Worried about the Cost of Starting Early? Don’t be!

Plato once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. I don’t know how you garden, but for me, truer words were never spoken! If you’re anything like me you race out to your mail box this time of year with great haste, wondering what plethora of gardening catalogs are waiting to greet to you. Lustingly you scan every page and item, marking the ones you want. Slowly you scroll down to see the price and your draw drops to the floor. $500 for a decent sized cold frame? That’s insane!
Well at least that’s my reaction! Most of us gardeners don’t have the buku bucks to spend endlessly on what we drool over or even need. So why isn’t it cheaper? It is, you just have to be creative!

For example, the catalogs sell all kinds of various contraptions to help us protect from frost and extend our growing season/get an early start. I have used everything from flannel sheets, fleece blankets(by far the best for frost protection); even bulk material from the local fabric store that was on clearance. Another fantastic and easily affordable option is your local second hand store. They almost always have sheets and blankets in stock. Plus, if they get dirty you can simply throw them in the washing machine! Need it to have a frame? Build your own! Lumber (especially construction grade) is cheap, and I would highly suggest something like velcro to attach the material. That way you can interchange the frame material from frost protection to shade cloth!

Speaking of shade cloth, you can get that at your local fabric store too(or second hand store if you’re lucky). Early last summer I was trying to keep my potatoes alive, but since I had planted such a large lot, buying that much shade cloth was out of the question. However, at the fabric store, I found some semi-transparent white, breezy material. I live in zone 9, and by utilizing this process my potatoes lasted into July, and only died back when the potatoes were ripe and ready to be harvested. The white, breezy/semi-transparent material is important if you are going to find and use your own shade cloth. You have to have a certain amount of light transmission for them to grow (or you’ll end up with spindly plants that fall over), and the white (unlike black shade cloth) does not attract, nor trap in extra heat.

Don’t be afraid to try something new and experiment; you never know what you will find! Following these few, simple, easy and low cost ideas will largely extend the grow/harvest time of all your crops( both cool season as well as summer vegetables).

Think Before You Spray!

Too many times when we have a pest invasion in our garden, we reach for the chemicals. It’s an immediate reaction, I mean how can you not? The bugs often invade fast, and it’s the panic that gets you.….back in the day that was my reaction too. Not now.
Before you spray, do your research. Despite what most of the chemical pesticide, insecticide (etc.) companies tell you, it’s not the only answer. Over the years I have found sure fire ways that work just as well (maybe a little more effort is involved) and you don’t have to worry about chemicals on your crops. I have quite a few animals, and between gardening and them, I have been able to banish most chemicals from my property. I worry most about my 4 dogs, and if you have dogs yourself, read up on the chemicals you use; it is scary how most chemicals used just on lawns raise the lymphoma rate in dogs by 50%. Frightening, right?
If you look to your organic remedies, even some of those aren’t safe for you to handle. That makes me uncomfortable. If it’s not safe for me to handle, I don’t want to spray it in my yard for my critters to come in contact with, no way. Like I said though, there are other options!
Aphids for examples, regular spraying with a “weak” soap water solution will kill them in no time (2 tablespoons per gallon, but I use a little stronger solution). I prefer to use Dr. Bronner’s organic, free trade soap in peppermint or orange. This same mixture also works great on spider mites, which are prolific during the summer here (zone 9). It may have been made for people, but works great for the solution as well….not to mention it smells wonderful, and now worries about the mist….it’s all safe!
Fungus gnats? Put out a bowl filled with apple cider vinegar mixed with a tiny bit of soap, or left over beer. They are attracted to fermentation/decomposition, and they drown in either solution. I use both in my home greenhouse. It will not wipe them out immediately, but much better than worrying about what is going to contaminate your food. Even better set a trap for them, they are attracted to wheat which acts as a good decoy plant.
A great natural preventative is planting garlic (or a lot of other things in the onion family). I’ve planted it among a lot of different crops, and it seems to deter/greatly reduce the pests. For every rule there an exception though! We get black aphids during the cold weather which seem completely happy eating ANYTHING in the onion family.
Just remember, think before you spray! With a little research, and a little extra effort you can ban the toxic chemicals forever! Good luck and happy gardening 

Seeding Starting (updated and revised)

