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Growing Basil For An Unending Supply

Basil is the ultimate summer herb. I mean, what is there to dislike about it? There are endless varieties, each with its distinct fragrant smell and taste. Summer meals like garden pizza, pasta, or even sauces are not the same without fresh garden basil. If you don’t like fresh basil, try making and freezing pesto and other seasonings or drying the leaves to make your spice blends. There are so many uses and reasons to grow more basil. Luckily, growing basil is easy as well as cloning it to create more plants than you know what to do with. By the end of this article, you will be able to clone your basil plant, or friends for that matter, and grow the cuttings in water until they have a thriving root system and are ready to transplant.

Growing Basil Tips

  • Basil can be grown seed indoors or outdoors. To grow transplants inside, start the seeds about six weeks before your last frost date. To find out more about your frost dates, check here. If you live in zone 7 or higher, sow basil seeds outdoors after your last spring frost.
  • Do not transplant seedlings outside until the risk of frost has passed.  Don’t be in a rush to get basil out.  It does better the hotter it is out.
  • Basil enjoys full sun, so plant in any location that receives a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight.
  • Keep basil plants watered.  Depending on where you live and your rainfall pattern, be prepared to water basil deeply every seven days.  Living somewhere like Houston, you may have to water your basil plants every three days.
  • If growing basil in a container, you will water plants more often.  Container plants always dry out faster than raised beds or inground beds.
  • Basil cannot tolerate cold temperatures, so to keep your basil supply throughout the winter months, either preserve your harvests or take clones and grow them indoors over these winter months.
  • Most importantly, allow some of your basil to go to flower and leave the flowers for the pollinators.

Why Do I Need This Much Basil?

Basil is one of the most common herbs worldwide.  Many dishes from different cuisines call for basil.  Since we have a garden and are growing basil, we might as well grow enough to keep a supply ready throughout the winter months. 

The easiest way to keep basil plants in the garden is not by purchasing many transplants from the nursery.  It is not succession planting and growing them from seed.  The easiest way to keep an endless supply of basil is from propagation. 

  • Propagating from cuttings speeds up the time needed until harvest.  Basil plants grown from seed take a minimum of 21 days to reach a transplantable size.  While basil grown from cuttings takes 14 days to reach the same size. 
  • If you follow the water propagation technique rooting will occur in 100% of the cuttings.  If you start seeds, even though basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow, you may have a germination rate of around 90%.
  • Growing one rooted cutting per pot will produce a plant with stronger roots than had you grown multiple seedlings in one pot.

What Is Propagation

Propagation is the process of reproducing an identical copy of a plant from a piece of that plant.  There are many ways to propagate plants; grafting, division, and budding, but in this article, we will focus on taking cuttings.

How To Propagate Basil

Rooting basil takes time, but not as much time as growing from seed. There are many ways to propagate basil, but we will go over two of the easiest ways. One way involves water and the cup, while the other requires soil. Whether you decide to do the soil route or the water method, it’s easy to do.

Growing Basil by Water Method

  1. Go outside and collect basil cuttings. You want these pieces to be 4 to 6 inches long. It is best to take these cuttings right at the node area.
  2. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the stem. This is where the new roots will grow from.
  3. Get a cup and fill it with water. I prefer to use clear glass to watch the roots grow and know when I will need to change the water.
  4. Place the basal cuttings into the cup of water.
  5. Place this cup somewhere where the cuttings will receive bright indirect light. I recommend finding a sunny windowsill inside. But if the inside is not an option, then place your basil cuttings in water in a shaded area.
  6. Change the water every few days.
  7. After about seven days, you should see roots starting to grow at the bottom of the stem.
  8. Allow the routes to reach one to two inches long before transplanting into a four-inch pot or directly into your garden.

Growing Basil by Soil Method

  1. Fill a four-inch pot 3/4 of the way with potting mix.
  2. Now, take a four to six-inch long cutting from your basil plant. I prefer to take many cuttings at once and do all of the propagating at one-time.
  3. Dip the base of your 4 to 6-inch cutting in rooting hormone. Read about how to make your rooting hormone here. Place the cutting into the pot, rooting hormone side down.
  4. Cover the pot with a plastic bag or larger container. This is to help prevent moisture from escaping and create a high humidity zone for the cutting. Since the cutting has no roots, this high humidity allows the plant to intake water while developing a new root system. 
  5. Place the plant on a sunny windowsill to keep the soil moist.
  6. In about ten days, you should see new growth on your basal cutting. Give it one more week before transplanting out into your garden.

Now that you are a propagation professional and able to grow as much basil as your heart desires, don’t forget to share some with your gardening friends. And once you have all the basil you could ever want, check out this link to learn how to dehydrate and store your basil harvest. Or this link here where we talk about how to make your garden pesto.

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What is Cold Stratification

Stratification is the conditions a seed is exposed to to get them to germinate. When people think about this stratification process, they often think of the moist and warm temperature needed to get the job done. These conditions are not always the case. In the wild particular plants flower in late fall. These plants produce and drop their seeds around winter time when the temperatures are usually cold and wet. This process of exposing seeds to cold, moist temperatures is known as cold stratification. Not all plants need the same conditions during the cold stratification process. Some plants like damp and humid conditions, while some plants prefer cold and dry conditions.

The process of exposing the seed to cold temperatures primes the seed. How do you know which seeds need to go through this process? By paying attention to the plant’s flowering times. Plenty of trees, shrubs, and perennials need cold stratification to germinate.

Here is a list of plants that fall into that category:

  • Milkweed
  • Butterfly bush
  • Fuchsia
  • Rhubarb
  • St Johns Wort
  • Shooting Sar
  • Prairie Coneflower
  • Certain marigolds
  • Lupine
  • False sunflower
  • Hardy hibiscus
  • Catmint
  • Evening primrose
  • Perennial sweet pea
  • Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
  • Sedum Hen-and-chicks
  • Ironweed
  • Chinese lantern
  • Lavender
  • Verbena

Cold stratification is a survival tactic engrained in individual plants. This tactic ensures that plants do not germinate at inappropriate times. Sudden changes could trick a plant into thinking it is time to grow too early in the spring or too late in the summer. Without the cold and moist conditions during winter and early spring, individual seeds will not even sprout.

In the wild, nature subjects these seeds to these conditions for months. Luckily when recreating this process at home, that time length is not necessarily needed.

Here are different ways to copy nature’s cold stratification easily in your own home.

Materials

  • Seeds
  • Plastic Ziplock bags
  • Refrigerator
  • Water
  • Paper towels
  • Peat moss
  • Sand

Cold Stratification Methods

Paper Towel Method

  1. Soak seeds in a cup of water for 2-24hrs. Seed size and determine the soaking time.
  2. Moisten a paper towel or coffee filter
  3. Pour seeds into paper towels
  4. Fold the damp paper towel over the seeds and place it in a ziplock bag
  5. Label the start date and place the bag in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 weeks
  6. After a minimum of 3 weeks, remove the bag and plant the seeds as you would normally.

Sand method

  1. Place sand in a mixing bowl and moisten with water. The sand has the proper moisture content when you can form it into a ball
  2. Add your seeds to the sand and water mixture
  3. After mixing, place sand and seed mixture in a Ziplock bag and place in the refrigerator for a month
  4. After a minimum of 3 weeks, remove the bag and plant the seeds as you would normally.

Coco Coir Method

  1. Pre-moisten the coco-coir. To check for the proper moisture consistency, I grab a handful of this mixture and attempt to squeeze it. If I can squeeze water without clinching a tight fist, I know I have the proper amount of moisture in my medium.
  2. Next, place seeds flat and lightly press them into the coco coir. Cover with a light layer of moistened coco coir. The seeds should still be visible—cover the container with Ziplock or something similar to keep moisture level consistent.
  3. Place this mixture in the refrigerator. After the designated time, remove your seeds from the fridge and now plant your seeds as you would normally.

To be honest, the sand method or the coco coir method both work, but that’s not my go-to. I prefer the paper towel method because I can remove individual seeds from the plastic more efficiently than sand, peat moss, or any other medium. And to me, when we’re urban gardening, efficiency is essential.

cold stratification

So, if you have ever attempted to start certain seed varieties and wondered why you could never be successful or successfully get them to germinate. We may have just solved that issue. Maybe those particular varieties required a cold dormant period.

For seeds that need a cold and dry stratification period, simply place seeds in the refrigerator. You can put the seeds in mason jars, ziplock bags, Tupperware, or in the seed pack. Just make sure they stay dry.

JUST GROW IT

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Garden Journal: What Is It And How To Make Use of One

Everyone wants to be a better a gardener. If you go online, you will see all sorts of videos and articles giving you ways to help 10x your harvest, and “the secret to bountiful harvest”.  Well, today, I am going to give you the best kept secret that many people overlook. And no, its not a fertilizer or a growing method. It is something much simpler than that. The way to get the best garden of your life is by simply keeping a garden journal.

While this is not a new concept it is often overlooked. Many people don’t see the value in it or claim they don’t have the time. Others just don’t know how to do it properly. A garden journal does not have to be elaborate or expensive. Any available notebook will do. You can even use the notes section on any smartphone.

What Is A Garden Journal

A garden journal is a place to record what happens in your garden. It is a fun way to keep records, observe, track, and even plan anything related to your garden.  Being observant and recording what happens in your garden is essential for your success.  Gardening is sciene and no scientist would ever experiment (grow a garden), and not keep records that they could revisit and learn from later.

Garden Journal

Why Keep A Journal

Keeping a garden journal is vital to gardening success. Everyone thinks they can remember everything or don’t see the point in keeping records.

  • Do you remember all of the varieties you planted?
  • Do you remember which plants did better than others?
  • Why was it their location in the garden?
  • Do you remember the last time you applied fertilizer or neem oil?
  • Do you remember when you waters?
  • Do you remember the pests you dealt with?

Instead of guessing, keeping a garden journal will give you a place to record all of this information so that you can go back and revisit it later.

How To Keep A Garden Journal

The best part about this garden secret is that there is no right or wrong way to do it, all that mattes is that you stay consistent.  You can use a notebook, pad of paper, your smartphone or even purchase a premade garden journal.  Don’t be afraid to be creative.  Use bright colored pens or pencils to to decorate it and maybe even add some pictures of gardens you think are beautiful, dried flowers or pictures of greenhouses.

You choose what to record.  I am a big fan of journaling whether for the garden or for my life, it is a great way to get your thoughts out of your head and turn them into actionable steps that can be taken. I like to have the following sections in my journal.

  • Calendar. Keep track of your seed starting and harvest dates. This way you can know when to expect harvests
  • Lists. Make a list of all the plants and varieties you add to your garden. I even like to record the seed company information.  
  • Pests. In this section keep a record of the pests you encounter, what time of the season and which crops they are attacking.  I also like to record pesticide application dates. This way I can keep track of when I applied things like neem oil and BT. I can keep track to see if the homemade pest repellent sprays I use work.
  • Fertilizer. Record the application dates and rates of the fertilizer you apply to your garden.  Record how long it took before you noticed a difference in the plants.  This will help prevent overfertilization.   
  • Garden planning. Since your garden can grow and expand every season this is where you can plan your garden for future seasons. You can plan proper spacing and ideal layouts.

The best time to start a garden journal is now. Even if you have already planted your garden and youre in mid-season, you will record useful information for next season.

JUST GROW IT

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Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is not a new idea. People have been harvesting rainwater for thousands of years. Freshwater is a finite resource. Only 2.5% of the world’s total water supply is freshwater. Since freshwater only makes up such a small percentage means that we could run out one day, there is a limited amount. As the population increase and cities, we as gardeners and humans, in general, should do a better job with preservation. Rainwater harvesting is an easy way to get started. 

By 2030, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. One out of every three people will live in a metropolitan city. Imagine the stress that will be put on our water system. Now, imagine the impact we could have on the environment if we changed our urban hydrology and began to harvest rainwater. 

The Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

Did you know that 1″ of rain across a 1000sqft roof can produce over 6oo gallons of captured rainwater? Now ask yourself, how often does it rain where I live? How many gallons of water do you use in your garden daily, weekly, or yearly? What if you could save money and get a better product. Would you? I know I would, and that is what rainwater harvesting does. It can save you money, protect the environment, and is better for your plants than tap water.

Water Cycle

A water cycle shows the continuous cycle of water from the atmosphere to the earth and back. Once we understand the water cycle, we will realize why capturing rainwater can positively affect our ecosystems.

  1. Evaporation. When exposed to heat, surface water turns into water vapors. The majority of evaporation comes from large bodies of water like oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. So if we pollute these, then the entire water system is affected.
  2. Condensation. As the water vapors ascend in the atmosphere, they change into particles of ice/water.
  3. Precipitation. When the air cannot hold any more moisture, the moisture is precipitated and falls back to the earth. The condensed water vapors, and clouds, fall back to the ground in the form of precipitation. Precipitation can be snow, rain, hail, sleet, and drizzle.
  4. Runoff. As the precipitation falls, it causes runoff. Runoff occurs when the water runs over the surface of the earth. As water runs over the ground, it moves soil, minerals, and more into channels, rivers, bayous and eventually ends up in lakes, seas and oceans.  
  5. Infiltration. The water that does not runoff is absorbed deep into the soil. This water works its way down through sand and rocks and refills the level of underground water tables.  

More Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

The benefits of rainwater are linked to the world’s water cycle in many ways.

  • Avoiding runoff to reduce soil erosion and any pesticides, fertilizer, or pet waste entering the water stream. In urban areas, the largest source of pollution comes from landscapes. Collecting and utilizing rainwater to apply to the landscape is an efficient and environmentally friendly way to conserve water.
  • Reduce our dependence on the limited freshwater supply.  
  • Save money
  • Offset drought periods

How To Use Rainwater

  • Irrigation. This is the most popular choice. If you install your rain barrel on stands higher than your garden, you can use science to do the work for you. This setup is known as gravity-fed irrigation. Every 2.5′ elevation above the water outlet creates one pound of pressure. If you cannot elevate your rain barrel, look into an external pump. This pump will help you move the water from the barrel to the garden.  
  • Uses the stored water to refill ponds, fountains, birdbaths, and even swimming pools.
  • Use the stored water to wash vehicles.

Saving rainwater conserves water, decreases your water bill, helps clean up the water cycle by reducing the impact on groundwater, and minimizes susceptibility to drought.    

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Growing Basil

Nothing says summer more than fresh basil growing in the garden. This warm-weather loving annual herb is not only versatile but is also easy to grow.  Today, I will share tips on growing basil and some tricks to ensure you get a bountiful harvest from your prolific plants.

Basil is one of those herbs you don’t need to plant too many of.  With a couple of plants, you can enjoy fresh sauces and leaves. If your goal is to fill the freezer with pesto and the spice cabinet with jars, then you will need at least five plants. That’s good for me because I always plant extra basil plants.

Growing Basil

Basil is one of the easier herbs to grow from seed. If you don’t like starting your seeds, head to your local garden center. Be careful about going to the garden center. With all the available varieties, you are likely to come out with ten plants when you only intended to purchase 2.  

When growing basil from seed, remember it is a summer crop. What does that mean? They love warm and humid temperatures. Basil is one of the herbs that benefit from beginning the germination process on a seedling heating mat.  

Like other veggie seeds, make sure to: 

  • Use an airy seed starting mix 
  • Keep the soil consistently damp but not soggy.
  • Provide heat to aid germination 
  • Provide a light source.  Whether it be from a window sill or an overhead LED light

Planting Basil

Basil is a warm-season crop, so make sure to plant the basil after the danger of a frost has passed. It loves well-draining, rich and fertile soil. I have noticed that I grow the best basil in beds that have been amended with compost or leaf mold. When planting basil seedlings, try to keep 8-12” spacing between plants. This spacing recommendation I tend to disregard and plant my basil seedlings closer. The 4-6” spacing is what I like. Then the plants will grow together into one large bush, providing support and shade for each other.  

Basil needs 6-8 hours of sunlight. Lightly filtered light is ok, but basil prefers direct sun. If you live somewhere like here in Houston, you may want to consider providing your plants with a bit of afternoon shade. To accomplish this, plant basil between taller plants like tomatoes or peppers where they will receive shade.  

