Organic Gardening

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3/6/2015

Natural, organic yard and garden

If you are wanting to be more sustainable in your home, don’t forget the yard and garden. The typical American yard uses billions of gallons of water and hundreds of millions of pounds of fertilizer each year. Why not leverage your lawn space more sustainably?

10 Tips for a More Sustainable Garden and Yard

1. Go organic. Eliminate chemicals from your yard and garden. Organic fertilizers last a lot longer and won’t cause lawn, flower or veggie burn like a chemical fertilizer will. Many chemicals to get rid of bugs these days are “systemic” and stay in the plant for months and even years and kill the bees and other beneficial insects.

2. Use mulch in your garden. Mulch is a home run. It keeps weeds from sprouting, it keeps moisture in the ground so you don’t have to water as often, it adds organic matter to your garden, and it looks nice.

3. Plant natives. Those trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses that are native to your area are well acclimated to your climate and pests. You can plant and they will take care of themselves.

4. Save seeds. Growing from seed saves you money, allows you to grown interesting varieties, and raise crops that are uniquely adapted to your garden conditions. You can get seeds by saving your own, your neighbors, favorites from the farmers market, and even from the produce and fruits you buy at the grocer.

5. Lose your lawn. Lawns in America are a big drain on the pocketbook and time while not providing food for your family or critters. Add decorative flower beds with natives. Start using at least a part of your lawn for growing herbs, fruits and vegetables for you and your family. Nothing is better tasting and better for you than fresh out of the garden and onto the table.

6. Water less. Purchase natives and look for drought tolerant in the descriptions of plants and seeds you are buying. Set up a rain barrel to use for the flower beds. Use drip hoses instead of sprayers these can save up to 70 percent on water. Use mulch in not only your flower beds but also your garden beds. Go organic on lawn care. Organic, all natural lawns are more tolerant of the summer conditions and need less water to survive.

7. Grow your own food. You can easily add fruits and veggies to your existing flower gardens. You can easily expand your garden beds to accommodate herbs and veggies. If you don’t have room for a flower and veggie garden bed, you can grown anything in a self watering pot. There has been a bonanza of new container varieties developed over the last few years. It is easy to grow and eat from the garden spring, summer and fall.

8. Plant perennials. Annuals take a great deal of inputs to grow from seed each year. With perennials, you get the benefit of the inputs for years and years versus just one. Don’t forget about perennial edibles, too! Herbs are a great beginners choice.

9. Compost. Don’t throw those table scraps in the trash to just go sit in a landfill someplace. Re-use their nutritional value in your garden by composting them. There are basically three types of composters: a bin that you layer browns/greens and it takes a year to break down, a tumbler type that you throw the browns/greens together and crank daily to mix up giving you compost in a couple of weeks, and an electric type that can be used indoors or outdoors that gives you compost in a couple of days. Why throw out all those food nutrients when you can reuse them in your own garden for free?

10. New methods for the lawn itself. For your lawn, mow high. The higher grass shades the ground, causing the soil to not dry out as quickly and helping keep some weeds from growing. Use an electric or manual lawn mower. We purchased a self propelled electric mower this past year and it works great! Don’t buy the typical seed mix. Purchase low growing grasses so you only need to mow monthly instead of weekly. Here is a site to purchase low growers for your area: Nichols Garden Nursery.

For more tips on organic gardening in small spaces and containers, check out Melodie's blog at Victory Garden on the Golf Course.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/6/2015

Christine and John Deck at Deck Family Farm 

Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.

As I turn off High Pass Road to the Deck Family Farm there’s a gate across the driveway. Cattle nose through fencing on either side, perhaps wondering what to make of this latest visitor. Unfastening the chain reminds me of the many pasture gates I opened growing up, and when I close it, like when I was a kid I try to chain it in a way that makes it easy to open next time.

The place looks like a working farm. A cluster of buildings on a bit of high ground. A mix of livestock braving the drizzling rain. Occasional water-filled potholes in the long, winding driveway. A dog standing beneath a shade tree barking at my car’s approach. The line-up of work boots sitting on the porch beside the front door.

