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Preparing Your Vegetable Garden For Fall

September 14th, 2014

 

Rotate Crops

Right now, before you forget, mark a few days in your calendar to prep your garden for the fall season. Fall is a wonderful time to enjoy seasonal pumpkins, squash, green beans, broccoli and cabbage. A full weekend is all you need to get everything prepped and ready to go. Here’s how we prepare our garden for Fall.

Clean Out The Garden

First look around and see what’s working in your garden, and what’s not. Pull out the plants that are no longer producing. Remove plants that are diseased, old or damaged by pests – they will most likely never produce abundantly again. Weeds also grow rampant in the summer time, and need to be pulled – or made into a snack. Our guide to preventing and removing weeds can help with this endeavor. Leave all frost friendly veggies if the foliage is still healthy and producing. Remember that disease-free plants can be added to the compost bin. If you’re suspicious they have a problem, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take it from us, you don’t want the same issues coming back to haunt you while you should be festively decorating for Halloween (been there). 

Loosen Up The Soil 

Using a flat shovel, or a digging fork – begin chopping up the bare soil. Flip over the soil using a “thrust-tilt-flip-chop” rhythm. You’ve got this! Now do it one more time (soil is at its best when tilled twice). 

Amend the Soil & Incorporate Organic Compost 

Amending the soil is vital. Your previous plants have stripped it of its rich nutrients. Adding worm castings or an organic fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (potash) can enhance any vegetable in your garden. Also, you may want to incorporate organic compost and smooth it out well. Adding compost will rejuvenate the soil and add vital nutrients for your new plants.

Cover Up Your Soil 

Adding mulch will retain the seed moisture, and helps to prevent it from baking at the end of the summer. Straw of hay works well as an insulator, but there really are a variety of mulch options you can use. If yore concerned about keeping the straw down, consider using a floating row on top of the mulch

Think About Sunlight Take note of the position of your garden and the sun. Decide which plants will require full or partial sun, and re-position your garden accordingly. Use large plants (like sunflowers) to protect plants that require more shade. Remember the saying, “The right plant in the right space”

When To Start Seed 

Most seed needs to start before the nights turn cold. If you live in a climate with early frost dates (zones 1-4), your fall vegetable garden should be started mid-summer, between July and August. Even if your daytime temperatures are still in the 80’s and 90’s, evening temps will start to dip and the length of day light will begin to decrease. Therefore, select seed varieties with a small number of days to maturity and get them in the ground on time. 

Plan What You’ll Need For Fall

Consider making or buying new tags or markers to label fall crops (Check out these super adorable DIY markers that kids can help with!).  If you’re thinking about which plants will do well in the Fall, the Brassica family in particular grows very well in cool weather (think broccoli, arugula, cabbage, lettuce, chard, collards, kale, spinach). Mustard greens also tend to be less bitter when grown in cool weather climates. Root crops like parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes can also do quite well. Most of them can take a little frost – but you can extend the season up to 30 days by using a frost blanket. To learn more, check out our other frost suggestions for keeping your veggies safe. 

A Reminder About Frost Damage: To prevent frost damage, the best method is to move plants in containers or pots inside before the first frost. However, if plants are rooted in the ground, use old blankets, sheets and burlap sacks and lightly drape them over your plants in the evening.  Make sure to remove the covers in the morning so that each plant receives plenty of necessary sunlight.  Stones, stakes or bricks can also be used to prevent covers from blowing off.  Avoid using heavy blankets or place wire around the plant to balance the weight and prevent crushing.

***Friends, we’re curious: What are you planting in your garden this fall? 

Humble Seed specializes in premium garden seed kits that are packaged and themed for convenience and ease. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid, and organic seed varieties to those who choose to start from seed. We’re also proud to say we have taken the Safe Seed Pledge!!

Does starting your first garden seem too overwhelming or you simply don’t have the space? The Tower Garden may be the answer for you!  Passionate about gardening and healthy living, or looking to expand your current health-based business? Consider becoming a Tower Garden distributor! Email info@humbleseed for more information or message us on Facebook.

