Gardening in the summer

I’m Melting, Meltiiiiing!

 

It’s June in the garden, in Texas, and it’s hot! This year has had an unusual amount of rain which has been great but has also made it much more humid. O how I dislike the humidity, but o how my plants love it.

 

I even have a couple orchids I put outside because they were done blooming and dying do to lack of humidity  in my house and they are putting on new growth and looking really good. Not normal for orchids to thrive outside in Central Texas but this year is different.

 

This is the time of year where there is less to grow because of the heat, In Texas we are limited to a few leafy green varieties, such as New Zealand Spinach, some swiss chards and greens from beets if you have any left. Okra is coming on, which loves the heat! A few melons like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.

My cucumbers are doing very well right now. They got a late start due to cooler than normal temps into May.

My tomatoes are full of tomatoes but the plants themselves are starting to give up the ghost. In the past I have tried to keep the plants alive through the summer so they are established in the fall, but have found i get better results from new plants planted in July.

This year I am going to get rid  off all my tomatoes and plant winter squash in their place. I do have a spider mite issue on the tomatoes and need to try and plant them somewhere else, which is difficult when you don’t have much space.

 

I just harvested my garlic which did very well  and my onions which didn’t, mainly because I didn’t thin them out, but still got a bunch of tiny pearl sized onions. My zucchini did very well and I have a second round coming on right now and hopefully they can handle the heat long enough to produce a  little more.

 

The most surprising thing this year is I had a volunteer acorn squash come up in my backyard that produced about 6 white acorn squash. Ate the first one last night by slicing it in medallions and cutting out the center which wa all seeds and cooked them over avocado oil, then place ground meat in them, topped them with cheese and baked for about 10 minutes at 250 degrees. Turned out very good and the squash was the texture of mashed potatoes which was nice. It was like a shepherds pie without the sugars from the potatoes.

 

All in all it has been a successful spring gardening season with things looking good for the hot summer.

 

What are some of your favorite summer veggies to grow?

Cleaning and Maintaining Gardening Tools

Clean and maintaining gardening tools that are sharp and ready for work make life as a gardener much easier and more fun!

Cleaning and maintaining your garden tools should be done after each use but we all know that for most of us that isn’t going to happen. So why not take at least one time out of the year to clean, sharpen and restore those tools so they will last for a long time.

As I write this article it is the middle of winter and there is not as much to do in the garden as I would like, so the best use of this down time is to clean my tools.

Cleaning Your Tools

Cleaning your garden tools should be the one thing you do after each use. There are multiple reasons for this. 

1. To avoid corrosion and rust.rusty-dirty-tool

           The longer a tool stays wet, or covered with mud the quicker it will erode. Of course this is a slow process, but once rust sets in the tool starts to lose it’s strength and viabilty. becomes more difficult to work with and will end up costing you more money since you will most likely have to replace it.

2. To avoid contamination.

           Contamination through tools is all to common and is a preventable problem. The easiest thing to do is have a spray bottle with bleach water to spray on your tool and then wipe down after each use, especially if you are going fom one plant species to another. You can also dip them into a bucket of bleach water. Doing the bucket will ensure a complete decontamination.

3. To be prepared for next use.

         It’s always great to go out to your garden and have everything ready to get to work right away. It’s very annoying when you are ready to do some work and your tools aren’t ready!

If you’re like me though doing this after each use just doesn’t  always happen, so I try to make sure to do it as often as possible and not just once a year.

Oiling Your Tools

If you have wooden handle tools (you should if you don’t) then they need to be sanded and oiled each year.

As you use your tool the handle will get wet and muddy and this will strip the oils off of the handle over time. a dry weathered handle has splinters and splinters are not your best friend.

In your down time get a high grit piece of sandpaper around 120 grit and sand your handles. This knocks off any sharp edges or splinters and makes for a smooth comfortable surface. Once that is done get some linseed oil or tung oil and work it into your handle. This will keep the wood from drying out and splintering, and will help to sill it from excess moisture which causes rot.

Sharpening Your Tools

Sharpening your garden tools makes for a much easier life as a gardener. Just about every tool you have can use a sharper edge and can easily be achieved with a file.

file-sharpener

You’re not looking for a razor sharp edge on most of your tools, but something that can easily cut through soil, roots and woody plants.

For those tools which require a much sharper edge, i.e. pruners, scissors and knives, use a wet stone or specialized sharpener for these.pruner-knife-sharpener

Be careful though, sharp tools are a great but also are very good at cutting and slicing, so make sure you keep your digits clear. Many a time I have sliced a tip of my finger when getting a little to careless.

Storing Your Tools

If you really wish to extend the life of yur tools then you need to have a place to store them out of the rain and sun. I know how easy it is to just leave a tool laying in the garden because you forgot to put it away or because your thinking I will need this tomorrow so I’ll just leave it here.