No garden bed? No problem. Basil thrives in containers. I once grew a holy basil plant in a 10-gallon pot for over 18 months before the historic freeze wiped it out.  Growing basil in a container allows you to place the pot where it would receive shade.

Basil is not drought tolerant, so water when the soil starts to dry. For the best harvest, you want to have a consistent watering schedule. Drip Irrigation systems make this easy to achieve. Applying mulch around the base of the basil plant will assist with water retention. 

Pruning Basil

When basil seedlings reach 4-6” tall and have multiple sets of true leaves, it’s time for their first chop. Grab a pair or snips, and cut above the second highest node.  The node is the area where two larger leaves are growing out of the stem. A few days after making this cut, tiny leaves on both sides of the cut start growing. These little leaves will eventually grow into two new larger branches.

If you purchase the transplant from your favorite nursery, it should have a decent size.  You will want to follow the same steps as listed above. Located the top two sets of leaves and cut above or below the node. This will cause the plant to send out two new main stems. 

Now the secret to achieving the bushy basil plant we are all searching for is to continuously top, or cut below a node, on every main stem. Since this process produces two new branches, every time we make this cut, whether we know it or not, we are telling the plant to become wider.

Harvesting Basil 

There is only one way to achieve a big, bushy, healthy, flourishing basil plant use it.  By regularly harvesting from the bush, you are signaling the plant to produce more.  Basil is one of those herbs that you should continuously harvest. Harvesting basil frequently helps prolong the life of the plant.

Now people will say make sure you cut off flowers to encourage more vegetative growth.  I don’t subscribe to this mindset. Rather, I always leave my basil flower. Why? Because it is a favorite of the bees and other pollinators in the garden. Usually, I do a couple of big basil harvests every season instead of continuous harvests. When I harvest, I remove whatever flowers there are along with the vegetation. One of the drawbacks of this method is that I don’t always harvest these flowers before the seeds produce. Then I end up with basil plants popping up everywhere. I don’t know if that is a drawback since I love basil.

Storing Basil

Have a plan for the basil before you harvest. Do not just go outside and cut it randomly. That is a surefire way to waste your harvest.  

To store basil in the fridge or on the countertop, treat it as a flower. Place the cut stems in a bowl or jar of water.  

If you opt for a larger harvest like I do, then be prepared to make pesto or have a way to dehydrate the leaves.

Growing Basil: My Favorite Varieties

·  Tulsi/ Holy Basil – My absolute favorite basil of all times.  I use it for tea. Said to be the best basil you could grow.

·  Genovese- Original basil used for pesto

·  Thai Basil- Add this basil to lemonade in the summer

·  Lemon Basil- Great fir tea blends and fish dishes

·  African Blue Basil- a favorite of the pollinators

Thanks for reading!  Now it’s time to just grow it.

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How To Use Succession Planting To Improve Your Harvests

What is succession planting?

Succession planting is the practice of having another plant ready to replace the one that is finishing and ready to harvest. This method can help you get more harvests out of your space. 

Succession planting is the practice of planting crops on a set interval, for example, sowing beans or carrots every two weeks during their planting time.  Doing so ensures that you frequently have something to harvest.  As opposed to getting your harvest all at once, you can spread it out over the entire season.  That is important if you have a home garden and you are not capable or interested in canning or preserving your harvest.  Alternating plantings will help alleviate the problem of forgetting or losing your desire to collect or eat your harvest.  If I could get green beans over a 2- 3-month time frame, I would prefer that instead of all at once.

What practicing succession planting, it is essential to remember to revitalize your soil after one crop finishes.  By adding more organic matter or fertilizer to the soil, you can help ensure the next round of plants has access to ample nutrition available.  Referilization is very important and sometimes slips the mind of beginner gardeners.  Forgetting to add organic matter and amend the soil is a surefire way to end up with a less than stellar harvest.

Timing 

Timing is critical when it comes to success with succession planting.  You will need to have seedlings/transplants ready and available.  Unless you have an extra gardening structure like a greenhouse or live in a temperate climate, you will more than likely be starting your plants indoors.  So make sure to brush up on seed starting skills.

Understanding the specific variety, you intend on growing is essential.  You will need to know the days to maturity to plan your plantings properly.  Doing so will ensure that you are starting your next round in time.  If you have read the other articles in the series, you know that I garden in an urban area, and space is a premium.  I am focused on getting a consistent harvest by maximizing my gardening.  By practicing intercropping, companion planting,  vertical gardening, planting intensively, and succession planting, I can help optimize my space. 

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How To Grow Restaurant Worthy Mustard Greens

In this article we are going to discuss how to grow mustard greens.

I have always heard the saying, faith of a mustard seed. Before gardening, it was hard for me to put that into perspective. But have you ever seen how tiny a mustard seed is? It is pretty impressive what power is in a seed. Plant this little seed, and within 60 days, you could be harvesting flavorful and—vitamin-packed green leaves.

Mustards are fast-growing greens from the brassica family grown for their leaves, and their leaves are one of the healthiest and most nutrient-dense leafy greens grown. Most people associate mustard greens with southern culture, but these nutrient powerhouses can be grown anywhere. Many African and Asian dishes call for mustard greens.

Varities

You can choose from many different varieties. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Mizuna
  • Red Giant
  • Florida broadleaf

How To Grow

Mustard greens, like other brassicas, prefer moist, fertile soil. Yes, you read that correctly. Mustards are members of the brassica family. Have you read the article about growing Cole Crops? They love the sun, but like other leafy greens, since they do not produce fruits, they can do well in the shade.

If growing in the fall, set out transplants 4-6 weeks before the first frost date. Are you planning on growing mustards this spring? Plant transplants around four weeks before the last frost date. Do not think that you have to start from transplants. Mustards are a very forgiving crop that can be grown directly from seed. Direct seeding is my preferred method when it comes to mustards. Mustards grow wide, so be sure to leave 12-18” between plants.

Mustards are not as cold tolerant as kale and collards, and that does not mean that they can’t handle a freeze, and mustard greens are cold tolerant down to the 20s. Down in Houston, it is not strange to have mustards growing in every season except for summer, and there’s not much that can grow in our Houston summers besides okra.

Keep the soil moist but never soggy. Mulch will help reduce the weeds, regulate soil temperature, and reduce the water needed. It will help keep the ground moist   Improper watering, and stressful conditions can cause the flavor of the leaves to become unpleasant or extra spicy.

How To Harvest

When it comes to harvesting the greens, there are three ways I recommend:

  1.  Let the leaves fully mature and harvest the outer leaves. Make sure to leave the center to continue growing and producing more leaves.
  2. Harvest leaves when they are young, immature in the “baby” stage. These younger leaves will have a milder flavor, perfect for a salad mix.
  3. Treat it as a cut and come crop again. Cut all leaves and leaves, leaving a stub. The stub will regrow.

How do you harvest your mustards?

Companion Plants

·       Corn

·       Collards

·       Pansies

·       Kale

·       Peas

·       Jasmine

Check out this article to learn more about companion planting.

Garden Foes

Avoid planting near sunflowers and beans.

Now what I want you to do is stop reading, go outside, get your hands in the dirt and JUST GROW IT!

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What You Need To Know About Chill Hours

Have you ever looked to purchase a fruit tree?  Let us take a peach for example, google peach tree; you get hundreds of sites selling thousands of varieties.  First, you need to know your gardening zone, and what’s this thing about chill hours?

What Are Chill Hours

To successfully grow fruit trees, it is vital to understand chill hours. If you mistake and select a fruit tree variety without understanding chill hours, you will waste your time with poor harvests.

Chill hours are defined as any temperature below 45F.  Depending on who you talk to, some will tell you the temperatures have to be between 45-34F.  Sometimes people make things more complicated than they need to be. 

Why Are Chill Hours Critical

For some plants to produce flowers and fruit, they need a dormant period.  This dormant period is achieved whenever the plant is subjected to colder temperatures known as chill hours.  Fruit trees, berries, and nut trees all need these dormant periods to help regulate the growth.  Without sufficient dormant periods, some plants are not able to flower or fruit.

When you begin to look at the fruit trees, you see there are different varieties of high chill and low chill. Low chill needs less than 300 and high chill requires more than 500 chill hours.  Now there are low chill requirements for a lot of the most common fruits. Careful, though, do not be tempted to plant a low chill variety in an area that gets high chill hours. Although it seems like a gardening hack, you run the risk of the plant breaking dormancy too early.  There is always a catch. If your plant breaks dormancy too soon, the flowers or blooms will fall off.  No flowers mean no fruit.

Do not confuse chill hours with cold hardiness.

What’s excellent about chill hours is that they don’t have to be consecutive. Chill hours are cumulative from late October until February or march, depending on your area. Hours that are below freezing do not count. 

Chill hours may be more important than location when selecting a fruit tree for your garden. If you don’t, you can waste time and money.  You will be disappointed if you live in an area that only receives 400 chill hours but buy a tree that needs 800 chill hours. 

What Types of Trees Require Chill Hours

There are not many fruit trees that do not require some amount of chill hours to produce fruit.  Out of all the fruit trees, Apples have the highest chilling, followed by apricots and peaches. Figs, olives, and quince have the lowest chill requirements, followed by persimmons, pomegranates, almonds, and chestnuts.

Most fruit trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves over winter.  Planting a variety that doesn’t receive enough chill hours and the leaves often will not drop from the tree.  The tree will not enter a state of dormancy and, therefore, will not produce. 

The number of chill hours will vary depending on the cultivar of the fruit tree.  Most apples require well over 500 chill hours. But check out how the chill hours vary depending on the cultivar.

Gala – 500 Hours

Golden Delicious- 600-700 hours

Red Delicious- 800 hours

Anna- 200 Hours

Golden Dorsett- 200 Hours

Anna and Golden Dorsett are excellent choices for people in Houston and other areas with mild climates.

Fruit trees are not the only plants that require chill hours of some sort.  Do you remember the cold stratification example with the milkweed?  Garlic, blueberries, tulips, nut trees, and others need cold temperatures to grow well or grow at all. 

How To Find How Many Chill Hours For My Area

One of the easiest ways is to google it. You can also ask your local agricultural extension office.

Chill hour lookup tools

Your local agriculture extension agency will have resources, where you can find out the average amount of chill hours your area receives. Remember, though, this is linked to the weather so it is hard to be exact but the average will get you started off correctly.  Equipped with this knowledge as well as your gardening zone, you are now ready to venture out to a nursery or website and order a fruit or nut tree or bush.

Remember the motto –

JUST GROW IT!

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What Is Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB)

What is LAB?  LAB is short for Lactic Acid Bacteria.  In natural farming, it is one of the essential ingredients and one of the easiest to culture. See, lactic acid is bacteria is present everywhere in the air. It is not one specific type of bacteria rather a group. This group of bacterias is the workhorses behind some of our favorite pickled products, including kimchi and sauerkraut.  LAB is also responsible and used to make cheese, yogurt, butter, and sour cream.

Notice all of the foods listed are all said to be rich in probiotics, and we have been told a diet rich in these foods can improve our gut health by introducing microbes.  This does not just apply to humans, and you can give LAB to livestock.  Ingesting food or water mixed with LAB helps increase the health of livestock animals.

Now when it comes to gardening, LAB is dope!  These fast-growing microorganisms have a high tolerance to acidic environments and can outcompete many other bacteria in nature which helps to inhibit pathogen growth.  That’s right.  They help to stop the spread of diseases.  Whether you apply the diluted lab as a foliar feed or a soil drench, this happens.

Adding the diluted mixture to the soil helps aid in the decomposition process.  These Microorganisms help jumpstart the whole decomposition process.  So adding the diluted LAB to a compost pile or directly to the garden bed will help strengthen the soil food web by aiding in the decomposition process.  This process also helps unlock nutrients and makes them more accessible by the plants’ roots.  This helps improve the tilth of the garden.  The LAB helps aid in the decomposition process, which strengthens the soil food web helping to improve the soil texture.

How To Supercharge Your Garden with LAB

When the mixture is used as a foliar feed, leafy greens can produce bigger, brighter colored leaves.  Pay close attention to the ratio used when diluting the LAB mixture.  Applying a too strong mixture can burn the leaves or even cause them to curl up.  Also, applying a foliar spray to leaves or stems can help make the plant more pest and disease resistant.  The microbes from the lab occupy the space on the stems and leaves, leaving no room for the pathogens.

If you use LAB in gardening, you need to pay close attention to the dilution ratio.  You are told to mix LAB serum at 1000:1.   If you look at that ratio and say WTF, understand this, a little goes a long way.  That works out to be roughly one teaspoon per gallon.  You will be ecstatic when you see how easy it is to make and how much you yield.  You know how to make LAB, right?  Read here.

I am looking forward to gardening this season. This time, I try to make a switch to being more than just organic. I mean, organic is cool, but what’s the next level beyond that? The answer, Natural Farming.

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Organic Nitrogen Sources

There is nothing more vital than excellent organic nitrogen sources during the vegetative state.  If you are growing synthetically, you can just grab any fertilizer and apply it with no extra thought. But, if you are growing organically, I hope everyone reading this is, you have a more difficult choice for organic nitrogen sources.  

Nitrogen is the macronutrient directly related to overall plant growth. Read more about the macronutrients here. Nitrogen is directly responsible for leafy green growth. If you are growing heavy-feeding vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, or anything like that, you need to make sure you have ample amounts of nitrogen. This nitrogen is what in turn supplies your plants with the required nutrients for optimal growth and fruit/vegetable production. Also, leafy greens like lettuce and spinach benefit from high nitrogen levels in the soil.  

When it comes to organic nitrogen sources, we can separate them into three categories: animal-based, plant-based, or manure-based.

While each category provides nitrogen, some types act faster and last longer than others. For heavy feeding plants, try a combination of two or three of these nitrogen sources. For example, I always add a handful of plant-based nitrogen fertilizer to the planting hole when planting tomatoes. This fertilizer acts as an early-season nitrogen source for the plants and an animal-based Nitrogen source that acts as a slow-release fertilizer feeding the plant late in the season.

1. Animal-based Nitrogen Sources

Animal-based nitrogen sources are incredibly high in Nitrogen and the fastest acting. Initially, they quickly release nutrients into the soil and then slowly break down over time. If you are a vegan gardener or opposed to animal byproducts, this category is not for you. 

Warning, these fertilizers can burn or damage small or delicate plants and their roots. Make sure to work the fertilizer into the soil, and do not simply sprinkle it on the soil and leave it there. I have the best performance from these fertilizers when I add them during cool season growing months such as the fall and winter. 

Application

Since some of these fertilizers can burn plants, I recommend applying this fertilizer to the soil before planting. If you must use it during the growing season, try side dressing or creating a liquid fertilizer and apply it foliarly.   

PROS

  • Fast Acting 
  • Slow-release of nitrogen source over time 
  • Most extended-lasting organic nitrogen source- Animal-based organic fertilizers can last for up to 12 months
  • The highest source of organic Nitrogen 

CONS

  • Has the ability to burn or damage small plants 
  • Animal-based fertilizers have the potential to attract garden pests such as rats, opossums, raccoons, and other visitors
  • Made as a byproduct from different industries that include animals. Therefore, vegan gardeners may be opposed to applying this to their garden, 

2. Plant-based Nitrogen Sources

Plant-based fertilizers are an excellent fast-acting nitrogen source. Unlike animal-based nitrogen sources, these will not attract unwanted visitors to your garden. These tend to be less concentrated than animal or manure-based fertilizers, so be prepared to apply at a higher rate.  

These fertilizers only work when the soil is warm, so it is best to apply them during the spring and summer. The reason they only work during these times is that they rely on members of the soil food web to help release their nutrients into the soil

PROS

  • Less likely to burn your plants 
  • Hard to over-fertilize due to their less concentrated nature 
  • Will not attract unwanted visitors to the garden 
  • Balanced fertilizers that also supply small amounts of phosphorus, potassium, and Nitrogen 
  • Vegan 

CONS

  • Only applicable when the soil temperature is over 50 F
  • Not as long-lasting as other nitrogen sources 
  • Since they are less concentrated, you will need to apply more to your garden to receive benefits 

3. Manure-based Nitrogen Sources

Manure-based fertilizers are a great source of organic Nitrogen.  When it comes to the concentration level, they are more concentrated than plant-based but not as concentrated as animal-based nitrogen sources.  Manure-based nitrogen fertilizers are some of my favorites because you can create them at home.  This fertilizer is the main reason I have chickens in my garden, and I create a closed-loop ecosystem right in my garden.  I feed and house the chickens, and they reward me with fertilizer.  

