Growing Lettuce!

It’s time to grow lettuce. It has been since September, actually. The thing about lettuce and other similar greens is that they need to be planted in succession. One planting is never enough! If you plant one crop and then follow it with another crop then you always have lettuce in the prime picking stage (succession planting). The weather may have turned cool, but the soil temperatures are plenty warm enough to cause Lettuce seed to germinate.

Now, you may be thinking, “Why bother?”

There are some nasty rumors going around about lettuce.  I hear that it is really hard to grow with lots of insect problems.  It has also been said that lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter because of the heat.  Lies, all of them.

The misinformation comes from the fact that  the instructions on the back of seed packets and those great little farming magazines are written for folks living in the areas of the country that actually have four seasons and one growing season.  Now do not misunderstand me, I love my gardening magazines, but the time lines do not line up. Well, welcome to Texas Gardening.  There is a rhythm to gardening in Texas that is as unique as our Texas spirit.  Once you learn the rhythm you will be amazed at what you can grow.

However, for now we will focus on lettuce and its cousins.  It perturbs me to no end to have to purchase greens of any kind in the grocery store.  Homegrown greens are so easy and tasty!  Also, it is so much easier to have a bed of lettuce and just go pick you some whenever you want, than to have to go to the store when you want a salad.  If you are like me, lots of times what’s for dinner is not something planned very far in advance.  So, having items growing in the garden to have on hand is just the ticket.

One of the perks about lettuce and all the other greens, such as arugula, chard, spinach, etc. is that they can by eaten at all stages.  Baby greens make for a scrumptious salad or sandwich.  Many people, like my children, do not like mature spinach but love baby spinach.  So, while the plants are growing you can pick the outer leaves and enjoy the garden abundance for many weeks.  The greens( the term greens refers to all types of lettuce, herbs, kale, greens, spinach etc.)  do not take a lot of space.  One 5X12  foot bed of greens will keep a family of 6 in fresh greens. If there is only one or two of you, then a container that can hold 3-4 mature plants at a time is sufficient.

Now to dispel the lies.

First, that lettuce is hard to grow.  Not so, you just have to know when to plant it.  If you read many of the labels on lettuce sold in Texas, the labels  say to plant after all danger of frost has passed.  The problem with this is that if you wait that long in Texas you can have as little as 2 weeks until the temps are consistently in the mid- 80′s.  The proper planting times in Texas are February- April and September- December.  Lettuce is a cool season crop.  When most areas of the country are having dead of winter, we are having our cool season.   When we have had a mild winter, I harvest greens from September until June.  That is only 2 months of store-bought greens in a year.  That makes my heart happy!

The second lie is that lettuce has many insect problems. Now there are certain worms- Cabbage Loppers for example- that do like lettuce.  However, these are easily dispatched with Bt.  Bt- (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that only attacks caterpillars.  Bt is organic and you can eat the produce with no worries that synthetic pesticides bring.  There are other insects that can be a problem at times, but I have found in my gardens that Bt is all I need to keep things in balance.  Also, there are other methods of insect control, but again the Bt is simple, easy and effective so that is what I use.  You can find it at most hardware and garden supply stores.

Lastly, lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter- hogwash.  Again, you just need to know when to plant and what varieties to plant.  The types that are considered “slow to bolt” are the best for planting in the spring.  Bolting refers to sending up a conical shaft with blooms that will produce seeds.  Warm weather signifies to the lettuce that it is time to make seeds.  So, those lettuces that are slow to bolt will be the most tolerant of warm weather.  While you are looking in seed catalogs for heirloom selections (heirloom refers to varieties that will reproduce consistently if the seeds are saved) look for ones that were developed in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas- of course- or Israel.  These areas have climates similar to ours and those varieties will usually do well here for the summer planting.  Look for varieties labeled “Cool season” or “cold tolerant” on the lettuces, these will be the one for planting in the fall.  When it comes to the spinach, swiss chard, and kale- these are not even stopped by a freeze so they will grow all winter.