The lazy aspect of us as humans can get in the way and cause more grief than convienience. To combat this feeling, have a place to store your tools that is close to where you do the majority of your work and make sure they are easy to grab. I have tried many different methods of storing all the way to piling them in the corner of the garage to a large barrel. I have found that I don’t like these methods because being able to quickly grab the tool you need isn’t necessarily easy. You know what I’m talking about. You go to grab the hoe and it gets hung up the rake, which gets hung up on the shovel and on and on, to where you have to pull everything out just to get the tool you want. What a pain!

I like having a place for each indidual tool, so that I can go right to where it is and grab it and get to work and then put it back easily when done.

There are many tool organizing items out there, some of which are very good and others that are useless.

The cheapest and easiest method I have found if you have room, is to use and old fashioned hammer and nail or screws to hang your tools from.

This picture is a dream tool shed I would love to have!tool-shed

Conclusion

The maintenance of our tools is a very important job as a gardener. No matter how many tools you have each one needs regular maintenence. The more often you take care of these tools the longer they will last and easier they will be to use.

No one likes a rusty tool thay won’t open properly or tears instead of cuts.

Our tools should be looked at as precious items that need proper care and attention. Setting up an easy routine that you do after each use will help ensure that your tools last a long time and perform at a high level.

Happy gardening!

Top Garden Tools for your Tiny Garden

Gardening tools are probably the most important thing next to your soil health when it comes to gardening. These tools are so important that they make gardening easier, more enjoyable and even less dirty.

There are so many garden tools out there on the market, so how do you know which ones are the top garden tools for your tiny garden?

The truth is everyone has their own preferences, and if you talk to five different people and ask what are there top 3 tools you will get different answers. Usually though there are a few tools that are consistently used by everyone.

Let’s talk about the some top garden tools that are consistently used.

The Shovel

Everyone uses the shovel! I know people who don’t garden or hardly do any outside work but have a shovel. The shovel is probably the most versatile tool for the garden since you can use it of course to move soil and dig things up, but it can be used as a hammer (not recommended), tamper, dibble, spacer and the list goes on.

Shovel’s of course come in all shapes and sizes, so you have to know what job you will be doing and pick the correct one for the job.

Here is a list and benefits of some more commonly used shovels in the garden.

spade-shovel

Spade Shovel: Shaped like its name it looks like a spade. Great all around shovel that is used for any type of work in the garden.

square-shovel

Square shovel: Also shaped like its name, is great for scraping, tamping and shoveling loose dirt.

sharp-shooter-shovel

Sharp shooter shovel: Long, thin shovel that penetrates the soil very effectively. Great for digging holes for large potted plants to be planted in the ground. This is my favorite shovel for planting potatoes in the ground.

hand-trowel

Hand trowel: Small hand held shovel great for planting small plants and re potting. Probably the most commonly owned because of its size and ease of use. A very versatile little tool that every gardener should have. Of course these come in different shapes. My favorite one is almost flat, very little curvature, which makes it more versatile than the nearly U shapes ones.

There are many other shovels, made for distinct purposes, but the ones above are easy to find and a great tool to have.

The Garden Hoe

The garden Hoe is another highly versatile tool that comes in many shapes and sizes which can also be used for more than its intended purpose, but its probably best to only use it for what its made for. (speaking from experience, using tools for their unintended purposes can lead to damage or complete ruin of the tool).

Made to shape soil, clear weeds, make rows, and harvest certain crops it is a wonderful must have tool for the garden.

Here is a list and benefits of the more commonly used garden hoe’s.

paddle-hoe

Paddle/Draw Hoe: AKA the general hoe, this is the hoe we all know, the most versatile and easiest to find.

stirrup-hoe

Stirrup/Scuffle Hoe: Looks like a stirrup on a saddle is great for surface weeding.

warren-dutch-hoe

Warren/dutch Hoe: Triangular in shape, is great for small or tight areas and for making rows for seeds.

The list goes on but these are the ones you most commonly see and for the gardener a must have.

Shears/Pruners

Shears are a must have tool for the garden. They come in all sizes and make the job of pruning, thinning and harvesting much easier.

felco-hand-pruners

There are single hand held sizes, and smaller ones that are more like scissors for small plants and precision pruning. My favorite are Felco’s but have used other brands such as Corona which are of high quality.

hedge-shears

There are you hedge shears that are long and used with two hands and the lopper used for trimming larger material. Usually has a much smaller blade for cutting but allows for quite a bit of leverage.

hand-loppers

Depending on the job at hand will determine what size you will want to use. I don’t have a particular favorite with these but have found the cheaper you buy the more likely it will break, especially in the handle. This is very annoying and ends up costing you more in the long run.

Many More Tool Options

There are many more garden tools that are used in the garden, all made for a certain purpose to make the job at hand much easier. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking at them to decide what to get and use. For me I want one of each so I can try them ll, but that isn’t feasible for most people, including me due to cost and available space. There are tools out there that are multi tools of sorts that have multiple parts that can be interchangeable but I find the quality is not near what a one design use tool has. The more parts there are the more likely pieces will get broken or go missing.

