This great tip comes from my friend Anthony, who gardens in New Jersey (zone 6) and blogs at The Compost Bin. Anthony says:
"After pulling a few giant piles worth of roots out (of my raised beds) yesterday, I made an executive decision. Whenever I build a new bed, a bottom will be a mandatory feature. I don't think I'll use a sheet of plywood for the floor as suggested in the book (Square Foot Gardening), but at a minimum, I'll load the bottom up with landscape fabric. Usually, I'd layer newspapers to stop weeds and because I know they'll break down and feed those earthworms. But since I want to avoid future root invasions, I think I'll pass on the newspapers. Do they make landscape fabric out of steel?"
This is a great tip for any of us who have shade trees on or near our properties. In general, you'd build a raised bed without a bottom, as Anthony mentions (and as I wrote in my article on building a raised bed) so that earthworms can make their way into the bed, loosening and enriching your soil. Tree roots can easily spoil the party, though, so adding a bottom to your raised bed is a great idea. This makes me wonder how soon I'll start to see roots from my neighbor's maple make their way into my vegetable gardens.
Thanks, Anthony, for the great tip!
New Articles on About Organic Gardening:
Carol Deppe's fantastic book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times , is currently one of my favorite books about gardening. If you're determined to grow a good portion of your own food, it's definitely worth a look.
What I love is that Deppe is very no-nonsense about many things. For instance, one of my favorite sections of the book is called "Selective Sloppiness." Deppe says that much of what we do in our gardens is just unnecessary busy-work. She begins the chapter with this statement:
"Only some things are worth doing well. Most things that are worth doing are only worth doing sloppily. Many things aren't worth doing at all. Anything not worth doing at all is certainly not worth doing well."
She goes on to give examples of what she means. Making the surface of your garden bed perfectly smooth, free of any little indentations or low areas, is a complete waste of time. An uneven soil surface has areas in which water will collect and slowly irrigate your plants. A smooth surface is great if you want to encourage water run-off.
Pulling weeds is necessary (unfortunately...) but carting those weeds off to another location is not. Leave them in your paths, or, heck, just throw them right back into the bed where they'll break down and enrich the soil. As a bonus, insect pests will often feed on the weeds and not your lettuce.
Are you obsessed with planting seeds at EXACTLY the recommended planting depth? Deppe explains that soil temperature has more to do with successful germination than planting depth does. She is inexact in her soil depth, and ends up planting seeds at different depths. No matter what, she always ends up with a successful sowing.
"Eschew unnecessary symmetry," she advises. Most of us rely on straight lines that, for one reason or another, never end up looking straight. Embrace curves and end up with a prettier garden (with less work!)
One final thought from Deppe: weeding the vegetable garden late in the season is generally unnecessary. The plants are too big to suffer from competition from weeds, and most late-season weeds won't have enough time to set seed before frost anyway.
Deppe is definitely my kind of gardener! What do you think?
Here are some of the things I've enjoyed reading over this past week:
- Margaret Roach over at A Way to Garden featured an absolutely stunning sunflower on her blog. The silver-leaf sunflower, Helianthus argophyllus, is now on my "must grow!" list. If you love silver foliage, you need to see this plant.
- Over at Growing the Home Garden, Dave reviewed The 20 Minute Gardener. It looks like it might be worth a look -- especially for those who wonder how to fit gardening into their already-busy lives.
- Susy over at Chiot's Run shared a homegrown meal, featuring fresh lettuce from the garden, venison, and eggs from their flock. This is the stuff my dreams are made of. Seriously.
- Over on the BBC News Science and Environment blog: more about the link between bee deaths and
- If you love arugula, you'll appreciate this tip from the Timber Press website: cut and come again arugula.
- And, over on my own blog, I gave a quick early April tour of my garden. My compost bins were featured. What can I say?
Want to share one of your own garden blog posts from this past week (or one you read and really enjoyed?) Share the link in the comments so we can check it out!
Have a great weekend!
I am still waiting for the first crocus to bloom in my garden (really, I go out and check the front garden every morning. No crocuses yet. Sigh....)
