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Important Vegetable Gardening Tips for Beginners

Welcome to the world of gardening! If you’re new to this fun and rewarding activity, here are some important tips to help you out along the way!

A sunny area with level ground is the best place to plant a vegetable garden. Planting on level ground will make it much easier to prepare the soil, plant and irrigate your vegetables. In the case that planting on a level surface is not an option, be sure to run your rows across the slope, rather than up and down. This will help to keep the soil from washing away when watering your garden.

Avoid planting a garden under trees as well as on the north side of buildings, shrubs or other tall objects, as they will block the sunlight.

When planning the layout of your garden, place the tallest plants on the north side. This will prevent them from blocking shorter plants from receiving sunlight.

Be sure to leave enough space between the rows or beds so that you can easily move around to work and water the plants.

Try to keep your soil evenly moist while your vegetables are growing. To do so, apply water when you see that the top 1 – 2 inches (2.5 – 5 cm) of soil is dry.

Water only the base of your plants. Watering from above will waste water (through evaporation) and moisture on the foliage of your plants can potentially lead to leaf diseases.

Try to move your crops around (or plant different crops) after each season. Planting the same crop (or crops from the same family) in the same area two years in a row may encourage pests that feed on certain crops to inhabit the soil in these areas.

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Growing a Safe and Natural Urban Garden

Many individuals are moving towards more sustainable living, with urban gardening becoming a very popular hobby.

While urban gardens are great for the environment and the health and well being of those who grow them, there can also be some risks to watch out for.

Studies have shown that gardens near heavy traffic areas may become contaminated with high levels of heavy metals. There are steps that you can take, however, to reduce the risk of your garden becoming contaminated, even if you are working in a contaminated area.

Learn about the land you are working with. Before planting a garden it is important that you try to identify whether or not your soil may be contaminated. Your local land authority and health or environmental agencies may be able to help with records of past uses as well as soil testing. If you discover your land may be contaminated, is near buildings where lead paint may have flaked off or is in a high traffic area, you may want to consider growing your crops in a raised bed. Line the bed with a sturdy liner and bring in new, clean soil in which to grow your crops. Barriers such as a wall, thick hedge or other thick vegetation can also be helpful in blocking the dust and contaminants that may threaten your crops from the presence of heavy traffic. If you are in an area with lots of traffic, creating a barrier around your urban garden is a great idea to help eliminate the risk of contamination.

These simple suggestions can be very helpful in ensuring the growth of a clean garden and supplying you and your family with fresh, natural, homegrown ingredients.

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Home & Garden

Jump Start Your Garden: How to Plant Seeds Indoors

Are you planning on planting a vegetable garden this year? If so, get a head start by planting your seeds indoors!

While not all plants are suited to this method, many vegetables are. Suitable vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, leeks, onions, parsley, peppers, tomatoes and squash. Vegetables that do not do well when transplanted and therefore should not be planted indoors ahead of time include root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips as well as corn, beans, peas and okra.

While it is helpful to start early with many types of seeds, it is also important that you don’t plant the seeds too soon. In order to determine when to start sowing your seeds indoors, count backwards from the suggested planting time on the back of the seed packet. Most seeds will need to grow for approximately two to eight weeks before being transplanted into the garden. The suggested timeline will refer to your last frost date. If you are unsure of when this is, visit The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Canada or the The Old Farmer’s Almanac: United States.

All the supplies you need to start growing your seeds indoors can be found around the house or at a local hardware store or garden centre. For example, old food containers can be used to plant seeds in.  It is important, however, that any materials you are using or re-using are sterile. To sterilize seed trays use a weak bleach solution (approximately one part bleach to nine parts water). If you are using your own soil it is a good idea to spread it in a shallow pan and to set it in the oven (at 180 C, 350 F) for thirty minutes to be sure that it is sterilized as well.

How To Get Started:

Please note: Before getting started, it is important to read the back of the seed packet for any additional steps that may be required.

Step 1: Fill your starter tray (or re-useable food containers) with loosely packed soil. Using the spacing instruction on the back of the seed packet, poke holes in the soil for the seeds.

Step 2: Plant your seeds in the holes.

Step 3: Lightly water the newly planted seeds (be sure not to over water, as the seeds may float out of their planting holes). Once watered, cover the tray with a plastic lid (or, if you are re-using containers, place them inside zip-lock bags) to keep the moisture trapped. (At the first signs of germination, uncover the tray or remove the container from the plastic bag.)

Step 4: Over the first few days, check the tray to test moisture levels. Add water as needed.

Please Note: Water carefully. Use a small watering can to gently water the seedling only when the top of the soil appears to be dry. It is important that you do not over water as this can lead to the death of young plants.

