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What Is Growing That I Didn’t Have to Plant this Year

One of the nice things about being a perpetual homesteader is that there are foods that I am now growing that I didn’t have to plant this year. I have taken some permaculture practices and added them to my homestead so that I don’t have to reinvent the proverbial wheel every year by planting a strictly annual garden.

Today I want to share some of the fruits and vegetables that I planted last year that I don’t have to replant this year.


Strawberry Plants

When I lived back in Springfield, I was growing these strawberries and brought them with me when I moved here. I have a nice little patch of strawberry plants growing. Though I plan to move them to a better larger location next year, this year, I’ll have a nice little supply for us to eat.

Asparagus

Planted next to the strawberries is the asparagus. They take three years to get up to eating size. I started these from seed back in Springfield so they are a year shy of us being able to eat them, and they are almost to the size we want. We didn’t get any of the asparagus this year, but the chickens enjoyed a few choice spears. Next year we should be getting a decent crop for our own use. I am sure they will be worth the wait!

Baby Peach

Here on my peach tree, I have the first of two peaches growing. I am really excited because these are the first peaches I have ever grown. The variety is resistant to several peach diseases and insects. I am still learning about the various natural means of protecting these peaches from those problems.

I planted the peas this year, but is dill that I planted the year before last is coming in strong for the third year! This plant is not a perennial like the previous plants that I have shown. It is a self-seeding annual among several self-seeding plants that I have not had to plant this year. The rest of the vegetables that I am showing on this blog are also self-seeding annual vegetables.

Self-seeded potatoes

Though I planted a lot of potatoes this year, I found that a whole row of self-seeded potatoes also came up in the area where I planted last year. Potatoes, of course, are not usually grown from seed, but from tubers from the year before. It looks as though I didn’t get all the potatoes last year but that’s okay because it just means we’ll have more to eat this year!

I also have some lettuce and radish seeds that seeded themselves and in a day or two, I’ll be able to make a salad from these early vegetables.

For More Information, Check out My Books

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can create your own perpetual homestead, I am working on a book series called The Perpetual Homesteader series that shows tips on how you too can produce a perpetual homestead of your own. In the meantime, check out my other gardening books. Simply Vegetable Gardening The Survival Garden And my latest book The Four Seasons Garden Get your copies today!

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My Garden is Flooded!

What do you do when your garden is too wet to plant?

For the past month, we have had warm dry weather intermittent with cold wet weather and mornings where frost has nipped certain plants that we were able to get into the garden. That changed this past week. Now the temperatures are perfect, but rain has become the issue. This past week, we have had a lot of rain that inundated many of what we had planted. The water-logged ground prevent us from being able to plant the rest of the garden as well.

Many gardens in the western United States are suffering from excessive dryness and much has been spoken about what they do about excessive dryness. However, not as much is written about flooded gardens and what to do about it. Therefore, if flooding is an issue for your garden, this post is for you. Many people would have just raised their hands in defeat, but here are some ways that I am dealing with the flooding problem in my garden.

Raised Some Garden Beds

Every year, this time of year, we get more rain than what we can use in the spring. Therefore, because we knew this is a yearly occurrence, one of the things that we did earlier this year was build a couple of raised beds for some of our plants. The tomato plants in those raised beds are doing well and are growing, but the ones along the fence in the main garden were swimming in pools of water.  We’ll no doubt be growing more of our tomatoes in raised beds next year.

Dig a Trench

Another thing that we have done is dig trenches the length of the garden bed perpendicular to the slope so that the water runs into the trenches and doesn’t wash the soil off the side of the slope. If soil runs anywhere, it will run into the trenches which is why we took an additional step so that the soil wouldn’t just run into those trenches.

Filled the Trenches with Organic Material

Because the soil is still so cool and saturated, we decided that we didn’t want to put mulch around the plants just yet. Instead, we are adding organic material to the trenches. We use these trenches for pathways between the garden beds. We’ve been using sawdust and a small amount of chicken manure as a sort of water collection system. This way, much of the water that sheds off the land into the trenches is absorbed by the organic material. Any soil that washes off the beds washes into the trenches and mingles with the organic material. The water is thereby stored in the garden for the months when the rain stops which around here is just after Independence Day. The organic material and the soil that came off the beds become food and home for soil microbes and earthworms and incorporate into the soil for future gardens.

No Tiller When Planting in Wet Ground

Often around here, the soil this time of year is so saturated that we are unable to plant using conventional methods once the rain does start to fall in the spring. Therefore, we must get a little unconventional in our techniques.

We do a lot of our garden prepping in the winter when it doesn’t rain as much, and we use a broad fork rather than a tiller. We don’t use a tiller partly because we have clay soil that if worked when wet becomes like adobe. Another reason we don’t use a tiller is that tilling destroys the garden tilth. And if that isn’t enough, tilling brings up weed seeds that have long been buried in the soil. A broad fork doesn’t create any of these problems except when the soil is saturated like it is now, so we have to get even more creative if we want to plant our spring garden in the spring which is our rainy season.

Planting in Saturated Ground

Because our soil is primarily clay, we have started to add small amounts of organic sandy loam to our garden in exactly the places where we need it most and that is on top of newly planted seeds. In some cases, for large seeds like corn and beans, I dig a row in the ground, put in a little organic kelp and the seeds, and cover with the sandy loam soil. Sometimes, especially with smaller seeds like carrots and lettuce, I broadcast the seed over the soil and sprinkle the sandy loam soil over the planted area. The plants come up in a few days.

How about you? What challenge is this garden season bringing to you? Please share your questions and comments below.

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Container Gardening

sweet potato vines in a container of water
Sweet potato vines and roots from the garden. Will plant vines in tires in the garden in the spring.

Having a highly productive garden doesn’t require a lot of space, but I find gardening very satisfying no matter what the size.

Great If You Don’t Have Much Space

Container gardening might be the answer if you don’t have much space. A few years ago, I lived in a house where the only outside space I had was a concrete patio that faced east. For two years I grew a small container garden on that patio. I grew potatoes, cherry tomatoes, green beans, peppers, lettuce, and strawberries in five-gallon buckets and plastic pots.  Of course, I didn’t grow enough to grow everything that my family ate, but it was something.

Use Containers to Get a Jump on the Season

In the later winter and into the early spring of 2020 I started planting seeds indoors that I knew I would plant in my garden at our new place. Even though I had not moved yet I had lots of different seedlings growing from herbs to onions to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and even sweet potatoes had been started in dirt ready to be planted outdoors.

That year, I didn’t plant anything to stay in containers but instead grew to plant directly in the ground. The garden was fantastic. I was even able to can some of what we produced there on the property.

Why I Now Grow Both in Ground and In Containers

In 2021, however, I decided to try a little experiment and planted some potatoes in plastic buckets, but most of them I planted in the ground. I knew enough about how to plant each variety. The red potatoes that I planted in the buckets did well, better than the red ones that I put in the ground. When the buckets were ready to harvest, all that I had to do was dump it out on a tarp and collect the potatoes. I then took one of the small potatoes from the pile of potatoes and planted it in fresh dirt to see if I could get another crop from those potatoes. At first, the potato didn’t grow (I guess because the temperatures were too hot, but when the temperatures were optimal, they started growing and I had a crop before frost. I am guessing that the crop might have been bigger if I would have brought them inside when frost threatened.

Planting Sweet Potatoes in Tires

This year, I decided to plant some potatoes in the buckets as well. I intend to plant a bucket every week for ten weeks. (I have done six weeks already). The plan is that this would make it possible for us to have fresh potatoes available to us all summer long. Because I don’t have a lot of buckets this year, I plan to recycle bags that I got potting soil in. I just poked a few holes in the bottom of the bags for drainage and planted like I usually do. In addition, I planted potatoes in tires to contain them so that they are easier to dig as well. I am doing the same with sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are an interesting project for me because I have been saving roots left from one year’s harvest, planting them indoors in containers, and then replanting them outdoors when all danger of frost has passed. I have planted them in two tires one on top of the other and filled with dirt. I plant them in tires so that they stay warm. They are easy to care for. I just make sure they get enough water and they love water. They are easy to harvest. When the plant dies back or frost threatens in the fall, I just kick off the top tire and pick up the sweet potatoes. I gather up a few of the roots and plant them indoors for the next year. They are that easy for me to grow.

Other Containers I am Planting

In addition, I have some sweet peppers planted in containers so that I can get some peppers as early as possible as well. I could do the same with tomatoes, especially our cherry tomatoes, but we already have them in the ground. I am thinking about planting some flowers in pots and putting them around the garden where I want pollinators to come and do their thing. I haven’t done that yet, but I think it’s a good idea.

Looking for more gardening information? Check out my books The Survival Garden–Plant a garden for food that you don’t have to can, freeze or dehydrate in print and on Kindle and The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden available only on Kindle.

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Switching From a Conventional Garden to Raised Beds

We are starting to grow our tomatoes and peppers in raised beds this year and plan to do more during the next few years.

Our garden isn’t all that big. We don’t have a quarter acre in vegetable gardens, but we hope that our garden will provide more than enough vegetables for my husband and I this year. We have a 40×40 foot garden that has been in a conventional row system for the past two years, but this year, we plan to put in some smaller raised beds and will eventually replace the conventional garden with raised beds in the same area.

Our conventional garden had a lot of success. However, the garden required a lot of work just to get into shape for the following year. That’s why I am working to advance my entire garden to raised beds.

Why Raised Beds?

If you’re a beginner gardener, raised beds are for you because they remove many of the barriers that you face. Though raised beds require a little more upfront investment, it guarantees better success that first year. Build a box, add some soil, throw in some compost, sow some seeds, sprinkle on some water, and something will grow. This is much better than tilling, fertilizing, tilling again, seeding, weeding, weeding and weeding some more and then bending over or fighting hard rocky soil to get vegetables out of the ground.

A raised bed will up my soil for the easiest possible gardening. The less work, the better. Rather than tilling the soil every year to add fertilizer and amendments, I will be maintaining my raised beds by simply adding materials on top.

It will save me lots of work. Compost, mulches, manures, and other soil conditioners can all go directly onto the top few inches of the soil without the need for backbreaking work. The soil can do its own tilling as worms and roots push their way through. While regular mechanical tilling depletes the soil structure, adding organic material builds up the organic component of your soil over time. Instead of compacting the soil where the plants are growing, I walk on the paths between the beds, and never on the beds themselves.

I am getting older and I can use all the help I can get to continue gardening. A raised bed reduces back and knee strain.  A raised bed, especially one that is at least twelve inches tall, can resolve debilitating back and joint pain. Building raised beds is an investment in my health.

Raised beds help keep pests out of the garden too. The tall sides of a raised garden box will slow down the migration of slugs and potentially rabbits into your garden. In addition, some gardeners attach copper flashing to their boxes to keep the slugs out. If you install chicken wire to the bottom of the box, you’ll prevent digging animals, like moles and voles from eating your root crops. Dogs are also less likely to urinate on your box. If deer are a problem, consider placing inexpensive six-foot bamboo fencing around your garden area. Though the fencing is lightweight and easy to move, deer won’t jump the fence because they can’t see through it.  Uniformly designed raised beds are easy to add prebuilt plastic hoops to them for bird barriers, cold frames, or row covers.

A raised bed offers better drainage. Early in the gardening season, my garden is prone to flooding. The most popular depth for a raised bed is eleven inches, which is one inch below the sides of a twelve-inch high garden box. For most crops, this is enough drainage and gives plants almost a foot of extra breathing room above wet conditions. Raised beds also tend to drain better in general, even in heavy rains.

My garden will have fewer weeds and crabgrass. This was the biggest reason I am not using conventional rows. My garden became inundated with Bermuda grass, a perennial shallow-rooted grass that doesn’t quit during drought or deluge. This is wonderful grass for my lawn but chokes out everything in my garden if I don’t stay on top of it.

I don’t have to till. Tilling germinates more weeds by burying weed seeds and giving them the perfect opportunity to propagate. It also uncovers weeds that have been buried too deep to germinate. To make gardening even easier, I cover my beds with mulch, and cardboard, after a quick clean-up and dig with a broad fork in the fall to kill any of the plants that might grow during the winter. When it’s time to start planting again, I simply rake off the dead weeds before they have a chance to go to seed. I’m learning that one of the most effective ways to battle crabgrass is with a raised bed. I put cardboard on the bottom of my beds before I fill them to stop the grass from infiltrating.

Raised beds can be planted earlier in the season than conventional rows. Early planting in raised beds is possible because the soil dries out faster in the spring and warms more quickly for planting than soil at ground level. Many gardeners also find a surprising number of plants have overwintered in a raised bed that usually wouldn’t otherwise. This partly relates to the type of soil in the bed. If untilled and fortified with compost, your soil will regulate temperatures better than disturbed, nutrient-poor soil. In addition, raised beds can be retrofitted with a cold frame that helps warm the soil.

Planting in beds save me space because I’m able to plant closer within the bed than I would if I had to weed between each row. The closely planted garden vegetation will require less space than it would if the plants were planted in rows. If a plant gets a disease, I can easily pull it out and replace it with another. I can also plant smaller quicker growing plants between larger slower growing plants and get more than one harvest in that bed.

Other Situations Where Raised Beds Would Benefit

Raised beds look good, especially if the only decent place you find to grow your garden is in your front yard. In the city, a raised bed may be needed to keep neighbors from complaining. I have my garden beds in the front yard because the ground in the backyard slopes to the south and the neighbor’s trees block the sun. Because I planned the bed spacing to specifically accommodate my lawnmower, I’ll be able to mow the pathways between my raised beds and create a distinct separation between the bed and those pathways. This will decrease the need for weeding because I won’t have to weed those pathways. A pass with my lawnmower and my garden path looks manicured. Throw in a few strategically placed flowers in the front garden beds and my garden will become a showplace.

If you’re not in your forever home like I am, raised beds may be the best answer for you. Raised beds don’t have to be permanent. If you don’t own your garden area and you’re not sure if your landlord would allow you to have a garden, talk to them about your plans and show how aesthetically pleasing your raised beds can be.  A neat and properly built garden box can enhance property values and be a feature rather than an eyesore. If the landlord still says no, a temporary garden can be built by using a removable garden box. The box is simply set on the ground, cardboard is placed over the grass inside, and the box is filled with soil. When you move, take the box with you, spread out the soil, and throw down grass seeds.

With raised beds, you can avoid soil contaminated with heavy metals. Urban gardeners are at a higher risk of ingesting heavy metals, especially lead. Many different vegetables, especially roots, tomatoes, and greens, can easily absorb unacceptable amounts of heavy metals from contaminated soils. Keep your beds away from the road and research how your land was used in the past. If possible, plant thick between the road and your garden beds. Then bring in new soil for your raised bed that hasn’t been subjected to whatever toxicity may be on site. Toxicity is further reduced by adding compost. As time goes on, you’ll be diluting the concentration of contaminates every year by binding heavy metals to soil particles.

