Protecting Your Transplants

A broccoli plant protected by a milk carton.

If you have ever transplanted young plants into your garden, you know all of the challenges of keeping those plants alive so they can develop into hardy, mature vegetable plants. Over the years I have tried several ways of protecting the young plants, but the best method I’ve found so far is to simply place a milk carton around the plant. This was something my grandparents always did to protect their young plants until they were well established, and I have just not been able to find anything cheaper, or better, for serving this purpose.

I collect cardboard milk cartons all year-long to use as  protective shells for my transplants. I start by cutting the top and bottom off of the milk carton. Then, I wash the carton and allow it to air dry. Once they are dry, I place them in storage until its time to plant.

Continue reading

Planting a Winter Garden

Swiss chard plants in the garden.

Even though it is still summer, its time to start thinking about the winter garden. Gardening in the winter is a little different from gardening in other seasons. The winter garden is more about harvesting then growing. For a winter garden you need to have all of your crops close to full size by the time the days start getting shorter and the weather starts getting colder.

Continue reading

Planting a Fall Garden

Planting rows of beans.Depending on your location it may be time to start thinking about planting for a fall garden. I have been growing a fall garden for the last six years and I have really come to enjoy gardening in the fall rather than in the heat of summer.

Growing a fall garden is a great way to extend your harvesting season. It is also a great way to grow more vegetables in less space. With a little planning you can have a great fall harvest.

Continue reading

Planting For A Summer Harvest

Last weekend was our first planting for the summer harvest. It was finally time to plant outside all those plants we have been nursing along inside for these last few weeks. I allowed all the plants to harden off for a week outside before planting them in the garden.

A close up of a summer squash plant.

We planted the following vegetables for our Summer Harvest:
3 Amish Paste Tomatoes
1 Hillbilly Tomato
1 Cherry Roma Tomato
1 Red Zebra Tomato
5 Homemade Pickles (pickling cucumbers)
5 Edmonson (pickling cucumbers)
3 Fish Peppers
3 Bull Nose Peppers
2 Early Prolific Straight Neck Summer Squash
2 Black Beauty Zucchini

Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Basil plants.

Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Basil

Peppers and Squash Plants

Peppers and Squash Plants

We also planted the following herbs for our Summer Harvest:
6 Cilantro
4 Dill
4 Summer Savory
4 English Thyme
3 Genovese Basil
3 Large Leaf Italian Basil
4 Sweet Basil

Dill, Cilantro, Summer Savory, and Thyme planted in the garden

Dill, Cilantro, Summer Savory, and Thyme

In a few months we will be enjoying a great summer harvest. I can’t wait.

Happy Growing….

It’s Mr. Potato Time

It’s time to plant the potatoes. Potatoes are the only crop I do not grow at my house. I grow them across town at my grandfather’s house in a patch that we share with he and my parents. It’s really nice having a separate place to grow potatoes because of the amount of space they take up.

This year we are growing three types of potatoes; red pontiac, yukon gold, and katahdin. We have grown all three of these varieties in the past and all have produced nicely. At our local hardware/garden store we are able to buy seed potatoes by the pound. They sell them for $0.59 a lb.,which seems like a good deal compared to the prices in the seed catalogs.

Seed PotatoesBefore we started planting we ran the rototiller through the garden to turn over the soil.

The potato patch before the planting

The potato patch before the planting.

We do not plant our seed potatoes whole, we usually cut them into pieces making sure we have at least one or two eyes on each piece.

Cut seed potatoes

Cut seed potatoes.

We used one of the wheel paths created by the rototiller to plant potatoes in. Each piece of potato is placed in the row with the eyes facing up. We spaced the potatoes about 24 inches apart down the row and spaced each row about 30 to 36 inches apart. This should give the potatoes adequate room to grow.

A row of planted potatoes

A row of planted potatoes.

Once the row was planted we came back down the row raking soil back over the potatoes creating a mound. As the potatoes begin to grow we will go back down the row pulling more soil over the potatoes, making sure that the entire time the potatoes are growing they are covered up. Keeping the potatoes covered helps ensure that they are not exposed to light, which causes the outer layer of the potato to turn green.

A row of potatoes planted and covered.

A row of potatoes planted and covered.

The completed potato patch.

The completed potato patch.

The potatoes are planted.

Happy growing…

Planting Asparagus

One of the great things about asparagus is once you have the plants established it just keeps coming back each year. The only negative is that you really can’t start harvesting it until the third year. So for an asparagus lover those three years seem like an eternity. I had grown asparagus for about 7 years at my pervious house and now that we have moved, it’s time to start all over again.

Since asparagus is a perennial vegetable, I decided not to plant it in my standard vegetable beds. Instead I decided to plant it in an old flower bed along one of my buildings. Even though it is along the building, the bed gets really good sunlight in the morning and late afternoon. This seems like a great spot to try growing asparagus.

Last fall I had applied a thick layer of shredded leaves to the bed. So before I planted the asparagus, I turned over the soil in the bed several times and ran the small rototiller through it to make sure the soil was good and loose.

Preparing the Asparagus Bed

Asparagus Bed

I purchased 8 Mary Washington crowns from our local hardware/garden supply store.

Asparagus roots

Asparagus crowns

I dug 4 long ditches (about 6 inches deep) and placed two crowns in each ditch and spaced the crowns 18 inches apart.

Planting Asparagus Beds

Asparagus crowns in the bed.

I then covered all the crowns with about 3 inches of soil. In a few weeks when the asparagus begins to sprout I will apply another 3 inches of soil over top the plants.

Asparagus Bed Planted

Asparagus planted

Now with the asparagus planted the only thing left to do is sit back and wait three long years. I guess all great things take time.

