Archive for the ‘vegetable garden’ Tag

Gardening Tips for Fresh Salad Veggies


During the winter, I like to tap into my stores of canned and pickled vegetables from my garden. However come spring, there is nothing I enjoy more than harvesting fresh vegetables to make a big, garden fresh salad. (Yes, real men do eat salads.) If you are a salad lover, too, here are some tips for your garden.

Plant greens in April- April is a great time to plant salad green such as lettuces, spinach, kale, and even broccoli. These plants all do well with warm days and cool nights.

Space out your sowings- Lettuce and other salad greens grow very quickly. So you can continuously sow lettuce seeds throughout the spring to have a fresh supply for several weeks. Try planting lettuce seeds every three weeks or so throughout the spring. Take a break during the hot summer months, then continue planting lettuce seeds again in the late summer.

Plant fast-growing radishes- Radishes are excellent for those who are looking for a bit of (practically) instant gratification. They go from seed to harvest quite quickly, and are great for a variety of applications, (as you may remember from my radish blog from last year). Green onions are another fast growing salad crop.

Plant a variety of greens- Don’t stop at predictable Bibb lettuce and Iceberg lettuce. Try something a little different, such as my favorite Red Salad Bowl lettuce. The leaves are large and crisp, and a pretty deep scarlet bronze color. Don’t forget about the super nutrient powerhouse spinach, too. A great variety here is Giant Nobel spinach, which is a very reliable producer of large, smooth leaves.

Remember to water- When you plant greens, make sure to keep their soil moist so that they do not develop a bitter flavor. All leafy greens crave water– but don’t give them so much that the soil becomes swampy.

Harvest strategically- When you harvest lettuce and spinach leaves, cut the leaves off about 2-3 inches from the base of the plant. This way, the plant will produce new leaves, and you can get several harvests from the same plant.

Harvest in the morning- Lettuce and other leafy greens are sturdy and crisp first thing in the morning. If you harvest in the evening, after an entire day of stress, the leaves are more likely to be wilted and tired.

Thin your seedlings- Once you have planted your lettuce seeds, the lettuce plants may come up crowded together. In this case, it is best to pull out some of these seedlings. This is a process referred to as “thinning,” and it will help to insure that your remaining plants have enough room to grow. Once your seedlings have sprouted, thin them to be about 2 inches apart. The good news is that you can eat the baby greens from the seedlings that you have to pull.

Check for snails at night- Slugs and snails may try to eat your salad greens. Your best defense in an organic garden is to check your garden at night, and simply pull snails and slugs off with a gloved hand.


Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 5: Conducting a Soil Test


Not all soil is the same. Some soil is mostly made up of clay, while some may be mostly sand. Plenty of people who are reading this blog right now are looking for gardening tips because their soil is very rocky. Or others may have chalky or silty soil. Depending on where you live, what you are used to as “dirt” can vary greatly from what someone else may have to work with.

When preparing to plant a garden, one of the most important things you can do is get acquainted with your soil. Healthy soil is what I consider to be the #1 most important factor in whether you will have a successful garden. It is the lifeline for all of your plants. Any time that you wish to feed your plants, what you really need to do is feed your soil.

So to get to know your soil, you’ll want to conduct two basic tests:

 (1) Test #1- The Squeeze Test

The squeeze test is the easiest way to test the texture of your soil. This is essential because in order for plants to thrive, you must insure that your soil has the right texture to enable water, oxygen, and nutrients to flow through it.

Go out into your yard/gardening space and pick up a handful of your dirt. Now give it a gentle squeeze. If the soil clumps together in your hand, then falls apart when you poke it, this is ideal. This means that you have loamy soil, which is ideal. Loamy soil retains moisture but also drains well. If the handful of dirt doesn’t hold together at all, this means it is sandy. Sand drains well but doesn’t really hold in nutrients. If it holds together and does not fall apart when you poke it, this means your soil is mostly clay. Clay is typically rich in nutrients, but does not drain well.

Now if you have sandy soil, it cannot be transformed into loamy soil. This is to say that the actual particles of sand cannot be turned into something else. However, you can add to your soil to change its overall texture. This way, you can add other particles around the sand particles in order to allow the soil to overall hold in nutrients.

