Organic Gardening

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

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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.


A few years ago our collaborator, Menkir Tamrat, introduced us to a number of Ethiopian peppers and mustards. One of the mustards he brought to us – Highland Kale — turned out to be particularly captivating. Since then, we have increasingly ramped up production of this “blue” mustard, and it has become a mainstay of our winter and spring crops.

Highland Kale or Gomenzer

An Incredible Mustard: New Uses and a New Name

In Ethiopia, “Highland Kale” is known as Gomenzer, and the seeds are typically used for their cooking oils. Indeed, in many cases another, more collard-like, green called Gomen is preferred by Ethiopian chefs. However, we were initially struck by the smooth, full flavor of Gomenzer, and also its tenderness and lack of bitterness. It is a versatile green that can be eaten fresh, and mixed into salads, or cooked in oil with garlic. We also use it in soups, often adding it last, so that it retains much of its texture.

When we took samples of this versatile green to chefs, and other friends, the response was overwhelmingly positive. With no commercial seed source available, we started to harvest seed, for ourselves and others.

When it came time to start selling Gomenzer through our primary wholesale customer – San Francisco Specialty Produce – we needed a “common” name that could be used to convey the essence of the product. What we came up with was “Highland Kale”. Although Gomenzer is strictly-speaking a “mustard” we used “kale” because the color and flavor is very reminiscent of Tuscan Kale, albeit  softer and milder.  The “Highland” part of the name refers to the origins of Gomenzer in the cool highlands of Ethiopia. Other names for Gomenzer (Brassica carinata) are Ethiopian Blue Mustard and Ethiopian Kale. 

Growing Highland Kale

Highland Kale seeds germinate and grow quickly, and thus it competes well with weeds.  For this reason, we use Highland Kale as part of our winter cover crop, and we also grow it in rows that are seeded by hand. We typically sell the shoot “tops” that are similar to Broccoli Raab tops (but much better tasting, as far as we are concerned). The Highland Kale tops are more leafy than Broccoli Raab tops. It is nice that, when the tops of the plants are removed, lower secondary shoots provide us with 2nd and 3rd cuttings off of the same rows. Thus it is important to not cut all the way to the ground when harvesting. Allowing regrowth can be very important, particularly when trying to get a financial return on this crop.

Highland Kale also makes a great micro-green and a great baby green. And one more characteristic worth mentioning is that Highland Kale’s flavor stands up well to warm, summer temperatures. While many types of mustard greens become bitter as the temperature warms, Highland Kale remains tender with minimal bitterness. Bolting, however, is more rapid, and Highland Kale plants grown in the summer do not grow as large, prior to bolting and flowering. 

Since all of these uses require many seeds, we make sure we let a couple of rows go “to seed” in the early summer. The great thing about harvesting Highland Kale is that the seed pods do not shatter easily on the plant, but shatter readily with a bit of rubbing by a harvester. So, it is easy to efficiently harvest seeds without fancy equipment. A set of seed screens is of great help, however, for cleaning the seed. Once cleaned, the seed should be spread out and allowed to dry. Packing up seed that is not fully dried will result in molding and should be avoided. Storing seed in paper envelopes is also recommended, to avoid molding.

Highland Kale is Now Available to Growers Large and Small

Of course, not everyone has the time to harvest their own seed, even when they need to use large amounts. For this reason, it is very exciting that Johnny’s Selected Seeds began selling a Highland Kale cultivar called Amara this year, that is available in bulk quantities. From what they tell us, Amara is a bit greener, and it does not have the tinges of purple that we see on the cultivar of Highland Kale that we have developed. While we have not grown our cultivar and Amara side-by-side yet, we are doing that now, as I just bought 5 lbs of Amara from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in an effort to keep up with the strong demand for Highland Kale we are seeing this winter from our produce customers. We also have a darker green version of Highland Kale that we grow in small quantities. It will be exciting to see all 3 cultivars side-by-side this spring!

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.


