Organic Gardening

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

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Top-bar hives are becoming increasingly popular with beekeepers as they help encourage bees to colonize in a more natural way than Langstroth beehives. The horizontal top-bar hives have bars across the tops for the bees to build their comb off of and more accurately mimic the tree hollows and nooks that bees would inhabit in the wild.

If you have decided to go with a top-bar beehive, you may be eagerly awaiting your first colony of spring bees. Installing them in the top bar frame is a little different than the process with an upright hive, and has some unique requirements.

top bar hive

Receive Bees by Mail

While it may seem unlikely, bees are commonly purchased from apiaries and then sent to you through the US Mail. Your post office will give you an urgent call upon the arrival of the hive, and you can go pick up a wire-covered box filled with honeybees. Bees are sold by the pound, and a new colony is usually a three pound package.

There are many different kinds of bees, and you should research your area and the bees most hardy to your weather conditions before making your purchase. Once you’ve determined the breed of bees you want, you’ll either get a hive with a marked or unmarked queen.

When you pick up your colony at the Post Office, or at a local beekeeper’s, the queen will be in a small cell separated from the rest of the hive by a cork.

Occasionally, apiaries will block the queen’s cell only with a sugary substance that the worker bees can chew through, but usually you will have to remove a cork between the queen and her bees.

The queen is not immediately released into the colony, but should spend her first few days in the compartment while they adjust to her scent.

queen compartment

Install Follower Boards

Before you install the colony in your hive, make sure that only one of the entrances is open. Bees need to defend their hive against possible intruders, and when the colony is starting they won’t have enough guard bees to watch all of the entrances. Block the other entrances with corks so they will not be overwhelmed.

Top-bar hives also have blocking boards that can be placed to limited the number of bars your bees have access to. These are called follower boards, and placing them so your bees can move around between 8-10 bars will prevent them from potentially swarming. Giving them too much space at first will discourage them from believing they can use the space, and therefore they might leave.


Insert a Mason-Jar Feeder

You should also have a feeder installed in the hive. One of your follower boards will have a small hole in it so the bees can access the other third of the hive, and the feeder goes on the other side of that follower board.

A top-bar bee feeder can be created by puncturing a few holes in the top of a mason jar and placing it upside down with a few pieces of wood to lift it so the bees can get under it to drink. Fill the mason jar with a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water and check it regularly to ensure the hive has enough to eat.

package of bees

Installing the Bees

After your hive is set up and you are decked out in protective gear to install your new friends, remove the top and several of the top bars so that you can put the bees into the hive.

The container the bees come in will be wire with a wooden top and bottom and a can of sugar water blocking a hole in the wooden top. Remove the can gently and you will have a large open hole in the box of bees. You should see a yellow strip which you can pull to remove the queens container.

The worker bees will swarm around the queen’s chamber, so be careful removing it from the colony.


After extracting the queen from the bee box, remove the cork from the end of her container and use the yellow strip to attach her to one of the top bars. Once she is installed in the hive, you can add the rest of the colony.

There are some different opinions on how to get the rest of the colony in, but the most common one is pretty simple: Turn the box of bees upside down over the opening in the hive and shake it firmly to remove the bees. They will fall out in a large clump, straight into the hive.

Replace all of the top bars and the top of the hive, and don’t disturb your bees for at least 3-5 days while they settle in.

After 3-5 days, check on the hive to ensure the queen has made it out of her container and your bees are starting to make comb. You can also incorporate a window into the design of a top bar beehive, so you can keep checking up on them without disturbing the colony.

After your bees start making comb and foraging the local flowers, you are well on your way to a successful honey harvest. Check your hive regularly and make sure they have enough space and food, and you should have a very happy colony!

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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


Jacob's Cattle Beans

Saving seeds can be beautiful.

The seed library concept has always intrigued me. A central place to store a community’s seeds makes perfect sense.

Before the invention of overnight world trade and easy transportation, seeds were a local affair. Every season, individual farmers and gardeners saved seeds from their plots out of the necessity of next year. New variety infusions would happen from time to time through trade or barter from neighboring communities.

As people chose the best seeds from their best plants, local varieties (called “landraces”) evolved, giving the community plants adapted to regional conditions like rainfall and soil quality.