Want More?

Would you like more of this kind of content? Be sure to like this page. Also I have two new books you’ll enjoy. The Survival Garden available in paperback and on Kindle

and The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden, available only on Kindle.

Get your copies today to grow an incredible garden!

Any questions or comments? Please reply in the comments section below.

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Our Tomatoes and Peppers in Raised Beds

Planting these tomatoes was the first step in developing this raised bed.

One of the widely practiced strategies used in gardening involves interplanting. Intercropping is a gardening strategy that involves planting or growing more than one crop at the same time and on the same piece of land. It means having more than one type of crop growing in the same space at the same time. It also means more vegetables coming from that space! One of the most efficient ways to interplant is by using a raised bed.

Planting in Raised Beds

This can be done with numerous types of vegetables and herbs and will help you make the most of your garden space. We’re using growing our tomatoes and peppers in the same beds this year.  We plan to get lots of tomatoes and peppers from a small space.

Planting the Tomatoes Outdoors

We’ve already planted the tomatoes in the middle of the bed and put cages around them so that they grow more vertically. We put water containers with holes cut out of the bottom to keep them warm enough not to freeze during frosts that are sure to come. At night we remove the caps from the jugs and during the day we take them off so that the tomato plants can breathe.  We want to get the tomato plants well established before we put in the pepper plants. For more information about planting tomatoes see my post on this blog: Healthy Tomato Plants from Seed

Planting Peppers Outdoors

Around these tomatoes, we’ll be planting peppers in staggered rows two rows on each side of the tomato plants. Although we were able to plant the tomatoes in the beds before the last frost, we will put the pepper plants into the garden after all danger of frost has passed because we have found that they are much more sensitive to cold than tomato plants are. We have two of these raised beds devoted to peppers and tomatoes. One will have sweet peppers in it and the other will have hot peppers in it. We keep the hot peppers separate from the sweet peppers because often the two types of peppers will cross making the sweet peppers taste hot like the hot pepper. There’s nothing more shocking than eating what you think is a sweet pepper when in fact, it has crossed with a habanero!

To learn more about how we grew our peppers from seeds, see my post on this blog: Pepper Plants from Seeds

There’s More Room for Even More!

 Once we plant the peppers in the bed with the tomatoes, we’ll sprinkle basil and cilantro between the pepper plants and put marigolds at the corners of the beds. These aromatic herbs and flowers will help keep pests from damaging the pepper and tomato plants. Even weeds will have a hard time competing with these plants!

If you like what you’re reading here and want more, be sure to check out my latest books: The Survival Garden and The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden.

If you have any questions or any comments, please be sure to ask in the comments section below!

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Recycling in the Garden

photo of making garden pots using newpaper and a soup can and held together with tape.
You can make newspaper pots using newspaper and a recycled soup can for plants sensitive to transplant shock. You can use tape or hot glue to keep them together.

The average American creates up to 2,072 pounds of garbage every day. I would bet that my husband and I produce far less than that because we recycle a lot of what garbage we produce with garden projects. Here are a few of them that I have been using lately.

Making Seed Planting Containers

I have reused planting containers that I got from nurseries to use as my seed planting containers. I have cut the bottom out of milk jugs and water and soda bottles to use as planting containers and having seed some planting containers, I started using yogurt containers.

In addition, if I need biodegradable containers that I can use that will transplant shock in plants like cucumbers and other members of that family of vegetables, I make newspaper pots. I make them by cutting the bottom out of a tomato soup can and then cut newspaper pieces twice the length of the can and able to go around the can at least twice. Wrap the newspaper so that one end is even with the top of the can and the other half hangs over the end of the other end of the can. Wrap the can and hold the end with some hot glue. This creates the sides of your pot. To create the bottom of your pot, take the overlapping end and push it into the bottom of the can to create a bottom for your pot. To hold the shape of that bottom, use a dollop of hot glue. Carefully remove the newspaper pot from the can and begin making the next one.

Recycled Potting Soil

Once you have the pots, you’ll need something to fill them. If you have any, you’ll want to recycle your old potting soil too. This will save you money. To recycle it, you’ll want to add some homemade compost (made with recycled household and yard wastes, of course!). Add any other favorite organic fertilizer and you have soil ready to use again!

Recycled Seeds?

I save seed. I save a lot of money by saving the seed from one season’s growth to the next. This isn’t technically recycling, but it does create a sustainable source that you don’t want to ignore.

Preparing the Soil with Recyclables

After you have plants made from recycled items, you’ll want to continue using recycled materials in the garden. I never use store-bought fertilizers. Instead, during the winter I put yard wastes and kitchen wastes onto the garden and allow my chickens to eat and scratch in it. I also put my wood ashes on my garden areas. If I had more time in the fall, I would lay cardboard on the soil and the compost on top of that. So far, I haven’t done that, but what I have started doing this year is using the cardboard in my mulching system. Before the gardening season begins, I put cardboard down in the pathways and then cover them with sawdust (also a recycled item that I can get for the price of someone hauling it for me. If I had my own truck, it would be free.) More uses for cardboard to come!

Recycled Outdoor Planting Containers

A lot of times we just plant in the ground as a no-cost container. Other times, we have reasons for building containers. Most of my garden is currently planted in the ground, but I also have some raised beds made of old lumber that we had lying around our place that we nailed together. In addition, I have potatoes planted in used tires placed on cardboard and filled with garden soil. After the potatoes start growing, I fill around the potatoes with mulch. I also plant potatoes in recycled buckets. I put holes in the bottom of the bucket, fill it halfway up with soil and plant the potatoes in it. I then fill up the rest of the bucket with mulch. Once filled, I allow the potatoes to finish growing.

I don’t do this but I have heard a lot lately about people using cardboard boxes for growing potatoes. Do you or do you know of anyone who does this? Please tell me about your experience in the comments below.

Homemade Cloches from Recycled Milk Jugs

I am using recycled milk jugs for cloches. A cloche is a small translucent cover for protecting or forcing outdoor plants. I am using them to protect my tomato plants and pepper plants from late frosts.

Recycled Vertical Supports and Fencing

You must be careful when using supports that have been recycled. Rotten or insufficient plant supports can do more harm than good. Some of my favorite recycled vertical supports are supports made of durable materials like metal that will last decades. Fencing is the same. Purchase good materials in the first place and you’ll have materials to recycle indefinitely. For more ideas about vertical supports, see my post in this blog: Support for Your Garden Plant.

Recycled Mulch

Recycled yard wastes make some of the best mulch. Grass clippings and tree leaves as well as wood chips and sawdust all contribute to a well-mulched garden. I make mulch gathering around the yard easy by using a grass-catching lawnmower to chop and gather leaves and grass that goes onto the garden throughout the season. This mulch breaks down and becomes nutrients for the soil. I have found that the mulch breaks down too fast and that perennial grasses and weeds readily break through the mulch. This year I plan to put cardboard or paper feed sacks down before I put down the mulch to smother the weeds longer so that the plants have a chance to take over the bed.

These are, of course, not the only ways that I recycle otherwise disposable items and with imagination, I am sure that you can think of other ways to recycle them in the garden. What ways do you recycle in the garden?

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Support for Your Garden Plants

Corn can be support for pole beans and squash

Some plants need support and others do not. Some plants require support to prevent being deformed and prevent disease and pest damage from the ground. In addition, vines allowed to grow indiscriminately can choke out their own vines limiting proper fruiting of that plant.

Supporting your plants helps in saving garden space because you’ll allowing them to grow vertically. By training them to grow upward, you may even be able to utilize the space vacated by planting other plants under them. 

Plants that need support

Plants that are best supported include cucumbers, peas, beans, winter squash, and tomatoes (especially indeterminate varieties).

Use Vertical Structures for Growing Up Rather than Out

These vertical structures can be placed in a way in which the plants around it are placed on the sunny side of a structure (in the northern hemisphere it is on the south side) or on the north side of a structure so that it shades the plants you’re trying to grow. Alternately, you could also place the structure in the center of the bed so that you can plant vegetables of both.

Some plants need structures to support a plant to go upwards. Fences, trellises, stakes, trees, corn, sorghum, and even hanging baskets are examples of verticals structures. Just be sure that the structure will be strong enough to hold the plant as it grows and develops. Lightweight and flimsy structures can easily collapse under the weight of a heavy plant.

Examples of structural Garden Supports

Fences-A fence around your yard that gives you enough sunshine can serve as a support for your plants. An open metal wire fence works better than closed wooden fences because the lack of sunlight can block the sunshine. A challenge can be weeds along the fence. This can be remedied by keeping weeds pulled or prevented with a heavy mulch.

In addition to existing fences, you can also consider putting up fencing specifically to grow within the garden. To save even more space, consider growing on both sides of a metal wire fence. I often plant peas on one side of the fence and later plant tomatoes on the other side.

Tomato cages-just because it is called a tomato cage, doesn’t mean it can only be used for growing tomatoes. Other vegetables can be grown on them as well such as beans or peas.

Bean towers-You can buy bean towers, or you can construct your own. Bean towers aren’t necessarily just for growing beans either. They can be used to grow peas. Sturdier ones may even be used to grow squash or melons.

Trellises- Like tomato cages and bean towers, trellises can be used to support any of the vegetables mentioned previously. As stated previously, be sure that these trellises are strong enough for the intended plants.

Stakes-Individual stakes can also be used to hold up individual tomato plants or used to support beans or peas. They can also be used as supports in windy areas for things like corn or potatoes.

Trees-we don’t often think of trees as supports for garden vegetables, but in some cases, plants will grow up trees especially if there’s adequate exposure to sunlight. Trees on the north side of a garden work well for this. In addition, you can grow peas in the spring on trees before the trees’ leaves are out.

Corn-Another living vertical support is corn. Corn is one of the well-known sisters in the three sisters’ garden and provides vertical support for beans and squash (or pumpkins).  

Sorghum-Yet another living vertical support is sorghum. Sorghum is a lesser-known plant that can be used for its grain and for making sorghum molasses. I like to grow it with cowpeas and okra. It provides support for the cowpeas and grows well with okra.

Hanging baskets-many people don’t think of hanging baskets as vertical growing, but they are. Hanging baskets can be hung on the south side of a porch and offers a growing area for plants such as peas, pole beans, squash, and sweet potatoes. You can also grow strawberries in these hanging baskets.

Planting towers-Plant small plants in numerous built-in pots in a planting tower. Greens and many herbs grow well this way and if you plant the individual cells over time, you’ll have a continuous harvest of greens and herbs from an amazingly small space. You can build one of these yourself using pallets. Nail four of them together into a square. Half fill the center with soil. Plant indeterminant potatoes in that center part. On the outside, create little planting boxes around the outside and up the sides by securing landscape fabric to the bottom of each of the boards, and fill the little boxes with soil. Plant vegetables like lettuce and other greens, plant herbs like parsley, chives, and cilantro, and even fruit like strawberries in each planting box that you create. As the potatoes grow, fill in the bed with more soil, straw, hay or even dried grass clippings (dried because too many green grass clippings and the grass will heat up and burn the potato plants.

South (or in the southern hemisphere, north) facing wall of a building-You produce a lot in a space that is not often utilized in your yard simply by growing hanging plants and growing plants that grow vertically up trellises and utilizing planting towers that can either be homemade or purchased. It’s almost like having another complete garden area to work from!

The Survival Garden, available on kindle and in

For information about growing vegetables that you don’t need to can, freeze or dehydrate check out my latest books The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden (only available on Kindle) and The Survival Garden available on Kindle and in Paperback.

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Pepper Plants from Seeds

This pepper plant has been transplanted by placing a small peat pot into a larger peat pot enabling it to have more room without transplant shock.

Although it is easier to purchase ready to plant transplants, many reasons exist for growing your own pepper plants.

Why Grow Peppers from Seed?

The pepper transplants that I grow at home are healthier, sturdier seedlings than any I could purchase at a nursery. That means they’ll suffer less transplant shock, which often means better production.

I have found that healthy plants are less likely to develop diseases and are less prone to being attacked by insects.

Annual plants that I used to buy from nurseries were available only during a few months out of the year. Therefore, if I want to eat from my garden longer in the season, I had to learn how to grow some of my own. When I grow my own transplants, I usually end up with more plants than I need, so I share or trade with friends or neighbors.

In addition, you’ll be able to time transplants for when you need them, not just when they are available at the nursery. You can time them, so they’ll be just the right age when you’re ready to transplant Seedlings you buy are often root bound which slows down their growth. By growing your own transplants, your plants will have a better start on life and be healthier overall.

I discovered that peppers sown from seed let me choose from a larger number of varieties. A lot of gardening diversity is only available to gardeners who grow from seed!

In addition, things happen. If one of my plants dies, I have a plant available to fill in. I’m able to grow plants indoors that wouldn’t be able to grow outside at that time of the year. Not only can you grow transplants for getting an early start in the season, but you can also grow indoors in air conditioning, cool weather plants that don’t germinate well during the heat of the summer.

Peppers are especially sensitive to the cold and won’t germinate unless temperatures are warm because they are tropical plants.  Because I don’t have a greenhouse (yet!) I start my pepper plants indoors. This year I discovered that my heat mat really speeded things up because the plants were kept warm enough to germinate.  

Potting Medium

The purchased potting soil specifically indicated as seed-starter is good for planting seeds. The seed-starter potting mix has been sterilized so there are no fungal or bacteria that can overcome the young plants. If soil is not sterilized, young plants are especially sensitive to a disease called dampening off. This fungal disease is evident when the young seedlings sprout but suddenly turn to mush and the roots sport white webbing. By sterilizing the soil, the soil no longer can harbor this disease.

 This potting soil has a light texture which allows the roots to grow deep. Garden soil is too heavy and may cause plants to rot if it has too much clay or sand, and the soil will not be able to hold the water that the young plants require. A peat and perlite blend gives the average plant its best shot at good root growth. Before putting soil in your pots, dampen the soil so that it has the moisture content of a well-rung-out sponge. You don’t want it too wet. Dampening the soil is best done in a large tub.

How to Plant Peppers

When I fill the pot with soil, I use biodegradable pots that I can bury the pot and all into the soil. You could use commercial pots of various kinds, or you can make your own. If you’re recycling pots from previous seasons, it helps to wash your pots and then soak those pots in a bleach solution for about fifteen minutes.

I put an indentation in the middle of the soil in my pot and drop in my pepper seed. I then cover the seed with soil to the point that soil covers the plant to a depth of two times the length of the seed. When in doubt, I use the depth recommended on the seed package.

Once the seed is covered, I spritz a little water over the top of the soil in the pot then cover the entire pot with some breathable plastic. This will keep the top of the soil from drying out. I have used plastic bags from the grocery store and have had good results. I keep the plastic on the pots until I see the seed leaves or cotyledons appear. These are the first leaves to emerge from the soil when a plant germinates. They are part of the seed’s embryo and provide nutrients to the plant until its true leaves unfurl and begin photosynthesis. Most plants don’t need to be in the light to germinate but make sure to get them under a light as soon as these first leaves appear. Good grow lights are critical to growing healthy pepper plants.