You are likely bombarded by gardening magazines and catalogs that tell you oh, if you are going to start from seed, you need all of these supplies, and the price tag alone is enough to put you into shock!
Peppers and tomatoes, among all of them, are the worst culprits by far. If you have done your research, you know that tomatoes and peppers need an average germination temp of 75-90 degrees, preferably from bottom heat (best results are achieved by bottom heat IMO). The catalogs tell you to buy seed heating mats. Well, if you’ve ever priced these out, they can cost a pretty penny! They usually average $30+ for one of a decent size. Now before you stroke out at the price tag, there is a much easier solution!
I personally use heating pads. Yes, the ones made for people! They work just as well, and come in every shape and size imaginable, and they are often 1/2 price or less! However, if this is the way you want to try, make sure you do your tests first! Rule number one above all, NEVER leave them on when you are not at home where you can check on them once in a while. I can’t stress that enough; I never leave ANYTHING that produces heat on when I leave the house, it is not worth the risk!
Second of all, always do a test run. Get your seedling tray, fill the cells with your choice of soil, but do not plant the seeds just yet. Put it on top of the heating pad, and before putting a dome lid on, put a small thermometer (or even two if you want to be extra careful and want to average out the difference). Let it run for an hour or so, and check the temp. This will allow you to know what kind of temp you are going to be looking at, so you can adjust accordingly without damaging your seeds.
I find that about 85 degrees does wonders for tomatoes and peppers. My tomato seeds all sprout between 3 and 5 days, and the peppers take about 5 to 8 days. A much faster time frame then most seed packets tell you! Something else I have found extremely helpful, is to add a few sprinkles of cinnamon to the top of the soil every week. Cinnamon has natural antifungal/antibacterial properties, which means it easily prevents damp off if applied regularly. Bye bye No Damp!

Seed Starting isn’t as hard as they tell you it is!

You are likely bombarded by gardening magazines and catalogs that tell you oh, if you are going to start from seed, you need alllllll of these supplies, and the price tag alone is enough to put you into shock! 

Peppers and tomatoes are among all of them, the worst culprits by far.  If you have done your research, you know that tomatoes need an average germination temp of 75-90 degrees, preferably from bottom heat (best results are achieved by bottom heat IMO)  The catalogs tell you to buy seed start heating mats. Well, if you’ve ever priced any of these out, they can run a pretty penny!  They usually average $30+ for one of a decent size.  Now before you stroke out at the price tag, there is a much easier solution!

I personally use heating pads.  Yes, the ones made for people! They work just as well, and come in every shape and size imaginable, and they are often 1/2 price or less!  However, if this is the way you want to try, make sure you do your tests first!  Rule #1 above all, NEVER leave them on when you are not at home where you can check on them once in a while.  I can’t stress that enough; I never leave ANYTHING that produces heat on when I leave the house, it is not worth the risk!

Second of all, always do a test a test run.  Get your seedling tray, fill the cells with your choice of soil, but do not plant the seeds just yet.  Put it on top of the heating pad, and before putting a dome lid on, put a small thermometer (or even two if you want to be extra careful and want to average out the difference).  Let it run for an hour or so, and check the temp.  This will allow you to know what kind of temp you are going to be looking at, so you can adjust accordingly without damaging your seeds. 

I find that about 85 degrees does wonders for tomatoes and peppers.  My tomato seeds all sprout between 3 and 5 days, and the peppers take about 5 to 8 days.  A much faster time frame then most seed packets tell you!

On Your Mark, Get Set, SHOP!!!

As 2010 has come to a close, the gardening season of 2011 is just around the corner. The question is, are you ready? 

If you are a gardening geek like me, you’ve already got your seed catalogs organized, rifled through, and pages dog eared and highlighted as to which seeds you want to try/grow this year.  Getting seed catalogs in the mail is the equivalent of Christmas to us gardening nuts.  My current obsession the last few years (as you all well know by now) are heirloom seeds, and Baker’s Creek seems to have such an amazing quantity of vastly different kinds, not to mention their superb high quality of seeds.  I have always had a high germination rate with them.  However, one thing most heirloom catalogs lack, and most newbie heirloom gardeners don’t realize, is that I have yet to receive an heirloom catalog that lists the growing zones.  Oh sure, most companies that sell hybrids like Burpee, Park Seed, etc, listing growing zones is standard, but heirlooms are a (excuse the pun) whole different breed!