Some of my favorite varieties are:
For Fall Planting: Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman, Tom Thumb, Oakleaf
For Spring Planting:  Oakleaf, Jericho- awesome, Tom Thumb
Spinach- Longstanding Bloomsdale is great year round.

Most of your annual herbs like dill, Salad Burnett, chives are best planted on the same schedule as lettuce.
I like to sow the seeds in wide beds.  I thin the seedlings and use them in salads as baby greens.  Keep the lettuce or greens watered one inch once per week and a little shade is very helpful for extending the growing season in the summer.  The seeds usually germinate and emerge in 7-10 days.

So there you have it- the truth about lettuce.  Now what are you waiting for?  September is coming to a close and October is upon us,  I can just taste the homegrown lettuce now.

Fall Gardening Prep List

Fall Gardening Prep List

It may be hot now, but fall is closer than you think!  That makes me very happy!  Fall is the best time to begin a garden.  Below is a check list that I use during this time of year.  Most of the annuals are shrinking from the heat and its time to begin to think about the change coming.  Even vegetable gardening is very rewarding in the fall- more about that is coming soon!

 

Fall Prep List

  • Clean out spent summer annuals
  • Remove and dead or diseased wood from trees & shrubs
  • Prune Roses and remove any dead or diseased wood
  • Sow cover crops on bare soil or beds
  • Mulch where needed- not on your seed beds
  • Top dress established beds with soil amendments such as green sand, rock phosphate, Epsom salt, lime
  • For clay soils- prep new beds by tilling in compost and expanded shale
  • Plant fall color- dianthus, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, etc
  • Plant spring bulbs
  • Plan next year’s gardens & order seeds
  • Order Seeds
  • Get supply lists ready

vegetable seed germination chart

 

summer squash

One. Last. Time…

Old Timers around my part of the country refer to what is called “Good Friday Gardens”  because they never put out warm season crops such as tomatoes before Good Friday- the Friday before Easter Sunday.  Here is why- 9 times out of 10 we will get a freeze or at least very close to freezing the week or so before Easter.

As I write this the temperature is falling and we are looking at the mid-thirties overnight.  So long as we stay above freezing the vast majortiy of our plants will be just fine.  Quite a few won’t even care if we dip below freezing.  However; tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, Basil and other such warm season crops do mind very much if we get into the thirties at all.  So, we have been covering what is already planted and wrapping up those items that have already blossomed and are putting on fruit.

sierra in the garden covering squash

The squash plants were covered in plastic pots with plastic staked over the top so this confounded wind doesn’t blow them to kingdom come.

jonathan in the garden covering peach trees

Jonathan is working to stabilize the frame he and Tony built to protect the peach trees.

family covering peach trees

A farm requires a family to pull together.  Covering our crops and praying that the temps hold above freezing.  The white rectangle is covering the tomato patch.

sierra covering tomatoes

Sierra helped me put pots over all the 50 tomato plants and 20 Basil plants.  There are three times as many tomato plants to go out, but those are still safe inside the greenhouse.

tony and J covering peaches

My two favorite men.

peach tree covered

Here is our harvester peach tree all tucked in for the night.  The cold weather won’t kill the tree but we are concerned about damage to the young fruit growing on the little limbs.  We are just to close to the end of all this cold weather to leave it to chance.  We are determined to get a peach this year!

Once this was done, we all trooped inside for hot chocolate and a wonderful meal of sauteed Swiss Chard, mushrooms, bacon and eggs.

swiss chard, mushrooms and eggs

swiss chard from the garden

Swiss Chard is a beautiful crop and one we did not have to cover as it doesn’t mind the cold.

So, here we go just one last time.  Easter comes this Sunday and this winter will just be a memory.

