All posts tagged planting

Determining Planting Methods

Published December 28, 2012 by blmercier91

We’ve already talked about the fact that you can’t just throw seeds into a hole and expect them to grow. Did you know that different seeds grow better depending on how you plant them? I’ve given definitions of some terms that I’m going to use here to get you started.

Hill: A pile of soil anywhere between 6″-1′ tall.
Mound: A pile of soil greater than 1′ tall.
Furrow: A long shallow trench with a flat bottom.

I think this is a good place to note that even when planting in hills or mounds, it is still best to keep neat, orderly rows and/or columns in place that way the soil is dispersed evenly over each hill or mound, and so that you know what is a vegetable and what is a weed.

Things that grow best in hills are sprawling things with seeds that are easily handled one at a time, like beans, peas, and sunflowers. The tops of each hill should be 1′ apart, that way the roots have enough room to spread out as well as down, and you will get a robust crop. If you have tested the viability of your seeds, and you know that it is good, it’s ok to plant just 3 seeds in a hill or mound and let them grow. (Some sources believe it is best to thin to the two strongest plants per hill or mound, but I have grown 3 plants per mound and had a bountiful harvest anyway.) If you have not tested the viability of your seeds, I recommend planting 10 seeds per hill or mound, and thinning to the strongest plants once the seedlings are 6″ tall. Also consider putting a miniature moat around the bottom of your hill or mound to retain water for you plants when things get dry.

Mounds should be at least 1′ tall, and have a bottom 18″ wide. Mounds are best for things that are big and sprawling, such as cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, and melons. While the closest mounds can be to each other is 18″, keep in mind that the bigger what you’re planting is, the further apart you will want them to be. For small pumpkins and melons, I recommend putting the tops of the mounds at least 3′ apart. If you’re growing those giant pumpkins that can weigh up to 200 pounds, you might be putting them more like 10-15 feet apart. The space between mounds is where your plant will be growing, so there should be enough room when you make the mound and plant your seed for the entire mature plant to sit between two mounds.

If you’re not sure whether to plant something in a hill or mound, a general rule to follow is if the plant needs to be “well-drained”, start with a hill and see how it does. If things go well, feel free to plant it in a hill again. If you think things could have gone better, try planting it in a mound next year, or find another way that you like better.

Things that need more depth, and not necessarily space, to grow are best planted in a furrow. When I say things that need more depth, I’m talking about root plants such as potatoes and onions, carrots, rhubarb, asparagus, turnips and the like. When you make your furrow, pile the soil up on the sides so that you can easily cover either your seeds, or the roots of your seedlings.

Growing something in a “patch” means that it likes to be with a lot of it’s own kind, think of this as a heard of horses, or a school of fish- it’s the same concept. While some things will do well if not grown in a patch (melons, pumpkins), they still prefer a lot of their own kind. Other things- namely corn- will not do well with just a handful of plants, and must be grown with a lot of their own kind. A good number to follow for patch fruits and vegetables is 15. Make sure you have enough room for 15 corn plants, 15 melons, or 15 pumpkins. (Although, again, with melons and pumpkins, they will do OK with less of their own kind- experiment!) Grass also grows in patches.

“Broadcasting”, when truly done, means that you just take a handful of seeds and toss them over an area without bothering to space them out, or cover them. This method is used mostly just for grass seed, although if you know of anything else this is used with, I’d love to hear about it. You can also kind of use broadcasting for carrots (I know, I mentioned carrots for furrows too; there’s more than one way to grow something). To do this, spread a handful of carrot seeds over a 3′ by 3′ area, and cover them with 1/8″ of top soil.

These are just a few different common planting methods, there’s too many to talk about every single way to grow something. Like I’ve said, one plant can be grown more than one way, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works best for you.


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?