Keep the tray in a relatively warm environment and provide at least eight hours of light daily. A bright window will work however, grow lights or fluorescent tubes are better, especially in dull winter climates. If you are using grow lights or fluorescent tubes, make sure to keep the seedlings approximately eight to ten centimeters (three to four inches) away from the light source.

It is important that you pick a good growing site for your seeds to germinate. The top of a fridge is a good spot, as the heat will help keep the soil warm and aid in germination.

Step 5: Transplant healthy sprouts to larger pots so they can develop a stronger root system. This will help make the transplanting process easier on them.

Once the outdoor gardening season arrives you will have strong, healthy sprouts to plant.

Good luck and have fun!

Image by Leaf by Leaf

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Not All Weeds Are Bad: Your Guide to Reaping the Benefits of Good Weeds in the Garden!

While most gardeners are quick to rid their garden of weeds, what many people don’t know is that some weeds can actually be beneficial to a garden! Therefore, rather than eliminating all of the weeds from your garden, learn to recognize those that will be helpful and use them to your advantage!

There are many different types of weeds that can provide numerous benefits to your garden. These benefits include the protection of topsoil, helping to pull up nutrients and water deep in the ground that other plants are unable to reach, luring harmful pests away from your crops and flowers and attracting beneficial insects to the area.

Protecting Topsoil:

Weeds such as spurges, purslane, lamb’s-quarters, chickweed and ragweed can be very helpful to have in a garden, as they will protect essential top soil from being washed or blown away.

Bringing Up Nutrients and Water:

Dandelions, prickly lettuce, spiny sow thistle, wild amaranths, cockleburs, nightshades and Queen Anne’s lace are examples of weeds that have very strong roots that go deep into the ground. Weeds with deep taproots can benefit a garden by breaking up hard soil and bring up nutrients from the areas that most plants are unable to reach. If the weeds are composted or turned into the soil, the nutrients that they have absorbed will be distributed for other plants to use. As well, moisture is also wicked upwards outside of the roots for other plants to benefit from. Weeds like Mugwort may also be helpful in absorbing heavy metals from the ground, stopping erosion and adding nutrients to soil.

Attracting Beneficial Insects and Luring Away Pests:

Certain repellent weeds such as dandelions, cockleburs and goldenrod can help to deter pests such as army worms. As well, other weeds including Lamb’s-quarters and Rosa multiflora will help protect your garden by luring away insects such as leaf miners and Japanese beetles that might otherwise feed on your plants.

Pennycress and dandelions are also great weeds for attracting beneficial insects. Clover is a common weed that can be used to attract earthworms and also to lure away pests such as rabbits. In addition, certain weeds such as Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, evening primrose, wild mustard, amaranth and dandelions will help to attract beneficial insects that will feed on and eliminate the harmful ones.

So, next time you go to weed your garden take a closer look and remember not all weeds are bad!

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Indoor Composting: How to Build Your Own Indoor Composter

Looking for a way to compost your leftover organic materials but don’t have an outdoor area available? Make your own indoor composter! All you need are a few simple materials and you will be producing your own nutrient rich soil for your urban garden in no time!

All you’ll need is a trash can or other large container with a lid, a smaller container that will fit inside the trash can (this will hold your compost so make sure it is large enough) a brick or flat, medium sized rock and Stall DRY. The area under the sink in the kitchen is often a good place to keep your compost – just make sure that your larger container will fit easily into this area!

Place the brick (or rock) on the bottom of the larger trash can and spread some Stall DRY around it (this will be used to absorb any liquid that drains out of the compost bin). Next, make holes in the smaller container – place them on the sides and bottom of the container (a drill or a hammer and nail will work well for creating the holes!). Then place the small container inside the trash can. The brick will hold the smaller container up off of the bottom of the trash can so that any liquid can drain out into the absorbent Stall DRY underneath. The Stall DRY will absorb the liquid and help to absorb any odor!

You can speed up the composting process by making sure to mix up the materials in your compost often.

Keep in mind that composting is not an overnight process therefore it is often a good idea to build two composting bins so that one can be swapped out for the other while the composting is taking place.

Now you’re ready to compost!

Please note: Stall DRY can also be added directly to the compost to help keep down the odor and absorb any excess liquid (just be sure not to add too much Stall DRY, as you want the compost to keep a wet/dry balance).

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Gardening: Easy to Grow Vegetables

There’s nothing like the taste and freshness of home grown vegetables, not to mention the fact that they contain much more nutrients than those that have traveled thousands of miles to reach your local grocery store! Many people are starting to grow their vegetables at home and why not – with these tips it’s easy! Even living in an apartment shouldn’t stop you from growing some of your own, fresh produce; all you need is a sunny window!

Carrots

Carrots are delicious, high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, manganese, niacin, potassium, vitamins A, B6 and C and are easy to grow at home! They will be ready to eat about two months after the seeds have germinated.

