Categories
Gardening Tips

Organic Gardening Guidelines for Beginners

How to Site and Prepare Your Organic Vegetable Garden

Deciding where your garden is going to be located and preparing the area for planting are the first two critical steps towards building a healthy and productive organic garden.

Sunlight vs. Shade

While some cool-weather crops may benefit from a little shade from the hot summer sun, most garden crops prefer full sun. Structures such as the house, garage, privacy fences, and trees, or the like, may impact how much light any given area will receive as the sun tracks across the sky. Identify which areas receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. These will be your prime gardening areas.

Don’t Be Overambitious

As in any new undertaking, there’s a learning curve. You’re better off making a modest start for the first season and building on your success, rather than biting off more work than you can easily manage and feeling too overwhelmed to carry through.

How big your first vegetable garden should depend largely on how much time you’ve got to devote to it. According to Growing Fruits & Vegetables Organically, a Rodale Garden Book, a garden plot, only 16 square feet can provide a surprising amount of food over the course of a growing season; a novice gardener shouldn’t attempt more than 200 square feet.

Consider Your Options

Consider your garden’s water requirements. If the best place to garden on your property is too far for a garden hose to reach, are you really prepared to hand carry buckets of water out to it all season long? If not, your best bet may be to go with your second or even third best choice.

There’s no rule that says your garden has to all be in one place or even that it all has to be in the ground. If the sunniest spot in your yard is a patio, or you live in an apartment and only have balcony space in which to garden, you can grow many vegetables in containers.

Site Preparation

Ideally, preparing the site should be done in the autumn before you intend to start your garden. Once you’ve decided where your garden will go, it’s time to clear out all the existing organic matter. If it’s a lawn, it should be lifted out a spade-full at a time in thin slabs and piled upside down. Keep it moistened and the grass will decay. The whole pile will be a great soil amendment by spring, providing it wasn’t treated with chemicals. You could still add it to your flower beds as mulch if it was chemically treated.

If you’re dealing with a weedy mess, mow or pull as much of it as you can. Add this organic matter to your compost pile, unless it’s already gone to seed. In that case, it should be disposed of with your household trash. Till or dig the soil under. Bear in mind that the weed seeds already buried in the soil will continue to haunt you.

Soil Preparation

Soil Preparation
Soil Preparation

Examine your soil to see if it’s mostly sand, clay or loam. Sandy soil will feel gritty and won’t hold together well when wet. Clay will feel slippery and sticks together well when wet. Loam is mostly organic material with both kinds of particles in it and will hold together somewhat when wet.

Soil that is mostly clay will be hard to dig in, especially if it’s compacted from foot traffic. Sandy soil can become compacted, too, after getting a lot of foot or vehicle traffic. It’s best to loosen hard-packed soil with a rotary tiller and amend the soil with compost or humus before attempting to plant anything.

Remove as many rocks as possible, especially if you intend to grow root crops. If you can’t dig down at least a foot before hitting hardpan, try another site or build a raised bed. Filling raised beds with purchased soil may spare you the problem of dealing with a lot of weeds.

Adding organic matter such as compost or humus will enrich the soil like a slow-release fertilizer as soil microorganisms break it down further and make the nutrients available to plants’ roots.

It’s a good idea to test your soil’s pH level to see how acidic or alkaline it is. You can buy kits at most garden centers. Most vegetables and herbs grow best in a neutral pH of around 6.0 to 7.0. Acid soil will be less than 7.0; alkaline soil will be higher.

You can add lime to acid soil to ‘sweeten’ it. Add sulfur if the soil is too alkaline. Organic matter has a balancing effect on pH, so adding in plenty of compost or humus should solve any pH problems.

The soil in Desert Vegetable Gardens: Desert Soils Not Very Fertile

Almost all soils in the desert regions of North America (and elsewhere, for that matter) tend to be high in salt and alkaline, low in organic matter and fertility.

Organic Matter

Adding organic matter (compost, animal manure, green manure) greatly improves soil structure, adds nutrients to the soil, increases it’s water-holding capacity, and allows the soil to hold on to added nutrients long enough for the plants to take them in.

Livestock manure

Livestock manure - organic compost
Livestock manure – organic compost

Although high in salts (especially cattle manure), livestock manure is probably the easiest way to quickly add organic material to your soil. It already has active bacteria in it that will enhance nutrient breakdown, and that’s good for vegetables.

However, only apply fresh manure in the fall. That way, it will have time to break down in the soil.

Manure that has already been composted, or heat-treated manure can be laid down and mixed into the soil prior to planting in the spring. Additionally, the composting process will kill any weed seeds that may be present in fresh manure. Fresh manure, if applied in the spring, usually burns young plants.

Green manure

Green manure - Apple Seeds
Green manure – Apple Seeds

Green manure is any plant that can be grown and incorporated back into the soil as organic matter. Winter wheat, barley, oats, rye are some examples of green manure. If you want a green manure crop next winter, buy the seeds from any local farm feed store and scatter them around your garden in late summer or early fall. Simply rake the seeds into the ground around whatever vegetables are still around. The seed will sprout and start to grow.

At first frost next fall, pull out frost damaged vegetable plants and leave the green carpet there. It will develop fully in late fall. Give it a little taste of nitrogen fertilizer in early spring, then till or turn the green manure into the soil about a month before your plan to plant your garden.

Compost

Organic Gardening Guidelines for Beginners
Organic Gardening Guidelines for Beginners – Compost

Another really easy method of adding organic matter to your soil is putting down compost. Compost is usually made from leaves, grass clippings, food wastes, and garden vegetable waste (damaged fruits, old plants). Add one to two inches of well-decomposed compost over your soil and then till it in.

Many desert soils are highly alkaline. Alkalinity tends to inhibit plants’ intake of necessary nutrients from the soil (phosphorous, iron, zinc). Compost helps make those nutrients available.

