Mother Earth News Blogs >

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

Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings Easily

We do use some plastic plug flats, flower pots and trays of cell packs, but we also like to use our home-made wood plant trays, as we can grow big sturdy plants in them, and reuse the flats year after year.

Make Your own Seed Flats (Plant Starter Trays)

I recommend choosing a standard size for your flats, to make life simpler when fitting all the flats into your warm sunny growing space, as well as when calculating how much to plant. We have a large garden, and we use flats 12" by 24". We make two depths: 3" flats for sowing seeds in, and 4" flats for spotting out the seedlings to grow them on. I don't recommend bigger than 12 x 24 x 4" as the filled flats get very heavy, and none of us needs to lift extra weight, when that can be avoided by a bit of planning.

Lettuce seedlings. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

We gather small scrap boards and make up a batch of flats at a time. We usually end up making a couple of half-size 12 x 12" flats to use up the wood scraps too. I like Eastern Red cedar or pine. Avoid oak. Not only is it heavy, but it splinters painfully, and is not so easy to work with as soft woods. Avoid ply, and all other manufactured boards, as the glues and fillers can be toxic to plants. Likewise avoid pressure-treated wood.

We cut 12" wide end boards of the thickest pieces, about ½ to ¾" thick, and 3" or 4" wide. Because I'm working with scraps, I generally cut the collected boards into the biggest possible parts. If you are buying or milling your own lumber, you can plan out your cutting list exactly. The side and bottom boards are thinner, maybe ¼ to ½" thick. The side boards need to be 24" by 3" or 4". The bottom boards are 24" long, of random widths. In fact you can use obliquely cut or waney-edged pieces for the bottoms of the flats, if you are creative.

First assemble the "side walls" of your flats, drilling through the thinner sides and into the thicker ends. This is a nice basic woodworking task for beginners of all ages. Use exterior grade screws, because they will be wet a lot of the time in use. Once you have the four sides together, turn the frame over and fasten bottom boards, leaving small gaps (up to ½") between them. This helps make it possible to combine various widths of board. Turning the frame over gives you a flat surface to fasten the bottom boards to, in case your sides and ends were slightly different widths. The gaps will help with drainage and stop the wet boards buckling. I keep a supply of ready cut and drilled boards to make running repairs during the season.

Greenhouse, early spring. Photo by Twin Oaks Community

Sowing Seeds in Open Flats

Take a 3" deep seed starting tray and line it with a double layer of newspaper (to stop the compost falling out the gaps). Have the paper come part way up the sides, but never poking out above the compost, as this wicks the water out of the compost. Fill the flat with compost - we use a plastic dustpan which happens to be just the right width, and works much better than a trowel or a shovel. Scrape the dustpan across the frame of the flat to ensure it is evenly and completely filled.

Next make tiny furrows for the seeds. We use a plastic ruler pressed into the surface of the damp compost and pushed back and forth. Sow the seeds, aiming for 3-5 per inch for most crops. Cover the seeds over shallowly (except for celery and some flowers which need light). Water and grow the seeds indoors.

Spotting Out Seedlings into Transplant Flats

Once the seedlings have emerged and the seed leaves opened fully, it's time to spot the seedlings out into the deeper flats to grow on until you transplant them outdoors. Fill the bigger flats with compost in the same way. We have a dibble board with 40 wood pegs glued into holes in a 12 x 24" piece of plywood in 8 rows down the 24" direction, 5 offset rows in the 12" direction. The pegs are about 2 ½" apart from all their nearest neighbors. This gives the 40 plants about 7 square inches each, which is a nice lot of space. We press the dibble board down into the surface of the compost, making 40 holes at once.

Cabbage seedlings, showing the pattern of holes made by the dibble board. Photo by Wren Vile

We use a butter knife to loosen the seedlings in the seed flat. Then, handling them only by the seed leaves (which are tough and disposable), we shake the seedlings apart. We use the knife to deepen the hole in the transplant flat if needed, then we jiggle the seedling to get the roots pointing downward in the hole. With the knife and the other hand, we press the compost firmly around the plants. For small plants such as lettuce, we spot into 3" deep flats, but bigger brassicas and tomatoes need 4" flats. Water and wait.