Based on the research I’d done, I wasn’t surprised by anything I saw. But curiously, what did surprise me was the compelling nature of the conversation I encountered inside the house. Not that I was expecting it to be otherwise, but John and Christine Deck are genuinely intelligent people who, in a very comfortable and engaging way, shared some profound insights into our country’s broken food system, why they believe a new farm movement is underway, and the part they’re trying to play in all of that.

“I think people realize that the train we’re on is going to crash,” said Christine. “We live in an economy with externalized environmental and humanitarian costs. Finally, that discussion has moved outside the realm of economists and more and more people are understanding that we have to internalize those costs because we don’t live in a world with unlimited resources. We can no longer base our economy on the belief that there’s always going to be more… that there’s always going to be growth. Sustainability depends more on not growing.

“We clearly need to develop some new paradigms, but they won’t come easily. I honestly don’t see any significant shifts occurring across society until there’s some kind of collapse. Our government currently is a democracy of corporations. It’s the time we live in, and money is dictating policy. But change has to start somewhere, and I think the organic and sustainable agriculture movement to some extent is about beginning that process. I feel like I’m doing my part. I’m trying my best to create a system I feel good living in and I feel can be sustainable. So I’ll keep doing that.”

Christine is clear about her intentions, but I wonder aloud if there is anything that would stop her from pursuing a farming life.

Sheep at Deck Family Farm

“Financial ruin. I couldn’t do this without John, and he wouldn’t do it without me. So we lean on each other pretty heavily right now, but finances represent our biggest challenge. We came here with no real debt, but after our first several years getting this operation up and running we had created significant debt, and we’re working to pay that off. It’s not easy, and I hope we get there. Not getting there represents the chief reason why we may not continue. But I believe we will get there, because one of our main goals is to help reestablish farming as a viable economic endeavor.”

Not continuing to farm is probably one of the least favorable outcomes Christine can imagine. She is the first person in her family to graduate from college, and her degree from the University of California-Berkeley means a lot to her. But in her words, she comes from farm people, and it always has been her intention to farm if she could. That’s not necessarily so for John, who admits that idealism has a lot to do with why he’s now trying to create a sustainable farm. Idealism, family history, and Christine.

John and Christine first met at the beef barn and feedlot at UC-Davis. Christine was an animal science major at the time while John studied biology. And though John’s upbringing was more urban, he was but one generation removed from a farming life and grew up hearing old farm stories from his uncles. As time passed, John and Christine developed a shared passion for farming and committed to giving it a go.

To help make things work at their current location, John brings his technical orientation to bear on the farm decision making. He still works for UC-Berkeley as a software developer… apparently a pretty good one because the university flies him all over the world working on special projects. So when he begins planning for the farm, he takes a scientific approach.

“I wouldn’t call it science because I’d have control variables if it was scientific,” said John, “but I am trying to be mechanistic about it, or at the very least organized.”

After a fairly lengthy discussion of farm management that explored questions like how many pounds per square inch of pressure cow hooves exert on wet winter soil, the savings one can obtain by certifying farm land to grow livestock feed then allowing the animals to self harvest it, and the variables involved with getting an accurate measurement of the farm’s overall dry matter production, John brings the conversation around to two things that he feels have a significant influence on making a farm sustainable.

What you can sell at market, and your ability to control costs… especially labor.

Hogs at Deck Family Farm

Market demand, he says, is what helped lead to their decision to raise a variety of different types of animals… demand and the need to break parasite life cycles. “If we’re only selling beef then we kind of limit ourselves in terms of what we can sell, so we’ve learned to show up with a variety of products. Eggs are a good example. We decided to increase our egg production because we found a really strong demand for eggs. They help bring people into our market booth. So growing eggs is a really nice complement to our other products, and expansion of the egg operation kind of helped us ramp up.”

John explains that in responding to the market demand for eggs, they increased the number of chickens that in the summertime are grazed on a set of organically certified fields of good quality grass with multiple water sources. Then the chickens are pulled off and sheep graze those fields during winter and early spring. This rotation is better for the fields, plus, it helps keep parasites from building up, which happens when you keep only one type of animal on the plot.

