10 Easy Plants to Grow From Seed

It’s the end of May here in Connecticut, and how is your garden doing? Things here are painfully slow going here. We’ve had a wet, cold spring and in between rainstorms, we’ve been busy rebuilding the yard and changing some things around for easier maintenance. We’re not as young as we used to be and its time to transition the gardens into the next phase of its life. More perennials and fewer annuals.

To add insult to injury, this winter’s brutal polar vortex combined with the wet, cold spring has taken its toll on our garden. Many trees, flowering bushes, and lavenders didn’t survive. My hubby has been busy digging up the deceased and replacing with new softwood bushes and flowering plants. I’m amazed at the extent of the damage. Mother Nature can be so cruel!

I’ve been surveying the raised bed area and figuring out what new perennial herbs I can plant that will survive our crazy winters. My big experiment will be seeing if I can grow old fashioned big bush roses. I’m planting them in the largest raised bed we have. Winter freeze will be a huge concern since the beds are above ground. Will the roots overwinter in a raised bed? I don’t know, so stay tuned…

In the greenhouse, we ripped out the aquaponics system and reverted the 2 beds back to dirt. I planted more rosemary and experimenting with scented geraniums. The variety I’m starting with is “Rose of Attar”. The leaves really do smell like roses! If they survive the winter, they will be a wonderful addition to my herb garden.

Time Well Spent!

The good news is, the time spent waiting for storms to pass and temperatures to rise has been productive. I’ve been working on the last bits of my garden book. It will be published sometime this summer titled “My Garden Journal” (although, the title may change…I’m currently playing with different titles).

I started journaling my gardens 20 years ago to remind me what worked and what didn’t from one season to the next. Gardening is a journey – your yard is an ever-changing ecosystem and I found that journaling gave me a higher success rate.

My personal journal evolved over time. It wasn’t fancy, just a list of plants and comments in the margins of how things went during the growing season.

However, when I was teaching children how to garden, I discovered by accident, my journals were a great teaching tool. My simple journal pages made the perfect outline for the curriculum I was creating. I took what I learned from these very talented students and reworked the format. The results were a simple easy to follow garden journal for children (and adults too!)

In addition to the journal pages, I also added other useful sections. For example, Parts of a Plant, Themed Gardens, How to Make Compost Tea and 10 Easiest Plants to Grow from Seed. These sections were designed to give young gardeners basic tools to be successful in their first years of gardening.

Excerpt from “My Garden Journal”

Here is the section from the book on the “10 Easiest Plants to Grow from Seed”.

1. Arugula

Arugula is a small leafy green that has a peppery taste. It makes a perfect addition to salads and pasta recipes. To get ideas on how to prepare this green, do an online search. There are lots of recipes to pick from.

Arugula can be direct seeded into the ground and prefers to grow in cooler temperatures and is best grown in early spring and late summer into fall skipping the hottest part of the growing season.

2. Basil

Basil is an excellent herb to grow. Basil does not do well if direct seeded into the soil.  Start your seeds indoors in small containers and then transplant outside when it’s warm enough.

When the plant gets big enough, pick the leaves off to add to a fresh tomato salad.  Dry the leaves and save them for your herb and spice collection.  There is nothing better tasting than homegrown basil in spaghetti sauce!

Basil prefers hot weather and full sun and best-grown late spring through the hottest part of the summer. Make sure the flowers are pinched off frequently for a bushier plant, which will produce more leaves.

If you are growing this plant in a container, water frequently.  Plants grown in containers dry out quicker than plants grown in the ground or in raised beds.

3. Microgreens

Microgreens are 5 to 10 day old baby plants that you can harvest and eat. Don’t confuse them with sprouts which are seeds that have sprouted in water and then eaten. The difference is to grow microgreens you must plant them in potting soil or some sort of growing medium sprout them and then harvest the plant.

These baby plants are high in nutrition and can be grown on a kitchen counter with no sunlight. They are the perfect plants for a kitchen garden.

The easiest microgreens to grow are:

  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Spicy mustard greens

4. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a gardener’s summer favorite. Make sure you have plenty of room to grow these plants; they like to spread their vines everywhere.  Do an online search

to learn how to save space by growing up.  There are many ideas on how to build simple trellis’ using materials such as long sticks and twine. 

Cucumber seeds can be direct seeded into the ground in late spring, or can be started indoors (early spring) in small containers and transplanted into the garden when it’s warm enough.

