Friday, February 13, 2015

Gardening - Plants or seed?

You've gotten your raised bed set what? I recommend that if you are a first time gardener, you buy plants to start. Success in your first year makes you more likely to continue on to your second year. It will cost you more up front, but will give you a jump start as you figure everything out.

Of course, there are also those plants that grow just well by plunking a seed in the ground and calling it a day. Below is a list of common backyard vegetables and herbs and whether you should buy plants/start seeds or sow in the ground.

Buy plants/Start seeds:

Basil               Broccoli               Brussels Sprouts            Cucumbers            
Eggplant        Squash                Sweet potatoes               Tomatoes  

Sow in ground:

Beans            Carrots            Corn            Garlic            Kale            Onions
Peas              Potatoes         Radishes    Spinach

To save even more money on your garden, seeds are the way to go. Buying through seed catalogs will give you a greater selection and larger quantity of seed for your dollar. You will also be able to buy heirloom seeds to grow vegetables that you could never find in a store because they don't transport well. They often taste better, as well. However, for a very small garden, the seed packets sold through seed catalogs often have more seeds than you can use in a season and you will need to store them. Shipping can also be cost prohibitive. When just starting out with one raised bed and starting your own seeds, it is fine to buy the small packets at your local garden center.

There are as many ways to start seeds as there are people who garden. You can start them in trays in a window sill. You can grow them under lights in your basement. You can start them in eggshells, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, and on and on and on. Here is my two cents on starting seeds. I have tried a few different trays and some egg cartons, with not much success. I am terrible about over-watering and under watering. I also lack the space in areas where they will get enough sunlight to not have them in the way of everyday life. So, I'm trying something new this year. I have been saving milk jugs for a few months. I am going to cut them open, add soil and seeds, tape them back together. I will then set them outside without the lid, so that they can get some moisture, in an area that gets lots of sun - essentially making little individual greenhouses. The bonus to using this method is that I won't have to harden off the plants to acclimate them to the outside conditions, like I would have to do with plants started inside.

I will start the first of my seeds this week (February 15). Here is my schedule:

Week of February 15:
Brussels Sprouts
Week of March 1st:
Week of March 15th:
Week of April 5th:
Sweet Potato slips

It is very easy to get excited and plant a bit of everything or what you picture you should be growing. I say take stock of what your family eats most and plant that. You could grow the most beautiful radishes around, but if your family hates radishes, your time and effort were wasted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gardening - Setting up a raised bed

A great way to keep yourself in fresh, tasty produce for pennies is by growing it yourself. This can seem like a daunting task, but really it doesn't have to be. My best advice is to start slow. I am one of those people that tend to jump into a project with both feet - lasers set to fire!  Then...I burn out, because I've tried to do everything at once instead of breaking it down into smaller, easier to digest pieces. This is VERY true in gardening.

Start with containers if you aren't comfortable or ready for a full blown garden. Grow some pots with your favorite herbs this year. Next year, try some tomatoes, potatoes, or green beans in planters. Mint makes everyone feel like they are a master gardener. Just, please take my advice on that one and keep it in the pot. You can not drink that many mojitos and juleps without losing your job, your spouse, or both.

There are 1,000 different ways to grow vegetables. I, personally, use raised beds. They are more efficient (in my humble opinion). You get more produce from less space and you spend less time weeding. As a lazy gardener, it is right up my alley!

Here is, basically, how I started. I decided how long I wanted my bed. I choose 8 feet. It is three feet wide, so that I can reach the middle of the bed from each side. You never step into a raised bed to avoid compacting the soil. I laid down a layer of cardboard in an 8x3 rectangle in the Fall. I threw my vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells on it all Fall and Winter, adding a layer of newspaper as the scraps composted down. I repeated this process until planting time (usually the first week of May in our zone). Though, if you are just starting now, you can forgo the scraps. I was just trying to get a jump start on the composting process.

We put down concrete blocks around the rectangle. You can use boards, branches, straw bales, whatever to hold in the soil.  We filled it in with 1 part peat moss, 2 parts top soil, and 1 part compost. These are all readily available at your local garden center. I have since matured my own compost enough that I shouldn't have to buy it again.

Now your bed is ready for planting!  I'll have future posts about starting plants from seed, how much to grow per square foot, harvest and food preservation, and things of the like, but I highly recommend the book The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess. She goes much more in depth about gardening than I ever could here.

Pinterest is always a wealth of information on...pretty much anything, including gardening. I do have a Pinterest board titled Grow It. My user name is eatingelephants if you want to peruse my gardening pins.