Nov 09 2012

I absolutely love tomatoes. I love growing and eating them.

There is nothing that says “summer” to me more than tomato plants growing in the backyard, well, except maybe going to the beach, but that’s another story.

I got my love of growing tomatoes from Punch ‘n Gro kits when I was a kid. They were handy little planters of vermiculite filled plastic trays. The directions explained to punch a pencil point through the plastic wells, water and turn the clear plastic top over to make a little greenhouse. Punch ‘n Gro had the tomato seeds in the vermiculite, under the wells of the inverted lid, so if I followed the simple directions, I got plants. Yippee!

A Punch ‘n Gro ad from the late 1970s.

I didn’t know the strategy of planting tomato plants back then. Like, for instance, now, I always am sure to plant them in organic soil three days before the full moon in February; I use temperature controlled heat mats and Bio-domes table greenhouses. I always transplant them three times, lowering the plant in the soil each time so the stem produces more roots. No, back them, things were simple. Whenever my Dad bought me a Punch ‘n Gro, I would punch it and grow it, and plant the plants in the garden.

But, now, no matter how my tomato garden happens, whether I start them from seed or buy a more exotic heirloom tomato plant from the nursery, the whole experience, start to finish, brings me a great deal of joy.

August tomatoes sunning themselves by the window.

So, after waiting all summer for the tomato plants to grow, set flowers and ripen fruits, we get to harvest. A bountiful harvest is soon followed, within the hour, by the world’s best tomato sandwiches.

Oh! They are so good. Organic Ezekiel Bread, which is a sprouted wheat, flour-less bread and organic mayonnaise, along with sliced tomatoes and Real Salt. For those who insist, and I do, some coarse grind pepper is a luscious addition.

I am uncontrollable around tomato sandwiches.

And I bet you think I’m sad because I can’t have a tomato sandwich right now, but Ha! You’d be wrong. I still have tomatoes from the garden and I can eat a tomato sandwich tonight with all of the trimmings, while you probably can’t. Sucks being you, unless you live near Whole Foods.  🙂

Addendum after pointed Comments by close friends: OK. OK. There ARE other places to get heirloom tomatoes for a tomato sandwich this time of year besides Whole Foods and me. FatCat orders them and Laine shops at wonderful Wegman’s. That does limit my greedy, self-centered pleasure somewhat, but I’ll try to get over it.

Life is good. Lip smacking, tomato sandwich in November good.

If you are interested in tomato secrets, I encourage you to purchase this crazy e-book about a family of generational tomato growers.

It’s full of great hints. I bought it in 2008 and have greatly increased my yield.

And! It’s time to think about ordering heirloom tomato seeds.

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Nov 09 2011

Your Family Cow in Chambersburg, PA has a cooperative
arrangement with organic beekeepers who place organic
bee hives on the ecofarm in a win-win for bees and crops.

When I received my e-mail newsletter from Your Family Cow this morning, I was very interested in their link to an article entitled, “Tests Show Most Store Honey isn’t Honey.” Whoa! What did the article mean by that? Hurrying through the link to the article, I read an extensive report about how much of commercially marketed store bought honey has had the pollen removed by diluting the honey to force it through finely pored sieves. Honey without pollen isn’t honey as defined by most of the health organizations in the world. Our own FDA says, “… any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey.” However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen and unless a jar of honey is purchased on the farm or, in some cases in a health food store, it probably is not really honey.

If your eyes are like mine and you are having trouble
ready this fine print, go to the original article in
Food Safety News to see the chart by clicking here.

The article continues, “Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.” The pollen in organic honey proves that the honey is unadulterated and has not been processed.  It also allows the honey to be tracked from its location to tell whether the honey is safe or has toxic additives.

Our food supply is totally dependent on pollinating bees.

This morning’s Your Family Cow e-mail also tells of a new movie coming out, Queen of the Sun, that sounds an alert on the important relationship between bees and our food supply. If you are interested in going to the Queen of the Sun web site, click here. If you are interested in visiting the Your Family Cow web site, click here.

