Tricks of the Trade

  • Storing Seeds

    QUESTION: What is the best way to store my seeds?
    - A gardener from Alabama

    ANSWER: That is a common question among gardeners everywhere, especially within the seed-saving circles. If seeds aren't stored properly, they will not germinate well in future years and all your hard work will be for nothing.

    Since seeds sprout when they’re introduced to moisture, warmth, and light, you want to keep them far from such influences while storing them. If stored at room temperature, seed will approximately last 2-3 years, more or less depending on the particular vegetable. The seed life doubles with every 10º the temperature is lowered.

    A dry, cool, and dark room is ideal. Store them in the refrigerator, basement, or cellar. You can use all sorts of containers – glass jars, Tupperware containers, buckets, cups, bags, etc. Sealed containers with lids are best, but we do not recommend vacuum-packing because seeds are living organisms that need oxygen to live. Without air to breathe, they're suffocated and you will notice a decrease in the germ rates.

    We also do not suggest freezing your seeds. There are a lot of varying opinions and stances on this matter. Let me explain why we don't recommend it. If seeds are placed in a freezer with more than 6% moisture content, they will inevitably crack and will not germinate. Sometimes the damage can be so small that the fractures in the seed are not easily visible. Don't store them in the freezer or else you risk losing seed that wasn't completely dry and ruining your hopes for future plantings.

    It's very easy to give your seeds the right environment and encourage them to live long lives in your garden. Take care of them and they will, in turn, take care of you.

    Here's a list of approximate years to expect from seed saved and stored properly:


    Vegetable Seed Longevity


    Beans----------------------- 2 – 4 years
    Beets------------------------ 3 – 6 years
    Broccoli--------------------- 3 – 5 years
    Cabbage--------------------- 4 years
    Carrots---------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Corn------------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Cowpeas--------------------- 3+ years
    Cucumbers------------------ 5 – 10 years
    Eggplants------------------- 2 – 5 years
    Lettuce---------------------- 2 – 6 years
    Melons---------------------- 5 – 10 years
    Okra------------------------- 2 – 5 years
    Onions---------------------- 1 – 2 years
    Peas------------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Peppers--------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Radishes-------------------- 3 – 5 years
    Spinach--------------------- 2 – 5 years
    Squash---------------------- 2 – 6 years
    Tomatoes------------------- 3 – 10 years
    Watermelon---------------- 4 – 5 years

    How do you store your seeds? Do you have any questions? Let us help!

  • Pollination & Isolation

    If saving seeds is your goal, then the process of plant pollination must not be overlooked.   Plants produce their fruits once their blooms have been fertilized by pollen.  While this is a desired result of seed-saving, if the plant has been pollinated by a different plant, their seed will be a cross between the two.

    You may not notice the alterations in that first year harvest.  The initial fruit should be fine.  However, if you save that seed and plant it next year, it will contain genes from both parent plants.  That's why pollination control is essential to saving pure seed.

    The way to control pollination is by isolation.  Protect the blooms and you protect the seeds.

    First get acquainted with the vegetables within each botanical family, as we mentioned in our previous post 5 Rules to Saving Seeds.  Remember, only plants within the same family will cross with each other.  The rest are fine and will not affect seed results.

    There are 3 main methods of plant isolation:

    1.  Time Isolation involves planting conflicting varieties at alternate times.  Either plant your second variety once your first has already begun to flower or separate their planting dates far enough apart to be safe.  It is important that the first sets its seed before the second variety flowers or there will be reason to be concerned that cross-pollination has occurred.

    If you want to grow two types of sweet corn and save seed from both, for example, plant varieties approximately 3 weeks apart.  Once the first is done tasseling and is ready to pick, the second variety should be starting to pollinate.  Maturity dates may vary with each variety, so the required time isolation may differ some.

    Lettuce, corn, and sunflowers are just a few of many crops that favor this method.

