Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If you are looking for more posts....

If you have noticed my 1, 2, 3 ramblings have ceased...well not really. I write so many places and my life has become exponentially busier with two kids that I need to focus my energy.  Instread of posting here, I am now writing for the Examiner.com and you can find my articles here:   http://www.examiner.com/food-gardening-in-washington-dc/linna-ferguson

I am taking the same SIMPLE approach when writing these articles -so check them out!

You can also see my Garden Portolio at http://www.foodscaper.com/

Happy gardening and living!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

As the fall approaches and we are harvesting the last of our summer bounty, so comes the time to finally collect the sweet potatoes that have been growing all season. Sweet potatoes are only distanly related to the potato, and prefer warm weather and are very sensitive to colder temperatures. It is important to harvest them prior to the first frost. In Virginia, this is typically in mid October. Note that the vines and tubers will continue to grow until the frost kills them back. Some interesting facts include:
•The leaves are edible! They are used widely in asian and african cultures and can be cooked like spinach, used in stews, or used in green smoothies
•You can eat fresh sweet potatoes, but with curing the flavor improves dramatically as starches are converted to sugars.
•They are propagated by stem or root cuttings or by roots called "slips" that grow out from the tuberous roots during storage.
•The best benefit for the home gardener is that they have few natural enemies so pesticides are rarely needed.

Once you have decided to harvest your potatoes, follow these steps to cure them and enjoy them into the winter months:
1.Take care when digging the potatoes. Be careful not to bruise them as they can then decay very quickly. The skin is fragile so it is recommended to not initially remove any soil from the tubers. Let them dry before the soil is wiped away

2.Cure sweet potatoes by keeping them in a warm area for about 10 days at 80-85°F, and high relative humidity (85-90 percent). A good place to keep them is near your furnace where the temperature stays consistent. If the temperatures is lower than 85, cure for a longer period. Ways to keep the humidity high is stacking the sweet potatoes in boxes and cover them with paper or a heavy cloth. Another idea is to pack them in plastic bags will holes so that the humidity stays high, but excess moisture can escape.

3.Once cured, store potatoes in a dark place where the temperature is around 55-60°F. A good way to store them is to wrap them in newspaper and place in the back of a closet where the temperature remains pretty constant. Note: DO NOT store sweet potatoes in the refridgerator as they can get damaged by the coldness.

Once cured these sweet potatoes can last for a few months. Sweet potatoes are delicious baked by themselves, used in casseroles, etc. the list in endless. Check out some recipes. Keep checking them throughout the winter to make sure that none have spoiled, and if you are lucky to have any left over, use them to start new plants in the spring! Or check out George's Plant Farm to buy an interesting variety of tubers!

Happy curing and eating.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bugs, bugs and diseases.....

As the summer heats up, the bugs in our gardens are also getting very active. Although it can be frustrating to see some of your crops fall to ruin, please use care when deciding to use insecticides to control these bugs. If you spray, you may also be killing the good guys too…. IF YOU ARE GOING TO SPRAY, please consider some organic options. Remember, just because they are organic, use caution. Read the label and use proper protective measures. Here are some good resources:

1. Pest and Disease Detective tool- This is an online tool from the Gardeners Supply Company. I like that you can choose either the vegetable or the damage to help narrow your search. http://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/Search-PestsDiseases

2. Identifying Tomato Leaf Diseases – A good identification resource that includes pictures. http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/diagnostickeys/TomLeaf/TomLeafKey.html

3. General Pest and Product Resource- Garden’s Alive provides a great line of organic pest solutions. Their site also gives you the basics about what your pest is, and how to treat it. http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=592&sid=100308&eid=&bhcd2=1279248314

So first arm yourself with information, then make the decision on what to do.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fungal Attack on Basil --- Beware!

This week I am going to share some information on a fungus that is threatening sweet basil plants called downy mildew. If you notice the below symptoms, harvest the leaves immediately and use them. This fungus is very contagious and spores are carried in the air and also survive in seeds.

1. You can identify downy mildew as faint yellow bands on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The lower leaf surfaces become dotted with tiny gray specks. The incubation period is about two weeks
for the disease to show up after initial infection.

