Natural Lawn Care Tips and Hacks to Save Time and Money

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Natural Lawn Care tips – Last weekend, we mowed our lawn for the first time this year.

From the sound of it (and the smell of freshly cut grass), the neighbors are in the full swing of lawn care as well.

We have dogs, children, and a desire to be good stewards of our immediate environment, so this year, we’re looking for ways to practice natural spring lawn care.

Turns out, there are surprisingly easy and cheap ways to have a natural lawn.

Natural Lawn Care Tips and Hacks

Natural Weed Control: Let it Grow

Instead of spraying pesticides on the weeds in your lawn, simply set your lawnmower on the highest cut setting (3-4 inches).

Why?

Because whether it be your grass or the weeds in your grass, whichever plant gets the most sunlight is going to thrive.

Want to choke out the weeds?

Simply help the grass ‘win.’

It’s really as simple as that, and you’ll enjoy thicker, more plush grass in your yard as well.

Mowing high has other benefits: you’ll offer more shade to the soil, which means it will need less watering, and have thicker turf, which in turn will leave less room for weeds.

Note: According to The Daily Green, clover is not a weed, and should be welcome in your lawn.
Natural Lawn Care Tips and Hacks

Water Savings: Deprive the Weeds

Many people — myself included for some time — believe having a lawn necessitates using a lot of water.

This is not so.

In fact, experts recommend watering less frequently to have a well-cared for lawn.

The reason: if you water less frequently with Gilmour garden sprinklers, it forces grass roots to dig down deeper (deeper than the weed roots.)

Then when the top soil becomes dry, the weeds die while the grass continues to thrive.

Water only when you start to see signs of need in your lawn, and then water thoroughly.

Tip: Place a measuring cup in your watering zone, and make sure it fills with one cup of water during your watering session.

Organic Fertilizing: Less is More

You want to use natural organic fertilizer, but which kind?

First, don’t over think it.

For starters, leave grass clippings on your lawn.

When you bag them and take them away, you leave the top soil exposed.

Eventually, it will be dirt, not soil.

When you do fertilize with a natural organic fertilizer, use 1/3 of the amount recommended on the package. Combine this with compost in spring and fall.

As for what fertilizer you need, this depends on the problem in your yard.

Get the pH balance of your lawn professionally tested, and then use a fertilizer guide to find the correct natural fertilizer for the job.

The key to using less fertilizer is to use the exact type you need, and to use it moderately.

Lawn Alternatives: Who Needs Grass?

Do you really need a lawn of green grass?

How about a Greenhouse?

If you live in an area of water shortages or intense summer heat, you may have already switched to a lawn alternative.

If not, consider the following:

Rock or cactus garden:

Done well, a rock garden can be beautiful, and very peaceful to overlook while sitting on an outdoor deck or sun porch.

Plus you’re saving even more than a natural lawn care gardener on water usage and upkeep.

Natural meadow:

I’ve been hearing more and more about converting lawns to meadows lately.

Should you create a backyard meadow?

Your cost will include wildflower and wild grass seed (one-time only), then light watering and only once-annual mowing.

The result is a tranquil space that attracts butterflies, honey bees and birds, is lovely to see, and easy to maintain.

It’s important to consider how you use and enjoy your lawn.

Think about what yard care do you actually enjoy doing?

Green natural lawn

Easy ways to have a natural lawn

The good news: whether you practice organic gardening, organic lawn care or opt for a lawn alternative, you’ll save time, money, and effort over those struggling to maintain a lawn in synthetic or un-eco-friendly ways.

There are many time-saving and money-saving ways to have a natural lawn.

At my house, we’ll be putting more emphasis on making our yard more environmentally friendly and on enjoying our yard space than on maintaining how it looks!

5 Gardening Mistakes that Could be Costly

Gardening Mistakes that Could be Costly

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There are several gardening mistakes that could be costly. However, if you do your research and come up with a good plan, gardening is pretty straightforward.

Know that by neglecting even a single part of the initial garden planning research, you could end up wasting your money instead of ending up with the garden of your dreams.

Great pruning shears is a must to take care of your garden.

Gardening Mistakes that Could be Costly
Gardening Mistakes that Could be Costly – Image Credit: Pexels

Gardening Mistakes that Could be Costly

Planting Plants in the Wrong Zone

Everyone lives in a specific garden zone.

Just about every plant and seed from a reputable company will include this information on their website or packaging, indicating where a plant grows best.

These USDA gardening zones are as good as gardening law.

Plants used in the gardens near condos for sale in CT will not be the same as those planted in your backyard in FL.

Plant for your zone and any perennials are virtually guaranteed to survive the freezing winter or the scorching heat of summer.

Choosing Plants that Are Illegal or Invasive

Some plants are illegal.

It varies from state to state, but even a few “attractive varieties” are considered “noxious weeds.”

Never plant these.

Though you may not be reported for doing so, they are not suitable for the local environment, and many times they make your garden and the surrounding area incredibly unpleasant for allergy sufferers.

Then there are invasive plants.

These spread more quickly than they can typically be controlled, like crabgrass.

They grow well, but your neighbors will not thank you.

You’ll also spend much more time cutting them back and weeding them from your flowerbeds and lawn than you may want to.

Once an invasive plant is established, however, they take time, effort, and money to get rid of.

Not Taking Care of Your Investment

Once you’ve planted all of your plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs, you need to have a plan in place to maintain them.

The first few weeks are critical to their establishment and long-term health.

In most cases, no matter what you do, you will lose a plant or two, especially if you’ve overhauled an entire garden.

Keep your records, plant tags, and receipts.

Most garden centers and plant nurseries know this fact and will replace your plant at no charge if it dies within a year.

For some, that pledge extends up to two years.

Root cellars can help store for year round access.

Natural Lawn Care Tips and Hacks

Not Being Aware of the Pests in Your Area

If you’re wondering if a specific plant would work well in your area, ask your neighbors first.

Or look online or ring up a local master gardener or gardening society.

Some areas are more prone to specific types of pests, namely insects.

These will attack any plant of a particular kind on site, never giving it the chance to grow or establish.

If you would like to avoid taking those risks, think twice before importing a plant not offered by a local nursery.

If you’re dead set on having something, gather information.

If things still don’t look right, see if any companion plants might ward off the pests.

Not Paying Attention to Sun Requirements

Never plant hostas or columbines in direct sun.

Don’t expect peppers to thrive in dark areas with damp soil.

On nearly every plant’s tag or given planting instructions, you will see sun requirements.

These can be somewhat flexible, most plants work reasonably well in “part sun” and “part shade” but for the few that say “full sun” or “shade” exclusively, follow that rule.

Best Pruning Shears For Roses & Orchids (With Hacks!)

Best Pruning Shears For Roses & Orchids (With Hacks!)

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Best Pruning Shears – Many gardening enthusiasts find that roses and orchids are some of the most difficult flowering plants to cultivate.

But when you’re armed with the correct gardening arsenal and top growing tips, you too can have a garden full of blooms.

When it comes to tending your precious roses and orchids, only the right tools will cut it.

To get the best growth and the most beautiful flowers, you need gardening tools you can trust.

Whether you’re investing in tools for your own garden, or looking to sell gardening tools on to gardening enthusiasts, you should buy the best quality you can afford.

One of the most important tools in your collection is a pair of quality pruning shears.

If you take pride in your garden and want to work those green fingers, keep reading to learn how to choose the best pruners for roses and orchids.

I shop for gardening pruning shears and other gardening tools primarily online at ToolBarn.com and Amazon.com

5 Tips for Pretty Roses

Find a Sunny Spot

Roses need lots of sunshine to grow well, so make sure they get at least 6 hours of sun a day.

Plant Them in Soil That Drains Well

Once you’ve put your rose bush in the soil, add organic material like manure, compost or tree bark to your displaced soil, before backfilling.

Water Them Liberally During Growth Season

The soil around your roses needs to be damp throughout the spring months.

They’ll need around an inch of water each week – feel the soil with your fingertips.

It needs to be damp, but not waterlogged.

Mulch Your Roses

Add 2-3 layers of organic matter like cedar mulch, chopped banana peels, grass or even wood chippings around your roses.

This’ll help keep the water in and deter weed growth.

Prune Your Rose Bush

Using pruning shears, carefully prune your roses to achieve the shape of bush you want, beautiful flowers and a healthy plant.

Your roses need to be pruned to promote growth and channel essential nutrients to the blooms.

How to Prune Roses

Your roses should be pruned while they’re still growing slowly – the cold weather before springtime is best.

With high-quality pruning shears, make diagonal cuts around 1/4 inch above a new bud.

You can shape your roses by placing the cut in the direction you want the new growth to form.

If you see any branches that look woody or dead, prune those out, too.

The more you prune, you’ll get larger roses and fewer of them.

Prune less, and the opposite will be true – smaller flowers but in greater abundance.

Best Pruning Shears For Roses & Orchids (With Hacks!)
gardener pruning trees with pruning shears on nature background.

5 Tips for Exotic Orchids

Choose the Right Spot

Your orchid’s parents started life in the tropics, so only a warm environment will do.

Choose a spot that’s indoors, out of direct sunlight but still with a lot of sun exposure.

Control the Temperature

As in tip #1, your orchid will need a warmer environment to survive and thrive.

Make sure you maintain an indoor temperature of between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit to give them the warmth they need.

Allow Air Flow to the Roots

In their natural habitat, orchids are more likely to be found clinging to trees and other plants, rather than being planted in soil.

Mix a liberal amount of organic matter, like tree bark, into the soil around your orchid.

Don’t be shy.

This will allow air to get to the roots of the plant and promote healthy growth.