 

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5 Tips To Keeping Your Garden Surviving (And Thriving!) in August

August 5th, 2014

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability. ~Sam Keen

The dog days of summer can be a major stressor on your vegetable garden. To combat the heat, plants actually have the capability to cool off just like we do. They do something called evapotranspiration by shedding water from their surface areas. But when temps hit the triple digits (oh hey, Arizona and Texas), this nifty trick won’t help your plant survive on its own. Here are 5 tips to beat the summer heat and keep your garden surviving (and thriving!).

Keep soil moist and cool Soil can act as a sponge, where water absorbs after first spilling outwards. Therefore, if the soil is not retaining water well, it may be necessary to water lightly twice a day, rather than one long soak. Remember to allow time for the water to dry before the next watering, and try your best not to over water, as this may lead to fungi and other problems that kills plants. 

Inspect plants frequently and know the signs of heat stress Keep an eye out for brown, yellow or white areas on the leaves – which could indicate a form of plant “sunburn.” When this happens, find some shade for the plant immediately (we provided some shady ideas below) If plants droop in the daytime but perk back up in the morning, they are probably doing fine. Plants are wise enough to droop down to avoid over exposure from the sun.   

Regularly clean off containers You know when you’re under a lot of pressure at work or have a million chores to do, and suddenly you catch the flu and you’re out for the count? Plants are very similar. When they are battling stress, they are more susceptible to disease and pests. Cleaning off the containers can prevent disease when you’re plants are weak. To care for terra-cotta plants, bake them in an oven set for 225 degrees F. for one hour. Allow them to return to room temperature before use. 

Use mulch to protect soil and roots Mulch insulates soil, stabilizes temperature, helps reduce erosion, and can suppress weed growth. A variety of organic and non-organic materials can be used as mulch in your garden. In a forest, we see dried leaves and twigs become “mulch,” as it forms around tree trunks, protecting the top soil and roots of each tree.  Many gardeners use the same idea as they mulch in their own garden.  Natural falling leaves, twigs, and pine needles all work well (and come at no cost!).  Yet grass clippings, nut shells, plastic mulch sheets, shredded wood, hay, cardboard, bark, sawdust, crushed rocks and aged compost are also commonly used. 

Control sunlight exposure Strategically plant a garden under trees, near a fence or wherever else may create shade. If it’s too late for all that and your plants are suffering, create shade by using sheets, a tarp or a large backyard umbrella. 

**Folks, what are your tips for keeping your garden cool this summer? 

About Humble Seed:

Humble Seed specializes in premium garden seed kits that are packaged and themed for convenience and ease. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid, and organic seed varieties to those who choose to start from seed. We’re also proud to say we have taken the Safe Seed Pledge!!

Does starting your first garden seem too overwhelming or you simply don’t have the space? The Tower Garden may be the answer for you!  Passionate about gardening and healthy living, or looking to expand your current health-based business? Consider becoming a Tower Garden distributor! Email info@humbleseed for more information or message us on Facebook.

 

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5 Easy Tips For Seed Starting Indoors

January 22nd, 2014

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Starting seeds indoors can sound confusing to beginner gardeners – especially with the extra steps involved.  Yet the benefits make the extra steps worthwhile. For one, plants have a better chance of thriving in harsh weather, and secondly, seeds are more likely to stay organic from the start.

Here are five tips to get your seed underway.

Prep Your equipment Collect the necessary equipment and supplies for seed starting. You can start simple by using good old-fashioned yogurt cups, seed starting potting mix, and sunlight. As you get the hang of it, you may want to invest in seed flats (large containers that can hold many seedlings), peat pots, nutrient-rich potting mix, a grow-light system built for seed starting indoors, heating mats and cables, and organic compost.

Have A Plan Save yourself a lot of time (and heartache) and buy a Garden Planner before seed starting.  The planner will provide all the information your need for starting your seeds indoors – from when to start and frost dates, to planting seed depth and when to transfer outdoors.

Get Your Seed Cozy Prepare your seeds indoors by first gathering your containers and make a few drainage holes. Fill each container with a moistened seed starting mix (either store bought or make your own), and sow in seeds carefully. A good rule of thumb is seeds ought to be at a depth of about three times the thickness of the seed.

Give the seeds a light sprinkle of water and place plastic wrap or a sheet of glass over the containers for a cozy and moist environment. Ideally, you want each plant to be at a humid 70 degrees F. for optimal germination. Keep the soil moist by misting with water, or filling the trays with water below.

