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What to Put in a Garden Journal

What to Put in a Garden Journal

Keeping a garden journal is a beautiful blend of art and science. It is a testament to your garden and a notebook of learning accomplished throughout your growing year. What you put into a journal makes it incredibly useful for years to come—creating a kind of almanac specific to your location. Tracking changes in your garden—bloom times and harvest, seeding times, and so on also contributes to the study of local phenology. Phenology is “Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.” (read more). Below are some of the things that can be most helpful for your journal, an explanation of why, as well as an example of how to create a journal custom-tailored to your needs.


b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-planting-plan.jpgPlanting Plan: In the beginning of your journal creating a diagram or map of what you intend to plant where is helpful. As you plant perennials, you might mark them on a base map and copy it each year – creating new plans for annuals. Pasting this into the front of your garden journal will help to keep you straight. It might even help a spouse not remove the wrong thing (I speak from experience) or point a temporary caretaker in the right direction while you are gone. I like to use a map and numbers to keep things straight, but you can also use a narrative description in your records to keep things clear. 

Notes on major projects for the year: Do you want to put in a new compost system or fencing or chickens this year? Arbors, trellis, pathways, water collection, irrigation systems, greenhouses…. Using a Future Log on a couple of pages can help you figure out how to stage improvement efforts between planting and harvesting—or when you typically have good weather.

Plant information: Seed catalogs, gardening books from the library, apps and websites can all help you fill in the missing information over time. Knowing the varieties you have; how they perform in your garden; and whether you like them or not are all important things to keep track of. I like to put in how the kids respond to something (“We love cheese squash!” or “Alpine strawberries are the best!”)b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-planting-dates.jpg

            Variety: This you might research before you order your seeds—or keep track of as you save seeds from your own garden. Paying attention to varieties is crucial because they help you know which niche in the garden to put them in, how long it will take (on average) for them to fruit, color, resistance to disease and many other characteristics.

            Source: This can be a brief notation, but it helps to know which seed companies you like—or whether the seeds came from your own garden or a friend’s garden.

            Date Seeds Started: Again, this is important because it helps you track performance—and have a sense of when to begin your garden and how things are changing from year to year.

            Germination Date: The date you see the seeds emerge from the soil surface is notable because it will help you understand more about your garden and will help you to track the growth of the plants over time.


            Transplant source: If you don’t plant your own seeds, germination won’t matter, but tracking where the plants came from and how they are doing will help you make decisions about plants in the future.

            Flowering: This isn’t critical (except for fruit trees and shrubs), but it is nice to have a written record of what flowers when and how that changes from year to year. You might use it to help plan to have flowers throughout the year—whether for beauty or to feed and support pollinators in your garden.

            Fruiting or Harvest: This is what you’ve been waiting for!  The date you harvested, the quantity by number or weight, and the quality of the harvest are all items to consider recording. Does it look good, taste good, produce well, and resist pests? Does one variety tolerate the humidity or drought better? You might find you want to repeat some things and not others. Or you may find you want to save some seeds for next year. And a record is evidence when bragging to the neighbors!

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2035_20151231-174906_1.JPGWeather information: This might be kept on one sheet in your journal or noted amongst your daily observations. Having it in one place to compare months and years is often helpful. You’ll want to make notes on the high and low temperatures for the day, precipitation, cloud cover, and prevailing or significant winds. Some gardeners like to track and plant by moon phases.

Daily observations: It’s the little things that bring us joy. The most beautiful purple in a flower or seeing the swelling bud that will bring us the first berry in spring. Making a note or including a drawing let’s us track and relive these phenomena in our lives. The coming of insects in the spring to pollinate or the first pests can be valuable to know as our garden grows and adapts from year to year. Whether you can draw or not, this is a great way to record information.