Once the peppers germinate, plants should be either put under grow lights or outside in a greenhouse. Keep them watered and fertilized until ready for transplanting.

When to Transplant Seedlings

I know when my plants are ready for transplanting when I loosen the plants from their containers and the plants hold their shape. If a large amount of soil is not held together by the plant’s roots, my plant doesn’t need to be transplanted yet. However, if the plant holds its shape and the roots are starting to wrap around the outside of the container, I’ll either need to repot the plant into a larger container or plant it directly in the garden.

When replanting into another pot, I fill the new pot up with soil and then take the pot where the seedling is growing plastic pot and all and create a hole in which the pot can fit. Once the hole is created, I sprinkle a little organic fertilizer into the hole (I use dried kelp) and then remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole. I make sure that it fits so that I don’t need to add any more soil. I then pack the soil around the plant from the top and water from the bottom of the plant. I don’t plant the pepper plant any deeper than it was growing in the original pot.

Before I plant the peppers outdoors, I harden them off like I recommended for the tomato plants in the previous post Healthy Tomato Plants from Seed.

If you want to learn more about growing a home garden, check out my two latest books:

The Survival Garden

and

The Four-Seasons Garden

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Healthy Tomato Plants from Seed

healthy young tomato plants
Healthy young tomato plants in peat pots

Tomatoes are the mainstay of almost every backyard vegetable garden and our garden is no exception. Our plans this year include eating all we can while they are fresh, canning them in various forms as well as selling some at farmers’ market. We have planted several varieties of tomatoes that we plan to put in our garden this year.  

Planting Tomato Seeds

I plant tomatoes differently than I plant other annual vegetables from seed. I have a special way that I start them that helps me grow strong healthy tomato plants with deep root systems. This year I discovered that I like growing them in peat pots which will be easier to transplant and cause less stress to the tomato plants than growing them in plastic pots would. Instead of planting them in a small planting cell, I like to plant them in quart-size pots and fill only half of the pot with soil. I then plant tomato seeds in the pot and cover the pot with a plastic bag. I then put the planted pot on a heating mat. Within a few days, the tomatoes begin the germinate.

After the seed germinates, I put the small plant under grow lights and let the plant grow. Once the plant has its first true leaves, I start adding more soil to the pot around the young seedling. As the plant grows, I add more soil around the stem of the plant until I have filled up the entire container. New roots will start growing around the stem of the plant. Once you have a nice plant above the rim of the pot and the danger of frost has passed, it’s time to prepare your plants to plant outdoors.

Hardening Off

Don’t confuse ‘hardening off’ with ‘dampening off’. Dampening off is a fungal disease. Hardening off is a process in preparing your plants for planting outdoors. Plants grown indoors have been treated delicately as they grew, but when we put them outdoors, they are exposed to things they don’t get exposed to indoors like heavy rains, strong sunlight, and drying winds. Hardening them off toughens them over a week or so. By doing this they can better handle what nature throws at them. If you take plants straight out of your home or greenhouse to plant them into the garden, they don’t have a good chance of surviving the transplant. They will start by wilting badly and going into shock. Their leaves can turn white from being sunburned. You’ll slow down their growth or worse, kill them.

You’ll need to have a way to take your plants in and outside because in the next several days you will be doing just that. A strong tray or box works well for this purpose. I use cookie sheets that I picked up at a local secondhand store. Also, you will need a place to put your plants where it will offer shade at least part of the day and where they will be protected from the wind.

The hardening off process will take you between a week and ten days to accomplish. Start by placing your plants in the shaded area. Keep them outdoors for between 30 minutes and up to four hours. On the second day, increase the time your plants are outdoors by an hour. On the following day, put them in a location where they have some filtered sun and increase your time by another hour. Continue increasing the hours outdoors and exposure to sunlight by an hour every day. If a cold snap prevents you from taking your plants outdoors, you may need to start the process all over again or add a few days to the process. This depends, of course, on how cold and how long the cold snap lasted. On the last day or so before transplanting, put the containers in the garden where you plan to transplant the plants and leave them there all day. If they don’t show any signs of distress, they are ready to transplant into the garden.

While hardening off, put extra water in the plant reservoir and increase exposure to breezes as well.

How to Transplant Tomatoes

When I plant tomatoes in the garden, I plant them differently than I do other plants to produce strong root systems and increase production.  

I have learned that it is important to put the support structures into the area where I am putting in the tomato plants before planting the tomatoes. This prevents damage to the plant roots. The only exception to this would be tomato cages which you would put in immediately after planting and do your best to avoid severing the roots with the cage.  

Once you’ve hardened off your plants, you’re ready to transplant them into the garden. You shouldn’t plant your tomato plants to the same depth as the pot in which they were growing. Instead, remove all but the top cluster of leaves and plant the tomato plant up to that top cluster. Before planting, however, you’ll want to remove any flowers or small fruit that may already be forming. This may seem counterproductive, but at this stage of the plant’s growth, energy must be concentrated on the plant’s roots for the best production from the tomato plants. The stronger the root system, the more resilient the plant. If you live in an area that lacks rainfall and is hot, plant tomato plants deep. If you live in an area where rain falls regularly and the temperatures don’t cause soil to overheat, plant them so that the roots spread out sideways along or in front of the bed.

Dig the hole for the tomato plant in the way that you intend to plant it. Now, In the bottom of that planting hole, put a dusting of powdered kelp. Sprinkle in some worm castings, as well, if you have them. The kelp will ensure that the tomato plant gets the nutrients needed to prevent blossom end rot and the worm castings will provide nitrogen in the root zone will give them a boost for growth right after transplanting.

Water the bottom of the planting hole and then put the tomato plant into the hole. Because my tomatoes are planted in the peat pots, I can bury them pot and all. Cover the plant’s stem with soil up to the leaf cluster at the top of the plant. Again, water over the entire area where the plant is buried. Keep the soil around the plant moist until you see new growth on the plant then water deeply once per week, or let the rain do it for you, at the rate of one inch per week. It is important to maintain even watering of your tomato plants especially during dry weather to prevent your tomatoes from splitting when it does rain.

When you see new growth in the leaves on the tomato plant, mulch around the plant as well to help keep the tomato plant’s moisture from evaporating. Mulch also prevents rain or irrigation water from splashing onto the plants which can cause blight to spread from the soil onto your plants.

Through the Season Maintenance

Once you have your tomato plants established with a great root system, you’ll be in maintenance mode. Much of what you have already done will ensure that you have healthy plants that shouldn’t have as many problems during the growing season. Some of the other things that you’ll be doing, while you’re maintaining the plants, will be tying up the plants so that they are not laying on the ground, watching for pests, weeding, mulching, and watering until your tomato crop comes in. I’ll be sharing more on this in the coming weeks. Until then, happy gardening!

My Latest Gardening Book Available on Kindle!

The Survival Garden book-with photo of pumpkins and squash on a cart.

For more gardening tips, check out my latest book on growing vegetables that you don’t have to can, freeze, or dehydrate The Survival Garden. The Survival Garden will get you through the winter.

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What Do I Grow in the Vegetable Garden This Year?

What should you plant in your vegetable garden this year?

It’s that time of year again! It’s time to purchase seeds for starting the annual vegetable garden. But what should you be growing?  With the uncertainties of the food supply chain, it is imperative that you know how to discover what to grow in your vegetable garden.

If you’re new to gardening, this article is here to show you where to go to discover what you should grow successfully.

Grow What Your Family Will Eat!

Probably the most important advice that you’ll get from anyone is that you should grow the vegetables that your family will eat. For instance, if your family doesn’t like carrots, you shouldn’t grow them. If your family only eats corn, green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes, then you should grow them. You should grow them if those vegetables will grow in your area. So, determine what your family will eat and put them on a list. Now that you know that, it’s time to find out what you CAN grow where you live.

How Do You Know if What You Eat is What You Can Grow Where You Live?

I would love to be able to give you step-by-step instructions on how you can grow your best garden every year, but even if you did exactly what I do, you won’t get the same results that I get. In fact, if I do the same plantings in different locations or in different years, I will get different results.

 I can’t tell you when to plant specific varieties of plants, nor can I tell you specifically what vegetables you should plant when or whether or not you should plant a specific type of vegetable! I would take with a grain of salt anything that anyone who tried to say that they can do this for you. I can, however, suggest places you can go to get better educated on your planting region and zones so that you can make better choices on what grows in your area and what doesn’t. This information can also help you know when to plant your garden and the general types of vegetables to plant.

Your County Extension Office

One of your local resources is the county extension office of your county if you live here in the United States. These people are paid with your tax dollars so why not hear what they have to say. They can tell you what zone you’re living in, what others have grown in your area, and what you should consider not growing.

Glean Information from Your State Conservation Department

Speaking of those who are paid with your tax dollars, you can also contact your local conservation department to learn what animals might be a problem for your crops and what you can do about them as well as what endangered plants and animals you should avoid killing. They may also be able to tell you when various insects are likely to be causing problems in your area.

Plus, they will tell you things that you should know like how many deer, raccoons, possums, crows, and other animals are near where you live. This is good information to have if you want to know what critters are in your area. Deer may be a great resource if you’re a hunter but are not so good for you as a gardener. If you want to grow a lot of corn, you may want to have a plan in place to combat raccoons.  

Fellow Gardeners as a Resource

Find out about other gardeners in your area. Perhaps there’s a nearby gardening club. If another gardener lives nearby and you like how their garden looks, consider introducing yourself whenever you see them working in their garden. Be sure to have a list of questions that you would like to ask. Most gardeners are happy to share what they know, especially if you offer to help do a little weeding with them while you talk. They can also tell you about what you can and can’t grow.  

Seed Catalogs

Seed catalogs also offer a lot of information about specific varieties. Pay particular attention to what zones the variety grows best and compare that to where you live. If your planting zone falls into the recommended zones, that seed might be a good option for you. In addition, the seed catalog description will tell you how much sun the plants will require, how far apart to plant the seeds, how far apart to put the rows, and how many days from seed, or transplant to harvest.

Seed Package Information

Don’t overlook the seed package itself as a resource. It’s pretty much the same information that comes from your seed catalogs but is more readily in hand.

Your Own Experience

That’s not to say that I believe that you should take the word of anyone else as gospel. Your own experience will teach you better than what others can tell you about what vegetables will grow where you live. As I said before, your land is going to be unique and will have its own set of idiosyncrasies also, what works one year might not work the following year.

For instance, my garden in 2020 was amazing. I purchased one of those “survival gardens” that had numerous types of vegetables and I planted some of all of them in my garden (at the right time of year, of course).  I was able to keep getting food from the garden all spring, summer, and fall from what I planted. My experience in 2021, had different results. My bush beans didn’t do well, but later my pole beans did, but the pole beans had not done well during 2020, but the bush beans did). I had a difficult time getting squash of any kind to produce. The insect pressure was too great. (It was the same for most people in my area, even those who used pesticides which I don’t use.)

I can’t tell you that you will have a perfect garden every year, but what I can tell you is that if you grow a diverse variety of vegetables, plant over several months, and maintain healthy soil, you’ll develop a garden that you can pick from every day of the year from early spring to late autumn and beyond!

What I can tell you is that by experimenting with different growing styles and vegetable varieties, you will soon know what works in your location and what doesn’t.

Are there questions you have about what vegetables you should grow where you live? Is there anything that you would like to comment on regarding what you like to grow in your vegetable garden?

If you like what you’re reading here, consider following this blog! And check out my latest book The Survival Garden and look for its upcoming sequel The Seasonal Garden!

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Where Should You Put Your Garden?

Where you locate your garden is as important as what you put in it.

With the price of food skyrocketing, many people are gardening this year for the first time. This article is to help you determine where the best place is on your property for your vegetable garden. If you’re thinking about putting in a vegetable garden this year, you’ll need to consider several factors for where to put your garden. You’ll need to have good accessibility, you’ll need to know your climate and weather, you’ll need to know how many hours you have access to direct sunlight, and you’ll need to know where water is most readily available to your garden, and you’ll need to have a location with good soil.

Personal Accessibility and the Accessibility for Tools

How easily can you get into the garden? Do you need special accommodations to be able to work in your garden? For example, if getting down on your knees is too difficult, perhaps you should consider using raised beds that eliminate much of the bending and stooping.

Also, can you get whatever equipment you’ll be using into the area?  What about supplies? Can you easily get supplies like manure, compost, and mulches to your garden area?

Climate and Weather

How well do you know your climate? What is your average monthly rainfall for each month of the year? Does your area usually have regular rainfall during the summer months? Are there months when you’re likely to need to irrigate? How many sunny days do you have every summer? What is your average high temperature each month? What are your summer highs? What are your summer lows? When is your average last frost date in the spring? When is your first average frost date in the fall? Don’t know the answers? Ask a neighbor or friend who has been gardening for a long time or contact a local government agency. 

Sun Access

Will your garden have at least six hours of direct sunlight per day in the spring? How about in the summer and fall? Is it possible that you’ll have too much sun for your vegetable plants?

A seedling’s sun exposure requirement is indicated on the seed packet or nursery label. Full sun is 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Next, plant your garden to follow the sun. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Eastern morning sun is mild and the western afternoon sun is considerably hotter, especially in the summer.

Row orientation. Experts advise the best way to give plants the most sun exposure during the northern hemisphere’s growing season is to plant rows of vegetables running north to south. Personally, I plant my rows going east and west and plant taller plants on the north side of the garden and shorter plants to the south.

Access to Water

Almost every annual vegetable that I have ever seen requires at least one inch of water per week. In most areas, at certain times during the gardening season, the rain will not be sufficient to provide that one inch of water per week, so you’ll need to supplement the water needed for optimum productivity.

 Watering for too long creates an open invitation for fungus. Water too little, and roots become shallow. If you’re watering too high off the ground, half the moisture will be lost to evaporation.

Water is a precious resource for any gardener. Consider collecting water for your garden with rain barrels that have garden hose connections. You can build your own rain barrel or shop top-rated rain barrels.

The best time to plant is either in the early morning between 5 and 10 a. m. and in the evening just before dark. (Though some experts say to never water in the evening because warm wet soil and foliage attracts insects, fungus, and disease.

Avoid watering lightly or more often because it promotes shallow root growth. Be sure to water deeply and about 1-2 times per week only so that the water reaches the root. Soaking the soil to 5 to 6 inches encourages deeper root growth and creates more resilient plants.

Don’t water overhead. Water the base of the plant rather than the foliage because wet foliage invites fungus. Also, less water will evaporate because you’ll be watering the root zone making it more available to the plant roots. For best irrigation methods that conserve the most water, use a drip irrigation system rather than a sprinkler system.

To conserve even more water, mulch beds and containers with several inches of organic mulching material cool the soil and retain moisture. Watering soil that hasn’t been much can splatter mud on plants and cause runoff. An added benefit is that mulching also cuts down on the need for weeding!

