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Companion Planting: Best Friends in the Garden

February 22nd, 2011


Companion planting is more than planting your favorite vegetables together; it’s beneficial! When you plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables together it attracts garden hero birds and insects into your garden; birds and insects which are natural predators to those garden villains that like to eat plants. Companion planting—to attract beneficial birds and insects—is one of Mother Nature’s organic gardening methods. Aromatic flowers and herbs planted alongside vegetables also help confuse and deter garden villains that seek out specific plants.

Another benefit to companion planting is the ability to shade lower-growing, shade-tolerant plants by planting tall-growing plants near them. By shielding lower-growing, shade-tolerant plants with tall-growing plants, this will result in higher yields. One example is planting corn next to squash.

Here are some Humble Seed plants, perfect for companion planting for a harmonious garden:

Bull’s Blood Beet pairs well with White Spear Bunching Onion.

Rose Tomato pairs well with Scarlet Nantes Carrot, Purly Chives, White Spear Bunching Onion, and Titan Parsley.

Scarlet Nantes Carrot pairs well with Purly Chives, Black Seeded Simpson Leaf Lettuce, Common Sage, and Rose Tomato.

Tuffy Acorn Squash and Yellow Crookneck Squash pair well with Double Standard Corn and Nasturtium (an annual flower).

Companion planting increases the biodiversity of your garden, and certain plants most definitely benefit when other plant species are planted near them. This spring give companion planting a whirl!

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Guest Blog: Jerry’s Garden-Seed Start’n Ideas

February 17th, 2011

Hey Everyone!  Jerry Greenfield here again!  Inspired by Humble Seed’s recent blogs on starting seeds indoors and planning a spring garden, I thought for my guest blog this month, I would expand a bit on indoor seed starting and offer some biodegradable seed pot ideas!  Planting in seed trays is a fantastic idea if you have some extras in your garage or gardening shed, but if not, consider using biodegradable items you may have around the house.  Here are some examples:

  1. Cardboard Egg Cartons: These are perfect for seedlings!  They hold just enough soil, allow for excess water to drain, and are very portable if you end up needing to move your seedlings.  In addition, by re-using these cartons as planters, you’re helping reduce your carbon footprint by getting two uses out of one item.
  2. Egg Shells: Let’s say you have Styrofoam or plastic egg cartons instead of cardboard cartons?  You can still put the shape and portability of the carton to use by planting your seeds inside egg shells.  Remove the top half of the shell and poke a small hole in the bottom for drainage.  When you’re ready to transplant, just break the shell to remove the soil and seedling, and then throw the shell into your compost pile or leave them in your garden soil.
  3. Newspaper Seedling Pots:   Okay, I’ll admit, not many of us even get the newspaper anymore, but if you do, building seedling pots out of the black and white pages is a great way to put your paper to use once you’ve finished reading it.  Here is a video on the “how tos” of building a newspaper seedling pot.  When transplant time comes, you can toss the newspaper into your compost pile.
  4. Plastic Soda Bottles: If you’re a big soda drinker (which you shouldn’t be!) you can use the bottom 1/3 or so of a plastic soda bottle as a seedling pot.  This option is kind of neat, as you can oftentimes see the roots growing in the soil because of the clear plastic.  Be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage, and once you’re done with them, wash them out and throw them in the recycle bin.
  5. Toilet Paper Rolls.  Yep, I said it!  And we all use toilet paper, so we all have rolls!  Each roll will get you two seedling pots, so this is a great way to re-use something that would normally just be tossed in the trash.  Similar to the newspaper pots, you would just throw these in your compost pile once you’ve transplanted your seedlings.  Here’s a quick “how to” on creating these.

In addition to these options, many garden supply stores will carry pre-made biodegradable seedling pots which can usually just be planted directly into your garden soil once you move your seedlings outdoors.  Whether you chose to use a plastic seed planter, one of the “around the house” options above, or store-bought seedling containers, the important thing is to re-use, reduce, and recycle.  Oh, and have fun!