5. Green Beans

These are one of the easiest plants to grow, and you get a lot of beans in return for your work.  They can be direct seeded in the ground late spring. Beans like to grow in direct sun and love hot temperatures.

When researching seeds, make sure you know which kind of beans you’re buying. There are bush beans and pole beans.  Bush beans don’t need any trellising.  Just plant and watch them grow and harvest them when big enough.

Pole beans need a trellis to climb on.  

6. Green Onions

Green onions are tall, green and white stalks and they are fun to grow.  Patients will be essential, because they may take most of the growing season before you can harvest them.

Green onions grow well in containers but need frequent watering during hot weather. They are a perfect vegetable to grow if you have a spot that has partial shade.  Direct seed in early spring and keep watering.  Onions take many weeks before they sprout.  So be patient.

Onions also do well if left in the garden over winter. Once the garden bed is established, they will self-seed (the seeds drop into the garden bed after they flower), and new plants will grow the next season.

7. Kale

There are many kinds of kale to grow, so do your research on which varieties will grow well in your area.  Kale likes cooler temperatures but will tolerate some heat if the plants are well established.

Kale is another plant that can be stared in early spring and late fall and will tolerate colder temperatures until a hard freeze or even snow.  These can be direct seeded into the ground.

Dinosaur Kale is a good recommendation if you are looking for tender leaves, which are perfect for salads.  If you want to grow big leaf varieties like Red Russian Kale, their leaves are perfect for making crispy kale chips – which are like potato chips.  Yum!

8. Peas

Peas are another early spring and fall plant to grow and can be direct seeded into the ground.  My peas never make it to the kitchen because I eat them right off the vine while working in the garden.  They make a great snack!

These plants require something to climb on otherwise they will grow in a heap of strings on the ground. 

9. Tomatoes

There is nothing more satisfying than a fresh picked homegrown tomato! They are gardener’s pride and joy! Do your research on what kind, or color you want to grow.  There are hundreds of varsities to pick from and you need to know the difference between an Indeterminate and Determinate tomato variety.

For beginner gardeners, I would recommend not growing tomatoes in the heirloom (or determinate category) until you are an experienced gardener. Heirloom tomatoes taste great but can be very temperamental if the plants don’t get an even amount of water and sustaining hot temperatures.  They are also prone to disease and fungal problems.

If the plants get stressed this results in what is called end rot or blossom rot.  The tomato is not ripe enough to pick but instead starts rotting on the bottom of the fruit and the falls off the plant.  Once a plant starts producing rotten fruit the problem cannot be fixed. The plant must be pulled out of the ground and thrown away.   

I recommend varieties like “Big Beef” or “New Girl” for a nice evenly round healthy tomato and are perfect for sandwiches or salads.  These varieties are what is called “Indeterminate” hybrids and are not prone to disease or fungal problems.

There are smaller tomato varieties you can grow too.  Grape and cherry tomatoes produce a lot of fruit and are fun to grow.  Make sure you share with friends and family if you have too many.

Tomato Definitions:

Indeterminate Tomato: Tall plants that require staking for trellis and will keep producing fruit up until first frost.

Determinate Tomato: A bush variety that is low and compact and doesn’t require staking. These plants grow a certain number of fruit and then the plant stops growing and dies.  Unlike the indeterminate tomatoes where the plant continues to produce fruit until it’s too cold.  Heirloom tomato varieties are determinate plants.

I recommend you start your seeds indoors in small containers and then transplant into the garden in late spring. Do not direct seed into the ground the seeds will have difficulty sprouting.  Tomatoes need full sun and plenty of hot temperatures.

10. Sunflowers

Sunflowers are beautiful and can be a showy centerpiece to any garden. The good news is sunflowers now come in many different sizes.  These are a perfect plant to direct seed into the garden.

There are shorter more compact varieties that produce multiple flower heads that are smaller. These are great for flower bouquets.

The tall varieties like Royal Hybrid produce one big flower and need lots of sun.  Make sure your seeds are organic if growing these flowers for bird food and don’t spray your plants with pesticides or herbicides. Chemicals hurt the birds and wildlife that will live among your plants in the garden.

At the end of the season, cut the flower heads and dry them. The birds will appreciate a nice snack when there is little food to forage on during the cold winter months.

 

Happy Spring! It’s Time To Eat Your Dandelion Greens!