Give Them Monsoon Rains

Because of their tropical roots, orchids benefit from a shower of water, the way they would in the wild.

Saturate the soil around your orchid, and then leave it to dry.

This could take days.

Once the soil is beginning to dry out, repeat the process – your orchids will feel right at home.

Prune Your Orchids

For your orchid to bloom, you need to drive the essential nutrients from water and sunlight to the young buds of your plant.

To do that, pruning is essential.

It’ll remove any greedy old branches and ensure your flowers are getting the nourishment and energy they need.

How to Prune Orchids

When a new nodule forms on an orchid, that signifies a possible new branch that could sprout with several flowers.

The potential is locked inside the nodule, and you’ll need to prune it to release this potential.

On a green stem, look for a nodule beneath your lowest growing flower.

Now, with good quality pruning shears, trim 1 inch above it.

Brown or yellow stems are sucking nutrients from the plant, and you’ll need to trim these off at the base.

Natural Lawn Care Tips and Hacks

Best Pruning Shears for Roses and Orchids

Aside from their perceived delicate constitutions, roses and orchids have something else in common.

Both of these flowering plants are best-pruned with bypass pruning shears.

Unlike other types of pruners, bypass pruners have a curved blade.

This curvature allows for closer and more precise cuts.

Bypass pruners also avoid the unpleasant issue that comes with flat-blade shears, which is potentially mashing up the stem when cutting.

Pruning shears are perfect for stems that are 3/4 inch thick, or less.

For more mature plants with thicker stems, you’ll need to use different tools, like loppers or a pruning saw.

Pruning shears will be ineffective at that stage.

Adapt According to Preference

When it comes to choosing your ideal shears, it isn’t a matter of ‘one size fits all’.

Rather, there is a range of options to choose from, according to your individual needs.

For example, if you’re left- rather than right-handed, there are shears with specially formed grips to fit comfortably in your hand.

For those with weak wrists, there are shears that rotate.

And if you have a weak grip, there are pruners with a ratcheting mechanism that do a lot of the work for you.

If you’re thinking of selling pruners to fellow gardeners via eBay auctions, you’ll want to showcase a variety of pruners that cater to the various needs of today’s gardener.

9 Best Pruners for Roses and Orchids

Without further ado, let’s get down to our recommendations.

Fiskars All Steel Bypass Pruners

These pruners from Fiskars are a good basic model for those on a budget.

They’re great for young plants and can cut to a diameter of 5/8 inch.

They have a low-friction coating to protect your orchids and roses during the pruning process, and a lifetime warranty for peace of mind.

Doolini Nature Professional Shears

These stunning professional pruners from Doolini have been made with the pro gardener in mind.

They have precision-sharpened blades and a cushioned comfort grip for prolonged use, so you can prune with heightened efficiency and care.

Pexio Premium Titanium Bypass Shears

These pruners from Pexio feature an ergonomic handle and grip and are both comfortable to hold, and powerful in execution.

These Pexio shears have an added sap groove feature, which channels sap away from the blades to avoid them gumming up.

Garden Elite Bypass Shears

These razor sharp shears from Garden Elite are not only elegant to behold, but they’re crafted from Japanese steel – the hardest steel on the market.

With this technology in place, these pruners are strong and sharp and have a lifetime warranty, too.

Gardena 8905 Vario Bypass Shears

These shears by Gardenia have a strong blade that can cut thicker than normal branches.

The blade has a non-slip coating, for both safety and precision.

They include stoppers so the stress on your wrist is reduced while pruning, and feature a sturdy reinforced fiberglass handle.

The Jaw Bypass Pruning Shears

With the Jaw’s high-carbon-coated steel blade, there are no more fears about your blade bending or snapping.

The shears have been designed to stay sharp for longer than standard pruners.

The grip is designed to be kinder on joints and minimize injury.

PrecisionPRO Titanium Pruners

These heavy-duty shears from PrecisionPRO have an inclined titanium-coated Japanese steel cutting blade for faster and quicker pruning.

The pruners have an ergonomic grip to suit larger and smaller hands, so are great for male and female gardeners alike.

Corona ClassicCUT Forged Bypass Pruner

The Corona ClassicCut pruners will cut through branches up to 1 inch in diameter – perfect for maturing bushes and plants.

With safety in mind, the manufacturer has also built in a notching tool when the pruner isn’t being used, to avoid accidents and injury to the user.

Garrett Wade Bypass Pruner

We’ll end with the most stylish pruner on our list – a stylish pair of shears from Garrett Wade.

The pruner is made from finely forged steel, and its powerful blades can prune and trim in an instant.

This set of shears comes with its own leather holster, too, for that dapper touch.

The Takeaway on Pruners for Roses and Orchids

Roses and orchids require care when it comes to pruning, and to do that you need the right set of pruners for the job.

Bypass pruners are the best shears for roses and orchids because of their capacity for precise and clean cuts, leading to healthy growth.

Are you looking to share your knowledge and sell the best pruning shears?

Then check out our FAQ section and see how we can help.

Recycle Christmas lights to Make a Heat Mat for Seed Starting

Heat Mat for Seed

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Now that we know how to build a grow rack, let’s see how to make inexpensive Heat Mat for Seed from Christmas lights!

How to Make a Heat Mat for Seed Starting

This is a “readers’ favorite” post our how-to site.

When you are learning to grow from seeds, often you might see reference to a heat mat for seedlings.

Heat mats can really help speed up germination for many seeds, especially tomatoes and peppers.

You can buy them, but here I will show you how to MAKE one. Best LED Grow Lights Review – How To Choose

How to Build a Grow Rack for Seed Starting

How to Build a Grow Rack for Seed Starting

Thinking of starting some seeds?

In this post, us how to build a simple grow rack and create an environment to raise healthy seedlings.

It’s perfect timing, since many of us are starting seeds this spring.

And it’s not too late to give your warm-season plants a head start!

At some point in your gardening career you either have or will come to a point where you want to learn how to grow from seeds.

Building a grow rack is a common first step because having a dedicated setup to grow your new plant starts will significantly help in the quality of your starts.

This is not a necessary step, but will go far to avoid leggy, weak seedlings.
Heat Mat for Seed
Now that we know how to build a grow rack, let’s see how to make inexpensive heat mats…from Christmas lights!

Other Uses for Recycle Christmas lights

Soon it will be the festive season again and that time of the year where everyone will put up their Christmas lights.

The ‘green’ among us cringe at the extra electricity that this modern day display of Christmas requires.

Putting up Christmas lights has become a part of the entire Christmas experience.

That is not going to change any time soon.

What we can do is to recycle Christmas lights for as many years as possible.
Recycle Christmas lights
There is some amount of breakage that will happen every time you put up and take down the Christmas lights but the large majority of them should be in a good enough condition to be reused next year again.

Surprisingly, this seemingly commonsense decision is not that common as you might believe.

Very seldom do people take the time to store the lights in a proper manner.

Instead, they end up just buying more lights next time Christmas comes around.

Green living is to reuse and recycle

One of the tenets of green living is to reuse and recycle whatever you can.

This includes your Christmas lights too.

There are now artificial Christmas trees available quite easily and while it may not inspire the same emotion in traditionalists.

It is time for common sense and responsibility towards your environment to win out over emotion.

Christmas has a deep impact on our culture and we should look at it as an opportunity to imbibe some good core values among the citizens.

Festive messages which encourage people to reuse and recycle Christmas lights, using faux Christmas trees and other such things will really have a lasting effect.

Most of the young children are trying to be ‘good’ during this time and maybe Santa will give them extra credit if they love their environment a little more too!

The Christmas tree decorations are something that have just taken off to another level over the last few years.

The lights and decorations have become very innovative and with the Facebook-culture of posting pictures of everything, the competition to outdo everyone else is intense.

Be sensible and use recycled Christmas decorations this year.

They are very pretty and will make you feel a little better about not polluting the environment.

You can also exchange Christmas decorations with your neighbors so you do not have to have the same Christmas decorations but still avoid wasting older decorations.

There are also a number of people who have much lesser than you on Christmas.

The spirit of Christmas is being lost in the excessive commercialization of the holiday.

We can get real meaning back into Christmas and make it more than just mall fights and traffic jams by trying to celebrate it in a responsible and aware manner.

Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens How to

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Series of posts on fall and winter vegetable gardens.

We included lots of info on planting, structures, great pruning shears review and winter garden care.

Many of you were inspired to keep your summer gardens going longer or to plant seeds just for fall and winter harvesting. 

Again this fall there has been a lot of interest in extended-season gardening.

Rural Living Today‘s Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens

Part 1: Intro to Fall and Winter Gardening

Part 2: Protective Materials and Structures

Part 3: Getting Ready for Fall and Winter

Part 4: Frost Protection

Find all of our extended season gardening links on one page here.

Growing Fresh Vegetables in Fall and Winter

Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens
Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens

Many of us grow vegetables during the summer growing season.

But did you know that with a little extra TLC you can harvest fresh food throughout a chilly fall and winter?

Where do you live?

In areas with moderate winters, many plants can be grown year round out in the open garden.

In fact, summer may be too hot for the cool-season greens and other veggies.

You may be able to put in a fall crop of heat-loving plants like tomatoes, okra, peppers, and squash for harvest in the mild days of winter.

On the flip side, where winters are cold and frosts are inevitable, fall signals the end of life for those warm-season plants.

But that doesn’t mean the fresh veggie season has to end!

With special care, we can extend the harvest of summer crops.

And what’s more, many greens and other veggies can be grown through the fall and winter, providing fresh produce even on the snowiest of days.