Categories
Tips

Garden Design Tips: Help for the Design-Challenged

If you’re an organized left-brain type, you know how to go about designing a garden. You get out the graph paper and the tape measure, and perhaps some garden-planning software and go through it step-by-step.

But what if the sight of a tape measure and graph paper makes you break out in hives? Can you still have a good garden if you like to act on impulse, or on the basis of what’s on sale at the garden center? Absolutely. After all, gardens never come out quite the way you plan them anyway and that’s half the fun. Here are some rules for making sure your spontaneity doesn’t turn into a total mess:

Planning Hardscaping for a New Garden

This is where you need to be at your most thoughtful. It’s easy to move plants, but you don’t want to have to move decks, patios, or walkways. Sketch your ideas on paper, and enlist the help of a designer or landscaper if necessary. Think in terms of garden rooms, dividing the outdoor space into areas to make it seem bigger and to make planning easier.

Buying Plants for a New Garden

Buying Plants for a New Garden
Buying Plants for a New Garden

Decide whether you want an all-season garden, with plants blooming off and on throughout spring, summer, and fall, or whether you want a garden designed for maximum impact in one particular season. Survey your space carefully to see how much light it gets at various times of the day and year. Take note of problems like competition from tree roots, excess heat from concrete patios, and so on. Correct any drainage problems or they will severely limit your choices.

Decide on a color scheme before you start. White-flowered plants and plants grown only for foliage can be added to almost any color scheme. It’s even possible to have different color schemes in different seasons, but this must be done with great care to avoid clashing colors.

Always buy less than you think you have time to plant. Nothing is worse than having to throw plants away because they died before you could get them in the ground. Start with the backbone plants. These are the large, architectural plants that anchor the garden and give it interest even when nothing’s in bloom. They should be long-lived perennials, look good at all seasons of the year, and be low maintenance.

Check out Perennial All-stars, by Jeff Cox (Rodale Books), for recommendations. Whenever possible, choose plants you’ve grown before or seen growing in neighbor’s yards under similar conditions. With the exception of dramatic ‘specimen’ plants, never buy less than 3 of any given plant, and always group them in odd numbers.

Planting a New Garden

Planting a New Garden
Planting a New Garden

Prepare the soil carefully, breaking up clumps, removing sticks, stones, and roots. Add compost and other desired soil amendments and dig them in thoroughly. Rake the surface smooth.

Plant the back of the garden first, or the center for circular gardens, putting the tallest plants there.

With smaller plants, groups of 5, 7, or even more may be necessary for impact. Plan the middle and front of your gardens using this rule. Use more than one grouping of the most attractive plants. Unless your garden is very formal, weave the groups in and out of one another, keeping taller plants to the back but avoiding a strict progression of height. Use curving lines rather than straight ones in all except formal schemes.

Think about how plants will look next to each other. Use feathery foliage next to rigid, spiky foliage, and juxtapose contrasting colors to add interest and visual impact. Repetition of elements will make your design more harmonious. This can be done not only by repeating the same plant in various places, but by repeating plants with very similar appearance.

Be sure to follow directions on spacing plants, either as listed on the tag or in a good garden guide such as the Time-Life series of gardening guides. (Time-Life Books, 1989) Plant the garden a little sparsely at first to leave room for expansion and for tucking in an extra element here or there. Once everything is planted, add an attractive and appropriate mulch.

Improving a Garden

Improving a Garden
Improving a Garden

After a year or two of growth, survey the results to see what works and what doesn’t. Remove and relocate any plants that refuse to stay in bounds or are otherwise unsatisfactory. Think about adding a birdbath, brightly painted chair or other design feature.

Once you’re happy with your results, think about adding a few annuals for an extra pop of color. If your garden is very informal, self-sowing annuals can attractively weave the garden together. Forget-me-not (mysotis) is an excellent choice for accomplishing this effect in a shade garden.

As the garden grows, you’ll need to lift and divide perennials occasionally. Peruse garden catalogs for new hybrids and more attractive alternatives to the plants already in place.

With a little experimentation, you can have a stunning garden without ever touching a piece of graph paper.

Categories
Tips

The Importance of Choosing the Right Footwear for Gardening

Gardening is one of the most relaxing pastimes around, and there is little more wonderful than kneeling down to plant some beautiful new flowers. The gardening season is nearly upon us, and it will soon be time to refresh the flower beds.

As a result, you may be looking to refresh your gardening shoes (or even buy your first pair), and it is important that you know why it is so crucial to select the right footwear for gardening. For some, it might be a pair of wellies, for others hiking boots. It doesn’t matter – as long as you read through the advice below and implement it into your next choice of footwear. 

They Are Keeping You Safe

Your gardening shoes should have excellent grip to keep you safe and prevent you from falling over. A pair of shoes with little to no grip means that if you step outside in wet conditions, you are more likely to fall over and potentially injure yourself.

A good sole that offers traction and grip will help to stop this from happening, or at least reduce the chances. They should also be robust and well made, as this means that they should last longer. A good quality pair of shoes will keep you going for years and through many poor weather conditions.

Supporting Your Feet and Back

Many shoes offer arch and heel support, which is something you should definitely look into. Even gardening shoes can give you this, and it helps to prevent injuries to your feet, but also supports your back to stop aches and pains that are associated with walking around a lot. Arch and heel support is something that should always be taken up when offered.

Keeping You Healthy

By this, we mean that a good pair of gardening shoes will keep your feet warm and dry throughout the year – some plants need winter care after all. If your feet become cold and damp, it can lead to you becoming unwell, and this is not something you want during gardening season.

Especially in the spring when the rain is almost constant, you are going to want a waterproof pair of shoes as well as ones that keep them warm and allow your feet room to breathe. You will be able to find gardening shoes like these at very affordable prices too.

Ensuring You are Feeling Comfortable

Your comfort is key. There is not much worse than having to walk around the garden and get all your work done when you are uncomfortable. When you go to buy your gardening shoes, you should strongly consider investing in something that provides superb levels of comfort while you work, and that also gives you all of the points we have mentioned above.