These days, local seeds have given way to national (or even international) commercial seed houses. Seeds, which were once scarce and sacred, are now ubiquitous, homogenized, and commonplace. The need for a seed library seems antiquated in our modern age, but within its simple structure is the power of the individual.

All we gardeners need to do is check out some seeds, grow them in our gardens, save the seeds, and return more than we borrowed. The highlight of this process is the seeds returned, no matter where they initially came from, are now localized and organic (as long as one’s garden is).  

Just a few years ago, it seemed like seed libraries were being legislated out of existence. An issue cropped up with the Cumberland County (Pennsylvania) Library’s Simpson Seed Library. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture determined that their seed library violated the state’s seed legislation, and through a settlement, forced the Simpson Seed Library to be replaced with an annual seed swap (which is not nearly the same thing).

In March 2016, there was an amendment to the Pennsylvania law which allows seed libraries to once again become legal. Catastrophe averted.   

My Local Seed Libraries

Personally, I’ve had the opportunity of assisting two different local seed libraries. My first experience was attending several “seed packing parties” with the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Seed Sharing Library.

These gatherings are part work party and part social gathering. Discussing gardening while performing tedious manual activities is a great way to form bonds between strangers with a common interest, though the seed packing process will make you see cross-eyed if you don’t take breaks.

The Kent (Ohio) Free Library reached out to local gardening groups, including my local chapter of Food Not Lawns (Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns), to start their library last year — the Seed Library of the Kent Free Library. They even utilized a seed-saving workshop I gave last summer as their seed library launch.

Several seed packaging parties were organized and highly attended with over 40 people at the first one (thanks to our county Master Gardeners and Food Not Lawns). Opening this spring, the seed library has been well received so far.

What really drove home this new local resource’s importance was having beginning gardeners go down to pick out seeds after one of my recent gardening talks. Everyone loves receiving seeds.

Counting the above mentioned seed libraries, I personally know of 10 Ohio seed libraries. I’m sure there’s probably two to three times that many total in my home state. It seems to me that seed libraries have gone from almost extinct to flourishing in a short period of time.

I’m proud of those who have been brave enough to put their efforts into something that could have been closed down without warning. The next challenge will be keeping these entities going and growing as time goes by.

Seed Library Challenges

Despite these victories, seed libraries do have some problems to overcome. Receiving seed donations is not one of them. There are plenty of commercial seeds to be had at the end of every season. Seed companies can’t sell seeds older than the current year, so those “expired” seeds are available if you know who to ask.

Of course, seeds don’t really expire, though some are not much good after a year or two (parsnips and onions come to mind). Seeds do germinate less and less as time goes on but my answer has always been to plant more the older they get.

As I see it, the real challenge is motivating gardeners to return seeds that they “borrowed”. Beginning seed savers need education as the task at first seems daunting. Everyone should be able to save beans and peas. They are self-pollinating, so there’s little worry about crossing (though it can occur if varieties are planted too close together).

Tomatoes and peppers are the next easiest with lettuce right behind them. I will be teaching another seed saving class in late summer so we can try to overcome this obstacle.  

Seed Saving Packets 

Here are the seeds I checked out of the seed library.

To set an example, I recently checked out 4 varieties of beans (3 green bush and 1 pole) from Kent’s local seed library. They are the easiest to save. Simply grow the beans until the plant dies, wait until the pods dry up in a week or two, and harvest away.

It’s a ritual I already complete every fall with my Jacob’s Cattle dry beans. While splitting out the seeds from the dead pods, I often imagine my ancestors sitting around a fire or an old wooden table working on the same undertaking. Of course, they weren’t watching TV while working like I am, but you get the picture.

I also picked beans (pun not intended but cool nonetheless) as I’m in the market for a new green bean. I’ve grown the 'Tendergreen' variety over the last few years, but I’m not exactly sure they are the ones for me.

Starting a few seasons ago, I started canning dilly beans, even winning first place at the county fair last year. (Note: I was the only entry in the men’s canned bean category, but a win's a win's a win). Straighter, tastier beans with maybe a different color would be a nice change. So, having 40 seeds of 4 different varieties will give me the chance to “try before I buy” while showing others how give back to the library.