Four keys to success:

Selecting the right plants and varieties

Starting with mature plants

Planting in a sunny, accessible site

Protecting plants from the elements

Which plants to grow

For the most part, the focus is on leafy greens and root vegetables.

See our list of suggested plants below.

Within each plant group, some varieties thrive better than others in frigid temps.

Here are some general guidelines.

Many root crops may be left in the ground, mulched well, and harvested as need throughout the winter.

Hardy vegetables such as carrots, kale, leeks, and mâche may need nothing more than poly hoops.

Less hardy vegetables and herbs may require a cold frame to continue providing fresh greens for several weeks or months.

Perennial herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme) may remain green longer in this environment, delaying dormancy.

Fruiting warm-season plants like beans, eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes may continue to bear or ripen fruit in a heated greenhouse.

When selecting varieties, look for words such as “cold tolerant” and “cold hardy.”

The resources listed at the end of this post indicate some preferred varieties for fall and winter gardening.

When to start seeds

All plants should reach maturity before cold weather sets in.

Some will continue to grow in protective structures; others will be in a “holding pattern,” maintaining their freshness until harvest.

Seeds should be planted well before the average date of first frost.

In many Northern Hemisphere areas, ideal sowing dates fall between July and September.

When time is short, select varieties that mature quickly.

Some seeds may be sown outdoors during hot summer weather; others prefer to germinate at cooler temps and can be started under lights in a room that remains in the 70s F./low 20s C.

To determine the ideal last sowing date for a specific vegetable:

If you don’t already know it, find the average date of first autumn frost in your area.

Note the number of “days to maturity” listed on the seed packet or catalog info.

Add an extra 10-14 days to account for fewer hours of daylight in late summer and fall (seed packet info is based on spring/summer planting).

On a calendar, start with the average date of first frost in your area and count backward to reach the optimal planting date.

Example: My packet of mesclun (mixed greens) seeds indicates the plants are ready to harvest in 28 days.

I add on 14 days because I’m planting them in the late summer.

Starting with our average first frost date of September 15, I count back 42 days and land at August 4, the ideal planting date.

I may plant a little later than that, knowing that the seedlings will be nearly mature when the first frost hits.

I can cover them with a protective material as that time approaches.

Where to plant

Accessibility is the first factor to consider, as winter veggies will do you no good if you can’t reach them!

Many people like to site their structures near the house or a path that is well-used even in winter.

Root crops buried under deep mulch can be placed anywhere, but plants growing above ground should be located where the sun will warm them on bright winter days.

A south-facing slope is ideal.

The sun’s rays will reach through clear and opaque row cover, polyethylene, plastic, and glass coverings.

Water should also be accessible nearby.

Though your plants won’t need much water during the winter, they’ll need to be nurtured as they mature in late summer and early fall.

How to protect plants

Several types of materials and structures provide protection from frigid air and frost.

Plastic or glass cloches (jars, jugs, bowls placed over individual plants for light frosts)

Mulch (straw, leaves, pine needles)

Row cover fabric (flat or hooped)

Plastic or polyethylene hoops (film placed over rigid hoops)

Cold frame (protective sides with clear glass or plastic lid)

Greenhouse (unheated or heated)

Using two or more materials together will increase the protection.

For instance, cover mulch with row cover fabric.

Place a poly hoop over row cover.

Put a cold frame or poly hoop inside a greenhouse.

Vegetables and herbs grown or harvested during fall and winter seasons

vegetables and herbs grown or harvested during fall and winter seasons
vegetables and herbs grown or harvested during fall and winter seasons

The vegetables and herbs in the following list can usually be grown or harvested during the fall and winter seasons.

Whenever possible, select a quick-maturing variety.

Also consider your growing structure and the height of each plant, selecting a more compact variety for a short cold frame.

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Bok Choi
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Chervil
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Claytonia
  • Collards
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leaf Lettuce/Mesclun
  • Mâche/corn salad
  • Mibuna
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard
  • Oregano
  • Pak Choi
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Peas
  • Radicchio
  • Radishes (especially Diakon type)
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Scallions/Green onions
  • Spinach
  • Thyme
  • Turnips

Most of the plants listed above can be directly sown outdoors or started indoors.

However, some prefer a cool germination period.

If your daytime outdoor temperature is above 80 degrees F./ 26 degrees C.

Start the following seedlings indoors.

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chives
  • Claytonia
  • Kale
  • Mâche/corn salad
  • Mibuna
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard
  • Oregano
  • Radishes
  • Sage
  • Spinach
  • Thyme

Favorites of experienced winter gardeners

Niki Jabbour’s Top Ten*

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Mâche
  • Carrots
  • Leeks/scallions
  • Winter lettuce
  • Beets
  • Tatsoi
  • Asian greens

Home Garden Seed Association’s Top Ten**

  • Beets
  • Calendula
  • Cilantro
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Salad greens
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard

Helpful resources

How to Make a Heat Mat for Seed Starting

**“Sow Seeds for Fall Garden” from National Garden Bureau at GRIT Magazine

Growing Fresh Veggies in Fall and Winter
Growing Fresh Veggies in Fall and Winter

“Cold Frame Gardening” at Kitchen Gardener Magazine

Protective Materials and Structures

In Part 1 of Growing Fresh Veggies in Fall and Winter, we talked about the basics.

Here’s more information on the main types of frost protectors and links to some sources to get you started.

Cloches

How Cloches work:

Protect individual plants from light frosts; raise temperature slightly

How to use Cloches:

Place over individual plants when frost is expected, remove when temps are above freezing.

Usually placed in the evening and removed in the morning.

Can also be used with early spring plant starts.

Sources of Cloches:

Clean glass jars and bowls; plastic jugs and bottles with bottoms removed; manufactured cloches

Mulches

How mulche work:

Insulate plants in ground from freezing temps; maintain moisture in soil

How to use mulch

Layer thickly on top of mature root and bulb crops.

Sources of Mulch

Compost, straw, deciduous leaves, evergreen needles

Row cover fabrics

How row cover fabrics work:

Insulate plants and soil from frost; raise temperature slightly; protect from insect and bird damage.

Water and sunlight pass through them.

How to use row cover fabrics

Lay over plants (flat over small seedlings, loosely over tall plants); use over hoop frame.

Since they “breathe” they may be used day and night—no need to remove when temps are warm.

Poly low tunnels and hoops
Poly low tunnels and hoops

Can also be used during spring and summer seasons.

Poly low tunnels and hoops

How hoops and tunnels work:

Insulate plants and soil from frost; raise temperature; maintain humidity

How to use hoops and tunnels

Install hoop supports and secure poly film over hoops; use drip irrigation on soil or lift cover to water plants.

Leave ends open during cool weather, close ends during frigid weather.

Poly tunnels may be used day and night—no need to remove when temps are warm.

DIY Garden Covers

Extend Your Growing Season by Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News

Use Low Tunnels to Grow Veggies in Winter:

Quick Hoops by Eliot Coleman at Mother Earth News

Cold frames

How cold frames work:

Insulate plants and soil from frost; raise temperature; maintain humidity

How to use cold frames

Construct or purchase cold frame with solid sides and clear glass or plastic cover that can be propped open for temperature and humidity control.

DIY cold frames
DIY cold frames

DIY cold frames

Can easily be made with wood, straw bales, other materials and a window or shower door cover.

Make a Cold Frame for Herbs (great cold frame info for veggies too) by Barbara Pleasant at The Herb Companion

Cold Frame Plans (wood) by Betsy Matheson Symanietz at Mother Earth News

A Cold Frame to Build (straw bales) by Paul Gardener at GRIT

Cold Frame Gardening at KitchenGardenerMagazine 

Greenhous high tunnels

How greenhouse high tunnels work:

Sun shines through clear glass, plastic or polycarbonate walls, creating a warm and humid environment for plants.

May be heated or unheated.

How to use greenhouse high tunnels

Start seedlings, harden off seedlings started in warmer room, extend production of warm-season plants, overwinter hardy plants.

DIY greenhouse high tunnels

Planning and Building a Greenhouse from Maryland and West Virginia Cooperative Extensions

Getting Ready for Fall and Winter Gardening
Getting Ready for Fall and Winter Gardening

The Benefits of Building a High Tunnel by George Devault at GRIT

Getting Ready for Fall and Winter Gardening

In Part 1 of this series we talked about the basics of growing veggies in cool fall and cold winter temps.

Part 2 was an overview of the materials and structures that protect plants from cold-weather damage.

Today we’re moving toward the planting stage with some more steps to take.

Prepare your soil before planting

If you’re using an existing garden bed for fall and winter plants, it’s a good idea to add some compost before planting.

The summer growing season saps nutrients from the soil and may affect the texture of the soil as well.

Compost will improve the texture and add some nutrients without overloading the soil with fertilizer or requiring decomposition.

When using fresh topsoil or planting mix in a new bed or cold frame, amend as you would for a spring or summer planting season.

This will vary according to the texture and nutrient content of the soil or mix.

If you’d like to test your soil first, use a home kit, local test lab, or a mail-in service such as University of Massachusetts Soil Lab (our favorite–fast and reasonably priced).

Wherever legumes (beans and peas) have grown the previous season, the soil is probably rich in nitrogen, as legume plants actually instill nitrogen in the soil.

Start seedlings indoors or outdoors
Start seedlings indoors or outdoors

This is a good location to plant leafy greens.

Start seedlings indoors or outdoors

While local stores may not carry seeds in late summer, mail order seed companies usually maintain their ordering and shipping processes throughout the year.

Some seeds are slow to germinate—or won’t sprout at all—when soil is hot.