PROS

  • Easily sourced
  • Fast-acting and long-lasting 
  • Great nitrogen source to make teas and other foliar sprays with 

CONS

  • Must be composted for extended periods to kill disease-causing organisms
  • Not vegan 
Featured

Simple (But Important) Things To Remember About Frost Dates

As a beginner gardener, the term frost dates is often heard or seen. Every seed catalog or website you come across will have these two terms first frost date and last frost date. These terms are essential for gardeners. Misinterpret or neglect this information, and you run the risk of reduced or decreased harvest, stunted growth, or even worse, killing your plants. Your frost date is determined by where you live. Each USDA gardening zones frost dates differ. Since we are talking about nature, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be exact. So when it comes to these dates, use them as a guideline. To be safe, add two weeks in each direction.

What are Frost Dates?

It’s important to know that there are two: first frost date and last frost date.

The First Frost Date or FFD is the first day you can expect a frost in your garden. Why is this essential? Armed with this information, we can work backward from this date and ensure that we are planting things at the right time to ensure a harvest. While some plants can withstand or benefit from frost or freezes, this is not true for everything. So this first frost date helps us plan and execute our fall gardening. We know when to plant with this information, ensuring plants have ample time to produce. 

The Last Frost Date or LFD is the last day to expect a frost. So knowing your LFD will help you prepare for spring. Using this information to help plan for the garden Most spring plants except for cucumbers and other squash need a minimum of 8 weeks before they are ready for the garden.   So knowing the LFD, we can work backward eight weeks and make sure that we have enough time to start our seeds and have healthy transplants

With gardening, timing is vital Plant broccoli at the wrong time, and it won’t form a proper size head Lettuce too late in the season, and it will bolt before you have a chance to make a salad. 

Armed with this knowledge, you are now ready to plan your garden and start your seeds. Hopefully, this helps you feel more confident getting your hands dirty and out in the garden.

Don’t forget the motto; JUST GROW IT!

Check your Frost Dates here.

Now and then, it snows in Houston.
Featured

6 Expert Tips to Create a DIY Indoor Garden

Whether you’re looking for a fun weekend project, or you’ve been wanting to start gardening but don’t have the outdoor space for it, now is the perfect time to create your own DIY indoor garden. As long as you have a space in your home that receives natural sunlight, you’ll be able to have flavorful herbs and fresh, homegrown vegetables at the palm of your hands all year round.

To help you get your indoor vegetable garden started, we reached out to gardening experts living in Portland all the way to those living in Miami to share their gardening expertise. Here’s their best advice to help you create your own DIY indoor garden.

indoor garden.jpg

1. Find the right space for your DIY indoor garden.

Before you begin planting your indoor vegetable garden, the first thing to do is find the perfect space in your home. Whether you have an entire room that you can re-purpose as your indoor garden, or you’re only able to make use of a small area in your kitchen, you can still have a successful indoor vegetable garden. Two important things to consider is the amount of natural sunlight the space receives and the average temperature of the space.

Keep these pro tips in mind:

Plant care is experimental. Keep in mind that individual plants or different cultivars can have different needs depending on their biology or what conditions they were in prior to landing in your home. – Deby, Cornell Farm

Be creative and pay attention to the lighting when considering where to place your plants. And most importantly, get a humidifier! – Stephanie, Lighthouse Garden Center

2. Choose vegetables and herbs that thrive indoors.

While some vegetables and herbs may thrive in a typical outdoor garden, that’s not always the case when harvesting indoors. As you’re deciding which vegetables or herbs to plant in your DIY indoor garden, there’s a few that gardening experts recommend over others.

Consider these vegetables and herbs for your DIY indoor garden: 

Lettuces rank high on the list of vegetables to grow inside. Not only are they tasty, they’re easy to start. To successfully grow lettuce in your DIY indoor garden, enrich potting soil with compost and use a heat mat to start seeds quickly. Once the seeds sprout, take them off the mat. To prevent leggy seedlings, put them under a fluorescent light or grow light placed 3-4” above the plants. – Christine Froehlich, Gardening With What You Have

Arugula is great to grow indoors since it germinates quickly and prefers a cooler environment. You can have multiple harvests from just one plant if you cut off the larger leaves but leave the smaller ones. And the same goes with growing kale indoors. However, since kale can grow quite large, only sprinkle a few seeds in a medium-sized pot, covered with ½-inch of soil.

Most herbs are great to grow indoors. Some herbs, like rosemary and mint, are easiest to grow from already-young plants, while others, like basil and cilantro, can be easily grown from a seed and then replanted throughout the year. When planting herb containers, be sure to combine plants with similar water requirements; wood-stemmed herbs such as rosemary and sage prefer drier soil than do herbaceous-stemmed herbs such as basil and parsley. – Xenia D’Ambrosi, Sweet Earth Co.

Herbs.jpg

3. Make sure there’s adequate sunlight.

In an ideal situation, you’d be able to give your indoor vegetable garden all the sunlight it needs. However, not everyone is going to have a space where this is possible. No need to worry, though. While having natural sunlight is ideal, your vegetables and herbs can still flourish with the use of specialized lights, like grow lights.

Keep these pro tips in mind:

Morning sun is key. If at all possible, place your plants near an East-facing window. – Jackie, Perennial Nursery Co

Know how much light your specific plants need so you can take advantage of all levels of light you naturally have available in your space. Consider swapping out your standard light bulbs for GE Grow Light 9watt Balanced Spectrum LED bulbs for seeds and greens, or GE Red for flowering and fruit production. – Kate Green, Lurvey 

4. Water less for a successful DIY indoor garden.

Most beginners to gardening think watering plants a little bit everyday is the best way to ensure that their plants are receiving adequate amounts of water. However, it’s actually best to water less frequently but more thoroughly. Over-watering your vegetables and herbs is the easiest way to set back your gardening efforts, and will most likely have you restarting your indoor garden.

Keep these pro tips in mind:

When it comes to houseplants, over watering is a killer. Check to see if the soil is dry by sticking your finger into it an inch and checking for moisture. If it’s dry, go ahead and water. – Bruce Allentuck, Right Plantz

Every plant is different and will have different needs — some plants crave and love constant watering, while others prefer to have their soil dry out a bit. Making a weekly plant watering chart to refer to each week can help keep your watering on track and ensure that you’re watering each of your plants exactly as they need to be. – Megan Faletra, The Well Essentials

We highly recommend taking plants to the shower or the sink to give them a good soaking. The frequency of watering will depend on light conditions and the temperature of the room, however, most plants can get this treatment once or twice a month. – Dimitri Gatanas, Urban Garden NYC 

potting plants.jpg

5. Take proper care of your plants by using the correct soil

The taste of your herbs and vegetables are significantly impacted by the quality and care of the soil. As you’re setting up your DIY indoor garden, make sure that you’re using the best soil for the vegetables and herbs you choose.

Keep these pro tips in mind:

Create the perfect soil for different types of vegetables by creating custom blends of airy potting soil and rich compost. Make a lighter mix for salad greens, a balanced mix for herbs, and add extra nutrition for fruiting plants. – Victoria LeBeaux, Hortiki Plants

Use a high quality potting soil and stay away from soil specified for in-ground garden beds. Liquid fertilizer should become your new best friend. Be prepared to use liquid fertilizer with water and nutrient solution mix at least once a month. – Timothy Hammond, Big City Gardener

6. Consider using a hydroponic system for your indoor garden

Hydroponic gardening is a gardening method that requires no soil. In most cases, it can be a simpler way to harvest vegetables and herbs indoors and is great for smaller spaces. If the idea of maintaining soil for the various plants in your DIY indoor garden seems challenging, then using a hydroponic system might be a better option.

Keep these pro tips in mind:

The advantage of our hydroponic system is that plants grow 3x faster and bigger in the iHarvestTM than they do in soil. And, growing hydroponically makes it much easier to grow indoor fruits and vegetables vertically, which takes up less space in the home while providing a beautiful living wall of always fresh, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables. – Dave Stevens, IGWorks

Water temperatures play a huge factor for indoor hydroponic gardens. The correct temperature will allow for vigorous grow, while warm temperatures could cause Pythium “root rot” and other unwanted pathogens. – Ty Nance, Grow Green Garden Shop

Originally published on Redfin

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Mushroom Blocks

Most medicinal and gourmet mushrooms are grown on mushroom blocks. Nowadays more and more people are realizing the power of mushrooms. That means there are more people than ever growing these mushrooms. Dope, I know! The medicinal and gourmet mushroom industry has more than doubled in the past 5 years. 

What are mushroom blocks?

Mushrooms blocks are made from a form of carbon rich substrate that the mushroom mycelium can feed on and colonize.The most common substrate mix is known as the “Master’s Mix”, created by TR Davis from Earth Angel Mushrooms. You combine hardwood pellets and soybean hulls in a specific ratio. You could also use things like straw, wheat, oat husks, coffee grounds.

After sourcing your carbon source, you sterilize it, to kill off any pathogens. Next, you add mycelium to the blocks and allow it time to grow or colonize. When the mycelium has had time to colonize these blocks, you introduce them to proper conditions and then they fruit or produce mushrooms.

 Often time growers will dispose of the blocks after one growing period, even though you can fruit the same block multiple times. This is because you usually get your biggest harvest on the first flush. After that, the spent mushroom blocks are thrown away. 

This spent mushroom substrate is gold. If you can get your hands on some you should. This substrate is a blend of natural products that work wonders on a garden. There are still nutrients in this substrate even though it is being thrown away.  What’s funny is most urban mushroom farmers do not have the necessary space to properly compost the spent mushroom blocks and are looking to get rid of it. They will often give it to you for free. It’s crazy you’re doing them a favor by taking it.That’s because if left unattended it can attract fungus gnat and Trichoderma, which is an enemy of mushroom growing. These things have the potential to contaminate an entire operation.

Here are some potential ways to use mushroom blocks in an urban garden:

  • Compost. Mushroom substrate is a top tier fungal dominated compost. Since mushrooms are fungus and we are inoculating and growing this fungus on these blocks. When composted these blocks produce a high quality fungal dominated compost.  And we all known the benefits of fungal compost vs bacterial compost, right?
  • Mulch. By simply placing the spent blocks on the top of the soil they can act as a mulch, like compost. They can help keep weeds at bay and will continue to breakdown and feed the soil
  • Animal feed. Some of the potential substrate components are already being used as forms of animal feed. Whether straw, oat husks, or soybean, the ingredients can already be fed to livestock. So, the added fungi will have no harm on the animals
  • Biogas and energy. I have no firsthand experience with this. I have read stories about people using the spent substrate as an energy source for anaerobic fermenter.  Bacteria could be propagated with the purpose of ingesting the SMS and converting it into methane gas.  In theory, this sounds dope. 
  • Bioremediation. There are many polluted sites and areas in the world. The way process of removing the toxins and revitalizing the land is called bioremediation. The SMS has the ability of absorbing pollutants. Then the microbes that inhabit the SMS could breakdown the absorbed pollutants as they work through the substrate.   
Featured

What is Companion Planting?

In life, some people make you better, or some leave you worse off.  Don’t worry. This is still a gardening blog. When it comes to gardening, this statement remains true.  Some plants benefit from being planted near each other, while others suffer when planted near each other.  So if you knew you could produce a specific plant, flower, or herb next to your crops that would help increase yields or pest resistance, would you?  In this article, we will discuss the idea of companion planting, how to get started, and discuss some of the benefits of companion planting.  At the article’s end is a link to a companion planting chart.  If you can’t wait until the end of the article, here you go.

What is companion planting?

Companion planting believes that some plants receive certain benefits when planted near other plants. Growing individual plants in proximity has been shown to either increase pest resistance, yield, or even flavor.  Not all crops benefit from things planted around them.  Plant the wrong plants together, and you could increase the frequency of pests, decrease harvest because plants compete for the same nutrients, or even completely inhibit the growth of some crops.  

Compatible Pairs (Friends)

Companion planting is not a new concept. Indigenous Americans practiced a planting method known as three sisters; Three sisters is a combination of planting corn, squash, and beans. The corn stalks act as a pole for the beans to grow, the beans supply nitrogen for the corn and squash, and the squash leaves shade the ground and stop weeds from growing in the soil. For this to work, you must plant each at different times. Corn first so that it has time to grow tall enough for the beans to use as a trellis, and squash last so that the vertical components have significant time to grow.  

Here are a few other familiar planting friends:

  • Basil and tomatoes
  •  Strawberries and Dill 
  • Corn and Beans 
  • Nasturtium and tomatoes 
  • Marigolds and tomatoes. 

Incompatible Plants (Foes)

Like my mom says, everything is not for everybody; the same is true about plants.  Not all plants can be planted next to each other. We call plants that don’t grow along well with each other foes.  

Why are plants foes?  Nobody has any scientific evidence on why this is, but from my gardening experience, I have noticed it sometimes to be true.  Maybe plants are foes because of an issue with their roots, how they feed, or what they remove or deposit into the soil.  Whatever the case, enough people mention certain foes, so maybe you should heed the warning.

Here are some common poor planting combinations that you should avoid.  For more, check out this companion planting chart.

  • Peas and Garlic
  • Peas and Onions
  • Peppers and Broccoli
  • Tomatoes and Potatoes

Should I Care About Companion Planting?

There is not much scientific evidence to support these claims about companion planting.  I had a hard time locating any information that was backed by science.  But I do not always need science. I believe that if enough cultures from various regions of the world have the same beliefs, there has to be some truth.  

While I pay attention to my companion chart, I also love experimenting and discovering if there is any truth to the rumors.  I find that companion planting helps me spend a little more time considering what and where I will plant anything. 

Don’t stress these rules too much if you have limited space; focus on creating a mini ecosystem with various plants: vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Pay attention and keep a journal.

Benefits of Companion Planting

When it comes to companion plants, how do these unspoken benefits work?  There are many different factors at work: the oils secreted by a plant and the smell it produces. Also, other bacteria and fungi within the root zone work together in a symbiotic relationship.  Often the benefits are provided due to the beneficial insects that the companions attract.  Some things you can’t explain how or why they happen. It is just nature.

Pollinators and beneficial insects

Growing fruits and vegetables with flowers and herbs are the best way to attract pollinators to your garden. Even though some vegetables are considered self-fertile, meaning they don’t need a pollinator, every garden benefits from more pollinators and beneficial insects.

For more information on companion plants and the best plants for pollinators, check out these articles.

Whenever you think of pollinators, do not only think of bees and butterflies. There are many other small beneficial insects like hoverflies, ladybugs, lacewings, and more, and every one of these insects plays a vital role in natural pest control.

Three Ways to Pest Control with Companion Planting

  1. Trap Crops. Like humans and other animals, insects have a certain type of preference for food. We can use companion planting as they weigh to entice or attract various garden pests in two specific areas. Trap crops are used to attract pests away from important/ cash crops. So we can use companion plants like nasturtiums to attract aphids away from our cole crops. Often you plant trap crops around the perimeter of the garden. Have you ever wondered why people put the herbs around the edge?
  2. Increasing Predatory Insects. We have already established that companion planting can increase the number of pollinators and beneficial insects, but those aren’t the only types of insects that are tracked. Companion plants also attract predatory insects. Some of our beneficial insects are predatory insects. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs feed on aphids and other soft body pests throughout your garden. So by practicing companion planting and increasing the number of beneficial insects in your garden, you are also decreasing the number of garden pests.
  3. Pest Deterrents. The third way companion plants can be used to deter pests is by simply planting them along the border. For some reason, some past can’t stand certain plants. There is something to these plants, whether it’s the oils they secrete or their pungent smell. For example, fragrant herbs like basil, Rosemary, chives, dill, and cilantro help repel aphids. Lemon scented plants such as lemongrass, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme are all said to help repel and did her mosquitoes. Part of the reason why people tell you to plant marigolds with tomatoes is that the flowers reportedly keep insects away.