The only multi garden tools that are worth having are the double headed hoes with a flat how on one side and a fork on the other side. The small hand held size seem to be the best in my experience, but if they are of good quality and size will work fine.

double-hand-trowel

Conclusion

As a gardener tools are among the most important, well, tool that you will have. There are so many to choose from and its always best to have every one there is but that isn’t feasible. So, if you are trying to decide what tools you must have to make your gardening life easier my suggestion is to go with a shovel, hoe and pruner. You decide which is best for you and over time add to your tool collection just like you do to your plant collection.

Is there a favorite tool of your own that you use? Leave a comment about your favorite tools.

Garden Ideas for Winter

Winter gardening ideas

It’s that time of year where there is a lot less going on in the garden, aka winter doldrums. Christmas just ended and the new year is about to begin and  I am very much looking forward to a new growing season, but of course I will have to wait a few months. So what are some winter gardening ideas that we can use to keep us from going crazy when we cant spend as much time in our gardens?

I am so excited! I just purchased a seed starting rack with grow lights and heating mats (sold separately). Review to come.

green-house
winter-gardening-ideas-green-house
grow-lights
winter-gardening-ideas-grow-lights
seed-heat-mat
winter-gardening-ideas-heat-mat
Since I have limited space outside and zero space inside to start seeds for spring and needed something to be able to start  my seeds that I can keep temperature controlled and mouse and rat proof as much as possible. These pesky creatures love to dig up your seed, eat it, and leave nasty turds behind.

I do have a small greenhouse, 9’ x 6’ but it is too big to efficiently control the temp with electric heaters. I have tried over the years to do it and have had success with certain plants that are easy to germinate like tomatoes, but have had a hard time with peppers and other veggies.

What else is there to do during this time of year?

It can get very depressing when you can’t get out to work in your garden or flower beds, so I like to use this time of the year to start planning for spring, summer and fall.

This is when you can think about what you want to plant, when you want to plant, and how much you want to plant.

There are very neat guides out there that can will send you an email reminder each month based on the area you live in as to what you should be planting. I receive notices from the Old Farmers Almanac gardening planner.

I don’t always agree with everything they say to plant but they are pretty accurate most of the time and helps to remind me what I should be planting. This is very helpful if you are a little too busy to sit down and make a list of what you want to plant and when. I understand the struggle with time, I have a kids and a full time job.

Clean up!

This is also a great time to get your garden area cleaned up and ready for spring. Usually my garden is a total mess at this time because the holidays just ended and since the  freeze has claimed my summer veggies they are lying haphazardly across the garden like it’s a nuclear wasteland. It ain’t pretty right now!

This is also a great time to clean and sharpen any tool you use. It’s best if you sharpen and clean them every time they are used but you know as well as I do that ain’t happening. So when we you are itching for something to do in the garden get your tools out and make sure they are ready for the spring. Sharpen your shovels, hoes, pruners and whatever else you have. Oil the handles if they are wooden, oil the springs on your shears and snips. Whatever maintenance you have this is the best time to do it since you will have more time than normal. If you maintain your tools of course they will last longer, work more efficiently and can be a cool thing to hand down to your children if you have them.

Composting Time

I like to use this time, once I have cleaned my garden to lay compost on the top of my beds. I use a method of gardening called no dig. I plan on writing about this in another blog but it is what it sounds like. You aren’t tilling or turning the soil each year. Instead you let the soil work like it does in nature by adding a new layer of compost on top each year. The benefits are wonderful and the results have been great. This is also a very easy technique for tiny space gardening.

Once my beds are cleaned I will layer them with a one to two inch thick layer of compost and let it sit till spring. I like to do this now instead of right before planting because sometimes the compost being used isn’t broken down all the way and you don’t want to be putting this down with new plants. Reasons are multiple and I will write in detail on this in another blog. The one to two month period of the compost laying on the beds will ensure that it is broken down all the way and that the nutrients are completely available for the plants and that the soil life is alive and well.

I use my own compost that I have been feeding with table scraps and dead garden matter, but I don’t always have enough and still have to buy some from the store sometimes. Be careful though, if you buy from the store that you are getting a high quality compost that isn’t full of pesticides and chemicals.

Make the best of the off season

​At this time of year it can get boring and down right depressing with the cold rain and inability to get into the garden. That’s why I like to spend as much time as I can dreaming about the spring and preparing for it so when the time comes I am ready to get seed in the ground and transplants planted. If you spend a little time doing these things you will be prepared also and you won’t be rushing in the spring to get things prepared for planting.

What are some of your winter gardening ideas that help keep you from going crazy in the off season and help get you prepared for the spring? Please share your ideas and routines that you use.