2. Leaves showing early stages of the disease can be harvested for fresh use and they are not toxic to humans. If you use/discard the infected leaves you can keep your plant going (note for large farms this is not feasible and many greenhouses like DeBaggios lost their entire inventory this year)

3. Organic fungicides seem to have little effect on the plants and the best defense is to keep plants in a sunny location where they get good air circulation.

For the full article go to the Washington post at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/15/AR2010061501079.html

Image credit: http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/NewsArticles/BasilDowny.html 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Repellant Planting

As the summer gets hotter and the plants really start growing, something else is on the rise, BUGS!  As an organic gardener, I am subject to a certain amount of bug damage, but I do my best to make this as minimal as possible.  Repellent planting involves planting certain types of crops that actually 'repel' certain types of bugs.  For example, Cucumber beetles dislike radishes and tansy -- so planting these around your cucumber plants could actually keep this population down.  Here are some rules of thumb, of course in my 1, 2, 3 formula:

1. The 'repellant plant' will provide protection of a certain crop, up to a distance of three feet.  Some plants will be effective against a specific pest, some are effective against a whole variety of pests.

2. Garlic is offensive to most insects that you will see in your garden.

3. Two other 'broad spectrum' repellent properties include marigolds and mints.

Here is a listing of common garden pests and the plants they cannot stand:
  • Cabbage Maggot: Planted in adjacent rows: mint, tomato, rosemary, sage
  • Cabbage moth: mint, hyssop, rosemary, southern wood, thyme, sage, celery, catnip, nasturtium
  • Colorado potato beetle: green beans, horseradish, dead nettle, flax
  • Cucumber beetle (both spotted and striped): tansy, radish
  • Cutworm: tansy
  • Flea beetle: wormwood, mint, catnip
  • Japanese beetle: garlic, larkspur, tansy, rue, geranium (white works best)
  • Mexican bean beetle: marigold, potato, rosemary, summer savory, petunia
  • Slugs: prostrate rosemary, wormwood
  • Squash bugs: tansy, nasturtium
  • Tomato hornworm: borage, marigold, opal basil

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Feeding Heavy Feeders...

Heavy Feeders are those vegetable plants that need soils rich in ALL nutrients.  They are HUNGRY plants, and like growing children, needs lots of food to keep them healthy.  Here are some simple tips to follow:

1.    Three to four weeks before planting heavy feeders, apply lime (granular lime- follow package directions for amount to apply). 

2.   Two weeks after liming, plant your heavy feeder plants making sure to start with soil rich with organic ammendments like compost and use an organic granular fertilizer (like Epsoma that has trace minerals. Make sure to read the package for directions on how much to apply....more is not necessarily better ).

3.  About 8-10 weeks after planting, side dress your plants.  Do this by mixing fertilizer into the top inch of soil, 4 inches away from the stem. 

Heavy Feeders: celery, melons, tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, squash

Moderate Feeders (give them an initial good start, but don't need side dressing): broccoli, chines cabbage, spinach, brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, parsley, lettuce

Light Feeders (undemanding and they will grow in most soft fertile soils): beets, onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic, radishes, leeks turnips

Friday, June 11, 2010

Full listing of what weeds can tell us about our soil

See previous post for my top three pics....here is the full list!