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

Happy Spring!! Astronomically speaking that is. But that doesn’t mean its warm outside and flowers are blooming here in New England. Mother-nature can be cruel sometimes and tease us mercilessly with a beautiful warm sunny day and dump a foot of snow the next.

So technically (at least around here) we wait until the end of April to officially declare spring. In the meantime, if you live in a similar climate as we do, why not begin work on your winter body now. So when the warmer weather is here to stay, you’re looking and feeling pretty darn good!

On another note, did you also know that today is also International Happiness Day? What are you happy about? Post it in the comments below. I’d love to know.

I’m happy that today is a bright, warm sunny day. This is the first day I opened the greenhouse to cool things off and bring in some fresh air. I’m excited that soon, I’ll be back in the garden planting this seasons herbs and flowers for our Farm to Bath herbal bath and body products. Cue the confetti… Whoohoo!


It’s Our Ancestors Fault Or Is It?

According to scientists we consume an additional 200 calories per day during the long winter months because of low levels of Vitamin D. Other researchers believe its part of our DNA we inherited from our ancient ancestral relatives.

Back in the day eating more calories was critical to surviving a long winter. The more “fluffier” our relatives were the better chances they survived the cold, harsh winters than the skinny rail thin ones. Remember there were no McDonalds or grocery stores to supply them with food when it ran out.

They either starved to death, froze to death, or survived on their reserved body fat. It was survival of the fittest or in this case the fluffiest. Thank goodness we don’t have to live that way anymore and can control our environment and what we eat!

Whatever the reasons we gain weight, come spring, what goes on, must come off. Whether it’s our DNA flipping its hibernation switch (my analogy) or we’re getting more Vitamin D because the days are longer. Our body is telling us its ready to shed the extra pounds.

What Are Detoxifying Foods?

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There is a whole industry devoted to detoxifying one’s body, and sometimes it can be confusing and misleading. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is some middle ground without committing to a strict detox cleanse and spending hundreds of dollars for someone to tell you what you already know. Stop eating junk!

There’s no one size fits all to detoxing. You just need to be aware of what you’re eating. I call it “conscious eating.” Eat more plant-based foods and herbs. Eliminate foods high in sugar, fat, carbohydrates, and processed foods.

Here is a general idea of what a detox lifestyle looks like. Typically there are 3 goals:

“(1) to remove potentially “toxic” foods, (2) to eat a simple diet so that detox organs like the liver can focus less on digestion and more on detoxification, and (3) to increase your consumption of water and foods that encourage the detoxification organs to do their job more efficiently.”

Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97

Just stated, eat a simpler diet, especially in the spring. This is when your body is ready to shed its winter weight. This may be the reason why trying to stay fit during the winter is like pushing a car uphill. Your body isn’t listening because you may be Vitamin D deficient and its in hibernation mode.

Don’t get me wrong, weight loss can be made at any time of the year, but it’s tough to fight those comfort food cravings during the cold winter months if you’re low on Vitamin D. Just be aware of what you’re eating and have a plan.

Talking to your doctor is also a good idea. Have your Vitamin D levels checked as a precaution. It’s important to have a baseline, so you know if your weight gain is related to a Vitamin D deficiency.

I get mine checked annually, and my doctor adjusts my Vitamin D supplement dosage as necessary. The bad news is as I get older, my Vitamin D levels drop too severely low levels during the winter months; which is triggering other health problems.

The good news is, all of this is in my control. My doctor tells me I can mitigate any future damage by merely getting outside and walking and eating more nutrient-dense foods.

After doing a lot of research on winter weight gain and Vitamin D deficiency, I found some detox and weight loss friendly herbs and vegetables that are nutrient dense that I’ve added to my diet. I thought this would be helpful to you in achieving your own health goals.

Detox Friendly Foods:

Bitter veggies:
Artichoke
Lettuce
Escarole
Radicchio
Arugula
Bitter greens
Bitter Melon

Diuretic Veggies:
Dandelion (greens, flower and/or root)
Parsley
Burdock Root
Celery

Cruciferous Veggies:
Broccoli
Kale
Watercress
Cabbage
Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts

Others:
Asparagus
Avocado
Beets
Berries
Sour Citrus
Cranberries
Pomegranate
Garlic and Onions
Mushrooms (cooked in Broth)
Green Tea
Flax and Chia Seeds
Walnuts
Water

Culinary Herbs and Spices (especially Turmeric)

Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97

All of these foods listed can play a superstar role in detoxing your body naturally and should be easy to incorporate into your diet daily. However, there is one green that is a real Superhero. It hits 3 of the most common health goals most people want to achieve.

