Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Add to My MSN


the market gardener

I recently attended The Six Figure Farming Tour Conference with Jean Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener- A Successful Growers Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming. The conference was hosted by the Missouri Young Farmers Coalition a state chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition. The daylong conference not only gave us a ton of useful information, but also allowed us to network with like minded growers. With over 140 in attendance, the conference doubled as an exciting social event to share ideas and stories with fellow farmers. In Fortier’s book, The Market Gardener, he describes how beginning farmers can follow in his footsteps to make farming on one acre profitable and fulfilling. The entirety of his garden planning is centered on building healthy soil. The Market Gardener is a comprehensive guide to small scale farming using environmentally practices and no till methods. Fortier includes well organized chapters which gives the reader equal parts knowledge, encouragement, and a touch of humor. Fortier graciously includes soil building strategies, supply lists, planting charts, weed prevention techniques, disease and insect prevention steps, garden maps, cover crop recommendations, and so much more. His book illustrates how to successfully earn a living from selling vegetables through CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture) as well as local Farmers Markets. Fortier and his wife own Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec, Canada, where four individuals operate a successful growing operation on just 1 ½ acres of permanent raised beds. Their motivation for improving on efficiency in the fields was to increase their quality of life as a family. They wanted to spend more time just walking through the fields with their children as well as more time spent engaging with them in nature outside of the farm.


In his workshop, Fortier described soil as the engine that runs the farming operation. The engine is the active fertile soil which contains a plethora of micro organisms, earthworms, fungi, spiders and life giving nutrients. He described a good soil as loose, breathable, and rich with bacterial life. In order to achieve this, the soil must have a nice warm temperature, have good pH balance, good aeration and drainage, and must be fed with organic matter including compost. In addition, crop rotation and cover cropping are vital components to soil health. Good soil yields good crops. The natural fertilizers Fortier uses include chicken manure from a local farm, compost that is shipped in to avoid weed seeds. Fortier has tree trimming companies that clean up along power lines deliver tree trimmings to his farm that he lays on pathways to add carbon and focus on fungi in the fields.



His model of soil building focuses primarily on permaculture techniques to achieve permanent raised beds. For example, on a 100 ft bed, he makes permanent beds and lays silage tarps (a French growing method called occultation) on the fall to smother weeds. In the spring, he removes the black plastic and underneath is a layer of clear plastic which warms the soil. After a few weeks, he removes the clear plastic and then uses a rotary plow, a broad fork to loosen soil which activates life in the soil, adds vermicompost for nutrients and finally uses a harrow as the final bed preparation for loose soil to plant easily in.

To save time and resources Fortier and his crew have a strategic plan in place which is consistent, yet adaptable. They sow seeds in trays using a vacuum seeder. They transplant with a paper pot transplanting implement. They use a flame torch to remove weed seedlings from crops such as carrots. They also use a variety of hand tools such as the collinear hoe for weeding which are sharpened daily as well as a wheel hoe. They use overhead sprinklers for germination.

His advice to beginning farmers is, “Start small and then gradually add on. Focus on specialized processes that you enjoy doing”. In terms of choosing a sustainable growing model, his advice to beginning farmers is that it is best to choose one model of growing which includes operating costs, budgeting, seed selection, growing methods, weed and disease prevention and management and stick to it. With Fortier’s method and his book, rather than reinventing the wheel, beginning farmers have a complete guide to small scale farming at their fingertips. His book is a step by step guide which walks the reader through every process included and offers plenty of troubleshooting assistance. He encourages beginning farmers to go apprentice on a farm for a season to first see if it’s a compatible profession with the individual.

Fortier has weeded out any unsuccessful aspects of his farming operation. He leaves a percentage of his operation open to change and advances in technology or improvements made on trusted tools he uses regularly. He is always looking for new innovative methods of improving quality, maximizing efficiency and reducing his carbon footprint. While his success as both an author and a farmer is astounding, Fortier makes it a point to humble himself and to make it known that he is always learning and deeply expresses his gratitude to those who have taught him along the way, such as Organic Gardening Guru, Eliot Coleman. He prefers that the credit be given to the concepts and ideas rather than to him. When asked why he wrote a book giving away all his secrets, Fortier responded, “I am just passing along useful information just as it has been passed along to me… Donnez au Suivant (pay it forward).”