Flatten a Garden Slope

Sloped garden areas are unique challenges including difficulty maneuvering on the sloped ground, establishing plants on it, and controlling erosion. You may want to use the land for perennial ornamentals or perennial vegetables, berries, or even orchard trees, rather than cultivating annual plants on it, but in many cases, the recommended steps below may make annual gardening possible.

Next select plants. Grow perennials or suitable groundcovers whenever possible between annual beds to act as soil anchors, slow the speed of the water running down the slope and reduce the force of impact of raindrops on the soil surface.

When you plant, orient rows or plants on contours perpendicular to the slope and alternate plants in rows so that individual plants are staggered and prevent water from running in a line straight down the slope. When cultivating, leave small channels between rows to collect water and allow it to drain slowly into the soil.

Many people would direct water off the slope with one or more French drains or perforated drainpipes located halfway down or at multiple levels on the slope. They create a trench at least 6 inches deep and wide that runs perpendicular to the slope and leads to a ditch, rain garden, or another suitable outlet. They place perforated pipe in the entire length of the trench and fill the trench with clean, coarse gravel. If the soil is particularly silty, they might line the trench or wrap the pipe and gravel in landscaping cloth or filter fabric to prevent clogging.

I think that a better choice is to use berms and swales Instead of using a French drain to redirect water.  Berms and swales help slow and direct heavy rains to soak into the soil rather than being directed down and off the slope. The longer it takes for water to meander down a hill, the more it will soak into the ground.

A swale is a shady spot, a sunken or marshy place, or in other words, a shallow channel with gently sloping sides. A swale may be either natural or human-made. Artificial swales are often infiltration basins, designed to manage water runoff, filter pollutants, and increase rainwater infiltration.

A berm is a level space, shelf, or raised barrier, usually made of compacted soil, separating areas in a vertical way, especially part-way up a long slope. It can serve as a terrace, road, track, path, a fortification line, a border/separation barrier for navigation, good drainage, industry, or other purposes. Berms also control erosion and sedimentation by reducing the rate of surface runoff. The berms either reduce the velocity of the water, or direct water to areas that are not susceptible to erosion, thereby reducing the adverse effects of running water on exposed topsoil.

If a slope is very steep, install terraces or a retaining wall. Terraces break the slope up into multiple nearly flat steps. A terrace can be made from earth, rocks, timber, or other materials. Each “bench” should have a slight slope perpendicular to the hill’s slope to direct water to one side or the other. Also, consider putting in steps to make maneuvering down the terraces easier. Just be sure that you’re not using treated lumber if you are growing vegetables because any leaching from the lumber is toxic to the plants and to you too.

In addition, spread mulch over the soil around plants. Mulches such as wood chips or shredded bark slow runoff while also conserving soil moisture, regulating soil temperature, and contributing nutrients as they break down. Don’t depend on just mulch to keep soil in place on a very steep slope, however.  The mulch may just wash off after severe rains.

Plant Where There’s Rich Organic Soil

Plant your garden where you have good soil that is rich in organic material. The organic material improves the ability of the soil to retain water and the rate at which water is absorbed.

Improving the soil condition is an easy fix. Add organic soil amendments including manure, compost, sphagnum peat moss, or grass clippings. The best time to add most of these is in the season before planting the garden rather than during that season. If your garden is small enough, consider topping the surface of the whole garden bed with compost and then plant into the soil. Once the plants start growing, cover the compost with mulching material. Use foliar sprays and side-dress plants with amendments during the growing season for an added boost. If you continue adding organic material of different types, every time you plant, you will be amazed at how much your soil will improve.

That said, some hard, rocky, or hardpan soils can’t be readily used, and building up an area by creating a raised bed may be necessary. This is also a choice that many gardeners choose because of the convenience of a raised bed.

Would you like to get to know me better? Here’s a link to my other blog: How My Spirit Sings

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Gardening Through the Seasons

Photo by Jou00e3o Jesus on Pexels.com

Imagine not having to worry about whether there’s an adequate supply of fresh produce at your local grocery store or whether it has been put on a recall list.

Cygnet Brown

Imagine every night going to the garden and picking vegetables for your supper. Imagine not having to worry about whether there’s an adequate supply of fresh produce at your local grocery store or whether it has been put on a recall list. Wouldn’t it also be nice to know that you have the added satisfaction of knowing exactly how your vegetables were grown and that it’s fresh?

\That’s some of what you’ll get when you develop a seasonal garden. What is a seasonal garden you ask? A seasonal garden is a garden that isn’t just planted once in a season and then forgotten. It’s a garden that you start planting early in the spring before the last frost and continue planting over the rest of the summer so that you have a continuous harvest all the way until the last frost and beyond.

Increased Nutrition in Vegetables

You’ll love the fact that you’re picking your produce from your garden daily and eating it fresh because it increases the produce’s nutritional value. According to a University of California study, vegetables lose 30% of their nutritional value within a week of being picked and spinach can lose up to 90% of its vitamin C within 24 hours of harvest. By picking your vegetables straight from your own garden, you’ll be giving your family the most nutritious food possible.

 If you raise it organically, you’ll be getting an even higher nutritional content because the soil would have more micro-nutrients available for your vegetables.  Considerable evidence exists that decreases in nutrition may be related to changes in farming methods, including the extensive use of chemical fertilizers, as well as food processing and preparation. A 2004 study evaluated Department of Agriculture data for 43 garden crops from 1950 to 1999. The researchers found statistically reliable declines for six nutrients — protein, calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamins B2 and C.

An added benefit to growing your food organically is that it can cost you less than growing it using chemical fertilizers especially if you’re composting house and yard wastes and using it in the garden!

Protect the Environment

Growing your garden and eating it directly can help protect the environment and lower your carbon footprint. Recycle yard and garden waste to keep it out of landfills! Decrease transportation costs to the environment because your vegetables are not coming from other states or countries! Decreases the need for food processing for storage in things like canning supplies, freezers, and dehydrators because you’re using your vegetables straight from the garden!

Use Your Gardening Hoe as a Piece of Exercise Equipment!

Plus, if you choose to dig your garden by exclusively using hand tools like hoes, shovels, rakes, and broad forks, not only will you be lowering your carbon footprint, but you’ll benefit from increased physical activity as well. It provides healthy exercise. The bending, stooping, raking, hoeing, and digging of your garden will likely increase the amount of exercise you are getting. In addition, time in the sun provides vitamin D.

The Emotional Benefits of Gardening

 It benefits your emotional and mental health too. Along with being an excellent way to fill your free time, gardening also helps to promote mental health and emotional wellness. The American Institute of Stress states that gardening can have the following mental health benefits:

  • Reduces stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Improves the ability to focus.
  • Encourages creativity.
  • Improves self-confidence.
  • Reduces stress levels.

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Gardening and Eating Fresh Can Save You Money!

It will save you money in many ways as well. Growing food organically and making household and yard wastes into compost saves money on fertilizer. Using produce directly from the garden daily prevents the expense of canning or freezing. It even reduces the need for refrigerator space because you’re using the produce soon after you pick it up!

Also with the price of food going up and up these days, the carrots you plant now may be worth much more by the time they are ready to harvest!

Amazing Benefits to Eating Fresh from the Garden!

As you develop your garden, you’ll get better and better at being able to eat from your garden every day. If you compost your house and yard wastes, your garden soil will become better and better, and your health will continue to improve as well because your exercise and food consumption will be of better quality. You’ll save money. You’ll be helping the planet as well by removing carbon from the air and replenishing it in the soil. It will be a win, win, win!

Can you think of other benefits for this type of gardening? Please share them in the comments below.

If you want to know more about seasonal gardening, follow this blog to learn more and about when my latest book The Seasonal Garden will be available! In it you’ll learn the how-tos of growing a garden you can eat from frost to frost and beyond. If you’re in obtaining a review copy, let me know in the comments below! Interested in what else I write? Check out my other blog How My Spirit Sings

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A More Complete Sweet Potato Harvest

One of the things that I discovered during the past two gardening years has been ways that I can get more from my harvests and how I can perpetuate a garden crop, which has been the focal point of this blog. Nothing can be easier than perpetuating sweet potatoes.

Here’s how many people start their own sweet potato slips. They wait until January or February and use this method. It’s how I started and it works, but I’m sharing a better way!

Rather than waiting until spring to create slips from sweet potatoes from a sweet potato root, I started collecting sweet potato roots with the stems and leaves attached in the fall and planting them in containers in the house to last all winter. But first, let’s find out how to take care of the sweet potatoes you are dig up.

Digging Sweet Potatoes

Where I live, it is now time to dig sweet potatoes. I use my broad fork to dig my sweet potatoes. To avoid damaging the tubers, I begin digging just outside where the potato vines are growing and dig in toward where I planted the original vine. That way as I come to a sweet potato, I finish digging it out with my hands and then place the sweet potatoes in a bucket. Once all of the sweet potatoes are picked, I take them inside and place them in a warm and dry, but dark area to cure. Some southerners recommend storing them in temperatures as high as ninety degrees so don’t worry that the temperature is too high where you are storing them. I spread them out on a table so that they can cure evenly and remove excess dampness that can expedite decomposition. Spreading them out and allowing them to dry out allows the skins to harden.

In addition to hardening the tuber’s flesh, curing in a warm and dry environment helps convert the starches of the sweet potatoes into sugars thereby increasing the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. Putting the sweet potatoes into cold storage stops the change from starches to sugars, so don’t move the into cold storage until they have cured in the warm dry environment for two weeks.

After the two weeks, I remove any damaged sweet potatoes to use regularly and store them in boxes in a cool dark place.

Periodically remove any sweet potatoes that show signs of decomposition. If you plan to can any of your sweet potatoes, for best results, can them before New Year’s Day.

Saving Sweet Potato Roots and Leaves Now for Spring Planting

Sweet potatoes are perennials so, the roots have the same genetics as the sweet potato. This enables me to eat the big sweet potatoes rather than keeping some back for producing slips.

Because I am growing the roots all winter, the plants produce more slips in the spring and uses parts of the sweet potato plant that I don’t usually use. I also get the added benefit of access to the sweet potato leaves that I can use during the winter months. These leaves are delicious and can be eaten raw or steamed and provide even more nutritional value than the sweet potato tubers.

When growing new sweet potato plants, most people purchase a sweet potato in the spring and plant the slips they produce from it or they purchase slips (often hard to find) from other growers. These slips can be put in the ground even without roots. Just keep them well watered and soon they will take root, and in a few months, will begin producing sweet potatoes.

 I have my own solution. I grow my sweet potatoes from the roots left over from the previous year.

Because I am growing sweet potato roots all winter, the plants produce more slips in the spring and uses parts of the sweet potato plant that I don’t usually use therefore I can eat every sweet potato myself.

I have grown sweet potatoes from roots of sweet potato plants that I grew this year. These roots will begin creating shoots and leaves. Once that happens I can plant it in a shallow tray for the rest of the winter

Since I’m digging sweet potatoes anyway, and sweet potatoes are perennials and the roots have the same genetics as the sweet potato, now is the perfect time to start the sweet potato slips for next year’s crop. As I dig the sweet potatoes from the ground, instead of throwing the roots onto the compost pile, I put them in a bucket and take them indoors.

If the weather is not too hot, I have just put the sweet potato vines and roots into a bucket, then in an hour or so taken the vines and roots into the house to process and still had success. However, a better solution is to have a bucket of water to put the vines and roots in so that they don’t die before I can take care of them.

Although not as pretty as plants grown from a tuber, many of these leaves and stems will root and can be used to grow sweet potatoes next year. Once they’ve rooted, I will plant them like I do the roots I saved.

Last year, I pulled up the roots and just planted them in a shallow tray. This year I am trying something a little different. I am cutting the stems from the roots and cutting leaf segments and then placing them in water until they start to sprout roots or leaves respectively. Once they sprout, I’ll transfer the segments into soil This will not only make transplanting into the shallow trays easier but will also make it easier to plant the young plants in the garden come spring.

Once the leaves start growing on the sweet potatoes, I can also harvest the leaves all winter and eat them fresh in salads or steamed as side dish of greens with my winter meals for added nutrition. These leaves are delicious and can be eaten raw or steamed and has a higher nutritional value than the sweet potato tubers.

Try this method when growing your own sweet potatoes. I am sure that you will find that done right, you’ll have more sweet potatoes than you know what to do with them!

For more information about growing vegetables that can be stored throughout the winter without canning, freezing, or dehydrating, purchase my new book The Survival Garden!

Available in Paperback and on Kindle

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Ten Things You Can Do this Fall to Begin Preparing a Survival Garden

In my last post, I suggested the first two things that you can do to begin preparing a survival garden.

The first one is to purchase my book, The Survival Garden. Here’s the Amazon Link to the eBook. Here’s the link to a paperback copy.

The second is to purchase a supply of the vegetables suggested for your winter nutrition from your local market so that you can have them throughout the winter to begin your own survival vegetable experience.

In this post, I will show you eight other ways that you can begin your survival garden this fall.  

Allow Livestock to Help Clear and Fertilize the Garden

Chickens in winter
Chickens clear away weeds and overwintering bugs.

The first one is to allow livestock to help clear and fertilize the garden.

Most of the time we try to keep the animals OUT of the garden, but this time of year, having animals in the garden is helpful.

The idea is that once your crop is harvested from the land, you can send your animals in to clean things up a bit before winter. You can even send in more than one animal type to do even more of your garden work.

Send in cows to clean out what they want, send in sheep to eat what they want, then send in pigs to eat what they want and finally send in chickens to pick out what’s left and to get rid of any bugs that are thinking about over wintering in your garden.  

If all you have is chickens, it’s okay. Just run them through your garden and see how much “damage” a few birds can do!

Preparing the Soil

winter time garden
This is a photo from last winter. Much of this garden was cleared and mulched, ready for this season.

Don’t wait until spring to prepare your garden beds for planting. If you have the time before winter sets in, prepare your beds now. Once you have allowed animals to benefit from your garden wastes, it’s a good time to prepare the soil. This way you can tailor each bed to the needs of the plants that you’ll plant in that area in the spring.

Only dig up the areas that you are going to actually be planting in the fall. Any areas that the animals dug up that is on a slight slope, rake evenly and sprinkle cover crop seed in that location to prevent erosion.

Cover the Soil

Once your ground is exposed, it is a good idea to cover it to prevent erosion and nutrient depletion. There are two fantastic ways to do this. You can either mulch the area or use a cover crop. Both are good choices. Mulches and cover crops are both composed of biological mass, either once-living or still-living, used to optimize soil conditions.

Mulches consist of dead plant material like compost, leaves, spoiled hay, grass clippings and pine needles. During the summer they keep the soil moist and control weeds that could rob water from the crop. During the winter months, it helps protect the soil from harsh weather fluctuations and keep water from running off. Mulches are best used on level beds or terraces. One of the best mulches and most readily available mulches in the fall is autumn leaves.

