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

Growing Lettuce Year Round: Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply


A bed of lettuce in May. Photo by Wren Vile

When I moved to central Virginia 25 years ago, it was accepted as fact that we couldn't grow lettuce in the summer. And we didn't yet have a hoophouse yet, so we didn't have lettuce in winter either. I set out to extend the lettuce seasons of fall and spring, and got them to meet, so that we can have a continuous supply of salads all year. I wrote about winter lettuce here, and I just completed a year of postings about suitable lettuce varieties for each month on my own blog Sustainable Market Farming. Here I'm going to provide a general strategy for scheduling lettuce plantings so that you have neither gluts nor gaps in your supply. This kind of scheduling is called "succession planting" and is also used for short-lived warm weather crops (think zucchini). I have a slide show on Succession Planting, which I present at some of the Mother Earth News Fairs.

Sow Several Lettuce Varieties

One simple way to extend the harvest period of each lettuce sowing is to sow several different varieties on the same day. Choose varieties with different numbers of days to maturity, including at least one fast one and one slow one. There can be quite large differences in days to maturity, for instance Buttercrunch is a small, fast, reliable green 48-day butterhead (bibb) and romaine lettuces generally take 55-58 days. Looseleaf lettuces like the 50-day Salad Bowls are a very useful lettuce type because you can harvest individual leaves off the whole row while you wait for the heads to reach full size. (Yes, you will be setting them back a bit, but there will be plenty of lettuce later and this method will give you lettuce sooner.)

Buttercrunch Bibb Lettuce. Photo by Kathleen Slattery

Choose Lettuce Varieties to Suit the Season

My second tip is to choose varieties which work well for the time of year. This will help ensure that the lettuce you plant reaches harvest in a good state. Here the Lettuce Year has 5 seasons: Early Spring: January-March; Spring: April 1-May 15; Summer: May 15-Aug 15; fall: August 15-September 7 and winter: September 8 until the end of September, when we start our break from sowing lettuce (but not our break from harvesting!) Each season has varieties which work well and others which do not. Our springs are short and quickly heat up, so we only have a small window for sowing lettuces which bolt as soon as the weather warms at all. That window closes March 31 for us, and examples include Bronze Arrow, Freckles, Merlot, Midnite Ruffles, Oscarde and Panisse. Johnny's Selected Seeds has a head lettuce planting program with three seasons (early season, mid-season and late season) where they recommend some suitable varieties. Varieties for early spring are fast-growing. Mid-season varieties have some heat-tolerance (resistance to bolting). Their late-season varieties are chosen for disease resistance and cold tolerance.

Sow Extra Lettuce Seeds

We sow four lettuce varieties each time and I like to choose varieties that differ in color and shape. There is no reason to get bored with lettuce! We are planting 120 lettuces each week, to feed a hundred people, and it is easy for us to make four flats of 40 transplants each, allowing us extras in case something goes wrong, or it turns out that we are planting one of the longer beds that week. If we see that the following sowing has come up poorly, we might transplant more than 120, or save the leftover lettuce plants to fill out the next planting.

Lettuce Scheduling Made Easy

For a continuous supply, lettuce needs to be planted many times during the season. Typically, crops mature faster in warmer weather. So, to get harvests starting an equal number of days apart, you need to shorten the interval between one sowing date and the next as the season progresses. An easy "No Paperwork" way of finding out what the planting intervals need to be is available to those who direct sow their lettuce, or sow it outdoors in a nursery seedbed.  Sow some lettuce and the day it emerges, sow some more. This method works because as the weather warms up in spring, the lettuce seed germinates faster, giving you the signal that it is time to make another sowing. Your sowing intervals get shorter, without you having to do any calculations. You do need to pay close attention, and you do need to be experienced enough to be sure that your seed will germinate. Otherwise you would just wait and wait. . . 

Here is a table of soil temperature, days to emergence, and the percentage of normal seedlings you can expect. This is based on figures from Nancy Bubel in her Seed Starter's Handbook

Lettuce seed days to emergence and percentage of normal seedlings at various soil temperatures

Soil temperature



















Days to emergence










% normal seedlings











As you can quickly realize, it's pointless to try to germinate lettuce in soils as warm as 86F (30C).  In hot weather, sow in the late afternoon or at nightfall. The cooler night-time temperatures give the seed better emergence than morning sowings.