Grasshoppers & NOLO Bait

A nasty little beast eating the Kale
A nasty little beast eating the Kale

I once read in a gardening book that grasshoppers are usually present but don’t do much in the way of damage.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding!  There is a place on earth where grasshoppers don’t do damage?!”  If there is a place- it is certainly not in Texas.  Here, grasshoppers give a very living example of the plague that Moses sent on the Egyptians.  The grasshopper will eat any vegetation in site and leave nothing but skeletal stalks behind.  And once the grasshopper has matured, poisons will not kill them.

So what to do?  I have found NOLO Bait to be very effective.  NOLO Bait is bran flakes coated in Nosema locustae- a microbial agent that infects only grasshoppers and either kills them or makes them too sick to eat.  This is awesome! Then, the healthy grasshoppers move in and eat the sick ones (grasshoppers are cannibalistic) and then they get sick further spreading the disease.  All the while, no other good bug or bee or humming bird is bothered by this illness.

So how is this accomplished, exactly?

From the website: http://www.goodbug.com/nolobait.html#HowWork

How exactly does Nolo Bait™ work?

Once the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae spores are ingested by the grasshopper they become activated in the grasshopper’s mid-gut. The spores germinate or extrude a filament from the cell wall. In the process of extruding this filament, the spores pierce the mid-gut wall of the grasshopper and in very young grasshoppers death usually occurs very quickly. This is due to septicemia or bacteria invading the grasshopper and causing death. In more mature grasshoppers the spores continue to reproduce, utilizing the fat body of the grasshopper for energy. As the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae population increases inside the grasshopper it becomes lethargic, reduces its feeding and has lowered reproduction capability. In addition, grasshoppers are quite cannibalistic and healthy grasshoppers will feed on their slow, sickly companions. This enables the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae to spread throughout the population and infect other grasshoppers that migrate into the area. Infected female grasshoppers can also pass the infection along in the sticky substance that surrounds the egg pods. As the newly hatching grasshoppers chew their way out of the egg pod they also become infected and will mostly likely die before reaching the first molt.

The grasshoppers love the bran- it’s like crack cocaine for them.  Once you spread the bait out on your plants you will see them feeding heavily.  You will also see a lot of damage in that area to the plants at first.  The picture above is the first area I spread the bait this year and the grasshoppers have fed there the most.  I am now starting to see some damage and more grasshoppers but this bed is just about done, here in Texas is is now hot and the kale is turning bitter so I am leaving it for the grasshoppers to feed on knowing that the sick ones are there and any new comers will eat the sick ones and then spread the disease.  When you garden organically you have to get used to the idea that it is a process, one that takes time to turn the tide.  This is the first year for us at this new place so I may have some problems with grasshoppers, but by being patient I can kill them at the root of the problem while not harming our bees, birds, or other good bugs.

It is best to spread NOLO Bait at the first sign of grasshoppers- when the are about 1/2 inch to an inch long.  At this stage the grasshoppers will be killed by the infection.  However, if you feed it when they are larger you will still infect the population with the disease that will continue to spread for several years.  As you can see, if you start using this bait and your neighbors start using this bait and you put it out 2-3 times per season, you can really do some damage to the populations of grasshoppers in your area- for the long term.  Spraying poisons just kills what grasshoppers are there (if it kills them at all) but does nothing to stop the cycle of the grasshopper.  The use of broad spectrum poisons is a bad process and not an effective management tool.

Kale and grasshoppersThis bed of Kale looks like an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet to the new arrivals, but it is like a loaded gun.  “Come and eat my pretties” it says, but all the while death awaits.  I may seem a bit dark in the way I enjoy death and destruction of the grasshoppers- but once you have watched your gardens be invaded and every leaf stripped bare you realize its you or them.  Nature is a tough place to live.

Add NOLO bait to your arsenal this year, you will be glad you did in the long run. NOLO Bait can be ordered on line or purchased at a feed store or garden center that carries organic gardening supplies.

What is your biggest problem in your gardens?

Just To Be Straight With You..