If your late summer brings heat and scorching sun, it might be easier to start those seeds indoors in a room that’s cooler than the outdoor temps.

Greens and other seeds typically planted in spring fall into this category.

Warmth-loving seeds can be directly sown even in a hot July and August.

Short-season plants may be sown in September as long as the plants will be near maturity by the time cold weather sets in.

Requests From Our Readers: Creating Root Cellars
Building a Compost Pile Can be Fun

Plan protection strategy and get structures ready

In Part 2 of Growing Fresh Veggies in Fall and Winter we talked about several ways to protect plants from frost and cold.

Using two or more together creates opportunity for many combinations as the temperature changes.

Here’s one example of a strategy for plants to be grown through the winter.

Direct sow or transplant into garden bed during late summer.

Leave in garden with row covers during light frosts.

Add poly hoops for heavier frosts.

Move to cold frame or greenhouse to withstand frigid winter temps.

Late summer and early fall are great times to decide how to protect your plants and gather, purchase, or build whatever you need.

Then when a frost is in the forecast, you’ll be ready to cover those plants and keep them alive and happy through the coming months.

See Part 2 for more info and resources.

Mulch root crops

Before heavy frosts arrive, cover mature root crops like carrots and radishes with a thick layer of mulch such as straw, deciduous leaves, or compost.

A layer of row cover cloth over the mulch adds a few more degrees of protection and may prevent mulch from blowing away in the wind.

This is also a good way to winter over perennial herbs and vegetables that will sprout in spring.

In many areas fall is the best time to plant garlic cloves for harvest the following summer.

Garlic likes some time to establish roots and rest for a few months before a growth spurt in the spring.

Build a high tunnel or greenhouse
Build a high tunnel or greenhouse

Mulch as for root crops to protect the garlic bulbs from frost damage and disruption from soil heaving during freeze/thaw cycles.

Lay out row cover

Use row cover to protect plants from frost, birds, and insects.

The fabric allows air, water, and light to penetrate.

Row cover may be laid over or under drip irrigation tubes.

Leave fabric slack to allow for plant growth.

Secure at edges and between plants with staples, U-pins, or weights such as rocks or pieces of lumber.

Set up poly hoops

Hoops may be put over row cover for extra insulation.

Secure hoops and poly covers as needed to withstand wind.

Leave ends of poly covering free to be opened on sunny days.

Plan for accessibility for harvest by opening one or both sides of cover.

Clothes pins or heavy clips can be used to attach poly covering to hoops.

Build a high tunnel or greenhouse

Many style and material options are available.

An Internet search for “build high tunnel” or “greenhouse plans” will result in lots of different ideas and schematics.

If locating a structure away from garden, make sure water is easily accessed for watering plants until heavy frosts hit.

A high tunnel or greenhouse normally used in summer may need to be winterized with additional material, doors, or window coverings.

Inside a high tunnel or greenhouse, plants may be grown directly in the ground or in containers.

For extra insulation over plants or around containers, row cover, poly hoops, and cold frames may be used inside high tunnels and greenhouses.

Fall frosts are just around the corner
Fall frosts are just around the corner

In Part 4 of Growing Fresh Veggies in Fall and Winter, we’ll tell you about our own plans and planting processes for our fall and winter garden.

Fall frosts are just around the corner

In some, they have already made an appearance.

Time to get those vegetable plants tucked in for the winter!  

If you’re just joining our discussion of fall and winter veggies, you might want to start with Growing Fresh Veggies in Fall and Winter Part 1.

Take a few minutes to read Part 2 and Part 3 while you’re at it.

Once you’ve figured out how to protect your plants from the cold, get your system in place.

The next steps depend on your own plans, but here are some ideas.

Put mulch over root vegetables.

Several inches of straw or leaves works great.

A layer of row cover or other porous sheeting over the mulch will prevent the material from blowing away while allowing sun and rain to warm and water the soil.

Place row cover over garden plants for defense against light frosts.

Lay it directly over the plants and anchor edges with pins, stones, or pieces of lumber.

Or support the row cover with hoops or another type of framework.

Clothespins, metal binder clips, and other types of clamps will keep the material secure but allow you to open the sides to harvest veggies.

Erect hoops or low tunnels over planted beds and cover with plastic or polyethylene for protection from harder frosts.

Again, clips and clamps are helpful for open-and-close weather protection and harvest access.

Transplant existing plants and seedlings from your garden bed to a cold frame or greenhouse.

This includes herbs and veggies left from summer planting as well as new salad greens started for fall and winter use.

Row cover drapes and hooped plastic can also extend the season for some tender plants that aren’t quite finished producing or ripening by fall.

earliest spring plantings
earliest spring plantings

This includes melons and squashes as well as peppers and tomatoes.

Don’t forget to protect your garden from possums and other pest.

Remember these tips

You can quickly build an inexpensive cold frame with four bales of straw and a glass window.

Most plants should be mature by the time heavy frosts arrive.

However, the magic mâche (also known as corn salad) will grow in cold weather as long as it has germinated and gotten a good start in warm soil.

There’s still time to start mâche seeds indoors and transplant them to a cold frame later.

Here’s an idea of what we’re trying out at our farm this fall.

We’re using our main raised bed, which has four sections divided by cross supports.

In two sections, plastic-covered hoops will be put over mature herb plants and some fresh starts of salad greens.

A third section of the raised bed, planted with carrots and radishes, will be mulched with straw and topped with row cover.

The last section of the raised bed contains a fall crop of green peas.

They’ll be covered with hooped row cover and then plastic until the harvest is over.

Then we’ll turn under the pea vines and that area will go fallow for winter, waiting for our earliest spring plantings next year.

Some potted plants will be kept in our new small greenhouse.

It’s unheated but has electricity if we choose to use it.

We’ll keep an eye on things and see how things go this first year.

We want some fresh veggies growing near the kitchen door for easy access, so we’ll use an old storm window and straw bales for a simple cold frame.

We’ll plant a few types of salad greens and herbs there, easy to grab without trudging through the snow.

Grow Your Own: Winter Lettuce and Micro-greens; 11Herbs for Indoor Container Growing; Fall crop schedule and other tips

Using Winter Downtime to Plan for Spring and Summer

The calm before the storm, life on a farm has a rhythm that flows with the seasons.

It’s no surprise that summer is the busiest time of the year.

Demands for tending fields, crops, gardens, and livestock are at their highest in the summer.

Springtime is a transition into that season, and in the fall, those chores begin to wane.

That’s not to say that winter isn’t busy, though.

During the shorter, darker, colder days, livestock that overwinter still need tending.

There is time to plan and repair machinery, clean out barns and sheds, and inventory equipment and supplies.

Of course some of us have other winter employment or year-round jobs that continue like clockwork.

But while summer is the most physically demanding season for a farm family, winter may well be the most taxing on the brain.

In winter, the mail carrier begins to deliver new catalogs and flyers from companies selling seed, equipment, and livestock.

The long evenings allow us to wade through stacks of magazines and books in search of new information and techniques as well as answers to troubling questions.

Plan for Spring and Summer
Plan for Spring and Summer

A Time for Everything

One of my favorite Bible passages is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

I first began to contemplate its words as a young teenager when I found The Byrds’ rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn” to be a very catchy song.

I just learned from Wikipedia that it was Pete Seeger who actually put the words to music.

So thanks to you too, Pete!

I can still sing a rendition of that song, and I still marvel at how they squeezed in all the syllables about refraining from embracing.

Since then I have read the verses in the Bible numerous times, always nodding my head at how relevant they are to many facets of my life.

But I think raising animals and plants is the most effective illustration of this concept in my life.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

Using Winter Downtime to Plan for Spring and Summer

Yes, winter is, among other things, a time for planning.

Right now at our house we are deep in that planning phase.

We have the seed, poultry, and farm supply catalogs out.

Our favorite farming books are next to the recliner.

Our computers are humming as we search websites, read publications, and watch webinars.

We’ve attended a few seminars and workshops sponsored by our local extension office and agricultural center.

We are like sponges soaking up information, yet we also have to step away sometimes and clear our heads.

And for that, there’s nothing like a walk in the crisp cool air with beautiful vistas to enjoy.

For the past two years we have been developing our garden, orchard, and chicken systems.

This year we plan to expand on all of those and add pigs to the mix.

We need to consider our animals in the summer heat as well as in the cold.

We debate whether to start our beef cattle or wait one more year.

Where do we fit in the other infrastructure projects as we continue to develop our acreage?

In addition to what projects to work on, there are personal and ethical decisions to make.

What are our standards and preferences?

Will we focus on heritage livestock breeds and plants, or raise hybrids?

How can we avoid GMO (genetically modified organisms) in our seeds and livestock feeds?

Given our property and resources, what is the best way for us to raise various livestock species and plants?

Yes, it’s a busy time, but we know it’s kind of the calm before the storm.

We won’t be totally ready for it; we never seem to be.

But one thing is for certain:

We’re up for the challenge. Are you?

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days A Year No Matter Where You Live

Fresh salads from the garden in December?

Even in our four-season climate, where snow often covers the frozen soil all winter long?

Yes—it’s true—we can have our lettuce and eat it too!

We have never tried growing veggies all year round—but we are going to give it a go!

During the next two months we’ll be featuring some blog posts about fall and winter vegetable gardening.

To introduce the topic, here’s a review of an awesome book that we were glad to discover.

Author Niki Jabbour is a seasoned (no pun intended) gardener who not only raises food for her family but also loves to encourage others to do so.

She has written articles for numerous gardening magazines and currently hosts a radio show called “The Weekend Gardener.”