Plant cover crops in areas of the garden that are on sloped areas and are also a good choice for pathways during the winter months. Cover crops help prevent soil erosion because the roots hold onto the soil to prevent erosion. In addition, the foliage above ground, even when not growing, protects the soil from extremes in weather and breaks up rain droplets before hitting the ground. The roots absorb the rain and hold it in place so it can be used by garden plants later.

Make Compost

Compost can be made in many different ways. A cold compost consists of layering compostable materials as they come and allowing nature to take its course.

A hot compost is a science experiment that can offer high quality nutrition for garden plants and is produced from yard and house wastes that would otherwise end up in a landfill. You can create hot compost quickly, so you really want to wait until early spring to actually start creating hot compost. However, now is a good time to start piling your brown composting materials in preparation for combining with the green materials in the spring.

Fall can be a fantastic time to start cold composting, however. Starting compost can be as easy as burying a pile of shredded brown and green yard and kitchen wastes in a garden bed and covering it with mulch. By spring, the wastes will be black gold compost that you can use immediately.

Save Garden Seed

If you have garden plants that are going to seed, now is the time to collect it, air dry it and get it ready for next season.

Plant Biennials to Save for Seed

In addition to seed saving, if you’re in an area where this is possible, consider planting biennials that you might be able to get seed from next summer. Begin planning in the early in the fall months and allow them to grow until well after the first frost. Later, you’ll be deeply mulching or digging up these vegetables for the winter. If you dig them up, you’ll be re-planting these same plants in the spring. If you leave them in the ground, you may instead wish to use these vegetables in the early spring before your garden begins producing in the new season. Use them before they begin growing again in the spring.

Plant Garlic

Fall is the best time for planting garlic.

Once you have some ground prepared for your spring garden, take some of that to plant garlic. Garlic produces better, more reliable bulbs if planted in the autumn months rather than in the spring. Plant garlic when you plant daffodil and other early spring bulbs.

Plant Sweet Potatoes Indoors

This is how most people grow sweet potatoes. I, however, bring in the roots and plant them in a grow box.

Rather than waiting until spring to create slips from sweet potatoes from a sweet potato root, I started collecting sweet potato roots with the stems and leaves attached in the fall and planting them in containers in the house to last all winter.

Sweet potatoes are perennials so, the roots have the same genetics as the sweet potato. This enables me to eat the big sweet potatoes rather than keeping some back for producing slips.

Because I am growing the roots all winter, the plants produce more slips in the spring and uses parts of the sweet potato plant that I don’t usually use. I also get the added benefit of access to the sweet potato leaves that I can use during the winter months. These leaves are delicious and can be eaten raw or steamed and provide even more nutritional value than the sweet potato tubers.

With the days shortening and the nights lengthening, you often don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done, but if you’re able to do these ten things this fall, you’ll have a head start toward producing your own survival garden.

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The Survival Garden is now in print!

A few weeks ago, I made The Survival Garden available as an eBook on Amazon. Now, it is available as a paperback as well! Get your copy today!

Why I Wrote This Book

As I mentioned in my previous post about the fact that The Survival Garden was available as an eBook, (see that post here), I told how this book idea came about because my brother told me how people in Pennsylvania couldn’t find canning lids or jars last year.

What I didn’t mention was that gardening as a whole had been part of my preparedness goals for a number of years and that my big goal is to write a series of books called The Perpetual Homesteader which is what this blog is all about. I started with this book because I feel that it is imperative that as many of us as possible start producing our own supply of food by growing food that will help supply healthy calories throughout the winter without needing freezer space, canning equipment, or even a dehydrator (although I do use a freezer, a canner and a dehydrator as well!)

Should You Wait Until Spring?

Definitely don’t wait until spring to start thinking about growing these foods! You can start right now by purchasing The Survival Garden and read it!

Next, start purchasing those vegetables in the book from your nearest supplier whether its a grocery store or a local farmer! This time of year they are readily available and you can often purchase them in larger quantities.

Finally, start implementing those vegetables into your daily diet.

Is there more you can do now? You bet there is, but those are subjects for future blogs.

Over the next several weeks I’ll share what you can and should be doing now so be sure that you’re following this blog to keep updated on what you can do to maximize the produce of your own survival garden!

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The Survival Garden

Last year, I called my brother in Pennsylvania and he told me that a lot of people in his state started growing gardens because they were afraid of what could happen during the pandemic. Their plans were to garden and freeze or can what they produced. The problem was that though they were able to find seeds in the stores, canning jars, lids, and freezers were in short supply. Their garden produce grew well, but because they had no way to preserve their food, what they couldn’t eat rotted and was wasted. Numerous people tried to capitalize on their bounty by selling it, but that too became a problem because everyone else was doing the same. The countryside was littered with little roadside stands that had produce that no one wanted.

That was what gave me the idea for The Survival Garden: Plant a Garden for Food to Last all Winter that You Won’t Need to Can, Freeze. or Dehydrate. This short little book shows you how you can grow and preserve a huge percentage of the calories that you and your family will need to survive the next winter or any winter of the future even though food is in short supply in the grocery stores for whatever reason. These are foods that you don’t need any canning equipment. You won’t need to hunt all over town or get gouged with internet prices on canning lids. You don’t have to worry about purchasing a freezer or concerning yourself with the fear that the electricity could go out and ruin your produce. All twelve of the vegetables in this book can be raised in your garden and stored without any of these worries.

In this book, you’ll learn everything you need to know about growing, harvesting, and preparing these vegetables to last well into the winter months and potentially until the next harvest!

Currently The Survival Garden: Plant a Garden for Food to Last all Winter that You Won’t Need to Can, Freeze. or Dehydrate is available on Kindle. (Paperback will be available soon) Get your copy now to see how you can actually get your survival garden started today!

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How to Grow a Better Crop of Potatoes

potato in garden
One little early potato can lead to many a summer meal

Container Planted Potatoes for Early Crop

A few years ago, I grew potatoes in buckets on my patio at my townhouse when I lived in Springfield.  I had mixed results. One of the reasons that I had problems was because I tried to grow what I later learned were indeterminant potatoes whereas what needed to grow were determinant varieties. The basic difference between indeterminant and determinant potatoes is that if indeterminant potatoes have good conditions, they will continue growing all season whereas determinant potatoes grow a short time and then die off leaving behind a specific crop to harvest immediately.

As I understand, determinant potatoes have a short growing season (as little as seventy days) and can be planted in succession throughout the growing season.  That is what I want to try to happen this year.

Another problem I had was that I put too many seed potatoes in my buckets. The buckets soon became crowded, so the potatoes stayed small. This year I am planting just one potato per bucket.

I want to try to grow potatoes so that I have a continuous crop coming in all summer long. The variety of determinant potato that I will be growing is Red Norland which has a growing season of just 70 days! I want to see how many buckets of potatoes I can grow during the summer and how many I need to keep myself supplied in potatoes for the entire growing season.

If I have more than enough Red Norland potatoes to supply me with potatoes throughout the growing season, and I have more than enough to sell at Farmer’s Market, I’ll take what extras I have and can some of them. I don’t think that will happen this year, because I only bought five pounds of this type of seed potatoes.

Because I only had three buckets available this year for the early determinant potato, I planted most of them in the ground in the main garden.

How to Plant a Bucket of Early Potatoes

To plant early potatoes in buckets, begin by putting holes in the bottom 1/3 of the bucket. I only put holes in the top of that bottom third of the bucket so that water would drain out only if it reached that part of the bucket. The lower part of that bottom third of the bucket would be used as a wicking bed of sorts. This way I wouldn’t have to water the buckets of potato plants quite as often.

I fill half of this bottom third of the bucket with sawdust, add a half shovel full of aged chicken manure and then cover that with more sawdust and filling that remaining bottom third of the bucket. Over the sawdust I put a one-inch layer of soil. In the center of the bucket on top of the soil, I set the potato or potato piece so that the rose end with the majority of the eyes was facing upwards in the bucket.

half filled buckets
I put in a layer of sawdust, a layer of chicken manure, another layer of sawdust, a layer of soil and set the potato in the bucket.

Once the potato piece was in place, I filled the remainder of the bucket with soil so that only two inches of the brim showed.

Once the potato plant surfaces above the soil line, I will fill the remaining space with grass clippings. I use grass clippings at this point because the grass clippings contain nitrogen so that if gives the potato plant’s leaves a little bit of a boost early in the growing process, but not so much to prevent the potatoes from producing the root vegetable.

Companion Planting for Potatoes

I am planting a companion plant with the potatoes in the garden. Because the potatoes take up a lot of growing space, I like to plant them with bush green beans. One reason, I like to use green bush beans is because bush green beans are a legume and while legumes are growing, they store nitrogen from the air in their roots that potatoes have access.

Another reason is that potatoes and bush green beans are harvested about the same time. I am able to harvest the potatoes and harvest the bush beans together and remove them both and replace them with a later crop like cabbage or spinach.

A final reason is that potatoes and bush green beans have a symbiotic relationship where they protect one another from insect pests. Green beans repel the Colorado potato beetle and potatoes protect green beans by repelling the Mexican beetle, a nasty pest that can quickly destroy a lush crop of green beans.

A Late Potato for Winter Storage

In addition to growing determinant potatoes for use during the gardening season, I am growing an indeterminant variety as well. The indeterminant potato variety that I will be growing will be White Russets. I know that they are good storing potatoes because I stored them in a cool place in my kitchen over the winter. I am experimenting with them as well. This experiment is that I planted some in the autumn and hope that they will start growing this spring. I also have some that I planted this spring. These potatoes are considered late-growing potatoes and should keep me supplied during the winter.

I have some idea about how many potatoes I will need this next winter because this past winter I bought 100 pounds of potatoes to use this past winter and there was enough in that my husband and I were sufficiently supplied with them throughout the winter. Therefore, if I can grow at least that many for the winter, it should be a sufficient supply for the upcoming winter.

How about you? Do you grow potatoes and if so, what do you find helps you improve your potato harvest?

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Planting Perennial Vegetables

asparagus plant
It takes at least three years to produce a decent asparagus plant, but you’ll have perennial growth for about 20 years

A garden is good insurance for making sure that nutritious, delectable vegetables are available throughout the year, wouldn’t it be nice if you could plant a vegetable that you plant once but it keeps offering you its produce year after year. Well, you can do this with perennial vegetables.

Perennial vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, and horseradish among other vegetables can be planted once and with little care offers a crop year after year.

Asparagus

Native to Western Europe, but a hardy perennial here in the US, asparagus, is probably the most popular perennial vegetable. With good reason, asparagus plants are viable for up to twenty years and nothing compares to the taste of homegrown fresh asparagus.

I grew my asparagus last year from seed. Growing from seed takes a lot of patience, but it’s worth the wait. However, if you don’t want to wait, you can also buy two to three old crowns.

I started my asparagus plants in January 2020.  I put the seed in the refrigerator for a couple of months so that the seed would chill. I soaked the seeds overnight and then when I was ready, I planted them indoors in flats. This way I was able to control their growing conditions. Also, the asparagus didn’t need to combat weeds just to get started. (It takes anywhere from 2-8 weeks for asparagus seed to germinate).

I planted the seedlings in the garden bed behind the shed in April last year and kept them reasonably weed-free so that they could grow. Their roots are well established now, but it will still be a year or more until I am able to get a harvest.

Rhubarb

rhubarb crown
The black blob in the middle of the photo is of a rhubarb crown. In a few days it will green up and begin to grow.

Pioneers called this perennial “pie plant” because rhubarb pie was a favorite among them. Though used like a fruit in pies, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. I planted my rhubarb in the part of the herb garden where I had grown kale, greens and late corn last year. I planted it here for a couple of reasons. One, the garden had been deeply dug and lots of organic material had been added and perennial grasses had been removed. It is a sunny enough location (more than 6 hours of sun per day).

I have two plants so I planted them on opposite sides of the four foot long bed. To plant them I dug a hole and positioned the bare root rhubarb plant so that the crown was 2-3 inches below the surface. I tamped the soil down lightly over the rhubarb and watered it thoroughly.  

Jerusalem Artichokes

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Also called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes grow wild where I live, but I decided to grow them in my yard, because I love to use them in stir fries in place of water chestnuts. They can also be used in place of potatoes. The tubers look like ginger root and provide a starch (inulin) that converts to fructose in the digestive tract and is better tolerated by diabetics than the potatoes would be. The flowers look like sunflowers and produce edible sunflower like seeds. (the seeds are smaller than sunflower seeds.)Also called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes grow wild where I live, but I decided to grow them in my yard, because I love to use them in stir fries in place of water chestnuts. They can also be used in place of potatoes. The tubers look like ginger root and provide a starch (inulin) that converts to fructose in the digestive tract and is better tolerated by diabetics than the potatoes would be. The flowers look like sunflowers and produce edible sunflower like seeds. (the seeds are smaller than sunflower seeds.)

This hardy perennial prefers cool weather and grows best in poor soil. I planted mine in the yard across the driveway from my perennial herb garden. They will flower during mid-summer. I planted it in the late winter just after the really cold weather. I added wood ashes and planted the tubers 12 inches apart and covered them with 3 inches of soil. I then added sawdust around the outside edge of the bed and placed rocks on top of the sawdust to ensure that I knew where the plants were when I mowed the lawn later in the season.

Horseradish

This vegetable is a hardy perennial and grows in all planting zones except the hottest desert regions. For perennial planting, I gave mine plenty of space and planted it at the edge of my herb garden next to the frost-free faucet. Because I have three plants, I planted them in a triangle and planted them 3 feet apart. It thrives best in sandy soil, but since I have clay soil, I amended it with plenty of organic material. Because it loves potassium, I dusted the area with wood ashes. It does not like too much nitrogen, so I did not add composted chicken manure.  I buried the horseradish so that the crown was placed in the hole at an angle, not straight up and down with the top two inches below the soil level and backfilled the remaining hole. I then covered the horseradish bed with sawdust for mulch and so that I knew where the horseradish was planted.

So, what is your favorite perennial vegetable? Is it similar to what I am growing or do you have something else that you like to grow year after year?

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Planting Berries

early spring strawberry plant
The June-bearing strawberries are coming to life after a fall planting

So far, my perpetual homestead has the start of a perpetual garden. In addition, it has an orchard that will produce peaches, pears, and apples but those will not bear for a few more years. What I have that will all begin bearing in the next couple of years is the berry patch.

There are, of course, many other berries that could be planted, but I decided not to over-extend myself this first year. One berry, you might notice, isn’t included on my list is blackberries. The reason for this is that I am able to get out and pick wild ones that are growing nearby. I hope, next year, to get some elderberries. They not only are good in pie baking, but they have excellent medicinal properties as well. I would also like to add currants, gooseberries, and goji berries. For now, though, I am growing June-bearing and everbearing strawberries, blueberries, and yellow raspberries.  