“Even though bees are small, unobtrusive creatures, they play large roles in the ecosystem. The connection between bees and humankind also is symbolic of a broader interconnection between humans and the natural world.”

If you have an interest in this book from Amazon,
hover your mouse over the following link:
Bee Pollination in Agricultural Ecosystems

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Sep 12 2011

A 4′ x 4′ garden in front of a Whole Foods Market shows
how little space is needed for food production.

Ok! That DOES it! No more Mr. Nice Guy! I don’t want to hear anyone saying that they don’t have room for a garden.  Between container gardening, those upside down hanging tomato things and this 4′ x 4′ garden in front of a grocery store, it’s time to acknowledge that “where there is a gardening will, there is a way.”

When I went shopping at the local Whole Foods Market, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went to get my shopping cart. There, proudly sitting in between the concrete of the parking lot, was a small garden holding four or so plants, ready to belt out some serious food production.  This was small garden that was mighty in its intent and demeaner, and I delighted in it whenever I saw it.

Ready made corners make a raised bed garden
easy and affordable.

I really enjoyed watching this little garden grow every time I went to Whole Foods. Two heirloom tomatoes, a pepper, squash and a couple other vegetables did their growing thing out there next to the shopping carts, setting a great example, all summer. What a wonderful way to get across the point the Whole Foods vegetables are fresh and sustainable gardening is a priority. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to show city gardens, even though small in space, can be mighty in impact.

Here, you can see that Whole Foods has made a fast and efficient raised bed garden using ready made corner brace sets. Usually they come two to a box. By planning your garden and buying whatever length boards will suit your plan, these corner braces fit on the boards allowing you to get your garden up and running that much faster.

One doesn’t even have to dig in the dirt to fill one of these raised beds.  Just buy the big bags of organic soil, dump them in, rake until level and begin transplanting or sowing seeds. Raised beds take some forethought and labor, but they are not hard to make. That being said, having corners to join the boards securely is a big help, especially if you are working by yourself.

Apartment gardening just takes some creative thinking…
…and educated tenants.

The more I get into growing food, the more extravagant strictly ornamental gardening seems. Food is beautiful, in all of its stages and becomes ornamental in and of itself. Some of the fanciest formal gardens in Europe were actually kitchen gardens for the propagation of food.

On another front, I’m one who loves grass and the carpet beauty of a well kept community lawn, but I like the look even better when I know the grass has been grown naturally. It’s rewarding to grow grass with organic nutrients that won’t destroy wildlife either in the yard or in our run-off waterways. The best of all, though, is to have some of the land, regularly used for a nice cityscape lawn, turned over to the growth of heirloom garden vegetables and herbs.

Nola opens the gate of the Shearman Street Community
Garden to harvest carrots in winter and show us
what’s possible off season in a city garden.

Making raised bed gardens in the city is lots of fun and affords one that country feeling of getting close to the earth. Not only is the experience of sowing and reaping enjoyable, but you’ll create the promise of organic food conveniently located close to home. And “close to home,” doesn’t necessarily mean a single family dwelling. The front yard of a town home or even the entrance way to a large apartment complex can be a haven for city gardeners. So, as we used to say in the 1970s, “Try it! You’ll like it!” Try a small raised bed garden and hold on the for ride!

Ready made corner braces are the secret
to easy raised beds.