Companion planting is ideal if you have a small space.  Companion planting is a form of polyculture, or planting several crops together in a small area.  As an urban gardener, I know about this whether you’re an urban gardener or not; I recommend all of the polyculture planting styles; vertical gardening, succession planting, intercropping and more.

More Complanting Tips

  • Look at garden centers and information online; they will tell you to plant marigolds with tomatoes to deter pests and nematodes.  While planting marigolds will deter pests, just planting it will not stop the nematodes.  You must grow the marigold throughout the season and till it into the soil to help with the nematode issue.  Also, the benefit that is often overlooked with marigolds is all the beneficial insects they bring to the garden.  
  • Herbs are the best addition to any garden.  Most herbs have no known foes, so you can add them anywhere without second-guessing yourself.  The vital oil production and scents are excellent additions to grow with flowers and annual vegetables.
  • Planning your garden is essential.  To get all the benefits associated with companion planting, you need to know where to place these plants. What often happens is that we purchase or start more plants than we can fit into our garden. Every gardener knows the feeling of strolling down the aisle and whispering to themselves, “I know I don’t have any more space, but I bet I can find somewhere to place this. Having a plan in your garden helps you stay more organized.
  • Don’t let all the benefits associated with companion planting make you forget the importance of proper spacing. Crowded plants lead to sick plants, increased pests and diseases, and plants fighting for nutrients, water, sunlight, and air.

 So what are some common friends and foes? Click here to download companion planting list. Try them out over different seasons and see which pairings work for you.  Like I was told in life, everythig is not for everyone, meaning not every pair listed here may work for you a lot depends on your garden.

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Why Every Garden Needs A Water Feature

Water. Everything on this planet needs water. To a gardener, it is the most vital aspect of gardening to consider. You could have the ultimate gardening space, with ample sunlight and vasts amount of land, but without a water feature, it is worthless.  I have seen many available gardening plots in California that had incredible views and was right next to a vineyard with fertile soil. The only issue is there was no water available.  Water availability matters for plants but have you ever stopped to think about all of the beneficial insects and other animals that need just as much water as your plants, and maybe even more.

 

Gardeners often overlook leaving available water for beneficial insects and animals. We all know the importance of bringing beneficial insects to the garden. They help keep pests in check and help with pollination.  Make sure you think about how thirsty these garden heroes maybe after chasing down all of the thrips in your garden. What about a bee or wasp after they have spent countless hours helping to pollinate your garden, I’m sure they could use a drink.  

Setting Up Your Garden’s Water Feature

These reasons are why I recommend that every garden has some water feature. I’m not saying you need to go a build a lake or pond in your backyard. I know not everyone has available space like that.  Instead, consider some of these other options.

Water feature in garden

  • Small Pond 
  • Bird Feeder 
  • ½ or ¼ of a wine barrel
  • A pot with no drainage holes 
  • A Bucket

When setting up your water feature, make sure the water is accessible to variously sized animals. Ensure your vessel can hold water, and that is not excessively deep. If the vessel you are using is deeper than bees or other pollinator’s legs are long, then consider having ledges or vegetation. Having multiple access points will ensure that no pollinator is left unable to access the water. Sometimes bees and other beneficial insects will be so thirsty that they attempt to access the water and end up drowning unsafely. Now, remember when setting up a water feature, insects like mosquitoes are known to lay eggs in stagnant and still water.  To avoid this, you have a couple of options:

First, add some fish to the container. Guppies or goldfish will suffice. Depending on the size of your water feature, you may even be able to add koi.  Regardless of the fish variety, they will feast on whatever larvae or eggs laid in the water.

Secondly, you could add a pump to cycle and move the water around.  Since insects, like mosquitoes, are attracted to and reproduce in still water, the pump pushing the water around will negate this.  Any water feature that has a fish can also benefit from adding a waterlily or other gog plant to a water feature. The bog plant will absorb the ammonia from the fish waste and help purify the water. Adding a waterlily is a way to handle two issues at once. The flowers from the waterlily are pollen-rich favorites of the honeybees, and other pollinators and the lilypads offer a landing and resting area for the pollinators to access the water.

 

 

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Fertilizers: How To Use Them On Seedlings and Plant Starts

So, you have planted your own seeds and they have sprouted. Now what? Seedlings are no different than their fully grown counterparts, they need to fertilizers just the same.  

When it comes to seedlings, you should begin fertilizing as soon as they have their first set of true leaves. What are true leaves?  When seedlings sprout, the first leaves you see are Cotyledons. You will notice that these leaves all look the same regardless of what you are growing. These leaves provide the plant with all the nutrients necessary until the true leaves appear.  True leaves are the second set of leaves to appear and actually look like the adult leaves will look on a plant. Once these leaves appear, the plant can now begin the photosynthesis process.  Once you see these leaves, then it is now time to start fertilizing.

Why do we need fertilizers?

When a seed germinates, it has all the nutrients necessary to start its life off. What happens when those nutrients run out? Pests and diseases have the opportunity to move in and destroy the seedlings. Remember, they have a small root system in whatever you are starting them off in.  We are supposed to be helping strengthen their immune system, helping them to get off on the right foot. So that when we plant them in the garden, they have everything necessary and are prepared to thrive.  

What to use as fertilizers

Anything you would use to fertilize the mature plant can be used for the seedlings, just at a diluted rate. During the seedling stage, plants need an all-purpose fertilizer. That is a fertilizer where the NPK values are close to equal, 4-4-4, or 20-20-20.

fertilizersI don’t think you should use 20-20-20 fertilizer. That is synthetic fertilizer, and that kind of fertilizer can and will kill all the microbial and soil life that we are working so hard to create. How do I know it is synthetic and potentially harmful? Well, organic fertilizers do not have double-digit fertilizer numbers. 

Using an all-purpose fertilizer is a way to ensure the plants are receiving a balanced diet of all the necessary macronutrients. Some crops, like tomatoes, benefit from fertilizers that are rich in micronutrients as well. Such as fish fertilizer or kelp meal. If you see that the underside of your tomato leaves are turning purple, apply either one of these. They contain trace minerals that will solve this issue. Honestly, I prefer to feed my plants compost or worm castings teas instead of all-purpose fertilizers. 

How to apply fertilizers

Before we talk about how to apply the fertilizer, let’s make one thing clear; DO NOT FEED SEEDLINGS A FULL-STRENGTH DOSE OF FERTILIZER!  If the nutrient says to mix 30 ml/ gallon of water, start by using 1/10 of that and mixing 3ml/gal.  Why? Well, the seedlings do not have a fully-grown root system, so a full-strength dose can cause harm, burning the leaves or even killing the plant.  Nutrient burn is when the fertilizer or nutrient solution is too strong for the plant and actually causes more harm than good.  This can look like burnt edges on the leaves or the plant merely dying, so keep that in mind 

There is no right or wrong way to apply fertilizer. Spray it on leaves, water it in on top of the soil, or fill the tray underneath your starts and allow the roots and planting medium to absorb what it needs. The choice is up to you. Whatever you decide, just remember these seedlings are depending on us to become successful. Equip them with the necessary tools to thrive.

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Common Medicinal Plants

I admit I am not too fond of modern medicine.  While I think it has a place, I believe that nature is amazing.  There are so many undiscovered plants that have the potential to possess many medicinal properties. There are also common medicinal plants that have been used since the beginning of time. These plethora of herbs have been talked about so much that I think people forget the power they possess. Or maybe the advancements in modern medicine have led us to believe that we don’t need herbal and natural medicine anymore. We should pay more attention to natural, holistic medicine. More research and conversations with people from indigenous cultures worldwide who have been practicing herbal medicine and passing the information down for generations need to happen. For thousands of years, many different civilizations cultivated these plants. With this article, we will discuss some plants to add to your gardening space to create your medicinal garden.  

Growing Common Medicinal Plants

If you wanted to get started with herbal medicine, or growing common medicinal plants, it is not difficult. You probably have some of these plants already growing in your garden. You would be surprised by some of the medicinal properties of the common herbs that most gardeners have. Here is a list of some of my favorite medicinal plants to grow in any garden. Hopefully, this information gets you interested in growing your medicinal garden or even just adding a few of these plants to your garden. Before you begin your garden, know that some of these plants can spread quickly throughout the planting area. Also, before planting, make sure you look at all of the medicinal benefits of the plants.  Do not plant them if you do not plan on using them. Many of my readers garden in an urban area with limited space, all of these varieties can be successfully grown in containers. While having all of these plants is unnecessary, I can’t see a garden space without a few of them.

Common Medicinal Plants and their Benefits

Calendula is grown for its bright flowers and has been since the beginning of time.  Throughout history, these flowers colored food and cosmetics and used for tea. The buds are resinous and possess medicinal properties.

  • Oral Health. Gargling with calendula infused water can help reduce sore throat issues. Imagine the benefits of drinking a tea made from the flowers next time you have a sore throat?  Also, it’s said that ingesting calendula tea can help stop gingivitis.
  • Infused calendula oil contains antibacterial, antifungal, antibiotic, and antiseptic
  • Digestive aid. Tea made from the flowers is good for digestion. 
  • Cancer-fighting. Calendula flowers are antioxidant-rich.  Some of these antioxidants are said to have anti-cancerous and anti-tumor properties.  
  • Skin. Known for its healing properties, calendula is great for infusing oils to make salves, diaper rash crème, and other lotions.  

Chamomile is grown for its flowers.  A long time ago, people referred to chamomille as the herb that was capable of curing anything.  Nowadays, both the German and Roman varieties are grown.   An interesting fact is the two types are botanically unrelated.

  • As a digestive aid, chamomille oil relaxes the muscle lining of the digestive tract and stomach muscles.
  • It is believed that consuming chamomille oil may prevent stomach ulcers. 
  • Are you looking for relief from menstrual cramp? Chamomile contains antispasmodics, which are known to relax the uterus and soothe menstrual cramps.
  • Chamomile tea has a long history being of being used to aid in destressing and even to treat insomnia 
  • For the skin, chamomile oil has been shown to reduce the healing time of burns, cuts, and scrapes.
  • By stimulating the immune system’s production of white blood cells, chamomile is known for boosting your immune system’s health. 

Comfrey is a hairy leaf member of the borage family. Careful where you place it in your garden. Some people report that rubbing the leaves causes their skin to itch. I have not experienced this. Like other herbs on this list, this too has been used for centuries. For this plant, the roots and leaves contain the magic.

  • Centuries ago, the leaves were applied to bruises, broken bones, cuts, and other minor wounds. Now comfrey is used to infuse oils and used in other skin products and used to treat the same kind of ailments
  • Applying a cream, gel, or salve infused with comfrey oil has been shown to decrease joint pain and lower back pain.
  • Use comfrey externally. There is debate on whether ingesting comfrey tea is safe. Centuries ago, people believed consuming comfrey tea would treat stomach issues, ulcers, bronchitis, and more. Since then, scientists discovered comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, compounds that can cause severe liver damage.
  • Use comfrey leaves to create a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer for your garden.  

Garlic is a member of the allium family. Historical records show people have used garlic since the beginning of time.  Most people don’t even think about garlic as a medicinal plant. They think about it solely as a culinary plant.  But remember, back in the day, people used medicinal plants in cooking to absorb as much of the healing powers as possible. Little did they know that cooking garlic destroys many of garlic’s healing properties.  So consuming raw is the preferred method.

  • Garlic contains antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.When taken internally, garlic helps fight common colds and cases of flu.
  • Garlic can help prevent heart disease 
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Reduce high blood pressure 

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region. A member of the mint family, it is a hardy perennial. It does well when grown in containers or beds. With a distinct aroma from their oily leaves, rosemary is one of the most well-known scents. The ancient Greeks believed it improved their memories and spirits and used it as a symbol of love. 

  • The leaves are the coveted parts 
  • As a digestive aid, rosemary soothes the muscles in the stomach as well as the uterus.  
  • Use rosemary for its decongestant properties.  You can unlock these properties by infusing the oil with sprigs from your garden or adding essential oils to your favorite carrier oil.  Apply the infused oil to the chest, under the nose, and neck area next time you feel congested
  • Rosemary can be used as a preservative. Centuries ago, people found out wrapping meat with rosemary would help prolong the amount of time meat went rancid.  Keep this in mind during your next cookout.  A little more rosemary in your hamburger mix?
  • Rosemary contains Antiviral, Antibacterial, and antifungal properties.  
  • Rosemary is rich in antioxidants
  • For topical applications, use rosemary essential or infused oils to aid with muscle or joint pain

Oregano is also a member of the mint family. Oregano, which is grown for its stems and leaves, is an herb that can take over your garden area.  With many different types and flavor profiles, there is oregano for everyone.

  • Oregano contains two oils that possess similar properties as over-the-counter expectorants. A tea made from the leaves loosens phlegm from chest congestion.  Also, it is good for sore throats, coughing, bronchial problems, headaches, and swollen glands 
  • As a digestive aid, oregano soothes the muscles in the stomach aiding in  indigestion and bloating 
  • Oregano also contents high levels of varying antioxidants.
  • Next time you have a cold, before reaching for the day quill, try consuming oregano tea rich in antibacterial properties.

Lavender is a member of the mint family. Used since the days of ancient Egypt, people believed lavender purified the mind and body.  Lavender prefers being grown in well-drained soils. There are two primary varieties of lavender;  English and Spanish.

  • The most consumed essential oil is Lavender oil. Do you ever wonder why most massage therapists have some in the room? Often dispersed into the air by a diffuser, the lavender’s scent is said to ease muscle spasms.
  • Harvest lavender flowers and foliage and add to your nighttime tea recipe. This combination helps create a destressing and calming sleep aid. 
  • Lavender is said to have Antibacterial properties and be a mild antiseptic. A tea made from the flowers is said to help aid with a soar throat.

Lemon Balm is also a member of the mint family. A favorite of honeybees and other pollinators, there is evidence that shows people have used lemon balm for over 2000 years. The greeks and Romans used it to flavor foods and wines. This plant was introduced to America by European colonists who brought it over as a medicinal plant. This mounding plant can reach 1-3 feet tall and just as wide.  

  • Applying lemon balm essential oil to temples or neck has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Merely brushing up against the leaves will release a calming aroma.
  • When added with other ingredients, it can help create an insect repellant spray. 
  • Lemon balm is a digestive aid. Steep fresh or dried leaves by themselves or combined with mint and chamomille for a stomach-soothing beverage.  

Mint is a must for any garden. With hundreds of varieties to choose from, there is a mint out there for everyone.  After eating, people used to chew mint stems to help soothe their stomach after a large meal. Mints are divided into two categories, peppermint, and spearmint. Both share the same medicinal properties, but spearmint has a more potent taste. Ancient Egyptians used mint to soothe their stomachs.

  • Chewing mint leaves can help relieve toothaches due to the menthol content.
  • The leaves and stems contain high amounts of menthol.  
  • Mint contains a high mineral content of potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.  
  • Mint is rich in antioxidants, Vitamin A, C, b-6, riboflavin, and thiamin.
  • Mint is aromatic , diuretic, antiseptic,antspasmodic,antiparasitic, antibacterial.
  • Tea can help treat nausea, headaches, indigestion, colds, cases of flu, flatulence, or insomnia.

Thyme is also a member of the mint family and one of my favorite herbs to grow. Like other herbs on this list, thyme has been used medicinally and in culinary preparations for ages. This low growing ground cover grown for its leaves and flowers is known for its showy purple and blue flowers. Thyme should have a home in every garden. When growing thyme in your garden, make sure overgrowing plants do not cover the plant.  I have lost many thyme plants this way. After a few years in the garden or a harsh summer, thyme will become woody and may need replacing.  Replace the plants by propagating from cuttings or root division. In French cuisine, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf are combined in soups, stews, and other dishes.   

  • Thyme is an expectorant. The oil in the leaves helps clear coughs and remove mucus. Drop a few sprigs of dry thyme in hot water, steep, and enjoy.  
  • The essential oils in thyme contain antiviral and antifungal properties. Therefore, consuming thyme helps to fights infections and suppress colds 
  • Use thyme as a digestive aid. Like other members of the mint family, thyme helps soothe the stomach lining.
  • Whether you know it or not, thyme is already present in your medicine cabinet. Thyme contains the oil Thymol which is the main ingredient in Listerine mouthwash and decongestants.
  • Thyme is a digestive aid. Thymol and Carvacrol, active oils found in thyme, have been shown to calm and soothe the stomach lining.