June-Bearing and Everbearing Strawberries

The first berries that I started growing were the June-bearing strawberries. The reason that they are called June-bearing is that they put on one crop of berries in a short period. They generally produce one large harvest in late spring or early summer. I started growing these in a container garden while I still lived in Springfield. Last spring, I moved them out here with me, planted them in a temporary location in the garden. In September I finally transplanted them into a more permanent location where I am able to give them more room. I should be getting some berries from them this year because they had all winter to develop their root systems.

To plant the June-bearing strawberries, I planted them so that they were planted 12 inches apart in staggered rows twelve inches apart. After harvesting the berries, the strawberry plants will produce runners. Instead of allowing these runners to develop roots in the ground where they want, I am going to be putting pots under each of them and coaxing the roots to develop in the pots. That way I can move them and keep their roots more intact when I transplant them. My plan is to sell some of the plants and to plant the rest between the trees in the orchard to create a fruitful ground cover for the trees.

Just planted everbearing strawberry plant
Doesn’t look like much but this strawberry plant will be producing strawberries late this summer.

A second type of strawberry are everbearing strawberries. These produce two to three crops over the course of the summer and into the fall, with the larger crop coming in the summer. The berries on the everbearing strawberries are smaller and sweeter that the June-bearing plants and produce fewer runners. Like with the June-bearing, I planted the everbearing in two rows, with staggered plantings twelve inches apart. I planted them so that the strawberries roots are completely covered, but the crown remains above the soil line.

I planted the strawberries in late winter, so I spread a thin layer of partially decomposed chicken manure on top of the soil around the strawberry plants. This way, the manure will filter down to the roots during the spring rains and help nourish the plants’ roots. If I would have planted them in the spring after things started growing, I would have watered the plants with compost tea.

Next, I used sawdust to mulch the patch to reduce weed growth, hold in moisture and keep the manure from washing away or dissipating into the air. I have heard of people using plastic for mulch around the strawberries but because it can facilitate diseases such as leaf spot and anthracnose, I don’t recommend it.

Once things start growing in the spring, I will give the patch one inch of water per week if the soil is dry. It is important that strawberries get enough water until they are established. During production, Strawberries may have up to 2 inches of water a week.

If I would have planted the June-bearing strawberries in the spring, I would have removed blossoms and runners in the first year. However, because I planted them last fall, I don’t have to do that. For everbearers, I will remove blossoms and runners only until July 1. This will enhance strawberry plant growth and production.

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Blueberries

newly planted blueberry plant
A freshly planted blueberry plant.

I planted my blueberries in the ground where I grew potatoes last year. This way the soil was loosened with the broad fork several times and rocks and weeds were removed as well. Because I had mulched the area heavily with leaves and grass clippings, the ground was light and highly organic. Because blue berries prefer much more acidic types of soil, measuring a little closer to 4.5 to 5.0., I am continually adding coffee grounds to quickly increase soil acidity.

I planted two kinds of blueberries. One was Patriot and the other was Jersey. Blueberries should be planted during the early springtime or just when the winter season is about to come to an end. Choose a part of your garden where your blueberry plants get access to sunlight for most of the day, but without it being harsh and full sunlight.  Companion plant with strawberries and thyme. I planted the blueberries to the depth that they grew when they were at the nursery.

Yellow Raspberries

Yellow Raspberry plants
Don’t let their appearance fool you. Those sticks poking out of the ground are raspberry plants.

I decided to grow Fall Gold raspberries. I may grow red and black raspberries in the future, but for now, I’ll stick to the yellow ones. One reason is that (I am told) that the birds are less likely to eat them than they would the red or black raspberries. 

These berries are a primocane type which means they bloom and fruit on first-year wood. Sometimes people refer to the primocane varieties as “everbearing” because they produce two crops on each biennial cane (unless pruned otherwise). The fall crop comes on current-season canes, at the top 1/3 of the canes. After overwintering, and if not pruned, a second crop will be produced in late spring to early summer at the bottom 2/3 of the canes. If I wanted a single heavier crop, I would prune all the canes to the ground every year before growth started in the spring. This way the new cans would produce fruit in late summer or fall that same year.

To plant yellow raspberries, I Choose a planting spot for my raspberries where they had plenty of room to grow and lots of sunlight. I only have three plants right now, but that number will grow every season, so I planted them on the south side of the garden. Plants tend to grow toward the sun so by putting them south of the garden, they will grow away from the garden and not toward it.

Because the raspberries are at the edge of the garden, I didn’t have to worry about breaking up hard ground. I worked some aged chicken manure into the top couple of inches the soil for a nitrogen boost. If I were limited on space, I would have put the raspberries on trellises, but since I am just growing a patch right now, I will let the raspberries grow naturally.

I dug a wide shallow hole for each bare root raspberry plant. If they would have been potted raspberries, I would have dug a hole big enough to accommodate the entire contents of the pot. Each raspberry plant was planted about 2 ½ feet apart.

I trimmed off damaged roots from the bare roots and spread them out. I would removed the plant from the pot and would have left the soil intact if I planted a potted plant. Prepare the raspberries for planting. Trim any damaged roots from bare root plants. Spread the roots out. Remove potted plants from the pots, leaving the soil intact around the roots.

I set each plant in a hole, bare roots spread out, into the soil. I didn’t plant the roots deep put left them less than two inches below the ground. I buried the roots and firmly pressed the soil to remove any air pockets. Potted plants should be planted so that the plant is buried no deeper than the surface of the soil in the pot.

I cut the canes to about six inches tall. I watered the raspberry plants just enough to settle the soil and mulched them to suppress weeds, hold in moisture and keep soil cool from the heat of the sun.

Now I have several berries that will soon offer me fruit from June until late summer and with a little maintenance work, they will do so year after year.

Now its your turn. Are you growing berries where you live? If so, what’s your favorite?

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Starting the Orchard

the beginnings of an orchard
The orchard doesn’t look like much, but if I properly planted it and maintain it, it should do fine.

This past week I finally planted the trees in my permaculture orchard. I decided to plant semi-dwarf trees because they tend to be heartier and live longer than dwarf trees but produce in a smaller area and produce more quickly than standard trees.

I bought bare-rooted trees from GrowOrganic.com for my mini-orchard. Bare rooted fruit trees are those sold without a pot and the type purchased by tree nurseries, but they can be purchased by individuals too. Bare-rooted trees will save me money and are available in a much wider selection of varieties and sizes than those sold in pots. Also, they are less expensive to ship. Because bare-rooted trees don’t have an extensive root system, they do require proper planting and careful treatment during the first year to establish healthy root systems and provide a reliable harvest.

I bought three apple trees, a pear tree, and a peach tree and I purchased them so that I would have tree fruit from mid-July to November.  

First, we have the Red Baron Peach. This tree is the earliest of all the trees in the orchard. It is self-pollinating. It blooms early to mid-season and harvest from the middle of July to August first. It produces a rich juicy, large yellow freestone fruit. It is a vigorous tree that needs fertile, well-drained soil and regular pruning and thinning.

The pear is the Pontiac Pear. It is self-pollinating and has a superior resistance to fire blight with good-quality fruit. This fruit harvests in August-September.

The first apple that I chose was the Golden Delicious. The reason I chose it, is that it is not only self-pollinating, but it also pollinates other apple trees too. It resists woolly apple aphids and collar rot.  This is the earliest of the apples that I chose and produces ripe apples in early September and is a sweet eating apple.  

I chose the Braeburn apple because it can be kept in long term storage and I like the fact that it was grown from a “wild-seedling”. It doesn’t hurt that it originated in New Zealand too. This apple is harvested in mid-autumn.

Finally, I picked the Liberty apple because this apple is low maintenance. It has a natural disease resistance to apple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust, and fire blight. Its fruit has a crisp white flesh, yellow with red overtones, a crisp white flesh, and a tart but sweet taste. It harvests in late autumn.

Properly planted peach tree
The Red Baron peach tree was properly planted, staked, and mulched.

Where I Planted My Trees

I put a lot of thought into where to plant these trees because once they are in the ground, they can’t be moved. Our land is on a south facing slope which is great for gardening, but not so good for orchards. South facing slopes heat more quickly than north facing ones which wouldn’t be a problem, but late spring frosts can destroy the tender buds on those south facing trees. Therefore, it is necessary to protect the trees from a direct southern exposure, but how do I do this on a south facing slope?

I made the use of a microclimate created by the buildings on our place. I planted these trees along the western boundary of the property on the north side of the trailer just north of the hen house. This way, sun shining on a frosty morning won’t cause sunscald. There’re large trees on the western side of the yard so the trees are protected from westerly winds. Also, the north side of the yard will stay cooler than the south side of the yard and will prevent the trees from budding too early. The fruit trees will bud later, preventing late frosts from destroying the flowers and therefore future fruit.

How I Planted My Trees

Here in this part of Missouri, we are able to plant trees any time that we can work the soil during the late winter.  In more northerly climates, trees would need to be planted later in the season either late winter or early spring but definitely before the trees bud.

For each tree I dug a hole about a shovel’s depth and at least three times the side of the bare-root stock. I made the holes square because a square hole is better than a round one as it encourages the roots to push out into the surrounding ground. I kept the soil I removed on a tarp.

I added a few inches of good garden compost and worked it into the soil around the hole.  I mixed the compost into the top two inches of the soil out to what would be the tree’s dripline.  I placed the tree in the center of the hole and spread out the roots. As I put the soil back around the tree, I made sure to mix some compost into the soil as I replaced it around the tree. I made sure that I planted just to the slightly darker junction on the tree’s trunk that indicated where the soil level was when it was first grown. I made sure that the soil around the hole wasn’t planted deeper or shallower than when the trees were first grown. Since my fruit trees were grafted onto rootstock, I made certain that the joint was above ground.

Before I buried the tree roots, I put a thick wooden stake a few inches from the center of the hole and on the side of the north wind (As I said earlier, I have trees for a windbreak.) I hammered this firmly into the ground using a mallet. I firmly pressed the tree and post into the ground with my heel, careful not to damage the roots. When the hole was half full, I pulled the tree up an inch and then let it drop to help the soil fill in around the roots.

When all the soil was added and firmed, I attached the tree to the stake with a soft tie and left enough room for the tree trunk to grow. I plan to add a protective fence around the trunk of each tree.  At this stage I  covered the area which would be the dripline with sawdust to suppress weeds.

I watered the soil well to stop the roots drying out and to further settle the soil around them.

Further Care During the Spring/Summer/Fall

Until the root system is at least as large as the tree it supports, the trees are particularly vulnerable to environmental stress. During this first year, the trees can easily die from not getting enough water or nutrients. I will need to keep the trees well-watered, especially during dry weather. A good soaking once or twice a week is much better than surface watering daily, though during extreme heat it can be worth doing both. It’s also vital to keep the area around the tree completely free of weeds and grass as they will compete with the young tree, which is why the sawdust mulch will be highly effective.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I will also have to remember to remove any and all blossoms from the trees this first year and not let any fruit develop. By keeping the trees from bearing the first year, the trees will have less stress and become healthier and produce greater bounty in the future.I will also have to remember to remove any and all blossoms from the trees this first year and not let any fruit develop. By keeping the trees from bearing the first year, the trees will have less stress and become healthier and produce greater bounty in the future.

I am looking forward to sharing more about this orchard in the future. If you have any questions about growing your own home orchard, please let me know by commenting below.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">If you have anything you would like to add, feel free to add it in the comments below as well!If you have anything you would like to add, feel free to add it in the comments below as well!

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Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?

side-by-side incubator and brooder
This setup has an incubator and a brooder side by side. It’s not a bad system for just a handful of chicks.

On my homestead, the answer to that question was the chicken. However, hatching eggs is part of the perpetual equation. On July 9, 2020, my chicks arrived from The Cackle Hatchery of Lebanon, Missouri. I chose The Cackle Hatchery because I listened to some advice Dad gave me some advice about purchasing chickens when I was growing up. He said to always buy my chickens from the reputable hatchery nearest my home. This way the chicks don’t have far to travel and will have less stress on them. I found that to be true. Out of the 50 chickens that I ordered, I received 55. Of that 55, I had 53 survive to adulthood. I have butchered (with help) a few of the roosters (with more to harvest) and still have a large flock. This past week we added five more.

On December 21, 2020, the shortest day of the year, my hens started laying their first eggs. From then on, all winter, the hens have been laying like it was summer.

On February first, just before the coldest weather so far this winter (and hopefully the coldest overall) I started incubating eggs. To incubate eggs, of course, I needed fertile eggs. Hens can lay eggs without a rooster, but they cannot get fertilized eggs without one. Because I had my chickens and oodles of roosters with them, I am certain that I had fertilized eggs.

I chose other criteria for the eggs I chose. One criterion is that I needed eggs that were as clean as possible. I chose the cleanest because eggs have a natural coating on them that protects the embryos in the egg from bacteria so I don’t want to wash them.

Also I like to choose eggs that are as round as possible. According to my Dad, his mother used to do this and 80% of the eggs that hatched were hens. I don’t know how true this will be for me, but I believe it is an experiment worth trying.

 For what should be obvious reasons, I didn’t refrigerate the eggs I used for hatching.  However, I needed to keep the eggs more than 24 hours before incubating, and I turned them from side to side every twelve hours until I was able to get them into the incubator. This will keep the yolk from being stuck to one side for too long. I also made sure the eggs were stored pointed end down. The pointed end should be down at all times during storage and also while in the incubator. The reason is that the chick inside will need the air pocket that is on the rounded side.

In the past, I had an incubator that did not have an egg turner with it. I had a large mortality rate with the chicks because I had to manually turn them and sometimes, I would forget.  I set up the incubator in a quiet location and then plugged it in, ready for the eggs, but I ran my incubator for a few days to make certain that everything was working properly. I kept tabs on my humidity levels and be certain that the humidity levels don’t go below 50%. Next, I put the eggs in the incubator pointed end down. I put an “x” on one side and an “o” on the other so that as it turns automatically, I’d be able to tell if the turner was working properly. I kept this up until the eggs had been incubated for 18 days. Also, I checked humidity and temperature levels daily.

Candling

On day eight, I carefully took out each egg and used the candling light on the incubator in a dark room to check to see if a chicken embryo was growing. If I saw a large mass inside the egg, it meant that an embryo was growing if I saw air pockets through the egg, there was no embryo, and I discarded that egg. Also, I removed any broken or cracked eggs.

Hatching

chick in incubator
Chick recently hatched and still in the incubator.

On day 18, I stopped turning the eggs and around day 21 I started hearing some peeping inside the eggs.  However, I knew that I did not want to open the incubator anymore for any reason. I didn’t lift the incubator hood because I didn’t want to get any cold air or any bacteria in it and I didn’t want to bother the chick either.

I left the chicks alone and knew not to try to help the chick peck its way out of the shell. I knew that it won’t survive if I did. In some cases, hours pass before a chick busts through its egg completely. I allowed them to dry completely before I put them in the brooder box.