    2.  Bagging is your second option for isolation.  This process requires you to cover the flower heads to keep unwanted pollen out.  Whatever you use for protection, it must allow air in and keep insects out.  Nylon mesh bags, lightweight fabric, or bridal tulle secured around the entire plant or individual blossoms will work well.  Once the variety has finished flowering, mark the fruit with a string and uncover barrier.

    (If you don't bag the entire plant, make sure to protect multiple blooms in case something happens to one of the fruits later.  You wouldn't want to put all your seed saving hopes on one tomato, let's say.  If that tomato ended up getting chewed on by bugs later in the season, you will have lost your only chance.)

    This method does take some extra work and attention to detail, but it also gives you a little more freedom with what you can grow where.  Tomatoes, which are mostly self-pollinating, are often saved this way. However, others like spinach, beets, and corn are pollinated by wind and should not be isolated through bagging.

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    3. The other main choice you have is Distance Isolation, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Plant space in between family members to prevent pollination.  If you have ideal growing space, this may be your solution.  Follow our chart below for recommended and required distances for proper seed saving.  (And don't forget about any nearby neighbors who might be growing conflicting varieties adjacent to yours.)

    Smaller gardens may have a problem providing enough distance, however.  If so, they should try one of the methods already mentioned.  Everyone can save seed.  They just have to figure out what works best for them.



    Plant Isolation Distances
    every Seed-Saving Gardener needs to know:



    Plant Isolation Distance
    Bean--------------------- 25 – 100 feet
    Beet--------------------- 1/2 mile
    Broccoli------------------ 1/2 mile
    Cabbage----------------- 1 mile
    Carrot------------------- 1500 feet
    Corn--------------------- 1/2 mile
    Cucumber--------------- 1/2 mile
    Lettuce------------------ 25 – 50 feet
    Melon-------------------- 1500 feet
    Okra--------------------- 1/2 mile
    Onion------------------- 1500 feet
    Pea---------------------- 50 feet
    Pepper------------------- 500 feet
    Radish------------------- 1500 feet
    Squash------------------ 1/2 mile
    Tomato------------------ 25 – 100 feet
    Watermelon------------ 1/2 mile




    Do you save your own seed?
    If so, what method do you use to control pollination in your garden?

  • 5 Rules to Saving Seeds

    Saving your own seeds does not have to be as complicated and impossible as people believe at first.  With just a few supplies and a little preparation, anyone can do it!

    There is certainly a world of information out there on this popular subject among gardeners and survivalists alike.  We will tell you about some books we recommend which offer great, in-depth information in just a bit, but first we'd like to go over the basics of seed saving.


    1.  First, you need to know the difference between Hybrids and Open-Pollinated varieties.

    Open-Pollinated — These varieties, so long as they are properly isolated from other plants of their species, will produce “true to type” seed with the same traits as that of their parent plant. That is why gardeners everywhere consider OP seed to be irreplaceably important, for it allows them to produce their own seed supply.

    Hybrid — The result of deliberate crossing of two distinct parent varieties from the same species, for the purpose of combining the ideal characteristics of separate varieties into one. While at first this may sound appealing, any seed saved from an F1 hybrid will not grow the same “true to type” traits a second time. Plant breeders must deliberately cross the parent varieties every time to obtain new hybrid seed.


    2.  Familiarize yourself with the different botanical families and vegetable groups.

    Varieties of the same botanical family can cross-pollinate each other and produce altered seed as a result.  However, different varieties of vegetables can be grown together unprotected and will not cross.  It's essential to securing a pure seed supply that you are familiar with each botanical family member you're growing and prevent unwanted pollination.

    For example, a tomato will not cross with a bean, but it will cross with a different tomato. That is because tomatoes and beans come from different botanical families.  They can be grown side by side without any worries.  Just learn your vegetable groups.

    Certain vegetables are grouped together in one family.  The Brassica family, for example, includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. So in this case, a cabbage plant could cross with a broccoli plant.  Again, learn your vegetable groups.