  • Barnyard Grass: Low calcium, low phosphorus
  • Beggars ticks: overly moist soil, possibly poor drainage, low calcium, phosphorus, humus, bacteria, poor decay, high phosphate, magnesium, aluminum.
  • Hedge bindweed: Improper decay of organic matter, excess of heavy metals, low calcium, phosphorus, potassium, pH.
  • Burdock: High iron and or aluminum, low pH, low calcium.
  • Carpetweed: Good calcium, balanced soil.
  • Chickweed: Good organic matter on soil surface.
  • Crabgrass: Low calcium.
  • Dandelion: Low calcium.
  • Curly dock: Acid soil, poor aeration and or drainage, low calcium, high selenium, magnesium, phosphates, chlorine.
  • Giant foxtail: Compacted soil, low calcium, high magnesium.
  • Jimsonweed: Improperly decaying organic matter, low calcium.
  • Johnson grass: Low calcium, compaction, poor decay.
  • Lambsquarters: A sign of healthy balanced soil.
  • Prickly lettuce: Low microbial activity, hardpan, crust, low pH, low calcium
  • Morning Glory: Low calcium, low phosphate
  • Mullein: Low calcium, low phosphate.
  • Nightshade: Low calcium, very low phosphate, very high magnesium and potassium.
  • Horsenettle: Poor decay, low aeration, hardpan, low calcium, very high magnesium and potassium.
  • Mustards: Poor drainage, compressed soils, poor aeration, low calcium.
  • Pigweed: Well balanced soil, but may be slighltly low in calcium.
  • Plantain: Low organic matter, poor decay, low calcium.
  • Purslane: Very high potassium, magnesium, iron, and copper. Low calcium, phosphate.
  • Ragweed: Low moisture, low calcium, phosphate.
  • Smartweed: Low calcium.
  • Sorrel: Low pH, poor decay.
  • Spurge: Low organic matter, poor decay, poor aeration, low calcium, phosphate, high potassium, magnesium, salt.
  • Thistle: Low manganese, low calcium.
  • Velvetleaf: Poor decay, low calcium, phosphorus, high potassium, magnesium.
  • Wild onion: Poor decay, low calcium.

So remember, before you pull, think about what those weeds say about your soil!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Using weeds to tell you something....

As the weather warms up, our vegetables are growing quickly, and so too are the weeds.   Before pulling them out, consider looking to them to understand the state of your soil.  Remember that soil is your everything, take care of it, and it will take care of your plants.  Here are some common weeds and what they say about your soil:

1.     Purslane- Soil has very high potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, low calcium, and phosphate

2.     Crabgrass- Low calcium.
3.        Ground Ivy- Good calcium, good air content, good organic breakdown.

Next post will be a more exhaustive list! (since this post is just a 1, 2, 3 view :)  )

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Transplanting Rules of Thumb

Now is the time when alot of us are transplating our baby plants from their containers into the garden. Here are some basics to consider:

1. Transplant on a cloudy, wind-free day or in the late afternoon when the sun has begun to set.  Soak the plant thorougly before removing from its container so the soil and roots stay as 'glued' together as possible.  Make sure to cradle the root ball as much as you can, and keep as much soil intact as you can.  The more root hairs get exposed to air they can die...and you don't want that....

2. In the area in your garden where you plan to place your new plants, scoop out a hole that is abit deeper than the container they were in (assuming you are moving your plants from a 2 inch cell pack).  Add abit of compost to the bottom of the hole to ensure the plant gets an added 'boost'.

3. Set the root ball in the hole, fill in with soil, and pack the soil down firm so the roots make good contact.  Give them a good soak of water by soaking the base of the plant. 

(Note if transplating tomatoes, follow these directions: http://123foodgardening.blogspot.com/2010/05/planting-tomatoes-trench-planting.html )

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Planting Tomatoes - trench planting method

Try the 'trench planting' method for planting your tomatoes this year. By capturing more heat sooner you can pick tomaotes from the vine, 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule!
1. Scoop out a shallow 2-inch trench and sprinkle some compost on the bottom of the trench. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need this extra supply of energy.

2. Stip off almost all leaves except the topmost cluster. The thick stem is going to be buried and will be converted into roots and will create a very sturdy plant.

3. Lay the young plant on its side in the trench. Gently press down the soil along the trench and cover everything except the topmost cluster. It may be at an angle, but don't worry, after a few days it will straighten out. Water thoroughly.

**note you may want to wrap a newspaper collar around the stem that is exposed in order to protect against cutworms. Cutworms are in the soil and wrap their bodies around young plants and literally 'cut them down' in one night! 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Be kind and good to your soil...it will pay you back!

Simple rule. Be good to your soil, and it will take care of your plants, and in turn, take care of you.  Soil is your single most important asset in the garden, and over time it will continue to improve so long as you continue to 'be good'.

Here is a soil fact: Soil is an entire community. In one tablespoon of soil there are 400 million microscopic creatures.  Plants have symbiotic relationship with microbes.  Plants release 25-50% of their liquid each day into the soil in the form of protein and sugar. The intent is to attract microbes that feed on the liquid and which in turn feed the plants. 