Dandelion Greens – The Superhero Green!

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

I love this green and try to incorporate it into my diet as much as possible. It’s one of the few herbs that does so much good for the body. A once favorite herb/green during the Great Depression, it hardly gets a mention in herbal and culinary circles today. But, there are still a few diehard fans out there.

According to Rosemary Gladstar, International Herbalist, this green is:

“… One of the most widely used herbs in the world, dandelion is highly respected, both for its preventative and for its remedial qualities…”

Herbal Healing for Women, Rosemary Gladstar, 28

The dandelion chemical composition focuses its energy on nurturing the kidney and liver. The most significant health benefit I discovered is dandelions act like a diuretic.
Unlike, synthetic diuretics, that deplete the body of potassium which can cause other health issues, such as muscle weakness, fatigue, digestive issues, just to name a few problems. Dandelions are high in potassium and replace K naturally at the same time helping the liver and kidneys eliminate excess water and toxins.

Health Benefits Specifically For Women:

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In some women, hormonal changes can have severe effects on their bodies. Research suggests that eating dandelion leaves and roots during a woman’s menstrual cycle can help with bloating, PMS and breast tenderness.

Also, dandelions are also known as a bitter. Bitter greens help stimulate the bile in the stomach which encourages better digestion, which detoxes the body and helps with elimination.

This can be important for women who have issues with cravings, bloating and constipation during their cycle. This green can help move things along and reduce some of the discomforts.

Personally, I can gain up to 20 pounds of water weight during my moon cycle. To help reduce the fluid buildup, and the uncontrollable cravings, I’ll take dandelion root supplement daily. I make sure I drink plenty of water and eat fresh dandelion greens several times a week to help flush my system. This keeps things moving through my intestines which is reducing the pressure in my stomach and back. Think of your body as a deflating balloon.

In addition, I cut back on the amount of gluten, starches/carbs (e.g., bread, pasta, white potatoes, white rice, and corn) and the worst offender for PMS sugar!

Move That Body!

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Dandelions are rich in Vitamin A, C, Iron and Calcium which are essential for healthy bones among other things. This is important for a woman who is menopausal or has been diagnosed with osteopenia which can happen to women over the age of 50.
Also, moving your body is essential to dropping that winter weight.

Our ancient ancestors didn’t continue sitting around when the snow melted. They got outside and started hunting and gathering to feed their family. So you’re already genetically programmed to move! No excuses here…

I try and go for a walk for at least 45 minutes to an hour a day. If I can’t get that much time in, I’ll find 20 minutes somewhere and jump on the treadmill and do a quick 20. I don’t have a perfect record, but I try to get more days in than not.

If you don’t have a treadmill, do circles around your coffee table, around your kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or in your yard, whatever. Just get moving and work up to an hour, its better than doing nothing. I promise you’ll feel better.

Dandelions Achieve 3 Health Goals:

  1. It is a bitter, that helps get a sluggish gut’s digestive juices moving. Yes, pooping is good for you when trying to lose weight!
  2. It’s a natural diuretic that doesn’t deplete your body of potassium and other essential nutrients. Dandelions are naturally high in potassium, Vitamin A, C, Iron.
  3. It’s perfect for bone health, especially for those who are diagnosed with osteopenia. Dandelions are naturally high in Calcium.

Honestly, I haven’t found another green that can do so much good for one’s body. It truly is a Superhero Green!

Recipes:

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Dandelion greens can be eaten raw, sautéed or steamed. I often add them to a brown rice dish or just saute them in a little olive oil and garlic which is my favorite way to eat them.

If you’re interested in eating them wild, the best time to harvest them is in the spring and early autumn. Make sure when harvesting that no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides have been sprayed or sprinkled on them. So please be careful if you decide to harvest wild dandelions.

Otherwise, you can pick them up fresh at your local health food store or grow them yourself. There are seed company’s that sell the seeds. Just do an online search.

