by Sam Doll
Spring is just around the corner. That means that it is time to start getting your garden prepped for the growing season! You’re probably busy cleaning, ordering, and planning your garden before you need to worry about getting those seeds in the ground.
One DIY project you should consider is building your own vegetable trellises! Here are three types of trellises that your plants will love, and you can make yourself.
1. Teepee Trellis
This is probably the simplest and cheapest type of trellis to make yourself. All you need to make this trellis are three bamboo poles and some twine.
Using the bamboo poles, make a teepee shape and push them into the ground until they are relatively deep and stable. Then, using the twine, lash the bamboo poles together where they meet. Wind the twine around and down the structure until you reach the bottom. To secure the twine, you can twist the twine around the poles where they meet and knot it. You can also use staples or zip-ties if you want.
This type of trellis is perfect for growing climbing squash and cucumbers. We love planting our Organic Delicata Squash under these trellises. The base of each pole should be used as a planting site.
2. A-Frame Trellis
Another trellis that is perfect for your vegetable garden is an A-frame style trellis. There are many methods to building these. This is a little more involved than the Teepee trellis and will require some woodworking.
As with any garden project, we don’t recommend for splurging on the nicest wood you can find. This will be outside and exposed to the elements, so don’t get too attached to it. You can still seal or paint it to get more life out of it, but these projects won’t last forever.
For this trellis, all you need are some boards, screws or nails, hinges, and a climbing surface. Create a frame using your lumber. We like using 2X4’s because they are sturdy and easy to find, but any flat boards will work. Screw or nail the board together by putting the horizontal boards on the “inside” of the vertical boards. You can complicate this project by making the boards flush or adding other embellishments, but this is the simple and dirty version.
The final dimensions of your frames will depend on the size of your space and how tall you need the trellis to be. The important thing is to make them identical. Once you’ve assembled your frames, it’s time to attach the climbing surface. The most affordable route here would be to create a grid using twine or string and create a grid that attaches to the sides of the frame. If you have a bit more budget, we recommend a chicken wire or metal fencing that you can just staple onto the frame. This saves a lot of time and will last a little longer.
Finally, attach the two frames with the hinges and place them in your garden. These style frames are great for peas and beans. Our Mardi Gras Blend of beans are a great and colorful way to show off this project.
3. Row Cover Trellis
Many of you use row covers to get your garden through the early and late part of the season. Well, why not make a multi-functional row cover. Our version of this is rather simple. Cut even segments of a light metal fencing and make an arch out of them that covers your row or planter. Stake those into the ground and continue the length of the plot. This is a great easy trellis that can be covered with a floating row cover if needed!
By Engrid Winslow
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are one of the most widely grown and well-known flowers in the garden for many reasons. Children adore them because of the distinctive bloom of the dragon’s head shaped flowers with mouths that open and close when squeezed from both sides. Many gardeners associate them with memories of their parents’ or grandparents’ gardens and they come in every color of the rainbow and beyond with shades from white to a purple so deep it almost looks black. They can be short or tall, bloom for a really long time and are easy to grow in full sun to part shade. Usually blooming in cooler weather in the spring and fall, they can bloom in hotter months if given additional water and deadheaded regularly. Snapdragons are useful as perennials because they often overwinter or as annuals in planters. They are a lovely addition to a cottage-style garden, pretty in bouquets and are not too fussy about soil type, although they do better with the addition of organic matter. They can even tolerate dry conditions. On top of all that, bumble bees love them and they are lightly fragrant. The National Garden Bureau has named the Snapdragon one of its 2019 plants of the year: ww.https://ngb.org/year-of-the-snapdragon/
Snapdragons are readily available as plants but they are so easy to grow yourself from seed if you decide to give them a try. They germinate better if placed in the freezer for a couple of days before planting and should be started sometime in February for spring planting. They do need light to germinate and since the seeds are tiny, press them into the top of the soil and water them from the bottom. They take 1 to 2 weeks to germinate and should be pinched back once they have 6-8 leaves to encourage a stronger stem. Plant your starts outdoors about the time of the last frost once they have been hardened off. https://bbbseed.com/care-planting-seedlings/
For additional helpful information about starting flowers and vegetables from seed check out this past blog: https://bbbseed.com/ez-indoor-seed-starting/
By Engrid Winslow
Yes, it is still very cold and very dark but nothing fills the heart in the dead of winter than planning for spring. What should you be doing now that will keep those spirits up? Plan your vegetable and herb garden!