Growing onions sets or seeds

sliced onionI just love onions! Yes, not everybody does, in fact some people can’t stand them! I’ll eat them raw, cooked, fermented or anyway they can be made.

The only thing I don’t care too much about is how they burn my eyes when cutting them, but there are methods to reduce that.

If you’re like me and love onions then you probably want to grow them. The good news is they are easy and don’t take much space to grow.

The question then is, do I grow my onions from sets or seeds?

Growing onions seedsseeds from an onion

As a young child before I understood how nature worked, I didn’t realize onions even had seeds since I had only seen the sets that you can get at any hardware store in the spring. Then one day I saw a packet of onion seeds and was like, whoa, onion seeds! Shouldn’t have been a mind blowing moment but, it was. At that moment I vowed to try and grow them from seed one day.

Years later my vow came to fruition and I came upon some onion seeds to germinate myself.

Of course, I didn’t have any experience with germinating them so I just sprinkled them into the bed I prepared for them. Needless to say my success rate was not great. In the end I think I only got a few onions to germinate and one or two actually made it to maturity. They did not grow very big either.

Some things I learned from this experiment:

1. Make sure you have seeds of onions that will grow well in your region. Just like anything, certain plants grow better in certain regions. I had seeds that were sent to me in a package and were not best for my area. Now, If I had done a better job of preparing them and germinating correctly I would have had a better success rate.

2. Plant them at the appropriate time. When I planted my seeds, it was a little too late to expect a good rate of success. But this is true for any vegetable, timing is very important, not necessarily critical but important to get a good harvest. Seeds take time to germinate and onion seeds seem to take a little more time to germinate and don’t grow extremely fast. So if you want to have transplants for the spring you will want to start your seeds at least 20 days before it’s time to set them out in the garden.

3. Start the seeds in a green house or indoors if possible, in seed trays. This is very important because you can control the soil type and soil temp. Onion seeds need a loose soil to germinate and the temperature needs to be at least 50 degrees fahrenheit. I like to use single cell seed trays but an open tray that you sprinkle the seeds in will work also. There is just more work when it comes to seperating them to plant in the ground.

The next time I germinated onion seeds using the methods above, my success rate was much better and was able to harvest more onions.

Growing onions setsonion sets

Growing onions from sets is very easy and the preferred method for most people.

Even though I like growing plants from seeds, I actually prefer to grow onions from sets because of the ease, and since my space is limited for seed starting I can save space by buying sets and planting straight into the garden.

Normally the sets that can be bought at you’re local stores are ones that grow well in your area. In my case, that leaves two or three varieties but that’s fine for me, I mainly just want yellow onions that are fairly mild and can be used in pretty much any recipe.

The greatest thing about sets is you can plant them straight into the garden or container. No waiting!

Depending on what you want to get from them will determine how far apart you should plant them. I like to plant mine close together and as they get bigger thin them out to about three inches apart and use the ones I pulled as green onions.

Harvesting and preservingharvesting-onions

In general onions are easy to grow and require little maintenance once planted in the ground. When they are ready to harvest the best thing to do is pull them and lay them right where they were pulled and leave there for a day or two while they dry. Once they have dried cut the tops off and trim the roots and place them in a mesh bag which can be purchased on amazon or use a recycled one. I bought some reusable cotton bags from Amazon with drawstrings. They work great! Onions don’t require much to last a long time if they are harvested and stored correctly. Hang them in an area that it is climate controlled. Don’t place them next to potatoes or they will start to rot.

If you see them sprouting use them quickly or what I like to do is ferment them to use as a snack or garnish on dishes.

Onions are great for your health, they suck toxins out of your body and are high in vitamin c, folic acid, contain calcium, iron and are a good source of dietary fiber. Fermenting also adds to the many benefits of onions by adding good bacteria that helps your digestive system break down food. Why would anyone not want to eat onions?!

Seeds or sets?

onions mesh bagNo matter what method of growing onions is used you can have success of a large harvest of onions that can last till next growing season.

Try both methods if you are able to. Even though I prefer sets, I will still germinate seeds sometimes, especially when I want to try a different variety to see how I like them.

Growing onions seeds or growing onions sets is easy and takes little space. I encourage you to grow your own and let me know what recipes you like to use onions in. I can always use more ways to use onions!

 

what to plant in a small garden

Figuring out what to grow

Here you are with a very limited amount of space and can’t decide what to plant in a small garden!

This is a tough dilemma for a lot of people. Some seem to have it all figured out while others can’t decide what they want to do, so they end up doing nothing.thinking monkey

There are many things you can do, many plants you can grow, but how do you decide on what exactly to do?

The answer is not always easy but it’s not as hard as some make it out to be.

Here are a few things that might help you decide what to plant in your small garden.

 

What is your favorite plant/vegetable?