The comer sets can vary in price quite a bit. These seem to have the best bang for the buck. Try them and let me know what you think! If you have an interest in trying some of the raised bed corners, hover your mouse over this link: Scenery Solutions Div Vegherb AJ2-18 2-Pack Anchor Joints

Whole Foods Market’s web site is packed with great information and videos on sustainable farming in the city.  Watch this one and get ready to be amazed at the resourcefulness of this San Fransisco family:

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Jun 01 2011

Winter snow flurries inevitably give way to other flurries come spring. Flurries of activity, that is, as spring cleaning begins inside and out the home. Once the debris of fall and winter is successfully raked away from yard and garden, the best part of the year begins. The planting of the current year’s garden crop. Having faith, each gardener plants seeds and thus manifests belief that life will begin again. Small seeds soon burst forth growing into plants to sustain and nurture man and animals. I cannot recommend the process enough, for my life became much richer when I took an avid interest in gardening for food.




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Dec 18 2010

~WHEN to Plant Seeds Where You Live~

The old time practice of planting by the moon
works remarkably well.

6) WHEN to plant seeds

When I started reading books on how to grow a vegetable garden, I found that many authors discounted, or at least, failed to mention the tremendous advantage of planting by the moon. In planting by the moon, plants that produce their edible assets above the ground are planted BEFORE the full moon and plants that produce in the ground are planted AFTER the full moon. I had an Amish friend who ran a green house in the 1980s and I remembered she always planted by the moon cycle, so I was ready to investigate the practice and see for myself.

I tried it and and truly was overwhelmed at the ease of germinating the seeds, especially when also using the controlled conditions of the Park’s Bio-Domes, heat mats and thermostat heat mat regulators. I now am a BIG fan of planting by the moon and wouldn’t considered planting any other way.

Time lapse of some bush beans growing from seeds.
The video was shot over a 24 hour period using a
Canon GL2 video camera, and sped up 3000x.

So, guess what today is?  Today is December 18 and the full moon will be on December 21. That means today is three days before the full moon. From now until the full moon, it is the time for optimal planting of above ground crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, corn, melons and lots more. Afterward, on Wednesday, December 22, will start the days for optimal planting of below ground crops, such as beets, rutabagas, carrots, onions and peanuts. Now, it’s too cold and too long before spring to plant any crops, but that’s how it will work when we go to plant next year. I just want to get you thinking about the moon and its cycles as a dry run for our springtime efforts.

Determining the days for planting by the moon and finding the last frost date in the spring for your gardening zone will determine WHEN you plant to germinate your crops. We’ll work together on figuring out the optimum days when the time comes, and I will let you know what I am doing so you can follow along. But, now that I have you thinking about ordering or shopping for your seeds, equipment and helpful books, you have my permission to relax and enjoy the holidays!

If you have an interest in the moon cycles, this is a
great book that comes out every year and is specific
for each year’s optimum planting dates. Hover your
mouse over the link below to preview:

Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2010: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers

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Dec 17 2010

~HOW to Germinate Seeds with What Equipment~


When we seriously started to grow food, we had
limited funds, so made use of things we had on
hand to make our seed germination nursery.


5) HOW to germinate seeds

Dixie cups, egg cartons and tin cans can all be pressed into service to start a vegetable garden full of life sustaining nutrients. Fancy equipment and the “best of everything horticulture” is not required. Here is the set-up I used in 2008 to produce more food than we could eat that summer and fall. I had an old grow light that I put into a clamp-on shop light shade; used a piece of plywood on saw horses for a surface located near windows and placed the whole stand over an electric plug-in radiator to provide a consistent heat source.  You can see the thermometer I used to monitor the set-up on the table, just one that had been on the back porch for years. The fan provided air as tomatoes need air movement to sway their stems when they are germinating to grow strong.

Under the Dixie Cups, we had metal cookie sheets with sides from the kitchen. Over top of the Dixie Cups, we  covered the seeded Dixies with sheets of Saran Wrap plastic film to hold in moisture and create a small greenhouse. Each Dixie Cup had a Popsicle stick with the plant name and date the seed was planted.

Tomatoes like to be transplanted, in fact I usually transplant them four times by the time they have gone into the garden.  Working with what we had, tomatoes were started in Dixie Cups, transplanted into recycled tin cans, then into cut off gallon water jugs and finally placed into the garden where they lived until the frosts of autumn.