When planting carrot seeds, be sure to leave a few inches between the seeds and plant them less than an inch deep in the soil. Carrots can be easily planted outside or in a pot – as long as the pot is at least twelve inches deep. Keep the soil evenly moist in order to avoid growing carrots that are tough and stringy. Round carrot varieties will grow best indoors in pots.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes, which are in fact fruit, are highly nutritious, containing fiber, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, phosphorous, antioxidants and vitamins A, B6, C and E. Tomatoes will need at least three months before they are ready to be harvested.

When planting your seeds in a pot, plant only one tomato plant per pot. Depending on the type of tomato plant you are going to grow, you will need a pot that is anywhere from eight to eighteen inches deep. If you are planting the seeds outside in a garden, make sure to leave at least a foot between seeds to allow for growth. Mixing compost in with the soil will also be beneficial to your tomato plants! (See – Indoor Composting: How to Build Your Own Indoor Composter, for more information on do it yourself indoor composting.) If you are just starting out you may want to purchase a small tomato plant from a nursery, rather than try to grow it from seed, as this will be much easier!

Tomatoes require lots of sun so be sure to plant them in a sunny area or place your pot(s) in a sunny window! Make sure to water your tomato plant(s) a couple of times per week (a spray bottle will work well for this).

Peas

Peas can be grown indoors or out and will take a minimum of two to three months to grow. Peas are very nutritious vegetables, containing fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, B6 and C.

Plant pea seeds approximately two inches apart and one inch deep and be sure that the plants have some type of support to climb up. If you are planting peas indoors, be sure that your pot is at least ten inches deep. If you are planting your peas outside in the garden it is best to grow them in the early spring or late summer/fall, as hot weather can interfere with their production. Mixing compost into the soil is also a good idea. Pea plants require more water as they begin to develop. Start by watering freshly planted seeds with approximately half an inch of water per week, increasing this amount to one inch of water per week once the plants begin to mature. Make sure that your soil drains well.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are very simple to grow, especially indoors! They can be grown indoors at any time of the year – all you need is a dark space such as a cupboard or attic.

The easiest way to grow mushrooms at home is to purchase prepared bags of special compost containing mushroom spawn. These bags will only need to be watered before being placed in a dark area. Be sure to maintain the temperature at approximately 50 to 60ºF (10 to 15ºC) and your mushrooms should be ready to harvest in just a few weeks!

To make your own mushroom spawn compost, pack a mixture of straw and an activator (you will need to purchase this) into a sterile plastic pot or bucket. Once the mixture has cooled down and begins to turn into compost, add the mushroom spawn. Place the container in a dark area and in a few weeks your mushrooms will be ready!

Lettuce

Lettuce is also a great indoor crop and a good source of folic acid and vitamin A!

In addition to grow lights or a sunny window, you will also need plastic containers (plastic boxes such as those that grocery store lettuce is packaged in will work great), potting soil and lettuce seeds.

To build your lettuce boxes simply slice eight or nine holes in the bottom of each box, add a couple of inches of moist potting soil and sprinkle a pinch of lettuce seeds over top. Cover the seeds with a small amount of soil. Using a spray bottle, generously spritz the surface with water. Put the lids on your boxes and place them in a bright, warm, sunny place or under your grow lights. The seeds should begin to sprout in approximately one week. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the container’s lid to use as a watering tray. Fill the tray with water every day to keep the soil nice and moist.

Be sure that your lettuce plants receive enough sunlight! They will need approximately twelve hours of light per day therefore grow lights may be needed if ample sunlight is not available. Within three to four weeks you should be able to harvest your own, homegrown lettuce! To keep the plants growing, simply cut the leaves off and leave the growing crown intact. By doing so, you will be able to harvest more lettuce in about two weeks.

When growing lettuce outdoors, be sure to plant seeds in nutrient-rich soil that is free of debris. Plant seeds approximately eight to sixteen inches apart. Water the seeds every morning.

Please note: it is best to water lettuce only in the morning (and not at night) in order to avoid disease.

Nothing tastes better than fresh, homegrown produce! And with these simple tips growing your own crops at home is easy!

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What to Compost: Interesting Things You Can Compost

Does your compost consist of common waste including the usual fruit and vegetable peels, leaves, grass clippings, etc.? Consult the list below to make the most out of your compost bin and start composting some of these surprising items!