St. Johns Wort is a member of the hypericum family. This plant has been cultivated for over 2000 years. Originally used as a way to ward off demons and evil spirits, St. Johns wart was seen as a symbol of protection. When pinched, the leaves and flowers produce a blood-red oil.  Early Christians named this plant after St. John for folklore reasons. The highly sought-after yellow flowers bloom in late July.

  • Ancient herbalists discovered St. Johns wart is an antidepressant. Its mood-altering properties are as effective as prescribed antidepressants without all the side effects.
  • St. Johns wort contains antibacterial properties. 
  • When applied topically, St. Johns wort can help relieve muscle aches and pains. Also, an infused oil made from the flowers helps speed up the healing of wounds, burns, and insect bites.
  • St Johns wort contains antiviral properties. These properties have been shown to have to be highly active against herpes and HIV.

Sage is a member of the mint family. Ancient Greeks and Romans used sage as a preservative for meat.  While it was coveted for its culinary reasons, sage would soon become known for its medicinal properties. The common name for sage is salvia, which in Latin means “to heal.” It is no wonder Greeks, Romans, and later the Arabs believed it helped people become immortal by extending their lives.  The healing properties of sage caused the plant to be highly coveted and grown almost everywhere. Even in Iceland! In every region where sage grew, locals had a different medicinal use for the herb. Grow sage for its aromatic leaves as well as the blueish flowers.

  • Sage contains estrogenic properties which aid in reducing sweating and perspiration 
  • Sage contains antiviral and antiinfection properties.  
  • Sage is rich in antioxidants.  Some of these antioxidants contain similar preservative properties as commercial preservatives.
  • Like most members of the mint family, Sage is a digestive aid.   
  • The antibacterial properties help to treat infections within the intestinal tracts 
  • Drinking sage tea has been shown to regulate blood sugar levels in diabetic patients
  • Sage can help shorten and alleviate symptoms associated with a soar throat. Sage contains tannins. When ingested, these tannins aid in healing 
  • Consuming sage tea has been shown to aid in discomfort associated with menstrual cramps.

Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family. Grown for its highly aromatic and fleshy root, Ginger has been cultivated since the beginning of time. Many different cultures all rave about the medicinal uses. Greeks and Romans imported Ginger from the east as a cure for internal parasites. A sun-loving perennial, when grown in tropical regions, ginger does not produce any seeds. The highly coveted ginger root is used to grow more ginger plants. Keep that in mind, whenever you grow and harvest your own.  

  • Ginger contains antiseptic properties and can be taken to help fight off infections
  • Ginger contains anti-nausea properties.  These properties are best known for treating motion and morning sickness.
  • Ginger contains compounds that make it an anti-inflammatory.
  • Ginger helps reduce cholesterol levels.  Reducing these levels helps improve heart health, helping to prevent heart disease.
  • As a digestive aid, Ginger helps to soothe the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Ginger helps strengthen your immune system.
  • Ginger possesses antiviral properties. When taken, it can help stop and cure viruses that cause the common cold and the flu.

Turmeric is a  member of the ginger family that is grown for its deep yellow colored root. Every year it never fails. I am growing this plant in my garden. Native to southern Asia, turmeric is one of the plants you hear about throughout history across many different cultures to be more valuable than gold or even have many benefits. The main staple in curry dishes and India for thousands of years, turmeric is being discovered by Americans. In Indian and Chinese cultures, turmeric is known as a whole body cleanser due to its health benefits.  

  • Turmeric contains curcumin, which is known for reducing inflammation throughout the body. Therefore turmeric has had a positive effect in reducing the pain in patients with arthritis.
  • Turmeric has been shown to have anti-parasitic properties.
  • Curcumin is linked to anti-cancer properties. Lab studies have shown curcumin can inhibit the growth of lymphoma and other tumor cells.
  • Consuming turmeric reduces cholesterol levels. 
  • The oils and active compounds in turmeric have been shown to protect liver health.
  • As a digestive aid, turmeric stimulates and soothes the stomach muscles and helps digest fats.

Echinacea is a member of the Aster family. Native exclusively to North America, Echinacea was used by native indigenous Americans.  Believed to “heal all,” this plant was used for everything from wound care to soothe sore throats and toothaches. The beautiful flowers are a favorite of pollinators. For the healing properties, you can use the entire plant; roots, flowers, and leaves.

  • Echinacea contains antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.
  • The roots of the plants contain a natural antibiotic called echinacoside.
  • Echinacean strengthens the immune system. By boosting the immune system’s strength, echinacea increases T cells’ production. These cells are responsible for fighting infections. Therefore ingesting echinacea can lead to shorter infection time if you do catch a cold. 
  • Echinacein, a chemical found in the roots, encourages skin cells to produce new tissue and heal wounds faster.
  • Echinacea contains anti-cancer properties.

Which of these common medicinal plants have you planted and used for relief? Share with us in the comments below!

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Growing Potatoes

If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it may be potatoes. I mean, you can prepare them in so many different ways depending on your mood. It is no wonder they are one of the most consumed crops in America and have played such a vital roll in world history. This is even one of the many reasons I started growing potatoes. Want to know how? Check out this guide below!

urban agriculture

Varities of Potatoes

The potatoes we eat are actually underground tubers. “A much thickened underground part of a stem or rhizome.” (Wikipedia)

Potatoes originated in the Andes mountains. Why is knowing where a crop originated important? When you know where they came from, then you can determine what types of conditions the plants need to thrive. 

Potatoes come in an array of colors and sizes. Although they appear different, they all like the same growing conditions, the difference between the types is the amount of time before harvest, and how they are commonly prepared. Here are the most well-known varieties:

  • Russet 
  • Red 
  • White 
  • Fingerling

Growing Potatoes: When Is The Best Time?

Potatoes are a cool-season crop. They grow best when nighttime temperatures are below 70F. Remember, they originated in the Andes mountains, so there is no way they are meant to be grown in hot, humid temperatures like what we experience in a Houston summer.  

For spring crops plant potatoes about 3 weeks before the last spring frost. For fall potatoes, plant about 16 weeks before the first frost.  

Depending on the variety planted, potatoes take between 85-120 days to grow and mature. 

More Growing Potatoes Info

Potatoes do not grow from seeds.  In fact, they grow from other tubers called seed potatoes. Buy your seed potatoes from a reputable source.  Now you can plant the ones from the grocery store, but I do not recommend it. The potatoes in the grocery store are usually sprayed with a root inhibitor to stop them from growing. Also, they are not pure seed potatoes.

Have you ever bought potatoes from the store, left them on your counter for an extended period, and seen what looked like buds sprouting from the potato? These buds or eyes are what grows into a new potato plant. 

Depending on which season you are growing the potatoes, you will treat these seed potatoes differently.

For fall planting, you will plant the entire seed potato. Fall time usually has wetter and colder conditions.  This excess moisture in the soil has the potential to cause a cut seed potato to rot before it has time to begin growing.  If the seed potato rots, you are out of luck. A way to help avoid the rotting issue is to dust the seed potatoes with sulfur before planting. This will also help with the soil pH, more on that later.

If you are planting spring potatoes, you will cut the seed potatoes into smaller pieces. Each piece must have at least one eye.  Remember, these eyes are what help grow into the potatoes. There is no need to plant the entire seed potato, but if that’s what you want to do, don’t let me stop you.

After planting the potatoes, don’t be surprised if it takes a while to see some growth. Potatoes go through a rest period before sprouting.  During this time is when the seed potatoes have the tendency to rot.  

How to grow

Potatoes are fun to grow. Understanding how they grow and produce more tubers is key to your success.  All of the tubers we eat from the plant grow above the seed pice we plant. The new tubers cannot be exposed to light, or else they become inedible. To prevent this from happening, you use a method known as hilling.  Plant the seed potato relatively shallow around 4-6” beneath the soil. When you see a sprout growing around 3” above the soil, it is time to either add more soil to the top of the row. Honestly, you do not have to use soil, you could add any kind of mulch to the top.  I often use straw or left or leaves I have bagged and saved during the winter. Without hilling, you will have a small harvest.  

Where to grow 

Make sure you have removed any debris from the soil where you plan to plant. You don’t want the tubers bumping into any rocks while growing.

Potatoes prefer full sun, so plant them in any area that receives such. Loose, well-drained, and slightly acidic soil is where potatoes thrive.  Planting in an area with poor drainage will result in rotten potatoes.

Potatoes can be grown in a container or directly in garden beds. The versatility is one of the reasons I can produce them every year despite having a relatively small gardening space.  If you are going to use a container, make sure it is at least 10 gallons.  I have tried growing in 5-gallon containers, while it will work, the yields are relatively low.  

Fertilizer 

Before planting mix in an all-purpose fertilizer into the soil.  If you are planting in rows, you can place the fertilizer between the rows. And I only fertilize before planting. Potatoes do not need much extra fertilization, another reason why they should be grown.  For additional fertilization, try using compost during the hilling process instead of soil or straw.

Pests & Problems 

Both early and late blight can affect your potato growth. Do not plant in an area where you have recently dealt with these issues.  

Potato beetles and aphids are the only pests that I have ever encountered while growing potatoes. There are insecticides, both organic and non-organic, that can deal with these pests.

Harvest 

Tubers and root crops are not visible, so how do you know when its time to harvest?  When the tops begin to die, it is time to harvest the potatoes.  If you are growing in a container, then this process is simple. No tools are necessary; turn the container over and pour out the contents onto a table, tarp or wherever. Sift through the soil and remove the potatoes. Discard the seed potato when you come across it.  

If you are growing in a bed, I recommend using a digging fork. You can also grab the vine and pull. Use the digging fork to make sure that no potatoes remain in the soil.  

Eat them fresh or allow them to dry before storing them in a cool place.

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Flowers for Bees

There are a lot of pollinators in the world, but the most efficient and well known are bees. Bees and other pollinators are the backbones of our food system. They carry pollen from one plant to another, fertilizing the plants, making them capable of producing fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Creating an oasis of pollinator-friendly plants helps the bees refuel with pollen for their hive, making them able to do their job more efficiently.

Planting perennials that flower consistently throughout the year is helpful for bees. It has been proven that native plants are 4x more attractive to bees than exotic plants. Here is a list of native plants in Texas. 

Bees see color differently than humans. That is why it is essential to plant a variety of flower colors. Bees are partial to purple, blue, violet, white and yellow. Planting flowers in bunches is also a great practice when planting a bee-friendly landscape. This makes it easier for the bees to locate the flowers. Also, they will have to exude less energy while gathering more pollen in a particular area.

Proper planning goes a long way when planting a bee-friendly landscape. If you are looking to have flowers during the spring and summer, this means you will have to plant these bulbs or seeds the season beforehand for them to be flowering during the desired seasons.  Spring flowers are planted in the fall or winter, summer flowers are planted in the spring and so forth.  

Plant the flowers in a sunny location.  The bright sunlight helps the bees to locate the pollen-rich flowers.  Bees favor sunny spots over shaded areas.

Flowers For Bees

Here is a list of flowers that bees love. Research native plants specific to your area and tries to incorporate them into your pollinator landscapes.  This not an all inclusive list, just some of my favorites.

  • Almond Verbena 
  • Coral Vine 
  • Flame Acanthus 
  • Mist Flower 
  • Hyssop 
  • Salvia’s 
  • Texas Honeysuckle 
  • Mexican Honeysuckle 
  • Snakewood 
  • Black Sage 
  • Blue Sage 
  • Esperanza 
  • Lantana- Trailing, Mexican, New gold, Texas
  • Autumn Sage 
  • Turks Cap 
  • Bee Brush 
  • Bee Balm 
  • Purple Sage 
  • Mallow 
  • Liatris 
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow
  • Winecup 
  • Willow
  • Red clover
  • Mexican Bush Sage 
  • Borage 
  • Purple Coneflower 
  • Black-eyed Susan 
  • Texas Thistle 
  • Daisies 
  • Asters 
  • Sunflowers 
  • Oregano 
  • Rosemary 
  • Garlic Chives 
  • Basil 
  • Honeysuckle 
  • Verbenas

Take a look at the list and see if there is a way to incorporate any of these beauties into your landscape. Remember, this is bigger than us.  Without bees and other pollinators the world as we know it would drastically change for the worst.

JUST GROW IT! 

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Growing Elderberries

Have you heard of elderberries? Well, it is one of the few plants that can be found on almost every continent on the earth. It has a litany of medicinal properties. The berries and flowers are amazing. Not to mention it is a superfood! It is said that Hippocrates raved about all of the health benefits of this plant. Are you interested in growing it now?

Since elderberries are grown all over the world in varying climates, it is safe to assume that it is relatively easy to grow.  If you are planning on growing is a shrub, realize that it can get up to 12 feet tall and almost nearly as wide. A multi-stemmed, fast-growing, hardy and versatile plant that is often overlooked by home gardeners. Interesting fact; the stem is hollow and has been used to make musical instruments by many indigenous cultures.

Big City Gardener

More Facts About Elderberries

Elderberries belong to the Sambucas species in the Adoxaceae family.

One thing that makes this plant amazing is the wide range of soils it can be grown in. Elderberries prefer well-drained sites with full sun but are even able to produce in shaded areas. They are also able to grow in regions that are prone to flooding. Travel around the Midwest, and you will see these plants growing along riverbanks thriving.

Like most fruiting trees or shrubs, it takes time to receive the berries. You will have to wait between 2-5 years before receiving your reward.  When the plant has had enough time to mature, elderberries produce clusters of white flowers that the pollinators love in late spring, and the dark-colored berries are present by the late summer. These flower clusters are produced on new growth. Why is this important? If the shrub is getting too unruly and you need to cut it back in the winter when the new growth springs up that season, you will still have the opportunity for flowers and fruit.

Attempting to eat these berries fresh off the tree could make you instantly regret growing this plant. They are bitter. Similar to a fruit called a quince, once they are cooked, that bitterness immediately goes away. Elderberries are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, phenolic acids, and anthocyanins. Elderberries also contain antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory agents. They have a long history of being used to treat common colds and the flu.

elderberries

While the berries are nutritious, be careful with other parts of the plant. It has been said that the leaves, stems, and roots are poisonous. They contain a form of cyanide.

How To Propagate Elderberries

You can propagate this plant the same way as tomatoes. Cut new growth and place in a cup of water for weeks until you see roots or cut and propagate in soil.  I have seen even seen people successfully take a cutting from a branch and stick that branch directly into the ground!

Few pests bother elderberries. For the most part, your number one pests will be birds. If you want to keep your harvest to yourself, think about investing in some form of bird netting. Beneficial insects love this plant. By adding this plant to your landscape, you have the potential to increase your good bug population so that they can, in turn, reduce your pest population. That’s why I am going to take a lot of cuts and clone this plant. I think every garden I am affiliated with needs to be growing this crop.

Companion Plants

Elderberries do not like their roots disturbed once planted. So look at planting them underneath taller trees or planting shorter native perennials underneath. I like to plant herbs that can tolerate shade and will form a ground cover. Think thyme and oregano.

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Why You Should Grow Your Own Transplants

Growing transplants is often underestimated. Why do I say that? Every year, when it is planting time, a lot of gardeners head on over to their favorite nursery and buy whatever starts they have available. I don’t know about you, but to me, that is unexciting and repetitive. We are putting the decision in someone else’s hands, no thanks! Do you know what their growing conditions are? Do you know how long the plants have been in the package? How old they are? What fertilizers were used? Which pesticides were or weren’t used? Is it really organic? What is the soil mix comprised of?

These are all questions I want to know the answers to before purchasing or planting.  And since I am not able to talk to the growers or to tour the facilities, I would instead take matters into my own hands.

The Beneft of Growing Your Own Transplants

By growing your own transplants, you will have all the answers to these questions and more. Not to mention, you will be able to grow varieties that are not available in the gardening centers. Think about all the varieties of vegetables you will be able to grow. You will be the envy of all your gardening friends. I mean, who isn’t tired of growing better bush every year? It will definitely take some extra work on your part, but in the end you get to control the entire process from planting to harvesting.