So, I am desperate for blooms. Luckily, my African violets have been blooming the last few weeks, spurred on by the increased light they're getting in the kitchen window. The pretty one pictured above is blooming now. Unfortunately, I don't know which variety it is -- it was a NOID purchased on clearance at my local nursery.
African violets have a bit of a reputation (especially among those who haven't yet grown them) for being a bit on the fussy side. Happily, this is not AT ALL true. My African violets have been knocked over by cats, neglected by me, neglected by big box stores (and then purchased on clearance by my kids) and have fought through every setback to bloom again another day. I really can't recommend them highly enough.
If you're interested in growing your own African violets, take a look at Houseplants Guide Jon VanZile's article about caring for them. And, to grow them organically, take a peek at my tips for growing any houseplant without synthetic fertilizers.
Do you grow African violets? And....does anyone know which variety that is in the photo? Thanks!
"Yes. A few pests may show up in your garden -- say, some Colorado potato beetles on your potatoes. You can then go out every morning and knock them off into a jar filled with soapy water. But let's be clear: This is not an act of war. It isn't even a solution. It's an 'oops' moment, a learning moment. It is a signal to ask yourself whether the soil in that potato row is up to snuff, and whether a hay mulch might keep the soil more cool and moist, thus relieving the plants (as research has shown) of summer heat stress." ---Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook
This is one of the many, many, many reasons I am a Damrosch and Coleman fangirl. YES. Gardening, from those moments when we're basking in the glow of our abundant tomato crop to those moments when we're on our knees picking slugs off of our lettuce --- every moment spent in the garden is a learning moment. The good moments and bad make you a better gardener. Most of success in gardening is just paying attention, and when we pay attention, it's astounding how much our gardens can teach us.
I'm currently reading The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook, and really, really enjoying it. I'll have a review up soon but so far I'll just go out on a limb and say that if you don't own any other books about vegetable gardening...this is the only one you'll ever need. My husband was looking through it with me and he said, "this is like the ultimate vegetable gardening book." And I'll second that!
Are you reading any great gardening books right now?
I've gotten a few questions over the past week or two from readers who have noticed white, fuzzy mold growing on their seedlings. This is a fairly common issue for those who start their own plants from seed. The good news: the fungus itself is not going to hurt your seedlings. The bad news: that fungus is a sign that your soil is too wet. Soil that is too wet can result in having the delicate roots of your seedlings rot, which will eventually result in plant death.
Luckily, it's an easy thing to fix. Chances are, you're watering too much. Don't water unless your seedlings really need it -- it's easy to get into a routine of just giving them a quick water every day or so "just to be sure," but this can sometimes do more harm than good. Check the soil's moisture with your finger; only water if the soil is dry.
Another thing that can help the situation is to increase the air flow around your seedlings. You can do this by having a fan running nearby for at least a few hours a day. Not only does this help prohibit fungal growth, but it also results in sturdier seedlings.
You may want to look at how much light the seedlings are getting. They need at least twelve hours of good, strong light per day to grow well.
Finally, if at all possible, consider bottom-watering. This not only encourages the plants' roots to grow deeper, but also helps alleviate mold and fungus because the surface of the soil is not constantly moist.
I hope this helps! If you have a gardening question, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org -- your question may just inspire a weekly "Reader Question" post!
I've gotten this question about fifteen times in the last couple of weeks in my email, so I figured it's something that many of you may be wondering about. Seeds don't need any fertilizer to germinate. Everything they need is right there in the makeup of each seed. However, once they've got their first true leaves (as opposed to the "seed leaves" or cotyledons that appear first) they will start needing nutrients for strong growth.
Fertilizers for Seedlings
The best fertilizers for young seedlings are fish emulsion (which can be smelly, but very effective, and you can find "deodorized" fish emulsion in many garden centers), vermicompost tea, or sea kelp.
How To Fertilize Seedlings
You'll want to feed your seedlings weekly, at a very weak solution. I usually mix up a solution that's about 1/4 strength of what is recommended on the label. Regular, gentle feeding will provide your seedlings with the nutrients they need for steady, sturdy growth.