Maintain With Attentiveness When you first notice your seed sprouting, go ahead and move your plants to a bright location (after clicking your heels up in the air!). The bright location can be a sunny window, a greenhouse, under fluorescent grow lights, or an alternative steady high-powered light source. Keep in mind that if you live in an area with little sunlight or short days, you may want to consider an alternative lighting system.

Next, seedlings should be moved into a cooler location. Continue composting and lightly water your plants a few days a week. Also, many gardeners practice gently ruffling out seedlings so that roots and stems grow strong. Once the plant is too large for the container, transfer to a larger one without damaging the fragile root system.

Harden Them Off After consulting your planner (see tip 2), determine the date that you will transfer your plants outdoors. One week prior, begin toughening up your plants by exposing them to the outdoors a few hours a day. Start by placing them in a shady location, and gradually allow for more time exposed to the sunlight and weather patterns. When you’re ready, go ahead and transfer your plants outdoors unless you’re experiencing terrible weather.

***Friends, what are your tips for starting your seeds indoors? Let’s hear your successes! Also, what didn’t work?

 

About us:

Humble Seed specializes in premium garden seed kits that are packaged and themed for convenience and ease.  Enter seed15 at checkout to save 15% off your next order.

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How to Transition from a Summer to a Fall Vegetable Garden

September 14th, 2013

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Whenever we tell someone that we’re planting a fall organic vegetable garden, we sometimes hear, “Woh! I thought it was too cold to plant.” But there are quite a few vegetables we recommend planting at the end of the summer because they love the cool weather. Be sure to check off your chores, and you’re ready to go for fall!

Chores For Transitioning From a Summer To a Fall Garden

*First look around and see what’s working in your garden and what’s not. Pull out the plants that are no longer producing, and remove any lingering weeds or debris.

*Consider making or buying new tags or markers to label fall crops. We love this crop marker idea if you want to get your children involved!

*Before sowing in particularly hot climates, shade and water the area for a few days to allow the soil to cool down.

*Since the previous plants have used most of the nutrients from the soil, incorporate organic compost and smooth it out well. Adding compost will rejuvenate the soil when planting something new.

*Adding mulch will retain the seed moisture, and helps to prevent the soil from baking at the end of the summer. Straw or hay works well as an insulator, but there really is a variety of mulch options  you can use. If you’re concerned about keeping the straw down, consider using a floating row on top of the mulch.

What To Plant At The End Of Summer

The Brassica family in particular grows very well in cool weather (think broccoli, arugula, cabbage, lettuce, chard, collards, kale, spinach). Mustard greens also tend to be less bitter when grown in cool weather climates. Root crops like parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes can also do quite well. Most of them can take a little frost – but you can extend the season up to 30 days (give or take depending on mother nature) by using a frost blanket. To learn more, check out our other frost suggestions for keeping your veggies safe. 

Planting Tips

*Count back from frost date but tack on extra time to the calculation. Remember that the days are getting steadily shorter and cooler as fall plants mature. Don’t expect them to produce as fast as in longer and warmer spring time days.

*You generally don’t want to plant a seed more than 3 times the thickness of the seed. Strive to plant the seed two times the thickness; remembering that any deeper can impose stress, making it an issue for the plant to grow above the soil.

*Sow approximately one seed about every two inches. You don’t want to plant too many together, yet being too skimpy can cause problems too! You will be thinning them out later, so make like Goldilocks when sowing seeds. You’ll find your rows will look “just right” after some practice.

*If you’re trying to conserve water, focus watering activities on the most vulnerable plants – along with the oldest trees and shrubs on the property.

**Fellow gardeners, what are you planting for your autumn garden?

About Us:

Humble Seed specializes in premium garden seed kits that are packaged and themed for convenience and ease. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid, and organic seed varieties to those who choose to start from seed.

 

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7 Reasons Seeds Fail To Grow

August 16th, 2012

Enjoying a bounty of freshly harvested veggies, fruits and herbs is perhaps the best part of growing your own garden. To get there, gardeners must master the early stages of sowing and germinating seeds. While necessary, this process can leave many of us wondering: why do some seeds have all the luck, while others fail to grow?