When combined with support, waterproof capabilities, and excellent grip, you will end up with the ultimate pair of gardening shoes. You can get comfortable gardening shoes in the form of wellies, hiking boots, or simple slip-on shoes, so there is a wide variety to choose from.

To Conclude

Hopefully, this little guide has given you the advice you need to choose the best possible footwear for your gardening endeavors. It is important that you are correctly supported and warm, even for the shortest outdoor journeys, so that you can garden in comfort and without risking soreness or damage to your feet.

Just remember that your feet deserve the best – after all, they are supporting the rest of your body and need to be well looked after. Good luck with your garden this spring, and make sure you choose the right shoes!

Categories
Tips

Giving Your Vegetable Seeds a Head Start

You can control the heat and moisture levels more easily indoors or undercover outdoors to provide seeds with the optimum conditions they need for sprouting.

This is particularly important for slow-to-sprout seeds, but in areas with short, cool summers, even fast-growing vegetables, such as sweet corn and bush beans, will benefit if started indoors in plantable peat pots.

The basic needs for starting most kinds of seeds indoors are few:

  • Sterilized potting soil
  • Milled sphagnum moss, vermiculite, or perlite
  • Containers with drainage holes in the bottoms, such as flat, shallow aluminum foil pans, or plastic trays
  • Small peat pots (21/2-3-inch diameters)

Mail-order firms also sell many kinds of devices to make seed starting easier. These include miniature greenhouses, compressed peat moss cylinders that expand when soaked in water, and pre-planted kits.

Damping-off diseases that kill seedlings as they sprout or shortly afterward can be a serious problem. Avoid this difficulty by sprouting seeds in a sterile medium, such as vermiculite, perlite, milled sphagnum moss, or a sterilized commercial planting mixture.

Vermiculite and perlite tend to retain moisture and are best used as a covering for seeds to keep them from drying out. Sphagnum moss (not the same as sphagnum peat moss) is best used as the actual growing medium because it contains a natural inhibitor that discourages the growth of bacteria and fungi.

If you can’t buy or mail order bags of sphagnum moss in the milled or pulverized form, you can grind up the rope-like “green moss.”

Sphagnum moss often comes dried and must be thoroughly moistened before use. The easiest method is to place a quart of moss in a plastic bag and add a cup or two of water. Squeeze the bag to make the moss accept water and knead it until the moisture is evenly distributed.

Fill seed-starting flats or pans with moistened moss or sterilized potting soil 1/2 inch from the top and firm it level. Scatter the seeds thinly and cover lightly with moistened moss, perlite, or vermiculite. Sprinkle the seeds lightly each day until they sprout. If you cover the pan with plastic film after a thorough moistening, you won’t have to water again until the seeds sprout.

Keep the pan out of direct sunlight.

When the first sprouts appear, remove the film and set the pan beside a sunny window. If nights become very cold, however, move the containers away from the glass. When the second pair of leaves open, it’s time to transplant the seedlings.

After they have adjusted to larger containers by showing new growth, you can begin to expose them to outdoor temperatures when it’s sunny and nights are mild.

Sowing seeds directly in peat pots prevents giving small seedlings a transplant shock. Cucumbers, squash, and melons are particularly set back by transplanting; this defeats the purpose of giving them an early start.

Caring for Texas Landscape Plants in the Fall

The peat pot allows you to place the entire plant and pot into the soil as soon as the roots penetrate the containers. Start such large, fast-sprouting seeds in peat pots only three to four weeks before outdoor planting time.

Before setting the plants in peat pots out in the garden, thoroughly soak the pots until they are dark brown and soft. If they are sent into the earth while dry, it is hard to soak them by water, and the roots cannot penetrate the pot walls.

Be wary of starting your seeds too early, a common problem in starting them indoors. Ordinarily, 8 to 12 weeks before the average date of the last killing frost in the spring is soon enough.

Seeds planted too early have to cope with short, gloomy days, frigid nights, and extremely dry air inside heated homes. And if you are successful in sprouting and growing a number of varieties, you’re faced with the problem of what to do with dozens of plants if it’s too cold to set them outside.

With proper timing, started plants can be transplanted into peat pots and set out for two to three weeks prior to the frost-free date.

Categories
Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips For The Winter Months

Fall is perhaps the prettiest time of the year for many gardeners when they can analysis the fruits of their summertime labors.

It is the time when the deciduous trees start to show their fiery colors when the last of the summer crops of vegetables are ripening on the vines and when the days are showing a marked shortening of light. Fall is also one of the busiest times of the year as it is time for all good gardens to be protected against the onset of winter.

Mulching with Hay

Mulching with Hay
Mulching with Hay

Mulching is probably one of the best tips for ensuring that the roots especially of young trees are not damaged by winter frosts. Whilst Lucerne hay is one of the best products to use, the astute gardener can also use old newspapers, grass clippings, in fact, most organic matter.

One of the most cost-effective measures to use in so far as mulching is concerned is the use of leaf matter. The fallen leaves are a lovely sight sprinkled about the garden, and when raked and piled about the plants and trees they become possibly the cheapest form of mulching available. But do ensure that the mulch does not go too close to the trunk of the tree or shrub. This can lead to collar rot – and could kill your plant or tree, not good.

Potting Frost Sensitive Plants

Potting Frost Sensitive Plants
Potting Frost Sensitive Plants

Frost is probably one of the biggest killers of many tender plants and trees. The best way to secure your plants from the harmful effects of a cold snap is to:

  • Mulch heavily
  • Either remove the plant to a pot or
  • Cover with hessian

Another tip for trees is to wrap the trunk with a thick layer of paper or hessian. This will go a long way to protecting the tree.

Plant out Your Winter and Spring Flowering Bulbs

Fall is the ideal time for planting out winter and spring-flowering bulbs. It’s great to plant them en-masse around and under trees and shrubs. They will lay dormant in the cool to cold earth, and amazingly will shoot up and flower when the time is right.