To amend sandy soil, your goal is to add in organic matter. This will help the sandy soil to drain more slowly, and to hold on to nutrients in order for your plants to be able to use them. Amend sandy soil with organic matter such as cow manure, worm casings, shredded bark, peat moss, compost, or a combination of any of these things.

To amend clay soil, use the same method of adding organic matter. This will help to break up the compacted particles of the clay, and therefore allow water to drain through it, and oxygen to flow in it. Aim for a ratio of 50% dirt to 50% organic matter.

With both clay and sand, make sure to till your garden area before adding the organic matter. “Tilling” means that you will be loosening the soil at a depth of about 12 inches. You can use a shovel, spading fork, or hoe for this task. Mix in the organic matter well, rather than just laying it on top. (Laying something on top is referred to as “mulching” rather than “amending.”)

 (2) Test #2- The Soil Ph Test

All soil, regardless of its texture, has an acidity level. This can be measured by testing the Ph level of your soil. Ph is tested on a scale of zero to fourteen. Zero is the most acidic, whereas fourteen is the most alkaline, and seven is considered to be neutral. Most plants grow best in soil with a fairly neutral Ph that is between six and seven. If plants need a slightly more acidic or alkaline soil, the seed packet will specify this. For example, some root vegetables grow well in soil with a Ph of about 5.5. Plants that like “very acidic” soil thrive in soil at a Ph level of 5.0, whereas plants that like “very alkaline” soil do well in soil at about 8.0. So really, you don’t want your soil to be further on the scale than this in either direction.

To test the Ph level of your soil, I would recommend purchasing an at-home test kit at your local gardening store. These typically do not cost any more than $6. If you do not wish to conduct your own test, you can contact your local cooperative extension, as many will offer soil tests for free. Home tests are quite accurate as long as you follow instructions closely.

When attempting to change the Ph level of your soil, it is very important to first recognize that there is no immediate solution. You may need to use a combination of amendments, or apply several treatments over time. There is no quick fix or instant cure. It is best to start amending a whole growing season before you intend to plant.

With that being said…

*If you have acidic soil– add amendments to raise the Ph level, such as ground limestone or wood ashes. Avoid “quick limestone” as this tends to burn out your  plants.

*If you have alkaline soil– add amendments to lower the Ph level, such as pine needles, shredded leaves, sawdust, sulfur or peat moss. These will all add acid to your soil.

Compost has the amazing ability to bring either type of soil to a more neutral level. So as a general rule, it is always wise to be continuously adding compost to your soil.

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 4: Seed Starting Tips

I just love the month of March. Daylight savings is coming up and the days are getting longer, the frigid weather is beginning to melt away, and the trees are starting to bud. March is also the official start to the spring planting season in many hardiness zones, including here in zone 7b. There are many types of fruits, vegetables and flowers that can be direct sown in March. My favorites are listed here in my blog from last year, What Can I Plant In March?

For seeds that are not quite ready to go in the ground yet, or ones that do not have a lot of success when they are sown directly in your garden, March is a good time to start your seeds. The term “seed starting” refers to the process of  planting your seeds indoors, in a safe and temperature controlled environment. Then, once the seeds have sprouted into seedlings, they can be transplanted outside into your garden. There are several good reasons to start your seeds indoors, including:

  • Seed starting gives you a head start. You can plant seeds inside while the ground outdoors is still hard, and while there is still the danger of seedling-killing frost in your area.
  • Vegetables that like cooler temperatures, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and head lettuce will grow better when started indoors. This is because they can go from transplant to harvest before the hottest days of the summer set in.
  • If you buy seedlings from a garden store, it is much, much more expensive than growing your own seedlings then transplanting them. Plus, when you buy seedlings, you are limited to the mainstream varieties that are available. When you start your own seeds, you can use any seeds you want.

Now depending on where you live, you may be able to start your seeds right away, or you may have a little ways to go. The best way to tell when you are ready to start your seeds is to count backwards from when you typically receive your last frost.