Ultimately, I believe our answer will be to find ways to motivate our borrowers beyond reciprocity. We could give rewards, like special mention in the seed library’s weekly email or membership to the “Seed Saver’s Club”. It’s a discussion we need to have since this is our first year.

I also thought about letting seed returners have “first dibs” at the donations before they are available to the public. In my Food Not Lawns experience, seeds are quite the incentive. Heck, maybe even paying people for their efforts might work (even if it’s with Time Credits from our local time bank). We just have to find the right buttons to push.

Final Thoughts

Being involved with these seed libraries has been fulfilling for me as a gardener and permaculture practitioner. Imagining all the heirlooms we can save and new varieties we can create gives me hope for the future. Like any venture, there will be trials and tribulations that will test our resolve, especially since a seed library is mostly a volunteer endeavor.

We also need to worry about the crossing of varieties, especially with newbie seed savers, but for me this is a minor concern. Another angle I believe helps the seed library movement is public libraries are looking to provide new services in this age of information.

With many traditional resources they provide (books, articles, etc) easily acquired online, libraries are now seeking different ways to remain relevant. Seed libraries make them pertinent on a local level.

My wish for you reading this is that you will search out your local seed library and participate. It’s a great way of giving back to your local community while making connections and obtaining resources for yourself and your family.

If you don’t have a seed library that’s close to you, ask your library if they have plans for one in the near future. Public interest often creates new programs. I just hope this new found enthusiasm I’m seeing continues and doesn’t become another green fad.

Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of Don's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Salt Spring Seeds Dan Jason 

I have been growing and talking about the value of pulses — dried peas and beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils — for 30 years, and remain more convinced than ever that they could help renew the health of our planet.

Pulses are tried and true — people in temperate climates have been growing and eating them for more than 10,000 years. Nutritional powerhouses, pulses are still the most essential part of the diets of billions of people worldwide.

Belonging to the amazing and prolific legume plant family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae), pulses can snatch nitrogen out of the air and add it to the earth. Because of this powerful ability to increase the fertility of soil by simply growing in it, they are the epitome of renewable energy.

Growing and Eating Pulses

Easy to grow and prepare, dried peas and beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils can be cooked in a seemingly infinite variety of simple and delicious ways and offer much culinary delight because of their diverse tastes and textures. Cultures around the world have created special dishes for all of the pulses.

The surprising news is that even though most North Americans don’t know beans about beans, our farmers grow vast acreages of pulses to export to millions of people who do appreciate them. And while Canada is the world’s largest exporter of pulses, Canadians consume less than 10 percent of what their farmers grow.

It is time for Canadians and Americans to realize that pulses — flexible enough to be prepared in hundreds of memorable ways for breakfast, lunch or dinner — could and should comprise a much larger portion of our daily diet. And in addition to buying pulses from our local farmers, we can grow them ourselves easily — and organically.

Of all the thousands of years seeds have been handed from farmer to farmer, it’s only in the past 50 or so that poisons have been used to grow food. We are at a crucial moment in our story when it is absolutely vital that we return to feeding everyone with clean food and water instead of continuing to play havoc with the health and well-being of ourselves and all the earth’s creatures.

Pulses can be easily grown without herbicides and pesticides if we size down the North American model of industrial agriculture.

To this day, millions of small farmers grow beans without chemicals. And I have been growing beans myself successfully for 30 years without ever resorting to poisons. Pulses are also light on water, increasingly important on this planet where drought is becoming more and more a daily concern.

Pulses’ Role in Sustainable Agriculture

Being the nutrient-dense and easy-to-grow foods that they are, pulses can point us in the direction of a safe and sustainable agriculture that gives everyone access to clean food and water, along with the possibility of living in health, harmony and mutual benefit.

Renewable energy is everywhere, every day for the celebrating. Pulse plants can show the way by enabling humans to be renewed by our daily food. Like the pulses within our bodies, they are slow and deep and at the heart of things.

Pulses require between 20 to 40 times less fossil fuel to produce than meat, yet they provide incredible protein and nourishment. And meanwhile, these same pulses regenerate our earth, nourishing the soil that nourishes our food.

I hope this post shows how much power there can be in a handful of beans, and how much delight there is to be had in growing and cooking pulses.