As you are flipping through the catalogs that are no doubt arriving in your mailbox this time of year, you may take note of what’s new and improved for the season that you could add to spice up your garden. I know I do! But hidden in there is a whole group of plants that are not so new, but hold a great promise: everlasting or dried flowers. Everlasting flowers are some of my favorites to grow for one simple reason: they have beauty that will last, and last, and last, making them well suited to their name.

I’ve been reunited with everlasting flowers in the past few years as I have shifted into being the main seed cleaner in our company. That sounds odd, but here’s why: many of these everlasting flowers are not grown for the flowers themselves, but for the amazing and often intricate pods they leave behind that I get to examine as I collect their seeds. Much to the chagrin of my husband, I find all these pods too beautiful to compost, and they end up in my attic for crafting. But, I will say, now that the fog of having a child has somewhat lifted, I have been using my discoveries (and other fun finds like pine cones, mistletoe, and fallen lichen) to make some pretty neat wreaths. I wondered if wreaths of dried flowers had grown passé until I went to set up an Etsy account and found that I was not alone in the slightest in my passion for dried flowers and pods crafting. In fact, there are a lot of us “pod-heads” out there!

Cleaning Moneyplant Seed

My love of these flowers started at a young age and I would imagine if I had to pinpoint it to one specific variety it would be Moneyplant (Luneria annua). After the bright purple blooms of this fast growing hardy biennial are spent, it produces wonderful paper thin translucent coins that the seeds are attached too. As a child I loved to gather the seeds and coins and now that I play a large role in the seed harvesting of our herb farm, I get to play like a kid every year. The wonderful thing about these decorative coins is that you don’t have to treat them in any way to dry them for crafting – they dry naturally on the plant. This is a great example of a two-for-one flower for your garden – it makes a wonderful fragrant background plant and cut flower for with a long bloom time in the garden and then can come inside as a cut flower, and then as a dried flower for crafts. If you like this silvery delicate paper look, you may want to try growing Roman Shield (Fibigea clypeata). The plants themselves are not particularly showy. They grow to about 18 inches in a gray-green shade, suitable for moon gardens, and have inconspicuous yellow flowers. But as the flower fades, they transform into dime-sized white velvet covered pods. If you pick them early in this stage, the velvet-like covering will stay on. If you wait a bit, these covers will fall away and you will be left with a stem flanked on either side by silver “shields”. The pods dry well and are surprisingly sturdy in either form.

I was reminded of the manifold uses of another in our everlasting flower collection when I had a customer place an order for 25 packets of Blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro). He was not a florist or crafter, as it turns out, but a beekeeper. It so happens that bees go crazy for echinops! Bees aren’t the only ones that have their eye caught by this one; the complex thistle like blooms with blue star shaped stigmas are always a hit with photographers as well. If you pick these beauties before the stigmas appear, they dry very well in a silvery blue shade. I have also used the small fresh flower as slightly prickly boutonnieres – a nice alternative to the typical rose.

Another that does double or maybe triple duty in the herb garden is elecampagne (Inula helenium). I love its gloriously large leaves reminiscent of a banana tree that become accented with composite yellow flowers on tall stalks. Most people grow this herb in the garden as a background plant for texture and scale, but its roots are also valued for their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, making every part of this hardy perennial a winner. As I was cleaning the elecampagne seed this year, I was struck by the beauty of the receptacle that is exposed when the seed is removed. I saved a bag of these and ended up using them on some of my harvest wreaths.

The true blue edible flowers of Nigella damascena or ‘Love in a Mist’ are a welcome early summer flower in our garden. They re-seed like crazy, but I don’t mind. We’ve devoted a whole bed to them so that we can use the flowers as garnish at our weddings and luncheons all summer long. And when their petals fall, they give rise to a truly interesting mini-watermelon-like seed pod surrounded by fine lacy leaves that dry a soft green-brown if bundled and hung upside down. Nigella orientalis or ‘The Transformer’ blooms yellow and has even more intricate pods. I like to add both varieties to my wreaths to give them a little bit of a whimsical feel. Another I like to use this way is teasel (Dipsacus sativas). This thistle can be found growing wild in our area or Oregon and is a great winter food source for the birds so I am always careful to leave some flowers behind. The large thistle heads (about 3 inches in height) were once used to raise the nap on cloth – and they will do their best to raise welts on your skin - they are incredibly poky! But, I love the almost gothic tone they add to an arrangement – beautiful and dangerous. The plant grows to about six feet making it a good background plant.