Here are three things you can do to build good soil:

1. DON'T WALK ON YOUR SOIL.  Good soil structure allows adequate amounts of air and water to be stored in the soil so the plant roots can access it.  When you walk on it, you destroy this framework and only time can restore it.

2. FEED YOUR SOIL- with organic ammendments like compost.  Best to do this each growing season.  For every six inches of compost you apply to the top, you compost down into the existing soil 2 inches.  A marriage of two microbial communities!.  Compost tea and other organic mixes can be used to liquid feed your crops throughout the growing season.

3. ROTATE your crops so that you manage depletion of nutrients and the life cycle of certain bugs.  Heavy feeders should be moved around the garden so that the soil is allowed to replenish itself.     Heavy feeders include tomatoes, melons, corn, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, and squash.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hardening Off

Be nice.  Plants, just like people, can sunburn, get windburn, overheat, freeze, or get stressed out!  Plants that are raised indoors or bought from a garden center have been protected in some way and need to be 'transitioned' or acclimated so that they can thrive in the outside elements.

1. Set plants outside in full or partial sun for 2-3 hours the firs tday, then bring indoors.

2. Next day put plants in the sun for a longer time, 3-4 hours, then set in shade for another 2-3 hours.

3. After 3-4 days of gradually introducing the plants to more sunlight, leave them outside all day long.  By the second week it is safe to leave them outside all night.
**remember that all plants that were raised inside should be hardened off.  If you are growing warm weather vegetables (tomatoes, melons, squash, etc), do not harden them of until the threat of frost has passed.**

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Planting Strawberries

Now is the time to plant your strawberries!  Here are some basics for growing this delicious fruit. Keep in mind that conventional strawberries contain alot of pesticides that actually grow into the fruit.  So growing your own is an excellent organic option!  See http://www.starkbros.com/ for a great selection of plants.

1. There are two types (not varieties) of strawberries, Everbearing/day neutral and June bearing strawberries.  Everbearing will produce multiple harvests throughout the growing season that tend to be smaller in size and they produce fewer runners.  June bearing strawberries bear fruit for a 2-3 week period every June and they tend to have the largest fruit. It is best to plant more than one type of strawberry plant variety for a prolific and staggered harvest.

2. Plant your strawberries 18" apart for June Bearers and 12" apart for Everbearer/Day Neutral on a gradual slope which improves the drainage and can help prevent frost injury.

3.  Dig a hole large enough to be able to spread the roots out. Fill in with soil and hill around the plant so that the soil is halfway up the crown. Proper planting is key. Water thoroughly and mulch with straw. In the fall cover with a 1" layer of straw to protect during the winter months.  Remember strawberries are perennial, meaning they come back every year!
Note: Every year strawberries send out runners which are new plants.  Each strawberry plant can produce up to 1 quart of strawberries annually for up to 5 years.  So take note on the age of your plants and push the runners into the soil so they develop into their own plant.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making Plant Juice- Getting your plants off to the right start

Here is a recipe for a 'plant juice' that will get your plants off to the right start.  Soak your plants with this mixture to give them a disease/fungus control as well as a growth 'boost'! Thanks to Miss Gail for sharing this recipe.

Mix the following ingredients with 1 GALLON OF WATER:
  1. 1 TBSP Humagro,Huma Gro® (http://humagro.com/faq.html) Increases the activity of microorganisms in the soil by converting organic matter (such as crop ressidue and other decayed plant/animal material) into nutrient-rich humus. University studies have shown that humus is the most important element in building and maintaining a more productive soil structure. High levels of humus give you soil with improved water retention and aeration plus reduced compaction and erosion. Better soil naturally promotes stronger, healthier plants.
  2. 1/2 TSP Fish Emulsion- An organic fertilizer (http://www.neptunesharvest.com/) made from fresh North Atlantic fish. It is made by a unique cold process that protects the vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and growth hormones.It also contains all the micro and macro nutrients naturally found in fish. The nitrogen and other nutrients are chelated, so they are readily available for plants consumption. University studies have shown Neptune's Harvest to outperform chemical fertilizers. It is an organic storehouse of over 60 naturally occurring major and minor nutrients and amino acids. Neptune's Harvest growth promoting substances (Auxims, Cytokinins, Gibberellins) enhance plant development, color and vigor. Seaweed has also been found to increase plant hardiness and resistance to adverse environmental conditions, such as early frost, extreme heat and lack of moisture. When used as seed inoculants, Neptune's Harvest Fish & Seaweed (2-3-1) fertilizer increases and accelerates germination, and enhances the rapid development of a healthy root system.
  3. 1/2 tsp Activonate- An organic fungicide (http://www.naturalindustries.com/retail/?page_id=18)  composed of a beneficial bacteria strain that inhibits and kills predatory fungus. This harmful fungus feeds on plants, trees, grains, as well as fruit and vegetables. Actinovate is specially formulated to attack only the harmful bacteria in the soil, leaving the beneficial foliar nutrients unharmed.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Planting in Early Spring!