You will need to understand seed starting mix, how and when to properly fertilize, lighting and how to properly water.  When you have this understanding you will be able to apply this same knowledge to the rest of your garde. Growing your own transplants will help you to become an all around better gardener. And at the end of the day is that what this is really all about?

For more growing and gardening tips, stay tuned for the best Just Grow It! blog posts.

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All The Secondary Nutrients Your Garden Needs 

For a garden to thrive, it needs a combination of vital nutrients. The quantity of nutrients the plants require to thrive determine which category they fall into; macronutrients, secondary, and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed in the most significant amounts, they are also the nutrients notate on the front of the package. In this post, I’ve listed all the secondary nutrients your garden needs. They may be smaller in quantities than the macronutrients but are equally vital. These secondary nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. All these nutrients play a different role but they all seem to share one common trait; they are easily leached from the soil.

What Are Secondary Nutrients?

Calcium is mostly related to the strength of the cell walls. Calcium deficiencies are rare in soil and are more often associated with hydroponic gardening.  While calcium deficiencies are not ordinary, individual plants like tomatoes and peppers need additional calcium to ward off blossom end rot.  Like nitrogen, calcium is easily leached from the soil. That means if you’re growing in containers, prepare to supplement your plants with extra calcium. Plants with calcium deficiencies usually display brown spots or markings on the leaves. Organic amendments that will provide calcium are dolemite lime, ground oyster shells, and even eggshells. I have had very little success with adding crushed eggshells to the soil.  Recently, I have started making water-soluble calcium.

Magnesium, as well as iron and calcium, is vital to photosynthesis. It almost acts like a switch that when flipped turns on enzymes that are vital to plant growth. Magnesium deficiencies are rare but are easily spotted. Plants with magnesium have streaks on the veins of the leaves while the remainder of the foliage stays green. These leaves will eventually turn red/purple or brown but will usually remain attached to the plant. Nitrogen deficiencies behave similar, except the leaves fall from the plant. Since magnesium is absorbed by older leaves first, problems usually begin at the bottom of the plant and work its way up to the new growth. Organic amendments that will provide magnesium are Epsom salts, lime, compost, and composted animal waste.

Other Nutrients Your Garden Needs

Sulfur is required for plant amino acids and is directly related to plant proteins. It is needed to create chlorophyll and other enzymes. Sulfur deficiencies are rare when growing organically. This is because organic material usually stores sulfur. Chlorosis or yellowing of leaves is associated with Sulfur problems and often shows itself on new growth. Looking for an organic sulfur amendment? Try elemental Sulphur or compost. Yes, sulfur is a micronutrient but it is needed in similar amounts as phosphorus. Maybe it should be the fourth macronutrients?  

We learn about these nutrients to be prepared to solve issues that may arise within the garden. I have said it before and will repeat it. What is most important is that we build up the life in the soil. Focus on strengthing the soil food web. The billions of bacteria, fungi and enzymes that make everything gardening and growing possible. Learn about each of these elements and you will notice that you will rarely run into any of these deficiency issues. Just my thoughts. That’s enough reading, go grow something!

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6 Ways To Improve Your Soil

I don’t care what anyone says when it comes to gardening, success or failure rests on, or better yet, in your soil. Soil is the blood of the garden. With more microorganisms in a teaspoon than there are people on the planet, it is easy to see why. All of the interactions between the various organisms, hyphae, fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates in the garden make up the soil food web. 

The soil food web is the same as any other food web you learned in school. Everything has a predator, so bigger organisms eat smaller organisms. This balance achieved through this interaction is harmonious.  

In gardening, the soil is overlooked or neglected, and it does not get the care and respect that is needed or deserved. Soil should be light, fluffy, and retain moisture but not be waterlogged. The soil should be rich and full of life, not chemicals and salts.  Keep that in mind next time you are out in the garden. 

Here are 6 ways to improve your soil quality: 

  1. Try not to walk on the soil. Doing so puts immense pressure on the particles and forces them to compact.  Remember, the goal is to keep the soil fluffy.  Compaction closes off channels through which water, nutrients, and roots work their way. 
  2. Whenever possible, practice organic gardening. Synthetic fertilizers usually contain heavy salts, which tend to destroy the soil biology we are working to produce.    
  3. Keep soil covered Whether you are in season or out of season, currently growing something or not, you must keep the garden soil covered. Leaving soil exposed to the elements can cause topsoil erosion and promote weed growth.  Covering the soil or Mulching protects the ground, providing a protective material layer on topsoil.
  4. Test your soil These tests tell you what is in your soil. Whether there is, it is too much or too little of the nutrients. They also give you fertilization recommendations to get your soil to optimal levels of these nutrients. How can we know what to add to the garden soil if we don’t know what is already present? 
  5. Amend your soil.  After receiving the soil test results, notice what your soil is missing and apply accordingly. I say, amend the soil and not fertilize because you fertilize plants, not soil.  
  6. Pay attention when adding fertilizer.  Read the label and mix the ratios accordingly.  The old saying “more is better” does not apply here. Excess fertilizer use comes with problems of its own such as nutrient lockout.  

Pay attention to these tips, and you can help improve and preserve your soil.  The members of the soil food web will thank you.  Now stop reading, get out in the garden and JUST GROW IT!

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What are native plants?

Native plants are unique. They are built to withstand the local conditions and made to succeed. They are region-specific and have adapted and naturalized over time. In Texas, they can withstand the extreme heat conditions and have evolved to flourish with minimal watering. They are low maintenance and built to succeed in our environment. Life depends on them, which bring pollinators, other beneficial insects, birds, and wildlife to the area. They are the backbone of a successful and productive ecosystem.

Even within their naturally occurring region, native plants generally adapt to more localized growing conditions. This adaptation is known as an “ecotype .” An ecotype is a subset of a species that possess genetic adaptations to local growing conditions. Some ecotypic adaptions are visible, such as shape, size, or color. While other adaptations are not visible to our eyes, they are adaptions to deal with specific soil makeups, drought tolerance, or even temperature sensitivity. 

Unfortunately, most of the landscape plants available in nurseries are foreign. These plants can cause issues within our soil food web, introduce foreign pests to our regions, and outcompete and kill native species.  

Why include native plants

  1. Biodiversity. Including natives in your garden help impact the natural areas near your home. Cross-pollination between your garden and wild plants may disperse seeds or berries into natural areas. They help benefit wild plant populations.
  2. Support Pollinators. Natives are the best way to create a thriving ecosystem for pollinators. They attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Increasing the pollinator and beneficial insect population in our garden helps decrease our need for insecticides or pesticides. These plants are a nectar source for pollinators.   
  3. Birds. Natives provide food and shelter for native bird species. From nuts and berries to insects, it is impossible to deny the direct link between native plants and native birds.
  4. Low Maintenance. Once established, these plants will require less maintenance than other species.  
  5. Water Conservation. Because they adapt to local growing conditions, they usually require less water, and this trait helps preserve one of our most precious and most scarce resources. 
  6. Help the climate. Using native plants in landscaping can help reduce noise and carbon pollution from lawnmowers and other lawn maintenance tools. Many natives, especially trees, actually store carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases.  
  7. Native plants use less fertilizer. Excess fertilizers often pollute our waterways, and this pollution harms aquatic life and, even worse, can end up in our drinking water.  

Where to buy natives

Do not take native plants from the wild as tempting as it may be. Doing so disrupts the ecosystem and threatens their population. Purchase from a local nursery. A good nursery will have an entire section for natives and even have knowledgeable employees to help guide your decision-making process. If your favorite nursery doesn’t stock native plants, it’s time to find a new favorite nursery.

How to use natives

Incorporating natives into your garden is up to you, but here are a few suggestions.  

  1. Use natives to create a border.
  2. Naturalize a large area with aggressive natives like sunflowers or asters.
  3. Create a rain garden. The deep roots of native plants stabilize and hold soil.
  4. Replace non-natives with native plants.
  5. Reduce the size of your useless lawn by adding a bed of native plants.
  6. Create a pollinator garden. 

Educating yourself on natives is the next level of gardening. Talk to experts and seek out knowledge to just look at the resources available on this site that talk about native plants. Once you have the information put it into action. 

JUST GROW IT

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What is Kombucha?

About ten or twelve years ago, I came across a mushroom tea beverage while visiting some friends in California. I had no idea that this beverage was on its way to being known nationally or that it would become one of my favorite drinks ever. I am talking about kombucha.  When I was introduced, kombucha was not nearly as available or well known as it is now. I doubt there were very few stores besides whole foods that even sold the drink. Well, it doesn’t matter because after I tasted the tangy, sweet, and fizzy combination, I knew I was hooked.  

This drink was not new; on the contrary, it has been around since ancient times. According to history, the drink originated in China and then spread throughout the world. 

Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. It contains bacteria, yeast, black tea, sugar, and flavorings. You make a sweet tea and add something called a SCOBY.  SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY looks weird. If you have never seen one, think about any alien blob of gelatinous mass from any alien movie. Yes, that weird. I wish I were able to go back in time and see the first people who created kombucha. What would possess you to drink the liquid after you noticed this blob floating in it? It blows my mind.  

The Fermentation

With the help of this SCOBY, the tea begins to ferment. The bacteria and yeast get together and do their happy dance while feasting on the sweet black tea’s sugar. After allowing the tea to sit and ferment for a week or more, you end up with a slightly carbonated, tart, tangy vinegary drink. What is cool about kombucha is that you can lengthen or shorten the brewing time to achieve your desired flavor.  For a more vinegary taste, leave the jar to ferment longer. For a sweeter flavor, shorten the brewing time.  I tend to allow my kombucha to brew for ten days; I have found that delivers my preferred balance between sweet and tangy.  At this point, you can flavor it to your liking and bottle it again in an attempt to increase the carbonation level. 

Like other fermented foods, kombucha contains a countless number of probiotics or beneficial organisms for your gut.  The proposed health benefits don’t stop there.  Since kombucha is fermented and brewed from black tea, you get all of those benefits.  You also get, 

  • Antioxidant-rich 
  • Improve heart health due to flavonoids.  
  • Lower cholesterol level
  • Reduce blood pressure 
  • Contains cancer-fighting properties known as polyphenols
  • Improved alertness and mental clarity due to caffeine and certain amino acids

I am not a doctor, so I cannot back up these statements, but I can say that it tastes great, and it may be the spark that helps you start living a healthy life. I know you were wondering why is the gardening guy talking about kombucha? Because gardening is just the start, the goal is to be healthy to garden for a long time. Not to mention that you can incorporate whatever herbs and fruits you grow in your garden into the second bottling and flavoring process.  

How To Brew Kombucha

Now that you know what kombucha is and it health benefits, let’s talk about brewing it. I would say it’s better make your own than buy. People have been brewing Kombucha for centuries. How they did it long ago, or even first decided to try this is beyond me. But, I sure am glad that they did. 

To get started, you need a few everyday items and a not so common ingredient. 

The common ingredients:

  • raw sugar
  • black tea- loose
  • water
  • pot
  • 1-gallon glass jar 
  • cover and an elastic band.

The not so common ingredient is a S.C.O.B.Y. You can buy them online; search for SCOBY on Etsy or any search engine, and you will get a bunch of hits. Or you can buy yours here on the Big City Gardener shop. I would recommend staying away from the dehydrated versions available from some online retailers. I even sell my extra SCOBYs on my site. Along with the SCOBY, you are also going to need some starter solution. Whenever you buy the SCOBY, it should come with a cup of solution. That is enough solution to get you started brewing.

Once you have your supplies round up, it is time to get started. Just know that this recipe is for 1 gallon of Kombucha. Make the necessary adjustments if you are brewing more or less.  A great thing about kombucha is that you do not have to be exact with your measurements. So a little extra sugar or more tea bags is up to you.  If you alter the recipe too much, I’m sure you could run into issues.  Just remember when people first began making kombucha centuries ago, I doubt they were keeping exact measurements.

Directions:

  1. Brew a gallon of sweet tea.- Place 4-6 teabags in your 1-gallon glass jar and cover with ¼- ½ gallon of hot water.  If you are using loose-leaf tea, then use 2 or 3 tablespoons of tea. Allow the tea bags to steep for 10 minutes.  Stir in a cup of raw sugar. Add the remaining water to the container.
  2. Add SCOBY and starter to the jar of sweet tea.  Before adding the scoby, check the temperature of the water.  If the water is too hot, there is potential to damage or even kill the SCOBY.
  3. Cover the Gallon jar and set out of the way in a warm place.  A dark spot is not necessary, or a cabinet is not required.  Wherever you can find an area out of direct sunlight, including the kitchen counter, you will be fine.  The ambient room temperature is essential to fermentation.  Look for a place with a temperature between 75-85F.  Excessive cold can slow down and halt the process.  If necessary, place the jar on a seedling heating mat or top of the refrigerator.  Doing so will help to raise and sustain the solution in the desired temperature range 
  4.  After a minimum of 7 days, you can start tasting your booch.  Move the scoby to the side and dip a cup, spoon, or straw.  Use the straw to siphon the desired amount out of the jat before tasting. Do not sip directly from your jar. Continue to check the kombucha daily until it reaches your desired flavor profile.  I have found that 9 or 10 days is the sweet spot for me: the longer your tea ferments, the more vinegary the flavor.  If you forget about your brew, you’re better off letting it continue to ferment until it reaches the vinegar stage. That’s right, kombucha vinegar.
  5. Remove the scoby and cup of kombucha before bottling.  This cup of liquid will be your starter solution for your next batch.

After a few days you will notice a white fil forming on top of the liquid. Do not be alarmed! This is not contamination, this is a new scoby forming. One of the perks about brewing kombucha – buy the SCOBY and solution once, and every time you brew a batch, you get a new SCOBY. If you are continually brewing, you will end up with a lot of SCOBYs. You can keep them in a jar full of SCOBY, coined a SCOBY hotel, read about it here, or give them as gifts to get your friends into the kombucha brewing world.

Now that you know the brewing basics learn about flavoring and second ferment here. The second ferment is where the fun begins. It is where you get to incorporate your garden goodies into the Kombucha. Since this is a gardening blog, you know I had to connect this article to gardening somehow, someway. Get brewing and remember…

JUST GROW IT 

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Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

If you are not aware, I live in the great city of Houston, TX and I love it! Well, not everything about it. Since Houston is down here on the Gulf Coast, in the summer months, we have to deal with mosquitoes. You can’t be outside for more than 30 seconds before you start to get swarmed and attacked. Now you could douse yourself in mosquito repellent or light citronella candles. I prefer to use plants that repel mosquitoes. 

Now while growing these plants will help, they will not solve all of the problems/issues. So, line your balcony, outdoor patio, or gathering space with these plants. After the plants have been growing, you will be able to use the plants to create a plethora of mosquito repellent creations.

Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

Here are some plants to add to your garden to help repel mosquitoes. One thing you will notice is that a majority of the plants on the list have a lemon smell. These plants are full of essential oils that mosquitoes prefer to stay away from. Now just because you plant these plants does not mean that you are guaranteed to be mosquito-free. The trick or secret is what you can do with all of these plants.You can make a natural repellent that does not include deet, make candles that help repel the mosquitoes, and even make essential oils. The simplest way to use these plants is to grab a few leaves and crush them in your hand. Then rub the secreted oils onto your exposed skin.

  1. Citronella – Careful because there is a geranium referred to as citronella.  I am talking about the citronella plant that looks similar to lemongrass.
  2. Lemongrass 
  3. Basil 
  4. Lavender 
  5. Catmint 
  6. Rosemary 
  7. Lemon Thyme 
  8. Ecalyptus 

Also, be sure to check your area for standing water because this is where mosquitoes breed. Growing all of the mosquito repellent plants and making all the repellents in the world will not help you if your area is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  

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7 Health Benefits of Gardening

Why do you garden? Do you know all the health benefits of gardening? Naturally, the fresh produce is what we get but I’ve listed below what I think are some of the many health benefits of gardening.

1. Physical Exercise

Gardening is a great way to participate in physical exercise. Gardening for 2.5 hours a week can help achieve the same target heart rate as a moderate-intensity workout. It also provides light strength training. Ever wonder why you are so sore after pushing that wheelbarrow around?  Also, it keeps joints mobile and flexible. The constant bending of the knees and elbows promotes and increased range of motion. Digging and planting help hand strength, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination.

