Organic Gardening

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

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Spring is without a doubt the most exciting time of year for us gardeners. It’s the time to get sowing in earnest! But before you so much as tear open a seed packet, you’ll need to make sure your soil is warm enough and that late frosts won’t hamper your efforts. Follow this advice to triumph over the temperature swings of spring and get your fingers dirty early.

Use raised beds. Sometimes soil needs help to become warm enough for sowing in spring. Because raised beds warm up quickly, they’re ideal for the earliest sowings.

Use covers to warm your soil. Cover soil with black plastic or row covers at least one week before sowing, or protect individual plants with squares of plastic cut to size. Soil temperatures beneath will rise by a couple of degrees.

Make plastic bottle cloches. Cut a bottle in half, then place each half over a seedling. Leave the lid off the top half on sunny days, and cut a hole in the base of the bottom half for ventilation.


Fill bottles with water to radiate heat. Water-filled bottles will absorb heat during the day and release it at night, warming the air around your plants. You can also protect seedlings by filling plastic bottles with hot water on cold nights. Cluster your seedlings in a confined place, such as a cold frame, and then fill gallon-sized bottles with hot water and place these into the cold frame with your seedlings.

Protect plants with polystyrene: Polystyrene boxes can shield seedlings from extreme temperature fluctuations. At night put on the lid or lay a sheet of glass or plastic on top. Even better, make a portable cold frame by slotting lengths of plastic pipe into the corners of the box, then simply drape row cover material over the top.

Learn more about how to protecting seedlings from frost in this video.

More Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.


When you’re looking to enlarge your homestead and increase your self sufficiency, goats are a great way to go. Their care requirements are much simpler than other large livestock, and they will reward you with some delicious milk that can be made into popular cheeses.

It’s not hard to add goats to the farm as long as you take a few basics into account. Compared to adding a cow or a draft horse, goats are easy keepers. They do need more attention than “gateway” animals like chickens, though.


Goat Shelter Considerations

Like any livestock animal, goats should have a secure area that they can stay in at night or seek refuge from bad weather. If predators are at all a problem in your area, your goats need a nightly shelter that can be locked up so they are safe from potential attacks.

This room or stall should be left open during the days so they can use it to get out of the elements, or an alternative shelter should be set up in their field. For indoor shelter, goats require a minimum of 10 square feet per goat.

Pasture and Fencing for Goats

Goats also need outside space to range and play, and that area needs a good fence to keep them from escaping. To keep goats from trying to escape, make sure their pasture has plenty of entertainment for them. Goats are playful animals and the more distractions they have, the less they will think about adventures.

For fencing, 4-foot no-climb fencing works for many types of goats. Use fencing with small squares, such as 4-inch by 4-inch, so that your goats can’t get their heads stuck in the openings.

three goats

In theory, you can keep up to 10 goats on an acre, but the number of goats varies greatly depending on how much vegetation is available for them to graze. Goats are prized because they are foragers and often will eat underbrush and weeds that other livestock won’t touch. There are plants that are poisonous to goats, however, and you should be careful to research what might be toxic in your field.

Goat Feed Considerations

Like any animal, goats need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. Many goats that are on pasture in the summer need only minimal grain. If you are raising your goats for meat, you may be feeding them more heavily, while some pastured goats don’t receive any additional feed when plenty of vegetation is available.

When considering how much to feed, it’s important to look at what proteins and nutrients your goats are getting from their pasture. Dairy goats are fed supplemental feed when milking, but goats should never get more than 50% of their daily feed from grain.

In addition to grain, you should offer your goats free choice access to good-quality hay. Goats will forage between their pasture and the hay stand, and in winter they will fill the majority of their diet with hay. Legume hays are best for goats, such as alfalfa and clover. Goats do not like grass hays and these hays provide much less in the way of protein. Especially during winter, when your goat may be eating hay as their main food source, providing high-quality, legume hay is important.

Goats also need certain minerals that cannot always be found in their foraged food or grain. Baking soda should be offered free choice to goats, as it keeps the acid in their rumen healthy and their digestion functioning properly. A tray of baking soda in the goat’s stall should provide them with plenty of the white powder, and they will simply sample from it when they feel the need.

goats on a stump

There are many mineral supplements you can offer goats to make sure they are getting all of the nutrients they need. There are large mineral blocks that you can leave for them in their stall to use when they need, or you can provide a tray of particular minerals or include them in their grain. Copper is especially important for goats to have, but there are plenty of minerals that are important to goat’s diets just like they are to humans.