The days are longer, the air is warmer, and the April rains are upon us.  Here are some 'rules of thumb' for planting this month:

  1. Planting directly into the garden: beets, carrots, corn, dill, kohlrabi, lettuce, parsnips, kale, peas, radishes, spinach, swiss chard, potatoes
  2. Transplant into the garden: beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, onions, strawberries
  3. Start seelings indoors: cucumbers, eggplants, melons, new zealand spinach, okra, onions, peppers, squash, tomatoes
Happy planting!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Online Resources

The information on the internet is limitless, and there is an abundance of food gardening advice out there.  If you are like me, I am so busy I rely on a few trustworthy sources.  Here are my favorites:

1. For planning your garden try the Garden Planner at http://www.gardeners.com/Kitchen-Garden-Planner/kgp_home,default,pg.html which provides 'maps' of ways to maximize your harvest.  Also, http://www.plangarden.com/ offers a unique program that not only helps you plan the layout of your garden, but also track your harvest, seed planting times etc.

2. For a source that helps rate seed catalogs and garden providers, as well as support an active community of gardeners within discussion boards, check out http://www.davesgarden.com/

3. For an overall good source for home gardening information, I really like http://www.kitchengardeners.com/.  KGI is a community of over 20,000 people from 100 countries who are growing some of their own food and helping others to do the same, both near and far. Their mission is to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve greater levels of food self-reliance through the promotion of kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems. In doing so, KGI seeks to connect, serve, and expand the global community of people who grow some of their own food.
So enjoy! If you have additional sources you love, please let me know in the comments section!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chart of some Common Bugs in our Vegetable Gardens

This complements the previous post - got any of these bugs?

Organic Homemade Bug Repellants

At one point or another, we all encounter issues with bugs in our garden inflicting casualties on our vegetables, FIGHT BACK!  Here are some 'recipes' for some organic bug remedies:

  1. All Purpose Bug-off Spray (works on all types of pests such as slugs and Japanese Beetles)
Ingredients: 1 garlic bulb, 1 small onion, 1 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper, 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap

Instructions:  Chop the garlic and onion and place in a blender.  Add the cayenne pepper and water.  Steep for one hour.  Strain through cheesecloth.  Add liquid dish soap so the spray sticks to plant leaves (test a leaf a day beforehand as some plants are very sensitive to soap).  Mix well.  Spray the mixture on both sides of the leaves.  Store remaining spray in a cool place such as the refrigerator.

     2.  Hot Pepper Bug-off  Spray (repels insects and animals like cats and dogs.  Wear rubber bloves when preparing and using the mixture)

Ingredients:  1/2 cup hot peppers, 2 cups water

Instructions:  Puree peppers and water in a blender.  Strain the liquid through cheesecloth.  Apply every 5 to 7 days until the pests are gone.

     3.  Tomato Leaf Spray (a general insect repellant. Especially good on soft bodies pests such as aphids.

Ingredients: 2 cups tomato leaves, 1 tablespoon corn starch, 4 cups water

Instructions: Blend the liquid in a blender, let steep overnight, strain with cheesecloth, dilute liquid with 2 more cups water, adn spray on affected leaves.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vertical Gardening: building a vertical support

Vertical Gardening is a highly efficient growing system. It captures the sunlight of a large garden while contained within a small area. Grow vegetables intensively by growing them up, not out. Vegetables that can be grown vertically include: tomatoes, melons, pole beans, cucumbers, squash, gourds, pumpkins, and cantaloupe. The instructions below are for a 6ft plus long vertical support structure. I use bamboo poles that are about 7ft tall. Tools you need are cable ties, (12) 7ft poles, and (7) cable ties.