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Paper napkins
  • Crumbs from the counters and floors
  • Plain cooked pasta and rice
  • Bread
  • Olive pits
  • Cereals, crackers, chips, cookies, etc.
  • Nut shells (except walnut shells, which contain a chemical that can be toxic to plants)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Pretzels
  • Pizza crusts
  • Cereal boxes (torn into small pieces)
  • Wine corks
  • Moldy cheese
  • Melted ice cream
  • Old jelly, jam, or preserves
  • Beer and wine
  • Cardboard and paper egg cartons
  • Toothpicks
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Facial tissues
  • Human and pet hair
  • Nail clippings
  • 100% cotton balls
  • Dryer lint
  • 100 % cotton or wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces)
  • Pencil shavings
  • Paper business cards (as long as they aren’t glossy)
  • Receipts
  • Newspapers (shredded or torn into small pieces)
  • Ashes from the fireplace, barbecue grill, or outdoor fire pit
  • Latex balloons
  • Feathers
  • Dry dog or cat food
  • Wood chips and sawdust
  • Fabric sheets from the dryer
  • Paper bags (ripped or balled up)
  • Post-it notes
  • Pizza boxes (ripped into small pieces)
  • Paper plates (as long as they don’t have a waxy coating)
  • Paper envelopes, bills and other documents (make sure not to compost envelopes with
  • plastic windows and that the paper has been shredded)
  • Paper or wood-based matches
  • Paper towel/ toilet paper/ wrapping paper rolls
  • Leather belts, shoes, wallets, gloves (it is best if the leather is fairly old)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Masking tape
  • Jell-O (gelatin)
  • Paper muffin and cupcake cups
  • Price tags
  • Candy (with the wrapper removed)
  • Chewing gum
  • Old rope
  • Dead houseplants
  • Halloween pumpkins
  • Rawhide dog chews

Please note that not all of these items are organic and therefore should not be added to your compost if it will be used in an organic garden.

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Fall Gardening: Tips and Ideas

Fall is here and winter is fast approaching! In order to keep your garden healthy and prepare it for the spring there are some crucial steps you should take. Here are some fall gardening tips to help keep your flowers flourishing and prepare your garden for next year.

  • Remove any dead heads (dead flowers).
  • Regularly water your plants and provide them with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Cut back annuals and diseased plants to half their height and they will rebound. Perennials can be cut back too but make sure not to do this too early.
  • Do not dispose of any plant until you are sure it’s dead and can not be revived. To test to see if the plant is dead give it a gentle tug, if its roots hold then it is still alive.
  • Remove the leaves from any grassy areas that you have as it is crucial for the grass to get sunlight during the fall months. As well, remove any diseased leaves from under your plants as they will spread disease spores to your plants in the spring if they are left on the soil all winter.
  • Use winter mulch to help keep your plants at an even temperature as they may die during periods of irregular temperature conditions.
  • Protect your newly planted bulbs from squirrels by planting the bulbs in large groups, flooding the soil above them with water and covering them with leaves. Squirrels are able to locate bulbs by detecting disturbed soil. By creating these diversions you can outwit them and protect your garden.
  • Don’t wrap you’re your plants too tightly in burlap, as this can do more harm than good by holding ice against their tissues.

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Spring Vegetables

Spring has sprung! And it’s time to start planting your garden!

Early spring is a great time to start growing hardy vegetables like kale, spinach and collards. These veggies are able to withstand hard frost and, in fact, taste best when they mature in cool weather.

However, there are many more vegetables that are suitable for your spring garden! These include:

  • Spinach – depending on the weather, and the variety of spinach that you’ve planted, your spinach can begin to be harvested within three weeks of planting!
  • Swiss chard – while the Swiss chard leaves may take up to 50 days to reach their full size, some varieties of Swiss chard can be harvested as baby greens in as little as 25 days.
  • Peas – depending on the variety, peas may take from 50 to 65 days to mature
  • Brussel sprouts – Brussel sprouts may take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to mature.
  • Onions – from seed onions can take 3 to 5 months to mature. Planting onion ‘sets’ or small bulbs however, can shorten this maturity time to 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Cauliflower – cauliflower can be harvested 30 to 80 days after being planted.
  • Beets – on average, beets can be harvested within 50 to 70 days.
  • Carrots – carrots take approximately 2.5 months to mature.
  • Radishes – many varieties of radishes can be harvested in as little as 3 weeks.
  • Lettuce – while it may take approximately 55 to 75 days for the leaves to be fully grown depending on the variety), baby greens may be harvested in as little as 2 weeks.
  • Cabbage – for most green cabbage varieties, harvesting can occur approximately 70 days after planting.
  • Broccoli – broccoli may take anywhere from 45 to 60 days before it can be harvested.
  • Celery – some varieties of celery may be as little as 60 days to grow to maturity.
  • Potatoes – depending on the variety, potatoes may take 90 – 110 (or more) days to mature. Early varieties including ‘Irish Cobbler’, ‘Caribe’, ‘Red Norland’ and ‘King Harry’ mature in less than 90 days.

Full sized kale leaves can mature in 40 to 60 days, however baby kale leaves may be harvested in as little as 3 weeks. Both spinach and collard can be harvested approximately 4 to 6 weeks after being planted.

Please note: Lettuce and Swiss chard should to be covered if temperatures drop below freezing.

Image by Christine Sponchia