I wasn’t worried about keeping the chicks in the incubator too long, especially since the weather had been so cold lately. Chicks can remain in the incubator for up to 48 hours. I, however, kept them in there only about 24 hours after hatching.

Brooding

chicks in brooder
A mason jar waterer and a homemade feeder and a heat lamp create a comfy environment for these chicks.

On day 18, I set up the brooder in a packing box next to the incubator. I put several layers of newspaper at the bottom of the box and set up a heat lamp. I filled the chick waterer and had it at room temperature before moving chicks into the box. I also filled the feeder with food in it ready for the chicks.

Yes, five chicks hatched from this first batch. The youngest didn’t hatch out until day 24 and unfortunately he did not survive. This first batch I am keeping for our use, but from here on out, I hope to hatch chicks to sell as well.

I have the second batch of eggs in the incubator right now. My ability to raise chickens perpetually has now been made possible.

the incubator
Now that the first batch has been removed, the incubator has been fumigated and the second batch started.

The Perpetual Homestead Series

As mentioned in my first post Becoming a Perpetual Homesteader, one of the books that I will be writing for The Perpetual Homesteader series is The Perpetual Chicken House. Feel free to ask any questions because I would love to help! Ask your questions in the comments below.

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Planting Tomato Seeds on a Snowy Day

Tomato plants in the womb
Grow tomatoes from seed for better selection and cost savings.

The cold and snow from the past few days has got me thinking even more about starting my garden. I have a lot of other things that I would like to do. For instance, I have to get my fruit trees in their permanent locations, and I have perennial plants that need to be put in the ground as well however, with more than six inches of snow still on the ground, those projects will have to wait until the snow is melted. That should be happening this coming week, but until then, planting indoors seems to be on the agenda.

I am Wanting Lots and Lots of Tomatoes

That’s why I am planting tomatoes from seed. Tomatoes are very versatile. Tomatoes can be eaten raw in salads, on sandwiches and just eaten right off the vine. They can be canned into tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato paste, salsa, with peppers and onions, and plain canned tomatoes. Green, tomatoes can be made into relishes and pickles.  I never seem to be able to grow enough tomatoes.

Last year, planted several varieties of tomatoes from seed and bought some others as plants. The plants I purchased had thick stems and were about 8-10 inches tall. Because I had moved to my new location, many of the taller plants that I had grown from seed had died and all I had were small tomato plants that were only a couple inches tall. I thought that there was no way that they would ever grow. However, they did. Actually, what surprised me was that the small tomato plants took off in my garden almost immediately whereas the taller, store-bought plants did not do as well, and the homegrown plants actually overtook the other ones.

 I didn’t do as well with my tomatoes as I would have liked, but this year I plan to do a better job with them. More on that later when I plant them in the garden. For now, though, let’s go over planting seeds for growing transplants.

What Tomato Seeds to Plant

Planting tomato transplants from seeds to plant in my garden later will save me money and lets me choose varieties that are not often found at plant nurseries.  Because I save seeds from tomato plants that I grew last year, I use only heirloom or open pollinated seeds. This way the tomatoes that I grow will grow true to the variety. I have several types of tomatoes that I will be growing this year. This first batch of tomatoes is the Beefsteak variety. This variety is an indeterminant which means that the plant will grow and produce throughout the season.

Preparing the Soil

Next, I mixed my soil. My soil mix is primarily garden soil and vermiculite. The reason I am using the vermiculite was because a friend gave it to me, and I never like wasting anything.

I put this soil into growing trays or small containers: Recycled or biodegradable trays are best. I use a plastic recycled planting tray and place recycled pots inside them. Later I will transplant the plants into individual containers so that I simply place the whole thing into the soil. As an alternative, you can use an egg carton. For the later transplants, I like using Dixie cups.

Some people like to use a glass or metal spray bottle for watering the seeds, but you can repurpose an empty household bottle. Just make sure to pick one that never contained harsh chemicals, as the residue can damage your delicate plants. I personally use a one cup measuring cup and pour small amounts of water over the soil after planting.

Popsicle sticks make handy plant markers and that is what I am using here. These markers are like name tags for your plants, which comes in handy when you’re planting different varieties. Of course, if you’re only planting one type of seed, they’re not necessary. I have a supply of them so I will definitely be using them.

Putting Seeds in the Soil

I start my tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date indoors. Doing so allows my plants to go through the whole germination and into the growth process and be ready to bear fruit when warm weather arrives. If you’re planning to keep your tomato plants indoors or in a greenhouse, this is not an issue, so you can start any time.

I placed 2-3 seeds per container to make up for any that may not germinate. I spaced them with equal distance between each other.

I then sprinkled a little extra potting soil on top of the seeds and gently patted the surface to make it smooth.

Next, I sprayed my seeds using my spray bottle until the soil is moist but not soaked. This requires about 4-5 squirts. Once my seeds turn into plants, I’ll be able to use a small watering can.

 I mark one of the popsicle sticks and write the names of the tomato varieties on the stick and note the dated sown on my gardening calendar.

Finally, I cover the planting tray with the plastic and place them onto the growing shelf.

Germination

Tomatoes love warmth, so I placed the planting containers in the sunny window in my living room. During the germination process, I will keep the tomatoes warm and moist. That is why I cover the plants with plastic to ensure the soil stays moist and the seeds stay warm. Keep lights above and a heat mat under tomatoes until they germinated.

Grow lights are highly recommended. Because the lights can be placed only a couple of inches above the seedlings, it prevents the leggedness (long, skinny stems caused from insufficient sunlight of a window). The lights help tomatoes develop stockier stems and bushy leaves.

In addition to lights, rotating my plants so that they get equal amounts of sunlight will prevent them from leaning in one direction.

Growing the Seedlings

When the first true leaves appear, gently brush I’ll gently brush my hands over their leaves a few times per day. This action simulates wind and helps to strengthen the plant’s stems. (If you smoke, be sure to wash your hands before doing this as tobacco mosaic can disease your tomatoes.)

Once your tomato plants have at least three or four sets of true leaves, they’re ready to be hardened off. More about planting tomatoes in the garden later. I will probably be transplanting these tomatoes into larger containers before putting them permanently in the garden, however because this way I can develop a better root system before planting outdoors.

I planted eight varieties of herbs this week too. More about herbs later! I hope you’re having a good week! Do you plant your own seeds for transplants? I would love to hear about it!

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As the Snow Flies–Planting Early Indoors

Right now, as I am writing this in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I am sitting here watching the snow fall. Just because it is cold and snowy, doesn’t mean that now’s not the time to begin preparing for this year’s garden. I have started a number of projects. Here is what I have done so far this winter.

Sweet Potatoes

sweet potato plants on a snowy day
By the time they are ready to plant, these sweet potato plants are going to be producing a massive number of sweet potato slips.

I mentioned in my previous post that I am raising sweet potatoes from roots of last year’s sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are tropical, perennial vines that may have originated in India, although until recently, scientists thought sweet potatoes were a South American native. The plants produce edible leaves as well as tubers.

Last year when I started the original plants, I planted a single sweet potato just after Thanksgiving in soil in a pot and kept it watered. I had to wait patiently for several weeks before the first leaves showed above the surface. From the plants that grew, I secured several slips (plants with leaves and roots) and planted them in an area of the garden.

Because my garden was just starting, and I didn’t have a bed ready to plant them, I piled a bunch of leaves in a ditch where it had good sunlight and then topped them off with soil I found in an old tractor tire. I then planted the four surviving sweet potato slips in the new bed. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I kept it watered and somewhat weeded. The plants started growing slow, but as the weather heated up, the plants not only took over the bed, but took over the lawn around it. Because I couldn’t mow the lawn around the sweet potatoes, I piled grass clippings around the plants though this didn’t keep all weeds down, having the mulch there did make it easier to pull the weeds that did come up.  

I harvested before the first frost of the year. I harvested about twenty-five pounds of potatoes.

After harvesting the sweet potatoes, I harvested the roots. Because sweet potatoes are perennials, the roots, if kept from freezing will produce the next year. I planted them in a long low recycled planting container. As you can see, here it is January and I have a good start on these plants.

Onions

Early onion starts
Onions under grow lights on a snowy February afternoon.

Though I will be planting onion sets in the garden, I planted onions from seeds. I will be putting them in the ground about the same time I put the onion sets into the ground as well. One advantage to growing from seed is that I can plant different types of onions and do it at a lower cost than with onion sets.

Chives

Chives belong to the onion family and can be sown directly outdoors in a garden bed, but if you’d like to get a head start, start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost.

Cabbages and Broccoli

Cabbage and broccoli are such close relatives that they can be planted in the same way for transplanting. Sow two cabbage seeds about ½ inch apart and ¼ inch deep in each cell. Spritz the soil surface with water from a plastic spray bottle to evenly moisten the surface. Do not water enough to make the soil soggy or wet. Close the flat up in a clear plastic bag. Poke a few holes in it with a toothpick to allow for proper air circulation. Set it in a warm, brightly lit room out of direct sun. The top of your refrigerator or above a hot water heater are ideal locations. Your cabbage seeds will sprout in about three to four days if the soil temperature remains between 80 to 85 F. Cooler soil temperatures may slow germination time to as long as two weeks.

Check the soil every day to make sure it never dries out. Spritz with water as necessary to keep the soil surface evenly moist but not soggy or wet.

Feed the seedlings a water-soluble 15-30-15 houseplant fertilizer about three days after germination. Dilute the product to half-strength. Repeat applications every two weeks. Follow the packaging instructions.

Cut the weakest seedling in each cell off at the soil line with clean, sharp scissors when the plants each develop one set of true leaves.

Harden seedlings off one week prior to planting in the garden. Set them in the shade during the first two or three days and bring them in at night. Place the seedlings in a sunny spot during morning hours for the next three or four days. Move them to shade during afternoons and bring them in at night for the next few days. Allow them to spend all day in the sun and bring them indoors overnight for several days. Set them outside for good thereafter.

Peppers

pepper starts getting a headstart
Peppers and herbs growing under grow lights.

I sowed my pepper seeds 10-12 weeks prior to transplanting. I planted them ¼” deep in a fine-textured soil mixed with vermiculite to provide good drainage. I planted two kinds of hot peppers and two kinds of sweet peppers. I made sure that I had each one carefully labeled because I would hate to mix them up. Because they are growing in my living room window, I didn’t worry that the bottom heat needed to be between 80–90°F/27–32°C. Seeds will germinate in 7–8 days at that temperature; at lower temps, germination is slower, erratic, and percentage germination is reduced.

In about 2 weeks, when the first true leaves begin to form, carefully separate the seedlings and transplant them into cell trays or pots.

Pepper seedlings should be grown for 10-12 weeks before being transplanted outdoors.

Egg Plant

Growing eggplants in containers will allow you to grow these veggies earlier since the soil in containers warms up faster. Growing in containers will also help you deal with weeds and pests conveniently. In fact, these troubles are less likely to bug you when growing eggplants in containers.

I started the eggplant seeds indoors. I filled the pot with vermiculite and soil and planted the seeds so that I could thin them later. Eggplant seeds will germinate in about ten days and will be ready for transplanting in 6 to 8 weeks.

Other Herbs to Begin Early

Some plants are slow germinating but do best when they are first treated with cold for 30-90 days. I start these seeds by putting some vermiculite in a plastic bag and dampened with water and then putting the bags in the freezer for one to three months. Afterwards, I bring the seeds back up to room temperature and plant as recommended. Here are the herbs that I treated with this method. These are parsley, lavender, echinacea, and true comfrey

In addition, other herbs, particularly perennials need more time to get started so that they can be planted later out in the garden with better results. These are hyssop, oregano, and Russian tarragon-I used the same vermiculite and soil mix that I used for the other seeds. Because the seeds were so small, I just pressed them into the soil and watered as usual.

Why I Am Not Using a Tiller

Last week, I said that I would tell you why I am using a broad fork rather than tilling. There are two basic reasons. The first one is that it enables me to dig out the Bermuda grass that invaded the garden. The second reason is because I don’t turn the soil with the broad fork. The tiller destroys tilth and causes hard pan to develop below the ground that is turned. Instead, it simply loosens and aerates the soil which is especially good to do with clay soil like I have.  

If you enjoyed my post, I would love to hear what you think of this post! If you have any questions about growing transplants from seeds, please feel free to ask them down in the comments below.

Is Your Location too Small to Grow a Vegetable Garden?

No space is too small for a vegetable garden that you can pick from year round. You just have to redefine “vegetable garden”.

You don’t need vast acreage to feed your families. Just yesterday I was remembering the first time I came through this part of Missouri in 1979. I came through at the end of July and I remember the numerous gardens I saw in backyards all throughout the state. That was what made me fall in love with the area, the vegetable gardens. It reminded me a lot of what I saw when I was in Canada a few years earlier. I remember rows and rows of suburban homes, each one with a vegetable garden, a couple of fruit trees, grape vines on the back fence, and some had fishponds in the yard as well. A lot of food can be grown in a relatively small space.

I published The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden early this spring detailing how anyone can grow a vegetable garden that will keep them in vegetables all year long and already, I see this book as being even more needed than ever before. Now, not only do we have the aftermath of the pandemic, but we also are facing inflation and recession. Anything that we do to increase our purchasing abilities will increase our ability to feed our families and pay the rest of the bills.

Imagine learning what foods grow in your area seasonally and learning to eat what is in season. Imagine being able to go out to your garden any time during the year, picking and eating what you’ve grown. How would you like to be able to have fresh vegetables from your garden every day all year long, no matter what the weather? The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden will show you what it takes to do exactly that.

In The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden,  you’ll learn the basics for making that happen. From this book, you’ll also learn some of the secrets to producing more than one crop from the same piece of ground. You’ll learn where to put your garden. How to utilize garden space so that you can make the best use of every inch of soil through interplanting techniques.

You’ll learn that you can grow nutritional food even in the winter no matter whether you live on a farm or in a high-rise apartment. A whole chapter is dedicated to what you can grow inside your home even if you have no acreage at all. Be sure to check out a free sample of The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden available on Amazon Kindle

Are You Growing A Survival Garden?

Potatoes are one of twelve vegetables that in The Survival Garden I demonstrate how to grow.

It’s easy to place blame on someone or something else in regard to the lack of food security in our world. We could blame the government. We can the disease that had us locked up for two years. We can blame the war in Europe. We can blame our president or our economic system. We can blame someone else or even ourselves or we can take responsibility by responding with a solution, at least for ourselves.

I have watched hundreds of prepper videos and articles and read dozens of prepper books. Most of them give a laundry list of things that you should buy to stock up on supplies for The End of Our World as We Know It. They tell you that you need to purchase food, water, medicines, energy for cooking, heating, and lighting, and a way to protect yourself from whatever may happen when dealing with others.

I have done many of those things and have been glad that I did them. When we didn’t have electricity for over a week many years ago, I was glad that we had water and food and a wood cookstove already for that time.