Fortier’s meticulous attention to detail and diligent record keeping have allowed him to devise a plan which can easily be implemented around the globe, with some flexibility and adaptations of course. His ability to seamlessly keep crops in rotation, weeds at bay and harvest bountiful speaks to his dedication to the environment and his personal passion to love the life he lives and make a living while doing it. Farming is hard work and one of the ways Fortier motivates himself his employees and their interns is integrating archaic harvest songs from cultures around the world into their daily work routine. He looks at different tribes and their historical connection with food. Song is often a part of the harvesting process. Additionally, he receives inspiration from other agrarian cultures without big machinery devised efficient methods of farming in relation to posture, weight balancing, planting techniques, harvesting methods, as well as many others.


Fortier relies heavily on the support of his community and the support from local foods organizations. For example, Fortier is involved with Equiterre, a Non-Profit Organization based out of Canada which aims to create healthy solutions to pressing environmental issues. One aspect of their operation is a farmer network, which hosts one of the largest CSA networks in the world. This organization has helped build a strong community involvement in sustainable agriculture and the local foods movement, which is necessary for education and awareness. Fortier believes that localization is reversing the trend of globalization. Through eating and growing, the good food revolution is illustrating, demonstrating and painting a picture of how we can be a part of the solution.” As farmers by bringing quality food top the communities and as consumers, supporting local farmers, the needs are met in a sustainable and mutually beneficial way. The relationship between growers and community members thrives becoming a symbiotic relationship. Fortier appreciates the concept of Terroir, a French word describing the essence of where a revered crop is grown, how the air the water the sun and the soil are components to its robust flavor. It’s often used in describing the terrain and geographical location and all of its specific components of grapes that give wine its various flavors. Terroir relies on the desire for individuals to value where their food comes from and is a vital aspect of marketing the food that farmers grow. There is something to be said about growing fresh organic produce in healthy soil. The vibrant sun kissed fruits of the labor are the very thing that nourishes and sustains us. Fortier has an unmatched passion for teaching others the importance of growing quality food. The future of food looks brighter because of individuals like Jean-Martin Fortier planting the way for future farmers to easily implement eco friendly farming methods in their own communities. Jean-Martin displays a true sense of earth stewardship in the farming community.

For more information and practical small scale farming advice, visit Fortier’s website The website also has a plethora of tips, tutorials and videos that explain practical small scale farming techniques and tips.

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.


Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

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.

Fiddlehead Farm

The experience he had at the Arcata Educational Farm was Rowan’s introduction to a farming lifestyle and, even at that early stage, he knew it would be his guiding force leading forward.

When their work in Arcata ended, Katie and Rowan did some traveling, including some international farm interning called WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). They both believe it was then – when they were working on a farm in Argentina – that their thinking solidified around the idea of wanting to start their own farm.

After returning to the U.S., Rowan and Katie moved to Portland, Oregon, where Rowan began graduate school at Portland State University while Katie found work at Portland’s highly respected 47th Avenue Farm.

As Katie gained greater experience with a large commercial agricultural operation, Rowan worked on a graduate study program that would benefit not only his own farming future, but the future of many other beginning farmers.

“Much of my time in grad school was spent developing a proposed farm incubator program for the Portland area. I wanted to create a mechanism to help other people get started in farming while promoting scales of agriculture that I believe are beneficial to a community. But I also focused on the conservation piece… making sure that conservation agricultural practices and good stewardship are used. I went to grad school with the intent of doing something with community agriculture, and this incubator study seemed the perfect way to do that.”

Eventually Rowan’s research led to his current position as incubator farm manager for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District – a position that helps support the legacy he and Katie are building at Fiddlehead Farm. But that legacy doesn’t come easy. Several years in and benefiting from Katie’s retired parents now living on the property and sharing the financial burden, farming remains a genuine challenge. And the biggest hurdles always are the same… dealing with the abundance of work and the scarcity of money.