    One odd exception to the family rule is the matter of squash.  Take a deep breath!  You can get this!  Squash are divided into four different family groups and must be protected from their members within those individual groups only.

    CUCURBITA PEPO
    (Includes Crooknecks, Zucchini, Scallops, Straightnecks, Spaghetti, and some pumpkins)

    CUCURBITA MOSCHATA
    (Includes Butternuts)

    CUCURBITA MAXIMA
    (Includes Bananas, Hubbards, & Marrows)

    CUCURBITA MIXTA
    (Includes Cushaws)

    This means, i.e. that “Moschatas” only need to be protected from other “Moschata” siblings.  They'll be fine next to the “Maxima family”.


    3. Control pollination to maintain pure seed.

    The process of cross-pollination consists of pollen being transferred from one plant to another and where fertilization occurs as a result.  Now that you see the influence of the families on each other, another question arises.  How do I prevent unwanted cross-pollination then?

    There are various ways to prevent this and protect your plants.  Here's a few:

    -Plant only single varieties in your garden. One variety of watermelon, one variety of beans, etc.

    -Organize successive or alternating plantings, where one variety finishes blooming before another one begins.

    -Isolate plant blooms, either by “bagging” or distance.

    (We will talk more about this in-depth in our next blog post, so stay tuned!)


    4.  Allow fruit to fully mature before harvesting for seed.

    Each vegetable has its own maturity date.  It's important you let it finish growing or the seeds you save may be underdeveloped.  Tomatoes are one that you must pick ripe from the vine and scoop the seed out.  Beans, on the other hand, should be allowed to dry completely on the vine right up to the first frost and then shelled.


    5.  Seed must be stored properly to preserve a high germination rate in following years.

    Again, we will be touching on this more in a couple weeks on our blog, but as a general rule keep all seeds in a cool, dark, and dry environment.  We recommend in a refrigerator or in the basement.

    So there you have it.  5 rules to save seeds by.  For more information and instructions, check out any – or all – of these great resources:


    Seed to Seed
    by Suzanne Ashworth

    The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds
    by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough

    Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving
    by Carol Deppe


    What seeds have you saved?  If you haven't ever tried it, what's holding you back?  We're all still learning here, so feel free to share your thoughts and ask questions.

  • Blight Be Gone

    One of the most common problems a gardener will face during the growing season is blight – a fungal infection that resides in the soil and quickly devours plants like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants.

    What begins as a small black or brown spot on the bottom leaves of the plant will quickly spread up the stem and onto the other leaves. If left alone, the blight can prevent plants from flowering and fruit from maturing.


    What Causes Blight?

    This disease thrives in wet, humid conditions, where temperatures range between 60º-80º F. It most commonly occurs on tomatoes when over-watering occurs from above and a mixture of moisture and dirt have made contact with the leaves of the plant. This bacterial fungus can spread quickly through excessive watering or by hand and can reside in the soil for many years.


    How to Fight
    Blight – Before It Arrives

    The most effective way to fight this infection is to prevent it altogether. Here's some steps every gardener should take.

    1. Start Your Own Seeds If you grow them yourself, you'll know your plants' history. You'll have guaranteed healthy, disease-free transplants.

    2. Establish Good Air CirculationGive your plants space – at least 3 feet between tomatoes – for your plants to breathe and to allow moisture to dry quickly. It's important to keep the branches off the ground and out of the soil too.

    3. Mulch – Use leaves, grass clippings, or straw to cover the base of each tomato plant to protect the foliage from soil getting splashed and to retain moisture for the root system.

    4. Water at Ground LevelUse soaker hoses or drip irrigation to keep foliage dry and water in the morning.

    5. Crop RotationThis step is key if you've had blight in previous years. Rotate your plantings so that the same vegetable is not grown in the same place for 3-4 years if possible.


    How to Fight Blight – After It's Arrived

    Sometimes it's too late to prevent a problem. Sometimes the problems just beat us to the punch. Blight is a hard one to fix in the garden. Here's a few ways to help the headache, though, and save some of those vegetables.