1. First of all, take a look at those vegetable and herb beds and decide what and how many varieties you want to plant next year. Do you want to start those peppers a bit earlier this year? Did you plant tomatoes there last year – rotate tomatoes every 3 years if at all possible to avoid depleted soil and issues with many diseases. What do you want to grow more of this year? Anything you want to try that’s new? What did you and your family really love? Want more tomatoes or basil for pesto or tomato sauce? [4 Tips For Keeping Your Basil Productive and Pesto Secrets] Were there any epic fails? Maybe it’s time to move on to buy those at your local Farmer’s Market and devote the precious real estate to something else.
2. Speaking of soil, this is a great time to start adding mushroom compost in a nice thick layer that can work its way into the soil during late winter freeze and thaw cycles and heavy periods of moisture. You can also cover the compost with a layer of seed-free straw that was grown organically.
3. Peruse the seed catalogs and websites. It is so fun to read those descriptions and they all sound wonderful but be aware of your space and climate when choosing seeds. Take stock of any seed that you saved from last year and organize and assess any leftover seed packets. Seed viability goes down over time. Onions, corn, parsnips, parsley and leeks should be refreshed every year, but tomatoes and lettuce can go 4-6 years and still germinate. Check out these charts if you have questions: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html/ and http://ottawahort.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Seed-Viability-Times.pdf/
4. Gather up your seed starting supplies and order more if needed. Dust off those grow lights, check the heat mats and make sure they still work and clean any seed starting containers that you plan to re-use with a weak bleach solution. Again, assess what worked and what didn’t in prior years. Did lettuce seeds that were direct-sown in the garden elude you? Try starting them indoors under a plastic dome which helps retain moisture until they are fully germinated.
5. Did friends and neighbors share anything they learned with you? Maybe it’s time to get everyone together for a Happy Hour, swap saved seeds and talk about their gardening experiences.
6. Review past blogs, books and articles that you might have saved for ideas, tips and new information. Here’s a good place to start: Care and Planting of Seedlings, Rules You Can’t Break, and Two Ways To Guarantee Your Seeds Grow
by Rebecca Hansen
What are “heirloom” vegetables? An heirloom vegetable is a non-hybrid, open-pollinated variety that has been passed down from generation to generation and, in some cases, can be traced back hundreds of years. These seed lines have been carefully selected to maintain uniformity and consistency for germination. Heirloom seeds become ‘heirloom’ because they exhibit exceptional traits desired by the gardener. Often this means the plants are more colorful, flavorful, unique, or have great germination and vigor. Often the traits are location dependent. Meaning, seeds planted in one garden will not produce in the same manner in another location. We encourage you to try heirloom seeds, see which have the qualities for your area to become your favorites and make them into your own very special seed line. Saving seeds is easy and fun.
Gardeners have found that as seeds are selected and saved over many years, production is increased and the quality is improved, creating plants that will produce best for that locale and will resist diseases and pests of that locale. Contributing to genetic diversity strengthens the ecosystem. Historically farmers and local gardeners have created and sustained this rich genetic heritage by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems. The current trend toward mono crops where only one seed type is used to produce a crop worldwide is eliminating the ability to be able to find genetic variations that will withstand emerging pathogens and climate changes.
Planting your crop: Start with good Heirloom Seed varieties. Keep in mind that to allow the plants to produce seed and to allow the seed to fully mature, you will have to allow for a longer growing season. This can be done by starting plants indoors and arranging for protection from frost in the late season. You will be growing some for food or flower harvest and some for seed production. Fully mature seeds will be viable (able to germinate) and produce vigorous plants. You may want to do some research on the different flower types for proper pollination techniques and plant with row/species separation in mind, to prevent cross-pollination. You may look into caging procedures to isolate species that are in flower at the same time. By caging different plants on alternate days, you can take advantage of the pollinators to do the work without cross-pollinating your crop. Cage one plant or group on one day and early the next day, before the bees wake, transfer your cage to a different plant or group. Some crops are biennial and do not produce seed until the next year, so you will need to determine whether you should leave the roots in the ground over the winter or dig and store them.