Click here to purchase your own copy of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener By Niki JabbourThe Year-Round Vegetable Gardener<

As its title implies, this book is about gardening year-round, not just fall and winter gardening.

There is some great general info on gardening basics, including garden design, soil building, and succession planting.

Profiles of 43 different vegetables and 10 herbs

Provide growing and harvesting guidelines as well as Niki’s Picks—lists of the author’s favorite tried and true varieties.

A planting calendar for each plant indicates when to start seedlings indoors and sow directly outdoors, including multiple sowing times for successive and year-round crops.

Did you think your area had just one growing season?

“Stretching the Seasons” introduces us to the three growing seasons

Cool (spring and autumn), warm (summer) and cold (winter).

The author shares the keys to nonstop crops, among them soil amendments, cover crops, succession sowing, and interplanting.

We learn how changing day lengths and frost dates affect the growing seasons throughout the year.

In “Designing Productive Gardens,” the author explains how to select a site and plan out a garden that will span the seasons.

Both perpetual patches and crop rotations are discussed.

Several year-round garden designs are described and delightfully sketched (kudos to illustrator Elara Tanguy).

Throughout the book are sidebars and highlight pages featuring interesting gardeners and growing techniques.

Colorful photos, diagrams, and charts provide bright illustrations of the information and techniques featured in the text.

This book does double duty as a gardener’s reference manual and a coffee table book for dreaming and feasting with the eyes.

As you may have gathered, we were especially intrigued by the concept of raising fresh vegetables even under a blanket of snow.

The book’s cover indicates right off that this is a possibility.

The author is photographed bundled in a parka, kneeling in the snow at her cold frames with a harvest of very fresh goodness for her kitchen.

Niki Jabbour lives in Nova Scotia, so she knows true winters.

And she raises fresh vegetables all year long, so she knows it can be done.

What’s more, she guides us through the process so we too can eat garden salads in the midst of winter.

A chapter titled “Growing into Winter” suggests numerous micro-environments for growing fresh vegetables in fall and winter.

Mulches, row covers, hoops, cloches and hot caps will extend the harvest of summer crops into fall or winter.

Cold frames, heated greenhouses, and poly tunnels can protect plants even in the middle of winter, sometimes yielding fresh vegetables all the way into spring.

A combination of two or more of these will provide even more insulation from the frigid temps of winter.

Wondering what all those materials and structures are?

Just peruse the pages of this book and you’ll see descriptions, options, and construction details.

All accompanied by those wonderful photos and sketches.

Our detailed research for fall and winter gardening included some time spent in Part 2, “Growing the Right Crops.”

That’s where all those wonderful plant profiles are found.

A snowflake symbol indicates which veggies and herbs are good candidates for winter gardening.

Growing descriptions also detail those summer crops that can be extended into fall.

Our conclusion: The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener delivers what its title suggests, guiding the reader through a full year of growing, harvesting, and enjoying fresh veggies.

No Matter Where You Live, you’ll learn How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year.

A warning from author Niki:

“In this book, I’ll walk you through the process of creating a year-round vegetable garden.

But it’s only fair to warn you that the ability to harvest fresh, organic vegetables year-round from your own garden is potentially addictive.

It’s extremely satisfying, though, and easier than you might think. Interested?”

We sure are!

And we’re feeling ready to jump in.

How about you?

Click here to purchase your own copy of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener

Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs By Tammi Hartung

For many years we’ve grown veggies with only a few herb plants scattered in the garden.

Last year we made a point of planting several of our favorite herbs.

We really enjoyed having our own fresh and dried herbs available for cooking for much of the year.

So from now on, we’ll be planting more varieties and larger quantities of flavorful and fragrant herbs to enjoy fresh, frozen, dehydrated, and canned with other foods.

We discovered a treasure chest of information, not only on growing herbs but also about using them in the home and kitchen.

Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs

First off we noticed that the book is not just about herbs.

With its general gardening info, Homegrown Herbs could actually serve as a basic gardening handbook.

Concepts and techniques such as plant selection, soil amendment, propagation, and control of pests and diseases are covered.

Specific culture of plenty of herbs is included.

All one would need is additional details on vegetables, flowers, and fruit.

Garden design suggestions are illustrated by sketches of herb gardens from a formal knot to a chef’s retreat to an apothecary garden.

Ideas for herb theme collections include culinary, children’s, tea, medicinal, and wildlife gardens.

But speaking of herbs…

We found lots of details about culture, harvest, seed saving, and processing of herbs.

Kitchen and household use includes some luscious-looking recipes for meals, snacks and beverages using both cultivated and wild herbs.

But that’s not all—there are recipes for pest control preparations, health and personal care products, and herbal vinegars.

A wonderful “personality” section covering the characteristics and need of 100 individual herbs goes beyond the basic parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Though the most common herbs are included, also featured are some herbs we’d never even heard of before.

Costmary, skullcap, and yerba mansa are all new to us!

Also included are some plants we’d never considered to be herbs: ginger, hops, and sunflowers for instance. Who knew?

For the experienced and the new gardener

Though we’ve been gardening for years, we learned some new concepts from the basic info in Homegrown Herbs.

What’s more, as relative newcomers to the joys of wild and garden herbs, we feel this guide is all we need in order to select, grow, and use all the herbs we enjoy and many we’ve never tried before.

Our Interview Jill Winger of “Your Custom Homestead”
Backyard Homestead with Carleen Madigan
Resources to Learn Homesteading Skills and Products

Path to Sustainability is Gardens and Orchards

Path to Sustainability is Gardens and Orchards

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Path to Sustainability is Gardens and Orchards – We’ve been talking about various steps along the path to sustainability.

That is, practices that will carry us over from year to year, even if our outside resources fail us.

Like sustainable production of livestock, ongoing success growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs depends on a few specific factors.

We can keep gardens and orchards going year after year without outside resources by establishing perennial plants, saving seeds for annuals, providing us a wellness sanctuary and providing an ongoing supply of good soil amendments.

On our farm we’ve started using all of these methods and we’re learning more and more about them each year.

We’re still buying trees, plants, and seeds, but we feel that we have a good start on being sustainable with our gardens and orchard.

Path to Sustainability is Gardens and Orchards
Path to Sustainability is Gardens and Orchards

Path to Sustainability is Gardens and Orchards

Most orchard trees and bushes are perennials–plants that live for years without reseeding or replanting.

There are also a number of perennial garden vegetable plants that will keep on producing for many years.

Some require nothing more than mulching, while others depend on pruning for healthy growth year after year.

Fruit and nut trees

Can be planted as saplings of varying sizes.

The larger the sapling, the faster the tree will become established and the sooner it will bear a substantial amount of fruit.

There are some tricks to planting fruit trees, including attention to planting season, protection from animal browse, and watering.

Pruning from year to year is also important.

Berry bushes and grape vines

Are perennial, and usually produce sooner after planting than fruit and nut trees.

Most bramble bushes and grape vines grow best with support, ample water during establishment, and some pruning.

An excellent source of information on growing fruits, nuts, berries, and grapes is The Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill.

Also see Planting and Caring for Fruit Trees at Sunset Magazine and Growing Berries in Your Backyard at Mother Earth News.

Garden perennials

Including asparagus, rhubarb, lovage, and Jerusalem artichokes will also produce for many years.

A number of herbs including sage and rosemary are perennials in some or all climates.

Most perennial vegetables and herbs are planted once and just maintained, while others such as asparagus need some special attention for the first few years.

Some perennial vegetables with spreading root systems–like rhubarb–can be propagated by root division, while other plants including some perennial herbs adapt well to rooting of stem cuttings.

This way you can increase the number of plants for yourself or to share, and replace weak plants with more vigorous young plants.

Generally, plants that yield in spring and summer are best divided in fall so the root systems will be well established by spring.

Allium (garlic, chives) heads may be divided in fall; each planted clove has the potential to grow a new plant the following summer.

A super introduction is a Perennial Vegetables: Grow More Food With Less Work at Mother Earth News.

Author Eric Toensmeier has included 100 perennial vegetables in his book Perennial Vegetables.

Tools of the trade

Part of preparing for sustainable food production is amassing all the tools and equipment you might need.

This can range from small hand garden tools (great pruning shears review) to larger pieces of equipment to tractors and other vehicles, fuel to operate them, and the means to repair them.

One way to get a good idea of what you’ll need is to take notes for an entire year:

what you use, how you use it, how to keep it in good repair.

Then gradually add to your collection of tools and equipment.

Saving seeds for annuals

Most vegetables must be planted each year, and that requires viable seeds.

Today, vegetable seeds may be purchased in many local retail establishments from grocery stores to big box stores to garden shops and nurseries.

There are also many online sources of garden seeds.

One day, it may not be so easy to find seeds.

And frankly, many of us would like to cut the cost of seeds now anyway.

Saving seeds from garden production is fairly simple and yields good results with a supply of seeds for the following year…at no cost!

There are a few tricks to saving seeds, and some basic understanding of plant varieties is helpful.

First of all, there are several ways to collect seeds, depending on the type of plant.

Secondly, common hybrid plants yield seeds that are not reliable for consistent reproduction, so it’s important to save seeds from heirloom plants.

Collecting seeds

Can be as simple as pulling seeds off a mature plant or a bit more complicated, like removing seeds from a pepper or bean pod.

Some seeds are ready for saving right off the plant, while others, such as tomato seeds, must be soaked or otherwise treated.

Learn more at Saving Seed from the Garden and Seed Saving Tips.

Hybrid vs. heirloom

Do you know the difference? Hybrid plants are developed for increased stamina, production, or eye appeal.