This is a good way to avoid contributing to the problem of agricultural plastic trash and be self-reliant in gardening equipment. You can also grow stronger plants by giving them a larger compost volume than plastic plug flats or cell packs provide. 

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at, Pam's blog is on her website and also on

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.

Don't Waste Old Produce: Plant Your Compost!

This time of year in NE Texas I'm dreaming of the veggie garden.  Oh yes, I've been working on my garden planting layout for a few days now.  I'm planning for crop rotation and companion planting.  I'm also using repurposed cardboard tubes to plant my heirloom seeds in my 'indoor greenhouse' so when the time's right I'll have seedlings to lovingly place into that prepared garden soil.  It's true that even before gardening season there's lots of gardening tasks to complete!

But sometimes the opportunity to get my hands in the dirt happens earlier than I planned.  And sometimes that opportunity comes by way of fresh produce getting past its prime for any kind of kitchen deliciousness.  But in past years when I'd toss that failing produce into the compost bin, these days I'm doing something different. I'm planting my compost! A couple of easy and early-gardening examples presented themselves in my kitchen recently.

Plant Your Compost  Sprouted Garlic  TaylorMadeHomestead

Garlic Past Its Prime is Full of Opportunity!

I didn't get to that fresh clove of garlic before I noticed the cloves were starting to spread apart. Then gradually they started showing tiny green sprouts at the top of each clove.  The time is right in our planting zone 7 so I'll just plant it in the garden. Heck, it's already gotten a head start, right? Then this one clove of garlic will be magically transformed to many cloves of garlic for future culinary delights in my kitchen!

So I take the sprouting garlic to the garden and gently pull apart the cloves. Then, I take my garden hoe and make sure any early-sprouting spring grasses are removed and fluff the soil a bit.  I then use the edge of my hoe to make a shallow trench and place each sprouting clove of garlic (sprouted side up) in a line about 8 to 10 inches apart from each other. 

 Plant Your Compost  Plant in a row  TaylorMadeHomestead

Now I gently tuck the soil around my newly planted garlic cloves and top with spent hay from around our hay ring. The hay mulch will keep the soil below from drying out and becoming hard. That will help these garlic bulbs grow nice and fat!

Note About Using Hay as Mulch

Now sometimes using hay as mulch causes problems with hay seeds and I'll admit I do have some seed that will sprout where I've used it in my garden. But the benefit of the hay mulch far outweighs any seed issues.

First, it's free and plentiful. I'm a big 'Use Whatcha Got' fan. Secondly, this hay is made up of winter rye so there won't be much sprouting during the hot summer months anyway. And finally the thick layer I use keeps most seeds from sprouting in the first place. Diligence with removing any new sprouts takes care of any rogue hay sprouts easily & quickly.

For that small amount of maintenance I'm rewarded with mulch that helps my veggie plants with moderated soil temps, reduced irrigation needs and reduced weed pressure. Then at the end of the season I simply allow the decomposed mulch to continue improving my garden soil. Since I typically seed my dormant planting areas with winter rye as a cover crop anyway, if those hay seeds sprout when it turns cold there may be nothing else needed until spring. Talk about efficiency!

What About Those Sprouting Potatoes?

Another past-its-prime example in my kitchen recently is that bag of red potatoes I bought a few weeks ago.  Unexpected travel plans and unplanned activities kept me from using the whole bag before they started sprouting. And lately, I've been on the lookout for seed potatoes to plant, but I was only finding standard white varieties. We really prefer red potatoes at the Taylor Homestead.  But there's no need for me to search out those planting reds, I've got several in the pantry that are just aching to be planted.