There are many publications with detailed information on seed saving and growing techniques for each species. “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, 2002 by Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. is a good way to get started. www.seedsavers.org. Also, Easy instructions for seed saving, written by the International Seed Saving Institute, a non-profit established to teach seed saving, can be found at:http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html
Harvesting and collecting seed: When selecting plants for saving seeds, look for favorable characteristics such as; freeze and cold tolerance, heat tolerance, adaptability, winter hardiness, early maturation, vigor (strong germination and growth), flavor, color, size, texture, etc. Also, look for desirable traits such as; vine or plant type, seed type, specific disease resistance. Plan to be ready to harvest the seed as they mature. Often the pods will pop open when you are not around to collect the seed and it will be lost.
Allow the seed pods to remain on the plant in the ground for as long as possible. Usually, the seed will not continue to mature after the pods are cut from the plant. The process of cleaning and separating (thresh) the seeds from the chaff (pods and stems) is easy for a small home gardener. Break apart the pods by crushing or breaking the pods and collecting the seed. Sometimes the chaff can be blown away from the seed, by pouring the seed onto a pan in front of a small fan or by using cleaning screens that come with different sized openings.
by Heather Stone
- Choose a container and lid Sprouting seeds in a jar is easy and convenient. Make sure to choose a jar that is large enough to accommodate the seeds when sprouted. I find a quart jar with a wide mouth to work well. You will also need a mesh lid of some kind or thick cheesecloth to easily drain your sprouts after rinsing. Sprouting lids can be purchased at most health food stores, online or you can easily make your own.
- Rinse and pick over your seeds
Carefully rinse and pick through your seeds removing any stones or debris.
- Soak your seeds
Fill your jar about ¾ full with cool water. Soak your seeds overnight (8-12 hours). Soaking time will vary depending on the size of your seeds.
- Drain your seeds
After soaking you will want to thoroughly drain your seeds. Tip your jar on its side and let it drain for several hours to be sure all liquid is removed.
- Continue to rinse and drain
For the next 2-4 days, you will rinse and drain your seeds three times a day. Using cool water, gently rinse your seeds so you don’t damage any sprouts and drain well.
- Final rinse and drain
When your seeds have sprouted and reached the desired length give them one final rinse and drain well. Enjoy in salads, on sandwiches or stirred into soups. Sprouts can be stored for several days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
Some great seeds for sprouting include:
Beans (lentils, mung beans and chickpeas)
Thank goodness that “Hoarders” TV show doesn’t ever focus on seed hoarders. Gardeners who are very tidy and organized and otherwise not people who collect or hoard things can secretly have boxes full of seed from years and years of saving. Sometimes the seeds are gifts from friends, or seeds ordered because you forgot you has some left over and bought more or just surplus seeds from generous seed packages. I knew my seed habit was getting out of hand once I started collecting seed myself – now I have paper bags full of saved seeds and had to move from the tiny shoebox to a big box.
This year, I’ve come up with a way to use those old seeds without feeling too guilty…and I’ll save some money, too. Early Fall is the traditional time to put in cover crops…seeds that will germinate and grow some but die back with a freeze or simply be chopped down and turned into the soil to replenish it in the Spring. Cover crops get lots of organic matter into the soil without much trouble. But there’s no reason you have to use an official “cover crop.” The idea is just young plants that get chopped up and mixed in with the soil. This year, I decided to turn some of my seed hoards to cover my garden soil this winter. (Let’s not be ridiculous and use all those good seeds.)
So as I have clear patches of the garden after harvesting, I’m going to remove the big debris, lightly rake the soil and sprinkle out old and gathered seed. Many of the old seeds won’t germinate but there’s enough that will make a good protective cover. And as long as you PROMISE to turn the cover crop in before perennials establish themselves, you can even include old packets of grass seed.
My cover crop won’t be as cute as when I put in just winter rye and get a nice even green lawn effect….but it will be great fun to guess what is what!
My hoarded cover crop this year includes:
Years of half-used radish seeds, hybrid tomato seeds from 1996, leftover lawn patch seeds that got wet in the bag, cabbage seeds I forgot about and never gave garden space too, dill, cilantro, caraway and fennel seeds collected from previous years gardens, hollyhocks collected from alleyways. Lots of black-eyed susans, marigolds and cosmos. While I’m on the seed purge, I’m cleaning out the kitchen pantry and throwing in old spices (coriander, dill, mustard seed) and old whole wheat berries that have bugs, or old beans I’ll never like. Talk about recycling!