Dan Jason is dedicated to popularizing beans as something North Americans should be growing and eating. When he started Salt Spring Seeds in 1986, he sold seed packets for a dozen bean varieties, plus quinoa and amaranth. Thirty years later, Dan is still selling those same crops, but now offers seeds for over 700 different herbs, vegetables, beans, grains and flowers. You can find Dans’ book The Power of Pulses on his website, and Saving Seeds as if Our Lives Depended on It in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


recycling in the garden bed

I can’t tell you how excited I get when I’m able to thriftily recycle and repurpose in my garden. It’s a state near giddiness, I assure you. I chalk it up to a strong Dutch heritage, an inventive mind, a limited pocketbook, and a love for stepping more lightly on the planet.

This past week I recreated my gourd patch from last year. If you read about last season’s harvest, you may recall that the lush and healthy vines slowly encroached on our mowed pathway. I wanted to help make my husband’s mowing task easier this year by containing the vines. I needed to prepare the three planting spots anyway, so I decided to go whole hog and work the bed over more fully for whatever I might want to grow there next season.

Planning and Planting the Perfect Gourd Patch

First, I created my cage from purchased hardware cloth and conduit poles. I’m not so worried about critters bothering my gourds, so I left one end open. That end features a reused section of white picket fence that I nabbed off of a Craigslist find of red bricks a couple of years back. It’s held in place by a large bamboo pole, purchased in a lot at an auction many years ago.

Next, I covered my three planting beds with the visqueen fabric (an auction find, mentioned in a previous post). Then, I covered the rest of the ground with cardboard. I discovered this great tip a few years ago when wanting to quickly kill off large patches of lawn. I now use this method whenever I’m creating a new bed. I use my cardboard double-thick if it’s small boxes or single-thickness if I’m using appliance cardboard.

Where to Find Free Cardboard

Here are some are hints for getting and using free cardboard: Tell the delivery people you want the cardboard from any new appliances. Let your neighbors know you want theirs if they’re getting new stoves or washer/dryers. Ask your local appliance sales stores if you can have some of their large cardboard boxes.

For the smaller boxes, grocery stores are prime gathering spots. You can request that they save you some, and most will if you’re prompt at picking it up. If you can’t plan ahead, or simply want to grab boxes more quickly, I’ve found mornings are the best time for pick up as the boxes haven’t made their way back to the the compactor yet.

Dairy and cold-processed food boxes work well. I also use a lot of produce boxes. It’s best if you remove tape first, otherwise you’ll end up finding the pieces in your bed when you work it in the future.

The great thing about using cardboard, in my opinion, is that it allows for a very quick reuse of the garden space by giving you a solid temporary foundation to build upon. I say temporary because I’ve noticed that the cardboard disappears (is composted) within three to six months, depending on conditions. The elements, worms, and bugs make short work of it, turning it into another depth of richness for your soil.

covering the bed

After placing all my cardboard, making sure to layer over the edges and holes so no grass was showing, I began to layer my straw. I’m lucky to live in farm country so I usually have access to straw from several sources. The bales come either bound by plastic twine or baling wire. I prefer the latter because I cut it and use it to hold my hardware cloth or fencing in place. I also reuse the twine for beans, peas, or other plants to climb.

While I could have simply grabbed small, bunched layers of the straw and spread it out, that would have used more straw. Instead, I scattered it more loosely and built up a mulch of six to ten inches. The Spring rains will compact the straw a bit. This mulched bedding will provide a lovely foundation where my gourds can mature. I will train some of the gourds up and over the repurposed pool ladder that I picked from my neighbor’s trash last Spring. (Yes, I got permission first.) I’m sure the straw will also become a haven to countless critters. That makes me happy.

Also in this bed are some reclaimed concrete blocks. A nearby town has an area where they smash old concrete, bricks, and stone to repurpose for various uses. I asked for and received permission to grab some of the goodies for my garden. I have built the foundations of several beds with the concrete blocks. I used them in this bed to hold the ladder in place. I also used a rescued stone from a torn down school as a sort of altar top. I usually place a container of water there for the birds. Some concrete blocks contain fly ash, a suspected carcinogen, so if you are using these in food beds you should use some sort of barrier between them and the soil.