  • Eggplants and peppers- Start your seeds 7 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant the seedlings outdoors 2 weeks after you receive your last frost.
  • Tomatoes- Start tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Tomato seedlings can be planted outdoors as soon as your last chance of frost has passed.
  • Squash, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins- All of these plants generally like heat. You can start your seeds indoors 3 weeks before the last frost date. Wait 2 weeks until after the last chance of frost has passed to transplant your seedlings outdoors.
  • Corn- Start corn seeds 5 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant the seedlings as soon as the last chance of frost has passed.
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage- These are cool season vegetables, so they can actually go in the ground up to  a month before the last chance of frost has passed. These cool season veggies can be started indoors 5-7 weeks before you want to transplant them. Then the seedlings can be transplanted in your garden 4-6 weeks before the last frost.

For more tips on how to start your seeds, please visit my articles:

Tips for Starting Your Garden With Seeds

Tips for Growing Heirloom Tomatoes From Seeds

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 2: Taking Seed Inventory

I derive a great satisfaction from saving my own seeds from my garden every year. Perhaps it is because some giant monopolizing seeds companies (ahem, Monsanto) will have us believe that we shouldn’t be doing it. Or perhaps it is because it symbolizes just how self-renewing and self-sustaining gardens really are. But either way, saving seeds is a simple task from which I receive great pleasure. So if you’re reading this blog, hopefully that means you’re a seed saver, too. With spring on the way, it’s time to start taking inventory of your saved seeds. It is wise to not let your seeds get too old, and to track just how long you’ve been storing them.

Each time I save seeds from an item from my garden, I dry them out completely, place them in paper envelopes, then file them inside a plastic file box or glass jar. (For full details, you can read my tips on saving seeds here.) This storage system helps to keep the seeds from being exposed to extreme heat or cold and moisture, which is very important.

Now you’ll notice that in the above article, I recommended planting seeds within a year. This is the best case scenario- to plant seeds the year after you save them. But of course this is not always possible. So if this is the case, it is very important to rotate your seeds storage. As with any survival food that you store, you should be rotating the oldest seeds forward and using them first. The newest seeds should be rotated to the back of your storage.

Not all seeds have the same shelf life, so you can actually safely and effectively save some seeds longer than others:

  1. Short Lived– Short lived seeds are ones for which the one-year rule applies. I generally do not recommend keeping corn, leek, onion, parsnip, or spinach seeds for longer than one year. Try to plant your seeds the next planting season after you save them. These items all are a high priority in my garden- I’ll pull these seeds out of storage first.
  2. Medium-Lived- These include beans, carrot, celery, chard, eggplant, parsley, peas, pumpkin, and squash. Medium-lived seeds should be planted within 2 to 3 seasons. So if you have pea seeds from last season that you don’t intend to plant this year, that’s okay. You can rotate them to the back and plan to keep them for another year or two.
  3. Long-Lived- Here’s some good news- lots of seeds that you can easily store are long-lived seeds. These include include beets, all brassicas (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, and kohlrabi), chicory, endive, escarole, radicchio, cucumber, kale, lettuce, melons, mustard, peppers, radish, rutabaga, sunflower, tomato, and turnip. Whew! So for long-lived seeds, you should rotate your oldest ones to the front. If you have cucumber seeds that are 5 years old, you can still plant them this year. And the newest ones can go to the back. You can store long-lived seeds for 5-6 years.

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 1: Crop Rotation

It’s February already, and that means spring planting season is just around the corner. I know it may not feel like it just yet, but Punxutawnie Phil did see his shadow last Wednesday, so that means warmer temps are on the way. It is time to get ready for seed starting and planting season. This is a great time of year to allow yourself to be bitten by the planning and organizing bug.

Now while it’s still too early to start tilling and amending my soil, it’s not too early to create my 2011 garden map. I’m sure you’ve probably heard the term “crop rotation” before, but did you know that it applies to gardens on a small scale, not just been large crop fields? Crop rotation is important, even to small garden plots, because it is one of the best ways to thwart pest and disease problems, as well as prevent soil erosion and allow your soil to remain healthy. For example, tomatoes are heavy eaters. So if you plant them in the exact same spot for a few years in a row, you are likely to deplete your soil of the nutrients that the tomatoes need. However, if you plant peas the year after you have planted tomatoes, the peas will help to return nitrogen to your soil, therefore helping to keep your soil and your garden healthy. Isn’t it cool that plants have the ability to balance themselves out like that?