Here are tomato plants in the later stages of growth
before going into the garden, having been transplanted
into cut off water jugs from recycled tin cans. Although
the Dixie Cups in the photo hold other plants, they were
the first stage for the tomato plants as well.

If you are the frugal side of life, watching every penny, then this is the way to go for next spring’s seed germinations. Your money should be spent on seeds, a grow light if you don’t have one, a shop light to hold the grow light, a heat source and a thermometer. The rest of the equipment can be saved between now and then. Save various sizes of tin cans and larger cans or jugs dependable on what you have. A tip for those in hard straights is to take a walk around the neighborhood on recycling day and get what you need out of other peoples’ recycle bins. Buying a box of bathroom size Dixie Cups and the Saran Wrap type plastic wrap will complete what you need to germinate in the spring.

Now, when things get better financially, or if you can afford to invest now, here is the equipment I just LOVE for seed germination. Park’s Seed Company’s Bio-Domes. They are really great. Problem is, the first year I went to buy them, in February, when I needed them, it was way too late to get them.  They had been sold out since before Christmas! Now, Park’s Seed company seems to be ready for the demand, so they should have them, but don’t wait too long to order, so you are high on the wait list should they have any thought of running out.

With a 60 well Bio-Dome, you can start 60 plants at a time. That’s probably enough if this is your first attempt at serious food production.  But, if you are ambitious or experienced and want to try many types of plants, I can share that I own three 60 well Bio-Domes.  That’s because I like to start plants with different optimum germination temperatures, and three 60 well Bio-Domes allows me to have the flexibility to germinate at three different temperatures, all at the same time. So, read about Bio-Domes and see what interests you.

The Park’s 60 well Bio-Dome is a tiny greenhouse complete
with air vents and watering tray. It’s a heavenly nursery for baby
seeds. They will grow up to thank you by feeding you well.

Now, with the Bio-dome, you also will need to get a heat mat and an automatic temperature control or thermostat. You will need a heat mat and thermostat for each Bio-Dome you want to buy. Each 60 well Bio-Dome come with 60 Bio-Sponges that fit in the wells, but I would suggest getting an extra bag of refill sponges for each Bio-Dome. That way, when you move out and transplant your first batch of seedlings, you can start new plants right away by putting refill sponges in the newly-empty wells.

To go take a peek at the 60 well Bio-Dome, click here. To order more 60 well refill Bio-Sponges, click here. For the 20″x20″ heating mat that will hold two 60 well Bio-Domes, click here. Once again, if you want three 60 well Bio-domes like I have, I would get three heating mats, even if three heating mats accommodate six 60 well Bio-Domes, because that way you have the flexibility to move your Bio-Domes around and can put two of them together on a certain temperature mat if you would like. For the thermostat to accurately control the heating mat temperature, click here. Once, again, I would get a separate heating mat and thermostat for each 60 well Bio-Dome purchased.

Here is a video I found showing a gardener setting up an actual Bio-Dome system. As the film is accelerated, the busyness of the action might be nerve-racking, especially when he starts moving all of those wires around with multiple plugs in extension cords. I would suggest using using multi-outlet surge protectors rather than the extension cords. But, the video is well worth watching to get an idea of the ease of setting up the Bio-Domes themselves.

Setting up a 60 well Bio-Dome, heating mat and thermostat
system will make you feel SO GOOD about your seeds, you
will fall in love with them before they have even sprouted.

I haven’t mentioned the fluorescent bulb style grow lights the gardener is shown using in the video, but I use those as well. They are readily available from Lowes or Home Depot. I bought inexpensive fluorescent bulb style shop light banks capable of holding two bulbs and then bought grow light bulbs to place in them. They seem to be readily in stock, but come to think of it, maybe I should go over the lights in a future post to make sure everyone has what they need before the countdown to spring seed germination begins!