As you can see in the last photo, my bed is ready for the gourd seedlings currently emerging in the baby plant nursery (aka our guest room). Hopefully, the weather this year will help Mother Nature and I grow another bumper crop of gourds. I can’t wait for more surprises hiding under leaves in the Fall. Until then, I’ll be washing and preparing the gourds from last year so I can create more inspired artwork.

bed ready

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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



Home-grown 'Purple Passion' asparagus emerging from the ground.

It’s a common misconception in the home gardening arena that asparagus is a crop that should never be started from seed. I am not sure when this became the standard dogma, but it is far from the actual truth. Asparagus is a crop that thrives when started from seed and those plants that are derived from home-grown stock tend to be larger and more robust than store-bought crowns.

My husband and I are co-owners of a small, diversified organic vegetable farm in Central Washington. We have been farming professionally for the last 10 years but before that time, we were avid home gardeners with an above average interest in homesteading. We first started asparagus from seed before we knew better. No one had ever told us that it couldn’t be done, so we tried it.

Starting Asparagus Seeds

It all started when we purchased several very expensive crowns of a variety of asparagus known as 'Purple Passion'. We planted them in, what seemed to be, ideal soil conditions and allowed them to fully mature during the first season, forgoing the urge to harvest the gorgeous deep purple stems that began to erupt from the ground.

To our surprise, upon maturing, the asparagus took on a fern-like appearance and grew to a height of approximately 3 feet. At this point, we did not cut the plants back, hoping that this top growth would give the asparagus the opportunity to photosynthesize throughout the summer, creating enough food to allow the root mass to bulk up for a more robust crop the following season.

Upon observation in the fall, we noted that several of the crowns produced tops that were covered in small ball-like fruits (females). These fruits eventually matured from green to bright red. When we popped open these little ripe ‘berries’ we found that they contained several hard, black seeds. On a whim, we gathered up ‘berries’ from several different plants and brought them inside to dry.

It took weeks before all of the moisture dissipated enough to crack open the fragile skin and extract the seeds. We placed the seeds inside a small, clean glass jar and placed them in a cool and dark location until the spring.

Asparagus seed at maturity turns bright red and looks like little ‘berries.'

Our household budget was tight in those days — even tighter than it is now. We knew we wanted a very large patch of asparagus so that we could feed ourselves and our children without having to purchase it at the store. We also wanted to move toward organic and away from conventionally grown asparagus since large amounts of herbicide are used for grass control, the main competitor and chief weed on asparagus farms.

However, to purchase enough crowns to have as much asparagus as our household could eat (much less extra for pickling) would have been prohibitively expensive. And although it would have been possible to purchase a few crowns each season, eventually building up a large bed, we decided to go out on a limb and try and plant those little black seeds that we harvested from our own plants. Our results were surprising.

Surprise, Surprise!

In February, my husband placed several of the small seeds on the surface of a 3.5-inch pot filled with standard potting soil. He lightly covered the seeds with a thin layer of sifted sand and then bottom watered each pot thoroughly.

There were two flats (18 of the 3.5-inch pots on each flat) in total that were potted up that day. The flats were placed on a heat table that kept the soil at approximately 65 to 75 degrees F. For the next few weeks, we tended our little pots, making sure they never dried out and that they stayed sufficiently warm.

Then, quite suddenly, a small batch of toothpick-thin stems began to poke their way out of the ground. Nearly every pot germinated with a smattering of 2-4 stems per pot. We kept the baby asparagus within these small pots for a little over 3 months, transplanting a majority of them outside at the end of May through the beginning of June.

Over the course of the summer, the asparagus settled in and eventually caught up to the crowns that had been planted the previous season!

Since we had run out of room to fit all of our new starts (there were nearly 36 of them from this first experimental planting), we left those that we could not fit in the ground in their 3.5-inch pots, cast aside in the shade next to our greenhouse. They were entirely neglected and ignored and completely forgotten about for a full year.

However, as spring arrived yet again, these little pots that had been allowed to completely dry out suddenly sprang back to life with the coming of the spring rains. Even after all of the trauma of neglect, they still continued to thrive. So, we made space for them and planted them out.

It has now been nearly 10 years since we first tried to grow asparagus from seed. Our bed is still producing and thriving. We only harvest the medium to large stems each season so that the small, pencil-thin stems can branch out and be the food producers for the crowns.

By following this method, we have never suffered from tired crowns of found the need to replace our original stock due to a drop in production. If anything, our harvest seems to increase season by season.