    1. Visit your Local Garden Center, Hardware Store, or Nursery for a Fungicide that Fights Blight
    If you're wanting an organic, natural solution, find a copper-based fungicide. This will help control the disease, but it may not cure it.

    2. Try one of these Homemade Remedies:
    a. Mix 3 cups compost, 1/2 cup powdered nonfat milk, 1/2 cup Epsom salts, and 1 Tbs. baking soda. Add a handful of this mixture into each planting hole and put more powdered milk on the soil every couple weeks throughout the season.

    b. Mix 1 part skim milk and 9 parts water together and spray on plants to the point where it runs off. Apply early in the summer to discourage diseases from starting.

    c. Sprinkle crushed egg shells and/or compost tea around the plants to help fight the blight naturally.

    3. Discard Infected Leaves & Wash Your Hands
    It may be hard to break off those branches, but if you don't you could lose the entire plant. And do not toss them in the compost pile. The bacteria will breed in the dirt there. It's important to wash your hands with soap after handling any blight-affected plants or you could unknowingly spread the disease on to other plants in your garden.


    Blight is one of those things that simply comes with the gardening territory. You're not alone in the fight! Follow these steps mentioned above and grow a blight-free garden for years to come.


    Have you tried another method that successfully gets rid of blight? What garden diseases have your plants survived? We'd love to hear from you and learn your secret!

  • Thin to Win

    It's one of those jobs in the garden that no one likes to do.  After weeks of sowing and celebrating as the garden turns green with seedlings, the idea of thinning those plants is about the furthest thing from most gardeners' minds.  And we wish it could stay there.

    While it may seem harsh to eradicate perfectly healthy starts, it's for a good reason and a good cause.  We must give our vegetables some breathing room.

    It's the same concept as weeding. If our plants have to compete with each other for their most basic needs – such as sunlight, water, nutrients, and air – they'll never reach their full potential.  (And that's if they all live to their maturity, which is unlikely in overcrowded, stunted conditions.)

    In root crops such as radishes, carrots, and beets, if you neglect to thin them while they're young, the small harvests will be one huge disappointment.  And the problems, unfortunately, don't stay hidden beneath the surface either.  The signs of a struggling plant can reach from root to crown.

    Above ground, various diseases can quickly grow out of control when the air circulation is hindered.  Plants can grow weak and faint just like people do.  We must give everything from lettuce to squash a fair shake with enough space to truly succeed.

    Yes, that may mean pulling out a few of those precious seedlings you were so proud of.  Pick the weakest looking ones of the bunch where you can.  Use scissors to snip the unlucky ones where they've  entwined or grown too close to the “keepers”.  This way, the roots of the remaining seedlings aren't damaged.

    There is a silver lining to the thinning garden rule.  None of the plants have to be tossed aside and wasted. In the example of greens, if you wait to thin once they've grown their first true leaves, you can enjoy the extra seedlings in a fresh spring salad.  Many plants can be thinned from the others and yet still be big enough to eat.

    You can also save the misfits by gently pulling them out of the soil and transplanting them elsewhere.  These might need a little extra TLC, but they should survive as long as no damage is done to their root system.

    After thinning, the garden will look better, feel better, and will definitely grow better.  It's a tricky process, but it must be done.  Remember, it's better to have a small, yet healthy harvest than no harvest at all. Don't be afraid to weed and thin – your garden's life depends on it.

  • Soaking Seeds for Faster Germination

    Are you having problems getting those seeds to sprout?  Here's an easy way to speed the germination process along and get planting sooner!

    Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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    WHY? It's simple.  Seeds need water to sprout.  When planted without being soaked first, seeds have to wait until enough water is obtained through the soil.  If soil stays dry, seeds take longer to get their "thirst" quenched, resulting in slower germination rates and impatient gardeners.  Pre-soaking tricks them into thinking they've been planted for a while and encourages them to get growing.