So when an adjustment is made in response to what will sell at the market, that change doesn’t just show up in the market booth. An increase in the amount you’re selling means more animals are needed on the farm, which affects the amount of resources (like land) that are needed. Which affects the operational system that includes all the animals, all the planting, the crop and animal rotations, the feed budget, and everything else. These aren’t John’s words, they’re mine. But I think it’s what John was trying to help me understand. There’s a ripple effect that runs all the way through your operation and has to be accounted for.

To be continued...

Order your copy of Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Christine and John Deck at their farm near Junction City, Oregon.

(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Sheep grazing pristine pastures at the Deck Family Farm. The Decks raise cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens for both meat and eggs, and keep a small dairy herd for their raw milk business.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Hogs help cultivate the soil. The Deck family produces Red Wattle, Berkshire, Hampshire and Yorkshire hogs.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/6/2015

There are many reasons to consider planting drought-tolerant plants. One of the most important is water conservation. Drought is running rampant in parts of the country, and we must learn how to protect this precious resource. Drought tolerant gardening is a way of limiting the use of water in our gardens and giving our pollinating friends their needed food sources. The annuals discussed below are drought tolerant, attract pollinators and easy care for and grow. This does not mean you can plant them and walk away, they do require a modicum of attention. These plants do need water until they are established. Adding compost to the soil when planting will ensure that the soil does stay moist, allowing the root system to take hold.

Zinnias are the one of the hardest working annuals in the garden. They come in many colors and sizes, and are easily grown from seed. They will bloom till frost and deadheading, or removing the spent blooms, will keep them re-blooming. With such a diverse assortment, surely a few varieties will find a place in a container garden or flower bed in your landscape. Two of my favorites are ‘State Fair’ and ‘Lilliput. ‘State Fair’ is an excellent cut flower. They will grow to a height of two and a half feet with large, vibrant blooms that are long lasting in arrangements. ‘Lilliput’ is a smaller version growing to 18 inches in height, with small blooms just as colorful as its larger cousin. Both varieties are heirlooms which mean that the seeds can be saved.

Calendula, or pot marigold, is the predecessor to the better known marigold. Calendulas are a multi- purpose plant, usually considered an annual flower, but they are also an herb. The flowers of the deer resistant plant are edible, used in various herbal concoctions and for dyeing and drying. Depending upon the variety they can reach a height of 30 inches and a spread of 12 inches. Deadheading will ensure continuous bloom throughout the summer and into fall. Plants that bloom till frost are important late season food source for pollinators. The calendula blooms can be used in making herbal oil or a fabric dye. Calendula oil is made by using a small, clean, dry glass jar and filling with the flower petals. Pick the flowers early in the day, after the dew has dried. Gently push the petals down in the jar and fill with olive oil, set in the sun and naturally extract the oils. Occasionally shake the jar. This process might take up to two months. When you are ready to use the oil, strain the used petals and put the finished oil in a clean jar and store in a cool dark place. Calendulas make a pretty yellow hued dye that is made by placing one cup of petals in a clean glass bowl. Boil one cup of water and pour on top of calendula petals. Stir, cover with a tea towel and let steep until you have the color that you want. Drying calendula flowers is a way of preserving them for future uses and saving the seeds. Remove the petals and place in a cool, dry area. Store the finished product in a clean, dry jar. Lastly, I like to plant calendulas near my chicken yard, so that I can toss the old blooms to my friendly fowl. The flowers enhance the color of the yolks.

Calendulas are a multi-purpose plant

Portulaca or Moss Rose are small drought tolerant plants useful for flower borders, container gardens and rock gardens, even happily growing in the cracks of sidewalks. They freely seed themselves and can become invasive, manually pulling the seedlings or transplanting them will solve that issue. The colorful blooms will last till frost. Portulaca flowers open on sunny days and close at night or on cloudy days.