How to do it:  How to keep track and organize all of this? Spreadsheets and apps might work on your computer. I like to physically write down my observations—either right in the garden or at a station set up near my door.

b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-future-log.jpgThis year I’m adapting something I like. The Bullet Journal method of setting up a journal might be a great option for you, too. The ideas from a regular journal organization can be modified to include the above categories. An index at the beginning helps you to organize and find information for the whole journal. A future log allows you to plan each month ahead. The month pages can be places to record weather information and tasks in the garden. Other pages can be dedicated to seed source information, seed starting pages, and pest management plans. With the index in front of the journal, you can cross-reference related items and easily find things from year to year—making your journal truly a reference item.


Whether you go all in and like to record every little detail or keep a notebook with a few jotted notes; whether you like to draw out your journal or keep a spreadsheet, journaling can deepen your connection to your garden and ensure more success from year to year. Here’s to a great year ahead! 


Gifts for Gardeners

Gifts for Gardeners

Planning gifts for gardening enthusiasts?  Here are some practical and fun items that will help your beloved gardener start 2016 off right. 



Books, Calendars, and Apps


1.    Tools

See here for a list of great tool ideas for gardeners. Gardeners will love hori hori, seeding tools, nitrile-palmed gloves, buckets and bags to organize tools, small wheelbarrows, kneeling pads and seats, broadforks, and more. b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_1779.jpg

   The best tools are often Japanese or Italian steel-bladed tools. Japanese tools can be specialized but are often beautiful, ergonomic, and durable. Simple design lines are helpful for keeping your tools clean. Wooden handles are beautiful, but often break down faster than plastic handled tools.  It is always worth investing in a better quality tool that is likely to last generations. 

   Besides cutting and aerating tools; watering cans, rain barrels, and drip irrigation systems might be on your gardener’s wish list. If your gardener has a small container garden, a watering can may be enough. Rain barrels, downspout diverters, and hoses are helpful for small gardens (as long as your state and municipality allow them). Drip irrigation and wicking supplies might be better for larger gardens and dry land garden systems. 


2.    Supplies

Besides durable tools, there are lots of things that gardeners enjoy this time of year in the way of supplies. Seeds, plant markers, pots and trays, heating mats, and grow lights extend capacity in the garden and are all appreciated. Plant markers—especially reusable ones for seed starting and annuals or more permanent metal markers for perennials--can help one remember what is what. Lights can help the gardener through the winter or starting seeds in the spring. Look for low energy lights to grow under. 

    Why not gift your gardener with unusual varieties and heirloom seeds? There are exciting discoveries and beautiful plant varieties found each year. Remember to check zone and light requirements for your gardener. 

    Soils and soil amendments might not be exciting to some gardeners, but there are a range of them to include in a fine gardening practice. Seaweeds and foliar feeds may be new to your gardener and helpful in creating beautiful, healthy plants in the summer. Seed starting soil blends along with trays, heat mats, seeds, and a grow light might be the perfect package gift. Why not put them together in a harvest basket? 

   Besides these, a small greenhouse or wrap (also called a fleece) might be perfect for starting seeds or protecting a Garden Tower


3.    Books, Calendars, and Apps

 This category ranges across many subjects, but every gardener should have access to information. Thomas J. Elpel wrote a fun book to help us understand plant classifications: 

b2ap3_thumbnail_gift-books.jpg Botany in a Day. It’s a small book and just as fun as his children’s book: Shanleya’s Quest. 

Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed is a great primer on seed saving, care, and starting.

   Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower and The Winter Harvest Handbook are two classics that bear a wealth of information and help the gardener and market farmer plan the coming year.

   For those interested in permaculture, Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden is great for a beginning book. Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook is a dense and practical approach to suburban permaculture practice[i]. Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is also full of practical approaches to permaculture design.

   Maria Thun’s Gardening for Life: The Biodynamic Way is a classic (albeit esoteric) introduction to this particular approach to gardening.