    WHEN? It all depends upon the variety and vegetable.  Some seeds require just a few hours to absorb their limit, while others need up to 48 hours.  On average, 12-24 hours is the most common.

    HOW? Soak seeds in warm - NOT hot - water (120 degrees or less comfortable to the touch). At least 3 inches of water. Hydrogen peroxide or kelp tea will boost germination as well.

    Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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    HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES:

    Tomatoes/Peppers/Eggplants: Soak seeds 4-6 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide (1 oz/pt), changed twice.

    Beets: Soak seeds 6-10 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide.

    Cucumbers/Squash/Melons: Soak seeds 2-4 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide.

    Spinach: Soak seeds 2-6 hours with hydrogen peroxide.

    Okra: Soak seeds 24-48 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide, change twice if possible.

    WHAT'S NEXT? If done correctly, the seed should be swollen, a lighter color, and the hull should be softer.  Dab them with a paper towel and plant immediately. Your garden will thank you.

  • Tips for Trellising

    Gardeners are always looking for ways to improve their gardens.  That's the beauty of it – we never stop searching.  One thing I've learned is that trellising is one innovation that works!  The dilemma you generally run into, though, is finding materials and facing the costs.  The latter is usually most prohibitive.  That's why we're here to share with you what we've learned about finding common, cheap, usable stuff around the farm or home for your trellising needs.

    For you 1st time gardeners who are new to this idea, let me explain just a bit.  Vining vegetables such as cucumbers, gourds, small melons and pole beans thrive when given free reign.  These “garden space killers,” as we like to call them, can easily overtake your garden if left alone.  Believe me, I've seen it happen.  Simply adding a trellis or two can make a world of difference.  If you provide a way for them to “climb up” off the ground, it helps to prevent rotting and disease.  A trellis also encourages growth within a healthy amount of room, meanwhile making harvesting all that much easier.  On top of all this, the abundant foliage can often make quite a stunning spectacle of itself.

    If you're anything like us, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities.  Just take one plant – one trellis – at a time.  And focus on getting the right supplies.

    The average farm is a “treasure chest” of items that can be used.  Old, metal T- posts lying in the barn make great, strong, supports.  They are fairly easy to drive in the ground with a sledge hammer.  Damaged, plastic, electric fence posts make good plant supports with wire or string looped through the “arms”.  Old pieces of woven fence or rusty, animal panels can usually be found in farm scrap piles.  If nothing else, check with the nearest farmer.  They'll most likely be thrilled to get their  “perceived junk” hauled off for free!
    If you garden in the city – don't fret – you have multiple options too!  Your local fence company may have scraps of chain link fence from jobs or old sections from remodel jobs.  Local concrete companies or lumbar yards may have damaged sections of  “Re-mesh” wire for bargain prices.  Again their “junk” may just be your treasure!  Broken handles off tools like shovels, brooms, etc. make good support posts when driven in the ground at least a foot deep.  Even discarded volleyball or tennis nets from your local school or community center would be ideal for certain varieties.

    Plant tie-up possibilities are numerous. A few to consider trying would be skeins of yarn, strips of cloth rags, old pantyhose, trash bag ties, or even an old fishing line.  Just use your imagination.  It's okay to have fun with it.  Just remember you need things that won't break easily or damage the plants.

    The thrill for me is turning useless things into productive, useful ones!  Once the work's completed, it is very rewarding to sit back and watch your plants take off.  Before long, if you're lucky, your trellis will be hidden beneath strong and healthy flowering plants.  Hope this helps stir some practical and fun ideas!

  • Preventing Plant Diseases

    Many of us fight pest and disease problems each year in our gardens. I know I am always looking for those natural, organic ways to minimize these problems. There is nothing more discouraging than to plant healthy seeds that grow well for a time, and then begin to die due to disease. So what can we do?

    We've got a few suggestions this week which we hope will help. If you have found some ways that work for you, let us in on your secret! Leave a comment here or post one on our Facebook page.