1. Create the end supports: Gather (3) poles and lightly cinch a cable tie close to the top (do twice, these are your end supports. ) Expand the legs so they stand alone like a tripod.

2. Lay a pole between your two end supports. Now build the center support by taking two poles, cinch a cable tie loosely at the top, expand legs, and position in center of the pole you just laid across your two end supports. Use another tie to secure to center pole.

3. Lay remaining poles either vertically or horizontally, based on what you are growing. Secure cable ties. Tighten cable ties.

There you go! You can use twine, more long poles, or chicken wire to create a wall for the plants to 'grow up'. Cucumbers do especially well with this. Note you MUST train plants to go up. Tips for Success:
1) construct sturdy supports 2) Train plants to initially climb  3) use shade from VG to grow cooler weather crops

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Planning Your 2010 Food Garden

So if you have never started a garden, or are on your 50th year of gardening - planning is the one thing we all share.  A little time up front will help your gardening year begin on the right foot.  I am already writing 'to-do' lists and dreaming of the first 'frost free days'! Here we go, my 1,2,3 planning essentials.  Remember, these tips are aimed for home gardener's who need to be efficient with their time and just need to know the basics!
  1. Plan out garden- this can be as simple as a sketch on some paper. It helps to draw out your beds and decide what goes where.  Keep in mind that you may want to rotate your crops so that you don't deplete your soil of certain nutrients.  Also, crop rotation help ensure you don't proliferate some types of diseases. Here is an online kitchen garden planner you may want to use: http://www.gardeners.com/Kitchen-Garden-Planner/kgp_home,default,pg.html.  Also, www.squarefootgarden.com , Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Garden method, provides a good approach for planning and planting your garden.
  3. Collect organic materials for beds in spring- Whether you are adding to your compost pile, or finding local sources on manure, it is important to add organic materials to your soil EVERY YEAR.  Remember, take care of your soil, and it will take care of you!  Keep in mind you can go on online sources like craigslist.com or freecycle.org to find free sources of manure, hay, leaves, etc.  I support the making of your own compost, which is as easy as 1,2,3! http://123foodgardening.blogspot.com/2009/11/building-compost.html                                                                                                           
  4. Order seeds and/or decide what plants you will buy- Typically I recommend that new gardeners buy as many plants as they can when starting out.  Planting seeds can be tricky because you have to manage the threat of bugs, keep the right moisture level needed for germination etc.  Don't get me wrong, planting seeds isn't rocket science, but if this is your first year growing a food garden, give yourself a leg up and start with plants.  My master gardener's program sells a wonderful selection of plants, and I have a few local nurseries that provide very healthy plants (note selecting a nursery is important as this impact the variety of veggies you can get as well as an indicator of healthy plants).  Obviously I choose not to shop at 'big box' stores for plants- but you can. Seed sources I love include: www.southernexposure.com, www.superseeds.com. and www.seedsofchange.com

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Good Compost Graphic

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Images of Compost Types

    Use pallets to build an enclosure.  Usually you can find these free at local businesses.  Tie pallets together with wire to create a frame. The slats provide good air circulation.

    Use any kind of wire to build an enclosure.  Place near your garden for easy access.

    This is a worm composter. You feel your worms your vegetable scraps and they in turn eat the scraps and provide you with fertile 'castings' that you can use in your garden.

    There are several composters you can buy at places like Costco or online gardening stores. These structures of plastic provide good aeration and work best for folks in suburban neighborhoods where it is best to not see an open compost pile.

    Building a Compost

    1. Pick a site and figure out the size and shape you want
    Find a site that is in a well drained area that gets full sun; Either make a free standing pile or build an enclosure using scrap wood, pallets, bricks, hay bales etc. Pictures to follow.

    2. Add ‘food’ to your pile
    Only add plant scraps to your pile, no meat or oils. Rule is add the following ratio: 4 to 1. (4) parts high Carbon items (dry material such as leaves, straw) to 1 part high Nitrogen materials (moist materials such as kitchen veggie scraps, grass clippings).