   Every gardener needs access to a calendar. Many people swear by the Farmer’s Almanac. The land grant university in one's state probably has an online calendar or planting guide accessible through the extension office. Here is one example.  Besides informational calendars, gardening journals to help a gardener plan, observe, and record the garden’s yearly activities is a thoughtful offering. 

   Apps are popular and several are geared to help you know when to plant in your area and to help one choose plants that will suit one's garden space—even helping you imagine what your designed space will look like through the season. In this case, a gift certificate to the app store might be just what is needed to round out a gift. 

   Remember, gardening not only produces beauty and food, but health and well-being to a gardening friend. What better gift could one give someone in the holiday season? 


[i] In the interest of full disclosure, Peter Bane has been a mentor and colleague for the past ten years. 


Soil Building 201: Biochar

Soil Building 201: Biochar

While we are on the topic of putting the gardens to bed and building soil this fall, let’s look into biochar. 

What is it?

Biochar is a valuable soil amendment, first and foremost. According to the International Biochar Initiative, “This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and increase soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.” (1)

b2ap3_thumbnail_Biochar.jpgSimply, it is a charcoal made at low temperature that is often then inoculated with beneficial bacteria and soil organisms that inhabit the very porous and expansive surface areas. Because nutrients, beneficial soil organisms and water are all held by the biochar and slowly released, soils are greatly improved—and maintain their fertility over a long period of time. These were first found as terra preta in the Amazon, where they worked miracles holding fertility in tropical soils. Biochar is useful when incorporated into temperate soils as well.  

Image: By K.salo.85 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

Biochar is now used agriculturally, not just to build fertility in the soil, but for animal feed and health as well—as biochar isable to capture and purge harmful bacteria in the digestive systems of many domesticated farm animals. As a feed additive, it is very useful. A 2012 report stated that 90% of European biochar was used in livestock farming. (2) We can find activated charcoal on the shelves of health food stores to deal with digestive issues. Feeding biochar to livestock is right in line with this practice.

Secondly, biochar can help to address climate change by storing stable carbon in the soil for a perhaps hundreds of years. While there are many ways to build carbon in the soil and remove it from the atmosphere (rotational grazing, for example), biochar may be an important aspect of addressing climate change and providing terrestrial system benefits simultaneously.

What can it do for you?

  1. Incorporate it into your garden soils
  2. Consider it as a feed additive if you have livestock
  3. Learn or encourage others to make it and provide it as a product in the community. Note that anytime you introduce bacteria and new components into an ecosystem, you should be knowledgeable about what it is you are incorporating and how to observe the space to note impact.

Another cautionary note:

When thinking about biochar as a solution to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it might be tempting to think that cutting down trees and creating biochar is the solution. After reviewing the situation, we know that we need our large trees and established forests to do what they do best—and provide the many ecosystem services they already provide (as well as inspire and move us to connection). What we need now are new forests and new ways of working with agroforestry in those new forests and grasslands to produce with biochar. Fortunately, this is something many excellent people are researching. 




© Garden Tower Project, nine months, then reverts to Rhonda Baird

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Why compost? Getting started

Why compost? Getting started

Fall is the best time to build soil for the garden, and understanding why can help you create better compost for your home!

Compost is the rich, fertile soil created by letting organisms that live in the soil break down organic matter produced in your home and garden. It is soil formation concentrated in one area. When the rich, fertile compost is complete, it is spread out to the sites you identify. You are participating in the cycles supporting life—increasing the natural wealth around you.  Now, as the deciduous leaves are falling, is the time that nature builds soil fastest.  

The benefits of compost include: 

  • soil conditioning, 
  • recycling yard and kitchen waste, 
  • introducing beneficial organisms throughout your garden, 
  • helping the environment, and 
  • reducing land-fill waste.