Cutting Back Old Growth

Fall is also the time when many plants will be needing a good cut back. By cutting and shaping the plant or tree it is setting the plant up ready for the new spring growth. Plants such as Lavender really love a good cutback, especially as the lovely perfumed flowers can be kept and dried for use in the home.

Water

Fall is the time when most gardens cease to require much watering. The hot summer months that saw the need for constant watering of the garden have gone and fall gardens do not need near as much watering, especially as the mulching will keep the roots moist should it happen to rain.

However, fall is a great time to identify areas in the garden that could do with a good drip-feeding system. The digging is not nearly such hot work when done in the Fall. The placement of the pipes and drip feeders will greatly assist the garden come the long hot summer months of the new season.

The best thing about preparing a fall garden for winter is the opportunity it gives the gardener to work outside, experience the delights of the season such as the sounds of the birds as they forage for berries on the trees and shrubs and the delights of walking amongst the plants and trees and know that you have done all that is possible to ensure that the garden will survive the onset of winter and the frosts that can do so much damage.

Gardening Tips For The Winter Months

January is full of horrid weather for plants. Sub-zero weather with lots of brutal winds, torrential rain, bitter ice, and snow. The garden lies dormant waiting to burst out at the first warm rays of spring sunshine. Here are a few tips to make sure your favorite plants survive this winter.

  • Do not use salt to clear snow and ice off paths bordered by plants because the salt that can run off and damage the plants. Just haul out the old shovel and get some fresh air and exercise.
  • Might want to make a note where your garden is retaining water and you might want to fix this once the weather eases up.
  • Take a daily walk around your flowerbeds and spot if there is any snow covering the plants. You may want to gently tap and scrape it away with a pole. Excess weight from the snow can break branches.
  • Try not to walk on snow-covered gardens. Plants and the edges of lawns can easily break.
  • This is a great time to get your equipment repaired, tune-up and blades sharpened.
  • As soon as weather allow be sure to spray your fruit trees to get rid of winter eggs from pests.
  • Be sure to cut down on watering the plants in the greenhouse. They are growing at as slower rate and need less water or the roots will rot.
  • Both plastic and clay pots should be covered. Plastic becomes brittle when cold and can break. Clay pots when frozen may crack.
  • Send away for seed and plant catalogs. Sketch out new borders or areas of the garden. Order the seeds.
  • If the water freezes, fish are prevented from getting oxygen. Do not try to crack the ice. This might cause shock waves and actually kill the fish. Instead, boil a pot of water and put it on top of the ice. You may need to do this a couple of times.
  • Make sure your compost has a meshed top or hinged lid to keep rats out who may be drawn to the kitchen scraps.
  • Birds are essential to all gardens getting rid of pests. Be sure to supplement their diet over the cold winter months.

A gardener will find no rest in the winter making plans for the new growing season. Plants still need to be cared for as not to suffer winter damage. It is a task gardener bare with love and much enjoyment all year through.

Categories
Gardening Tips

A Correct Way To Sow Vegetable Seeds

Most gardeners plant in straight rows to help them distinguish the seedlings from the weeds. Planting in 4 to 6-inch bands on raised mounds, though, is a sure way of getting greater yields of the small vegetables from a given area.

This method requires a high level of soil fertility and more frequent watering. Planting in masses also requires hand weeding, since a hoe is only practical between rows. Mark rows or bands with the date planted and the name of the variety.

Use a plastic lettering device or weatherproof plastic markers with lettering that won’t wash away. Furrows. To plant seeds in a row, make a long, shallow ditch with the corner of a hoe. Stretch twine taut between pegs at the ends of the row to make furrows straight.

Form furrows for small seeds by pressing the edge of a board into cultivated soil to make a “vee.” After sowing seeds in rows, cover them with soil.

Hill planting. Large vegetables, such as corn, squash, and beans, are sometimes planted in “hills.” This is a cluster of seeds—not necessarily on a raised mound. The object is for the roots to range out from the central growing point to get more foraging room in the soil. Plant five to eight seeds in a 12 to 18-inch circle and thin to three plants.

Planting depth. To gauge the proper planting depth, follow the old rule of thumb, planting a seed to a depth Preventing soil crusts. Crusts often form in clay or silt soils, seal out air and moisture, and physically resist penetration by sprouts.

Germination can be improved by covering seeds with a granular material, such as vermiculite, perlite, or sand. After soaking the soil and sowing the seeds, cover them to a depth equal to two to three times their size; then firm the covering.

Water the rows lightly daily until the seeds have sprouted. (Use a light spray to keep the seedbeds moist; a heavy spray can wash tiny seeds and seedlings away.) Keeping the soil moist.

A Correct Way To Sow Vegetable Seeds

During dry spells you may have to resort to covering seedbeds with plastic sheeting or burlap kept moist by frequent sprinkling, especially for such slow-sprouting seeds as parsley. One of the best devices for improving dry-weather germination is a wide board laid over a deep furrow.

Soak the furrow, scatter the seeds thinly, and cover them very lightly with soil. Lay the board over the furrow. Remove it occasionally for watering the seeds and to inspect for spots of mold. If you see any gray mold, remove the board temporarily so that sunlight can kill the disease.

Remove the board as soon as seeds begin to sprout. Thinning seedlings. With small seeds, pour a few from the packet into your palm and take small pinches. With a little manipulation, you can drop seeds the required distance apart in the furrow. (Using seed tapes or pelleted seeds for small or expensive seeds eliminates waste.)

Thin seeding is also healthy for the seedlings that sprout. Thickly seeded plants can grow together so closely you can injure the roots of the survivors when you thin out excess plants.

Any crowded seedlings should be thinned ruthlessly if their foliage is touching. When vegetables grow too close together, leafy plants become stunted, root crops become distorted, and vine crops give poor growth because of self-shading, and the yields of large crops are reduced. Furthermore, it is easier for pests and diseases to damage overcrowded crops. Thinnings of leaf crops can, of course, be eaten. Or they can make good compost.

