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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 GardeningThe Survival Garden And my latest book The Four Seasons Garden Get your copies today!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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