Heliotrope is an heirloom plant that has attractive lacey flowers sitting atop of sturdy stems with a delightful scent. Some say the scent is reminiscent of baby power or vanilla. This plant needs to be planted in an area to be seen and appreciated. I like planting heliotropes close to a deck so that I can enjoy the colorful visitors, and the relaxing scent during hot summer evenings. The heirloom varieties grow to 36 inches in height, with a spread of 18 inches. The two most fragrant of the heliotropes ‘Fragrant Purple’ and ‘Fragrant White’ would rather be planted in the ground. The new varieties of heliotropes can be used in container gardens because they are compact in size, reaching up to 12 inches in height. The newer varieties might have the flowers and color but not the scent. All varieties of heliotrope are deer and rabbit resistant.

Lantana is one of the toughest plants that I have come in contact with. This shrubby plant can reach up to in four feet height. It is deer and rabbit resistant and the bees can’t get enough of it. Lantana is considered to be an annual in most areas, but a perennial zone 8 and above. Lantana can be used in all type of areas where it is difficult to get water to, such as grave plantings. Depending on the variety they can grow quite large. Please check with your local greenhouse person on the variety that you are interested in. The hanging basket varieties are excellent for placing the hanging basket in a flower garden for adding height. Interested in other drought tolerant plants visit us on Facebook at The Plant-It Earth Greenhouse And Gardens.

Lantana is an excellent drought tolerant plant


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/3/2015

Backyard Chicken Tractor Painting

For the past 12 years, we have run chicken tractors over our gardens all winter long. We have a small flock — between two and five ladies at any given time — and the system has worked excellently well for our intensively gardened space. 

The benefits of a chicken tractor are great. First, the chicken poop, mixed in with their straw bedding and the layer of leaves we lay over each bed in the fall, creates excellent organic matter. The nitrogen of the droppings balances the carbon of the bedding and the whole mass breaks down quickly into a deep seedbed which holds water well into the summer. I have not had to add soil to the raised beds since we added the chicken tractor to our design. The droppings become fertilizer for vegetables and our crops thrive. Chickens also provide considerable insect control. We first considered adding a flock to the back yard because it was the only way to control the pill bugs that were chomping down the squash seedlings.   The ladies eat the pillbugs, as well as other insects in the garden beds, although they prefer to root through the compost pile for their live protein. They have helped with slug control, not by eating the slugs, but by digging through the leaves and grass where the eggs are resting and exposing them to the air. And, yes, we like the eggs.

Our chicken tractor is based upon an old MOTHER EARTH NEWS design. It is an A frame, four feet wide by five feet long, that sits directly on the four by ten foot constructed raised beds. Our beds are not just deeply dug mounds; they are framed by lumber for improved drainage. The ridge runs across the beds. There is a nest box/night roost in the peak of the coop, with a drop down door for access from the yard. We have added doors on both sides of the coop so that we can let the chickens out into the yard or onto the rest of the garden bed, depending upon the day and season. The coop holds three chickens comfortably, even on rainy days, and five if they have access to at least the rest of the bed during the day. Some years we have constructed runs over the entire ten foot bed. Other years, when the flock is smaller, we simply move the coop from one end of the bed to the other. We worked on making the entire structure as light as possible while still providing protection. There are two handles about waist high so that we can carry it around the garden. (See my blog for detailed photos!)

The tractor moves every month throughout the winter, following a strict crop rotation system. There are ten garden beds and I try to tractor at least eight of them from September through May. The first bed to be tractored is the garlic bed, because it is the first harvested and it is on the edge of the garden. The coop sits on the bed, but the chickens still have access to their entire far back yard and compost pile summer run. Then the coop moves west, towards the house, through the beds. Each bed does not represent a specific crop, but a specific planting date. So, we have a spring bed, which is planted in mid-March, and holds peas, greens, radishes, and some early broccoli. There is a summer bed for summer greens, beets, carrots, etc. that is planted out in April, three beds of potatoes, a bed of squashes planted in May, another bed of various beans that is direct seeded after the snow melts in the mountains, and a late bed of fall and winter crops. Because the planting is organized by planting date, the coop can still be moving through the garden as planting is happening. We just have to be creative about fencing!

In June, the tractor run is completed and the coop is tucked under the laurel trees for the summer. We lay out the fencing that keeps the ladies on the back third of the yard near the compost pile and the watering pool, and let them run all over for a few months, until the garlic is pulled and it is time for them to go back to work.