However, their seeds do not produce consistently, and a gardener could end up with weak or fruitless plants, odd produce, and other unexpected results.

Heirloom plants reproduce plants and fruits like the parent plant; in other words, you know what you’ll get at harvest time.

Open pollinated?

Books and online resources have caused confusion over the definition of the term “open pollination.”

Some sources consider heirloom seeds equivalent to open pollinated seeds.

Others define open pollination as natural pollination by insects, wind, etc. as opposed to self-pollination of plants.

In any case, if you plan to save seeds, it’s important to avoid cross-pollination of heirloom plants by planting different varieties far enough apart.

Seeds can be collected from regular garden rows or patches or from a specified seed saving bed

Designating an area just for saving seeds may make it easier to reserve seeds from each plant and also allow for full maturity of those plants that go to seed late in the season.

Just plant one or two of each vegetable in the seed saving bed and make sure no one harvests the produce for the kitchen.

Another type of “seed”

Is actually the fruit of a plant.

You can save small potatoes to plant next year and garlic cloves to plant in the fall.

Store in a cool, dry location.

Sprouting during storage does not necessarily render them useless; sprouting potatoes and garlic can still be planted.

Storing seeds

Properly is also important.

Seeds should be stored in dry containers in a cool, dry location.

Too much moisture, heat or freezing can damage or kill some seeds.

A warm, moist environment can invite premature germination during the fall or winter, and the sprouts will die before planting time.

That means less seed for the gardening season.

Read more about seed saving at Seed Savers and at Mother Earth News.

Starting seeds

Can be as simple as pressing beans into the soil and waiting.

Or a little more time-consuming, like planting tomato seeds indoors and nurturing small seedlings till they’re ready to go out to the garden.

Just for fun, to save money, or to provide for yourself when you can’t find seedlings to buy, you can be prepared to raise your own seedlings with an assortment of seed starting containers, heat mats, lights, grow racks, and perhaps even a cold frame or greenhouse.

Providing soil amendments

We have three words to say about this: compost, compost, compost!

One of the basic ways to create a rich soil amendment is to compost waste products from the kitchen and yard.

Added to the garden from year to year, compost will improve the texture of your garden soil while contributing food for your plants.

Large quantities of compost can be spread over the entire garden bed; if your supply is smaller, compost can be added directly to planting holes.

Compost tea is simple to make and a great way to spot-feed individual plants.

We encourage everyone to learn how to compost and use as much of their household, garden, backyard, and barnyard waste as they can.

While simply piling materials will yield some sort of compost, it’s far better to mix materials for a balance of carbon and nitrogen inputs.

This is a science, but it can be simplified.

Canine, feline, and human feces and urine should not be used in a compost pile intended for food production use.

Aside from compost, there are other efficient ways to provide nutrients to your garden and orchard.

If your soil is lacking specific nutrients

There are ways to add them, too.

A simple soil analysis will tell you about the composition of your soil.

Then you can supplement your compost with specific materials such as egg shells for calcium or banana peels for potassium.

Find some ideas at Ten Natural Fertilizer Recipes from Home Grown Fun.

Livestock manure

Valuable additive to the garden.

If you have access to large amounts of livestock manure from your own place or a neighbor, this can add bulk and nutrients to the compost you create from your own home and yard waste.

Another form, DIY manure tea, is valuable for individual plant feeding.

Green manures

Can also be planted to improve garden soil during fallow months.

While often used in large agricultural fields, green manure crops are also very effective in small home garden plots.

Ask your local extension or agriculture agent about the preferred green manure plants for your area.

Mulching

With deciduous leaves, evergreen needles, straw, and other materials helps plants and trees throughout the year.

Mulches help retain moisture and proper temperature while adding nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Be aware that some materials such as evergreen needles may contribute too much acid or other element for certain plants.

And don’t forget that most vegetable garden plants and orchard trees need water

If you’re in a climate with dry phases and are on a public water system or rely on electricity to run a well pump, consider a rain catchment system or another source of water for your garden and orchard.

Food for other senses

Vegetable gardens and orchards provide a feast for the taste buds.

But don’t forget about enjoyment for the eyes and noses as well!

All of the concepts mentioned above are also effective with flower gardens and landscaped areas.

In closing, just a warning: Raising your own food can become addictive!

Enjoy the path to sustainable food production!

Please add your ideas for garden and orchard sustainability in the comments section.

Obviously some critter that shall remain nameless has pulled up the base of the bin, causing an orange to roll down from the top of the pile.

The problem of Building a Compost Pile

We’ve had a compost problem…but we’ve found a compost solution.

Our compost pile was started two years ago in a location that has now become the middle of a through-way in our garden area.

Our two wonderful dogs, our chickens, and the local magpies can’t seem to resist the buffet.

You’ll see why we want a better setup when you look at this picture of our scrappy patchy system that temporarily protects the pile from dogs that dig at ground level and birds that land right on the pile.

The solution Building a Compost Pile

We decided to move the compost pile, fence it in with wood pallets, and cover it with a screened lid.

Compost For Sale

Just when we were getting our plans in gear, we started reading about Compost-Along.

We decided to join the party, exchange experiences with other composters, and learn some new composting tips along the way.

One of the culprits caught in the act, trying to figure out how to get in that bin.

Our existing compost system

A few years ago I attended a local compost fair and received two of the cool rigid plastic compost bins seen in the photos above.

They’re tall, adjustable, and well-ventilated.

Normally they even stand up straight.

I have composted in these bins for two years now.

We put in all our kitchen and garden food waste that the chickens don’t get, including coffee grounds/filters, paper scraps, onions, citrus, and raw potato peelings.

Once in a while we rake up stalks, rinds, and other leftovers from the chicken pen.

We’ve added garden weeds that have not gone to seed, as well as various leaves and other vegetation we have.

We planted red worms in the pile to speed up decomposition.

Earthworms can also enter the pile from the dirt floor.

We avoid putting meat or animal manure in this pile, as we want it to create compost safe for all our food crops.

We’ve never been sure how hot our pile gets and how many microorganisms might remain in the compost.

So we either put the chicken coop litter directly on the garden in the fall or compost it in a different pile.

Building a Compost Pile
We pulled this straw off the garlic this spring, so it can be composted now.

Composting along

Our Compost-Along project will be our kitchen/garden scrap compost pile.

We got busy planting our garden and thoughts of composting were set aside for a time…so today we’ll cover weeks 1 and 2.

Week 1 assignment

Decide on a type of compost bin.

Decide how to get compost ingredients.

For extra credit, get a bin and start collecting compost materials.

Week 1 results

We’ll use our plastic bins enclosed by wood pallets, with potential to have two piles going at the same time.

We’ll continue to use our kitchen and garden scraps, and will collect more ingredients like leaves, sawdust, wood ashes, straw, and grass clippings around the farm.

We also got some new ideas from the LHITS compost ingredients list: dryer lint and dog hair!

At times we have an abundance of both around here.

Extra credit: We already have the bin and some materials to compost.

This wood ash will be great in the compost pile.

Week 2 assignment

Get or make a bin.

Collect compost materials.

For extra credit, gather up some natural compost activators, like alfalfa meal, blood or bone meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, comfrey, stale dog food, seaweed, and urine.

Week 2 results

We have an empty bin, though we haven’t yet made the wood pallet frame.

We have a few buckets containing kitchen scraps, yard clippings, wood ashes, dryer lint, and dog hair.

Ready to roll when we hear “Ready, Set, Go!”

I learned something new this week too: I didn’t know about all those compost activators!

I’ll plant some comfrey this year and collect any dog food that might go stale.

Extra credit: We have fish emulsion, which we use as a garden fertilizer.

Should we just pour some in the compost pile?

Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens How to
Requests From Our Readers: Creating Root Cellars

You’re reading The Path to Sustainability Series:

The Path to Sustainability: What Does It Mean to You?
The Path to Sustainability: Is It Really Important?
The Path to Sustainability: Raising Livestock
The Path to Sustainability: Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods

Creating and Building Root Cellars for Year-Round Storage

Creating and Building Root Cellars

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Creating and Building Root Cellars
Creating and Building Root Cellars

Creating and Building Root Cellars – We have done some research though, and to answer your questions, we’ll share what we’ve learned.

In some climates, root vegetables can winter in place in the garden, well-mulched before the first freeze.

If frozen ground prevents harvest, the vegetables will usually be edible in the spring as long as they haven’t been devoured or damaged by rodents.

But for storage of other produce, root cellars can be a vital part of a family’s food preservation system.

Q: Where can you build a root cellar?

Q: How do you build a root cellar?

A: We don’t have a root cellar at our place yet–it’s on our to-do list for this summer.

Creating and Building Root Cellars

Root cellars are basically locations with fairly stable temperature and humidity where fruits, vegetables, and other foods can be stored for several months.

While root vegetables—like carrots, turnips, and parsnips—are among the best keepers, many other types of produce can be stored in root cellars for anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

As long as they are prevented from freezing, jars of home canned goods will also keep well in a root cellar.

On almost every property there’s a place where a root cellar could be established.

The key is to find a spot that will not freeze or become too hot, is neither bone dry nor wet, and gets some ventilation.

Some locations provide suitable conditions for all produce to keep well.

Others are good for some but not for others.

Root vegetables and tubers like it cold and damp.

Cool and dry is ideal for garlic and onions.

Pumpkins and squash need a dry spot that’s not too cold.

Many people store various items in more than one place.

Others store everything in a “happy medium” location.

Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips and onions
Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips and onions

With a large root cellar it is possible to find or create a different atmosphere in each corner.