Coming tomorrow, Saturday, December 18: WHEN to Plant Seeds

Now, here is another book that you must ORDER RIGHT AWAY! The Park’s famous Success with Seed book written by Karen Park Jennings. It has been out of print and has just recently been REPRINTED. Now you can own one all by yourself. To preview Success with Seed, click here.

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Dec 16 2010

~Selecting WHAT Seeds to Plant~

If you’re new to growing your own food, start with some
sure bets that will save money and feed plenty. My top
four? Tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers.

4) WHAT to plant?

WHAT luck! Just when I was getting ready to write about selecting seeds for planting, the best thing in the world happened. My Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog arrived. It’s the first seed catalog I have received for this coming growing season and what a catalog it is. Later in the week, I will dedicate a post to Baker Creek Seeds, so look for it under MONEY opportunities as growing your own food will save lots of money.

But, right now, I want to encourage you to order your seeds so that whatever variety you want, there will be plenty in stock waiting for you. With home gardens becoming more and more fashionable, the demand is growing so the companies run out if you wait to order.

So, right away, I would decide on ordering from websites or signing up for paper catalogs in order to be ahead of the pack. Here are web sites where I’ve had good luck for the past few years:

For Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds click here.

For Park’s Seeds go to this web site.

For The Chas. C. Hart Seed Co. try clicking here.

All of the seeds sold by Baker Creek are organic and non-GMO (non-genetically modified.) At Park’s and Hart’s Seed companies, be sure and buy from the organic sections of the web sites. In addition to others that might catch your eye, definitely try:

Tomatoes: Brandywine, Risentraube (cherry), Sungold Select II (cherry), Cherokee Purple and Mortgage Lifter

Cucumbers: Marketmore, Bedfordshire Prize, Parisian Pickling and Ruby Wallace’s Old Time White

Lettuce: Oak Leaf, Henderson’s Black Seeded Simpson, European Mesclun Salad and Arugula

Peppers: Emerald Giant (sweet), Sweet Chocolate (sweet), Anaheim (mildly hot) and Chinese Five Color (HOT)

To share my excitement of growing tomatoes. cucumbers,
lettuce and peppers, here are four videos, one for each.


Baker Creek Seeds visits an heirloom tomato grower.


Vertically grown cucumbers are easy to fit in a small garden.


Clipping off outer lettuce leaves, leaving the heart to
grow and having fresh salads every day seems miraculous.


Hot and sweet peppers are easy to grow and add lots of variety.


Coming tomorrow, Friday, December 17: HOW to Germinate Seeds with What Equipment

I hate to be too forceful on recommending these gardening books, but YOU”D BETTER GO OUT AND GET THIS ONE! I am a BIG fan of Jerry Baker, having first seen him in infomercials on TV. His presentations are entertaining and elementary making things seemed ordered and easy. Here is what one Amazon reviewer has to say:

“I’ve always loved Jerry Baker’s tips and knew I had to buy his vegetable gardening book when I decided to start my very first garden in 2001. I liked the fact that he included both gardening organically and with the use of chemicals. His ideas and tonics are simple and environmentally friendly which I think is very important today. He also encourages planning first and then planting. My first time out I had great success and am looking forward to planning next years crop. I highly recommend this book for beginners as well as those of you who don’t want to waste time experimenting but learning from someone who has been gardening for many years.”

To preview, click on this link:

Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden

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Dec 15 2010

~Planning Food Growing Spaces~

Optimizing time and garden spaces takes many things into account.

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

                                           Rudyard Kipling, “Just So Stories” 1902

I now approach planning gardens with a journalistic mind.  Just as every newspaper article’s first paragraph should answer six things: who, what, when, where, why and how, “The Five Ws and One H,” the planning of growing spaces requires consideration along the same lines. See if you agree with me.

I’ll be switching the order of “The Five Ws and One H” a bit, but here, first make a list that describes you and your vegetable gardens, as you are now thinking about them:

1) WHO is going to be working on the garden and who is going to be counting on eating the food it produces?