If you are growing your own greens, such as Kale, Collard Greens, Turnip Greens, Or Chard, I am going to level with you- at some point you are going to find a worm in your pot.  No matter how many times you wash them and how thoroughly you pick over the greens at some point you will miss one.  Don’t worry, the meal is not ruined, just fish the little guy out and dump him in the compost bin. I just want you to know what you are getting into when you start growing your own organic greens.

Probably 95% of the time, the worms on your greens will be cabbage loopers.

Common Name: Cabbage looper Scientific Name: Trichoplusia ni (Hübner) Order: Lepidoptera cabage looper

Description: The caterpillar (larva) grows to be about 2 inches long, is light green and has three pairs of “true” legs behind the head plus pairs of fleshy “false legs” (prolegs) on the 3rd, 4th and last or 6th segments behind the segment with the last pair of true legs (the abdominal segments). This arrangement of legs causes the caterpillar to crawl with a “looping” motion, similar to that of inchworms. Some specimens are marked with light stripes along the body. Adult moths are mottled grayish-brown with a 1 1/2 inch wingspan. Each forewing is marked near its center with a pair of characteristic silver markings: a spot and a mark resembling a “V” or and “8” with an open end.

 

This article from Texas A&M goes on to say that the worms are “medically harmless” meaning that you can boil them in your pot and be fine.  You could even eat one and be fine.  I must say that unless I find myself in the Outback of Australia with Tom Selleck having just been saved from death by the Aborigines, I am not eating worms on purpose.  But, it is nice to know that no one will die if it happens while eating organic Kale from my garden.

You can control the worms organically with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  This is a bacteria that makes the worms sick and either kills them or causes them to stop eating- which will result in death.  This bacteria only effects worms, so the lady bugs and other “good guys” in the garden are safe and will not be harmed.  But, of course, this should not be used in a butterfly garden as it will kill all worms, caterpillars included.  Bt will also kill tomato horn worms and other pests like these.  Chickens will also control the worms but the downside to this program is that the chickens will eat more Kale then the worms.

Also, you need to know that just because your Kale or other greens may have been chewed on by worms, it is not ruined.  Just pick the munched on leaf and chop it up as usual.  Once cooked, you will never know the difference.

You should be growing greens, by the way.  They are nutrient dense, easy to grow and like cool weather.  This means that in Texas, we can grow the from August/September until May or June.  I have greens such as Chard, Kale, and Spinach in my garden almost year round.  So, put them on your “must have” list for the seed order. You will be glad you did!

KaleDon’t worry about a few holes.  If you garden organically, you will have some.

Ahh, The Rain

As I write tonight, the thunder is rolling and the rain is falling.  Such a beautiful sound and the scent of rain in the air is just delicious. How grateful I am to have the rain to water all that has been planted.  Lately( like since Saturday), we have been having typical Texas weather- hot and humid.  I do not mind, the tomatoes and peppers are growing, setting fruit and acting as they should.  We are finally harvesting squash.

Trenched Garden PlotThis garden plot is one of four in an area of the farm that holds water each time it rains.  And by” holds water” I mean that water will sit in this area and be squishy to walk on for days after the smallest rain.  As I write the trenches are filled to the brim from the rain coming down.  We suspect that there may be an underground spring located here, as well.  Anyway, for whatever reason, this area is a challenge.  So, to possiby make this a usable area I have trenched deeply and piled the dirt up to raise the rows.  Hopefully, this will allow the plants to drain well enough to grow properly.  I am thinking that if the plants can survive the spring rains that this wet area will be a benefit in the summer.  So far, the bell peppers and egg plants are doing well.  These particular plants like the heat to really thrive, so they are just now beginning to grow vigorously. Also  planted in these wet plots are cucumbers, watermelons, mush melons, and butter beans.