I take those sprouted potatoes and cut them into chunks, making sure at least one sprouting eye is included on each chunk. Then, I'll let the chunks air dry for a day or so. This cures the cut edges to help keep the potatoes from rotting once they're planted.  I've recently read after the initial curing time it's helpful to dust the potatoes with wood ash, so I'm trying that this year as well.

Plant Your Compost  Sprouted potatoes  TaylorMadeHomestead

After a couple of days curing and a good dusting of wood ash, I'm ready to plant my red potato pieces. I've decided to plant them in a large cattle-trough planter I have at the end of our porch. The potato foliage is thick and bold — I think it will be beautiful greenery added to this planter. I'll use the same spent-hay mulch I used with my garlic to cover the potato vines higher and higher up as the greenery grows.  This will allow the plants to put on lots of potatoes all season long. Then, when it's time to harvest, I'll simply remove the hay mulch and the potatoes from the planter and boom!  Fresh, homegrown red potatoes from produce that would have just been wasted.

So next time you sigh with regret at seeing your fresh produce has gone too far to consume, think outside the box. Can it be planted instead of composted? If so, go ahead. Plant your compost!

Tammy Taylor is the owner of the ~Taylor-Made Homestead~ blog. Tammy lives & works on a Northeast Texas ranch and writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, MIY, DIY and living as gently as possible on this big blue planet we call home. You can visit her Homestead Blog – or follow her on Facebook or Pinterest. Find all of Tammy'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.

Planting Food Near Native Oaks: Pairing Forest Ecology with Edible Gardening

Here in Northern California, we are blessed with many stoic and picturesque native oaks. Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), Valley Oak (Quercus lobata), and Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii) are all found in this bioregion. Many people are talking about Sudden Oak Death and other oak ailments as a result of anthropogenic (man-made) influences. Fear not: By following some simple rules and planting specially adapted native plants, you can foster life under your oaks.

Our California oaks have evolved to have dry roots for the summer months. One of the main mistakes I see in consulting with homeowners and ranches is that irrigation is installed too close to the drip line of the oak. This “wet feet” easily can lead to rot and disease.

By choosing the right specialists for the very specific habitat of oak understory, you can achieve a full, vibrant understory that will bring hummingbirds and other wildlife right underneath the majestic oaks and into your window’s views.

Drip Line Denotes Microclimate

The drip-line is where the edge of the branches make a circle that defines where the majority of rain drips out to the edge of the tree. In intact nature, you will see in the oak savannah where a diversity of plants are growing “at the skirt of the tree” due to the increased moisture of this drip-line perimeter.

These plants receive the benefits of more rain, running off the oak as well as more light than inside the canopy. This makes the drip line a sweet spot for many oak savannah natives.

Try these native plants on the drip line’s edge:

• Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)
• Sonoma Sage (Salvia sonomensis)
• Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
• California Fescue (Festuca californica)

Likewise, if there is vacant space in the partial shade of the oak but also outside the drip line, then the list of edible plants below will do fine for you here in the Bay Area or locations with similar climate. As it is outside the drip line, it is safe to water twice per week.

Edibles for Oak Shade (Outside Drip Line)

• High Bush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) “Sunshine Blue” and “Jewel”• (Low Chill) Cherry (Prunus avium) “Royal Lee”

Note: Cherries like acid soil and in the low chill of the Bay Area, some shade can actually be a positive.

• (Low Chill) Apple: “Fuji” and “Pink Lady”

Note: Like Cherry, Apples don't mind light shade to trick them into thinking our winters are more pronounced than in full sun.

• Currants: Edible cultivars of currant do well in the light shade outside the canopy. As the food cultivars of Red Currant and White (ribes rubrum), White Currant and Black Currant (ribes nigrum) need more water than the native cousins, they need be separated for the benefit of the oak above. Under these perennial food crops, you can grow Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum).

• Raspberry (rubus idaeus): Raspberry will tolerate the light shade.

Dry Oak Shade Specialists (Inside the Drip Line)

Inside the drip line is another story. Inside the dark canopy of oaks is the realm of native plant oak specialists. These plants have adapted over eons to tolerate the shade of the oak as well as the intense acidity of the oak leaf duff. Additionally, these plants have taken growth habits that are vertically upright. This allows for them to stay above the leaf drop in autumn when the leaves can accumulate over a foot deep!