Fortunately, luck is a very small part of ensuring seeds are able to germinate successfully. Rather, proper planning and a watchful eye can allow your seeds a great chance of developing into a beautiful and delicious garden to enjoy all year round.

Read further to discover the possible reasons seeds fail to germinate:

Reason 1: Seeds are planted too deeply. This is the number one reason seeds fail to germinate and grow properly early on. As a rule of thumb, plant a seed no deeper than 3 times the diameter of the seed. Also, always follow the package instructions for specific planting times, depth, spacing and location recommendations.

Reason 2:  The soil is not prepared well. Adding organic matter such as mulch or compost a few weeks before sowing or planting is paramount to ensuring success in your garden. Organic matter provides microorganisms, rejuvenating the soil and increasing the likelihood of successful germination. Once you sow the seeds indoors or outdoors, gently press the soil so that the seeds can come in full contact with the soil.

Reason 3: The soil is either too hot or too cold. Many gardeners get very anxious to get their gardens started early.  But if the soil is too hot or too cold, seeds may fail to germinate and grow properly. Many seeds are unable to germinate if the soil reaches a temperature over 85 degrees F. Likewise, soil that is too cold can also impede germination (especially for warm season crops like corn, squash and beans). Instead, start your garden indoors, or hold off on sowing until the soil reaches a comfortable temperature for your seeds.

Reason 4: Overwatering the soil. It’s easy to get carried away, but keep in mind that the soil should be moist – never continuously wet. Furthermore, try to keep the water at around room temperature, and never too hot or too cold.

Reason 5: Birds and squirrels have taken the seed. While not as likely, birds and squirrels do tend to enjoy larger seeds like corn and beans, and often times fail to leave any trace of their sneaky ways. If you suspect an animal has taken the seeds, replant the seeds and place netting around the garden.

Reason 6: The seed quality is poor. Purchasing packaged seeds from a warehouse or store could result in exposure to rain, extreme temperatures, wind, or other weather conditions that damage the vitality of a seed. At Humble Seed, our themed, bundled packaged are placed in FDA food-safe containers, along with our re-sealable Mylar® bags; keeping seeds fresh when they are delivered to your doorstep, as well as in between plantings.

Reason 7: There was a problem transplanting a seedling outdoors. To get a jump on the growing season, seed starting is a great way to grow seeds in a controlled environment. When ready, there are a variety of vegetables that tolerate root transferring well. These include (but are not limited to): broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, leeks, onions, parsley, potatoes and peppers. However, many find that root vegetables are challenging to transfer, and are best started outdoors.

It’s essential to time transplanting properly.  Calm, cloudy days (or an area with shade) can stifle the shock of exposure to a new environment. Likewise, transplanting in the late afternoon is helpful for plants to avoid direct sun exposure for a long duration on the initial transplant day. When plants are transplanted in poor weather, or are exposed to too much direct sunlight early on – they can become damaged or die.  However, if you transplanted the seedling properly but still notice some wilting or drooping – hang on tight for a few more days. Plants tend to recover quickly when given the right TLC.

 

Sources:

http://www.gardeningbythemoon.com/chart.html

http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html

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What To Plant Late Summer For A Fall Harvest

July 24th, 2012

With temperatures steadily rising, and many cities experiencing one of the worst heat waves in decades, it’s hard to imagine that fall is just a few short months away.  If you’re already dreaming of chilly temps and a gorgeous fall harvest, you may want to consider planting now, or in the near future. There are a variety of plants that are adapted to grow well in warm soil, when temperatures increasingly get cooler. Choosing fast maturing plants will also ensure that your bounty can be harvested before the fall frosts become an issue.

What to Plant in the Summer

First, check out the average frost date in your city or town. Places with early starting frosts may not be able to plant their heart’s desire, or perhaps should start planting earlier in the summer time to prevent frost damage. Below is a general guide to what to plant and when:

July: lima beans, eggplant, okra, southern peas, peppers, and tomatoes.

August (these plants have a 60-80 day maturity cycle): snap beans, pole beans, corn, cucumbers, southern peas, peppers, pumpkin, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, onions, and turnips.