Weather and Bedding

Goats are hardy animals but they don’t like extreme cold or heat. In winter, make sure their shelter is buttoned up from outside wind gusts and provide deep bedding for them to snuggle in. During the summer, it’s important to provide them with shady areas to rest and plenty of fresh, cool water.

The most common bedding for goats is either straw or wood shavings. Wood shavings are often easiest to clean, and it is important to keep your goat’s pen cleaned with fresh bedding. If you have dairy goats, it is crucial to have a dedicated area for milking that is sterile and clean.

With access to hay and pasture and a nice, cozy stall or shelter to relax in, your new herd should settle right in. Adding goats to the farm is a great way to provide for yourself or possibly bring a small profit to your homestead from their meat or cheese. And the companionship and entertainment of a herd of goats can’t be underestimated!

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.


Organizing for the Future: Taking the Land Back and Feeding Ourselves

An annual event in Kansas City brings urban and suburban farmers together with their customers. Customers, are, like Wes Jackson likes to say, “eaters.” We’re all eaters and a Saturday morning pie fest and lunch potluck in early January is a great way to reinvigorate and plan for the spring planting.

For the last several years the Cultivate KC Annual Farmers and Friends Meeting has been held at The Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City. You can organize a meeting in your area. It’s a great way to meet people with your interests and to learn from experts.

Here is one way to put it together: Find a local church with a good kitchen and a basement meeting hall. Seems like most churches that have been around awhile have exactly what you will need. Coordinate with the church community outreach or environmental committee.

Welcoming Committee

These are the members of the Earth Shepherds committee that oversee environmental issues for the Second Prez and facilitate the meeting and workshops. From left to right: David Branham, Dayna Peacock, Molly Hundley and Martin Orr.

The Kitchen

Part of a meeting dealing with gardening and food production is the food itself, so here’s where the kitchen comes into play.

Church Kitchen

Attendees set up their potluck dishes and the kitchen staff helps with the warmers, crock pots, supplies, and the needed utensils for the early-morning coffee and pie, which is followed by a hearty midday potluck.


Early-morning coffee, pie, muffins, and organic treats are followed by a midday feast.

Church Basement

The basement meeting hall is where the morning lectures were held and was filled to capacity with participants.

Dreamers and Doers

The Annual Farmers and Friends Meeting was split into two sessions: The morning session featured local Dreamers and Doers. Here is a brief review of some of the presentations.

The Mitzvah Garden KC

The Mitzvah Garden produces annual yields in excess of 10,000 pounds of produce all of which is given away to local food pantries. This garden features a 6,000-gallon rooftop rainwater storage system. All electricity used on the site comes from a photovoltaic array on the roof above the water storage tanks.

Mitzvah Garden

This is the traditional rain barrel concept expanded from a household gardening concept to a supply for a ½-acre garden and a ¼-acre orchard.

Antioch Urban Growers

This group is helping city folk learn to grow healthy, organic, non-GMO plants, and healthy confident people through education and community-building. Their slogan is “We are Rooting for You — Anyone can GROW!"

Antioch Urban Growers

Niles Home for Children

Niles Home has been a safe haven for children since 1883, when Samuel Eason, an African-American bricklayer, began caring for homeless and orphaned children he found in his neighborhood near the historic 18th and Vine area of Kansas City.

Marty Kraft told me about a conversation he had with a horticultural therapist. The therapist stated that,  “The plants do the work, we just get the kids near them.” On this urban farm there are 28 organic no-till beds, pond, a small orchard, and a high tunnel for tomatoes.

Gardening at Niles

Marty Kraft explaining gardening for at risk kids in Kansas City. He teaches kids to garden so they can feed themselves.

Crops at the Niles Home

Crops at the Niles Home

Dreamers and Doers Session

Dre Taylor Nile Valley Aquaponics: Meet Dre Taylor, the 35-year-old Kansas City native who is making history. Taylor is an urban farmer who started east Kansas City’s first aquaponics greenhouse — a natural farming system that grows fish and plants, together — and will be one of the only commercial producing greenhouses of its kind in Kansas City.

Aquaponics Team

From left: Sam Davis Site Manager, Juniper Gardens; Mohamed Abdul Qaadir, 100,000 Pound Food Project; Dre Taylor, Manager, 100,000 Pound Food Project; Eric Person, Ivanhoe Market Manager.

The Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 Pound Food Project is located on 29th and Wabash Ave. “You would never think to see this area joined with something of this type but its happening, sometimes you just have to do it,” Taylor said. The aquaponics system combines aquaculture and hydroponics, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem where famers can capitalize on a natural process for “raising fish and vegetables,” as Taylor describes the process.

The 100,000 pounds in the project’s name is a yearly output of fresh fish, vegetables, fruit and more. This will immediately serve the heart of food-deficient zip codes, providing free healthy food for the surrounding community.

Nile Valley Aquaponics

Dre is a founder of the Males to Men organization and he wants to “Teach my boys how to grow food.” Here they are digging a hole in the ground 6 feet deep, which is the trench for the  aquaponics system.

Nile Valley Aquaponics Fish Pits

Northeast Farmer's Market

When it opened in June, 2015, founder Jenna Wilkens told the Pitch, “We're trying to be a spot where hundreds of people in the neighborhood can gather and buy healthy foods in a really positive environment.” Jenna and here volunteers  did some Indigogo crowd funding, and partnered with a church and a local 501(c)3 to start this market.

NE Farmers Mkt

The NorthEast Farmer's Market pictured above connects another neighborhood to a vibrant urban agriculture scene in Kansas City.

The Afternoon Breakout Sessions

The breakout sessions began with the Ben Kjelshus “Grow the Circle” Award.

This recognition began in 2014 and is presented to an individual, business or organization which demonstrates leadership in:

1. Responsible environmental and social practices

2. High-quality food products and services

3. Positive economic impact

4. Commitment to building a robust local food system and community

This year, the award was presented to Dan Heryer and Brook Salvaggio. Brook initiated The Kansas City Backyard Chicken Rebellion several years ago that actually led to changes in policy being initiated by the city council. (We Won!)

Brook and Dan ran the Friday evening Bad Seed Farmers Market in the downtown food desert known as the Arts District of Kansas City. Bad Seed has now closed, but these urban farmers are hard at work at a new location on their Urbanvore Farm.

Bad Seed Award

Emily Akins from Cultivate Kansas City presents the Grow the Circle Award to Dan and Brook as from left: Katherine Kelly, Executive Director of Cultivate Kansas City, and volunteers Joel Wakham and Janet Moss join in on the congratulations.

Session 2 Lectures

The afternoon lectures included how to as well as food policy issues such as the following:

Snow and Grow: Tales from a Year-Round Vegetable Farmer and Farm Design Engineer

Funding the Farm: Raising Capital for Your Food Business

Aquaponics Future of Farming

Stages of Growth in your Food System Project

Schoolyard Gardens 101

Agricultural and Food Policy at the Federal and State Level

The full schedule of events can be viewed here.

So that’s it Folks. Get out and get organized. Now that the crops are in, you’ve got 7 months to plan your Annual Farmers and Friends Meeting.

Historical Post Script

If you’re asking, like I did, “what happened to the First Presbyterian Church?” here is the answer:

The AFFM meeting held was in Missouri, just across the state line from Kansas. Missouri was a slave state (Kansas was a free state). The parishioners of the First Prez were pro-slavery. After the Civil War, the Abolitionists who were Presbyterian got together to form another church and decided to name it the Second Presbyterian Church to distinguish themselves from the 1st Prez. We in Kansas City live, like many urban dwellers, in a city still impacted by our history.

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby'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.



Illustration by Livia Myers

Click here to read Part 1 and here for Part 3 of this series.

Many of the herbs you already love to grow also work to keep mosquitoes away from your outdoor spaces! Move them from the garden plot to your deck or patio containers and you’ll have a multi-purpose garden that keeps bugs away and gives you a mini herb garden right outside your door. These herbs also look just lovely combined with traditional container elements such as wave petunias or lobelia but also pair nicely with the three plants mentioned in Part 1 of this series (Citronella Geranium, Lantana, or Lemon Grass).

If planting in one large container, just be sure to put plants together with similar sun, water, and soil requirements. And don’t be afraid to experiment with color, shape, and scent – with these choices you can build interesting planters that look great all summer long.

Most of these herbs work to repel mosquitoes because they give off a lemony, citronella scent. While humans, butterflies, and hummingbirds love this smell, it drives biting insects away! Here’s the top four herb choices for fending off mosquitoes.

'Creeping Lemon' Thyme


Stock photo from istock, photographer unknown

This low-growing, trailing herb fits well in rocky and sandy locations and adds a lemony kick to your summer cooking. The lovely leaves release a burst of citronella scent when bruised or rubbed and its vining growth pattern makes it a great “spiller” addition to most containers.