C:\Documents and Settings\Rolfe\Desktop\MENBlog\everlastingflowers.jpg

Back to the flowers, though... this summer I had a rediscovery of two very unique looking flowers that have been part of our collection for many years but I haven’t fully appreciated: Flamingo Feather (Spicata) and Suworowii Statice (Limonium suworowii). These are actually similar flowers in a way. Both produce abundant pink plumes that spring upright from the plant. The do very well mixed in a sunny flower garden patch. Pick them when the flowers are still young and fresh and they maintain their color very well. I simply dried mine in bundles in the attic. A few more I suggest in the pink to purple color scheme: Xeranthemum (a great daisy-like flower), gomphrena (tight little ball flowers like poky strawberries), Goliath Red Shades (semi-double cheerful daisy-shaped flowers) and German Statice (sprays of tiny white-pink star shaped flowers in mass blooms). I haven’t even touched upon the yellows like ageratum (2-inch clusters of yellow fuzzy buttons), Fern-leaved Yarrow (full golden flower heads on stiff stems), and Yellow Daisy Strawflower (interesting mounded plants with bright yellow papery daisy flowers.) Then there are the staples of the everlasting garden – strawflower, statice, yarrow, and starflower you just have to have all those. They give you the filler, and also a whole lot of loveliness. For a full list of the collection we grow including pictures, go to Thyme Garden.

How to Dry Everlasting Flowers:

I am very unscientific with my drying technique, and so far it has worked out well. Here’s what I do to dry everlasting flowers.

• Pick flowers early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day.
• Look for buds and pods that are just beginning to open. Fully mature flowers may lose their petals or color as they dry.
• Strip the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems to a desired length (at least six inches long).
• Bundle in bouquets that are loose enough for some air to move through (about -12-20 stems per bundle, depending on size.) Secure with a rubber band or ribbon.
• Hang upside down in a dry and warm location out of direct sunlight (attics work, but basements typically are too wet – at least in our temperate rainforest climate). Flowers should be dry in about two to three weeks. I use paperclips and a hanger to maximize space and hang them directly from the beams.
• Optional: Spray with non-scented hairspray.

There are other techniques for drying flowers out there. Drying flowers in borax or sand is one common technique. For more foliar pieces like Eucalyptus, Lantern Plant, and Bells of Ireland, you might want to experiment with glycerin. There are several great YouTube videos out there on using glycerin, so I won’t go into detail here, but it really does work (and requires a little work too, which is why I haven’t done it in years.)

Happy Flower Gardening! I hope you are inspired to enjoy this wonderful variety of flowers in your garden this year and in your home and crafts everlastingly!

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.


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.

Rowan Steele and Katie Coppoletta of Fiddlehead Farm

Rowan Steele is self-possessed and confident. Quick to smile. There’s a natural energy in the way he moves around his farm, sharing his crop rotation strategy, pointing out the worst erosion spots and explaining how they were solved… if they were solved… the coming rains will provide that bit of wisdom. But he believes his new drainage system will work, and I do, too. Because it’s hard to not have faith in this young man.

Katie Coppoletta is solid. Grounded. Maybe a little cautious at first, but you can watch the trust settle in and her easy country manner take over. She’s not a dreamer in the same way Rowan is but she knows what she wants and she’s willing to put in the work. And anyone who’s spent much time on a farm would swear she was born to it. That’s not the case. Not for either of them.

But when Rowan and Katie first began experimenting with agriculture, both immediately felt drawn to it, although they’ll be the first to admit they had no idea what it would take or how far they would need to journey to become real farmers.