September (these plants mature quickly):  beets, cabbage, carrots, endive, escarole, mustard, onions and radish.

Protecting Plants From Mr. Freeze

Plants can grow successfully in the late summer and early fall.  Yet, when those chilly temps begin to drop, frost damage can wreak havoc on vulnerable plants. Most plant damage can be prevented (see our guide to preventing frost damage), but do keep in mind that hardier plants are better adapted to withstand cooler climates. Knowing the frost date in your area can help prepare your garden, and sticking to plants with cold hardiness can better ensure a successful crop.

These hardy plants can withstand a fair amount of frost and continue to grow relatively unharmed: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale, mustard greens, onion, parsley, peas, radish and turnips.  Avoid planting basil, bush beans, and snap peas too late, as these sensitive plants will only disappoint come frost season.

Soil that is too warm can also pose a problem early on. Certain plants are unable or are difficult to germinate in soil over 85 degrees F. In exceptionally warm climates, stay away from planting lettuce, snap peas and spinach until the soil can cool down a bit.

Helpful Tips for Summer Planting

*Pest control can be particularly bewildering in the summer time.  See our guide to treating pest naturally.

*In very warm climates, utilize large plants and trees to provide some shade during peak sunlight hours.

*Do not allow seeds to dry out. Provide at least 1 inch of water, once a week.  This will moisten the soil without overwatering. You may wish to water young seedlings more often.

*Warm, dry soil can form a layer of dry crust around young seedlings, interfering with germination. To prevent this, layer compost, mulch of moist potting soil over the seed row and continue watering to keep the soil moist.

***Friends, what are you planting now for a delicious, fall harvest?

Sources:

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-66.pdf

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/fallgarden.html

http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1227.html

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DIY Organic Fertilizers And The Benefits

May 23rd, 2012

If you’re looking for a fertilizer that maximizes your edible garden’s nutritional content, without the worry of harsh chemicals and synthesizers found in traditional fertilizers, perhaps making your own organic blend is a logical next step.  Similar to cooking, controlling the ingredients in your own natural fertilizer can be a healthier and safer alternative to what we see packaged in stores. Initially, a DIY fertilizer may remind you of a high school chemistry class, and seem somewhat daunting. Yet, a little motivation to get you started (from us) and some further research (from you) has the potential to turn even a neophyte gardener into a fertilizer-blending dynamo! To get you started…

The Commercial Fertilizer Dilemma:  Common chemical fertilizers like Ammonium Sulphate, Potassium Chloride, and Potash are non-synthetic (and not harmful to health), and directly supply the amount of Nitrogen and Potassium needed for plant vitality. However, these fertilizers purchased at your local gardening store are not only costly, but can eventually damage the soil’s physical, biological and chemical structure.  Studies have shown that consistent and long-term use of chemical fertilizers change the soil’s alkalinity, salinity and sodium levels, while eventually depleting your plant’s root systems of oxygen.  While synthetic fertilizers have the potential to infiltrate food and ultimately harm our health.

Furthermore, from an environmental perspective, chemical and synthetic fertilizers pose a real threat to the Mama Earth. There is growing concern that chemicals found in fertilizers coupled with excess run-off continues to damage natural eco-systems, lakes, rivers and oceans.  It has become increasingly clear that long-term use has consequences not only for our home gardens, but on a larger scale as well.

A Few Rules Of Thumb: Before you begin, it is important to consider which blends will work best for your plants, and what is locally available to purchase.  Many ingredients can be found at your local gardening center, and some may have to be purchased online.  With a little research, you’ll become more familiar with both of these concepts. Also, keep in mind that a good fertilizer may only need to be applied once a year, ideally before you plant your first Spring crop.  Generally, blending the fertilizer in with the soil before you plant works well.  Therefore, be sure to mix the right amount for your own garden’s needs, and store the rest in an airtight container.

Ingredients To Consider:

*Seed meals are byproducts of vegetable oil and animal feeds. They contain highly nutritious seeds like flaxseeds, soybeans, cotton seeds and sunflower seeds.  They are prized for their high Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium content.

*Heavy Nitrogen blends have natural amino acids and can yield vibrantly large vegetables, as Nitrogen is wonderful for the growth process.