Connect with Jerry via his blog and Facebook page: Grow Like Crazy

About Jerry Greenfield:

Jerry Greenfield

My number one focus is growing my own food. I don’t think that really counts as a hobby. For some people it is, but for me, growing my own fruits and vegetables and saving my own seed is the key to survival. The only person you can count on is yourself, if you ask me. The government is trying to “help” us all with GMOs and welfare, but it’s all a crock. I also like to build things and read Transcendentalist authors from the 1860s.

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Guest Blog: How Our Gardens Keep Us Healthy (And It’s Not Just The Vegetables)

February 16th, 2011


The need for speed. This is a maxim for those who of us who live in the information age. You may not realize, but with every impatient tap of the fingers on the desk while waiting for an email or text message, with every attempt to multi-task, you’re speeding through life. Speed is a constant source of stress, and many of us look for outlets that let us slow down, relax and enjoy life. Some people meditate, others choose running or sports, and others still maintain that gardening is the best therapy. Being more than just a verdant source of flowers, fruits and vegetables, gardening poses great physical and mental health benefits. Here are some ways that gardening improves our health:

Gardening provides exercise for preventing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even high blood pressure through different activities required for maintenance.

    • Muscle Building Exercises

- Ever notice how, after you’ve tended to your garden, you’re sweaty and exhausted? In fact, as you reach for that glass of iced tea, you’re panting a little bit, aren’t you? Well, since gardening is a total body workout, this is to be expected. Within the many tasks involved, many different levels of exercise can be accessed through gardening. From strenuous to lighter and mellower, tending to your garden regularly can be just as effective as going to the gym.

    • Endurance and Cardio Exercises

- The weight-bearing activities involved in gardening, like carrying gallons of water, pots, plants or pushing the wheelbarrow, are not only great ways to strengthen muscle and your heart (the wheelbarrow itself is your bicep workout for the day!), they also strengthen the bones by increasing density. Because of this, gardening is a recommended workout for young people and for the elderly who are at risk of bone density loss. Extended hours of heavy gardening can increase your endurance and all the stretching, bending, and reaching necessary increases your flexibility.

Being in your garden (or around your houseplants) can be an excellent measure for reducing stress and anxiety. So, whether just enjoying yourself or doing back-breaking labor, spending time in a garden is beneficial to your mental health, too.

• The therapeutic benefits of gardening have proven to be so effective that some therapists have recommended it as a form of therapy for patients dealing with depression and anxiety. Victims of manic depression and anxiety are often asked to spend time gardening, and are encouraged to meditate, daydream, or just enjoy the beauty that surrounds them.

• Gardening has been known to help people with all sorts of problems. People who have stress because of work find great escape in the fresh air and sunshine that gardening provides.

• As we are often alone when working in our gardens, this opens the activity up to many introspective and meditative opportunities. In the end, serious gardeners tend to be optimistic people who look forward to the future with hope (for great blooms or a bountiful harvest) and have a philosophical and positive way of looking at life – embracing the imperfect, non-controlling and having endless patience.

Studies have also shown that gardening can both directly and indirectly improve our cognitive health and social skills.

• Planning a garden can be challenging in itself. A successful and thriving garden involves knowing exactly what, where, and when to plant, and this makes gardening an activity that requires plenty of planning, research, and reading every season. These aspects give you great opportunities to exercise your mind.

• While often a solitary activity, gardening can actually help with a person’s social skills because it instills a sense of accomplishment. This then helps to increase self-esteem and self-worth, making for a more pleasant and confident individual. Since confidence and heightened self-esteem make people more attractive, this makes gardeners more approachable and likeable.

• Participating in a community garden also poses positive social and interpersonal skills, as shown in a study done with students who worked in a community garden for a period of time. In a qualitative interview done with the school, teachers, and the parents of these children, it was found that community gardening encouraged children to have more positive bonding moments with adults and each other.

Beyond being good for the environment and for your diet, gardening digs deep and provides opportunities for you to be a healthier, happier individual on a physical, emotional, mental, and social level. So the next time you feel stressed or anxious, why not take a moment to breathe, and then step outside to smell and prune those roses.

About the Author:

Isabella York is a working mother who enjoys the outdoors by spending time in her garden. Along with raising her son, she works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of Artificial Christmas Trees and Christmas Trees.