What is your favorite plant or vegetable? This is what you should first think about. When you have a small or limited amount of space, grow what you love the most. This can be hard sometimes because, if your like me you have more than one favorite type of plant or vegetable. So how do you get past this? Well, maybe you can flip a coin or do the trusty ol inny minny miny mo, or whatever you use, to break a tie.

A lot of plants can be grown together which gives you an opportunity to grow multiple things in the same space if you like. We have all seen or may have pots with multiple flowering plants in them, something that is usually found at your local nursery. The thing you don’t see is mixed vegetable planters, but you can do this, especially with leafy vegetables.

Companion planting is a very common form of growing and can actually be very beneficial for plants. I will talk about this more in s different article.

Make a list

plant listIf you can’t narrow down what you would like to grow, make a list of what you want to grow and then write down the characteristics of each plant next to its name.

Example:

  • Geranium: heavy flowering, low growing, great for pots, must dead head to keep blooming., needs full sun to part shade.
  • Tomatoes: needs lots of water if in a pot, can grow very tall depending on variety, stops setting in temps above 75 degrees at night, gives delicious fruit.
  • Citrus trees: can be grown in a pot, likes to be slightly root bound, will need to be potted up into bigger pots eventually, has wonderful smelling blooms, produce very beneficial fruit, low maintenance, may have thorns.

If you don’t have a lot of space for vining or tall growing plants you can mark those off of your list.
If they are not a heavy bloomer and you are looking for consistent color mark that off your list. (Some plants have very colorful foliage which can be an option for color instead of blooms.)

You might even be more organized with the pros and cons than my list above, but you get the idea!

Copy others

In school we are told not to copy, which is good advice, but in the real world being a copycat can be very beneficial. We do it all the time when we go on diets and start work out regimens. When we cook a meal from a cook book, or make something from pinterest. In fact when you study about the most successful people in life in their respective industries, you will see a bit of copycatting from previous successful people.

In the world of gardening there is more copycatting than you may know and that’s because when someone figures out a way to grow something successfully, there is no reason to beat your head against the wall to learn what is already known.

Next time you are out at an apartment complex or at some condos, look around and see what people are doing. This will give you inspiration and ideas that you may never have thought of or you will see someone doing what you didn’t think was possible.

It’s truly amazing what can be grown in small spaces! We take for granted, sometimes what plants are capable of and how strong they can be!

 

Experiment

When in doubt, experiment!

Sometime you just can’t decide what you want to do. In this case just jump head first and try what makes you happiest. It may mean buying five plants to stick in one pot and killing all the plants because it didn’t work out, Or maybe it will and you will have the most beautiful planter ever!

The truth is you can’t go wrong, gardening is all about experimenting, trial and error, being a mad scientist. It’s fun! This is what it’s about. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Besides, going with the crowd all the time is boring. Be creative, let your gardening juices fly and do whatever comes to your mind.

Sometimes we need to take off the bars of out thoughts and let things come to us. Don’t restrict yourself because you have limited space. There are a lot plants that can be grown in small spaces. Some can be grown without soil!

You have the power

Don’t let you tiny space deter you from growing the plants you want to grow. If you have a favorite plant, try growing it in your space, if it doesn’t work, O well. Find another plant and keep growing.

Make your list of your favorite plants, the pros and cons of each to help you narrow down what you can grow in your space and start planting.

Don’t be afraid to copy what others are doing. I won’t tell anyone, I promise.

Put you lab coat on and start experimenting. This is really the true fun in gardening. Trying things to see what works and doesn’t. It’s so exciting when things go better than you expected.

Don’t let yourself be afraid to try growing things because your space is limited and you don’t know or can’t figure out what to grow. You have the power to create a living space no matter what size it is!

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is Here!

Finally, finally, finally!

I love this time of the year! New growth is bursting through the ground, plants are starting to bloom leaving a sweet smell in the air.

Here in Texas we have the Mexican plum with a distinct smell that is really hard to explain, but when you smell it you know what it is. The Agerita with the tiny little yellow blooms leave the sweetest smell in the air, especially at night that you can’t breathe in deep enough. The Mountain laurels have their purple cascading flower clusters that emanate the smell of grape coo-lade. The wildflowers are starting to bloom from Indian Paintbrushes to Buttercups to the state flower the Bluebonnet and much more! The spring in Texas is so beautiful and I can’t help but get so excited every year!

I am excited not only because of all the flowering but because I get to plant my spring garden, which means I get to plant my favorite vegetable/fruit, the tomato. I wish had acres of land, because if I did I would try to plant every variety of tomato there is and see if I can grow it. The thing about tomatoes is that not all varieties grow well in all places. In fact your neighbor may be able to grow a variety that will produce very well, but you try to grow it 50 feet to the west and it get nothing but a green plant.

If you love tomatoes like I do, and you want to get a  lot of tomatoes every year, you will have to learn what tomatoes usually do best in your region and then try out every variety that appeals to you. What you will find is that unfortunately sometimes some of the varieties you really want to do well may not and some that you never expected to do much will thrive and be very prolific. This is why I love gardening, you never know exactly what you will get, except for disappointments and surprises.