Farming is a profession, after all. And, like any profession, one does not rise to proficiency – much less mastery – without years of training, practice, and getting up every morning and going to work. That’s what Rowan and Katie have given to farming. In return they have received a way of living that suits them perfectly. But is it a lifestyle they would recommend to others?

Katie puts it this way: “Farming can be really rewarding, but it takes a certain type of person to enjoy it because there are so many challenges. If you’re a person who can deal with that, it’s a wonderful lifestyle. Much of the time it doesn’t even feel like work.”

She continues by pointing out that she doesn’t mean there’s only one way to go, or that a person has to fit a specific definition. It’s simply a matter of finding the path that’s right for you.

Rowan Steele at Montavilla Farmers Market

“For me, the key is direct marketing. That’s probably the only way I could be a farmer. It wouldn’t be very fun if we were separate from the people we are selling to. That’s really important for me… it’s like the end result, you know. Knowing people who appreciate what you’re offering them makes it all worth it. If I don’t have that it’s easy to get resentful.”

Rowan explains, “You get that way because you lose sight of the bigger picture and get stuck in the day to day operations. You’re mentally and physically exhausted, and it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. That happens a lot. So you have to step back and take a breath.

“One of my favorite remedies is… on an autumn day like today, end of the season, it’s not super hectic, come sunset, Katie and I just go to the top of the hill and sit and look at everything we’ve accomplished. It’s super rewarding to see that we’re making progress on something we’ve invested so much of ourselves in.”

Like many members of Oregon’s sustainable farming community, neither Katie nor Rowan began their search for a career thinking they would become farmers. She was an international studies major, a field that introduced her to global food systems. And although Rowan grew up in the central valley of California, a sort of agricultural mecca, farming didn’t occur to him until he began studying geography and got exposed to different ideas and different ways of producing food.

Katie first became interested in farming at the same time she and Rowan were students at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, but it probably didn’t happen the way you might be thinking. Even though they went to the same school, they didn’t know each other until they met while studying abroad in Mexico as part of a sustainable development program.

It was there, in 2005, that Katie found her future husband and got her first taste of agriculture.

“I helped at-risk kids develop a garden, even though I knew nothing about gardening at the time. I partnered with a friend who had some farm background, and I just jumped into it and double dug this whole grassy area at the orphanage. I put my heart into that project, and it just felt really good.”

After connecting in Mexico, Rowan and Katie returned to Humboldt where Katie continued working with at-risk youth while Rowan began studying sustainable agriculture and volunteering at a friend’s farm. But Katie couldn’t resist the draw of farming… “I was living vicariously through Rowan’s volunteer work at the farm until I couldn’t stand it any more and started volunteering with him. But they didn’t really need me, so I ended up volunteering for a different farmer down the road who was kind of struggling. I essentially became an unpaid employee on that farm because I wouldn’t accept his money. I did that for a year and a half, which gave me some really good experience.”

Fiddlehead Farm peppers for local hot sauce company

During that period, Rowan rose from farm volunteer to co-manager of a sizable Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation at Arcata Educational Farm (AEF) – an informal incubator program for new farmers.

“Taking over a 60-person CSA was a challenge and we definitely made some mistakes, but I learned a lot. After that experience, I knew I’d always be working with the earth… working with it in what I deemed a meaningful way. I also knew that I wasn’t really cut out to run a CSA, but I am glad I did it because it put me on the path I was meant to be on.”

Strong words, spoken from the heart, and Rowan waxes poetic when he tries to define that path. “What I realized from my brief two-year stint at the AEF was that farming was extremely gratifying and fulfilled me in a way that I’d never experienced.

“It was productive work that connected me to everything that really mattered to me: community, mental and physical stimulation, delicious and nourishing food, problem solving, creativity, art, system design, skill development, simplicity. It crosses cultures, and is something that connects me to previous generations. Practicing agriculture is participating in a truly universal human experience. It is an activity I am simply programmed to do.”

Click here to read Part 2 of this series.