2. Stress Relief

Gardening for 30 minutes decreases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is directly related to stress levels. There is a link between elevated cortisol levels and many different health issues; immune function, obesity, memory and learning problems, and even heart disease. 

3. Improved Mood

There are specific naturally occurring bacteria (mycobacterium vaccae) in the soil linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Studies have shown that interaction with this bacteria increases serotonin production. The physical activity, being surrounded by nature, and the satisfaction of working have all been shown to decrease levels of depression. Maybe people should stop taking antidepressants and try putting their hands in the soil and gardening. 

4. Vitamin D

Another one of the many health benefits of gardening is exposure to direct sunlight. This increases Vitamin D. An increase in vitamin D increases calcium and has been shown to reduce risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, and various cancers. Low Vitamin D levels have the potential to increase the chances of heart problems. 

5. Nutrient Density

Nutrient dense foods are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. The problems are that today, commercially grown fruits and vegetables have fewer nutrients in them that were found 25-100 years ago. 

  1. In wheat and barley, protein concentrations declined by 30 to 50 percent between the years 1938 and 1990.
  1. a study of 45 corn varieties developed from 1920 to 2001, grown side by side, found that the concentrations of protein, oil, and three amino acids have all declined in the newer varieties
  2. Official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data shows that the calcium content of broccoli averaged 12.9 milligrams per gram of dry weight in 1950, but only 4.4 mg/g dry weight in 2003.
  3. In 1951, an adult woman could meet her daily requirements of vitamin A by eating two peaches. By 2002, she would need to eat 53 peaches to obtain the same amount of vitamin A 

Industrial farming tends to decrease the mineral and nutrient value in the crops. The mix of fertilizers and methods used to achieve higher yields and reduce the cost of food are also reducing the nutrients value.

6. Peak Freshness

Picking fruits and vegetables at their peak time ensures they are the most nutritious. All produce loses vitamins during storage time:  “Lettuce loses 46% of some key nutrients within seven days of cold storage. Spinach loses 22% of lutein and 18% of beta carotene content after just eight days of cold storage. Culinary herbs, when used fresh, contain significant amounts of antioxidants. These antioxidants decrease rapidly after harvest making it difficult to reap the full health benefits of fresh culinary herbs with products from commercial grocery stores (Bottino, 2010). 

7. Safer Food 

Do you know what is in the insecticides and pesticides that are sprayed on food or around food? Next time you have the chance take a look at the label of one of these products. Look at all the health risks and concerns. A lot of these products are carcinogens. Some of these sprays intended to help the plant are systemic sprays- absorbed and redirected into the entire plant tissue.  

By growing your food, or urban agriculture as we refer it here, there are no worries about contamination from the farms, manufacturing plants or during delivery. How many times over the past five years have you seen a recall on some produce in a store? 

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How to Divide Perennials

Hey folks, our post for today is something related to our previous topic – last but not the least. Check out these guidelines on how to divide perennials. But before you do, here are important reminders:

how to divide perennials
  • Divide perennials on a cloudy, overcast day as dividing on a hot sunny day can cause the plants to dry out.
  • Water the soil a day in advance if the proposed area is dry. Ideally, divide plants when there are a couple of days of showers in the forecast to provide enough moisture for the new transplants.

How To Divide Perennials

  1. Dig up the parent plant using a spade or fork.
  2. Gently lift the plant out of the ground and remove any loose dirt around the roots.
  3. Separate the plant into smaller divisions by any of these methods: 
    • Gently pull or tease the roots apart with your hands. 
    • Cut them with a sharp knife or spade. 
    • Or put two forks in the center of the clump, back-to-back, and pull the forks apart.
  4. Each division should have three to five vigorous shoots and a healthy supply of roots.
  5. Keep these divisions shaded and moist until replanting.

When To Divide Perennials

Divide when the plant is not flowering, so it can focus all of its energy on regenerating root and leaf tissue. 

Divide fall-blooming perennials in the spring because:

  • New growth is emerging, and it is easier to see what you are doing.
  • Smaller leaves and shoots will not suffer as much damage as full-grown leaves and stems.
  • Plants have stored energy in their roots to aid in their recovery.
  • Rain showers that generally come along with the early season are helpful.
  • Plants divided in spring have the entire growing season to recover before winter.

Divide spring and summer blooming perennials in the fall because:

  • There is less gardening work to do in the fall compared with spring.
  • It is easy to locate the plants that need dividing.
  • In the fall, divide perennials with fleshy roots such as peonies, oriental poppy, and Siberian iris.
  • When dividing plants in the fall, time it for four to six weeks before the ground freezes to establish the plant’s roots. 

If you are just starting out and aren’t actually sure yet which perennials would be right for your garden, check out this post.

I hope these tips help! If you know a tip or two about dividing perennials that I have not listed here, please share in the comments below!

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Top Perennials For Your Garden

Perennials are plants that re-grow every year from the same rootstock that you planted once. True perennials die back during the winter months and reemerge in the spring. Some perennials only last a few years, while others may last for decades. For more information, read here. Now, let’s discover what are the top perennials for your garden.

Edible perennials are the most intelligent part of food gardening. Tell me something better than a plant that remerges yearly. Providing a food source and that not only saves money, it also saves time? Edible perennials are the best addition to make to your garden. A well-maintained patch can provide decades of food production.  

Before deciding on a perennial, you need to pay attention to your growing zone. Where you live will determine which perennials you can grow and the variety that is best suited for your area. 

Also, pay close attention to the spaced delegated for the perennials. As perennials mature, they naturalize, expanding their root system, taking up more space, and producing in a larger area. Make sure you leave enough space to accommodate mature-sized plants.   

Make sure to plant your perennials where they will receive the correct amount of sunlight. Whether your potential garden receives full sun, partial sun, no sun will determine what you grow.

Types of Edible Perennials

When selecting what to grow, having an open mind helps. The field of edible perennials is large, and I do not think it is only plants like asparagus or rhubarb. Edible perennials include fruit trees, berries, tubers, herbs, and medicinal flowers.   All fruit trees and more edible perennials can be grown in containers. Learn more about container gardening here. Now think of different ways to add edible perennials to your garden.

Big City Gardener
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In my new garden, I am focusing on growing a majority of the fruit trees in containers, and only a select few will make it into the ground. Check out the video showcasing the new garden.

Benefits of Edible Perennials

  • Low maintenance. Edible perennials are low maintenance and thrive with a minimum amount of care. Simply add mulch and let nature do its thing. Your reward is exceptional harvests for YEARS. The ease of growing and potentially high rewards are the main reason to grow edible perennials
  • Edible Perennials help build the soil. Since we don’t till the beds, they develop intricate and extensive food webs that provide habitats for billions of microorganisms. The soil structure, porosity, and water holding capacities are stellar when mulched.  

Drawbacks to Edible Perennials

  • Some perennials, such as asparagus, are slow to establish themselves and begin producing. It is not uncommon for an asparagus patch to take three years before reaching maturity.
  • The low maintenance nature of perennials causes gardeners to forget about them. If this happens, it is easy for weeds and other plants to reside in the perennial patch.  
  • Perennials present particular pest and disease challenges. A simple disease can spread through, leading you to replace the entire patch.  

Below are the top perennials to add to your garden.

Top Edible Perennials 

  1. Rhubarb
  2. Artichokes 
  3. Kale
  4. Tree Collards 
  5. Asparagus 
  6. Horseradish 
  7. Sorrel 
  8. Berries 
  9. Sunchokes 
  10. Garlic 

Top Flower Perennials

  1. Shasta Daisy 
  2. Coneflower 
  3. Hibiscus
  4. Hosta
  5. Black-eyed Susan 
  6. Coreopsis
  7. Sedum 
  8. Amsonia
  9. Astrantia 
  10. Daylily
  11. Salvia 
  12. Asters 
  13. Peony 
  14. Dianthus 

Top herb perennials

  1. Sage 
  2. Mint 
  3. Thyme 
  4. Oregano 
  5. Chives 
  6. Lavender 
  7. Rosemary 
  8. Lemon Balm
  9. Dill 
  10. Chamomile 
  11. Bee Balm 
  12. Catnip

Keep in mind there are more perennials than are listed here. Don’t forget to look into native plants when searching for perennials. You don’t know what native plants are, check this out. Native plants can include plants like persimmons or pawpaws. Don’t forget to look into nut trees. They will require more space, but the harvests are well worth it. Through edible perennials, proper planning, and execution your entire landscape will reward you with bountiful harvests!

JUST GROW IT

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What Are Perennials

What if you could plant something once and receive a harvest yearly? If that sounds interesting to you, then you should investigate perennials. I know I am mainly talking about edible gardening here. Perennials are plants that will live for more than two seasons, and I like to think of perennials as plants that will live forever in your garden.  

What is a Perennial

A perennial is a plant that re-grows every year from the same rootstock that you planted once. True perennials die back during the winter months and reemerge in the spring, and some perennials only last a few years while others may last for decades.  

Different Uses for Perennials 

Since perennials come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and forms, you should use them throughout your garden. You can use them in any of the following circumstances.

  • Flowerbeds
  • Containers 
  • Groundcovers
  • Tall Grasses perennials
  • Herb Gardens

Bed Preparation 

To have a successful perennial garden, you must start with bed preparation. Proper preparation will ensure the patch is productive for the years to come. Let’s discuss some of the key points:

Eliminating weeds

The first step in starting a new perennial patch is to eliminate weeds. You can do this through solarization, digging, or applying a non-selective herbicide(I don’t recommend this, but hey, do you).  

Provide Drainage

Well-drained soil is critical for growing perennials. Avoid planting them in low-lying areas. During the bed preparation site, make sure to add organic matter; this helps also aids with drainage.

If your proposed area does not have good drainage, be prepared to build raised beds or change locations. You can check the drainage by digging a hole 8-12 inches deep and filling it with water. Let the water drain and do this again. If the water drains in less than one hour, the spot is satisfactory. If not, you will need to explore changing sites or building raised beds.

Add Organic Matter 

There is no shortcut when it comes to soil preparation. Adding organic matter is a must, and organic matter is just as important as removing weeds from the area. Organic matter improves drainage, improves the physical and biological properties of the soil, and adds necessary nutrients to the soil.  

Planting And Transplanting 

Like most plants, there are different ways to purchase from 1- or 2-gallons containers to bare roots or packaged plants. These can be purchased at a local nursery or through mail-order catalogs. If you buy online and receive the plants before the ideal planting time, keep the roots cool and moist until proper planting time.  

The best time to plant most perennials is in the spring. The earlier we plant them, the more robust the root system is when the plant enters winter. Avoid planting them in late fall. The lack of time to establish themselves before frost can result in death. 

Proper planting depth is essential for success. When planting containerized perennials, plant them at the same depth they were in the container. Planting too high will leave roots exposed, drying them out, and planting too low leads to rotting from improper drainage. Before planting, water the containers and soak bare roots for one hour to rehydrate the plants.  

Maintenance 

Even the most drought-tolerant perennials require additional water until established because the root system is still establishing itself. 

The best thing you can do for new and established perennials is to apply a layer of 1-2 inches of mulch. Organic mulches are the best option because as they decompose, they feed the soil microbes and improve the quality of the soil. Read more about the benefits of mulch here.

Fertilizer is only necessary when plants show signs of chlorosis or decreased vigor, and that’s because the organic mulches add nutrients to the soil.  

Dividing Perennials 

Divide perennials whenever the plant’s middle dies out, produce smaller flowers or leaves, or blooms less. Why the middle? Most of them expand outwards, so the center of the plant is the oldest while the outer parts are younger.

Dividing perennials helps promote plant health and can help rejuvenate stunted plants. Ii is also a great way to deal with plants that have become crowded. You should only divide them during their dormant season. If you must divide perennials during their blooming/ growing season, be prepared to provide shade after transplanting.

Not all perennials respond well to being divided. Some plants like baptisia have long, deep roots that do not respond well when disturbed. 

Fall and winter care 

Late fall and winter are the dormant seasons for most perennials. During this time, apply a 2″ layer of mulch over the perennial bed and be prepared to water once a week. I have seen that most perennials are better left standing than cutting them down to the ground. The perennials offer good resources to birds and a place for pollinators to overwinter and lay their eggs. The remaining foliage helps to insulate the crowns. So, if you live in an area with harsh winters, you may want to practice this.  

If you choose to cut down the perennial’s foliage, cut the plants within 2-3″ of the crown. Cutting too close can injure the plant and even affect next year’s growth.  

For more information on perennials, check out these articles

How to Divide Perennials 

Top Perennials For Your Garden

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Benefits of Urban Agriculture

Hey folks, last week we talked about what urban agriculture is. I hope it was a good start to learn more about this amazing process of growing. Today, let’s tackle the benefits of urban agriculture.

When you start to search for the top cities associated with Urban Agriculture you see some mind-blowing things. A majority the top 10 cities do not even have a climate conducive to growing food year-round. What is amazing is that all these cities have legislature passed to benefit urban agriculture. They have developed city zoning codes that benefit urban agriculture.  We can learn a lot from these places:

  1. Detroit, Michigan 
  2. Portland, Oregon 
  3. Austin, Texas
  4. Boston, Massachusetts
  5. Cleveland, Ohio 
  6. Chicago, Illinois 
  7. Seattle, Washington 
  8. Baltimore, Maryland
  9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
  10. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Have you ever been to Minnesota? Man, it gets to –20F out there! Can someone please explain to me how Minneapolis is a top city for urban gardening over Houston? Lol, you cannot even go outside during some of the months. I’m not trying to pick on Minnesota, I’m just saying make it make sense to me. In my mind the top cities should all be in warm climates where you can garden year-round.

Why is Houston not the mecca?

I am not sure, but I am on a mission to change that. I am going to show the world how dope Houston’s Agriculture scene. We have people like Ivy, from Ivy Leaf Farms, Jeremy Peaches, from Fresh Life Organics and me, Big City Gardener, making farming and urban agriculture dope again. One of the goals of Big City Gardener is to help make Houston the greatest urban agriculture scene in the world. I have some work ahead of me, but I don’t mind.

Problems of Urban Agriculture 

WhiIe love the way urban agriculture sounds, I don’t know how much urban gardening and farming is going on. In my city alone I often hear about it on the news or read about it in the paper, but I don’t see it. Well, not as much as I want to see. There are people doing it, but it seems they get the least amount of support. When I do see urban agriculture taking place it usually happens in areas that don’t necessarily need it, I don’t know how impactful that is. Why not use it in food desserts and other similar areas as a solution to provide families with the freshest food possible right near their homes. Oftentimes the communities that would be best served by these urban gardens and urban farms are often forgotten or neglected. 

Benefits of Urban Agriculture

  • Proximity. With urban agriculture, we can grow the food closer to the people. Which means depending on who grows it, you can harvest fresher more nutrient dense food. This also helps to cut down on pollution associated with shipping food.
  • Accessibility. Urban agriculture has the potential to have a big impact in low-income areas. We could begin to address the problems of fresh food access associated with food desserts.
  • Community. Urban agriculture strengthens the idea of community. Imagine growing up knowing you live in an area that produces food for the city. That can be empowering!
  • Jobs. More farms, more urban agriculture means there are opportunities for more jobs. Also, by showing kids that this could be a career path, you could spark an idea in a child’s head. Maybe they don’t become an urban farmer but maybe they still do something in the urban agriculture industry.
  • Efficiency. This can be where modern science meets agriculture. Urban agriculture can aid in feeding the booming populations of the cities.  With limited space more ingenious ways of growing will have to take place. This allows for technological innovation with things such as vertical gardening, hydroponics, and aquaponics. All three of these methods are said to be 50 times more productive than common row farming.
  • Save space. If land is limited forcing ourselves to become more efficient can help save space. 
  • Recycling. When growing in an urban area you must be resourceful, this is due to the lack of space. Recycling things like old shipping containers into growing chambers can help alleviate some of the stress placed on the landfills.
  • Setting a good example. We know that humans in general are copycats. They see something trendy and then everyone wants to be a part of it. That’s how styles and crazes happen. What if we set an example of showing things like composting, gardening, or soil remediation?  Imagine influencing numerous amounts of people to begin doing the same. This could drastically change the world.