    1. First of all, one of the most important things to begin with is planting disease resistant varieties. Just strong, healthy plants that have a sure start will go a long way in fighting off disease.

    2. Crop rotation is very effective in prevention.

    3. Don't work in the garden when leaves are wet. Wet conditions allow you to spread fungus spores and disease organisms from plant to plant.

    4. Soil rich in high organic matter content and a good balance of nutrient elements provide the best defense against disease.

    5. Pick off affected leaves ASAP. Dispose of them in the trash. Do not put in your compost bin.

    6. Prune plants to allow for good air circulation if necessary.

    7. Water plants at the base at ground level.

    8. To prevent club root, increase the pH level to 7.2 as this fungus disease requires neutral to acid conditions. Plants affected with club root will look wilted and stunted.

    9. To help prevent “damping off” in the garden, improve soil drainage and water plants in the morning. Keep soil evenly moist and not sopping wet. Also, before you plant your seed, make sure the soil is not too cool. And do not plant your seed too deep. The longer the seeds are underground waiting to germinate, the more susceptible they are. A good general “Rule of Thumb” is to match the planting depth to equal about the width of the seed.

    10. Another way to help indoor seedlings from “damping off” would be to consider using a bleach solution to disinfect the pots before planting. ( a ratio of 1 to 9 - bleach/water). Water the seedlings from the bottom of the tray and provide good air circulation with a small fan if necessary.

    Many successful gardens become that way by taking preventive measures. And when it comes to disease control, prevention is always the way to go. Wishing you a disease-free garden this year!

  • Say Goodbye to Pests

    Everyone who has ever planted a garden has had to deal with pest problems at one time or another.  (If you haven't, what is your secret?)

    The first and most important thing to consider is your soil.  Soil that has been built up with rich compost and manure is the best method to assist with pest problems.  By improving the quality of your soil, you can produce healthy, vigorous plants with real resistance to pests.  Plants that are strong, healthy and resistant will do much better, even if your soil is not built up like you would like it to be yet.  Gardening is all about a “work in progress”.  So if you are still building up that soil, at the very least, plant those vegetables that will give you a head start towards pest resistance.

    Following are a some suggestions to help you to organically control pests.  Hope they help!

    1.Annually rotate your crops, keep the weeds down, and plant crops that are suitable for your area.

    2.Daily check your plants.  Be sure to inspect the underside of leaves and around the base of the plants for problems.  Do your plants look stunted or wilted?  Are branches dying?  Are the leaves curled or blackened?  Do the leaves have spots and have they been chewed on?  These are all signs of pests or disease and early detection will be extremely beneficial.

    3.Use cardboard collars around seedlings to prevent cutworms from destroying your transplants. Toilet paper/paper towel cardboard rolls work great.  Press it down into the soil about an inch with two inches protruding above the soil.

    4.Pick off and dispose of damaged plant parts during your daily checkups.

    5.Blasting aphids and other small insects with a stream of water has proven effective.

    6.Simply hand pick insects off the leaves and drop them into a bucket or jar of soapy water.  This is still the most proven and effective method.

    7.Encourage the “beneficial” insects by planting flowers such as marigolds, daisies, nasturtiums, and asters.  Mint, dill, fennel, and parsley are also good choices.

    8.Consider companion planting.  Inter-cropping with tomatoes, rosemary, sage or peppermint will help repel the cabbage butterfly.  Bush and potatoes planted together protect each other from the Colorado potato beetle and the Mexican bean beetle. Another plant that fights pest problems is the Castor Bean. Grow this plant in your garden to repel both moles and mosquitoes.

    9.Heavy mulch is effective in reducing injury to your plants caused by nematodes.

    10.Consider mixing about a cup each of wood ashes and lime in two gallons of water and spray on both the upper and underside of leaves to repel cucumber beetles.

    11.Try this homemade spray to fight insects:  Make a concentrate solution by mixing 1 cup of vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap.  When you are ready to spray on your garden, dilute 2 teaspoons of concentrate with 1 cup of water.  Put it in a hand sprayer and apply to your infested plants.  Be sure to spray both the top and undersides of the leaves.