Every year I end up buying new tomato seeds because I just can’t help myself. I’m like a tomato junkie! I just get so excited when the seed catalogs come out each year and I get to look through them at the new varieties and ones I haven’t tried yet. I always end up with way more seeds to plant than I have room for but I grow them anyways. Because of this I have way to many plants  which then gives me the joy of being able to give away tomato plants to my friends and spread the joy of gardening.

Tomatoes require a lot of nitrogen at first since they are such a fast growing plant, in fact most garden vegetables like a heavy dose of nitrogen as they are getting established. I like to use organic materials such as fish emoltion and compost or compost tea for nitrogen. Once they have grown large enough to sustain fruit, then it’s time to hit them with potassium and phosphate. I love using liquid seaweed through foliar applications to feed the tomatoes and help the blooms to set at a higher rate and give the plant what it needs to keep fruiting and produce the largest fruits possible. However, if you have a soil that is very rich and healthy you may not have to do any of these things. You should always be trying to create and maintain the healthiest soil you possibly can. The best way to do this is through adding compost. This is something I will talk about in another blog since it is the most important aspect of your garden, especially if you want to maximize your tiny space and get the most production out of it.

 

 

 

Raised Vegetable Garden Beds- Different types of raised beds

Raised Garden beds have become more and more popular, especially for back yard gardeners who have limited space. Raised beds have many benefits over traditional growing, especially in newly broken ground areas. These beds give plants an immediate deep, rich, loose soil to reach their roots down into. These beds can bring the plants closer to you, so you don’t have to bend as far to reach them. They can eliminate the need to till the ground every year which actually disrupts the soil microbiome that is already established, making it have to start all over. Raised vegetable garden beds can also give the garden a clean straight line look that is easy to keep, which is very beneficial in tiny areas.

Let’s take a look at different types of material that can be used for raised beds and the cons and benefits of each.

 

Wooden raised beds

raise bed gardenWood is probably the most common material used for raised garden beds. Probably because it is easy to use and readily available and gives an organic look that a lot of people prefer. Where you live will determine what type of lumber you might use for your raised bed. Where I’m from in Texas, western red cedar is the most commonly used lumber for raised garden beds. If you are from California, you may use redwood, while other parts of the country may use Doug Fir. Some people have used treated pine, which I strongly urge against because the chemicals used to treat the wood may cause harm to you since they will leach into soil and be taken up through the roots of the plants and therefore into your food.

I have seen and used beds built with logs from the Ashe Juniper tree’s that are prevalent, almost invasive in the Texas hill country. These beds are a little harder to build since the logs are not uniform, but they give a real neat cottage feel to your raised beds. Using local trees as borders for your raised beds if you can, is a great way to recycle/reuse the material that is around you and save trees from other areas that are being cut down in large numbers for building. Also, it is much cheaper than having to buy wood.

The biggest con to using wood is that it won’t last. Certain types of wood will last longer, but because you have one side constantly touching wet soil and because it is an organic material, it will break down through natural processes. The thicker the wood you use the longer life span you will get out of your raised bed, but it is more expensive.

Wood raised beds are my favorite way to build raised beds. How about you?

Concrete and Rock Raised Beds

Concrete is used all over the place, maybe more than I like but can be used to grow your garden. There are different forms that concrete can be poured into but the easiest and cheapest form for raised vegetables beds is using cinder blocks. I have come to really like using cinder blocks for gardening because they are easy to install and the holes in them give you extra space to grow flowers, bulb vegetables like onions or garlic, and smaller plants like strawberries.cinder block raised bed

I’m not as crazy about the look of these as I am the functionality, but they do a great job and will never rot!

Of course if you have the money you can build forms and bring in concrete mix and build solid walls for your raised bed. This is usually seen in front of store fronts or as planters built by the city to help beautify it. I have also seen large concrete pots used but these are very expensive and heavy to move.

Another option is using rock. You can use what is just lying around or buy some from a landscape store. Rock makes great raised beds and can save you a lot of money if you use what is on your property or someone else’s. You may even be able to do someone a favor by removing rocks from their property that they don’t want.

Metal Raised Beds

Metal raised beds can look very beautiful and have become more popular especially as an architectural design for yards. I have not personally used metal for a raised bed, mainly because I’m not crazy about the look, but also because I worry about the heat that can build up on them in the summer and become uncomfortable to work around, and create a hotter atmosphere for the palnts, especially in the Texas heat.

The use of metal water troughs is very common and are very neat and easy ways to do raised bed gardening. However a downfall to using these are that over time the metal will rust and deteriorate. You could use galvanized metal but just like treated material the chemicals used to do the galvanization can leach into the soil contaminating your food. One of the main reasons I grow my own vegetables is to know exactly what is in my food and using material that has chemicals that can potentially leach into my food is a no go for me. I would totally use these troughs for flowers though!