Rowan believes there’s money to be made. “You can make a living… there’s money to be made, but it just takes a long time. Frank Morton [of Wild Garden Seed] said at a local conference that eventually the poverty starts to go away. You have to make it work with other things in your life. If Katie wasn’t committed to being a full-time farmer, we couldn’t pull this off. I’m just not around enough. And then if we didn’t have my additional income we wouldn’t be building the barns and greenhouses. But we’ve found our balance. I get enough hands-in-the-dirt time to keep myself satisfied, and we’re able to get enough help to keep her sane. That’s how we’ve made it work. I think that each farmer and each farm needs to find their own way of making the operation work.”

For Katie and Rowan or any other young farmers, one essential element of making ends meet and finding success is integrating yourself into the local farming community.

Fiddlehead Farm kale crop

Katie points out that beginning as a farmer means learning to be alone a great deal. “You have to be okay with a certain degree of isolation. Eventually you’ll probably add some employees or interns, but that takes time. I believe that one reason a lot of farmers don’t make it is because they feel like they’re alone and not part of a larger network of like-minded people.”

Rowan agrees, “We’ve been able to be successful as a farm because we came into it with a strong community. We’ve had no problem leaning on that community or being a part of that community to support other people when those times come. We certainly recognize that we’re not doing this in a vacuum.”

Being located close to the Portland metro area helps Rowan and Katie feel attached, which they see as an advantage that farmers living far from a population center may not benefit from. Also, when a person who is trying to farm sustainably is surrounded by neighbors who don’t share the same approach or goals, it’s easy to feel like an island.

Katie sums up community this way… “We know we’re all here for each other. We talk on the phone. We sell each other stuff. We can feel the community. When you find people you like and respect and they like you and have the same vision… you hold onto those people.”

Armed with experience, community, multi-generational support, established markets, personal commitment, and land they own, it appears that Katie and Rowan have put all the pieces together to have successful careers as farmers. But even with this degree of preparation, there are no guarantees for small family farms. In fact, the cards are stacked against them.

Enormous quantities of tax dollars go each year to support our country’s industrial food system, in spite of the fact that it’s been proven repeatedly that the way we grow and consume food in this country will eventually bankrupt us… both financially and environmentally.

But Rowan believes people are beginning to recognize the limitations of the current food system. “From a cultural standpoint, from an economic standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, I think people are beginning to see that things have to change. Or maybe I’m being naive. Maybe that’s just the Portland bubble talking, while most people remain completely ignorant about how it’s impacting their lives.

“To be honest, on this subject I’m kind of a doom and gloom guy, and I think it’s going to take a big market shift. Some sort of shock to the system that will ultimately lead people out of it.

“Food is so complicated. As producers I think we try and do as much as possible… we stick the seed in the ground, we grow our crop, we harvest it, and we bring it to market. That’s our piece, but it’s so much bigger than us. It’s so far out of our control that I think if you tried to look at it from a big scale all the time and tried to base your operation off of exclusively your own values, you’d just be swallowed up by it. It’s too big and too complex. And as long as corporations can invest money in our elections, we probably aren’t even going to get labeling of genetically modified organisms on food packages.

“But we can’t let that stop us. While we’re farming this land, we have a responsibility to do it in a sustainable way. Good stewardship of the soil and the water is about more than just us. Will our child want to farm this land? Who knows. But if she doesn’t, we both hope that someone else will. Our job is to create a farm that will sustain life for many generations to come. And that’s what we intend to do.” 

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

Kindle version now available for $4.99.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: A view of Fiddlehead Farm from the northwest corner of their property. Fiddlehead is located in the northern Willamette Valley where the valley rises to meet Mt. Hood.

(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Kale is a major crop at Fiddlehead. Originally, Rowan and Katie supplied a kale chip maker, but now the majority of their kale goes to local grocery chain, New Seasons Markets.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Garlic is another mainstay crop for Rowan and Katie... including seed garlic. They also make excellent garlic powder.

Click here to read Part 1 of this series. And you can read all of John Clark Vincent's blog posts here.