My goal in creating my garden map for 2011 is to insure that I am not placing members of the same vegetable family is the same place as I put them last year. The nine vegetable families are:

  1. Nightshades- Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.
  2. Legumes- Peas and beans.
  3. Squashes and Melons- Summer and winter squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons.
  4. Brassicas and Salad Greens- Greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
  5. Sunflower Family- Sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), lettuce, and endive.
  6. Carrot Family- Carrots, parsley, parsnips, and celery.
  7. Goosefoot Family- Beets, swiss chard, and spinach.
  8. Grass Family- Corn.
  9. Onion Family- Onions, garlic, leeks, and scallions.

Now, a good goal to set for your spring garden map is to plan not to plant members of the same family where they were planted last year. For example, don’t plant beets in the same place where you planted spinach last year, because these are members of the same family. So, in essence, you are rotating not just a single crop, but a whole crop family. If you planted beans in one spot last year, plant corn there this year. Members of the grass family need good fertile soil, so they will grow well in a place where legumes were planted the previous year. Members of the sunflower family are light feeders, so they will grow well in a spot where heavy feeders such as brassicas grew the year before.

Are you starting to get the big picture? Crop rotation does take some attentiveness and planning. But it is very well worth it. It not only helps you maintain the health of your soil, but also helps to insure that your spring and summer vegetable garden will have the largest output possible.  Plus, come spring, having a garden map will make planting that much simpler for you. Planning in the winter makes for ease of planting in the spring.

Other important things to take into consideration when mapping your spring garden are:

  • Taller plants should not block sunlight from reaching shorter plants.
  • Some veggies and fruits grow really well together. Check out this information from Seeds Of Change on Companion Planting for more details.
  • Will your garden be exposed to harsh elements, such as wind? How will you protect it? How about protecting it from critters?
  • If you are expanding your garden this year, will it still be within reach of your irrigation system?
  • How much space do you need between your plants? If you have a 3″ by 3″ plot for carrots, for example, how many carrots can plant in this space? It is important not to crowd your seedlings. And with climbing plants, make sure to leave enough space to stake them.

Okay, now I am sure I have given you plenty of food for thought. Time to get back to the ol’ drawing board!

Would Your Children Survive a Crisis?

As a parent myself, I know that this is something that none of us like to think about. But the sad truth is that when a crisis occurs, it is really the children who suffer the most.

What got me really thinking about this was when I was watching the news this week, and saw reports on the 1-year anniversary of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Rubble still stands in great piles. Thousands of people are still living in tent cities. President Bill Clinton was quoted as saying that a great amount of progress has been made there. But to the naked eye, everything remains completely in ruins. One woman who was interviewed tearfully stated that she has literally nothing. Anything that she has, she said, is something that was begged for, or that she was given by friends.

All of these images are painful and disturbing. But of course the most painful images are those of the children. Many children have no choice but to fend for themselves, as they or orphaned, or their parents are too weak and sick to care for them. The same thing happened in Argentina recently after their economic collapse- children literally wandered the streets scrounging for food and digging through garbage to simply survive. We also saw the same image after the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Really, these natural disasters can happen anywhere at any time.

With the reality of economic and weather-related disasters all around us, we should ask ourselves, have we equipped our children to survive these crises? If we were injured or incapacitated, could our kids fend for themselves? If they were on their own, would they know what to do? This is an essential part of survival. Our kids must be taught self-sufficiency, they must not rely on us entirely for survival.

A good starting point for teaching your children survival skills is to remember to make it fun for them, not scary. Try making it game-like. Tell them that you are going to take them camping and teach them how to build a fire, not that they need to learn to survive in the wilderness. Invite a neighbor or relative along so that your children can build trust with another adult. Definitely don’t tell your kids that they may be orphans one day and they need to learn how to survive by themselves. There is no need to frighten your kids like this.

Another great beginning point for teaching your children survival skills is to practice gender neutrality. Do not teach your daughter skills that you think a girl should know, and your son skills you think a boy should know. Teach them both equally with no regard to gender. There are plenty of people out their who think that only women know how to sew and only men can handle a pocket knife. But these are skills that both boys and girls should learn and be comfortable with. All kids should learn basic gardening, hunting, and safety skills (staying away from downed power lines, stop-drop-and-roll, etc).