You may notice the hay scattered about.  I had company coming and thought a quick mulch that would make the beds look nice would be hay and I could just run to the farm store and get a bale easy.  So, I did.  Then a day or two later as I was admiring the lovely garden plots it occurred to me that I had no idea where the hay had come from and what had been sprayed on it.  Yikes!  Thus, I raked it all out and fed it to the goats.  This may seem like a lot of work but considering that some of the herbicides that are used on hay fields kill any plant in the nightshade family (think tomato and eggplant) and stay in your soil for five years- this was hardly a waste of time. Now, I can rest easy.  I will have these plots mulched by weeks end, but I will use pine needles from my mother’s place.

potato towersOur potato towers are growing very well. I covered the plants about 5 days ago as shown in the photo above and already there is so much new green growth out of the top of the compost that it is time to cover again.  I am excited at the idea of home-grown potatoes!  In the tomato patch, “Large Red” and “Illini Gold” are loaded up with green tomatoes, Matt’s Cherry  is looking good as well and has an orange fruit getting ripe as we speak.  I love to look out the kitchen window in the morning and gaze at my gardens while I wash dishes.  We have so many song birds in the gardens, they love to sit on the trellises that we have built for the tomatoes, cukes, and melons.  I would like to think they are happy to sing to me in the morning, but I know that they are really just casing the joint.

cute kittenMaybe my fierce farm cat will keep the birds from eating my tomatoes?

 

What is growing in your garden?  If you don’t have a garden, what would you grow if you could?

Snakes & Smoke & All Of That…

The morning dawned cold (for Texas) and I thought it would be so nice to start a fire in the wood burning stove so the kids could wake to a cozy family room and have a warm spot to cuddle by.  I am not sure what happened, but instead of being woke up gently with warmth from the stove the kids woke to the sound of the smoke alarm with the house filled with eye-stinging haze.  Then to clear the smoke we had to open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans.  For whatever reason the log in the stove refused to flame up but just kept smoking incesently.  The moment came when I looked at my kids and said,”Don’t ever do this” and then forced the very well lit and hot log out of the stove into a box which was then delivered to the burn pile where it smoked for hours.

So, began our day.  It was a good day, especially for Jonathan as we found three snakes during our gardening.  I personally hate snakes and have a crazy fear of them.  If you would like some laughs at my expense, you can read all about my fear of snakes on that link above.  The first two were baby snakes and nothing more than harmless garden snakes which are so good to have around that I leave them be.  You don’t have to worry about me killing a snake before I know what kind it is- I don’t stick around long enough to know.  I high-tail it out of wherever I am & the snake happens to be and yell for one of the kids.  Yes, you read that right I have my children do the snake killing.  I am the kind of mom that will lay down my own life for my children- until we meet a snake and then you are on your own.  Unless the child is still small enough for me to carry and then I run away with the child.

The third snake, however, was not so small.  Last week the young man who works for me dug holes for the Camellias I am planting along the fence.  Being such a full week I hadn’t had time to put those in the ground so I just dropped pot and all into the hole.  By dropping the pot and all into the hole it kept the wonderful rain from filling the hole back in before I could get the plant planted.  As it turns out, this also gave a good spot for a snake to take up residence.  I pulled the Camellia out, dropped it in my lap, pulled it our of its pot and tore up some of the roots.  I then leaned over the hole knocked some soil in and went to stick my hand in too.  Then I spotted him, coiled up in the hole hissing at me.  Glory Hallelujah I just about had a heart attack.

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I then called for Jonathan, my resident dragon slayer.  He got his 4-10 and blew the snake’s head off, J is a dynamite good shot.  I would have left the snake alive except that it was colored like a water moccasin and acting aggressive.  I understand the fear the snake was feeling- I was feeling the same way.  But, we couldn’t take a chance and J shot him dead.  Literally, he blew his head off and nothing more so then the snake became a homeschooling science project.  With the trusted field guide to North American reptiles, we determined that it was a yellow-bellied water snake- harmless except for the heart attack and self inflicted injury you incur while trying to get away.  As the kids dissected the snake they found a frog in its stomach.  The snake was then skinned and that skin pinned to a board to dry in the sun.  Jonathan could not understand why Sierra would not even think about letting him bring that into the room that they share.  It seems that smells do not bother 11 year old boys.  So, J will decorate his fort with the skin. Effie the Pig got the rest of the snake, as it turns out water snakes must not taste too good- she didn’t really like it.