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.


My family enjoys carrots and greens from the garden all winter. I will show you a 3-bed garden plan that can guide you to the same results. The picture shows Beds 1-3 with the arrows indicating where the crops in each bed rotate to the next year. You can see that the crops in Bed 1, rye and carrots, rotate to Bed 3 the next year, while the crops indicated in Bed 3 one year are grown in Bed 2 the next, as so on. Having a garden map showing all the beds in your garden and what is planted in them is the most basic of garden records you should keep. You will find more about this 3-bed plan at Homeplace Earth.

The secret to the carrots is to get them started early enough to be mature by mid-October or earlier. I want the soil to be well fed naturally and find that planting cereal rye, often called winter rye, the previous fall works well. I make a note on my garden map to plant the rye in this bed in rows, rather than broadcasting it. The rye puts a tremendous amount of biomass in the soil with its roots, adding to the organic matter. The time to harvest is when it has finished its life cycle and produced grain and straw, giving you seeds to eat or plant back and straw for mulch or compost material. At that point it can be cut close to the ground leaving the stubble, which is in rows if I remembered to do that. I lightly hoe between the rows of stubble and plant the carrot seed. I have to take care to make sure that bed is watered to get things off to a good start, but I don’t have trouble with rye inhibiting the germination. You sometimes hear not to plant small seeded crops after rye because of that, but I believe that is referring to when rye is tilled in green in the spring. Planting into the stubble in June is entirely different.

Winter greens — kale and collards — are transplanted in mid-August in the bed the carrots were harvested from in the spring. That means that I need to plant the kale and collard seeds in early July so that I will have good transplants. I start all my seeds in my coldframes or other containers outside, rather than planting in flats inside, keeping my coldframes is use all year. As soon as something comes out, something else goes in.

The winter greens will be out in the spring in the bed that the rye will be planted in (in rows) in the fall. The green areas on the map are left to your discretion. If you want to plant soil building cover crops there (good choice) you could first plant fava beans or field peas in early spring, followed by other legumes or buckwheat during the summer months until time to plant kale and collards or rye. You could also plant spring wheat there, followed by a legume.

If you have a good source of soil nutrients to bring in for replenishment rather than using cover crops, you could fill the beds with crops for eating, such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, and bunching onions early and any number of summer crops once the soil warmed. A low tunnel over the kale/collard bed would give protection to other spring crops once the kale and collards are out. In Bed 3 you have time to plant winter squash or sweet potatoes and mulch them with straw from the rye harvest.

Now is the time to be planning your garden for the whole year. I hope you put some of these ideas into your plan so you have carrots and greens from your garden next winter.

Cindy Conner has produced DVDs about cover crops and garden planning and is the author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. 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.


Now is the perfect time to start planning your summer garden. Time is on your side as there are plenty of weeks until the spring’s last frost. If you need some suggestions for gardening solutions, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a look at six gardening methods that can mix up your old ways and provide a welcoming new air to your garden this planting season.

1. No-Till Gardening

no-till gardening

Instead of turning over the soil this season to prepare for new growth, consider a no-till garden. This type of garden leaves the earth beneath the surface untouched, so the microorganisms aren’t disturbed. This allows the natural process to take place without the interference of tilling. Adding compounds such as compost, manure, lime or peat as needed will strengthen a no-till garden.

No-till gardens provide the following benefits:

  • Reduces the need to weed
  • Promotes natural drainage and aeration
  • Conserves water
  • Strengthens earthworm population
  • Helps soil maintain carbon

2. Straw Bale Gardening

strawbale gardening

Perhaps you want to experiment with gardening in a new location. With straw bale gardening, you can grow crops in a driveway, parking lot, rooftop, patio or other outdoor location. Straw bales provide gardeners with all the benefits of a raised bed but are soilless.

The other added bonus is that you start fresh with every season. This brings with it the confidence of knowing the plot is disease-free and ready to use for planting. Also, straw bale gardening allows for earlier planting times because the straw releases heat as it decomposes.