Composite Raised Beds

Composite material has become more and more popular over the past couple of years, especially for decking. What a lot of people don’t know is it can be a great alternative for raised beds. Composite material is made of recycled wood and plastic, combined together through processes that create nearly waterproof material. Some are actually completely waterproof. One brand that makes a composite material that is completely waterproof is MoistureShield Decking company. You can use their decking to make raised beds or their fascia boards, which are thinner and actually make great planter boxes. They are also slightly pliable and can be made into shapes other than squares or rectangles.

The downside to composite material is that the upfront cost is very high, but the longevity of the material, along with its ability to keep it’s color pay off in the long run.

Building your raised garden beds

There are multiple options to use when it comes to building raised vegetable or flower beds. Whether you use wood, concrete, metal, composite material or anything else you can think of to build your bed you can benefit from having eye-catching beds that give your plants deeper soil for healthier root systems and therefore healthier plants that you can enjoy for food or flowers. The choice is yours as to what you wan to use, whatever it is, have fun, be creative and remember you can never have to many plants!

 

 

 

 

Seed starting tips-Starting seeds indoors

Spring is just around the corner and that means it will be time to plant your spring garden. Now is the time to get a head start by starting your seeds indoors.vegetable-seeds Starting seeds indoors has many advantages, so let’s look at a couple of seed starting tips and advantages that I have learned over the years of gardening.

Use a good seed starting medium

There are many soils to choose from and most of them will germinate seed, however there are certain soils or seed starting kits that make germinating easier.

Seed starting soil which can be purchased at any nursery is very fine and spongy when it gets wet. You want seed starting soilsomething that will hold moisture since this is what seeds need to germinate. In fact a seed can germinate in total darkness as long as there is moisture. Light is only needed once germination has begun. Do you remember germinating bean seeds in elementary school with a wet paper towel? Moisture is the main key and temperature is the second.

Depending on the type of seeds being germinated you can use single cell trays or a shallow tray that you place the soil in and sow the seeds in the same space. Either way is fine and both have their pros and cons.

I personally like to use single cell trays like the Park’s Seed Bio Dome. It comes with sponge seed starters that soak up water from the bottom and keep the seed moist. It’s also especially nice for indoor seed starting since there is no soil to mess with.

You can also sow seeds in an open tray as I mentioned earlier. This method is quick and easy when sowing but creates more shock for the seedlings when transplanting. It is still a good method and in my experience seems to give a higher germination rate.

Temperature

Temperature is very important when germinating seeds. You will need to know what each seed requires temperature wise to germinate. All seeds are different, but are usually in a close enough range that you can germinate multiple seed varieties in the same space.

For example, you can germinate tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, squash and many more in warm soil temp, while broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, carrots and others need a cooler soil temp to germinate.

The best way to control soil temp when germinating is to use a heat pad. There are many brands of seed starting heat pads that heat the soil from underneath the pot or tray you are starting your seeds in. These are simple plug in heat pads that usually have multiple settings and are waterproof. Some come with thermometers that will keep track of the soil temp and turn the heat pad on and off to keep soil at the correct temp. I have found that when starting seed indoors the soil temp is usually easy to control with your central heating system, if you keep your house around 65-70 degrees most seed will germinate without the use of the heat pads, although the heat pads can speed up the process.

You can also make your own heat pad with incandescent rope lights, but usually the time it takes to make one is not worth the few extra dollars for a real heat pad.

There are also heat cords that can be buried in the soil that heat it but these aren’t really necessary unless you are germinating on a larger scale.

Water and lighting

Water is the most important thing you need to germinate seeds. Without water, you will just have seeds. Any source of water that you have will work to germinate seeds, of course if you have access to rain water that is the best, since it is usually pure and full of nitrogen.

I like to be able to use kits that enable me to water from below the seeds where the water is soaked up through the bottom of the soil or plugs. This is much easier and cleaner for indoor seed starting. If you don’t have the ability to use a kit like this, misting with water multiple times a day from the top is just as good. Remember to never let the seeds dry out. If you do, you will have a very low germination rate since most seeds will have started to germinate and dried up and died. Seedlings are very weak and vulnerable and usually any stress will kill them.leggy seedling sprouts

Lighting is only important once the seedlings have germinated and you see the two baby leaves. At this point the plant will be seeking sunlight to produce food and it’s first mature leaves. The use of a good grow light or very, very bright window will be necessary. If you have your seedlings in a window that is not getting direct sun for a majority of the day your seedlings will get very long and leggy and will be very fragile. Once this happens, it is very hard to get them to survive. At this point it may be best to just eat them as sprouts. Now, if you have the ability to set them outside during the day that would be great, however if you are starting seeds indoors it’s usually because it is still very cold outside.

Benefits of starting seeds indoors

There are many benefits to starting seeds indoors.