Important questions because if you are one person trying to produce food for ten AND trying to hold down a full time job, the garden in addition to a job will be too labor intensive. But, picture the difference if, like Capt John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia, 1607, you establish a “No Work, No Eat” policy. Then, all of a sudden you’ll be able to enlist nine other pairs of hands to sow, transplant, weed, nurture and harvest. BIG difference. So, count who’s in and who’s out right from the get go.

Recycling an old mattress provides a strong bean trellis
from the springs and nice stakes for plant supports if money
for growing aids is a problem. It’s easy with some help.

2) WHERE do you live?

And that’s important in a BIG way and in a SMALL way. To properly assess our germination and growing strategies, we need to know: A) the zone for your part of the country, which you can find by clicking here ; B) the pH, or acid/base balance of the soil where you live and C) the amount of sunlight on the beds where you intend to plant. The pH you might already know, but if you don’t, you can test the pH of your soil by getting helps found here and here. The zone where you live and the pH of the soil will determine what you can easily grow and when you can plant outside, judging by the date of the average last frost date in the spring.

Now, both of these parameters can be modified depending on your willingness to do more work! If you live at a certain zone and the plants you would like to grow thrive at a warmer zone, you can germinate the seeds inside and then transplant when the weather is correctly temperate. And, if the plants you want to grow need a more acid or more alkaline pH than you find where you live, you can still grow them, you will just have to work to amend the soil to accommodate plants needs. We’ll go over the details of what to do next spring, but that gives you an idea of what to expect and how to pick your seeds.

Testing the pH of soil.

The third part of “where,” the amount of sunlight each area of your yard receives everyday, cannot be easily modified. You have to submit to planting shade loving plants in the shade and those requiring full sun in the sun. If you aren’t aware about the light levels in your yard, you will soon notice some spots will be sunny all day long while others will be in shade and others still will be mixed depending on the time of day. Transplanting plants to a light levels they enjoy insures a thriving, food producing dynamo.

You may know the basic light levels of where you want to plant. But, if not and if you love gadgets like I do, try hovering your mouse over the link below to preview a great “soil pH, moisture, temperature and light level tester” that I have just decided to buy and try out myself.

Digital 4 Way Soil and Light Tester for Plants and Lawn – pH, moisture, temperature and light level

So, think about your yard, the gardens already present with non-edible ornamentals that can be transferred over to food producing vegetables and about the lawn with non-edible grass that might better be used to feed your family. Get some graph paper and after pacing out the yard, make a drawing of what stays and what goes within its perimeter. Then start planning the shapes and size of your available planting space.  It can change a hundred times before spring and that’s part of the fun. It’s a good exercise, though, to start getting your thoughts down on paper.

3) WHY do you want to plant your gardens?

And, finally for today, are you planning on just eating fresh, nutritious food everyday or would you like to plant an excess, more than you can eat, in order to can food for the winter of 2011? These concepts are not as pressing as the decisions needed above, but are ideas to think about for the rest of winter. Thoughts of quantity and intent will help us plan what seeds to germinate and where to plant them in the days and weeks to come.

It is also important to define goals to assess limitations and recognize that each step of the process adds MORE WORK. For instance, do you know how to safely can food? Or will that be a new skill required to process your harvest? Not to worry. This is all part of the fun as we sit with hot chocolate and pour over seed catalogs with their glorious photos and compelling ideas to dream of our new found vegetable freedoms. Why, looking ahead, the cold of winter will just fly by!

Coming tomorrow, Thursday, December 16: Selecting What Seeds to Plant

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Dec 14 2010

NOW!?!? We have to start NOW!?!

Yes! Now is the time to starting thinking about
germinating seeds indoors next spring.

Successfully germinating seeds can become a passion.
Providing just the right conditions to nurture baby seedlings into
“food producing powerhouses” is fun and budget profitable.