Categories
Gardening Tips

Growing Vegetables in Pots – Tips for a Small Garden

You do not need a large amount of space to enjoy your own delicious home-grown fruit and vegetables. Many foods can be grown in containers on a patio or terrace.

Tomatoes

Tomato
Tomato

Tomatoes are delicious to eat and versatile to cook with. Although many varieties of tomato grow best under glass, there are plenty of breeds which thrive in the open air and can easily be grown in containers. Choose a determinate or bush type tomato as these are most successful outside. Tumbling Tom is a hugely productive variety which works very well in hanging baskets or small pots and can produce fruit well into the autumn.

Determinate tomatoes are very easy to grow: they do not require pinching out and should not need support. They will grow equally well in pots or gro-bags: but for best results make sure you feed them regularly.

Strawberries

Strawberries
Strawberries

Strawberries are easy to care for, and grow well in pots. You can even grow them out of the side of hanging baskets, which has the added bonus of keeping them away from slugs and snails. You can buy special strawberry pots with holes in the side to maximize the space available.

Strawberry plants tend to be more productive in their second year, so you may need to be creative with your desserts in the first year. Try chopping them finely and serving on a meringue nest with a dollop of whipped cream. The plants usually put out runners which you can grow on by placing a small pot of soil underneath the new shoot.

Potatoes

Potatoes
Potatoes

Potatoes are easy to grow and absolutely delicious when freshly dug. All you need is an old compost bag and plenty of soil. Do not be tempted to plant potatoes from the supermarket: buy seed potatoes from the garden center as they are guaranteed to be free from viruses and disease.

Fill your compost bag about one-third full with soil and plant the potatoes just beneath the surface. As they grow, add more soil to the bag until it is almost full. Keep your potatoes well watered and harvest them in late summer or early autumn.

Herbs

Herbs
Herbs

Many herbs can be grown outside in pots including mint, parsley, coriander, rosemary and chives. Other herbs such as basil are not hardy enough to grow outside during the winter, but will do well on a sunny windowsill.

Other ideas

Most vegetables are now available in varieties suitable for container gardening. Examples include climbing courgettes, dwarf pepper and runner bean plants, and root vegetables such as carrots. You can also buy dwarf stock fruit trees which can be very productive in large pots, but make sure you choose a self fertile variety.

[content-egg-block template=offers_list]

Categories
Tips

Lawn Mowing Tips For a Healthy Lawn

Certain things in this world do not happen by accident. One of such is a beautiful, well-toned lawn. To make your lawn look at its absolute best, you need to have a well-laid strategy on how to work on your grass care all year round.

At first sight, mowing might seem very simple and look like child’s play. This is not always so, as every pass of the mower sets your lawn for prosperity or doom. If you use the correct mowing technique, it will stay healthy, try doing it wrong, and you set it for failure.

A healthy lawn does not always mean you have to slave on it for hours. You only have to work smart on it. In this regard, you should keep these lawn mowing tips for a healthy lawn at the back of your mind the next time you set out for grass care.

Sharpen the Mower Blades Before Mowing

The healthiest lawn is as a result of using the sharpest blades for the job. These sharp blades cut the grass cleanly while dull and blunt blades tear your grass, leading to an uneven and rugged edge.

Another effect is the creation of pests and disease entrance points by the tearing of the grass. That is why you will notice a brownish hue on such a lawn. To prevent this, sharpen the blades regularly during the mowing season.

Avoid Scalping the Lawn

Lawn scalping refers to the act of cutting the grass to an extremely short height. This scalping leaves the grass and lawn as a whole exposed to a host of weed and disease manifestation. Because patches of the lawn soil are left exposed, weeds take root and sprout all over the lawn.

Scalping down the lawn on a regular basis hinders the development of a proper rooting system of the grass in the lawn. It is therefore susceptible to drought and high temperatures.

Adjust the Mowing Height During the Year

For the first mowing of the year on cool-climate grasses, use the 1 ½” cutting height. In this way, dead grass is removed while allowing more sunlight access to the grass crown. As the summer heat sets up, raise the cutting height to 2” or more. The grass gives the soil more cover.

As the year draws to an end in autumn, you can lower back the cutting height to about 1 ½”. Snow molds are prevented from forming on the grass in this way.

Adhere to the 1/3 Rule

Lawn Mowing Tips for a Healthy Lawn
Lawn Mowing Tips for a Healthy Lawn

When mowing, ensure you do not cut more than 1/3 of the grass height. Exceeding this height shocks the grass, making it stunt its growth. Additionally, the grass is left exposed to damages hence thinning the lawn in the process.

This top 1/3 of the grass is mostly the leafy and thin blade that easily decomposes to add more nutrition to your grass. The best way of ensuring this is to mow the grass when or before it reaches 150% of the target height. For a 1” target height, it is advisable to mow before the grass reaches 1.5”.

If the grass grows too fast, increase the mowing height so that you do not mow all the time.

Grasscycle Your Lawn

When mowing, you always wonder whether you should bag the clippings or disperse them back to the lawn. If the lawn is frequently mowed and you follow the 1/3 rule, then grasscycling is the best option for you.

This process provides almost up to 25% of the lawn’s fertilizer needs and saves you money in return. These yard weeds decompose faster and provide nutrition for the rest. For better results, ensure you buy a mulching blade and discharge the mulch towards the mowed sections.

Compost Longer Grass Clippings

As already stated, grasscycling only works best for shorter grass that is frequently mowed. But what about your tall grass? After whacking the weeds, you can collect these by raking or use a bag attachment on your garden tool.

These can then be composted to be used somewhere else, like on your veggies garden or flower beds. It’s all up to you.

Change Mowing Patterns

The grass on your lawn tends to lean towards the direction in which you mow towards. To change this, you need to change the directions of mowing week to week. This is so that the grass grows upright and become healthier.

Mowing in the same pattern over and over also compacts the lawn and leads to the development of ruts. Grass on these compacted sections tends to be less healthy, and weeds that favor compacted soil thrive there.