Happy growing…

Seedling Update

It’s been two weeks since I started my seeds and all but a few seem to have germinated really well. The only seeds that have not germinated yet are one of the varieties of bell pepper (maybe old seeds) and the Greek oregano (which seems to be really slow to germinate).

Tray of seedlingsI have been keeping the seedlings under lights for about 14 hours a day. I usually water the seedlings in the early morning and the late afternoon. Several days ago in order to keep the seed starting mix damp all day, I had to switch from just misting the seedlings to watering and misting the seedlings.

Seedlings in seed starting tray. In a few days I will thin out some of the seedlings, keeping the plants that seem to be the strongest. I will also have to transplant my tomatoes soon to small pots. I will post more on my tomato transplant process.

Happy growing..

Seed Starting Time

I began growing my own plants from seeds several years ago when I became frustrated with the selection of plants that were available at the greenhouses. Over the years I have had good success with starting a wide variety of herbs and vegetables. The following is the process that I use.

Seed Starting Supplies:
– Seed starting tray with cover and tray cells (if cared for, these can be reused for several years)
– Organic seed starting mix
– Standard fluorescent shop lights with some way to adjust the height above the seed starting trays.
– Last but not least the seeds, the following is the list of the seeds that I started this year.

The Seeds for 2012: 
– Heirloom Tomatoes: Red Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Hillbilly, Gold Medal, Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste, Large Cherry, and Cherry Roma
-Peppers: Bull Nose and Fish
-Herbs: Dill, Cilantro, Summer Savory, Genovese Basil, Sweet Basil, Large Leaf Italian Basil, English Thyme, and Greek Oregano.

Seed Starting Supplies

Seed starting supplies

The first step in my process is to fill a tub with seed starting mix (the approximate amount I need to fill the cells) then I add water to the mix until the mix is really saturated.

Seed starting mix in a tub

Seed starting mix

The next step in the process is to fill all of the tray cells with the seed starting mix. I fill each cell about 3/4 full with the mix. Then I make plant markers to label what plant is growing in each cell. I put the plant markers in first so that I don’t forget what seeds were planted in each cell when I am all done.
Once all of the plant markers are in place, I begin placing a few seeds of the variety in each cell to ensure germination in each cell. After the seeds sprout, I will go through and thin out the seedlings in each cell. After all the seeds have been placed in the appropriate cells, I take some dry seed starting mix and cover up all the seeds so the seeds are the correct depth. Then I take a spray bottle filled with water and mist the top of all the cells.

Seed tray filled with seeds and mix

Seed starting tray filled and ready to go

The last step in the process is to cover the tray with the clear plastic lid and place it under the lights. I use a standard 4 bulb fluorescent shop light, with standard bulbs. I have used this light system for the last 5 years with great results. My light hangs from a simple stand that gives me the ability to adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow. I usually keep the light only a few inches above the seed trays to start.

Seed starting tray under lights

The seed tray under the lights

I leave the clear plastic cover on until the first seeds start to germinate and push through the mix. Not all the seeds will germinate at the same time, so I make sure the cover is removed once the first seedlings push through. Once the cover is removed it is important to make sure that the seedlings are kept moist. I use a spray bottle filled with water to mist the seedlings.

I will keep you posted on the progress of my plants.

Happy Growing…

Peas and Onions Please

With a warmer than normal week of weather forecasted, I decide to plant my peas and onions a week ahead of my typical planting schedule.

Onion Sets

Yellow, red, and white onion sets ready for planting.

I always purchase my onion sets from our local hardware store, they have a great selection. Planting the onion sets is a pretty simple process. First I create mounds of dirt for each row then I work my way down each row pushing the onion set down until they are completely covered. I plant my onion sets pretty close together, then in the late spring I will pick a few of them for spring onions, I pick every other one or so to allow more space for plants that will grow into large onions.

Sugar Snap Seeds

Sugar snap pea seeds that I have saved from previous seasons.

Next thing on the schedule to plant is sugar snap peas.  When planting sugar snap peas I create mounds for each row, then I create a little valley in each row. I place the pea seeds in the valley then using a rake pull some soil back over the valley to cover up the seeds. One thing I always keep in mind when I am planting sugar snap peas is where and how I am going to support the plants. I have had this variety grow to about 6 ft. tall, it takes a lot of support to keep the plants up. I try to keep in mind how much space the support system will take up, allowing enough space between my rows.

Once I was completely done with all my planting I watered all my freshly planted seeds and sets. Another great day spent in the garden.

Two girls planting

My two little helpers.

Backyard Garden

Planting complete

Let the Planting Season Begin

With the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer it was time to begin planting. Last fall I had covered both of the garden beds with shredded leaves, so before I began planting I ran a small rototiller through each of garden beds several times to make sure that any of leftover leaves were well incorporated.
Garden with rototiller

With the tilling complete it was time to focus on planting. Using an old wooden board I created two planting rows. I planted the following seeds in each row:

Row 1: Half row: Bloomsdale Spinach & Half row: Five Color Sliverbeet Swiss Chard

Row 2: Half row: Arugula & Half row: Wild Lettuce Mix

In two weeks I will plant more lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard. The idea is to spread out the planting in order to spread out the harvest.

Garden Planting

Once all the seeds were planted I covered the newly planted area with a homemade clear plastic cold frame. In central Pennsylvania we still have some very cold days and nights, the cold frames add an extra layer of protection. I have had good success with using cold frames in the past to get an early start on the planting season.

In case you were wondering in the far cold frame are carrots, spinach, and swiss chard that I planted late last fall. All the plants survived the winter under the cold frame. Now I will have a head start on the spring growing season. I can’t wait until the first harvest.

Garden Cold Frames