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If you look close, you can see the frog on the ground at the end of J’ s knife.

As the boys and girl took the snake apart I got back to my work which was planting the Camellia and raking all the leaves and sweet gum balls up to use as mulch on my tomatoes.  There are about 30 tomato plants in the garden now and all of  them have a layer of cardboard mulch covered by a thick layer of leaves and compost.  Every time I raked and hit a stick which made leaves move I jumped.  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous for the rest of the day.  For all I knew, there could be another snake lurking about.

C, the young man who works for me, did great work putting in the brick edging for the knew path ways.  Now, the gardens in the front of the house are starting to take shape.  These beds are located under large shade trees so we have been planting a lot of azaleas, camellias, hostas, and vinca.  There is enough sunshine for Iris and day lilies to bloom so those will be added.  Sometimes, I fuss at myself for spending time on the “unproductive” gardens when there is still much to do in the veggie gardens and herb beds.  But with the rain, which is wonderful, those area were too wet to work and the great majority of the herbs are planted.  I still have Basil to plant but the weather keeps dipping down to very cool and I am gun-shy about planting it just yet. I just love my work!

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Now for today- errands to run in Tyler and more planting to be done.  I will have more seed trays of Basil done along with cuttings from oregano & mint.  We have been very busy and it is time for new crops of herbs to get going.  Hopefully today will be a snake free day.

So what gets your heart racing?  Snakes, spiders, mice?

Effie The Pig

Around the farm, we love all of our animals but the pigs have probably made their way to the top of our favorites list.  Our first pig was Sir Francis Bacon, he was so smart and good tempered that we couldn’t help but love him.  Several pigs of come and gone (and filled the freezer with the best ham, bacon, and pork chops you ever had!), but we love them all.

Effie The Pig is our current porcine in residence. She does a wonderful job of converting all our kitchen scraps and leftovers into lovely ham and bacon.  She is the first pig to be used as the resident tiller.  Since we moved to the new farm, I (actually the kids and my wonderful husband, Tony) move her pen once she has cleared the current pen of all vegetation. In each of these areas I will plant vegetable crops and take advantage of all the good fertilizer she has left behind. The pig waterer I made for her is working great and I love it!

effie first pen

This area is the first spot where her pen was, as you can see there isn’t anything left.  The pig pen has not been in this spot in over a week, with plenty of rain, we should be seeing some green if there was anything left to sprout.

effie second pen

This is the second spot that Effie has called home.  We just moved her pen before this picture was taken.  As you can tell, we have had lots of rain lately- not that Effie the Pig minds the mud!

effie in new pen

Her new pen- this is what the other pen spots looked like before she got busy.  It takes her only 48 hours to take all the green stuff down but I leave her in there another couple of days so that she will eat all the roots a well.  I get tickled every time I look at the window and see her buried almost up to her back.  No roots stand a chance when she is tilling.  For that matter, no moles stand a chance either.  I have personally witnessed her eating two.  I looked over after planting some tomatoes and saw her flip her head up and gulp it down.  Nature is a tough place to live.  Maybe I will call her Effie the Eliminator…

Jonathan is good at driving t-posts and loves his pig.
Jonathan is good at driving t-posts and loves his pig.

Savannah is filling Effie's waterer.
Savannah is filling Effie’s waterer.

 

Choosing Seedlings

Nice strong plants with a large cup for plenty of room for roots
Nice strong plants with a large cup for plenty of room for roots

Each year I encounter folks who want to know why their seedling died or simply state the “I cannot grow anything”. I hate hear these words!  The main reason that people fail at gardening is not because they can not grow things or that they are lacking in ability, it is because they start with seedlings or plants that were set up to fail.