As you garden in your survival garden, pull your kids away from their video games and get them out in the garden with you. You may think they will not be interested, but I’ll bet you that they will be. Gardens are full of all sorts of creepy, crawly, smelly, dirty, and cool things. Teach children the names of fruits and vegetables, and what nutrients they have that are good for us. Also make sure to teach children what plants they should not eat- those that may be poisonous or harmful. My kids were always fascinated with my herb garden- they knew it as the “medicine garden” because it contained everything I needed to cure their tummy aches, bumps, and bruises. From a very early age, my children knew that they could rely on the earth and its fruits to care for them. This is an important lesson.

Again, I know it is not pleasant to think about your kids needing to survive on their own. But with the real possibility that in a crisis you may not be able to care for them, teaching your children to be self sufficient is a truly valuable lesson.

Can I Plant Anything During the Winter?

When you see the term “winter crops,” what this refers to is actually crops that can be harvested, not sown, in the winter. I realize this terminology can be a bit misleading. If you were to google “winter crops” in hopes of finding some things that you can plant right now, your search would actually reveal a list of things that you probably should have planted 3 months ago.

Depending on where you live, there are some things that you can actually plant during the winter. Now if you live in Wyoming, obviously your ground is frozen rock hard right now and you’ll need to stay inside with some hot tea before you are able to get your hands dirty out in your garden. If you live in a cold climate and wish to grow food during the winter, you may want to explore indoor container gardening, or gardening in a greenhouse. A row of herbs in pots on a windowsill can grow well, even in the winter. But if you live in a warm climate, such as zone 9 or 10, you have a good variety of options.

Check out this graph at Digital Gardener, for example. It reveals that there are several different crops that can be planted in Southern California in December, such as beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, and turnips.

Now if you do not live in a warm climate, now is the time to let your garden hibernate, and perhaps focus on different activities within your garden other than sowing seeds. One that I particularly enjoy is filling all of my bird feeders and watching birds flock to my garden. For the winter I like to use nyjer seeds, which are high in calories and help birds to stay full during these times when food is scarce.

Winter is also the time when I concentrate on maintenance. I will take the time to make sure that all of my tools are clean and oiled. I will continue to check my garden for rotted plants and pests. I will also continue to add compost to my compost heap, and turn it regularly.

The first winter planting that I will do will be around February, and that will be when I plant lettuce. Now I now you are thinking, “didn’t you just plant lettuce in August?” Yes, I did. But that is the great thing about lettuce. Alth0ugh you cannot can or pickle it, it is a cool season crop. So if you plan it correctly, you can have fresh lettuce practically all year. Lettuce seedlings cannot handle a hard freeze, but they can handle a light frost. Ideally, high temps should be around 60 and low temps should be around 40 when you plant lettuce seeds. So depending on where you live, this could be as early as January or as late as March.

Regardless of the climate in which you live, December is a great time of year to start planning for spring planting. Take inventory of your seeds. Organize an heirloom seed swap with other local gardeners. Map out your spring garden, and decide what you want to plant where. Make lists of any new tools you will need to purchase before prime planting season begins, such as a rain barrel or a new hose. Start preparing to plant any bulbs you have that must go through a cold germination process. This way, you will be well prepared and ready to begin when prime planting season begins.

The Ubiquitous Autumn Pumpkin

For the week of Halloween, how could I possibly pass up the chance to write about pumpkins? This symbol of October is so lasting, so cherished, so well loved. When my children were young they used to go crazy with anticipation until it was time to harvest our pumpkins. Then the entire month of October was spent experimenting with different culinary uses for them. Now if your children aren’t great about eating their fruits and veggies, I can promise you this: they will devour foods with pumpkin in them. For some reason, kids don’t seem to even associate pumpkins with the nutritional goodness that they pack. Instead, they are focused on the brilliant orange skin, and the plethora of goop and seeds inside. I suppose that to kids, pumpkins just seem like too much fun to be healthy.

Many people refer to pumpkins as vegetables, which is perhaps because they are closely associated with other types of squash and gourds. Technically, though, pumpkins are a fruit because they contain seeds. I am sure that you commonly hear pumpkins referred to as vegetables, right? Same thing goes for tomatoes. But the thing that makes both pumpkins and tomatoes technically fruits is that they contain seeds. Therefore, bell peppers are technically fruits as well, despite the fact that we very commonly refer to them as vegetables. Pumpkins are part of the cucurbita species of plants, which includes squash, watermelons, and cucumbers- all technically fruits. Here’s where an easy argument comes in, though: The term “vegetable” is actually just a culinary term, and many people argue that its definition is subjective and has no scientific value. So, let’s just say that whether you call a pumpkin a fruit or a vegetable is up to you, shall we? (And next time the conversation goes flat at a dinner party, just bring this up and see which side people take.)