The asparagus in the group on the far right should not have been harvested and should have been allowed to mature and go to seed.

So my advice to you is that, if you love asparagus, forget what you have been told by all of the experts and be bold enough to start your own from seed. It is a rewarding experience and one worth attempting at least once in your gardening career.

Eron Drew is co-owner of Tierra Garden Organics and retreat center manager at Tierra Retreat Center. One of her most recent projects is founding FARMY-Food Army, an organization aimed at offering support to small and start-up farms in North Central Washington and fundraising for a future equipment co-op. If you would like to read more from Eron including essays, past garden-related articles and more, please visit her personal blog, Farmertopia, and find all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


My Spring Garden

My spring garden.

There are veggies and herbs I keep in my garden year after year and then there are the “experiments”. I have my standby’s but I love trying new things each year.  New varieties or just new kinds of edibles.  I try new varieties to find the ones that are most prolific for my garden conditions and new tastes to enjoy.

The perennials in the garden are the back bone of a garden. They come back year after year with no effort on my part. They are the first up in the spring and the last to leave in the winter. If the winters are not harsh, many are harvestable year round.

Edible Herbs and Vegetable Perennials

Herbs: lavender, bay laurel, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, thyme, oregano, salad burnet, common chives, garlic chives, tarragon, horseradish, garlic, Elephant garlic, and leeks. For more on growing herbs, Start a kitchen herb garden!

Vegetables/Fruits: potato onions, Egyptian walking onions, blue potatoes, French sorrel, blood veined sorrel, chard, cultivated dandelions, 9 Star broccoli, strawberries, apples, figs. Corn salad and sprouting broccoli usually comes back from their own seed.

There will also be volunteer lettuce and tomatoes that will pop up here and there that I will transplant to where I want them in the garden. A friend also gave me some Meyer lemon tree seeds that I am trying to start, too.

I have annual herbs, flowers and vegetables that I grow each year. Most I have to either start from seed or purchase bedding plants from the store. There are some that self sow and will come back year after year with no effort on your part. Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em.

Peat Pots And Aerogarden

Peat pots and aerogarden.

Edible Annuals Started this Week

Herbs: cilantro (Slo Bolt since our springs are short), basil (Cardinal with beautiful maroon flowering head, Blue Spice to add to cleaning supplies, Lettuce Leaf for cooking and pesto), stevia, red onions, and chervil for cooking and adding to body oil. I have to have parsley in the garden.  It is a self-sower and usually comes back each year, which it did this year so no more are needed.

I always keep Cayenne and Jalapeño peppers in the freezer for salsa and cooking. Right now, I don’t think I need to restock so I’ll wait and see on planting this year.

For greens, I always plant and start a variety of lettuces, spinach and Giant Red mustard. Lettuce plants purchased: Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Leaf, Paris Island Cos, Coastal Star, Iceberg.

Started from seed: Red Crisphead, Magenta Crisphead, Cracoviensis loose leaf, New Red Fire, and Grand Rapids loose leaf. The Red Crisped and Cracoviensis are new varieties I am trying this year. Grand Rapids was one my Granny grew in her garden.

If you let your lettuce go to seed, you can save them and never have to buy lettuce seed again. Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

I interplant perennial and annual flowers with my edibles. They look wonderful and attract beneficial insects that help pollinate fruiting vegetables, increasing yields. My current perennial flowers are day-lilies, torch lily, gladiolas, and irises.

Flowers Interplanted With Herbs And Vegetables

Flowers interplanted with herbs and edibles.

Annual Flower Seeds

Cock’s comb from seed my dad gave me years ago, Hummingbird vine from seed a neighbor gave me years ago, Tangerine Gem marigold (great deer and pest deterrent), sunflowers, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth, Lilliput zinnias, and Moonflower vine.

I started the small seeds in the Aerogarden and the large seeds (zucchini, beans, Moonflower, lemon tree, sunflower) I started in peat pots on a heating mat.

I decided against broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower this year because the beetle pests were awful last year. All three of these are in the same family.  Without their preferred food this year, the pests should die off and I’ll plant back in the garden next year.