Read more about my blog, the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to her website and Blue Camas Press.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/2/2015

drought pod 2015-1

The black pod was installed last year, and it is mostly food waste, the green pod is a mixture of composted wood chips with sheep manure. There was compost around the outside of these two barrels to the approximate depth of 8 inches into which I planted 10 tomato plants around the outside of the barrel. These plants received tap water when first planted, and then two other waterings. From then on, they were reliant on the wetness of the compost, both in and out of the barrel. They did receive a heavy dose of compost tea as well.

The tomatoes were planted on April 16, 2014 and I was enjoying tomatoes within about 45 days. From the time of the initial waterings, they were never watered from the tap for the rest of the summer, produced very well and the tomatoes were beautiful and flavorful.

The update thus far is the new white drought pod is filled with composted wood chips with sheep manure. Each of these pods are basically 40 gallon plastic compost tumblers that were discarded by friends. I drilled thumb size holes in the bottom of each of these barrels so that worms and moisture can migrate easily.

I have increased the depth of the wood chip/manure compost around the drought pods to a depth of approximately 12 inches, followed by a big dose of compost tea and then squares of wheat straw hay that were soaked in the rain last summer (and never dried out in 7 months). The squares are very thick and tightly packed around the pod. Again, the tomato plants will be placed directly beside the barrels with the heavy mulch left throughout the summer. I will plant about 20 tomato plants around these 3 drought pods.

The goal is to have as much organic mass inside and outside the barrels as possible. The mass holds the nutrients, moisture, worms and keep the temperature of the soil/roots cooler than the summer air. The contents of the barrel should be wetter than the compost around the barrel, and this is to encourage the root systems to seek the wetter nutrient based contents. After the initial planting, I only water through the barrel to pull nutrients down into the contents around the barrel.

hydro trays 2015

These two reclaimed hydroponic trays were kept from the trash truck by a friend. They are fiberglass, 20-feet-by-3-feet, and I installed them for a raised bed, fall/winter garden for this upcoming season. In the corner of my yard you will notice hoops that will be used to make a low tunnel hoop house. They are filled with composted wood chips with sheep manure. I will use them to grow winter greens, beets, carrots, etc.

I hope this update continues to be interesting for you. My next experiment is learning how to make Biochar.

Happy gardening.

Read Ron's previous post about Drought-Pods, How to Construct a Drought-Pod.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/26/2015

Allegheny Spurge 

In many cases, I've discovered the Asian counterpart of our native plants to be much showier, more robust and in many instances more floriferous than our native species. Take Claytonia, for example. Our native Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana are very early, beautiful little plants. But, although their flowers are lovely, they're very small and the entire plant is extremely ephemeral. On the other hand, Claytonia Sibirica has thicker, more deeply veined foliage and flowers for months.

One major exception to this rule is Pachysandra procumbens. P.p. is an East Coast member of the Buxaceae (Boxwood) family and is commonly referred to as "Allegheny Spurge". It's superior to the more commonly used (Asian) Pachysandra terminalis in virtually every respect.

The Asian Pachysandra terminalis is a very aggressive, stoloniferous thug in the garden. And although this can be a benefit if you want to fill in a very large area super fast, its well behaved American cousin, P. procumbens, is a clump forming groundcover that fills in an area slowly, but much more elegantly.

P. procumbens is hardy in most areas of the US, probably into zone 4, maybe even 3. In  zones 7-10 or during mild Winters elsewhere,  it stays evergreen. In colder areas it will be a herbaceous perennial.

In the early spring, P.p. shoots up really cool spikes of pink and white fragrant flowers that last for a week or two. Soon after the flowers have set seed, the first vegetative shoots poke their heads through the soil and their dark green leaves begin to unfold. In deep shade, the foliage remains a dark, luxurious green all summer. The more sun that the plants get, the lighter their leaves are. I planted a row in full sun as an experiment to test the plants extremes. The plants in the sun were healthy and productive, but the leaves were paler in color, some with an almost chloritic appearance. This is definitely a dappled to deep shade plant.