Do Not Mow on Wet Grass

Lawn Mowing Tips for a Healthy Lawn
Lawn Mowing Tips for a Healthy Lawn

Mowing on wet grass is discouraged for several reasons. First, cut quality is hindered, because the wet clippings cling to each other and clog the cutting deck. In this way, it becomes harder for the same speed to be maintained for a uniform cut.

Secondly, if you are mulching, it is harder to do so for wet clippings that adhere to one another. Clumps of grass are therefore left behind that you will have to rake. Thirdly, if you are on a riding mower, there is a likelihood of it slipping on slopes.

Mowing on A Hillside

If you are using a riding lawnmower, do not mow across a hillside, you might slip and fall in the process. On the other hand, if you are using a push behind mower, mow across the slope for better results.

In the unlikely event that the slope is too steep, then it would be better if you used a weed trimmer tool instead.

Half Pass Trick

When mowing, overlap the already mowed area by half the cutting width of your mower, with every pass. It seems like too much work, but in the end, you use less energy (you cut less grass in each pass) and reduce the mowing time.

This half pass trick ensures that everything the blades missed in the previous pass is cut the second time. You will not also go back to trim any rough and shaggy patches.

Conclusion

By following these simple mowing tips, you go a long way in giving your lawn the eventual glamor that it deserves. The success of any lawn is ensuring that it is not always bare, the grass is cut to the right height (1/3), a sharp blade is used, and the clipping discharged back for nourishment.

Categories
Plants Tips

How to Grow Your own Valencian Mountain Paella

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe who live in a rural hanging valley above the Valencia rice fields where they garden holistically producing their own ecological vegetables, herbs, chickens, rabbits, and olive oil for their genuine mountain paellas, plus on occasions their own rice in an old bath.

Introduction to Making Paella

The word paella is known worldwide but there are much confusion and argument about what it is, where it originated from, and its various forms.

Therefore as we live in the unique La Drova/Barx mountain valley above the Valencia rice fields and grow all our own ingredients for preparing the traditional feast day version we decided to share what we have learned from elderly local folk over the past twenty-five years.

The traditional Valencia Mountain Paella is a dish for special occasions.

Growing your own Valencian Mountain Paella

A variety of rice dishes are certainly cooked in shallow paella pans as an inexpensive filling meal, several days a week by some families, but the ingredients of these are limited compared to the festive celebratory family paella dish fit for a king.

In our village and the surrounding area, March is the traditional start of the Valencia Spanish Mountain Paella year. The month in which they are cooked at the various Falleros clubs of Valencian towns during the Fallas Fiesta week which finishes on the 19th March.

Soon after this, in March or April depending on papal calculations as to when Easter should be celebrated, large family groups cook their first genuine mountain paella of the year on Easter Monday.

Traditionally this was in the countryside and cooked over orange and olive wood fires until stringent fire regulations stopped this a decade ago.

Beyond this date, country-folk could originally only afford to use the best of their vegetables and meat for genuine ‘royal’ paellas on the feast of St. James July 25th, christenings, first communion celebrations, and weddings, and from the 1960’s October 9th Valencia Day when paella competitions often take place.

These traditional dates continue, but today most families can afford to produce the real thing for many more gatherings of family and friends. Some families did and still cook a special paella for Christmas day.

We, therefore, consider what is a genuine paella, how the essential ingredients can be largely self-grown, and how to combine them to produce your own gastronomic paella.

What is a genuine celebratory Paella and who might have first eaten it?

If we climb up to the ridge of the mountain in front of our house just to the north we see the famous rice fields south of Valencia and to the south the smaller rice fields of the Pego marshes.

Between the two where oranges and tourist developments now grow were mosquito-ridden marshes. An area where few persons lived except for a few fishermen and rice field workers until the C19 century when raids by North African pirates came to an end and the 1950’s when DDT helped clear the mosquito plagues.

The populated town of Gandia and villages were inland along the banks of the several rivers that run through the marshes to the sea and two or three hundred meters up in the coastal mountains. For centuries it was therefore normal that inland olive oil and livestock were bartered/traded for rice and fish from the coastal plain.

But the mountain villages themselves were not big meat eaters for economic reasons. Until 1836 our village of Barx was under the harsh feudal rule of a monastery at the foot of the mountains. Much produce went to the monastery including the wine, vegetables, and meat and after the dissolution of the monasteries to the growing coastal towns.

Additionally for several centuries during the mid 15th to mid 19th centuries mini ice age the village ice caves, tavernas, acted as the monastery deep freeze and fridge.

Today we are told that three local dishes evolved. A day-to-day rice stew with little meat and Arroz al Horno cooked in a wood oven with poor quality meat and the fully-fledged mountain paella for the important family gatherings previously listed.

But richer people in the town of Gandia and others could afford the best ingredients throughout the year and indeed Gandia was the economic epicenter of the Safor area and lands of the Dukes of Borja from the late C15. The family that provided several abbots of the Simat monastery, two of whom became popes and took the Safor gastronomic expertise to Rome from where it influenced the evolution of Italian gastronomy.

What is missed in the history of the paella is that the Monastery in Simat established a summer residence and rest home for the monks in La Droid. This would have been halfway on the direct route from the Monastery to the Borja family Palace in Gandia and from Gandia to other family palaces in Xativa where Pope Alexander VI was born.

It is therefore not inconceivable that demanding a meal comprising the best of locally grown and hunted produce members of the Borja family dined on an early version of today’s Mountain Paella in La Drova.

Interestingly the specialist paella restaurant Papallo was established in part of the buildings of the old Monastery mountain retreat and at the other end of the valley, the equivalent of today’s bed and breakfast with paella for lunch or dinner for travelers was established in 1925. Above both are caves where prehistoric families lived well off the herbs and wildlife of the then unspoiled valley.