'Creeping Lemon' Thyme is a great companion plant for cabbage and broccoli but can be invasive if not kept trimmed back. Better yet, deer hate it but bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love it!

Plant grows as perennial in Zones 4 and warmer; requires no overwintering protection; prefers at least six hours of sun per day; and tolerates most types of soil.



Stock photo from Dreamstime, anonymous

This workhorse garden plant adds delicious flavor to grilled chicken and veggies; grows like a champ and fits perfectly into containers; and keeps the mosquitoes away.

Rosemary is an upright, evergreen-like herb that grows as an annual in most Zones but can be overwintered in containers. It withstands a wide range growing conditions but prefers full sun, well-draining or sandy soil, and does best if soil is allowed to dry out between waterings.

Plant can be pruned regularly to maintain a bushy shape but trim off no more than one-third of overall growth and prune above leaf joints. Use these trimmings in outdoor bouquets; tie in bundles and dry for later use; or toss on the campfire for a smoky, scented repellent. Rosemary also makes a great garden companion as it deters bean-hungry bugs, parasites, and cabbage flies.

Mint (any variety)


Photo courtesy of Wenke Greenhouses, photographer unknown

Here’s one more reason to love mint! This hardy herb is a fast and perennial grower in most Zones and thrives in nearly all conditions. It comes in lots of interesting varieties such as Apple Mint or Chocolate Mint and adds delicious flavor to every dish and cocktail all while keeping mosquitoes from crashing your party.

Plant prefers full sun and well-draining soil and should be trimmed back periodically. Mint also works to deter ants, aphids, and cabbage flies so it’s a good companion for cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, and kale.



Stock photo from dreamstime, photographer unknown

No cottage garden is complete without this gorgeous flowering herb. It not only repels mosquitoes but also deters fleas, ticks, and even mice while at the same time attracting beneficial insects, butterflies, and birds. Lavender prefers full sun; well-draining soil; infrequent but deep waterings; and occasional pruning. Grows as a perennial in Zones 5 and warmer but in Southern climates, the plant must have good drainage all winter.

Stems can be bundled and hung to dry and will continue to give off a lovely scent making it a favorite for sachets and potpourris. You can even make a natural insect repellent that almost smells like perfume (more on that in our next article).

Some Quick Garden Design Ideas

For the best mosquito-repelling benefit, group these herbs together in containers and place in high use areas such as patios or decks. Try filling window boxes (see top image) with trailing herbs such as creeping thyme or tuck some mint along your walkways and into foundation beds.

Lavender and Rosemary can be shaped with creative pruning – try sculpting a mini-hedge or topiary in your outdoor spaces for a great conversation piece that also works as a bug deterrent.

Julie Fryer is a landscaper, gardener, and sugar-maker. Clovers Garden is offering a free Mosquito Repellent Plants ebook which also includes five original garden designs (like the one shown here). Readers can gain instant online access by signing up here. Even more great ideas can be found at their website. Any gardening questions, feel free to contact Julie at Read all of Julie'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.



You reap what you sow, but sometimes what you sow refuses to cooperate. Follow these seed-sowing tips to prevent gardening disasters.

1. Seed tapes. Roll out a strip of toilet paper to the length of your row (or use a square of paper towel if you’re planting in blocks). Mix equal parts flour and water together to make a paste. Place a dab of paste at the correct spacing on the paper. Put two seeds onto each dab of paste, and fold over the toilet paper. Allow the paste to dry, label the seed tape, then roll it up and store until you’re ready to plant.

2. Tiny seeds. Mix a pinch of tiny seeds with two teaspoons of fine, dry sand. Sprinkle along your seed drill, then backfill.

3. Big seeds. Gently roll large or tough seeds between two sheets of sandpaper until the seed coat just starts to rub off. Alternatively, soak your seeds in a bowl of lukewarm water for 24 hours.

4. See your seeds. Lining your seed drill with toilet paper makes small, dark seeds easier to see. Backfill your seed drill with potting soil so that it stands out from the surrounding soil. Or, sow quick-growing seeds which will germinate within a few days along with slow growers to mark the location of the row.

5. Slow-growing seeds. Chitting, or pre-sprouting seeds, works well for slow-growing seeds. Line a sealable container with two sheets of damp paper towel. Add your seeds, and then cover with two more sheets of damp paper towel. Press on the lid. Keep the container at about 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as the seeds are showing tiny roots, plant them immediately.