*Adding ocean products like Kelp Meal can be quite beneficial for heavy feeders like squash, tomatoes, corn, broccoli and cabbage.

*Using rock phosphate has high doses of Phosphorous, which will provide vigorous growth for edible plants and flowers.

*Gypsum is a wonderful source for Calcium, and will not raise the soil’s Ph levels.

*Dolomite has a neutral Ph, and is a prized source of Calcium and Magnesium.

*Rock dusts are blends of several different types of rocks, and can revitalize over worked soil.

*Green Sand is harvested from the ocean, and is a natural source of Iron, Magnesium, Silica and minerals.

*Adding Lime with its Calcium and Magnesium will add strength to your garden. It can also raise Ph levels in the soil if needed.

Sample Fertilizer Recipe (1:5:2)

4 parts seed meal

2 parts Gypsum

1 part Rock Phosphate

1 part Green Sand

1 part Dolomite Lime

Method: Mix all ingredients well.

Would you consider making your own organic fertilizer? What is your favorite blend?

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Mulch Much? Discover Why It’s Important

May 2nd, 2012

Biting into a crisp carrot, or admiring the brilliant red color of a beet has more to do with the quality of top soil than most consider.  With climbing temperatures in the Spring and Summer, soil can easily lose it’s efficiency if not protected and nourished. Mulch is either an organic or non-organic protective cover placed on the top layer of soil.  If you’ve never considered using mulch, simply applying it can enhance your garden’s vitality at a low cost and with little maintenance (seriously, everyone’s a winner).

Why Mulch?

For one, mulching is a lot of bang for your buck.  Many gardeners find that mulching with a variety of materials can yield a good list of benefits!

To name a few, mulch

*insulates soil and stabilizes temperature, especially in the warmer months.

*provides shade for soil, which reduces evaporation and increases moisture levels.

*helps to reduce erosion from rain and wind. This can also improve the permeability of the soil.

*can suppress weed growth.

*protects soil from solar radiation damage.

*encourages faster growth and a more vital garden

Mulching Materials

A variety of organic and non-organic materials can be used as mulch in your garden. In a forest, we see dried leaves and twigs become “mulch,” as it forms around tree trunks, protecting the top soil and roots of each tree.  Many gardeners use the same idea as they mulch in their own garden.  Natural falling leaves, twigs, and pine needles all work well (and come at no cost!).  Yet grass clippings, nut shells, plastic mulch sheets, shredded wood, hay, cardboard, bark, sawdust, crushed rocks and aged compost are also commonly used.

Which Mulch Is Which?

Start by brainstorming what you would like to accomplish from the mulch. Would you like the mulch to look attractive, or would it serve a more functional purpose? Are you applying in the spring and summer, or are you looking to winterize your plants? Do some research on which mulch is best for the plant(s) in your garden. For example, when mulching around annuals and perennials, small pieces of shredded wood or bark work best. Or, to show off the vibrant colors of your flowers or vegetables, applying dark mulch will heighten their beauty. Also, pine needles can create more acidity in your garden, which can benefit a potato heap.

How To Apply It

It is most beneficial to apply mulch at the beginning of the growing season and then reapplied when necessary. Once you have done further research and selected the right mulch for your garden, clean the area you plan to mulch by weeding or removing unwanted materials. Apply the mulch in a single layer on the surface of the soil, about 2-6 inches thick and wide enough to cover all potential underground roots. Keep in mind that trees require thicker layers of mulch while flower and vegetable beds need only a thin layer to be effective.

If you’re looking to lower the maintenance in your garden, drip irrigation is not a bad idea! It’s less work intensive than manual watering, and normally only needs to be adjusted seasonally. Drip irrigation is the most efficient watering system when mulch is present in your garden, as the water can be applied directly to the root zone. When irrigating, keep the soil bed moist yet never flooded or too dry.  Also, use caution not to over water your plants, as mulch can prevent most water evaporation.

Friends, what types of mulch do you prefer in your garden?