The paella was and is, therefore, a special dish. An entire meal, one originally designed for communal eating from the pan but today more on individual plates, one worth the best fresh ingredients that can be afforded or spared from those normally traded and one worth spending time preparing by the head cook of the family.

Often this is still grandmother preparing something special for her entire brood. In other cases, the father or eldest son is the paella specialist but sadly this tradition is dying out.

So to take advantage of the historic valley in which we live we developed a holistic garden and nearby allotment and olive grove to ensure that we have the best ingredients for any Paella that we might prepare.

What are the essential ingredients that need to be grown or in the short term bought?

Growing your own Valencian Mountain Paella

They are medium-grained Valencian rice, vegetables, meats, herbs and spices, local cold-pressed virgin olive plus fresh spring water if possible to avoid the subtle blend of flavors being tainted by the chlorine and other chemicals now added to domestic drinking water. All the ingredients can be grown in a holistic Spanish or Mediterranean garden elsewhere.

Within this framework, the most authentic and traditional mix of ingredients for a feast day mountain paella is described below.

A. Vegetables for Paella

The diversity of vegetables used makes the paella flavorsome, colorful, and healthy. The following are those generally used with popular seasonal variations. All can be homegrown relatively easily.

  • Fruit vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Butter beans – fresh or dried
  • Haricot beans – fresh or dried
  • Climbing beans – green or red pod varieties
  • Red pepper

n.b. In the spring fresh peas and broad beans are often used instead of the above beans which are only available fresh in the summer and autumn

  • Flower/seed vegetables
  • Artichokes add flavor and a greenish tint.

Medium grained rice grown in the Valencia rice fields or in an old bath in your garden. Our yield was 2.5 kilos!

  • Saffron, an autumn crocus for coloring and flavor.
  • Leafy vegetables/herbs
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Root vegetables
  • Garlic – added to the meatballs and when cooking the meat according to taste.

All except for the rice can be easily grown in the garden as explained in our book ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ and for apartment terrace gardeners as explained in ‘Apartment Gardening Mediterranean Style’.

B. Meats for Paella

Growing your own Valencian Mountain Paella

Today the main meat ingredients are rabbit and chicken, minced pork for the very important meatballs(albondigas), and snails collected from the vegetable plot or mountainside. The latter is normally left out by expatriates or restaurants with a non-Spanish clientele.

We normally offer them as an optional side plate if nonsnail eaters are to be present. So apart from the pork the meat ingredients are easily raised in a holistic garden and are likely to be tastier if fed on greens, dried grass, herbs, and grains rather than commercial pellet feed.

Snails are normally fed on rosemary for two or three weeks before cooking to clean them and flavor the meat.

C. Other essential ingredients for Paella

Good water – preferably non-chlorinated – best from a local spring.

A chunk of several days old locally or home-baked bread for bread crumbs.

Flavorings and colorings as explained in the chart below.

A convenient place to cook the paella, the paellera, which might be a specially constructed outdoor kitchen with a wood fire, a wood fire in a sheltered place, or more and more a specially manufactured gas ring on a stand with a tube to a butane bottle.

A sunny day so that the paella can be eaten in the open air under the shade of a tree or umbrella.

Finally the most important thing the flat metal Caldero, or paella pan’ without which a paella cannot be cooked. For ease of cleaning some persons now use enameled covered calderas but the heat transfer is not as good.

In total, a paella meets all the requirements for being termed a Slow Food gastronome dish. Local ingredients are grown ecologically, part of a social and cultural tradition, fair reward for growers of ingredients and the chef, impossible to reproduce satisfactorily in a frozen or canned commercial version.

Categories
Tips Tools

How To Organize Your Gardening Tools And Your Working Place

A lot of us cultivate our gardens so we’ll have fresh fruits and vegetables all year long. There are also some of us who want to have beautiful plants, particularly those eye-catching flowers that can light up any home.

So whether you fall under the former or the latter, a fledgling green thumb or an experienced one, if you’ve been gardening for quite some time, chances are you’ve collected your own set of tools.

Here on HuntForGardening, we’ve recently talked about a cool garden rack that’s one of the many ways to keep our hand tools organized. Other than being an appropriate storage space, it also adds a rustic feel to an outdoor area.

Yes, it’s appealing and nifty at the same time, but what about the other implements? Are they scattered all over your shed? Do they take up significant space in your garage? Worst of all, are they hanging around in different parts of your home?

If you have these tool storage problems in your garden, and have wanted to fix them but don’t know where to start, then you should understand the value of the proper organization. To a certain extent, everything begins and ends with knowing how to categorize. In a more formal setting, MG Rush teaches us ways on how to sort out a list of ideas and insights. This can be our starting point in arranging our garden tools.

Since we’re already on the subject of getting ideas from various industries on the web, it’s also important to know which implements fall under a specific category. Industry leader Screwfix simply organizes its outdoor and gardening tools page according to their respective use.

You have the aforementioned hand tools, garden tools, and those for maintenance and care, as well as rural supplies and garden buildings. From here, we can easily determine and properly sort out various types of tools in the garden.

Part of the benefits of organizing your garden tools is that you maintain their quality. Before putting them away, you should – at the very least – clean them of all mud and moisture. You can even use a wire brush to scrub and rid excess muck.

This prevents outdoor tools from holding moisture, which can be detrimental in the long run. If you have to remove rust, you should be aware that vinegar is one of the most effective methods to scrub it off. On the other hand, for sap stains on tools, turpentine is the best way to go. Now to protect wooden handles and metal tools from rust, you can apply linseed oil or, better, WD-40, based on a Gizmodo article.

In hindsight, the Internet presents us with a lot of practical ideas about different gardening subjects. Most of these are simple enough, that we can accomplish them in a matter of days – even hours. The aforementioned suggestions, collectively, give you an idea of how to execute these jobs. So for more horticulture tips and tricks, be sure to check out HuntForGardening updates in the coming days.