In my garden, I have experimented with different types of heirloom pumpkins over the years. I have harvested pumpkins in blue-grey shades, funky oblong twisty shapes, and even some that are warty. But none of the ones I have grown have looked like your average, run-of-the-mill grocery store pumpkin. Like many other types of fruits and vegetables, what you’re used to seeing in the store is a hybridized pumpkin that has been bred to have smooth skin and a long, broad carving surface. When you open your garden to heirloom pumpkin varieties, you have a huge range of colors, textures, shapes, and sizes to choose from.

My daughter’s favorite has always been the Rouge Vif D’Etampes pumpkin, or what she used to call the Cinderella pumpkin. This pumpkin makes an excellent fall decoration because it is slightly squat and wide, and develops a very deep, rich red orange color. This variety of pumpkin is excellent for cooking and baking as well, since its flesh is firm and sweet. Isn’t it a beauty?

One of my personal favorite types of pumpkin is the Jarrahdale, which originally hails from Australia. Isn’t this just an interesting, unusual looking pumpkin? I love the deeply ridged gray-green exterior. A major plus is that this is a downright delicious pumpkin, too. The flesh on the inside is unique in that it is not stringy at all, and it has a nice bright yellow color and sweet flavor. Another bonus is that Jarrahdales can be stored for quite a long time, as long as they are kept in an environment where they are not at risk of mold and mildew attack.

For the kids, it’s always fun to grow a classic, round and orange variety of pumpkin as well. One type that I have had success with is the Cheyenne Bush Pumpkin. Now if you have a limited amount of space to grow your pumpkins, this is a good option for you. Typically, the fruits will only grow to be about 7 pounds, whereas Jarrahdales will be somewhere in the 10-20 pound range, and Cinderella pumpkins can grow to be as large as 40 pounds. While this is not the first pumpkin I would recommend for taste, it has quite a bit of visual appeal.

For a small pumpkin that actually tastes good, try the New England Pie Pumpkin. You may also hear these called Sugar Pie pumpkins. This should be your #1 choice for canning, and of course for dessert baking. These pumpkins grow to be only about 5-8 pounds, which makes them easy to handle. Of course, the name is not just clever. These pumpkins have a naturally sweet flesh.

Now regardless of which variety you choose to grow, one thing that you will need is a little bit of patience. Most types of heirloom pumpkins take around 100 days from planting to harvest. Some giant varieties take a full 150 days. For jack o’lantern and cooking types of pumpkins, such as those I have listed above, it is best to start your seeds indoors in early May. Your pumpkin plants can then be sown outdoors between May 15 and June 15. If you are still at risk of frost- make sure to provide protecti0n. Young pumpkin plants are very delicate. Later when your plants blossom, and finally your fruits grow, you may need to place a fence around them to protect them. Turns out that not just humans are attracted to pumpkins- your neighborhood critters might try to get to them, too. After approximately 4 months, your patience will be rewarded.

So while it may be too late this year for you to grow your own heirloom pumpkins, it’s never too early to start planting next spring’s garden. I am confident that you will enjoy moving the tradition of pumpkin picking from your farmers’ market to your own backyard.

Get in the Zone

About a month and a half ago, I blogged about planting lettuce in my garden, since it is a crop that does particularly well in cool fall weather. Where I live in Virginia, early September normally starts to bring about drier weather and chillier night temperatures, and therefore cooler soil. But depending on your climate, how do you know when to plant your cool season crops?

The key factor in deciding when to plant fall vegetables is considering when you normally get your first frost. You should plant your fall crops so that they mature and may be harvested before the danger of frost sets in. Pay attention to the information that comes on your seed packets in regards to how many days the vegetable needs to reach maturity. For example, in addition to lettuce, I also like to plant another good fall veggie, beets. Each year, I plant the Detroit Dark Red Beets from my Survival Seed Bank. These take about 60 days from planting to harvest. In Norfolk, we usually receive our first frost around October 26. Because of this, I know that the latest I can plant my beet seeds is August 27. I just start at October 26 and count backwards.