There is a way around this go.  First of all, any good heirloom company usually includes where the seeds originated from.  For example, since I live in zone 9, I naturally gravitate towards seeds grown in the south, etc, where minus the humidity level, temps are very similar.  Someone who lives in cooler zones may be able to get seeds that lets say, came from the Ozarks.  If the origin of the seed isn’t listed (a lot of smaller sellers don’t list them, even I don’t), simply ask.  Any decent seller will relish the chance to make good relations with a potential customer.  With every seed packet I sell, I always offer my email, or contacting me through etsy (where I sell my seeds) if they have ANY questions, no matter if they are germination, soil related, problem solving etc. 

Now here is where it gets a little complicated, as well as a lot more fun!!  Just because it doesn’t seem like it would grow well in your particular zone, doesn’t mean you can’t grow it!  How you say?  Well there is plenty of fudge room.  I have found that with a little well placed shade cloth, something that would only grow in a zone 7 or less, will thrive just as well!  You can even extend the the season of cool weather plants well through spring with the exact same approach.

So I say shop, shop, shop!!  Just pay close attention to what you are about to buy and from whom.🙂

The Illness Just Grows

I’m sick. Very, very sick, and am thinking of committing myself, but I’m enjoying myself way too much to do so.  Besides, even if I followed through, the question is, to where? There is no support group for people who just can’t get enough of gardening.  There’s no rehab for people who buy too many seeds!

Okay, well maybe I am not as extreme as needing an intervention, but if you know me in real life, you know I just can’t stop.  This is why selling seeds and plants has to work this year.  I can’t imagine doing anything, nor a more perfect job that would be my absolute dream come true!  Lately I have been rifling through all my bags of seeds, looking for more fall crops I should plant.  Even though I have all the seeds organized into groups (greens, onion family, herbs, etc.) in gallon sized ziploc bags, it still amazes me that they are never all in one place at a time; always scattered all over the house/garage in one fashion or another (in my defense, this is partially because I am always planting seeds year round).  Worse yet, I bought a decent size set of plastic drawers (those cute ones they have on wheels at local retail stores) to keep all of them together and organized!  I am by far, the most disorganized, organized person ever.

You would think something like this would slow me down, but it doesn’t. You would think with the dozens and dozens of seed packs floating around here would keep me entertained, and not need to buy anymore for a while, but it doesn’t.  There is always that “new to me” heirloom I discover, that excites me like a kid in a candy store, and I just have to have it.  The latest?  Georgia Southern Creole Collard Greens; absolutely gorgeous!!  I have never grown them or collard greens before, but that has never stopped me.  Some of the best stuff I am currently growing was just by trying them out!

So what about all of you?  Do you find yourself more and more involved the more years you are gardening?  Or are you able to keep yourself at a certain amount?

The Art of Buying Seeds

A lot of people just starting out in the the hobby (I prefer to call it the life-long rewarding art) of gardening, always seem flabbergasted as to where to find the best source for seeds, whether it be hybrid, heirloom, rare, decorative, or edible. Let’s face it, it can be quite overwhelming when you are just starting out in the garden world.  So just in case you are one of our “club newbies”, #1, welcome!!  #2, here’s some simple tips to follow, that will greatly enhance your gardening experience.

First and foremost, know who you are buying from.  This is important to know, because of quality.  Just because someone is selling seeds (big or small company, or even individual) doesn’t mean they are of good quality.  Obviously if you are just getting started with gardening, ask someone. Join a gardening group, ask friends.  I guarantee, anyone who has any experience with seeds will most assuredly give you their list of favorites!  For example, what seeds I don’t save, or sell myself, I buy from Baker’s Creek (rareseeds.com).  They are an amazing heirloom seed company, great quality, ship time, and very high viability rates.

Second, know the date the seeds were saved from.  Most good/decent companies sell seeds that were harvested the previous season/year, and this is exactly what you want.  The older the seed, the lower percentage of viability (how many sprout once planted) and the less you are getting for your money.  There are some seeds for example that they don’t HAVE to be new, just because they have a long shelf life.  For example, pepper seeds.  I sell quite a few of those, and prefer to sell the previous season’s harvest, however I will sell them if they are a year older, but add a bunch of extra seeds to the package just in case.

Speaking of viability, know what you’re growing, and how long your seeds are good for, you don’t want to waste your money.  You don’t want to buy a 5 lb. of some great seed, and find out it is has little viability the next year!  Peppers and tomatoes tend to have the best viability, but I am starting to notice basil does extremely well too!

Follow these few tips, and your seed buying experience should be an enjoyable experience!