Note: Do your part and do not irrigate directly under your oak canopy, not near the trunk/root crown.

Try these native plants for within the oaks canopy:

• Iris (Iris douglasiana)
• Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)
• California Barberry (Mahonia pinnata)
• Pink Flowering Curant (Ribes sangueneum)
• Golden Currant (Ribes Auereum)
• Fuschia-Flowered Gooseberry (Ribes Speciosum)

Note: All these native plants listed for under the oak canopy are drought-tolerant. To establish these plants, only water 1 time per week. Drip irrigation is the preferred delivery method, as it will target the new plants root zone without soaking the surface or overwatering. If the soil is workable, these plants can be planted in the wet season.

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other 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.

Beginning Your Medicinal Herb Garden: Part I

Even though our gardens and pasture are still covered in about 3 feet of snow, I’m thinking about and planning for my spring garden. In just a few months the ground will be ready to support plant life. Now, if you live in a milder climate than North Idaho then your ground will be ready much sooner. Either way, this is a great time to plan, order seeds and get those starts going!

One of the questions I get asked frequently is what herbs would I recommend for a small medicinal herb garden or for someone just starting out so they don’t get overwhelmed. So that’s what I’m going to cover today. Of course, I don’t know everyone’s specifics. I will have to make a few assumptions – there will be plenty of sun, access to water, and the soil is healthy. One other important point is that these are herbs I believe allow for a beginner herbalist to begin treating their family with, they are also good for more advanced herbalists (for instance, I use chamomile in many preparations because it’s good for so many things). I’m hoping this will enable more and more individuals to grow their own “farmacy”!


Matricaria recutita – Chamomile

Like I mentioned before, I believe Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)  to be one of the most important herbs in our home. I use it for upset stomach, trouble sleeping, calming skin irritations, colic, teething issues, anxiety, and more. It is one of those herbs that I could not do without. Once it is growing (seed germination can be difficult) it can thrive in almost any type soil as long as it is well-draining, high clay content or shallow hard pan soil would not work here. It does require full sun, so don’t try to hide this in a corner! It’s PH requirement is also quite flexible growing well in soil as low as 5.6 up to 7.5. Sadly this is not a perennial plant which requires replanting each year. I left much of my flowers and allowed them to go to seed last fall hoping to see some new sprouts this year.

Uses: upset stomach, griping pain, IBS, calming skin irritations and reducing infection, colic, teething, hair rinse, anxiety, sleep aid

Soil:  Well drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade


echinacea garden

Echinacea purpurea– Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

I’ve always been fond of “daisy” like flowers and Echinacea is no exception. Echinacea is not only beautiful to us, but attractive to pollinators. So if you’re looking to attract more pollinators to your garden, this is an herb you want to consider. Being a perennial, as long as you are giving it space to grow it will grace your garden year after year. It does not do well with “wet feet” but, once established it will tolerate drought and heat due to its deep tap root. The best way to propagate is by root cuttings in Autumn.

For medicinal purposes Echinacea flower can be used but will not be as strong as a preparation made from the root. If you are harvesting the flowers do it when the flowers are just starting to bloom, for the root harvest in the fall when all the energy has moved down (preferably after a frost or two). Don’t dig up the entire root, make sure to leave some to grow back in the spring. I left mine alone last year (besides clipping a few flowers) to allow it to propagate naturally.

In order for Echinacea to be helpful take it at the first sign of a cold, this is not a recommended herb to be used as a tonic. For internal use I recommend three preparations: infusion or tincture (flowers) or decoction (root). Make sure to follow directions for preserving herbs if you want to use it over the winter./p>

Uses: boost immunity

Soil:  Well drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Water: water well until established, after that it will tolerate very dry

Melissa officinalis – Lemon Balm

First, a word of warning…lemon balm likes to grow and will expand in your garden if you do not keep it under control. This should not stop you from growing it, just understand you’ll need to cut it back and ‘tame’ it!