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How to Make Your Own Compost

February 15th, 2011


If you’re planning a spring garden, you should consider composting. It’s a wonderful soil enhancer that is great for gardening, because it provides important nutrients that are released slowly over time for healthy plant growth. And it’s also good for the environment; composting lessons solid waste that would otherwise end up in landfills.

If you’ve ever been in a forest, you’ve been near and on compost. In the great outdoors, composting—a combination of digested and undigested foods left on forest floors and dry leaves—results in aromatic, rich and soft soil.

If you’d like to make your own compost choose an outdoor location that is close enough to your garden to make it convenient. You can make an open bin compost container using wood, chicken wire or recycled plastic. Open bin composts make it easy to add materials to your garden. Or you can purchase enclosed composting containers from various sources. The only garden tools you’ll need for composting are: pitch fork, for turning; shovel and/or garden cart, for transporting compost to your garden; and a compost thermometer, for checking the temperature.

Regardless of which type of compost container you choose, it’s a good idea to have two separate chambers. The reason for this is that it takes several weeks for the composting process to complete. You will not want to add new composting material to a compost pile that is already in process.

Composting materials are generally referred to as “greens” and “browns.” Green compost materials are high in nitrogen, and brown compost materials are high in carbon. In order for composting to be successful, it needs food, water and air.

Green materials include: fresh grass clippings; fresh cow, chicken, horse or rabbit manure; kitchen scraps, such as coffee grounds, fruit, tea bags or vegetables; green leaves; or leftover fruits from the garden. Brown materials include: brown, dry leaves; shredded cornstalks; dried grass; or straw. An ideal combination is 4 parts brown to 1 part green. Do NOT add items such as fish, meat, or shredded newspaper.

To start your compost pile, put a 4-inch layer of brush, hay, twigs or straw at the bottom of the compost bin. This coarse layer will allow air to be drawn up into the pile from the bottom. Then add a 4-inch layer of brown material followed by a thin layer of good garden soil. Garden soil provides necessary bacteria to get the compost to start breaking down. Then, add a 4-inch layer of green material followed by a thin layer of an activator, such as fresh manure. Continue this layering process until the compost container is full. Lightly mist each layer with a garden hose, but make sure not to get it too wet. If you can squeeze water out of the material, you have gotten it too wet. If so, add dry brown materials.

Within 7-10 days, the internal temperature should reach about 140 degrees F, ideally 160 degrees F. This is when you can turn your compost pile, moving the drier material from the outside edges to the inside of the pile. Make sure to break up any clumps that have formed. If your compost pile seems too dry, lightly moisten it. At this point, you can turn your compost pile every 14 days. Your compost is ready when it is dark brown and soil-like.

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Planning a Spring Vegetable Garden: Things to Consider

February 10th, 2011


Cold weather may be upon us yet but it’s never too early to plan a spring garden, because when you plan properly, you’ll find that your garden is more productive and rewarding. And when you plan ahead you will have saved yourself the time and effort it takes to keep your garden growing as best as possible due to important factors.

If you’re ready to grow your own foods for the first time, you will want to keep a couple of things in mind when planning your garden:

1. Location. A garden spot with loose, well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight is necessary. You will also want to consider the proximity to your water source.

2. Garden plan. Will you be growing a lot of your family’s favorite herbs and vegetables? If so, you’ll want to make sure your garden is big enough to accommodate your plants according to spacing and size. If you’ll be working with a smaller garden, you’ll want to consider planting vegetables that offer higher yields, such as bell peppers, bush snap beans and tomatoes. If you would like a continuous supply of vegetables, don’t plant too many of one type of vegetable at once. Instead, plant seeds at intervals so that you have a steady supply of herbs and vegetables for harvesting. Draw out your garden plan. Include each of the following on your plan: location in your yard according to sunlight, location of each type of herb and vegetable, length of the rows for each vegetable, spacing between plants in rows and the rows themselves, planting dates, and which plants that will follow harvested vegetables.

3. Not sure what to sow? If you’re a first-time gardener, consider an herb garden. Herbs, such as basil, cilantro, oregano, and more are easy to grow. And there’s nothing better than using fresh herbs straight from the garden for meals of incomparable flavor. There are even some gardeners who grow herbs solely for their aromatic foliage and appearance. A small 4 x 6 foot area is plenty of space to grow all the herbs a small family needs.

