much water as you would if you planted into the ground because not all of the water will drain away into the soil- the plastic bag retains it. This means that only the plants you grow are getting your water, not everything else growing that you don’t want there, and you also have to water less often because the soil will stay much more moist. If we’ve had a good downpour in my area, I usually turn off my drip system for 3 or 4 days to avoid overwatering.

3. Less weeding! Maintaining the weeds in your garden is important, but with this method you don’t have to do much. Most of the weeds won’t even grow because, as mentioned earlier, the cardboard smothers them. Once the roots of your plants are through the bottom of the bag and into your existing soil though, the weeds will realize the holes are there as well. However, if you pull them early once they do start growing, it’s really easy to get rid of them because their roots are flimsy and weak- they’ve been lazy due to how easy it is to obtain water and nutrients in your bag of topsoil. Less weeds, and weaker weeds, also means that you will have a more plentiful harvest.

The downsides to this method are that you do have to be super careful when watering. The dangers of overwatering are plentiful enough when planting into the soil, but with this method it is much easier to drown plants, particularly in the early stages of growth. If you water too much or too often and leave the soil too moist, you will also cause mold and mildew to start growing in your bag, and most of your plants will probably not be able to compete with that.

The initial cost of using this method is significantly higher than if you plant into the ground. If this is your first year gardening, and you want to grow lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots, the cost of the seeds will be around $22 (remember, I am quoting prices for heirloom seeds only!), and you will need 4 bags of topsoil if you want 4 heads of lettuce, 1 cucumber plant, 1 tomato plant, and 15 or so carrots, which is another $10. However, this method also enriches your own soil at the end of the season, and if you were to try and buy enough stuff to enrich your own soil and make it super healthy before you planted, you could easily spend 4 or 5 times that.

The bag method is one of my favorites, and I hope to spread the word to see it used more often. What do you think of it?

I get it.

Published December 17, 2012 by blmercier91

I am happy to say that my goal with starting this blog was to get at least 100 views in 7 days, and I got 117! Thank you all for reading a following me. Also, I have been paying attention to what you’ve been reading, and I get it- you don’t want the blurbs about my life and what I’ve been doing. You want to know about food, and gardening. I can do that. I’d also like to take this time to ask all of you to give me some feedback via email; tell me what you like or don’t like. However, today was a very long day, and I am very tired, so I promise to write an extra good article tomorrow.

Small Changes

Published December 17, 2012 by blmercier91

Small things really do add up. Over time they add up in a big way. Last week after I got fired, I slept in every day and didn’t do much with my Mary Kay business. Today, instead of sleeping in until… well right now, actually, I got up 2 1/2 hours earlier with a plan that I had written out the night before. I got up, and instead of being a sloth for two hours and wasting half the day, I got to work. I thoroughly cleaned the kitchen- dishes, counters, scrubbing the sink, scrubbing that nasty sticky stuff off the floor, sweeping, mopping the whole kaput- did the laundry, and gave the dogs all their daily stuff. So I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten a lot done by the time I normally would have been waking up! The one thing I’m still having trouble convincing myself to do is that 30 minutes of yoga.

The world is the same way though. If everybody does just one small thing differently to make a positive change, the impact is HUGE. I’m pretty into this heirloom & organic thing (only combined, not separately though), and I imagine a world where there are no big box stores. I see only microbusinesses and farmers markets. I see people helping their neighbors and the stranger at the farmers market. I see happy, healthy people. I’m not saying a utopia- such a thing is impossible. But what if everybody was just a Little happier? What if everyone knew exactly where their food came from and how it was grown? What if everyone knew exactly how their clothes were made and by whom and with what? Is that crazy? I’ve been told I’m crazy. If everybody did just One thing a little differently, I think it could happen. If you and your neighbor or friend or someone got together and one of you grew just 1 tomato plant and took REALLY good care of it and someone else grew just lettuce and took REALLY good care of it then you both shared willingly, you would both be REALLY healthy and feel better and probably feel better about your food. Or if you’re convinced you can’t garden, make a small change by buying your vegetables from a farmers market instead of the same place you buy meat, school supplies, clothes, cosmetics, and cleaning things. Make it a family outting- I don’t think I’ve ever met a kid who wasn’t thrilled by going to a farmer’s market. Even if the stuff you buy there isn’t necessarily heirloom, you will still be making a difference! You’ll make a difference in the health of your family, and also help out somebody local. Talk to them, ask them about how they grew that tomato and how they knew when to harvest it, I have no doubts that they would LOVE the conversation. Farmers markets are also usually much cheaper, so you’ll save money too. Another benefit would be the fresh air; too many people spend way too much time inside. Get some fresh exercise, be a good example for the younger generation.