Lemon balm is my go to for two specific issues: anxiety and cold sores because of its anti-viral properties, but it is good for many other things as well: eczema, headache, insect bites, and wounds to name a few.  As a culinary herb it adds a wonderful fresh, lemony-mint taste to any dish, (it’s especially good in fruit salad) and brews into a refreshing iced tea!

In my garden, it is one of the fastest growing plants I have. If I see it getting a little sad looking, I simply cut it down and it magically rejuvenates it – basically It is another easy plant to grow and will grow prolifically if left alone! One way to control it is to clip it back several times in the summer and early fall to keep seeds from forming. Unlike mint, it does not grow underground “runners” so it makes it easy to pull any unwanted plants that might get away from you. On a side note, this makes amazing fodder for your chickens and goats. When our chickens got into my herb garden they decimated my lemon balm, of course it grew back in a few weeks, but I was amazed at how much the chickens liked it. When I thin I just throw it over my fence and the chickens and goats fight for it!

Uses: Cold sores, anxiety, sleep aid, eczema, headaches, insect bites, wounds, colic, can help with ADHD

Soil:  moist, rich and Well drained

Sun: Full sun

Water: does not tolerate drought very well

These are three great starter herbs if you are wanting to step into growing your own medicinal herb garden. I will cover three more in an upcoming post.

Check out our online community for ways to help in your local food movement, learn about more medicinal herbs and much more. 

Sean and Monica are available for consulting work regarding property analysis & design, personal coaching and speaking engagements. 

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found speaking and teaching at different events. To learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their 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

5 Essential Wood Chipper Safety Tips – Organic Gardening – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Wood Chipper In Action

If you use a wood chipper around your property, then you know what powerful machines they are. For cleaning up brush piles and making valuable wood chip mulch, using a wood chipper is often the easiest and most effective method.

But with great power comes great responsibility. In this case, it is your responsibility to stay safe when using your wood chipper. Here are some easy ways to prevent injuries while wood chipping:

1. Wear Safety Gear

Wear eye protection and ear protection when chipping. These machines are loud and often fling tiny pieces of debris into the air. Avoid catching one in the eye by keeping your safety gear on at all times.

Also, as with all power equipment, be sure to wear closed-toed shoes. Steel-enforced boots are recommended if you are chipping particularly large and heavy branches. Be sure that loose pieces of clothing are tucked in and not at risk of getting stuck in the chipper.

2. Careful What You Chip

Wood chippers are designed to chip branches and tree limbs. They are not designed to chip metal, plastic, processed wood (such as 2-by-4s), or leftover building materials. Be sure that you only chip branches that are in the size range that your chipper is designed to chip.

For example, if your chipper is designed to chip up to 4-inch diameter branches, trying to feed a 5-inch diameter branch into the hopper can clog the machine, put unnecessary stress on the engine, and put you in danger.

3. Dont Put Your Hands in the Hopper!

If you feed a branch into the hopper and it does not go all the way into the chipping chamber, do not use your hands to push it in.

Use another branch, stick, or pole to push it in. Never put your hands further into the hopper than the safety labels indicate. The depth to which it is safe to put your hands will vary between chipper designs.

4. Got a Clog? Turn Off First

If you have a clog in the discharge chute or chipping chamber, or if you need to do routine maintenance, be sure to turn off your engine before you do anything. After turning the engine off, wait until the flywheel has completely stopped spinning.

The heavier the flywheel, the longer it will take to come to a complete stop. But while it is still spinning, there is still the danger of injury, so it is well worth the wait.

5. Keep Children and Pets Away

Keep kids, pets, and other bystanders a safe distance away from the wood chipper while youre working. Flying debris, loose wood chips on the ground, heavy branches, and the dangerous nature of the machine itself make it a very unsafe place for children and pets.