Learn more about seed-sowing tips in this video.

More Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.



Garden fertilizer comes in all shapes, sizes, and formulas. Books and magazines maintain you can make your own by mixing this and that, and you’re flowers and veggies will amaze you. So you run to the store and purchase their suggested ingredients and yes, it makes a good fertilizer, though you may be spending near what you would pay if you purchased ready-made fertilizer.

You can, however, follow our simple recipe for homemade garden fertilizer and not have to spend any extra money. We make our fertilizer for little cost and it works great! Our garden fertilizer is from sardines.

Benefits of Sardines for Health and Fertlizer

If you’re not eating sardines yet, you may be missing out on one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other important minerals, not to mention the taste is terrific! We’ve switched to canned sardines from tuna because of the reports we’ve read about smaller fish holding less toxins than large fish.

Sardines are very low on the food chain and eat mostly plankton. Their small bodies process their food quickly, because they have a higher metabolism, eliminating any significant amount of mercury or other toxins they may have ingested. Larger fish, like tuna and salmon, digest smaller fish they consume slower, allowing toxins to accumulate and concentrate in their organs and meat, later to be ingested by humans.

When I include sardines in a soup recipe, sometimes I pour the whole can, juice and all, into the kettle but sometimes I drain the watery juice off and just use the sardines. When I drain the can, I save the watery juice to make garden fertilizer. I simply add some water to the sardine juice and fertilize our outdoor plants and vegetables with it. Free fertilizer!

Our plants and vegetables thrive with sardine juice, because after all, it is fish fertilizer. Sardines are good for us and sardine water is good for plants. I make sure I buy quality sardines, mostly for the flavor but also for the quality of the juices, and I only buy sardines in water, never oil, and I always look for sardines with lower sodium both for our health and to prevent adding too much sodium to the soil.

Too much sodium can threaten the life of many plants, so read your labels! Saline soils can easily recover by promptly applying a sufficient amount of water to promote leaching of the salts out the root zone.

Sardines are rich in nutrients known to keep our cardiovascular system healthy. This cuts down on unnecessary fats in our diet and is more readily usable for the plants. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as EPA and DHA, which can lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Sardines are a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and phosphorus, which help our arteries and bones and helps us absorb calcium.

Sardines are rich in protein to help form muscle, connective tissue, and antibodies to keep our immune system strong. To learn more about the nutrients in sardines, click here.

Sardines contain many valuable nutrients we need:
• Selenium
• Phosphorus
• Iron
• Magnesium
• Copper
• Zinc

The name Sardine came from an Italian Island called Sardinia, where big schools of these fish were often seen. To read more about Sardinia, click here. With the increasing concern of the health of our open waters, many folks are eating sardines because they do not contain concentrations of heavy metals, like mercury and other contaminants as larger fish do.

These oily-rich fish are small, saltwater, and soft-boned. They are plentiful in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean Oceans. Actually the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is credited for making these tiny fish desirable by developing sardines as the first canned fish. This was the Emperors way of feeding the multitudes of people in the land he ruled. If you would like to read more about the history of canned sardines, click here.

How to Eat and Where to Find Sardines

Sardines are becoming more and more popular today as people learn about their rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, and their incredibly low levels of mercury and PCBs.

Here are a few ways to enjoy sardines:
• Add to any green salad sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil
• Add to any pasta sauce with lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper
• Add to any soup for increased protein and delicious taste
• Eat right out of the can, adding your choice of spices and herbs
• Mash in a bowl, adding mayo and onions and spread on toast
• Add to your favorite dip or hummus
• Use in place of beef while making tacos

Some very good brands of sardines are:
• Bar Harbor
• Crown Prince
• Wild Planet
• Season Brand

One of our favorite ways to use sardines is with quinoa. This is our recipe:

Quinoa and Sardines Recipe

Yield 2 servings


• 1 cup cooked Quinoa
• 1 tablespoon chopped Cilantro
• 1 tablespoon chopped Arugula
• 1 teaspoon chopped Lovage leaves or Celery leaves (Read about Lovage here)
• 1/4 teaspoon Fenugreek powder (Read more about Fenugreek here)
• 1/4 teaspoon Bay Leaf powder (optional)
• 1 can chopped Artichoke hearts
• 1 can chopped drained Sardines (save liquid to make fertilizer)


Heat artichoke hearts and sardines in a small saucepan. In a separate saucepan, heat cooked quinoa, cilantro, arugula, lovage or celery leaves, fenugreek, and bay. Serve by putting artichoke-sardine mixture on a plate with a scoop of quinoa on top. This is, of course, gluten free and dairy free. Enjoy!