And, as mentioned above, this can all builds your natural capital! There are some peoples that recognize your true wealth as equival to the health of your land. If your household eats a balanced and varied diet, when you compost your kitchen scraps, you will be introducing a variety of nutrients and trace elements that will make your plants healthier. Composting your kitchen scraps might seem like pennies in the bank, but they make a huge difference in the long run. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_tom-finished-compost_20150927-184753_1.jpgThere are lots of ways to create compost. The method that you can attend to and appreciate is the one that will work for you. Most of us use more than one method. 

1.     Build compost piles right on the soil, and cover or enclose them. Periodically, turn the pile to aerate it because aerobic bacteria are necessary to break matter down. Water piles to keep soil organisms happy, and covered to keep moisture in the pile.

2.     Vermicomposting is the method of including worms in the compost pile to break down the matter and create worm castings. An animal’s function in a system is to create greater fertility. Worms are some of the best animals you could find. Worm castings are some of the most valuable fertilizers in the world. Vermicomposting systems are excellent for kitchen scraps. Worms can process the material quickly and handle the volume produced by small kitchens. Vermicomposting in a container limits access to skunks, opossums, raccoons and other visitors.

These two systems used together for yard waste and for kitchen scraps can be the best of both worlds—and help to create a more resilient landscape around you. Happy soil-building this fall!




GMO-Free: or IS it?

GMO-Free: or IS it?

The debate around genetically modified organisms is intense this year as labeling laws and bans and bans on bans are taken up. GMO technology has become pervasive in our world; and its impact on our food supply gets most of the attention. Is your food safe or isn’t it?

Whether you believe GMOs are dangerous or not, the majority of people agree we should have an option to know whether the food we buy contains them. And this is where GMOs get even more confusing. Many companies voluntarily label their foods GMO-free. Others don’t. 

There is also the belief that if you buy organic, your food is also GMO free. This was called into question by Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen in a July 8 opinion piece for Forbes magazine. The key passage is includes this quote from USDA officials:

“As USDA officials have said repeatedly: “Organic certification is process based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the [National Organic Program] regulations . . . If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation” [emphasis added]. 

This language is probably meant to protect the investment farmers have made in certifying organic and the value of organic as a label. It also means that due to genetic drift or other means, organic food may have GMO “residue” in it.

Miller and Kershen go on to point out the issues with certification and accountability with organic certification programs. Among their points, they report that there are only two conditions under which organic produce can be tested: 1, if the farmer is suspected of intentionally violating organic standards; 2, 5% of the operations certifiers work with are tested annually.

The authors' bottom line is that eating organically doesn't guarantee your food is GMO free. They seem to miss the point that farmers choose not to use materials like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that will compromise their certification. This means the food is not sprayed with synthetic toxins and that natural, organic substances are used.  In addition, growers are becoming savvy to dealing with genetic drift by using measures like planting corn earlier than GMO corn is planted so that pollination times are staggered.

Does this mean throw out the value of eating organically? By no means! Becoming more aware about the concerns surrounding food safety and helps us understand why we want to buy and eat certain foods—or turn more towards growing our own.



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Soil and Bioremediation

Soil and Bioremediation

When it comes to food, soil is where it’s at. There’s the adage: healthy soil=healthy plants=healthy people. It’s true! That’s why nutrient dense foods are as important to identify as organic or local foods. Growing your own in an active soil food web is key. 

We focused on what goes into healthy soil in a blog from May this year…and there’s more. Many of us live in urban or rural areas that have damaged and contaminated soils: oil spills, herbicides, asphalt and concrete bases in the soil, etc.  In fact, it might be safe to say that most of us have something to consider in our environment. This blog isn’t meant to be a “doomer downer” entry, but to introduce to you some techniques to heal our soils:

  1. Microbial remediation uses the bacteria and other microbes present in a healthy soil food web. Composting and applying compost as well as increasing the variety of plant species present are two of the keys.
  2. Phytoremediation uses plants as the primary processors of toxins. Plants can extract the toxin (and then be removed themselves) or break the contaminant down, or bind it up.
  3. Mycoremediation uses fungi to process contaminants. These are especially good at long-chain carbon substances (such as those made from oil).