Perhaps you are wondering how a plant can be set up to fail?  Well, here is how-

Most of your big box stores or really large retail nurseries get their plants from contract growers.  Contract growers are growers that grow plants for these companies and may be independent, but they are controlled by the big box companies.  An example of  the way the growers are controlled is by the company telling the grower I want this certain plant and this many of this plant in 4 weeks. Now the grower can respond with “That is a plant that takes 8 weeks to grow.”  Then the company simply replies that they don’t care, do it or they will find someone who will.  So the grower then pumps the plant full of synthetic fertilizers, stimulants and even chemicals that cause fruit and plants to ripen prematurely.  Greenhouses are kept at the perfect temperature at all times and grow lights are employed top achieve the most growth in the least amount of time.

 

Now, after having read that- just how strong of a plant to you think you are going to get from that store?  Not a strong plant at all.  The odds are that plant will die as soon as it is exposed to the real world.  If it does live, it will probably never produce as it should.  So you see, most people who think they cannot grow things really just never had a shot.  Those who do know a bit about how to grow things don’t understand why their stuff dies- it all goes back to the beginning.

Now, consider the small grower, the “mom & pop” garden shop.  These people cannot afford to have unhappy customers who tell folks that every plant they have ever bought from that shop has died.  My customers know my face, know where I live, and my name is literally on the product.  If my customers don’t succeed, I don’t succeed.  I chose this business because I love it.  I WANT my customers to be successful and to enjoy their experience in the garden.  So, therefore, if I tell you it is too early for Basil it is because it is.  Most of the other “small guys” grow like I do.  We seed our flats to have the plants ready at the right time.  I fertilize my plants of course, but I use an organic compost tea once a week.  Not daily.  If you buy a six pack of tomato seedlings that are 8 inches tall- those plants are already stressed.  Those plants are too big for the pot they have been living in for way too long.

It may cost you a little more to buy seedlings from a smaller producer, but you will get better plants.  If you are buying vegetable seedlings, you will get more produce from a plant that has been handled properly from the start.  And, you will feel successful not like a failure!  This makes it far worth a little more money up front.  If you are really strapped for cash, then you will do much better to buy seeds and start your own plants in a sunny window.  Cheap seedlings from big box stores are not the place t0 save money, especially when you are wanting to grown your own food.

Garden Boxes Rock- Again

For everyone who has thought of growing their own vegetables, flower gardening, or raising herbs, the garden box is a great way to go. With the garden box the soil is easy to amend, the plants are easy to care for and the beds are defined clearly.

There are several ways to build a garden box. My favorite way is to use 2X12 untreated lumber. Many publications say that if you use lumber it must be cedar or cypress. Although these two materials are extremely long-lived they are also very expensive. I simply used pine available at our local lumber yard. My first boxes were build 4 years ago and are still in great shape. I live in a very humid area with lots of insects including termites and those first boxes are showing very little decay.

Sizes of garden boxes depend much in part to the size of the area you have available. I did find that my five foot wide beds are just a little too wide to reach the middle without stepping in the beds. I really like my beds that are 2′ X 10′. These are a really great size and hold plenty of veggies. The width of the beds is the major consideration, the length is totally at your discretion simply based on your space available. The depth of 12 inches is a great depth. I grow carrots every spring and fall and those orange roots come out beautiful.

Now comes the filling. There are so many great options that your choice really depends on what is readily available in your area. I filled mine with aged horse manure that came from a friend’s stable. To this, I apply compost to the boxes every fall and spring. The results I am getting from this recipe are really great. By replenishing with compost twice a year keeps the boxes really fertile.

The ease of weeding, planting, and rotating crops have made me a total fan of the garden box. I will be using this boxes for the rest of my gardening days.