Homemade Sardine Fertilizer for Your Garden

1. Open and drain a can of your choice of sardines, keeping the liquid

2. Use the sardine fish any way you choose

3. Add two quarts (64 oz.) water to the sardine liquid, stirring to distribute

4. Immediately pour on outdoor plants and vegetables

5. Follow with a good watering to assist the sardine fertilizer into the soil

The draining of one sardine can makes a generous two quarts (64 oz.) of fresh garden fertilizer. This may not seem like much quantity of garden fertilizer if you have a large garden, but if you eat two cans of sardines per week, that’s a gallon of fresh fertilizer per week year round making a lot of very inexpensive garden fertilizer!

Disclaimer: All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The author of this blog makes no promises as to the accuracy of any information herein and will not be liable for any errors, omissions in this information or damages caused by this information. Read the Nutritional Facts on each label. Use Sardines with the correct sodium level for the tolerance of your plants. For more information on sodium levels and plants, click here.

Mary Ann Reese is a certified mentor in designing, building, and operating food bank farms. She has also been certified to teach cooking classes to low-income families. As an organic grower, Mary has owned a mini-farm, greenhouse, chickens, ducks, and geese raised from eggs in an incubator and is happy to share years of wiser living advice with her readers. 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.


If you are new to gardening, getting started can seem like a daunting task. But if you break it down into each of the small, individual tasks and use some of the apps available, it can be achievable in a relatively short amount of time.

After moving to a new house in the fall of last year, I dreamed of having a large vegetable garden. The yard was a completely blank slate, so I knew I would have to start small and build up to my dream garden one step at a time.

With a full-time office job, a 45 minute commute each way, and two young children (4 and 2), I also knew that I would have to be extremely organized so that I could make the most efficient use of just a couple free hours each weekend and perhaps a few minutes in the evenings after it started staying light out.

Around the new year, I read a friend's blog about making a New Year's Project instead of a New Year's Resolution. This gave me the idea of treating my garden like any other work project — I'd make a project plan!

Here is a sample from my project plan (which I made using Microsoft OneNote, part of the standard Office bundle):

Sample Garden Project Plan

Garden Project Plan Checklist

As you see, I didn't list "Raised Beds" as a single step. That would have been too much to wrap my head around. But I could accomplish the individual tasks of: 1) Select design of raised beds; 2) Determine and purchase required materials; 3) Build raised beds; 4) Order amended soil; etc.

I was able to use the evenings researching my tasks on Pinterest (my favorite place for garden ideas). I'd use a few minutes here and there at work to search for local retailers or online stores that had the materials.

By the time the weekend would arrive, I already knew what my target project and goal was for that weekend, and then I'd execute. Examples of weekend projects included:

• Clear the spot for the garden
• Buy potting mix and seeds and start seeds in pots inside
• Build raised beds (this was the toughest weekend project, but with my husband's assistance, we were able to build two 4-by-10-foot beds in one weekend)
• Have amended soil delivered and wheelbarrow and then shovel it into the beds
• Install drip irrigation
•Plant seedlings out and direct sow other seeds 

What, When and Where to Plant

Besides the actual construction of the garden, I needed to have a plan on what to plant and when. Living in Southern California, our growing seasons are weird and the typical Spring/Fall crop schedule does not work here.

I was having a difficult time determining what vegetables I could plant right away until I discovered the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Grow Planner app. Not only did it tailor my planting schedules to my zip code, but it was also easy to construct the layout of my garden beds and play around with where to plant each type of vegetable and how many of each I could fit in.

I am even using the Grow Planner app to show me month by month what to do next and log notes to a journal. At the top of this page is a sample of my garden plan for the month of April.

This app will also help me with succession planting and crop rotation. I can easily create next year's version of the garden plan, and it will know where certain plant families were from prior year plans, so I can avoid putting next year's kale where this year's broccoli, kale, or cauliflower was.

To see more posts on my progress against this Garden Project Plan, you can check out them out here. Happy planning!

Rachel Stutts began yearning for a simpler lifestyle more rooted in family and community after having two children and continuing in the corporate rat race. Following conversations with her husband over drinks one date-night, they agreed to search for a new property where they now work toward some serious gardening and "lite homesteading" pursuits. Connect with Rachel at her Amber Burst blog.

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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