This is bare bones glimpse into planning a simple garden, but the idea is that with just a little bit of time and effort you can grow a garden that will supply you and your family with fresh, healthy herbs and vegetables to get you through the growing season. It’s fun; it’s a great activity for the whole family; and it’s a money-saving venture. So get out your paper and colored pencils, plan out your garden then hang it on your bulletin board. You’ll have a great reminder of what’s in store for spring. It’s just around the corner!

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Starting Garden Seeds Indoors

February 10th, 2011


For many gardeners, February is the perfect time to start seeds indoors 2-3 months before your average date of final frost. If your region’s average final frost date is the end of March then February is a great time to get started so your seedlings will have a good 6-8 weeks to prepare for their new home in your garden.

Starting seeds indoors is easy, and you do not need expensive supplies to get a head start on spring gardening. Supplies include: containers that are 2-3 wide and 2-3 inches deep, like a plastic 40 count tray; loose textured potting mix that has soil, vermiculite or perlite and sphagnum peat moss; seeds; popsicle sticks, a waterproof pen; clear plastic bags large enough to go around your container(s); a 15-15-15 soluble fertilizer; and snail bait.

Here’s how to sow spring garden seeds (such as broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, head lettuce, onion, peppers, squash, and tomatoes) indoors:

1. Fill your container with pre-moistened potting mix then level the soil. To moisten soil, simply put potting mix in a large bag and get it wet until it’s just moist.

2. Sow 1-2 seeds in each tray cell. Gently press the seeds into the soil then add a little bit of soil to the top, to cover seeds.

3. Mark your seedling trays by using your waterproof marker on the popsicle sticks, noting the date you planted and variety of seeds.

4. Place the tray inside of a clear plastic bag then tie it shut. If covering the tray with plastic wrap, you will want to make sure that the plastic does not touch the soil surface. Once covered with plastic you will not need to water the soil until your seeds sprout.

5. Set your seed tray in a spot that is evenly warm, such as the top of your refrigerator if you have the room. Do not place your seed tray in an area that is too drafty or too warm.

6. Once the seeds have sprouted remove the plastic and move the seed tray to a sunny south-facing window. If you do not have a window that provides full sun, you may need to purchase lighting equipment. If the region you live in continues to get very cold at night, you will want to move your seed tray away from the window so that the seedlings do not get too cold.

7. Watering your sprouts is easy. You’ll want to check the soil moisture daily by feeling the soil with your finger. If the soil is dry use a spray bottle that contains room temperature water and mist them with a fine spray.

8. 3-4 weeks after seeds are established, add some complete soluble fertilizer to the water. You’ll only need to fertilize once or twice before planting your seedlings into the garden.

9. After 6-8 weeks, you can start hardening off your seedlings by placing the seed tray outside in full sun for 2-3 hours. Bring the seed tray in after the allotted time. As your seedlings start adjusting to the 2-3 hours in full sun start moving them into the shade too for a few hours before bring the seed tray back indoors. You’ll want to follow this process for about two weeks. After the two week hardening process you can leave your seed tray out all day and night, as long as the temperatures are not freezing. This process, of putting your seed tray outdoors then moving them back indoors allows your seedlings to get used to being outdoors and keeps them from going into shock.

10. Once you’re ready to plant the seedlings in your garden you’ll want to: transplant them in the late afternoon when the sun is low; make sure the seedlings are well watered before planting them in the garden; make sure the garden soil is moist; try not to disturb the root ball when transplanting; water the seedlings once planted, to make sure the soil has settled around the root ball; place snail bait around the seedlings; and keep the seedlings moist for the first 4-5 days after transplanting, to make sure they get established. Once established you can water your seedlings when the soil is slightly dry in between watering.

That’s it! Starting seeds indoors gives you a head start on the spring gardening season and is an activity that provides you with great gardening practice (if you’ve never gardened before) and a wonderful sense of accomplishment. We’re excited for the spring garden season, and we hope you are, too. It’s going to be a great year for healthy, homegrown food!

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