According to the Flavor Bible, dandelions go great with the following foods:
Anchovies
Bacon
Garlic
Dijon Mustard
Peanut Oil
Onions
Ground Pepper
Salads
Salt
Vinegar

Dandelion Greens with Salsa Verde

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

 

2 – 3 pounds dandelion greens, roughly chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Salsa Verde Sauce:

 

Photo by Brenda J. Sullivan

1/3 cup parsley chopped fine

Zest of a graded lemon

2 garlic cloves pounded into a puree

1 tablespoon drained, rinsed and finally chopped capers

Salt and ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice or  champagne vinegar

Mix ingredients in a bowl and set aside for flavors to blend together. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature first, then drizzle over greens toss well, before serving.

Note: This recipe is enough for several dishes. Only use a tablespoon or so on these greens. Refrigerate the rest.

Dandelion Greens Cooking Instructions:

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat gently infuse

the olive oil with the chopped garlic. Don’t burn the garlic!

Add dandelion greens and sauté until greens are wilted. Salt and

pepper to taste.

Drizzle a tablespoon of the salsa verde over greens and give a quick toss and then serve.

 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, if you have questions about your health please consult with a licensed medical professional. The information in this article is for educational purposes and not meant to treat or diagnose any medical conditions.

Links within this posting are affiliate links to Amazon

References:

Body into Balance, Maria Noel Groves, 97

WebMD, What is Osteopenia? DerSarkissian, C 

The Flavor Bible, Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg, 175

Herbal Healing for Women, Rosemary Gladstar, 28

The Woman’s Herbal Apothecary, JJ Pursell, 167

The Art Simple Food, Alice Waters, 45

Why you get fatter in winter… even though you eat LESS, Laura Topham for the Mail on Sunday, dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2052975

Flower & Garden Show 2015

If you have cabin fever from all this snow and extremely cold weather come on down to the CT Flower Show and warm up by thinking about spring! Starting today through Sunday I will be at the CT Flower & Garden Show. I will have a sampling of my best selling soaps plus, lavender sugar scrubs, lavender body sprays and herbal salves.

Flower Show

PLUS! Show offer only!  Interested in turning your backyard or small plot of land into cash? Off is only good during the show get $50.00 off my next full day SPIN Farming workshop March 14th from 9 – 4 in South Glastonbury. Show price $150.00 normally $200.00.

SPIN Workshop Flyer

 

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I’m Talkin Dirt!

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Spring has arrived here on Thompson Street Farm. My raised beds are finally defrosted and the rain has stopped, we’ve been busy cleaning out winter debris and prepping the soil for planting.

Maintain good soil health: One of the most important parts of being a successful gardener (or in my case farmer) is maintaining good soil health without dumping expensive fertilizers that are bad for your health and environment. Soil is a biological system which has millions microorganisms living in it that needs to be cared for. Understanding what is in your soil and what is not, will determine how successful your garden (or farm) will be.

I’m not a biologist and to be perfectly honest, soil biology is one of my weakest areas in my farming operation. I’ve read extensively on the subject; however, for me personally, I need things broken down in easy to understand language. I need a recipe of sorts specific to my land. There is so much information out there most of it doesn’t apply to my situation and I am frequently confused and frustrated.

I’ve learned I’m not alone. Finding soil amendments in small quantities can be hard for small plot growers. Some elements are only sold by the ton. In other situations when I could find smaller quantities (e.g. 1 lb. bag); it was too expensive to buy in the numbers I needed (e.g. 50 bags). This was my problem with bloodmeal. In the end, I resorted to ordering a 50 lb. bag from Amazon, paid the shipping fees because it was cheaper than buying (50) 1 lb. bags from my local garden store.

Use a good lab for soil testing: Last year I hired a soil fertility expert to help me figure out what to do with farm land I am leasing. My first year, I had very little seed germination. I knew I needed a soil test, but I wanted help translating the results and help sourcing a reliable retailer who would sell me soil amendments in the quantities I needed.

In our first meeting I explained I used my states university lab and I was frustrated on how to interpret the information. They use a general rating system:

• Below Optimum
• Optimum
• Above Optimum

In the recommendations section on every lab result regardless of what was rated they recommended 10-10-10 fertilizers. I started asking myself why do soil a test if the recommendation is always going to be the same? I knew the lab wasn’t explaining my test results accurately. They knew I was an organic grower, so why were they always recommending the use of commercial fertilizers.

I learned from my soil specialist some soil labs are better than others. He strongly recommended I stop using my state lab and use a lab that will give me the actual numbers of each element.

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Test your Soil: Standard recommendation is once every 3 years in the fall.  However, if you need a starting point don’t worry what time of year it is – just do the test.  This will be your baseline.