The backyard vegetable garden used to be commonplace. There was a time where every family had a little plot in their yard where they grew fresh produce for the table. But, the emphasis on getting all of our goods prepackaged and ready to eat has, in the last fifty years, caused basic gardening skills to be lost. And the Victory Garden generation of World War II is slipping away so that hands on knowledge of food cultivation is disappearing. At least it has been, until now.

Now, with food prices going up and more people wanting to have independent food sources that are dependably free of poisonous chemicals, home gardens are in vogue. Jump on board if you haven’t tried to grow things at home. It is so easy and so productive, you will be amazed and wonder, “Why haven’t I tried this before?”

Here cucumbers are being transplanted to both sides of a
homemade net trellis. They will grow vertically to save
space. This will also keep the cucumbers off the ground
so they are evenly developed and easy to pick.

We started vegetable gardening in earnest in 2008, hoping to actually live off of the garden and put a dent in food costs. Gardening to provide dependable sustenance is different than just putting out a few tomato plants every year. We found it took planning and perseverance, all well worth it, but realized one really has to think ahead.

That’s why I am sharing the way we do things so you can learn some time saving tips we had to figure out the hard way. I want to put it out there so that anyone who is interested can provide food for themselves and their families without making the mistakes we did in the learning process. This way you can make your own mistakes and not have to repeat ours.

So, this post is the first in a series of five that will overview the seed germination process starting today and ending Saturday, December 18, 2010. That way, you have time to absorb each entry, make plans, rest on Sunday and, when you are ready, start ordering what you need to get a jump on the home germinating crowd.

Thinking ahead and “getting a jump” is what you want to do if you haven’t got what you need at home. The first year, we didn’t start to get our ducks in a row (radishes in a row?) until everyone else had the same idea in the spring. We found that distributors were sold out of many items we needed and had to work harder to change our plans accordingly.

If you can find time during the holidays to put this all together, it will give you an advantage. Ordering anytime before the end of the year will work to your favor. But, no worries as most people won’t start until mid-January and things probably won’t start selling out until the beginning of February.The problem is that there are so many people turning to growing their own food that many of the garden shops are not ready for the demand.

Toward the middle of February is when we will set up the nurseries and I will show you what we do to make it all happen in time for spring planting. I can’t wait to share the good times. Woo-Woo! It is so much fun.

Coming tomorrow, Wednesday, December 15: Planning a Food Garden

Most of my book recommendations are suggestions. I don’t
mean to be aggressive, but this book is a MUST HAVE. Order
it at once! It has more information for the money than
most others and will broaden your concept of vegetables
planted in space wasting rows.Yes, indeed!

Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work

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Sep 28 2010

Have you planned your Wampanoag Garden yet?

A Wampanoag Garden is one of the clever Native American garden systems used to grow the “three sisters” of corn, squash and beans like the Native Americans have been doing for thousands of years. Each different Native American culture has their own style of doing things and two years ago, in the fall of 2008, I found a fantastic website outlining the history and methods of three sister Native American gardens from several different tribes.

Once you catch on to the beauty of these companion planting practices, you’ll want to keep this web site handy for reference. I want to share with you that the web site’s section on Squanto’s Secret Garden is my favorite pdf of all time. You will have to sign up to get the free e-book, but I did two years ago and have never regretted it.  The Squanto’s Secret Garden e-book is wonderfully informative and well worth the time investment.

Sampling of “The Wampanoag Garden” from Squanto’s Secret Garden pdf:

“This is the design that is most traditionally associated with Squanto and the Pilgrims. Many of the Native American tribes of the Northeast used this garden design. This garden is traditionally planted in a round shape, however, feel free to modify it if it does not suit your gardening area. Keep in mind that it would be possible to create a round shape within a rectangular one, and use the corner portions for gardening other plants that do not suit your companion planting.