When we both lost our jobs a couple years after that, we had a lot of food that lasted us until we were able to get additional help. During this time, we also had a garden, and I canned a lot of our food.

What if We have an Extended Crisis?

What happens if the power is out for a long time, and we can’t use refrigeration, or we can’t get to the grocery store, or food isn’t available at the grocery store for an extended time? Our stored foods will only run out. Then what?

Some of these prepper videos also encourage canning foods for long-term storage. I do that too. I have canned meat, vegetables, fruit, ready-to-eat meals, and even canned reconstituted dried beans so that if we were to have an extended time where we couldn’t cook.

All the above are good for a limited time, but what will we do when our stored foods, canning lids, and power are no longer available? What then? How long will the food we stored last us?

Gardening, a Perpetual Skill Set

There’s a skill set we can all learn that previous generations all knew and that was the backbone to everything that they did and that was the fact that they gardened and knew what it took to store their food over the winter. Yes, some of the food that they grew they fermented or dried to last them through the winter months, but some of that food they were able to store without any kind of refrigeration, dehydration, pickling, or any other form of mechanized processing. They grew vegetables that didn’t need any of this. They knew which foods they could store that didn’t need it! They could store these vegetables all winter without

Not only did they grow the foods that didn’t need it, but they also knew how to grow the seeds, clippings, or sprouts that they planted. They knew what each variety needed to reproduce. The propagation of beans was different than the propagation of potatoes. The propagation of potatoes is different than the propagation of carrots. The propagation of carrots is different than the propagation of squash, and the propagation of squash is different than the propagation of sweet potatoes.

Why I Wrote The Survival Garden

I wrote The Survival Garden with this concept in mind. My parents grew up during the depression and I grew up in a poor family where I learned a lot from them about what I am sharing. This book won’t tell you about all the things you can plant throughout the year, nor does it offer everything that you can store over the winter. However, in this book, I’ve included the most common vegetables that can be grown in most parts of the United States and much of the world.

Want more? Here’s a link to a sample of The Survival Garden: Plant a Garden for Food to Last All Winter that You Won’t Have to Can, Freeze or Dehydrate.

Simply Vegetable Gardening, One Solution to Food Shortages

My first book about gardening

For the entire month of June, I am sharing my books in the first annual Cygnet Brown Book Club Month! All throughout the month, I will be featuring not one, but all of the books that I have written to date. The gardening-related books I am writing here on The Perpetual Homesteader. The first gardening book I am sharing is Simply Vegetable Gardening.  My non-gardening books are shared on my other blog HowMySpirit Sings. (here’s the link).

When I first started writing Simply Vegetable Gardening, we were living at my brother’s place after losing our home to foreclosure. I started writing it during the Great Recession with the intention of helping other people get started gardening by sharing what I knew about it. To tell the truth, I also wanted to begin earning a living writing about topics that I loved, and I do love gardening.

Here we are again facing uncertain times and many people have started gardening lately, but few have the experience that I have in getting my hands dirty with soil. I have had fifty years of experience getting plants to grow without fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

Home Garden to Combat World Wide Food Shortages

What I shared in Simply Vegetable Gardening is even more relevant today than it was then. In this time of food shortages and fertilizer shortages, I don’t worry. This year, my garden is bigger and better than ever because I don’t just talk and write about gardening, I practice what I preach.

I believe that one of the solutions to food shortages is increased home garden production. Anything each one of us can grow ourselves can make a difference in food shortages around the world because that is just one more thing that we don’t have to take out of the mouths of people in other countries. Every potato that we grow and eat ourselves is another potato available in the stores for someone else.

I wouldn’t say that I grow organically because to be able to say that specifically, my garden would have to be organically certified which it is not. I don’t purchase a lot of organic substances for my garden, and I use very few means of combating pests and diseases. What I do is build my garden using natural means and substances. I primarily feed the soil and provide the necessary nutrients to feed the soil microbes, creating a symbiotic relationship with my plants, making them both healthy and pest and disease resistant.

Consider starting a garden this year or at least learn to garden without outside resources. To help you do this I highly recommend reading Simply Vegetable Gardening.

From this book, you’ll learn techniques for growing your own vegetables without herbicides, pesticides, or purchased fertilizers. Get a taste of the book by reading a sample of Simply Vegetable Gardening on Amazon.

If you would you rather have a physical paperback copy, they are available on Lulu.com.

Spring: The Season of Constant Changes

Spring is planting season, but it is also the rainy season here in the Missouri Ozarks and the temperatures are more variable than in any other area of the country. It can be dry and hot early in the day and cold and rainy by the end of that same day. It can be raining in one area and residents a few miles down the road can be begging for a few drops of water for their gardens. It is certainly a time of change. The objective is not to fight those changes, but to flow with them.

A Tragedy

RIP Henny Penney

The chicken setting on the eggs was taken by an animal during the night. I usually hear something, but not this time. When I got up in the morning, the door was open, but I thought I had closed it. My guess was an intelligent animal opened the door and wanted what was inside. I dreaded what I would find. Sure enough, eggshells were scattered everywhere. A few tail feathers showed that Henny Penney too had been taken. Our egg setting hen was gone. My guess is that the local fox population had a fine chicken dinner that morning. Unfortunately, I had no time to mourn. It’s spring! There was too much to do.

Canning Dried Beans

Early in the week, we had very cool temperatures, so I decided to take advantage of those temperatures. I decided to can the dried pinto beans that I wanted to do during the winter, but never found the time to do.

Why do I can dry beans? Well first, it takes less energy to can eight pints of beans than it does to slow-cook each batch one at a time. Second, the beans won’t dry out like they would if I didn’t process them. Dried beans, even though they won’t go bad, do take longer to cook the longer they are kept in storage. The third and probably the most important reason is that I don’t want to have to cook them during the summer when it’s too hot to cook. Plus, that heat helps keep the house warm so we don’t have to run the heater.

I canned and added 23 pints to my pantry. This summer we’ll be eating them in Mexican meals that we make from scratch.

If you’d like the recipe on how I can dry beans, click here on an article I wrote on Hubpages.

Making Granola

The actual processing of the beans doesn’t take much time, most of the processing is watching the boiling process. Therefore, there’s a lot of time to do something else.  I decided that I would use that time to make granola.

Granola makes a quick and easy cold breakfast cereal for hot summer mornings. Most of the ingredients I keep in my pantry and there’s no need to be concerned with artificial colors or flavors or preservatives. Everything that goes into my granola I can pronounce. For more information about this granola and the recipe, check out this online article that I also wrote on Hubpages.

Garlic Scape Pesto

This week I also made garlic scape pesto by using the scapes from the elephant garlic that I am growing. To make the pesto, I picked all the scapes (the seed pods) from my elephant garlic. Removing the scapes allowed the elephant garlic to focus more of its energy on bulb production. What’s good for the plant is also good for me.

Making garlic scape pesto is easy. With a knife, simply cut up the scapes into two-inch sections. Then place in the blender and blend the scapes until they are well pulverized. Next, add olive oil and blend to make a creamy base. Next, add about ½ cup of dried parmesan cheese and black pepper to taste. This easy, fragrant pesto can be spread on bread or crackers, put on pasta, used with fish, or as a substitute for garlic, onion, or scallions! Add to sandwiches, pasta, lamb, and fish dishes. Tastes great mixed with mayo.

First Green Salad

This week we made our first green salad from the garden this year. We had lettuce, radishes, radish pods, green peppers (yes, we have fresh green peppers in our garden already!), and green onions. I also added a little red onion that I had in the refrigerator along with cheese and some boiled egg and some Chipotle grilled chicken and topped with ranch dressing. I ate it with grilled bread and my husband ate it as a wrap in a tortilla.

Weeding, Weeding, Weeding!

You would think that with cool weather that the weeds wouldn’t grow as fast as they do, but with all the rain we have been getting we’ve not only been mowing the lawn more, but I have had to take some time each day that it wasn’t raining and devote to weeding the garden. The good news was that the rain loosened the soil so that it was easier to work, but the weeds already had deep roots. Next week I hope to replant bare spots in the garden.

Want to Learn More About Gardening?

Check out gardening books:

Simply Vegetable Gardening

The Survival Garden

The Four-Seasons Garden

My Morning Tonic

I have been suffering from osteoarthritis for years. Sometimes this makes it difficult for me to get things done on the farm as I want to do, but I have found a tonic that may actually help heal the problem.

When I normally think of tonic, I am reminded of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies and her rumatiz’ medicine. Unlike Granny’s tonic, mine has no alcohol but as the dictionary suggests, my tonic does give me a feeling of vigor and wellbeing and it is restorative and offers stimulation. However, I wouldn’t exactly call my tonic a “medicine”, but rather a natural way of getting rid of the pain that zaps my energy.

The pain that I feel is from years of abuse to my joints. I had worked in factories, food service, nursing homes, hospitals, marched in the military, and am currently doing farm work, and since I am in my sixties, I am dealing with pain in my hips, shoulders, and back. For a long time, I had been dealing with the pain using over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen all of which are not good for the long haul. I decided to see if there wasn’t something out there that could help, not just ease the pain, but possibly even help heal the joints.

I know that there are a lot of products out there that claim to help with arthritis pain, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on products that didn’t live up to their claim so I did a little research on my own. Here’s what I found that works for me.

NOT MEDICAL ADVICE

What is it you ask? Well before I tell you that, I want to say that this is what I do, and it is not medical advice. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television. All I can tell you is that it works for me, but I can’t tell you that the same would work for you as well. You need to talk to your own doctor and do your own research.

Researching the Ingredients

I had read some time back that turmeric and ginger both reduce inflammation.

Turmeric’s active ingredient, Curcumin, is touted for the ability to reduce inflammation. If a person has arthritis, gout, or muscle pain, it is recommended that a person add a little turmeric to meals. It has anti-inflammatory magic. Plus, it’s relatively cheap. A little bit goes a long way too. It takes only a quarter teaspoon for my purpose.

Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice. It’s a very common ingredient in recipes. It’s sometimes added to processed foods and cosmetics. Its benefits are supported by science. It contains Gingerol. According to research, Gingerol has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects it may help reduce oxidative stress, which is the result of having an excess amount of free radicals in the body.

Research has indicated that ginger helps with the symptoms of Osteoarthritis, my problem, which is a common health problem. It involves degeneration of the joints in the body, leading to symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness.

Research has found that many people who used ginger to treat this type of arthritis saw significant reductions in pain and disability.

Apple Cider Vinegar is another ingredient that I include in my tonic. It is made by fermenting the sugar from apples. This turns them into acetic acid, which is a main active ingredient in vinegar and may be responsible for its health benefits. It contains some potassium, amino acids, and antioxidants. These benefits are science-backed. There are others, however, that are more subjective. For instance, it is said to be a natural energy booster. It also may boost the absorption of calcium thereby strengthening bones and improving health. Apple cider vinegar also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Honey- Honey is primarily composed of sugar, provides small amounts of several vitamins and minerals, and is rich in health-promoting plant compounds. Unfiltered, unprocessed raw honey is loaded with antioxidants including phenolic acids and flavonoids. Antioxidants help neutralize reactive oxygen species in the body, which can build up in cells and cause damage. This damage can contribute to osteoarthritis. I have also personally found that the locally produced honey that I get is great for reducing the allergic reaction I get from pollens in the air. (Again, this is not medical advice, it just seems to work for me.) Most importantly, honey makes the rest of the ingredients of this tonic go down.

Putting It All Together

I, of course, had researched other foods that may help with osteoarthritis pain, but I decided to include these four ingredients primarily because they are easy to procure (they are all available locally) and they are cheap. Ginger, honey, and apple cider vinegar were used in a drink called switchel that pioneers drank during the summer to quench their thirst, prevent nausea from drinking warm water, and provide electrolytes. The turmeric is an easy add and I think that it adds a complementary spicy flavor.

To make the tonic, I put about an ounce of warm water at the bottom of the glass and add a tablespoon of honey. I stir the honey until it is completely dissolved. Next, I add a quarter teaspoon of ginger and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric and a tablespoon of unfiltered raw (with the mother) apple cider vinegar to the mixture and mix it well. Then I add as much water as I feel like drinking to the mixture and drink it.

It May Not Be for Everyone, but It Works for Me

 It may not taste that great at first, but it takes better each time I drink it perhaps because the positive effects are obvious. Within a couple of minutes, I begin to feel the warmth of the ginger and the turmeric and soon I feel my joints loosening. The pain I was feeling usually subsides and I can do what I need to do around the farm.

If you enjoy reading this blog and want to read more of what I write, check out my other blog: How My Spirit Sings.

New Life on the Farm

I love spring. Now that the frosts are done and the rain has subsided for a few days, it’s time to get the garden going in full swing. Since the frosts look like they are done for the season and the rain has turned off, for now, we’ve been hustling to get many more of our garden planted.

Garden Update

The tomatoes and pepper plants are doing well and as you can see, so are the garlic which will be ready within a month.

We planted bush beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears pole beans, sweet potato plants, zucchini squash, sunflowers, and okra and have more to grow in the garden beds.

The idea of digging ditches and filling them with sawdust seems to be working for the tomato plants that we planted next to the fence we are using for their vertical supports. One of the things that I did this year which is a no-no when it comes to clay soil like ours is that if you work it when it is wet like it has been, it tends to clump up into bricks that are impenetrable. Therefore, when I was working this soil this past week, it was hard to do. However, by wetting the soil some of the soil became workable, and I was easily able to break up what had been bricks with my potato hook.

 If you find yourself in a similar situation, be sure not to use too much water. Let the water soak into the clods for a few minutes before trying to work them. If it doesn’t work, use a little more water. Too much water is used on the clods, and you’ll be back where you started. Last year I did something similar in that I waited until the next rain before I tried to work the ground again. It worked too.

We planted many of our potatoes and both sweet potato plants in tires!

A lot of the garden is up, but the rain did cause some plants to drown. We had to replant the potatoes that we planted in the ditch, and I replanted some of the corn and still have more that I need to fill in.

The early salad green garden includes onions, lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, and other greens. Our pepper and tomato beds are doing amazingly well. We have many sweet peppers already set on the plants and hope to get some peppers before the end of the month. Not bad for May in the Ozarks!

I have been thinking about starting a gardening book specifically for the Ozarks.

Baby Critters!

On Mother’s Day, our cat had her second kitten in five years. The kitten is a beautiful little Calico. She had the first on Christmas Day a year and a half ago. I’m wondering if these kittens weren’t gifts to me for those holidays!

She wasn’t very happy with me taking her picture but she is sticking with her job of setting on eggs.

We also have a chicken who has gone broody and is setting on eggs. She seems determined to get herself a little flock of chicks. We’ll see how many she hatches out if any. A couple of weeks ago, we sold several roosters and we have one left. There’s a good chance that some of these eggs will produce a rooster or two or more. More on this later.

My Books

Do you like to read? I have all of my books available on Amazon. Be sure to check out my official Amazon Author Page!