These three techniques alone, or in combination, can do much to work with natural processes to break down or bind up toxins.  Remediated landscapes are then much healthier for people, plants and animals to be in.

Don’t go it alone! More research and working with specialists in the subject can help you to assess and formulate a plan for how to address an area safely.  Healing a damaged landscape can take years to fully realize.

Community groups together with municipalities are more appropriate to make decisions for larger common spaces. Many municipalities and states mandate capping the damaged soil with clean soil brought in from outside. Just like throwing a rug over your dirty floor, capping is not a complete solution. While, it is an understandable approach given financial and time constraints, it might be worth suggesting alternative test plots using remediation and proceeding carefully from there.

If you want two sources to inspire you, please do check out Earth Repair: A grassroots guide to healing toxic and damaged landscapes by Leila Darwish (2013) and the work of Paul Steamiest of Fungi Perfecti. Both are cautious, optimistic, and passionate about transforming our landscapes into healthier places for future generations. 

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Eating and the Environment

Eating and the Environment

Please note: nothing in this blog replaces the care of your trusted medical advisor. 

 Our modern world can be stressful. Financial, relationship stresses, sleep/waking cycles, electro-magnetic fields, and environmental toxins all play a part. There is good news. We can change our lifestyle philosophy and habits to embrace healthier options.  Our choices on food are one way of doing that. 

Get the lead out: choosing foods that chelate 

When our son was about eight months old, he tested for higher lead levels. Whether the lead came from an old paint chip or crawling on the floor somewhere else, we don’t know. Each month for a few months his blood tests showed lead.  The levels quickly fell within acceptable limits. Our family learned that foods high in vitamin C will help remove lead from the bloodstream: strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, etc…were high on his list of foods. Since that time I’ve been on the lookout for which foods help us release toxins. 

Besides raw, high vitamin C foods, cilantro tends to pull heavy metals out of the body. Parsley is also our friend. Reportedly it is effective at removing mercury from our bodies. This is especially important in areas where coal-produced electricity affects the water supply. 


Pump up the volume: choosing foods that support you

Besides eating foods to detox, our family chooses foods that support health including: 

Sea vegetables. We now prefer those ethically harvested from the Atlantic Ocean and avoid those from the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico. They are naturally higher in healthy iodine and minerals—which help to protect the thyroid and keep it in balance. Hint: you can throw in a handful with your kimchi. 

Raw, fermented foods. We love homemade kimchi, sauerkraut and gingerbeer. Kombucha, yogurt, kefir and many other foods make a regular appearance in our home. The bacteria used in the fermentation process are beneficial for your digestive system. They start to break down the food making the vitamins and minerals more available to your body. Nothing is as satisfying as dishing out a helping of kimchi made with veggies from your garden! 


 Mushrooms are another of our favorites—but you must cook them! They supposed to be good for everything from ridding yourself of a cold to fighting cancer. Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti has shared research that mushrooms exposed to sunlight for two days store many times the Vitamin D of their counterparts. Apparently this practice is so healthy that even squirrels do it! (Permaculture Activist, #86, November 2012)

There are some other things to consider incorporating into your weekly or yearly diet.

  • Consider including detox regimes. 
  • Stress and relaxation programs help with balancing your hormones (especially cortisol and adrenaline).
  • Water is critical for your health. Of course there are many other options. These are a few to get you started. 


Permaculture Activist (now Permaculture Design Magazine) #86, November 2012

Fallon, Sally, Mary G. Enig, PhD. Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, Inc., 2001.

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Water, Water, Everywhere....

Water, Water, Everywhere....

Water in our gardens—how it works & why it’s important:

Water is critical in our gardens. Of course! We know it is the source of all life on this planet. Nothing grows without water. Nothing thrives without adequate water. Adequate means both quantity of water and quality of water. As we move into the future, we recognize that careful use—and re-use—of our water resources is critical. 