When my babies sprout and have at least their second set of leaves, I put them in the garden where the conditions are best for them. I plant the crops that like cool weather on the north side and where there is more shade to extend the season. The heat lovers I plant where they get the most sun and won’t be shaded by others as they grow.

I like to interplant flowers and crops. This keeps the pests down by not planting one type of crop all together. The flowers attract pollinators and can even repel pests. Get the most from your space-plant intensively!

Place this year’s crops in a different spot than they were last year. Practicing crop rotation does two things: Each type of plant uses different minerals and nutrients from the soil.  Smart rotation will keep your soil from getting depleted of what your crops need.  Rotation also keeps the pests down. (See "Crop rotation made easy for small gardens".)

My Spring Garden
For more on preparing your soil for plant (and crop) nutrition, check out this blog. The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals.

Melodie Metje started her blog, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, to help guide her family's gardening efforts and to keep track of what was happening in her own garden. She named it after the victory gardens grown to help the WWII effort. Melodie thinks we are in a similar situation today: Our country needs our help in battling the war on ill health. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


live grass

With spring finally here and April showers turning everything a wonderful lush green, my lawn has grown phenomenally. I live on just under 1/3 acre and there is a lot of lawn to mow and each weekend I see my neighbors mowing the yard and filling a trash can with grass clippings. 

There is so much more you can do with grass clippings than just throwing them in the garbage; here are some ideas for you to try in your garden over the next few months to put that grass to some good use.

1. Add to Compost

Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen and break down quickly.  Mix them well with some shredded paper, straw, cardboard or other fibrous materials and add to the compost heap.  As the weather warms up your composting microbes and insects will get on the job much quicker so you have plenty of material to spread in autumn.

2. Use as Mulch in Garden Beds

If you are wanting to retain moisture in your soil for your plants, water a little less, suppress weeds and feed your plants over time then try using grass clippings as a mulch.  Simply spread a thick layer of 2-3 inches around your plants and beds and top up as necessary throughout the season.

You will see that the height of the mulch will drop down as the clippings decompose or are taken into the soil by worms. It isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing and you might have ordinances to abide by; for example I can only have bark mulch, rock/gravel in my park strip.

3. Use As a Mulch for Grass

This might sound crazy but in England it is fairly common for people to cut the grass and the clippings are spread as you cut rather than being bagged up. The cut grass breaks down and feeds the lawn and you don’t need to lug a heavy bag of grass clippings about!

You will need to check with your local ordinances or HOA requirements to see if this is allowed. If you have bagged up your lawn clippings, spread them across the grass to provide a natural fertilizer. Try to thinly spread the cut grass so ensure you do not block light underneath the clippings and kill the grass underneath.

Smaller clippings will break down faster and it does not create a thatch (dry grass stuff you need to rake) in your lawn.

4. As a Mulch for Planting Containers

In the hot weather we experience in the summer, containers dry out very quickly as the whole container is heated up by the sun.  A thick layer of grass clippings in the container around your plants will help retain a bit more moisture.

making liquid fertilizer

5. Make Into a Liquid Feed

Liquid organic fertilizers are seemingly more popular year on year in the store but you can make your own liquid plant feed by steeping a couple of handfuls of cut grass in a bucket of water. Keep the water indoors to reduce mosquitoes or use an organic mosquito control option.

liquid fertilizer ready

After about 2 weeks, it look like the image above and will smell pretty terrible, but the plants will love adding a dash of this to the watering can as you water. You can also use the same technique for perennial weeds.

6. As a Livestock Feed

If your grass is cut with an electric or hand-push mower, you could use the cut grass to supplement diets of herbivores. I have fond memories of grabbing handfuls to feed the guinea pig and rabbit as a child and how excited they would get.  You would not want to use wet clippings since they spoil quickly and can make animals sick.

cut grass

7. Layer in a Raised Bed

If you are building a raised bed or a hugelkultur bed, you can use a thick layer of grass clippings to provide nutrients and build up the bed which will use less compost to make up the volume.  The added bonus is that the grass clippings help to break down the carbon rich fibrous material in a hugelkultur bed.

Emma Raven has been gardening, cooking, canning and home brewing for most of her life. Formulation scientist, blogger, home brewer and avid gardener. Born in a village on the northern east coast of England, she now calls the Wasatch Mountains of Utah home. Find Emma at Misfit Gardening, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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