 

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How To Compost Indoors Safely And Effectively

March 17th, 2012

Many of us associate composting with the big sandbox in our backyard filled with kitchen scraps and coffee grounds.  If you’ve never tried composting before, it entails taking organic waste materials like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee and tea grounds, eggshells, and even gritty materials like cornmeal, and adding them to a barrel to decompose.  In turn, a composting pile can produce a rich fertilizer for your home garden.  But how does one effectively compost if they are living alone and do not produce many kitchen scraps?  Or perhaps, have limited outdoor space and/or opportunities to change the land?  It’s also not easy to compost outdoors in inclement weather.  For many, indoor composting is the answer, and has become a safe, accessible and effective way to create rich, fertile soil for your garden.

Why Compost?  For one, it reduces the amount of organic waste that ultimately ends up in landfills.  In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that 14% of food ends up in land mills each year.  14% may not seem like much, but remember that rotting materials eventually transforms into methane, which has 21 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  If you already recycle your paper, cans and glass, why not do the same with food scraps? Every little bit helps!

Secondly, it’s more sanitary. Placing food scraps to rot in your neighborhood garbage can ultimately leads to rodents, raccoons and insects.  It can also be quite malodorous — which tends to linger until Tuesday’s trash pick-up day. When done correctly, composting in your home reduces the potential of these nuisances, while also posing less imposition to public health and safety.

Most importantly, composting can create a rockin’ fertilizer for your home garden. Not only is it money saving, but it’s also is rich in nutrients and acts as a soil fertilizer, soil conditioner, and even as a natural pesticide.  It’s commonly used in home gardens –- but many also use this key ingredient in landscaping, agriculture and horticulture.

Throw Them In, Don’t Walk On Them! Eggshells, and almost anything leftover from your garden is suitable for composting.  Yet other scraps, odds and ends from around the house also work well in your compost.  This includes coffee and tea grounds, gritty flours, weeds, cardboard, and even dryer lint.  What tends to not work well for less experienced composters are meats, oils, dairy products, animal droppings and overdoing it with liquids. See a full list of composting do’s and don’ts here.

 There are two popular methods to effectively compost indoors.  View the step-by-step instructions to make an indoor compost area of your own!

Aerobic Kitchen Composting: This method of composting requires two bins or containers designed for composting.  The organic matter in the containers ferments naturally using approximately a 70% moisture level, and without heat and oxygen. Each bin should fit either under a sink, in a closet, or can be left out in view.

Step 1: Create two composting bins by finding a leak proof, durable and reusable container with a sealable lid. The bin should be about 10 cubic feet, or 24×24 inches.  A small garbage can will also work just fine. The trick here is to avoid containers that are too deep, or it could lead to unwanted odor.

Drill holes at the bottom of the container for aeration.  Set the container on bricks, and place a tray underneath to catch any liquid.  Using two bins allows one for processing, and the other may be used to add more scraps to.  Once one bin is ready for fertilizing, the other will be processing.

Step 2: Add 1-2 inches of a dry mixture to the bottom of the container.  This could be torn newspaper, cardboard, straw, dead leaves, peat moss, sawdust from untreated wood, cartons, or a combination of these materials.

Step 3:  Distribute the daily kitchen scraps (or weeds, dryer lint) on top. Cover the scraps with more dry mixture.  Some practice adding soil and lime to the dry mixture for more odor control.

Step 4:  Turn the soil every few weeks with a compost aerator or something comparable to create air passages.  If your compost is prone to heavy leaking, or has an odor, simply add more dry bedding and mix it well with an aerator.

Vermicomposting: similar to aerobic kitchen composting (yet not for the faint of heart!).  Adding Red Wriggler Worms in the composting bin will attain an even richer, more fertile compost. Red Worms are built for eating organic matter, and can compost half of their body weight every day! If you’re worried about having worms in your home, keep in mind that these worms are odorless, and help to more efficiently decompose kitchen scraps.

Step 1: Line the bottom of the can with rocks to prevent any worms from escaping. Follow steps 1-4 for aerobic kitchen composting. Leave out any citrus, alcohol, or spicy foods like jalapeños and peppers to keep the Ph level at about a 7.  The ph level is is an important monitor for creating an ideal worm thriving environment.

Step 2: Once the bin has its first layer of kitchen scraps, place the worms in for a “welcome meal.” Continue layering dry bedding, kitchen scraps, and worms until the bin is full.  Most dry bedding works well for worms, but avoid acidic peat moss as it will bring the ph level lower than 7, making the environment too acidic.