Why fresh water is disappearing in our world:

When we were in grade school, we all learned about the water cycle. It moves evaporated water from our oceans to the mountains and returns to the bodies of water through the streams and rivers. Rinse and repeat. If the water cycle is working, we have unlimited fresh water. Right?  

It turns out that the fresh water resources of our planet also have limits. Glaciers supply water from our highest mountains to areas with high population density (think India). These are disappearing at increasing speed.[1,2]  Snowpack in our own Rocky Mountains is also varying from winter to winter. California’s snowpack this year is drastically reduced.[3]


What about wells? Aquifers are long-term water storages underground. These are often connected to sub-surface water flows (water table). We draw down the water resources faster than they replenish.[4]  See what's happening to the Ogallala Aquifer.[5]



Indiana, like many states, draws much of the municipal water supply from surface water storages built around the 1950’s. These lakes have been silting in since their creation. Griffy Lake, a previous water supply for the city of Bloomington covers about 109 acres, but the majority of the lake is only a few feet deep. Without dredging, the storage would fill in quickly. These surface storage lakes are also poor water quality as gas powered boats swarm over the lakes throughout the year. 


We can all be smarter about our relationship with water. Here are some things you can do:

- Develop a relationship with your water—where it comes from, catch it if you can (ponds, rain barrels, tanks, natural swimming pools…)

From where does your water come? Develop a relationship with your water. Because water is so important to thriving homes, aim to have three sources of water available in an emergency. Simple water storages are in the soil (by having a higher percentage of organic matter in your soil). Store water in rain gardens and ponds. Stash it away in rain barrels and in cisterns. Wells and municipal water may be your primary source, but a cistern full of water may mean peace of mind. 

Many dry towns and states of the west forbid rain barrels or larger tanks. Water falling on your roof is already promised to others down-stream from you.  States, such as Colorado, are beginning to realize that rain barrels and tanks positively impact the flow of water downstream.[6]  In fact--increased vegetative cover may improve the tight cycling of water in an area. It can create even more precipitation for yourself and your neighbors as plants transpire water into the atmosphere. Learn the rules in your area. Work with your local and state officials. Educate them about your careful use of water; the power of creating storages; and the transformation of landscapes by the re-use of water.


- Use it carefully (point out the GT conservation number); and re-use it. (GT design does this, too)

Know how much your household uses and what you can do to conserve water in your home and garden.  Do an audit of how much water your household uses. Some households use as much as 140 gallons of water per day for showers, dishes, laundry and more. The average household of four uses 400 gallons per day.[7]  When you use low-flow showerheads, water-saving laundry machines, and low-flush toilets, you reduce the amount of water. You are saving the earth and your pocket book.  Reduce landscaping that needs irrigation in favor of plants that adapted to drier conditions. With the Garden Tower design, early user, Kathryn Sharp,[8] reported a 90% reduction in water usage.  All the while, she grew veggies and composted with worms. There are lots of ways to creatively reduce your water use. b2ap3_thumbnail_white-sage_azmod.jpg

Also, not all used water is the same. Any water used in the household that has been through the shower, laundry, dishwashing, or sink is considered gray water. (Water used in conjunction with toilets is black water; please take proper precautions!). 

Your garden plants do not need potable water to be happy. Minerals, fats, and bits of vegetable material enhance gray water. Plants and other organisms in a gray water system use them well.   (Please do be careful. Track gray water use in your Garden Tower so as not to overwhelm the soil organisms and plants with compounds such as oils and soaps.) Match the quality of your water supply to the need. 

Re-use your water where you can—send it throughout different parts of your home and garden. Water houseplants with your dishwater. The garden tower also uses this kind of efficiency by re-using the water draining through the tower. This increases productivity and preserves nutrient density. Compost—including wonderful worm castings--enhance the water!