Lettuce scheduling Made Memorable

Maybe you don't want to be on tenterhooks watching for seeds to come up? An easy memorable sequence to follow is

sow twice in January
twice in February
every 10 days in March
every 9 days in April
every 8 days in May
every 6-7 days in June and July
• every 5 days in early August
moving to every 3 days in late August
every other day until Sept 21.

After that we make a couple of "insurance sowings" before the end of September.

New Red Fire lettuce. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Lettuce Scheduling Made Perfect

For a customized close-fit plan for your farm, save three pieces of information for each sowing you make this year: the sowing date, the date of first harvest and the date of last worthwhile harvest. In the winter, use this information to make a graph to fine-tune your future sowing dates. In my Succession Crops slideshow I explain and show my 5-step method.

• Plot a graph for each crop, with sowing date along the horizontal (x) axis and harvest start date along the vertical (y) axis. Mark in all your data. Join with a curve.
Mark the first possible sowing date and the harvest start date for that.
Decide the last worthwhile harvest start date, mark that.
Then divide the harvest period into a whole number of segments, according to how often you want a new patch.
Figure the sowing dates needed to match your chosen harvest start dates

Don't Stop too Soon!

At some point in the fall, you will reach a date when it's time to stop sowing. Knowing this might save you from giving up too soon. Any lettuce sown after your stop date would make little if any growth for the winter. Lettuce can make growth whenever the temperature stays above 41F (5C), although spinach and kale grow faster at those low temperatures. Figure out when it will get too cold for lettuce growth where you are, taking any protected growing space into account.

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.

Growing Cannabis in Raised Garden Beds

Over the last few years in the United States, public perception of the use of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes has softened dramatically, accompanied by varying degrees of emerging legality. As of May 2017, federal law still prohibits the possession, use, sale and cultivation of marijuana; however, it also provisions the allowance of a state to individually mandate its own laws regarding recreational and medicinal use, so long as there is a regulatory system in place.

For instance, California has legalized both recreational and medicinal use, whereas Florida only allows for medical use. We encourage everyone to seek and fully understand the laws and regulations regarding marijuana in their state.

How to Grow Cannabis in Gardens

There are more ways than one to skin a cat, just as there are methods to cultivate marijuana. Indoor cultivators rely on lighting methods to induce and control the different stages of growth, from seedling to flowering to harvest time. This approach certainly has its advantages, especially in regions that receive little sunlight. Some, however, may find the purchase of costly specialty bulbs and higher electricity bills to be a deterrent. Those pursuing a more organic and inexpensive growing method might consider outdoor cultivation.

Cultivating Cannabis in Raised Beds

Enter raised bed square foot gardening, a method celebrated by those who enjoy its simplicity, structure and economy. By dividing a raised bed gardening space into square-foot planting sections, gardeners can create small but intensive vegetable gardens. In contrast to row gardening, where gardeners leave walking paths between rows of plants to access them, raised bed square foot gardening employs area planting within the sections mentioned above. Rows are not needed, since properly designed raised garden beds always have a dimension of 4ft or less, providing gardeners arm’s length access to all plants from one side of the bed or another.  

Novices and experts alike have enjoyed successful yields of all types of vegetables and herbs using the raised bed square foot gardening method and can certainly do the same with marijuana. Consider the following advantages of raised bed square foot gardening when planning your outdoor marijuana grow:

Can You Grow Marijuana in Raised Garden Beds

Ideal Soil Conditions

A strong, healthy marijuana plant requires plenty of nutrients throughout its lifetime, namely nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Unfortunately, the soils found in our backyards tend to be deficient in one or more of these nutrients and can be difficult to work with. With a raised garden bed, you are not limited to local soil conditions. A soil recipe high in nutrients will go a long way in ensuring the success of your plants. Pre-mixed, nutrient rich soil blends are widely available at home and garden stores, however when selecting/creating your growing medium consider the following ingredients noted beneath the following ‘PRO TIP’.

