All posts tagged gardening

What to do in Winter

Published December 19, 2012 by blmercier91

*TV guy voice*
It’s a problem that thousands of people face every year. Harder to solve than who took the cookies from the cookie jar, and just as expected as the sun coming up, thousands are still devastated whenever it happens… Just what can a gardener do *dun dun dun* when the snow starts falling?*end TV guy voice*

Ok so maybe that’s a little over dramatic, but it IS a problem that most gardeners face. Most people think that you can’t do anything related to a garden once it turns cold and the snow comes.

I’ve never been one to listen to what other people think.

There’s plenty you can do for your garden when the weather is wintry, and if you’re a beginner who’s just starting out, there’s even more to do. Novices can read books such as “Starter Vegetable Gardens”, to get an idea of how to plan and plant their garden, or “Seed Sowing and Saving” , to learn about individual plants, where and how they grow best, ways to get them to germinate, whether they can be transplanted easily, how to transplant without damage, if the seeds should be soaked or scratched or put in the freezer, and how to tell if seeds are viable or not. Advanced gardeners can read these same books to get new ideas, or books like “Four Season Harvest” to learn what things grow in cold weather or “The Vegetable Gardeners Book of Building Projects” to learn about things to increase productivity and size of your plants.

If reading is not your forte, think about what you feel went well with your garden this season, make a note to do those things again, and also what went not so well (keep a running list throughout the season so you can remember anything), so that you know what to tweak next year. Figure out how you’re going to rotate your crops- it is essential to do so to keep your soil full of nutrients, and to keep building the soil after you take so much from it. If you have any sort of “i” device, download the ‘Grow Planner’ app from Mother Earth News and start making a plan for next year! If you don’t have an “i” device, get a piece of graphing paper and you can do the same thing! (The graph paper might even be easier).

If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, then just keep gardening! Invite neighbors to visit your greenhouse and give them lessons on gardening basics, share tips, and tell them what you’re favorite things to grow are and why.

Winter is also the BEST time to buy gardening supplies. Just like all the candy goes on sale after All Hallows’ Eve, all the gardening stuff goes on sale as soon as it starts to get chilly outside! Have you been needing to buy a fence to keep the dog from crushing your seedlings? Buy it now! Was that irrigation system you wanted too expensive in May? It’s probably not anymore! And don’t just look at gardening stores or supply stores like Lowe’s… check out sites like Craigslist. Many people get rid of most of their gardening stuff after the growing season is over, and give it away for free on there! You can get shovels and fencing and mulch and hoses and pots. If you want to start your seedlings indoors and have never done so before, build a cold frame– you get more points if you’re able to transport or carry it.

You can also join a seed exchange, and get new things to grow for next year. Alpine strawberries are supposed to be planted in October! Instead of raking up leaves and throwing them away, spread them over the soil where you want your gardening area to be, they will insulate it and you can start planting sooner! Rake up your neighbors leaves for free and use them too. Composting can be done all year round, and you can use this time to improve your compost if it hasn’t been exactly right.

If you want something more hands-on, start an indoor herb garden in your windowsill. Fresh herbs all year long, and it doesn’t even take up much room. I use the containers we have for Christmas cookies! (A downside to this is that I have to wait until the Christmas cookies are made and all of them have been eaten). But you can use a bowl, a large cup or mug, or anything else you can think of to upcycle.

There’s plenty to do for your garden in the winter, and not all of it involves buying a bunch of fancy, often expensive, gadgetry or supplies. Those who say you can’t garden in winter, simply aren’t trying to find enough to do.


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?

What type of watering system should you use?

Published December 14, 2012 by blmercier91

It’s really hard to figure out when you’ve started a garden. It might even be harder than figuring out what to plant. How should you water your precious plants once they’re in the ground? There are several factors that go into this, such as how much time and effort you want to put into your garden, how much water your plants will need, and how much rain your area gets on average.

Option 1: High maintenance, any size, no set up, moderate control
If you are someone who wants to be really, really involved in your garden, and spend a LOT of time doing upkeep on it, then a simple hose with a nozzle is for you. It’s as easy as it sounds: take a hose with a sprayer, and stand outside and water your plants for 20 minutes (note: each plant needs different amounts of water, so time varies, experiment!). This can work for any size garden, in any environment. A plus is that when it does rain, it’s really easy to compensate, you just don’t go outside with your hose.

Option 2: Lower maintenance, small garden, easy set up, minimal control
If standing outside with a hose doesn’t appeal to you, then a soaker hose may be for you. All you do is hook one end up to a hose, and lay it out where you need it to water, and turn on the water when you want the plants to get watered. This is really easy to set up, taking less than 5 minutes, but a down side is that water comes out of the entire hose, so even if there’s an area you don’t want watered, such as a pathway or gap, it will get watered too. I also feel that soaker hoses are somewhat wasteful, because the water also comes out of the top of the hose and evaporates. Not all the water gets used efficiently. You also have less control over what plant gets how much water, as there are no ‘flags’ (which we’ll discuss later), everything gets the same amount. This is the option with the fastest set up, and moderate maintenance. A picture is below.


Option 3: Hardest set up, least maintenance, any size, most control
If you’re like me, and you don’t mind spending extra time setting up, but you want minimal maintenance, this last option is for you. It involves drip hoses (which are different from soaker hoses in that water only comes out of the holes and some even allow you to make your own holes- no waste!) in two sizes (usually 1/2″ and 1/4″), flags, and hoses. I know I didn’t mention costs with the other two, because I don’t know rough prices for them, but to buy everything you need for this set up is about $20-$40. You can use this with any size garden because you can cut the hoses to the length you want. You take the 3-in-1 faucet adapter (it comes in the box!), and attach that to your spigot, and then attach the 1/2″ tubing to the other side. If you need more reach, attach your hose to the spigot, stretch it to where you want it, then attach the adapter and then the 1/2″ tubing as previously discussed. You can make the hose stay where you want with the stakes that come with it. This set up also comes with a hole punch tool. The 1/2″ tubing has no holes in it, because YOU decide where the holes need to be. Punch a hole where you want the smaller hose to go, put a flag in the hole, and attach the 1/4″ tubing to the other side of the flag. You can then cut the small tubing to the length you want, put an end plug on, and stake it down into place. At the end of the large hose, also put an end cap. The flags allow you to control how much water each row of plants gets. Flags (and everything else you need for this set up), comes in a box, but you can also buy each piece individually. Back to flags! They control how many gallons per hour (GPH), each row gets, and come in ranges from 1/2 GPH to 5 GPH. With this set up, if there’s a pathway you don’t want to get watered, it’s ok, because there are no pre made holes and therefor no water gets wasted.