Examples of Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips and onions

Cave dug into a hill or bank

Hole dug in the ground outdoors or in basement or garage

Corner of cool basement, framed in or not

Crawlspace under house

Unheated room or closet

Enclosed porch

Insulated shed or barn

Plastic storage bin, trash can, or barrel buried in the ground

Old refrigerator or freezer buried in the ground or surrounded by straw bales

Stacked hay or straw bales forming sides and top of a box shape

The root cellar walls, floor, and ceiling can be made of almost any material.

Finished interiors are nice, but dirt, concrete, bricks, blocks, stone, and straw bales will do the job.

Sand can be used for flooring.

Some containers, such as refrigerators and barrels, are completely lined.

Little equipment is required in a root cellar, but here are a few helpful items:

Temperature/humidity gauge for monitoring environment

Baskets, boxes, or crates for storage

Wood pallets for raised flooring

Pipes or tubes for ventilation

Wall or overhead racks and hooks for hanging mesh bags of produce, garlic and onion braids

Sand and straw for insulating in and around containers and separating layers of produce

Lights and fans, if electricity is available

root cellar apples
root cellar apples

So now take a walk around your home, barn, and property.

Think about creative ways to find existing root cellar options or locations for construction or burying.

Be on the lookout for large containers that might be suitable for burying or embedding.

The possibilities are endless.

We’ve even seen photos of an old bus partly buried in a hillside, with the front door exposed for easy access.

Now that’s creative repurposing!

As we’re planning our own root cellar, we’ve gotten a lot of our info and ideas from a book called Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel.

Another helpful guide is the booklet Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar by Phyllis Hobson.

We have not read The Complete Root Cellar Book: Building Plans, Uses and 100 Recipes but it looks good and has favorable reviews on Amazon.

Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardens How to
Building a Compost Pile Can be Fun

Starting a Garden Where Soil Poor

Soil Poor

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Starting a Garden Where Soil Poor
Starting a Garden Where Soil Poor

Starting a Garden Where Soil Poor – But the good news is, there are ways to do this!

Sometimes you can improve the soil that’s there.

If it’s beyond an easy fix, you can plant in raised beds you’ve filled with good soil.

Q: How do you start putting in a garden if your soil poor and is really bad?

A: Whether you have rocks, sand, or heavy clay…or dust or dirt without any substance to it.

No matter how you describe it, if your soil is poor for gardening, you’ll have to be clever and work around it.

First, take a look at what you’ve got.

If you grab a handful of damp soil and squeeze it, what happens? If it holds together loosely, you may have a foundation to build on.

You can amend the soil with compost and manure and see what you have in another year or two.

On the other hand, if the soil either slips through your fingers like dust or forms a very firm clay ball, raised beds or lasagna gardening are probably better use of your time and money.

Then, look for worms—yes, worms!

When you dig around in the soil, do you see any worms?

Worms in the soil are an indicator of quality, so fewer worms in the soil can indicate a lack of nutrients.

On the flip side, if you see many worms in your soil, you probably have high quality soil.

(Check prices on WORMS here)

How much patience or time to wait do you have?

Time and hard work spent creating a garden space will eventually pay off.

It will usually take about 2-3 years of amending before you can turn poor soil into healthy fertile soil.

If you want good garden results this year or next, you can start growing some plants in a raised bed or containers while building soil in a larger area for a future garden.

Three main ways to deal with poor soil:

turn poor soil into healthy fertile soil
turn poor soil into healthy fertile soil

Soil amendment:

This takes a few years and can include adding compost and manure to the soil.

Planting cover crops and later tilling them into the soil as “green manure” incorporates substance and nutrients.

Materials to till in:

Dry leaves, weed-free plant material, seed-free kitchen vegetable/fruit scraps, used livestock bedding.

They will eventually “compost in place.”

Some other materials to add in small amounts are sawdust/wood chips (will pull nitrogen out of soil if used too much), evergreen needles (will add acid), wood ashes (will add alkalinity and other minerals), and bone meal for calcium.

You can make your own calcium ash supplement by burning leftover meat bones after you’ve boiled them to stock.

The resulting ash is a very available source of calcium and other minerals for your plants

Rural Living Today readers Fin and Sue told us that they built soil where they had a lot of rocks and sand. They used a combination of chicken tractors, composting, and lots of labor.

Now, a few years later, their soil is very good for gardening!

Materials to till in
Materials to till in

Lasagna gardening/sheet composting:

This involves layering various materials on top of the ground and allowing them to compost in place.

Lasagna beds do not require tilling; usually turning the soil is sufficient between crops.

A lasagna bed should be created right where you want your garden to be, as the layers will become the garden itself.

Each layer should be wet down well before adding the next layer of material.

A good first layer is corrugated cardboard, which acts as a weed barrier.

Lay it right down on dirt, sod, gravel, whatever. Hose it down, then pile on the fillings.

Stack layers one to two feet high of any of the following materials: manure, compost, food scraps, dead leaves, wood chips–anything that will decompose.

Whenever you have more material, spread it on top and wet it down.

Before long you’ll have a rich bed of great growing soil.

You can get materials from lots of sources.

Place an ad in Craigslist or Freecycle for clean yard debris.

Many people will drop it off instead of paying for removal.

Also ask farms and horse stables if you can take a load of free manure (if you have a truck available).

You may be able to get wood chip mulch from Arborists or wire maintenance crews trimming trees on a city street.

In the fall, we like to drive around in the truck and snag bags of leaves off the curbside that have been set outside for trash – easy composting materials!

To help speed things along, we “inoculates” lasagna garden beds with a healthy dose of composting worms.

They will multiply quickly and the compost they create within the beds themselves is of the highest quality available.

You can buy red worms online or you can sometimes find them in old leaf piles.

raised bed waist high
raised bed waist high

Raised beds and containers:

This is the simplest in some ways, though it requires containment or shaping of beds.

It involves bringing good soil in from somewhere else.

The simplest raised bed is good soil mounded on top of poor soil.

Wood or rock frames can be used for edging, or you can just rake tumbling soil back into the mound as needed.

Raised beds constructed of wood, concrete blocks, straw bales, or other materials can be anywhere from a few inches to a few feet tall.

The height depends on the root depth of your plants as well as your physical comfort while gardening.

We love gardening in the waist-high raised bed built from lumber and corrugated metal roofing.

It’s great because we can lean across to the center from either side without straining our backs.

We can pack a lot of intensively planted veggies in the 4’ x 40’ bed.

To minimize the soil need, we filled the bed with tree branches in Horticulture fashion and capped them with topsoil. As the branches decompose and the soil settles we’ll just top the bed off with our farm compost each year.

At our farm we use all these methods.

We have a large garden patch in an area where we amended already-good soil with manure and green compost just for good measure.

A lasagna bed was layered in another area.

We use some low raised beds for overwintered garlic and strawberries and our tall raised bed for kitchen veggies.

Make sure you mulch. When I was younger and learning about gardening I did not understand why I kept hearing about mulch.

But now that I am more experienced, I will not garden without it.

I use dead fall leaves, wood chips, spent straw, or pretty much whatever I can get my hands on.

Spread the mulch in a thick layer (a few inches) around your plants and in your beds. This will not only help retain water but it will really help attract beneficial insects and worms.

When I build a new garden bed, I usually use the lasagna layering technique but I always make sure the top layer is a thick blanket of mulch for this reason.

Sometimes mulching can be the difference between sun baked hard & compacted soil, and damp, loose & rich soil.

Once you have soil of a good substance and composition, it’s wise to have the soil tested for nutrient levels.

We use the soils lab at University of Massachusetts.

We just take soil samples, mix them together, and mail a little plastic bag of soil to the lab.

The prices are reasonable and the results are emailed in a nice format with organic and non-organic recommendations for specific crop groups.

If you prefer to stay local for soil testing, check with your local university extension office or agriculture consultant to find a lab in your area.

Soils labs are very busy in the spring, but fall is also a good time for testing. Remember also, restoring a Rural Backyard is awesome!

Remember, it’s absolutely possible to start a garden where the soil is poor. With patience and persistence, you can improve the soil and have a richer harvest.

Restoring an Old Abandoned Rural Backyard

Country Gardens Are Not Just for Vegetables

Country Gardens

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Country gardens are not just for vegetables.

There’s so much more you can do.

Just in time for our first snowfall, I got our vegetable patch put to bed for the winter.

As I was working, I realized that in spite of the colorful veggies and herbs, I had really missed having a flower bed.

Along with food production, beautiful scenery is an important part of a wellness sanctuary and rural living too.

We didn’t have flower beds around our house yet, but I’d intended to plant a rainbow-colored band of flowers around our country gardens.

Somehow time got away from me, and with my focus on growing fruits and vegetables, I just never planted the flowers.

Starting a country garden

With just some basic supplies, like a great pair of pruning shears, you will be well on your way to a beautiful landscape and Country Gardens.

That winter, as I prepared my seed orders for spring, colorful flowers were at the top of my list.

Not only do I love their outdoor display, but to me, one thing that says “country kitchen” is a large pitcher stuffed with multi-colored fresh flowers.

Another plus is that colorful flowers attract industrious bees, beautiful butterflies and interesting birds to the garden.

In addition to keeping a garden, many find beekeeping to be a fascinating hobby.

A country garden also lends itself to multiple income streams.

Country Gardens
Country Gardens are Not Just for Vegetables

Country Gardens aren’t just for vegetables

Acquiring seeds

You can buy flower seeds locally in the spring, or you can order them from seed companies throughout the year.

There are catalogs full of beautiful photos and descriptions.

It’s easy to build a list of favorites, especially noting the ones native to your geographic region and climate.