I’m making a positive change in my world, what small positive change are YOU going to make?

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The Weekend in Review

Published December 17, 2012 by blmercier91

I sometimes wonder how my husband survives our weekends. He works at least 40 hours a week (70-80 in the summer), and then on he either hangs out with his friends all weekend, or works on our cars or his four wheeling rig, or both. And then some weekends (like this weekend), we have social engagements.

Friday night my brother-in-law and his wife and their 1 1/2 year old daughter came and stayed the night with two of their cats that can’t be left at home. I love my niece, even though until recently we haven’t seen eye-to-eye. I know it’s crazy to say you don’t see eye-to-eye with a baby, but it’s true. When she was a wee little thing, she’d always cry whenever I held her. Other people could hold her, but not me- no matter what, she’d cry. Now that she’s older, she likes to play with me. When her mom left for the store she even came and clung to my legs! It was a pleasant surprise. Then we gave her a few bites off our ice cream sandwiches, and after that, boy she was on a sugar high! She’d run into the kitchen, run into the living room, point and yell at the top of her lungs, then run out again! I also made a fabulous dinner- pulled pork that I rubbed with my own blend of spices, marinated overnight, and cooked all day with creamy garlic shells, corn on the cob, and tater tots. My father-in-law also came over to see his eldest son and granddaughter. We all sat around the table and talked until after midnight.

After staying up until after midnight, my husband and brother-in-law got up at 6 AM and went to the scrap yard Saturday (they also ran out of fuel on the way there and had to do some heart healthy walking). Saturday afternoon was rare- we just sat around together and watched TV. I did the dishes, but that was about it. Saturday night we had a birthday party for my aunt, and I also met my paternal grandmother for the first time in my life. My husband has never met any of my blood family before, so he was rather surprised by the house and everything. After the party was over, we picked up a friend and hung out all night again.

Today we slept in until 10 AM, my husband and his friend worked on their four wheeling rigs, and we made a deal with our friend to let him rent our spare bedroom. Now, we’ve never had a good experience doing this type of thing before, but this friend has 2 qualities that make him different from the other people we’ve rented to: 1. He’s not a jackass. 2. He’s paying. So, hopefully it’ll work out. I went and measured our yard (it’s over 2800 square feet!), and have started working on a plan as to what to plant. I wrote a gardening article today, and I must admit that it was stinking lame, but I’m not sure quiet what it needs to be improved- suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Watering Accessories Part 2

Published December 16, 2012 by blmercier91

Yesterday was part 1 of watering accessories, where we discussed watering timers and hose splitter, how to use them individually as well as together, and pros & cons of each. Today I’d like to discuss rain chains and water barrels.

Rain chains

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Rain chains are a fabulous way to keep your garden aesthetically please while allowing you a level of control over where your water goes. They start at about $35 and the cost goes up from there. Basic rain chains are simply a chain of basic links that channel the water down to wherever you put it, but these can be somewhat inefficient, with more water getting splashed onto whatever is around the chain than down to the bottom of the chain. Other chains are shaped like flowers or cups and have a defined funnel, which means almost all of the water goes where you want it, and doesn’t splash off. Standard chains come at a length of 8 1/2 feet, but custom lengths can be purchased from most places for an up charge.

20121216-125746.jpg If you’re really creative and have the materials, you can make your own for significantly less than you would pay at a retailer. You can find installation instructions here. Another advantage of rain chains is the pleasant sound of the tinkling water. You may think that rain chains are a new idea, but that is false, rain chains have been used for thousands of years in China, and even in South America (chain is easier to come by than machined downspouts there).

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Water Barrels

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Water barrels are a way to store rain water and use it when you need to. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes- some look like stone vases, some are made of PVC, and others are just large 55 gallon plastic barrels. You can place a barrel at the bottom of your down spout or rain chain, and when it rains you’ll know that you’ve got plenty of water to use. Most water barrels have a spout at the bottom to attach your hose to. I do not recommend attaching a drip system to your rain barrel due to the serious decrease in pressure. Water comes out of a rain barrel at approximately 8 PSI, whereas the spigot that is attached to your house has a PSI of about 40 PSI. However, it is ok to attach a soaker hose to a water barrel. For more answer to common questions about rain barrels, check out this website.

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New Paths

Published December 16, 2012 by blmercier91

So lately, what with losing my job and all, I’ve been thinking a lot about things I like to do. I can’t work at a job I hate, I’ve watched my father do that for years. I could only work at a job that I like. That’s why I was a lifeguard- it involved swimming and teaching kids, and it was plenty active. A great mixture of things I like. I like being a vet tech. I like being outside. I like riding horses. And my mother seems to be of the opinion that I’m a good writer. So I have contacted a few magazines about submitting an article. I hope something good comes of it.