3. Vertical Gardening

vertical gardening

If you’re working with limited space, or want an additional garden to supplement your larger one, a vertical garden is a worthy option. You can create a variety of vertical gardens, such as the following:

• Hanging baskets
• Containers
• Shelves
•A frame with cross supports and built-in shelves

With height on your side, plants can be stacked upon one another using appropriate shelving or tiered tables. A combination of different-sized pots, containers and hanging baskets can add dimension and depth to a vertical garden. Crops that normally take up a lot of space in a traditional garden can be trained to grow upwards in a vertical garden, which is an added benefit.

4. Pallet Gardening

pallet gardening

Pallet gardens make perfect salad gardens, but they can be used to plant any kind of crop. The pallets act as precise rows for evenly spaced crops (Above, you can see a pallet/vertical gardening combo).

Be sure to use a heat-treated pallet, marked with an “HT” on the side. This indicates it wasn’t chemically treated. Add some good soil and seeds, and you’ll be ready to grow. Be sure to watch for old nails or staples if you use a recycled pallet.

5. Window Gardening

window gardening

Window gardens are lovely supplements to your outdoor garden and bring an element of nature to your indoor space. They are also useful for people who don’t have any access to outdoor planting areas. Using the space around any window, large or small, you place pots, hanging plants or planters. All you need is a window. Be sure to opt for a window that lets in plenty of sunshine, and plant accordingly. If you use more than one window, group plants requiring the same amount of sun together.

6. Container Gardening

container gardening

Another way to grow plants just about anywhere, container gardening might be your next method to try this spring. You can plant early and bring the containers in at night if necessary, giving you a head start on the growing season.

Containers come in a delightful variety of shapes and sizes, so there’s something to fit every space. A container garden can be as simple or as complex as you make it. Furthermore, container gardens welcome a variety of vegetables, but tomatoes, beets, carrots and peppers are among the most popular.

Hopefully these ideas give you some inspiration as you begin to think about your garden for the upcoming spring season. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with finding a used tractor and going to town on the traditional garden of your dreams, but not everyone has the space for that.

There are many ways to get creative with your gardening, and you have plenty of time to start planning and gathering materials. Why not try something new this year?

Images by Ruth Temple, Kristine Paulus, missellyrh, FOODLANDER, mazaletel and woodleywonderworks

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.


This is a must see film about the poverty America’s migrant farmworkers faced 55 years ago. It aired the day following Thanksgiving in 1960 on CBS Reports and was hosted by Edward R. Murrow.

Many of these scenes are far from pretty, children left unattended and uneducated while their parents go work in the fields all day harvesting vegetables and fruit for little pay, families of six living in their cars sleeping in the woods on the side of the road to follow the harvest, groups of families temporarily living in farm camps with only one source of water, bales of straw to sleep on, and zero toilets. This is not a feel good film.

It’s still a must see, however. By the end of this 52 minute film I was left with two things. One question and one strong feeling of motivation to continue growing my own food, supporting local farms, and praying for the hard working farm laborers before I eat each meal. My question - although this film is from 55 years ago, how have the conditions for the migrant farmworker changed?

Before getting into that last question and sending you to my blog to watch CBS’s 50-year follow-up to Harvest of Shame, along with links to all the other follow-ups produced by CBS and also NBC, and before sharing my personal and positive experience working on a farm harvesting vegetables, let me list some quotes that really stood out to me as I watched this movie.