PS ~ Vermicomposting for kids.

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Outdoor Composting For Beginners

March 16th, 2012

If you’ve never attempted composting, and have a sizeable backyard near a water supply — run, don’t walk to get started! Compost is a mixture of organic matter (as in leaves, twigs and kitchen scraps) used to improve the soil’s structure while providing nutrients. Composting can also be done indoors, but we find outdoor composting to be more versatile and easier to manage for beginners.  Once you’ve created a designated area to compost, they key is knowing what works well in your compost, and what does not.

Why Compost?  For one, it reduces the amount of organic waste that ultimately ends up in landfills.  In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that 14% of food ends up in land mills each year.  14% may not seem like much, but remember that rotting materials eventually transforms into methane, which has 21 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  If you already recycle your paper, cans and glass, why not do the same with food scraps? Every little bit helps!

Secondly, it’s more sanitary. Placing food scraps to rot in your neighborhood garbage can ultimately leads to rodents, raccoons and insects.  It can also be quite malodorous — which tends to linger until Tuesday’s trash pick-up day. When done correctly, composting in your home reduces the potential of these nuisances, while also posing less imposition to public health and safety.

Most importantly, composting can create a rockin’ fertilizer for your home garden. Not only is it money saving, but also is rich in nutrients and acts as a soil fertilizer, soil conditioner, and even as a natural pesticide.  It’s commonly used in home gardens –- but many also use this key ingredient in landscaping, agriculture and horticulture.

Before You Get Started: All composting should contain 3 primary ingredients: kitchen scraps and other organic matter (vegetable and fruit peels, eggshells, gritty flours like cornmeal, coffee and tea grounds and dryer lint), dry bedding (leaves, twigs, soil, newspaper, cardboard and sawdust from untreated wood), and water. Be sure to leave out all animal products like meat, bones and dairy, as well as oils, diseased plants and dog/cat feces, as these can lead to unwanted pests.  See a full list of safe materials to compost here.

To ensure the process is smooth, the following tools will prove useful as you compost: 1-2 composting containers (if using), a wheelbarrow, water hose, pitchfork or compost aerator, and a shovel. Although there are comparable tools one could use, a good composting system will require at least most of these.

To avoid pests, insects and animals, add in more dry materials periodically — this will help aerate the pile, and will alleviate any bad odors. Some also practice adding red wrangler worms to the pile, as they can decompose the compost more quickly, preventing critters from investigating. To ensure a larger animal will not disturb your compost, use a container with a sealed lid for all decomposing matter.  Secure it even further by placing a large rock on top, or wrap it with a bungee cord.

 A Step-By-Step Guide To Outdoor Composting:

1. Choose a shady area in your yard that is close to a hose or water supply.

2. Decide whether you prefer to dig a pit, or use a sealed container for your compost pile.  Although both are effective, containers do help prevent against pests, raccoons and insects. See this guide for building your own composting container.

3. Chop and shred all dry materials and kitchen scraps before adding them to the compost. Begin by adding a 6-inch layer of dry bedding (see list above).

4. Add a 3-inch layer of kitchen scraps (things to never compost here).  Next, top the kitchen scraps with another 3-inch layer of dry bedding.  Spray some water on the dry bedding to create a moist but not wet compost pile.

5.  Continue this process of layering kitchen scraps and dry bedding to the compost.  Aerate the pile once a week with a compost aerator, pitchfork, or something comparable.  This helps to prevent an odor, and allows the compost to ferment evenly.

Harvesting Your Compost: Depending on how large the compost pile is, when to harvest the compost pile will be different for everyone.  A general rule of thumb is to allow 4-8 months of processing before harvesting.  When ready, shovel the dark, soil-like compost to the top while pushing the under-processed compost to the bottom for more time to decompose. If the compost is too damp, add soil to it and mix well.

The compost to soil ratio should be 1 to 5 as you harvest it.  Or, use it on plants that are already established by adding 1 inch around the plant, or 2 inches dug into the soil.  You’ll find the compost will enhance your garden with its nutrients, leaving your garden more vibrant and sustainable.

Do you practice composting in your own yard? What are some tips you’d give to beginners?

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