First, you will need to form the mounds for the beans and corn. Each mound is about four inches high, with a wide base about 18 inches in diameter. Each of the mounds should be four feet away from the other mounds, measuring from the center of each mound. You can conserve moisture by forming a crater like depression on the top of each mound. Plant four corn seeds six inches apart from each other, three inches into the mound.

At the same time you plant the corn, you can also plant the sunflowers. The sunflowers should be positioned at the North end of the garden so that they do not block sunlight. The sunflower mounds should be placed about three feet apart. Three seeds in separate holes can be planted at the top of each mound. Squash should be planted in the house in pots or seed trays to allow it to develop into seedlings ready for planting.”

A Mantis Tiller makes breaking new ground easy.

In the spring of 2010, we began building up the soil our Wampanoag Garden. When you measure out the garden outlined in the Squanto’s Secret Garden pdf, the result is a round garden that’s 18 feet in diameter. But, we decided, with the space we have, 18 feet is too big, so we downsized to one that’s 12 feet in diameter. We begrudgingly sacrificed the spacing for a few plants to have ease of movement in and around the garden.

We are planning on planting our three sister garden in the spring of 2011, so this year we planted a cover crop of clover, added earthworms and nematodes and sat back and did nothing else all summer. We grew the clover crop, planning on tilling it back in to the soil to increase nitrogen in the soil as most soil needs more nitrogen to support nutrient vegetable growth. Building up nitrogen is the reason Native Americans buried a fish in with seeds and corn kernels when they planted.

Another big educational aspect of the Squanto’s Secret Garden web site is that most soils are depleted. Most everyone therefore, will need to build up their soil before having successfully nutritious foods produced from it. Providing the minerals and nutrients necessary for enhanced growth without chemical fertilizers allows dependably healthy plants that are able to fight off diseases and nasty invaders. And the produce grown from such plants has added nutritional value in every bite. Nutrient dense foods are what we all need to live.  If the soil doesn’t have what plants need to thrive, then the vegetables produced from the compromised plants will not have what people need to thrive.

Building up the soil insures your work will be rewarded.

Currently, we are getting ready to till the garden again so that the clover cover will be ground up into the soil. We will also ground the soil very fine and then let it sit over winter so it forms a healthy network of soil organisms, and with just a bit of work in the spring, the ground will be ready for planting. We are also adding Protogrow soil nutrients to the soil as we till with the Mantis to give our seedlings a head start next spring. Here is the website for Protogrow, where you can learn more about soil depletion, trace elements and how to replicate the techniques that Squanto used to enrich the soil and save the Pilgrims. There is also a Protogrow blog that’s fun and informative on this link.

Gardening vegetables with natural nutrients makes our vegetables as organic as we can get them.  We are lucky because the previous owner of this property loved birds and would not use chemical fertilizers on the lawn or gardens because he felt it harmed the birds.

If you are not convinced that organically grown vegetables are a necessity to a fully functional body, take time to read this article. It outlines a study comparing the nutritional value of organically grown foods to those produced by traditional farming. It also outlines how the nutritional content of produce has decreased over the years, so much so, that the FDA vitamin requirements most of us are using are outdated. In some cases, twice as many units of vegetables are needed to be consumed to equal the vitamin content of vegetables grown when the FDA values were calculated. And, remember, when they say “traditional farming,” they mean modern day farming familiar to most readers of the article. What they are not acknowledging is that the “old time” farming before the “traditional farming” used many of the same techniques we call organic today.  That was all people had and that was what was successfully used for thousands of years.

If you would like an introduction to Protogrow, there are many videos on YouTube that will help. Here is one by Jerry Greenfield. To watch, click play:

We will be sharing our Wampanoag Garden progress with you here at Sunbonnet Smart to share our excitement about companion planting and, especially, growing the “three sisters” of corn, beans and squash together. In the next couple of days, we will be sharing some history of the Wampanoag people and Plymouth, Massachusetts, just in time for making Thanksgiving plans.

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