• “One farmer looked at this and said, we used to own our slaves, now we just rent them.” – Murrow, film narrator, as crew leaders load hired laborers into the back of trucks headed out to the fields to harvest vegetables and fruits for the day.
• “This is as primitive as man could live.” – a priest talking about a settlement of former migrants called ‘the bottom’
• “Approximately 1 out of every 500 children whose parents are still migrant laborers finishes grade school. Approximately 1 out of every 5,000 ever finishes high school. And there is no case up on the record of the child of a migrant laborer ever receiving a college diploma.” - Murrow
• “The migrant farmer is the most poorly housed member of our society.” – Senator Harrison Williams, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor
• “We live anywhere, in a tent, under a shade tree, under a river bridge, we drink water out of a creek or anywhere we can get it, 5 or 6 families drink out of one cup, a tin can, or anything else. We’re to blame. We tolerate that stuff. If we stick together and say we won’t do it, we won’t pick your cherries until you give us some restrooms in the fields for the ladies, and some for the men, and some water fit to drink, we won’t pick them. We got them!” – a farmworker in a town meeting debating a strike
• “The migrant farmworker occupies the lowest level of any major group in the American economy. The soil has produced no Samuel Gompers or John L. Lewis.” - Murrow
• “Is it possible to have love without justice? Is it possible that we are … we think too much in terms of charity, in terms of Thanksgiving day baskets, in terms of Christmas baskets, and not in terms enough of eliminating poverty?” – Julian Griggs, a chaplain for the migrants

Now watch this movie while keeping in mind it is up to us to make a difference - which we can, will, and currently are - by growing our own food at home, with community members, and by supporting local and sustainable farms. And by reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

You can hear my personal and positive story about working on a farm and also watch all the follow-ups to Harvest of Shame on my blog, Mad Love Organix.

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.


Those of us who plant our gardens from seed nearly always have a stockpile of seeds from previous seasons. About this time each year we ask ourselves, “Should I use the seeds I have on hand, or buy new ones?” Tempting as it may be to use last year’s seeds, they are not free. There is a cost in time and effort that comes with planting seeds that fail. At the very least, last year’s seeds can throw you off schedule if they aren’t viable. The simple reality is that you don’t know if your seeds will perform at an acceptable level unless you test them. You can’t tell by looking at them, and you can’t tell by the date on the packet. There are too many variables in the way seeds respond to storage conditions and how long certain varieties remain viable. You need to test.

Testing seeds is easy and inexpensive. All you need are some petri dishes, litmus paper, a pair of tweezers and your seeds. A medicine dropper also comes in handy. If you can’t find them locally, petri dishes and litmus paper can be ordered online from Indigo Instruments.

Carefully distribute your seeds over the litmus paper. 

In order to get an accurate test you need a sufficient sample of seeds. 25 will do. If you have fewer than 25 seeds, you need to test enough of whatever you have to get a meaningful result, at least 10. You simply put the litmus paper in the petri dish, and then place the seeds one by one on the dry paper with your tweezers so they are separated from one another (this makes counting easier later on). Once your seeds are distributed over the paper, carefully drop water in different spots until the moisture spreads throughout the litmus paper. You want it moist but not saturated. Too much water will make the seeds rot. Start with a few drops to see how they spread. Add more if the paper is dry.

Cover, label and date your seed sample. 

When you finish these steps, put the lid on the petri dish and affix a label that includes the seed type, number of seeds, and today’s date. When you’ve done this with all the seeds you wish to test, put them in a low traffic location out of direct light where the air temperature is comfortable. A shelf in your kitchen, pantry or office will do.

Count the germinated seeds after they sprout. 

Generally seeds begin to germinate in 7-10 days, although certain varieties can respond more quickly. Typically, if the seeds are going to germinate, they will do so more or less together, within 2-3 days of each other. After this flush has finished you will have an idea of what to expect when the seeds are planted in soil. If 20 seeds out of 25 germinate you have an 80 percent germination rate. If 15 out of 25 germinate you have a 60 percent germination rate. To get an idea of where to draw the line, take a look at the numbers below which specifies the minimum federal germination requirements for various vegetable varieties:

• Artichoke: 60
• Asparagus: 70
• Asparagus bean: 75
• Bean, garden:70
• Bean, lima: 70
• Bean, runner: 75
• Beet: 65
• Broadbean: 75
• Broccoli: 75
• Brussels sprouts: 70
• Burdock, great: 60
• Cabbage:75
• Cardoon: 60
• Carrot: 55
• Cauliflower: 75
• Celeriac: 55
• Celery: 55
• Chard, Swiss: 65
• Chicory: 65
• Chinese cabbage: 75
• Chives: 50
• Citron: 65
• Collards: 80
• Corn, sweet: 75
• Corn salad: 70
• Cowpea: 75
• Cress, garden: 75
• Cress, upland: 60
• Cress, water: 40
• Cucumber: 80
• Dandelion:60
• Dill: 60
• Eggplant: 60
• Endive: 70
• Kale: 75
• Kale, Chinese: 75
• Kale, Siberian: 75
• Kohlrabi: 75
• Leek: 60
•Lettuce: 80
• Melon: 75
• Mustard, India: 75
• Mustard, spinach: 75
• Okra: 50
• Onion: 70
• Onion, Welsh: 70
• Pak-choi: 75
• Parsley: 60
• Parsnip: 60
• Pea: 80
• Pepper: 55
• Pumpkin: 75
• Radish: 75
• Rhubarb: 60
• Rutabaga: 75
• Sage: 60
• Salsify: 75
• Savory, summer: 55
• Sorrel: 65
• Soybean: 75
• Spinach: 60
• Spinach, New Zealand: 40
• Squash: 75
• Tomato: 75
• Tomato, husk: 50
• Turnip: 80
• Watermelon: 70

If the seeds you are testing germinate below these standards you should strongly consider buying new seeds.

Certain seed varieties tend to rot when they are tested in this manner. These include pumpkins, melons, beans and peas. The latter two are highly absorbent and will need additional water as they dry out, and this encourages rot. There is no easy way around this. All I can suggest is giving them a try and judging from the results. Also, you may find that beets, chard and spinach are difficult to test. Give them a try to see if you are successful.

Now you know how to do this – it’s time to get started! It may be freezing today but planting season is soon upon us.

Next time we’ll take a look at solarizing your soil, a project which can yield miraculous results.

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.


Aerogarden seed starting

I know it seems spring is far, far away in January. Luckily for us gardeners we get to start spring early! End of January into February is seed starting time indoors. I have outlined by month the plant seeds to start indoors between now and April for our Zone 6 garden.

Many big box stores will begin getting in their seeds this month. There are great varieties that can be ordered on line. Some of my favorites are Abundant Life, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Territorial Seed gives a month by month planting guide along with detailed growing guide. Johnny’s gives a seed germination temperature guide. They will send you free catalogs or you can go on-line to visit their web page. High Mowing is offering free shipping this season.

Here is a a map that shows where many seed companies are located.

Seed packets will tell you how far in advance of your last frost date to start your seeds indoors. Look up your last frost date at Moon Garden Calendar.

January and February are cold season crops seed starting time. March and April is the time for warm season veggie and herbs to get their indoor start.

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)

• Artichokes
• Arugula
• Bay
• Beans (dry & lima)
• Blackberries
• Blueberries
• Broccoli
• Cabbage
• Catnip
• Celery
• Chives
• Edamame
• Endive
• Escarole
• Fennel
• Fenu
• Fruit trees & bushes
• Garlic
• Horseradish
• Leek
• Lettuce
• Mache
• Mint
• Mizuna
• Onions
• Parsley
• Peas
• Potatoes
• Rhubarb
• Shallots
• Strawberries
• Summer savory
• Sorrel
• Spinach

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)

• Bee balm
• Celeriac
• Eggplant
• Kale
• Kohlrabi
• Lavender
• Leeks
• Lettuce
• Lovage
• Marjoram
• Mustard
• Onions
• Oregano
• Parsley
• Peas
• Rosemary
• Scallions
• Spinach
• Thyme
• Turnips


• Artichokes
• Broccoli
• Chamomile
• Chard
• Cilantro
• Comfrey
• Fennel
• Lemon verbena
• Lettuce
• Okra
• Onions
• Peppers
• Raddichio
• Sage
• Spinach
• Summer squash
• Tarragon
• Tomatoes


• Basil
• Beans
• Cucumber
• Lettuce
• Melon
• Winter squash
• Stevia

You can also start perennial flowers indoors as well. For any plant, look at the seed packet for when to plant according to your frost date. Then back up the time from there on when to start indoors. Typical seed starting is 6-8 weeks prior to the plant out date.

For more tips on small space organic gardening, see Melodie's blog at 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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.