    12.Use floating row covers and prevent pests from ever reaching your crops.

    13.If you are having trouble with slugs or snails, try trapping these pests in a container filled with stale beer.  Snuggle it down in the soil, so the slugs will crawl into the container and drown.  I tried this last year for my strawberries and it worked well.  Scattering a band of wood ashes around plants also discourages them as well.  Start saving those ashes from your wood stove now, so you will have them when you need them this summer.

    14.Paper discs around the base of tomato plants will help protect them from insects.

    15. Circles or squares cut out from tar paper or foam rubber will protect your cabbage-family plants from the dreaded cabbage maggots.  Simply make a slit to the center of the circle and slide it around your seedling stems.

    As you can see, the list could go on and on.  These are just a few things to try.  Before you reach for that bottle of commercial insecticide, seriously consider the natural benefits of dealing with your insect problem organically.

    For more ideas, check out our online planting guides under Resources for more specific problems and solutions.  Next time, we will see what we can do for those disease problems.

    If you have any “tried and true” methods of insect control that you would like to share, please let us know.  Let's help each other keep this “work in progress” going!

  • Soil Builders

    Effort should be made every year by every gardener to improve their soil structure.  Although it might seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming task, it is a vital step in the success of your garden.  And I know that each of you gardeners out there want to provide every necessary means to make those precious seeds reach their potential.  Only then will you find the provision you are looking for.

    So today I thought I would give you ten suggestions on organic ways to build your soil and add that much-needed fertilizer for those plants.

    1.Bone Meal – Basic type used is steamed bone meal made from bones that have been steamed or boiled to remove fat content.  They ground up easily and will greatly condition your soil by adding nitrogen and phosphorus.  Work into your soil in the spring or fall or use as a mulch around your plants. Easily available at your local garden center.

    2.Fresh Manure – A basic fertilizer for many years.  On our small farm here in the Ozarks, we have had access to manure from our cows, horse, chickens and pigs.  This dried manure has proven very beneficial to feeding the soil.  Adds nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.  Simply broadcast over the garden and work into the soil.  Apply early enough to be rotted into the soil, approximately 8-10 weeks before your planting season.

    3.Peat Moss -  Although it does not add nutrients to your soil, it works to improve air circulation and assists in water drainage which will help your plants to absorb those nutrients from other sources.  Remember that your soil needs nutrients AND proper air circulation.  Excellent as a mulch.  Can be worked into the soil in the spring or fall. Easily available at your local garden center.

    4.Wood chips – They carry a larger nutrient content than sawdust.  It has excellent abilities to air-out the soil and help it to retain moisture.  Apply early spring or fall or use as a mulch.

    5.Grass clippings – Easily available and rich in nitrogen.  Work into your soil or us as a mulch. Great for that compost  pile as well.

    6.Cottonseed hulls – Decays easily and can be worked into the soil.  Also makes for a great mulch.  Rich in potash and easily available.

    7.Leaves – An abundant source for calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Apply directly to the soil, to that compost pile or as a mulch.  Easily available.

    8.Dehydrated Seaweed – High in trace elements and potash.  Either work it directly into the soil or use as a mulch.  Can also be put into your compost pile.

    9.Blood-meal – Source for phosphorus, potash and  nitrogen.  Use sparingly because of the high nitrogen content.

    10.And (last but not least) Compost – Build that compost pile with leftover kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, sawdust and even wet newspapers.  Giving it plenty of air and water will make it break down and will be ready to use when it turns black or dark brown and crumbly.  Dig it well into your soil.

    As we learn more and more about successful gardening, we realize that gardening is not only a seasonal project.  It really becomes a year-round adventure.  So many helpful things to do in the “off-months”. Enriching the soil is certainly at the top of the list.

    Enjoy the fruits of your labor.  May they be abundant!

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