Collecting your soil sample:  If you have multiple beds (I have 22 raised beds) save some money by taking a sample of dirt from all your beds.  Mix the dirt in a container and remove 1 scoop and send it off to the lab.  This will give you an overall baseline of your soil make up.

If you want to know what’s going on in each bed take samples from different sections of the bed and mix together and remove a single sample.  But be aware this can be expensive.

If you are growing in the ground, take samples from several different locations in your growing area.  Mix together in a container and pull out 1 sample.

Soil Testing Check out Dan Kitterage YouTube Video introduction on soil testing

According to Dan Kitterage from the Bionutrient Food Association in MA he recommends your base minerals should be as follows:

  •  Sulfur – 75ppm
  • Phosphorus – 75ppm
  • Calcium – 60% – 75%
  • Magnesium – 12% – 18%
  • Potassium – 3% – 5%

For more detailed information on soil biology I recommend you check out Dan’s website www.bionutrient.org

Manure vs leaf compost/mulch:  Once you have addressed your soil mineral issues there is the question of organic matter.  How much, what kind and how often?  An old friend of mine is always telling me “You need nitrogen and lots of it!” “Use whatever you can find! That will really get you going.”  My response is always “Not so fast my friend…..”

As an organic grower dumping manures in my beds or field is not the magic cure to all soil ailments.  There has to be a balance between minerals and organic matter.  In addition, manures are often mixed with the animals bedding which tends to be higher in ammonia verses nitrogen and other nutrients because the bedding is soaked with urine.

What kind of manure matters:  Chicken, cow, horse, rabbit, goat, pig etc.  Not all manures are the same.  They all have different nutrient levels.  Is the manure mixed with the bedding?  If yes, what kind of bedding did they use?  Stay away from wood shavings and sawdust bedding if possible.

Wood shavings and saw dust are often sprayed with chemicals which will leach out into your soil.  Add the additional high levels of ammonia and you have a potent mixture that could burn your plants.

I realize finding manure free from the wood bedding maybe difficult but if you check around you may find someone who doesn’t use that type of bedding with their livesstock.  If the bedding is straw then it’s ok because straw doesn’t absorb urine and breaks down quickly.

How old is the manure?  Never ever put fresh manure on your soil.  Last year a new gardener at our local community garden put several inches of her daughter’s newly made horse poo on her bed.  Her rational it’s organic and free!  What could go wrong? The result was she killed everything.  That was a hard lesson for her to learn.

One year or more is best as it has time to rot a little, cool off so it won’t burn your plants.  In addition, a little goes a long way, especially in small spaces.

How often should I put down manure? If the manure is composted (which is different than pure manure) you can put it down every year.  If it’s straight manure its best to add it on your field and let rest for 1 month before planting.  There is no information available on adding straight manure every year is wise.  I recommend you consult with a soil fertility expert.

BEWARE of Toxic Manure: Not to be an alarmist, but sourcing your livestock manure is important.  It’s what the animal digests and comes out the other end is the concern.

Some farmers spray their hay fields with herbicides to keep the weeds down.  The hay is baled, sold or fed to the farmer’s livestock.  When the cow or horse, for example, eats the hay, the residue from the herbicides passes through the animal and there you have it – toxic manure.  It can stunt, mutate, or kill whatever you are growing and now you have a bigger problem – you have toxic soil.

Grass clippings collected from lawns that have been sprayed with herbicides and composted can also pose a similar danger.  As much as I would love to ask for grass clippings from local landscapers, I don’t.  In my neighborhood, we have a lot of those white and green trucks with tanks on them spraying Lord knows what on people’s lawns.  My concern is the long term effects from the large number of residences that use these companies will be on our ground water. I doubt anyone’s monitoring this.

To learn more about this issue click here 

Using Manures as a soil amendment:  Several sources recommend finding farmers that feed their animals with clean feed and use the manure solids minus the bedding.  The challenge will be finding a source that will give you just the manure.  It can be done.  One gardener told me she asked an organic farmer friend if she could collect his cow patties in his pasture. Even though he gave her a strange look, he told her to knock herself out.

Another farmer friend recommended I check into large chicken producers who are overflowing with chicken poo and will deliver it by the truckload.  Large producers often don’t use bedding in their operations. The chickens are in cages and the waste drops to a space below them and is shoveled out.  In addition, owning chickens myself, I know there are a great many benefits other than collecting their eggs and/or eating them.

Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and is considered a great amendment according a by USDA Agriculture Research Service study

“They found that cotton yields peaked 12 percent higher with organic fertilizers (sic. specifically chicken litter), compared to peak yields with synthetic fertilizers…”

Manures are not sterile: As wonderful manures are, you need to be aware there are pathogens in manure that can contaminate your produce if it hasn’t been properly composted.  It can have some pretty nasty bugs such as E-coli, Listeria and salmonella just to name a few.  As a commercial grower I have be very careful what I put on my soil as the last thing I want is contaminated lettuce from manure not properly composted.

For my piece of mind, unless I’m guaranteed the manure has been sitting for a few years, I will only use it on my open field.  For my permanent raised beds I use leaf compost.  In addition, I only recommend trucking in manure if you are farming ¼ acre or more.  Anything smaller I recommend leaf compost.

Leaves are easy to find.  I discovered last fall some people were more than happy to collect and bag leaves if I hauled them away verses the homeowner hauling bags to the town dump and paying a dump fee. In addition, ask your neighbors to blow their leaves into your yard.  I was lucky last fall my neighbor was more than happy to blow his leaves down the hill in-between our houses.

I run my leaves through a leaf mulcher which gives me nice chopped mulch ready to be put on my beds.  I recommend about a 1 to 2 inches of mulch on top of your beds or growing area in the late fall and leave there over winter.  Come spring, I mix whatever is left into the soil and as long as I don’t have to add any rock minerals I’m good to start planting.

Since its spring now, check if you have leaves hanging around from last year and go ahead and put them in your garden or if you’ve already planted side dress your plants.  It will help retain moisture and keep weeds down.

Recap: 

  •  Test your soil in the fall every 3 years. Or test now for a baseline.
  • Use a lab that breaks down everything by the numbers verses using general terms such as Below Optimum, Optimum etc.
  • Use leaf compost/mulch on less than a ¼ acre or in raised beds. If you want to use animal manures, try to use manures that are bedding free (i.e. wood shavings or sawdust), and are fed clean herbicide free feed.

Resources:

  • Logan Labs , LLC  www.loganlabs.com
  • BioNutrient Food Association  www.bionutrient.org

      • Educational Youtube videos and webpages explaining soil biology in easy to understandable language.
      • Soil consultants ready to assist you with your questions (for a fee) if you are like me and don’t have a science background or just need help.

Kitchen Counter Garden

March 5, 2014 001

Spring is days away and it’s been so cold the snow has turned into solid ice. My cat has lost his mind from not being able to go outside. To pass the time of day he has resorted to playing fish on my daughter ipad. Although I think he knows something up with this “pond” – he keeps shaking his paws thinking they are wet and but they are dry, and then there’s no smell.

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March 7, 2014 002

 

 

 

 

 

As a farmer, I cannot wait for warmer weather to start digging in the soil again.  In January, I completed all my shopping for seeds, and on March 1st, the new season began I started planting my new seedlings in trays.  The best part is my new aquaponics system is finished and I am excited to see how well the system works.  This system was designed to grow hundreds of lettuce and herbs.  In another week or so, the fish should be arriving and that will really boost the system.

March 5, 2014 004 (These are garlic cloves sprouting into garlic greens)

While talking to a friend recently, she mentioned she couldn’t wait to start eating fresh local greens.  I suggested she start a small kitchen herb garden on her counter – it’s the fastest way to get fresh greens and in less than 10 days she can be cutting fresh greens for her salads.

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Start with any kind of container.  I personally like the containers our Chinese food come in.  They hold enough soil to do the job.

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Gently poke holes in the bottom of container.  An easy way to do it is using a board underneath the container and hammer the nail through the bottom.  For those who want a higher tech method, a drill with a small bit will work fine.  Just make sure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom so the water can drain.

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Moisten the potting soil prior to filling the container.  The soil should be wet enough to make a meatball size clump – but not soaking wet where there is water dripping from your hand.

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Sprinkle your seeds over the top of the soil and cover with plastic wrap until the seeds sprout then remove the plastic.  If the container has a lid, gently close it but don’t seal it tight.  The goal here is to keep the soil moist until your seeds sprout.  Remove the lid completely and water when soil appears dry on top.

Easy Kitchen Garden Varieties:

Arugula

Basil

Chives

Garlic Greens – (need a deep container for this) just peel a few garlic cloves from the grocery store and plant.

Parsley

Happy Spring!