How to organize your tools and your working place

Gardening is not an easy job, and messy working place and dirty tools are making it even less easy. If you want your gardening jobs to be easy and more enjoyable, a real gardener should have clean and good gardening tools. Clean and properly stored gardening tools will not just look good but they will last longer, and you will have more pleasure to work with them.

Think about which tools you really need.

Almost everybody has a place where all the tools are spending most of their lifetime. How many of them are you really using? Do you really need 5 shovels and 5 rakes? If you are using them maybe once per year, then maybe don’t store them together with other tools which you are using almost daily.

For example – in front of doors in the most accessible place you have a branch hacksaw, but in the garden, you have small fruit trees or shrubs, whose branches can easily be pruned by the pruning shears. Or you have 4 types of a hoe but you have a beautiful, green lawn with one small flower garden.

Storing your tools
Storing your tools

It’s better to have a small amount, but specific and high-quality tools than a pile of tools that you have almost never used and will never use. And tools are meant to be frequently used – if you are using them often they will remain sharp, easy to use, will keep their functionality, and will be safe. Tools that have not been used for a long time are losing these features.

So, at first – get rid of old, broken and never used tools.

I have seen almost in every gardener’s place – they have 4 shovels, old, broken hoes, and other broken tools. This kind of tool will take your place in your storage room and also in your mind. You will have this thought – hmm, maybe I should fix this. Even if you know that you will never do that.

It is better to have one good, high-quality shovel than three bad quality or broken. That’s why I’m suggesting to take a look at your tools at least once per season and throw out all broken and unused tools without mercy. Tools nowadays cost less than 10 years ago. Even high-quality tools are not that expensive. Of course, I’m not saying that you just bought a shovel, broke it and you should throw it away. If you can fix it, then why not, but if that’s an old, rusty shovel, then it’s better to buy a new one.

So, winter is slowly fading away and in the shops soon will be sales for tools – so start making a list of what kind of tools you need! Another choice is at the end of summer, beginning of autumn consider which type of jobs you did in the summer and what you will do next year and then buy tools according to that information. These are two ways to get cheaper tools at the best time.

Choose using and to store safe gardening tools

Fiskars QuiKFit
Fiskars QuiKFit

The more type of gardening jobs we do, the more gardening tools we need and to store them we need more and more space. There is a solution. Fiskars are offering this QuikFit thing. That means you can use one handle for many types of tools. If you need 3 types of hoes, then buy from Fiskars and use only one handle – just change the hoe.

They are also offering hoes, cultivators, rakes, pavement brush, brush saw and snow shovels. There is one more company called “Gardena” which is offering the same system as Fiskars. Buying tools with one handle are a good way to save space in your storage room. These tool “heads” are easy to hand on the wall and they take less space than standard tools with handles.

Clean and think about your tools after using

This is the hardest part – after an exhausting and hot day in the garden you don’t want to hear about cleaning and storing your tools, but you MUST do it because it’s necessary for tool lifetime and your comfort.

As I said above, clean tools will stay sharp, good and life will be a lot longer. The easiest way to clean them is to wash them. This is for extra clean gardeners – some companies are suggesting to clean sharp tools with soap water so that they will stay clean from rust and it makes the metal harder. There is one more good way to clean your tools – sand with oil. This mixture helps to clean pruning shears, shovels, and hoes. It also makes a small layer of oil, which helps to keep tools cleaner for a longer time.

Once per season, it’s good to sharpen your tools. Fiskars are suggesting if you are using your tool very often, then sharpen every month. For moving parts, it’s good to put some oil time by time, so they will move like brand new and rust will not break them. Remember, every tool which has a spring, must be put together for storing, so the spring is in tension. This helps to keep the spring in maximum tension.

Clean tools will help to avoid diseases in your garden

Dirty gardening tools
Dirty gardening tools

Cleaning your tools right after use will help to prevent diseases. If your roses have the disease and you are pruning them, and later with the same pruners you are cutting other flowers, there is a very high chance to bring that disease to another flower.

So, after using tools on plants that have diseases, it’s recommended to wash tools in the water together with disinfection products. I’m cleaning them with toilet cleaner because it has chlorine. The most important thing is you wash them very carefully because disinfection products can damage your plants!

Special care needs averruncators and all other cutting tools after using them on plants with diseases. You can also buy special cleaning products for tools in your local garden shop.

Store tools in right place!

A humid place is not the best place for storing your tools because they will start to rust very fast and will lose their good qualities. The best place for storing it is a dry place and using a garden tool rack. A place does not need to be warm, it just needs to be dry and has enough space for tools.

Make a special place for each tool.

Small garden tools you can store in a box or in a chest. Bigger garden tools are better to store by hanging them on the wall. Before buying each tool I recommend taking a look at how easy is to store them if they have holes to hand them etc. Again I’m suggesting Fiskars one-handle system. Handle you can hang on the wall and also small tools or just put small tools in the box.


Garden tool rack – a good way to keep your tools organized

The struggle, when you can’t find your perfect shovel or tools is taking too much space, and you can find tools in every corner. Every gardener knows that feeling. There are plenty of ways to make your tools organized, and a garden tool rack is one of them. It is possible to make a garden tool rack even from wires, all you need is an idea and some time. Of course, there are hundreds of garden tool racks that you can just buy, but let’s talk about that later.

Here are 15 excellent and exciting ideas for a garden tool rack.

Garden tool rack from old fence

Garden tool rack from old fence
Garden tool rack from old fence

Old railings

Old railings
Old railings

Pallets are my favorite way to keep tools and make a garden tool rack from it.

Pallete tool rack
Pallete tool rack
Pallete tool rack
Pallete tool rack
Pallete tool rack
Pallete tool rack

Board-organizer

Board tool rack
Board tool rack
Board tool rack
Board tool rack

Hooks, perhaps, the easiest and fastest option that does not require much money or effort but are highly productive

Hooks as tool rack
Hooks as tool rack
Hooks as tool rack
Hooks as tool rack
Hooks as tool rack
Hooks as tool rack

Old Doors

Doors as tool holder
Doors as tool holder