  • Controlling the temp is easier
  • You get a head start on the growing season and therefore can harvest sooner
  • You get the joy of gardening when it is still to cold outside to grow
  • You can experiment with different types of seeds with better control than sowing outside
  • higher germination rates
  • Get to see the plant grow from a seed to a mature plant

There are many other benefits to starting your seeds indoors but you can only find out what they are if you do it yourself.

Start your own seeds today!

You can start seeds indoors very easily as long as you have a good growing medium the correct lighting and proper temperature.

yellow pear tomatosDon’t wait any longer, go out and get what you need to start growing plants now for spring and be the envy of your neighbors when you have that first tomato weeks before they do or your flowers are blooming long before theirs!gerber daisy flowers

Have fun and experiment with different varieties of plants to see what you can grow!

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Garden Spaces- growing plants in any space

When it comes to growing plants not everybody has the same amount of space, some are blessed with all the space they can imagine, to grow a beautiful vegetable garden or flower garden or herb garden, while most of us have limited space. In fact some only have tiny garden spaces and that is where I hope to be able to inspire new and creative ideas.

A tiny garden space can mean something different for each person so Let’s look at the different ways you can take your tiny garden space and grow something you can enjoy no matter how limited your space is.

Growing in Existing Flower beds

flower bed gardeningIf you own or rent a house you probably have existing flower beds. These are the easiest areas to grow in because they already exist. While flower beds are usually just thought of as being used for growing flowers, they can also be used to grow vegetables and herbs. The great thing about it is that all these plants can be grown together. A lot of time we tend to think we can’t grow this or that because there isn’t enough space or there are to many plants already in a certain space. The wonderful thing about plants is that they can grow closer to each other than you think and don’t have to be grown in rows like you see on farms. In fact, if you mimic nature you can grow many varieties of plants right next to each other.

One other way of using existing flower or mulched beds is to set pots out in those areas and grow whatever you would like in them. This leads us to our next subject. Patio or balcony gardening.

Growing on a Patio or Balcony

Just about everyone has a patio or a balcony that they can utilize to grow plants on. While some are larger than others the opportunity to grow and enjoy plants is available. We have all seen those beautiful pots with plants growing in them in front of restaurants and stores in the middle of the city. All you need to do is follow their example and get the pots that you like and fill them with the soil of your choice from the local nursery and you are ready to grow in your small space.

There are many sizes of pots to chose from and using these different sizes in your patio/balcony garden can give pots, pots and more potsa nice visual appeal that you may not get using the same size pots for everything. Besides some plants may not need the same amount of soil or water that other’s do and a different size pot may be required.

Whatever size pots you use have fun and experiment, that’s what gardening is all about!

Growing in Raised Beds

If you’re like me, you have a small outdoor space in your backyard to grow in. I have tried growing the traditional way in the ground but because I live in a subdivision the soil is a poor quality back fill with a thin layer of topsoil. Very difficult to grow in and takes time to get to a good quality growing medium.

I have found that raised beds give me the ability to choose the soil I want to use and creates an immediate deep soil base for roots, and also helps with weed control. Raised bed gardening also organizes the garden and defines walk ways that are easy to see especially when your plants are full-grown and tend to cover walk ways in the traditional gardening method in tiny spaces. They also help with weed control which is a never ending battle as a gardener by putting the soil line above the existing one which is full of existing weed seeds and deep-rooted weeds which are hard to get rid of. You will still have to keep on top pf the weeds so they don’t take over but it is much Raised Bedeasier when they are young and tender than once they have become established.

Raised beds can consist of any material that you can think of from wood to cinder blocks to water troughs. I’ve even seen them made of old tires, talk about a great way to recycle!

 

Growing Indoors

Anybody, no matter where they live can grow indoors. You may be limited compared to growing outside but there is a large variety of plants that thrive indoors and even certain veggies that do very well for short periods of time.

Veggies that you can grow indoors include micro greens, leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce and kale. You can even grow mushrooms and herbs on your kitchen counter.

Grow lights are usually used for indoor growing. These lights simulate the sunlight which is needed for plants to go through photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food from carbon dioxide and water. If you don’t have grow lights you can use a very bright window, however vegetables may not perform as well without grow lights.Indoor Plants

There are many indoor plants which can do well without grow lights and are usually tropical plants that don’t fair well in most outdoor climates in the United States, at least not for the whole year. Most of these plants can be found at your local nursery and usually require no more than bright lit windows to grow and thrive. Some examples of these are ivy’s, succulents, air plants, orchids and many more.

 

You can garden no matter what size space you have

No matter how tiny your space is there are opportunities to garden. No matter if your space consists of indoors only or you have enough space to have a raised bed you can grow food to eat or flowers to enjoy. Don’t let a tiny space deter you from doing something that is fun and therapeutic. Like I said earlier have fun and experiment, you never know what you can come up with. Opportunities to garden abound! You just have to look for them and dig in!