    3. Turn it and use it
    Once your pile is 3-4 feet high it is big enough to start heating up (thanks to millions of microorganisms). Wait for consistency to be crumbly then work into your soil or side dress your plants.

    Building Garden Soil

    There are many approaches to building soil.  You can either start from scratch, or you can ammend your existing soil.  In the spirit of keeping it 'simple', I am going to talk about two approaches: sheet composting and soil for raised beds. 

    Remember, GOOD SOIL is an invesment, the most important investment you can make.  Soil gets better with time, so remember 1) don't step on your soil 2) compost, make it and add it 3) test it to see if you need any additional ammendments (here is a link to soil testing laboratories throughout the US - http://www.organicgardening.com/soiltest/1,7775,s1-2-7-0,00.html)

    Sheet Composting- an approach where compost ingredients are placed in layers, rather than in mounds or containers.  The Lasagna gardening technique follows these principles.

    1. Choose your area and lay down decomposable layer
    Follow the rules for Determining where you can grow a food garden (http://123foodgardening.blogspot.com/2009/11/determining-where-you-can-have-food.html) .  Once you find a spot, cover the ground with either a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard.  If I don't have enough newspaper I go to my local recycling center and take some from their bins.

    2.  Start layering materials
    Alternate layers of peat moss (available in bales at Home Depot, Southern States etc.), with leaves, straw, grass clippings, basically any organic materials you have in your yard.  Example layers go like this: peat moss, compost, leaves, peat moss, grass clippings, wood ashes, peat moss, leaves etc.  For your top layer use a thin layer of compost.  NOTE: peat moss is finicky stuff.  Make sure you soak it will water prior to layering or else it will go airborne on you.

    3. Plant your seeds or plants
    If using plants, make a hole by pulling back some of the layers, put in your plant, pull materials around plant, and water thoroughly. 
    If planting seeds, soak top layers, and depending the type of seed, make a small indent with your hand (read the instructions on the seed packet), place seeds in indent, and sprinkle loose soil over seeds to cover them.

    Building soil for raised beds- an approach where you create soil 'from scratch' using three core ingredients.  This is the approach the Square Foot Gardening technique utilizes:

    1.  Mix up your ingredients

    Make a mix of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. Compost= nutrients, peat moss and vermiculite = consistency and moisture retention.

    2. Fill your Frame/Plant seeds or plants
    Whatever frame you are using, make sure to put down weed barrier or thick cardboard to control weed growth. Make sure the mixture is soaked.

    3. Keep adding Organic Materials
    Throughout growing season use organic fertilizers such as kelp or fish meal. Each new season supplement with new compost.

    Determining WHERE you can have a Food Garden

        1. Location is essential
    Without the right place a garden will not flourish even if all other factors are perfect. You need 6-8 hours of sunlight & good drainage.
        2.   Soil is everything
    Note that good soil doesn’t come out of a bag, it is built over time. You can either build your own soil, or supplement your existing soil.

       3. Water, you just need it
    So make sure you have access to water so you can routinely soak the soil.  Remember a quick spray of water is bad for your plants as it causes the roots to come to the surface.  Give it a good soaking!

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Planting Garlic

    1.  Prepare the garlic cloves:
    Plant garlic from mid-September through mid October. Break the garlic bulb apart into individual cloves and soak them in a jar mixed with water, one tbsp baking soda, and one tablespoon of liquid seaweed (to prevent fungal disease and encourage vigorous growth).

    2. Prepare bed for planting:
    Garlic grows best in rich, well-drained soil. Push cloves down 3 inches and space 6-8 inches apart. Plant fat part of bulb down so that the slender tip is on top.

    3. Cover the garlic bed:
    Cover the cloves with 2 inches of soil and cover with 6-8 inches of compost, straw, or leaves. Shoots should poke through the mulch in 4-6 weeks. It will stop growing in winter and will resume in spring.

    Start of something special...

    I am a huge supporter of people growing their own food.  After writing, talking, and teaching people how easy it is to food garden, no matter their space or time, I realized the missing component to making people start gardening. SIMPLICITY.  In a world with information overload, and packed schedules, people are craving something simple. So I came up with a new game plan, break all gardening elements into three simple steps. 
    I will pull some of  my previous posts from my other blogs, but I promise, every post will involve no more than three SIMPLE STEPS!