- Clean it before it leaves your home (gray water in your garden)

Imagine a vibrant garden 

Taking responsibility for the quality of the water that leaves your garden is a great way to make a positive difference in the world.  Start with conservation. Include reuse. Work to clean water through systems which mimic nature. These actions will help ensure our world is greener and brighter. Thank you. 


Other Resources:










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Key Strategies to Keep Your Seeds on Track this Year

Key Strategies to Keep Your Seeds on Track this Year

 And they’re off! Spring has sprung and it’s time and past time for seedlings to be in their trays. Questions abound…will they sprout? Did I plant them too early? Too late? Are there enough? Too many? When do I water them? When do I transplant them? Where should I source my seeds?

What to plant?

1. Plant what you like to eat!

2. Plant what will grow in your zone and bear fruit in a season. The zone refers to the area you live and how many months of frost-free growing you have in that area. Zone 3, for example, has three months of growing between the last frost of spring and the first of the fall.  Zone 10 has ten months of frost-free growing). Latitude, proximity to the coasts, aspect in relation to the sun, and elevation above sea level all affect zones. Microclimates affect the success of plants. These shady, cool spots or warm sheltered places within your yard make a difference.

3. Plant what will work within your limiting factors. Consider the amount of light/shade; water availability; wind exposure; soil composition; your time limits). These factors can make the difference between beautiful tomatoes or wilty plants. It is important to be clear about your time, too. We all have the best of intentions in April—and busy lives in July and August when the weeds are thick and the harvest is coming on.

4. Don’t plant everything you want to grow. If you are only going to plant out a few tomatoes or squash plants; it makes more sense to buy from a nursery or farmers’ market vendor.


Where to source seeds?

Look for more on this topic soon, but suffice it to say for now that we need more seed variety in this country. There are several good seed companies and they all need your support. Look for seed companies local to you. Look for seed companies that produce seed in a zone like yours. Look for open-pollinated and heirloom varieties. Buy organic seed if you can. Borrow from (and replenish) a seed library.           

Consider the possibility of starting to save your own seeds to start next year. With a little prior proper planning on your part, you can begin to breed your own varieties suited to your specific area. And you get to name your creation!

Some of our favorite seed companies: http://www.johnnyseeds.comhttp://www.superseeds.comhttps://www.horizonherbs.com

When to plant?

This is a combination of factors. Most important is the length of time to fruition and the length of your season. Most seed packets and catalogs list when to plant and the number of days until germination and fruition. Start some plants indoors well before the average last frost. Start hardier plants outdoors (most of these can also start in trays).  Note: Trays are more subject to chill temperatures. They need the protection of plastic or a building or a heat mat to produce well. Likewise they need regular watering to maintain soil moisture.

To get continuous production in your garden, you can seed plants every several days within the window for each type of plant. For example, if radishes are your thing and you have a six month growing season, you can plant radishes every week. Radishes take about 30 days to harvest. You would have a regular harvest every week, or until it gets to be too warm or until you tire of radishes.



Caring for Seedlings

We plant out several varieties of greens in trays each spring. We fill other trays with mini-rows of brassicas (cabbage/broccoli family). We even put beets and parsnips in trays. The ends of the mature root crops may not look perfect, but their success from a tray vs. direct seeding in the soil makes it worth it.  

The seedlings need light, heat, and closely-regulated moisture. They need a good, nutrient –rich soil for their growth. This soil should be light and fluffy so the roots can spread out and growth healthy plants. A well-grown seedling will have more of its mass in its roots than the stems or leaves. At the same time, the leaves and stem should be strong, a vibrant color and free of blemishes.

Start seedlings close together in rows and transplant them into individual spaces. These can be individual pots or larger spaces in deeper trays. Give them a few days to adjust to the new conditions. Then “harden them off” by leaving the plants outdoors for longer periods of time until they adjust. Now you are ready to transplant them into their garden tower or permanent growing bed.

Now, how to distribute all the extra seedlings grown? And we're off to start the next batches of seedlings!

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