These here, my friends, are just a few of the amazing benefits of urban agriculture. Do you know any other benefits I have not mentioned above? Please share it with us and our readers in the comments below!

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What is Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture can be defined as growing, processing, and distribution of food and animal products by locals and for locals within an urban setting.  Examples of Urban Agriculture include but are not limited to : 

  • community and backyard gardens
  • rooftop and balcony gardening
  •  growing in vacant lots
  • Aquaculture and hydroponics 
  • market farms 
  • raising livestock and beekeeping.
  • Vertical growing

Urban agriculture is not just the process of growing these products.  It also includes how you sell the products.  Urban agriculture includes things such as farmers markets, roadside fruit, and farm stands, how you market and sell the crops.  It includes where you make the value-added products even down to how you address food waste and food security issues. Since it is more profound than how you produce and sell the products, it is safe to say there is not just one definition of urban agriculture.  Being as how it addresses so many issues its form adapts to the environment- economical, social, cultural, and political.

urban agriculture

Why is urban agriculture important?

Urban agriculture has many benefits. Not all benefits are related to food. Urban agriculture helps rebuild fractured communities, addresses food security issues, develop local food systems, promoting economic development, and improve urban biodiversity and environmental health.

Environmental Health/Pollution 

Most of our current produce comes from a flawed agricultural model and food system.  If you remember back to before mega-farms existed, every neighborhood and city had farmers producing a wide array of products. See, urban agriculture is not a new topic or idea. Once the onset of mega-farms took place, this destroyed the concept of local. 

Mega-farms are one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels. Mega-farms are one of the most significant pollutants in the world.  I don’t mean on the actual farm while they are growing, I am referring to once the food is picked, processed, and packaged. After the three Ps, the produce must now be delivered. Delivery means either 18 wheelers on the road or shipping containers sent out to sea, take your pick either one is a significant contributor to adverse air quality issues.

Destructive farming practices

The farming practices applied on large scale farms destroy the soil microbiology. The use of Glycosophate, salt-based fertilizers and pesticides all take their toll on the land.  Most modern urban agriculture practices do the opposite. Urban agriculture is focused on organic and regenerative growing methods. By definition and location urban farms are smaller than the large scale agricultural farms; therefore, the urban farmers are more likely to have a connection to the land and care about the soil quality. They are more like to practice organic methods that help to rebuild and strengthen the quality of the soil, therefore, being able to produce more healthy products with a smaller footprint.

Address food security

Food insecurity is described as not knowing where your next meal will come from. More than 15% of Americans suffer from this problem.  Urban Agriculture can help address these issues. While it is not a guaranteed fix, it does offer options which can lead to a solution.  Having access to this food can help address the issue of consuming too much processed foods. Urban farmers should work with members of the community to ensure that what is being grown on the farms reflects the wants and needs of local residents.

Seasonal Produce

Over the past decade, there has been a massive push to eat seasonally. Well, that’s what urban agriculture is about. Since food is produced locally, there is no choice but to grow with the seasons. Seasonal produce is a healthier option than. The food can be picked at peak ripeness to ensure that it is as nutrient-dense and vitamin-rich as possible.

Transition to what grows when

FALL PLANTING GUIDE
Vegetable/Planting TypeSEPOCTNOVVegetable/Planting TypeSEPOCTNOV
Amaranth for grain/seedPLentil/seedP
Arugula, garden (rocket)/seedPLettuce, 30-70 day/seedPP
Arugula, Sylvetta/seedPPPMache (corn salad)/seedP
Basil/plantPMint/plantPPP
Bean, broad, Fava/seedPMitsuba/seedP
Bean, snap (string), pole & bush/seedPMizuna/seedPP
Bean (hyacinth)/seedPMustard/seedPP
Beet/seedPPOnions, multiplying/setsPP
Bok choy, Pak choi, Tatsoi/seedPOnions, short day bulb/setsP
Broccoli/plantPOregano, Greek, Italian/plantP
Buckwheat/seedPParsley/seedP
Cabbage/plantPParsnip/seedP
Cabbage (Napa, Chinese)/seed or plantPPPea, sugar snap, English shell,snow/seedP
Carrot/seedPPRadish, salad & daikon/ seedP
Cauliflower/plantPRomanesco Cauliflower, Hybrid/ plantP
Celery herb & stalk/ seedPRosemary/plantPP
Chard /seed or plantPPRutabaga/seedPP
Chervil/ seed or plantPSalsify, Scorzonera/seed or plantPP
Chives, Garlic & Onion/bulbPPShungiku (Tong Ho)/seedP
Cilantro/seedPSorrel/plant & seedPP
Claytonia/seedPSquash, summer/seed or plantP
Collards/seedPPStrawberry/plantP
Collards/plantPPSugar cane/cuttingPP
Cress, garden/seedPTendergreens (mustard spinach)/seedP
Cucumber/seed or plantPTomato, Cherry/plantP
Dill/seedPTurnip/seedPP
Endive, Chicory, Radicchio/seedPSEED in pots, A/C under lights/greenhouse
Epazote/seed or plantPArtichoke (Globe)PP
Fennel, Florence/seedPBroccoliP
Garlic/clovesPBrussels sproutsP
Gailan (Chinese Broccoli)/seed or plantPCabbageP
Horseradish/rootPPCauliflowerP
Kale/seed or plantPChardP
Kale, Russian/seed or plantPLeekP
Kohlrabi/seed or plantPOnion, short dayP
Leek/setPPRomanesco cauliflowerP
Lemon balm/seed or plantPSpinachP

NOTE: Recommendations based on Central Houston (Hobby Airport/Pearland) 2007-2017 temperatures for areas whose winters stay above 25˚F and are not on the Coast.

Locations south of I-10 far from central Houston, or north of North I-610, plant earlier than shown. Revised August 2017.

Information from Year Round Vegetable, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston by Dr. Bob Randall (available pending publication). Used with permission. 8/17

Transition into what tools are necessary to get started 

  • This depends on setup of garden 
  • Tall raised beds then I recommend a hand cultivar tool- can be used as a shovel, a rake, a weed extractor
  • In ground or lows beds- depends on ability to bend over but a Hand cultivar
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What Is Vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to breakdown organic matter. Not the same worms that you find in your garden.  No, these here are basically super worms. Fun fact, there are over 9000 different varieties of earthworms. Earthworms are one of the oldest creatures on the planet. These worms have a voracious appetite, like the plant in little shop of horrors, and they love to eat. Red Wiggler, or composting worms, can eat up to half their body weight in organic material daily. Usually, they consume around 25% of their body weight, though.  Imagine if people ate that much!

 
What do they eat?

It is more like what don’t they eat. If it is a kitchen food scrap, then it is safe to be fed to the worms; bread, bagels, pineapple or watermelon rinds, coffee grounds or filters, tea bags – you name it. Now, like everything else in life, there are exceptions. Do not feed the worms meat, raw or cooked, animal bones, fresh animal manure, or dairy products. Have you ever stopped to think about how much kitchen waste you actually produce? For one week, I want you to try writing down all your food scraps or waste. Keep a couple of gallon ziplock bags around to store the scraps. You would be surprised how many scraps you could accumulate over this short period.

Worms are housed in a bin with air holes, with bedding material, and are fed kitchen scraps. They eat the scraps and convert them into worm castings. Castings are the fertile digested “soil” or excrement produced by composting worms. They contain a concentrated source of Ca, Mg, N, P, and K, in readily available form. The castings slowly release the nutrients needed for healthy plant growth throughout all stages of the plant’s life. Castings help improve the soil structure and root zone by contributing to build up the organic matter in the soil/growing medium. This helps strengthen a plant’s immune system and decreases the plant’s vulnerability to pests and diseases. Castings also increase the production rates for all flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

 
Benefits of worm castings include:

• Vastly improves soil structure
• Will reduce irrigation costs up to 50% by improving moisture retention in the soil
• Will promote beneficial microbial activity that will result in healthier plants
• Reduce the carbon in the soil and increase the nitrogen levels
• A perfect soil conditioner with naturally balanced levels of minerals & nutrients

 
Vermicomposting

Vercomposting 101: The How To’s

Alright, now that we have gotten that out of the way, it is time to talk about how we actually go about getting started vermicomposting. The idea may seem daunting at first, but if we break it down into the 5 fundamental parts you will see it is not that difficult.

1. Container
2. Bedding 
3. Moisture 
4. Worms 
5. Food 
 
Container

Let’s get one thing clear, like with all things gardening, there is not just one right way to do something. By that, I mean, there is no such thing as the perfect container. The type of container used depends on how much food scraps you are generating and where the bin will be placed. Regardless of what you use, there are a few critical points about the container that applies irrespective of what you decide to make it out of. The bin needs to be breathable, around 12” deep, and have air holes.  

The most common bins used by home vermicomposters are plastic rubbermaid totes. They are relatively cheap, can be stacked, come with a lid, and can have air holes added easily. If you are planning on vermicomposting outside, not on a covered porch or balcony,  then you should look at building the bin out of wood. Try to stay away from pressure-treated lumber and use naturally rot-resistant wood, like cedar.  

Whichever bin you decide on is a personal preference, make sure you have a lid of some type. The cover helps retain the moisture within the container and helps keep the bin dark. Now a cover can be anything from burlap sacks that we wet and put on top to the cover that comes with the plastic tote.  If the bin is outside, then I recommend a solid hinge cover. This will help keep all unwanted visitors, rats, opossums, and raccoons from interfering with the composting

 
Bedding

This is where the worms spend their life, so it is crucial to understand the purpose. The bedding retains moisture and air for the worms. The worms will actually eat and process this bedding into castings, so the size of the materials matters. 

The first time I did vermicomposting, I filled my container up with garden soil and compost. Ha, I thought I was doing the worms a favor. Came back one week later and all the worms that weren’t dead were trying to climb out of the bin. That’s when I learned that bedding is actually essential.  

When it comes to bedding, you do not need store-bought options. You can use any of the following:

  • Shredded newspaper 
  • Shredded Cardboard 
  • Peat Moss 
  • Coco Coir

Before filling your bin, you need to prepare the bedding. This is done by shredding and moistening your materials. You do not want them to be waterlogged and full of moisture, you just want the bedding moist. Now fill your bin 2/3 of the way to the top. This bedding is where the earthworms get their moisture from; therefore, it needs to remain moist at all times. If it starts to dry out spray the top with a spray bottle.

Now that you know what vermicomposting is, are you ready to get started? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 Methods of Composting

Now that we know the benefits of adding compost to our garden, we should discuss different methods of composting. These ways will work whether you live in an apartment with limited space or whether you have sprawling acreage. There is a way to compost for everyone regardless of your living situation.

What are the different methods of composting?

1. Open Air Composting

Open air compost is what most people envision when they think about composting. Open-air composting is an anaerobic composting method that needs air to properly compost. Make sure to pay attention to your combination of nitrogen-rich or green material versus your Browns or carbon-rich material. Improper ratios can lead to smelly composting pits that attract all types of vermin to your gardening area. Open-air composting is relatively easy to set up all you need is a space to place your materials. When done correctly, you create an ecosystem where fungi and other microorganisms are attracted. Make sure to bury your food scraps deep within the center of the pile to discourage rats and other pests from visiting your composting area. This method is labor-intensive because it involves regular flipping or turning the materials to ensure that the compost reaches the ideal temperature.

methods of composting

 

3. Trenching or Direct Composting

This is one of the easiest methods of composting. A form of passive composting, I love to incorporate these into all of my gardens, probably for nostalgic reasons. I believe that early farmers and gardeners probably composted in this method. I like to dig a hole or trench for direct composting and bury my food materials in it. One downfall to this method is that the anaerobic conditions lead to a prolonged decomposition period. But what I do like is that I can dig one trench and fill it up slowly, and as I work one section and fill it up, I can cover that area and then continue down the line. This method is excellent for people who do not have a lot of time and who do not want to put a lot of effort into composting.

4. Vermicomposting

This is one of my favorite methods of composting. You can start a worm farm in an apartment or an urban garden. The composting worm of choice is the red wiggler worm. While you can purchase these all over the Internet, I prefer to go outside and harvest them myself. This way, I ensure that I end up with indigenous worms that can withstand my climate. With worm farming or Vermicomposting, you bury food scraps into a bin where you house worms in a Coco core and newspaper mixture. For more information on vermicomposting, read here. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of work and create a desirable habitat for your worms, they will reward you with one of the best forms of compost that you can have.

 

5. Bokashi

Bokashi – is one of the best methods for indoor composting. With bokashi, you place food scraps into a bin, adding bran that is active with Lactobacillus and other microbes. We create an anaerobic condition and rely on bacteria to break down the food materials. One of the benefits of bokashi is that you can compost everything. Now when I say compost, I mean that loosely really, what we’re doing is pre-composting or fermenting these materials. After being held in our bokashi bin for a few weeks, we’re able to bury these food scraps directly in our garden bed or our compost bin, and they will break down exceptionally quickly. For more information on bokashi composting, click here.

There is no excuse for anyone to say that they cannot compost with these six ways of compost. You just have to be willing to put forth a little bit of effort. But your effort will be rewarded with black gold. And do not think that you must have a garden to justify composting. Compost can be added to flower beds, launch trees, or ornamentals, and the uses are endless.

Now let’s take this information, figure out which system is right for us, and start composting.

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How to make Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB)

You have read all of the benefits of using LAB in your garden, right?  If not, check this out. Now it’s time to make the secret sauce.  By the end of this article, you will be a pro when it comes to the topic of how to make LAB at home. This process is straightforward. If you follow these steps, you will have 10x your harvest in no time. 

Supplies for making LAB:

  1. Uncooked White Rice
  2. Chlorine-Free Water
  3. Milk- Cow, Coconut, Goat it is your choice
  4. A wide-mouth jar
  5. A Bowl
  6. Cheesecloth, paper towels, a towel.  Something to cover the jar opening.
  7. Rubberband.  We will use this to secure the 

Partial Steps: How To Make LAB

  1.  Take a cup of rice and pour 2 cups of chlorine-free water onto the rice.  Why chlorine-free?  Chlorine and other gases in the water can kill the very bacteria we are trying to collect. If you do not have access to rainwater or additional chlorine-free sources, Catch tap water in a vessel and allow it to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. That is enough time for the chemicals to off-gas and leave the water.
  2. Begin to wash the rice around with your hand. The goal is to extract the starches of the rice into the water. You will see the water begin to turn cloudy and milky colored. 
  3. Strain the rice from the water and catch the water in the wide-mouth jar. Do not discard the rice; instead, use it to make IMO 1. 
  4. Cover the rice water with a paper towel, cheesecloth, or whatever you have on hand.

Final Steps: How To Make LAB

  1. Set the jar on the counter, outside, inside wherever you see fit, and leave for 2-3 days. The amount of time necessary to capture the bacteria is related to the temperature. Remember, the bacteria we are trying to catch and colonize the rice wash is everywhere. No, really, the bacteria is all around, and it’s just unseen by the human eye. Have you ever thought about all of the things we cannot see with our naked eyes?  Mindblowing.
  2. After a few days, you will notice the rice wash water has a faint aroma. Strain the liquid if you want or don’t; the choice is up to you. 
  3. Mix the milk and rice-wash water, cover it, and put it away.  I have seen success with ratios from 10 parts milk to 1 part rice wash down to 3 parts milk to 1 part rice wash. I have found any rate between these works, but the most widely accepted standard is 10 to 1.
  4. Wait 3-5 days, and you will see the material separate into three distinct layers: solids floating on the top, a yellowish, white liquid below, and the third layer of white particles. The second layer with yellow liquid is what we are after.  That liquid is the LAB.(the allotted wait time depends on the temperature.  Separation occurs faster in warmer rooms around 78F)

  5. Separate the solids from the liquid. You can use the solids to make cheese, yogurt, or you can feed it to your chickens. Store the liquid in a jar in the fridge. It will keep for a year. If you add equal amounts of molasses to the liquid, you can store it at room temperature. Also, you are basically making something known as EM1. 

How to use LAB

Before use, you must dilute this solution; dilute around ½ teaspoon- 1 teaspoon per gallon.  Spray on leaves, garden bed, compost heaps, put in animals water, spray chicken coop with it.  See, there are many uses for this product and that should show you how dope it is.  Read more about LAB here.