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

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.    

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.

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. 

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!

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!

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.

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.

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 

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.