You can decide which seeds are iffy by checking out this list of lifespans of vegetable seeds:
Phew. Now that I understand which seeds will happily last until next year, I can order from the End of Year Seed Sale and have good viable fresh seed to save in my seed box for next Spring.
by Engrid Winslow
If you purchased seedlings such as vegetables or annual herbs and flowers there are a few things that you have to keep in mind. They are way too tender to be planted outside unless they are “hardened off” and if they came from a nursery or greenhouse that has definitely not happened yet. Here are some guidelines to follow:
• Place them in a spot indoors where they can get at least ten hours of sun or use grow lights to keep them healthy.
• Move them outdoors gradually so they are exposed to sun and wind over a week to ten days (This is what is known as hardening off).
• Start slowly when temperatures are above 60 degrees and only leave them in the sun for 1-2 hours. Then move them into the shade if the temperatures continue to be mild enough.
• Increase the amount of sunshine each day and gradually expose them to more sun in 2-hour increments each day.
• Be aware of the last frost date in your area. Don’t plant until after that date and be prepared to cover them if the weather gets cold and snowy.
• Don’t forget to check your seedlings at least once a day for signs of wilting and water them well. Small pots with new seedlings can get dry very quickly.
by Engrid Winslow
Let’s talk about getting your vegetable and flower beds ready for planting by preparing the soil. No matter how great your soil seems to be, your new plants will welcome a boost of vital nutrients. Tomatoes, onions, peppers and other vegetables are known as “heavy feeders”. This means they need (and therefore remove) lots of minerals from the soil they grow in. Without fertile soil, many plants will struggle to produce those tasty fruits and vegetables, and beautiful blooms.
5 Tips to Improve Your Soil
1. Add compost: Make your own or purchase a quality one such as mushroom compost. You may also like chicken manure based, beer industry bi-products or even dairy cow manure. Avoid compost made from curbside recycling (who knows what is really in there) or anything with steer manure, usually very high in salt. Spend a little extra on better quality and your garden will thank you with beautiful vegetables and flowers.
2. Use fertilizers: A mild, organic fertilizer is best and can range from fish emulsion to compost tea or kelp. Seek out a liquid fertilizer that is a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Look for a label with low numbers for each of these 3 minerals. See below for an example (3-3-2).
3. Cover the soil all year: Use mulch (shredded leaves are perfect) and cover crops when you are not growing vegetables. This will help keep weeds at bay and adds nutrients to the soil.
4. Rotate vegetables: Don’t grow the same vegetables in the same place every year, especially those “heavy feeders” (mentioned above). It’s best to give the soil a three-year break between them to avoid diseases and soil depletion. Remember that some crops (peas and beans in particular) actually add nutrients to the soil they are grown in.
5. Encourage worms: Worm castings are expensive but have such great qualities that even a little bit is well worth it. The more you amend your soil over time, the better it becomes and somehow worms find their way to worthy soil.
by Greta Dupuis
Do you have limited space to grow your vegetables in? Small yard, only one raised bed, or even just containers on a porch or deck? Way back when (1981, in fact), PBS ran a series of shows with Mel Bartholomew which showcased how he divided a 12-foot x 12-foot plot of raised or in-ground vegetable gardens into squares. There were many different possibilities for the size of these areas by making some of the squares either larger or smaller but the basic idea was to figure out how much room was needed for each type of plant and to adjust the squares accordingly. For example, you might want more tomatoes and less lettuce or vice versa and would change the sizes of the squares to your personal preference. Some plants can be planted closer together which results in a more dense area of vegetables that maximizes space. The net result from gardening in this manner showed that the veggies were less expensive, used less water, took up less space, used fewer seeds and required less work on the gardener’s part as the squares were easier to reach and did not need as much weeding. All in all, for gardeners with limited space, consider dividing your veggie beds into sections with your family’s favorites as you dream of all of those seed choices and plan your 2018 garden. The original book that started the revolution is still in print and there are several others with additional tips and tricks including one just for gardening in containers.