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

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Fiddlehead Farm owners Rowan Steele and Katie Coppoletta, with their daughter, Ella Luna.

(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Rowan Steele setting up Fiddlehead's autumn display at the Montavilla Farmers Market in Portland.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: The peppers in this photo are grown for Hot Winter Hot Sauce, a local Portland hot sauce company.

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.


Shade Garden At The Plant-It Earth Greenhouse And Gardens

Spring is on it's way. There is an area that you would like to create a perennial garden. You are faced with a few challenges — how to create the bed, what to plant in it and the shade. Do not worry! There are so many wonderfully under used plant varieties for shade other than impatiens or begonias. Besides all the beautiful flowers and foliages to brighten any shady spot, there are many perennials to choose from and many varieties are deer resistant. Shade perennials are definitely worth a try. Understanding the various conditions will clarify and issues you might have with shade gardening.

What is the definition of shade? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary one of the definitions of shade is, space sheltered from the light especially of the sun. This definition is easy to understand, but as gardeners, we all know there are many variations of shade. High, low, dry, wet partial and full. Now let's clear the confusion and start creating your shade garden.

First you must observe the planting area. How long and when is the sun in the garden area. Check the soil. Is it moist, dry or somewhere in between. What is the area like. Are rocks to contend with. How big will the garden be. How much time do you want to spend on your new garden. What type of bed are you planning- raised bed or digging holes. Since shade gardens lend themselves to naturalizing an area, use the materials available. Rocks and stumps can create a wonderful planters, and a great way to control the cost of your garden. These questions will be the first steps in planning a successful perennial garden, shade or sun.

Now it is time to consider the light conditions. This will determine the variety of plants that are compatible for your zone and planting area. Low or deep shade is less than four hours of direct sun. The soil is usually damp and humusy. Partial shade is what most gardeners are familiar with. Partial shade is morning sun or no more than three to six hours of direct sun. The soil requirement for these plants is usually moist but well drained. A raised bed works well with these conditions. Soil too dry amend with compost.  High shade is dappled sun through out the day. A good example would be planting under a tall tree. This type of bed would definitely require amending the soil with compost and a raised bed. When done planting the bed, mulch it to retain moisture and to control the weeds.

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. 



Winter doesn’t mean you can’t eat fresh greens. There are many that grow well indoors and many different ways of growing them.

Something easy and nutritious are sprouts. I bought a simple, inexpensive sprout grower. You can get seeds on-line and in many grocery stores, nurseries, and big box hardware stores. I like buying a seed mix so I get a nice variety.

Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition and so easy to grow. There are all kinds of seed sprouting kits out there. The one I have that I really like is 3 levels so you can have one that is fully sprouted that you are using with 2 in various stages of growth so you always have a ready supply of sprouts.

With a simple sprout grower, you can have nutritious sprouts of many different veggies, beans, and/or grasses in 3-5 days. All you do is put a teaspoon of seeds in the grower and water it twice daily.

Sprouts are great on salads, in eggs, or just as a quick snack.

Microgreens are also very easy to grow indoors. You can get variety seed packets of microgreens anywhere they sell seeds or on line. You can reuse a plastic salad container or seed flat to use as a pot. Just add potting soil, sprinkle the seeds down as instructed on the seed packet, tamp down gently, lightly cover with more soil, water, place in a sunny window and you will have microgreens in 14-21 days.

Wheat grass is another great edible. I put it on salads. You can also juice it. Wheat grass is a great alkalizer. Today’s diet is so acidic. Basically anything we eat besides leafy greens and some other vegetables are acidic. Your body’s blood pH must stay between 7.35 to 7.45; anything above 7.0 is alkaline. Wheat grass helps balance your pH. Wheat grass is also a purifier of the blood. There are wheat grass growing kits too. Or you can use an old salad tub that you fill with potting soil and grow them right in the salad tub or seedling flat.

So, if you are wanting some fresh, nutritious, home grown food, it is super easy to grow any of these indoors year round!

For more tips on small space gardening, see Melodie's blog, Victory Garden on the Golf Course.

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