You can even find seed mixes for flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Be sure to check your local library. More and more of them are letting you “check out” seeds for flowers, produce and plants native to your area.

Growing flowers to cut

Flowers that last well in indoor bouquets are often described with the words “cut flowers” or “cutting garden.”

In some catalogs, they’re designated with an image of a pair of scissors or a vase.

Some seed companies sell “cut flower garden” packets containing seeds for a variety of flowers.

Another way to discover long-lasting cut flower varieties is to visit a local flower shop or the website of an online florist.

There you can peruse bouquets and arrangements designed by professionals who know which blossoms have staying power.

For accurate information on gardening, I like to consult online educational articles from universities and extension offices.

Gardeners.com offers many tips for raising cut flowers.

One tip is pick your flowers often which causes them to produce more.

They also advise on smaller spaces. You can start a successful cutting garden with up to 20 plants in just a 3 foot by 6 foot raised bed.

One publication I found, Maintaining a Succession of Cut Flowers, lists many varieties ideal for cutting.

This year, I made a pledge to plant a colorful cutting garden each year — eye candy that will do my heart good!

garden flowers
garden flowers

Getting Ready to Grow Some Groceries

We are getting antsy to get our country gardens going. Though there’s still some snow in the forecast and spring won’t arrive for a few more weeks.

We’ve been pacing out the garden area and getting ready to start some seeds indoors.

Last year was our first for our country gardens at our new place.

Due to other urgent projects, we got a late start, but fortunately spring arrived late, too.

Since it was our “test drive” in a new climate zone, we started slowly with several different veggies and herbs grown in small scale.

We experimented with rows, hills, and raised beds and tweaked our drip irrigation system.

Afterwards, we realized that dill and mustard are too tall to grow in our waist-high raised beds.

Also, we couldn’t even dig up all our garlic—some was so firmly embedded in rocky soil.

 our garden
This is not our garden–just a photo I love!

We took note of what really grew well, what didn’t quite flourish, what worked and what didn’t.

Between our experience and conversations with neighbors, we learned what to generally expect during a shorter but warmer growing season than we’re accustomed to.

Expand and Grow More Varieties

This year, we’re ready to expand a bit more, grow a few more varieties, and plant more of everything.

We’re still eating some frozen veggies and using dried herbs from last year but ran out of other things months ago.

This time, we want to grow enough for the full year.

We like starting our plants from seed.

Last year we were limited to four south-facing windowsills.

This year we attached lights to the underside of some closet shelves.

We’ll be able to get quite a few seeds going.

It’s not too late to start!

We’re planting the first seeds this week.

Cuke starts windowsills
Cuke starts windowsills

How about you? Will you be growing some food in your country gardens this year?

We’d love to hear about your plans in the Comments.

The Fruit Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts in the Home Garden

Gardening in the Snow

Yes, I have been gardening in the snow. I’m not talking about checking the garlic plants under their deep white bed.

And unfortunately, we didn’t get around to fixing up a cold frame and no longer have fall stragglers surviving in our raised garden bed.

Chickens and Roosters in the snow
Chickens and Roosters in the snow

The other day I was out in the snow sowing seeds!

Last summer and fall, I collected seeds from several types of wildflowers growing on our property.

I wanted to plant them in a few areas around our living area where our clearing and leveling had eradicated whatever was growing there before.

Only the lupines seemed to survive the turmoil of the soil.

I’d planned to plant the wildflower seeds in the fall, but our chickens were having such fun wandering around in the fall sunshine that I didn’t want to pen them up yet.

And I knew they’d eat any flower seeds they could find.

It’s kind of a good thing I didn’t sow seeds in the fall, because we had an unusually dry period between November and January.

Gardening with Heavy Snowfalls

Heavy snowfalls just didn’t come.

Seeds would have been sitting on the ground in plain sight.

I can pen up my chickens, but the wild birds are another story.

They would have scarfed up any seeds they found.

It seems like spring planting time is just around the corner.

But some of my seeds need to have a cold winter nap.

They actually benefit from several weeks of chilling.

This part of the dormancy phase, called stratification, can be artificially provided in a refrigerator or a cold building.

Gardening with snowfall
Gardening with snowfall

But when possible, I prefer to let nature do its job.

Where we live, it’s common to scatter hardy seeds before the first big snowstorm of the fall.

In a normal year, the seeds literally chill out under a layer of snow much of the winter.

As the snow melts, it carries the seeds down into the soil, moistening and softening the seed coats.

The seeds settle there and wait for spring thaws to wake them up.

As it turned out, this was not a normal winter.

But finally now in mid-January we are getting another wave of measurable snowfall.

So in between storms, I went out and raked snow away, scattered the seeds, and raked some snow back over them.

Sure enough, the next snowfall settled that layer down and nicely tucked the seeds in for a chilly snooze.

I can’t even tell there are seeds under there, can you?

I don’t think the chickens will, either!

Hopefully I’ll see green sprouts in the spring and a variety of wildflowers all summer.

If not, there’s always next year!

Celebrating Real Food!

You know, eating real food that’s real good for you.

According to the Food Day website

“Food Day’s goal is nothing less than to transform the American diet—to inspire a broad movement involving people from every corner of our land who want healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.

In other words, we want America to eat real.

We want to get Americans cooking real food for their families again.

We want fewer people at drive-through and bigger crowds at farmers markets.

Let’s celebrate fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole grains—and to support the local farms and farmers that produce them.

Wouldn’t it be great for all Americans—regardless of their age or income or geographic location—to be able to select healthy diets and avoid obesity, heart disease, and other diet-related conditions?!”

In a similar vein, Slow Food USA recently launched a $5 challenge: create a SLOW FOOD meal for $5 or less, the cost of a FAST FOOD meal.

From www.slowfoodusa.org:

“The organization, a national non-profit working for good, clean and fair food for all, is encouraging people across the country to cook slow food that costs no more than five dollars per person.

Slow food – the opposite of fast food – is food that is good for those who eat it, good for farmers and workers, and good for the planet.

“Slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food.

It’s time we take back the ‘Value Meal,’” said Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA.

Slow Food’s challenge and Food Day got me thinking of a further challenge: Create a slow food meal of local foods for $5 or less.

And then, an extended challenge: if we’ve raised our own meat and produce, how about creating a slow food meal of homegrown foods for $5 or less?

I’m up for the challenge! How about you?

Start by thinking about what you may have grown yourself and what’s available locally from neighbors, farmers’ markets, or savvy supermarkets that stock local products.

Be creative—how can you combine some of those products into a tasty and satisfying meal?

Granted, this might have been easier during the summer when many backyard gardens were producing fresh salad ingredients and farmers’ markets were at their prime.

But still there are stored or processed foods and fall-growing crops to help.

Here are some examples:

A soup or stew can be created with several different veggies.

Add a local source of protein—eggs, cheese, legumes, meat, poultry, or game—and you’ve got a complete meal.

Ditto with a main dish salad, especially if you’ve still got greens and other veggies growing.

If you are a fan of bread or rolls with every meal, one of the challenges might be finding local flour or grain to grind.

If you can’t think of a substitute and must have your bread, at least you can make most of your meal with local ingredients.

As I’m writing this, I’m planning a Food Day $5 homegrown slow food meal. My experimental patch of soup beans was not a stellar success, but I did manage to get enough beans for one pot of soup.

We had a good crop of potatoes and several other veggies and herbs.

To complement the beans’ protein I can also choose from eggs and meat from our own chickens.

Our New Strawberry Beds, Planted
Our New Strawberry Beds, Planted in August.

This is the first year I could ever say this, but from garlic and onions to chicken and beans, we can create a tasty hot meal using only ingredients from our backyard.

If I hadn’t raised enough myself, I could buy other locally grown products in my community.

If the local grocery stores all shut down, we’d still be able to eat some good meals.

That’s a good feeling!

Extended-season gardening information

  • Thinking about starting your plants early in the spring?
  • Want to make harvest last longer in the fall?
  • Wish you could pick fresh greens in the middle of winter?

Helpful resources for Extended-season gardening information for Growing Fresh Vegetable in Fall and Winter

Many of these concepts and materials will also work in spring.

Gardening Books

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour

Four Season Harvest

The Winter Harvest Handbook

Gardening Articles

Sow Seeds for Fall Garden from National Garden Bureau at GRIT Magazine

Cold Frame Gardening at Kitchen Gardener Magazine

Top Tips for Great Fall Gardens by Vicki Mattern at Mother Earth News

Expert Advice for Greenhouse Growing by Harvey Ussery at Mother Earth News

Grow Your Own: Winter Lettuce and Microgreens

Natural Lawn Care Tips and Hacks

11 Herbs for Indoor Container Growing

Fall crop schedule and other tips

DIY Structures for your Country Gardens – plans, instructions

Extend Your Growing Season by Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News

Use Low Tunnels to Grow Veggies in Winter: Quick Hoops by Eliot Coleman at Mother Earth News

Make an Easy, Inexpensive Mini-Greenhouse With Low Tunnels by Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News

Very clever, very simple cold frame from 5R Farm

Make a Cold Frame for Herbs (great cold frame info for veggies too) by Barbara Pleasant at The Herb Companion

Cold Frame Plans (wood) by Betsy Matheson Symanietz at Mother Earth News

A Cold Frame to Build (straw bales) by Paul Gardener at GRIT

Cold Frame Gardening at KitchenGardenerMagazine

Planning and Building a Greenhouse from Maryland and West Virginia Cooperative Extensions

The Benefits of Building a High Tunnel by George Devault at GRIT

Remember, country gardens are just that — filled with sprawling, brilliant flowers, fruits and vegetables. You can enjoy them all year long.