When deciding when to plant fall trees, shrubs, and perrenials, it is very important to consider the plant hardiness zone in which you live. North America is divided into 11 different zones based on average low temperatures. Zone 1 is the coldest, and zone 11 is the warmest. The term “hardy” or “hardiness” means that a particular plant has the ability to endure winters in a particular zone. Here in Norfolk Virginia, I live in zone #8. Low temperatures here can reach 10 to 20 degrees F, so in order to a plant to be hardy to this zone, it must be able to survive these low temperatures.

If you live in a warmer zone, such as zone 10, your temperatures may pretty much never reach freezing, which means that you can plant a lot of things that wouldn’t survive in cooler temperatures. However, it also means that you probably need to specifically look for tropical plants and those that thrive in your hot climate.

So how can you apply this “zone” information when selecting seeds and seedlings, and determining when you plant them? Well, as you read your seed packets and plant labels, you will undoubtedly see information that pertains to zones. Most plants will list a range of zones that they can tolerate, such as zones 5-9, so it is best to know your zone and pay attention to these warnings. To find out what your climate zone is, go to this Backyard Gardener website and type in your zip code.

Okay, now that you know your zone, don’t deny it. There is no guarantee that a plant will live or die based on following the planting instructions for your climate zone, but it does give you a much better shot at success. When you think about it on a base level, you can consider that there is definitely a reason that you don’t see palm trees growing and thriving in Minnesota. Different plants just have different climate needs.

Depleted Supply of Potash Could Lead to Agricultural Collapse


Have you ever checked out a conventional fertilizer label before? If you have, you know that the three main ingredients that are used are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. These are labeled as N-P-K. It is essential that these elements are used in appropriate amounts and levels in order to prevent burning out your soil, or killing off the soil’s natural beneficial microorganisms. In other words, we, as home gardeners, always really need to mind our Ns, Ps, and Ks.

What many people don’t know about these elements that go into fertilizers is that two of them are minerals that must be mined from the earth. Potassium, or “potash”, is a mineral that is mined then processed before it is spread on fields. Potash is a very large part of commercial farming, especially the farming of grains. The problem with this is that since it is mined, it is not a renewable resource. Once it is taken out of the earth, it does not re-grow, at least not at a rate that makes it obtainable to us. Like oil, once we take it and use it, it’s gone.

With current industrial farming methods, the methods on which most people rely entirely to obtain their food, potash is being consumed at an extremely rapid rate. Therefore, the earth’s supply of obtainable potash will soon simply run out. When this happens, a huge portion of modern agriculture will collapse.

Conventionally farmed cereal grains require between 45 and 60 pounds of potash per ton of grain. Since mono-cropping (growing only one crop on an acreage) is common, the soil is depleted of its natural nutrients. These farmers then rely on artificial replenishment, i.e. use of synthetic fertilizers. Since many are contractually obligated to Monsanto to purchase a certain type of seed and output a certain crop, they see that they have no choice but to continue mono-cropping and synthetically fertilizing their fields. And the vicious cycle continues.

Additionally, studies have shown that farmers can improve the health of the soil in their fields by tilling under the unused crop biomass rather than harvesting or burning it. This allows nutrients to be returned to the soil over the winter so that it is in better health for the next planting season in the spring. However, this is hardly ever done by farmers who practice industrial farming. The normal practice here is to leave fields bare then replenish them with synthetic fertilizers in the fall. This means more potash.

So here are the major problems with potash:

  • We’re using a lot of valuable oil and other resources to mine it and transport it.
  • Extraction of potash peaked in the 1970s and has been depleting since. That’s 40 years of running closer and closer to empty.
  • Current methods of its usage can really be defined as overusage. They are wasteful, destructive and unsustainable.

What are some alternatives to using potash in your garden? Well there are definitely organic farming methods of supplying your soil with potassium that are quite effective. One of the best ways is to compost the unused crop fibers from your garden, then use this compost as a soil amendment. Manure is also a great, organic way to add potassium to your soil. You can purchase organic manure at your local garden store, or if you seek out your own, make sure it’s herbivore manure. Manure is a renewable resource and is much safer and healthier for your garden soil.