I hope that helps! If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask me!
Latest Articles on About.com Organic Gardening:
- Fall Leaf Clean-Up Tips
- How to Purchase and Grow Organic Houseplants
- How to Make an Easy, Inexpensive Self-Watering Container
- Three Easy Ways to Water Potted Plants
- Add Color Anywhere with Annual Flowering Vines
- How and When to Prune Lilacs
- Great Plants for Shady Gardens
- Where to Buy Heirloom Tomato Seeds
If you haven't had to deal with damping off at least once or twice in your seed starting experience, you are a very lucky gardener. If you have, then you know the feeling of helplessness of seeing your teeny, tiny seedlings keeled over onto the soil. It is not a fun gardening experience!
It's been several years since I've had problems with damping off (knock on wood). There are several things you can do to avoid the problem in the first place. Things like using sterile soil, clean containers, and avoiding overwatering are all very helpful in preventing damping off.
Another great option for preventing damping off is to make up some anti-fungal teas. Misting your seedlings, as well as the surface of the soil, with either chamomile or stinging nettle tea, is a great preventative measure.
And I can't say enough about making sure you have good airflow around your plants. Don't over crowd them in your flats or pots. And, if at all possible, keep a fan running at low speed. This not only helps with air flow, but it also helps seedlings develop strong, sturdy stems.
I hope these tips for preventing damping off help you have a successful, bountiful seed starting season!
I love my block maker, which I received as a gift after numerous hints and references to the Johnny's catalog. I also mentioned that I never would have bought it myself, being kind of a tightwad by nature. So I got it as a gift, and everyone's happy.
Except that I got the two inch block maker, and it would be really nice to be able to plant up into the four-inch blocks, and holy cow -- look at the price of those larger soil block makers!
I figured I couldn't be the only one squeamish about paying upwards of a hundred bucks(!) for a soil block maker, so I did some looking around, and here are some ideas from clever folks who came up with their own designs:
- Topper's Place was the first site that really got me thinking about making my own soil block maker. With detailed instructions and helpful drawings, it's sure to get your creative juices flowing.
- Instructables has a tutorial on making your own soil block maker from plumbing pipes.
- Cornelia over at Homegrown.org has a great post up about making soil block makers of varying sizes from items from around the house, including ice cube trays and plastic food containers.
One more great resource: if you are on Twitter, there is a weekly chat called #SeedChat. It takes place every Wednesday, and last night (coincidentally!) the chat was all about using soil blocks with guest host @InkandPenstemon. Check it out by searching for the #SeedChat hasthag on Twitter. You can also check the SeedChat website, where there's also an archive of last year's Seed Chat about soil blocks. Good stuff!
I hope these ideas help you make your own soil block makers. My husband and I (but mostly my husband...) came up with a design for a four-inch soil block maker that works really well. I'll post on our design soon - I'll be using it to sow my tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds this weekend (woohoo!) Tomorrow, look for a post about my recipe for the perfect soil-less mix recipe for making soil blocks.
Most people think organic gardening is simply gardening without the use of synthetic chemicals. In truth, organic gardening is using every method at your disposal to make your garden thrive. You may use organic fertilizers and soil amendments. You might try to attract beneficial insects to keep the insect pest population down. You might use mulches and cover crops to improve your soil.
Another way organic gardeners work with the natural world to keep their gardens in tip-top shape is to combine plants in ways that are beneficial to one or all of the crops involved. There isn't a ton of scientific evidence that companion planting works, but generations of gardeners swear by it. I do companion planting in my own garden, and it adds to both the diversity and beauty of the garden. My plants are strong, and I have very few insect or disease problems. I especially like using a "trap crop" to lure insect pests away from my more desirable crops. In my experience, companion planting works.
With that in mind, I'm starting a series of articles on companion planting. While you're planning your vegetable garden, you might want to consider adding some companion plants into the mix. The first article in the series, Companion Plants for Tomatoes, is up now.
Do you use companion plants in your garden? Share your experiences in the comments or visit my forum!