Bryan Johnson is Ecommerce Operations Specialist with Country Home Products and its brand DR Power Equipment. He is committed to making and promoting innovative, useful, time-saving power equipment. He is based in Vermont, surrounded by what he loves a place of rural beauty with simple and traditional values. Follow Bryan and DR Power on the DR Power Blog, Facebook, and YouTube.
 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.

Grow Cover Crops In Your Garden

2013 garden in March1 -BLOG

Every garden needs regular additions of organic matter for healthy soil. Organic matter, the key to building soil structure in your garden, acts as a slow release fertilizer and is home to beneficial microbes. You could haul materials in for your compost and mulching needs, however, not only does that increase the footprint of what is required for your garden, you are in danger of acquiring Killer Compost, which is a 21st century problem. There is a class of chemicals used as herbicides in the landscape and agriculture industries that are persistent in the plants that take them up, carrying over as active herbicide, even in finished compost. I wrote about Killer Compost here in 2011 and Mother Earth News published an update about the problem here in 2013. The best way to avoid this problem is to grow your own compost and mulch materials in the form of cover crops.

Contrary to what some may think, you do not need a tiller to manage cover crops. Hand tools will suffice. What you do need is the knowledge to manage them that way. These crops can be cut with a sickle in your garden beds and left in place as mulch, as long as you have planted the appropriate cover crop for the job and cut it at the right time. Learn more about that at Homeplace Earth. For mulch-cut-in-place I use rye with a legume planted in the fall. Here in Zone 7 I cut it about the first week in May when the rye is shedding pollen. An indicator for you, besides noticing the rye plants, is that it is about the time when the local farmers are doing their first cutting of hay.

Cover Crops as Compost Material

It is possible to grow enough cover crops to use as compost materials to provide all your compost needs. The carbon (brown) will come from such crops as cornstalks, sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke stalks, and rye and wheat straw. The nitrogen (green) will be provided by legumes you grow for that purpose, such as clover, vetch, and alfalfa. Weeds and other green material you gather from your garden will be a nitrogen addition as well. You could build your compost piles as materials are available, making what I call a Wild Pile. A more balanced approach would be to add equal amounts, by volume, of green and brown material, plus some soil each time you work on your pile. Since the green material needs to be added when it is harvested, you would probably need to store the carbon materials until the green materials are available. You can see me making compost this way in my DVD, Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden.

If you bring in compost and mulch materials, that is all you have. If you grow your own, you have the added benefit of the biomass from the roots that are left to decompose in the soil—no tilling required. This is a wonderful advantage! Working in harmony with Mother Nature. Although you won’t necessarily be planting cover crops now, I would like to encourage you to make them part of your garden plan for the year. Learn what you can plant when and where, and order the seeds with your spring seed order. That way you will be ready when the time comes to plant. Enjoy this new adventure in your garden!/p>

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

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging 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.

What the Hay: Plant It Anyway!

IMG1921 600x800

Here on the farm, we have been trying to utilize everything in some way. We want to make use of all organic matter and to reuse any farm waste to keep it out of landfill. Alan grows and puts up hay for our livestock. Sometimes if the weather has been wet and some of the hay doesn't dry out as well or gets wet afterwards this will develop some mold issues. We don't want to feed this to our goats. So we plant in it!
If using rolled hay, they need to be upright. If the roll falls onto its side it doesn't take on rainwater as good and the plants will need to be monitored for watering. The hay works best if it has aged at least a year. You can still use the hay but you may need to add a scoop of soil/compost with your plant to give it a good start.

We have used squash plants and the yields are very good.  We find there is less pest and mildew problems when planted in hay. We also use these hay bales for growing potatoes.  The potatoes are very clean when harvested.


Photo of potato plants starting to bloom.


These bales can be used for several years this way.  When the hay begins to break down into compost this can now be added to raised beds and/or hugelkulturs.


We will be experimenting with growing strawberries in a frame on top of the haybale and potatoes tucked into the sides of the haybales.

Make the most of your resources and your growing spaces!

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Read all of Susan'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.