In the late summer to early fall, P.p. reminds us of the approaching Autumnal equinox by "opening its windows to let in more light". This effect takes its form as beautiful silvery mottling on the leaves that I can only compare to snowflakes in the respect that no two leaves are alike. Oh the joy of jumping around on the ground like a frog from plant to plant, trying to select the most striking patterns. In the end, they're all brilliant and unique.

P.p. is a very easy, but slow plant to propagate. You can take stem/leaf cuttings in the early spring, but rhizome divisions are quicker and easier. On a mature rhizome, there many "joints.” If you make a complete cut at each joint, leaving the plant above it with a few good roots intact, you will have several 2-4-inch pieces that you can pot up or lay out in a flat and cover with about a 1/2 inches of soil. Root pieces taken in the early spring, while the plants are still dormant, will produce new plants ready for planting the same season.

All in all, it's difficult to find a better, all around, more useful, adaptable ground cover plant than Pachysandra procumbens.

Barry Glick, the self-proclaimed “King of Helleborus,” grew up in Philadelphia in the ’60s, a mecca of horticulture. Barry cut high school classes to hitchhike to Longwood Gardens before he was old enough to drive. In 1972, he realized there was just not enough room for him and his plants in the big-city environment, so he bought 60 acres on a mountaintop in Greenbrier County, W.V., where he gave birth to Sunshine Farm & Gardens, a mail-order plant nursery. Barry grows more than 10,000 different plants and specializes in native plants and hellebores. He can be reached at 304.497.2208 or barry@sunfarm.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/25/2015

 wood flats

The weather will soon give way to temperatures warm enough to plant in our gardens and we need to have transplants ready, which means starting the seeds ahead of time. Although I start most of my seeds in the cold frame, rather than in flats, I thought I’d share what I did when I used flats. If you feel you don’t need to worry about flats because you have plenty of plastic food containers coming into your home that you can use, you might want to rethink that. What are you buying in those plastic containers? If your diet consisted of mostly whole foods prepared at home, those containers wouldn’t be a resource for you.

I would like to encourage you to make your own seed starting flats from wood. When I made the switch to wood flats I used scrap wood we already had, cutting it to the dimensions I needed on our table saw. If you don’t have a table saw, or a ready supply of scrap wood, you might be able to acquire a pallet or two to take apart. It would be nice if the boards on the pallet were the same as the height of the sides you want on your flats. However, unless you need everything to be the same size, you can work with some variation. I had old 1/2-inch plywood that I used for the bottoms, but you can put multiple narrow strips (such as pallet boards) for the bottom, if that is what you have to work with. Plywood does not work as well for the sides. It tends to come apart.

If you are working with many flats, it is nice if the footprint is the same — the length and width. If your flats are large, having some half that size would work--two would fill the same footprint. It makes it easier when using and when storing. Having flats of varying depths, however, can be handy. If you are starting seeds that won’t be in the flats too long, a shallow depth, say 2 inches, would suffice. If your seeds will be in the flat longer, or if you want flats to transplant into, you will need deeper flats — maybe as deep as 6 inches.

I built a three-tiered stand with lights to hold the flats when starting seeds. The shelves were made from ¾-inch plywood that was coated with the type of polyurethane you would use on boats. Wood flats will be damp, but I did not have trouble with them leaking water, unless I over-watered, of course. I put the wood flats directly on the plywood shelves. Depending on the surface you will be using, you might want to cover it with plastic, at least until you know the amount of moisture you will have under the flats.

I followed the guidelines in New Organic Grower and in How To Grow More Vegetables for my early wood flats. You can read about that experience at Homeplace Earth. It was great to use the directions in those two books as a starting point for building my own. I learned what I liked about the size of both designs and would have worked more toward building a quantity to the dimensions that suited me the best if I had not stopped using flats for most of my seedlings. I discovered that I could plant seeds directly in the cold frames to start and didn’t need to bother with the flats at all.

No matter what, there are always new things to learn and experiment with. I hope you give wood flats a try. They will last a long time and you won’t have a build-up of plastic trash in your garden shed. No doubt, you will find other uses for your wood flats when they are not holding soil and seedlings.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.









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