PRO TIP: Matthew Sokolowski, Operations Manager at True Plant Science, suggests a soil recipe that comes from TGA Subcool Seeds, a marijuana genetics breeder out of Oregon. It’s full of quality nutrients that will sustain the plant throughout its entire lifespan. Below is a general recipe that can be adapted to the size of your planting space:

(8) 1.5 cubic ft. bags of high quality base soil
• 33 lbs. bag of Worm Castings

• 2.5 lbs. Fish Bone Meal

• 5 lbs. High Phosphorus Bat Guano

• 5 lbs. Blood Meal

• 2.5 lbs. Bone Meal

• 3 cups. Oyster Shell

• (3) cups. Kelp Meal

• (3) cups Alfalfa Meal

• (3/4) cup Epsom Salt

• 1 cup Dolomite Lime

• 2 cups Azomite

• 2 tbsp powdered Humic Acid

Allow a mix like this to break down over 6-10 weeks prior to planting. This mix yields roughly 14 cubic feet.

A quality soil blend, such as the one mentioned above already contains the necessary nutrients to feed marijuana plants. So, the need for fertilizers and pesticides is greatly reduced if not all together eliminated.

Pro tip: The only time that supplemental nutrients may need to be added is during the flowering cycle, as the plant consumes much more Phosphorous and Potassium than it does Nitrogen. Compost teas would be a good option for adding organic nutrients into the soil as needed. A good flowering tea should consist of Seabird Guano, worm castings, Indonesian Bat Guano (or similar high phosphorous guano), kelp and molasses.

Structure and Spacing

Marijuana plants tend to adapt to the space they are given, but generally grow well in 4-6 gallons of soil. Employing the square foot gardening method in a typical 8-inch-tall raised bed will create equal square foot sections of .667 cubic feet, or about 5 gallons — ideal for one marijuana plant per section.

This intensive spacing system is advantageous when you have limited room to work with. Taking this plant spacing method and expanding it to a common size garden, you could grow 16 marijuana plants in a 4ft x 4ft raised garden bed. (1 plant per square foot = 4 plants across and 4 plants deep).

Marijuana Strain Considerations

There are two primary strains of marijuana, Sativa and Indica. Often they are cross bred but each has growing characteristics to consider. Sativa strains are more prone to growing up/elongating than Indica strains do, making them the a more ideal marijuana strain for 1 square foot plant spacing.

Indica strains tend to grow more bushy or outward. Raised bed square foot gardening is not limited to one square foot spacing as a maximum though. You can grow 1 plant per 2 square feet to accommodate wider growth. Plant spacing as such would allow for 8 plants in a 4x4 raised garden bed.

Despite the common characteristics of Sativa or Indica strains, most any strain can be cultivated in a smaller space with the right kind of plant training techniques and proper trimming maintenance.
Raised Garden Bed Marijuana Plant Spacing 2
Leaf Icon Credit: Nikita Golubev via Flaticon

PRO TIP: The more room marijuana plants have to grow, the wider and bushier they will become. When kept to a more confined root system, the roots are still able to grow downwards but are restricted laterally, resulting in a more conical plant. Some light plant training may be needed to keep the branches of other plants from entangling and preventing the growth of powdery mildew or other disease.Tomato cages would be useful in this situation.

Improved Drainage and Reduced Watering

A well-composed raised garden bed also enjoys excellent soil drainage. This is key to the health of the root systems of your marijuana plants: excess moisture drains out, allowing the roots to absorb oxygen and thrive. At the same time a raised garden bed improves drainage, planting marijuana intensively in a square foot fashion reduces the overall water needed to sustain your garden.

As plants grow in close proximity, they shade the soil and minimize moisture loss. Ultra-efficient ground level watering systems and spacing guides can be easily adapted to the raised bed structure as well. All this means you’ll need less water less often, minimizing your footprint and conserving resources.  

PRO TIP: Cannabis plants in an outdoor environment will generally require water every 2 to 3 days.The amount of water the plants require and application rate will increase as the plant transitions into the flowering stage. Also consider the climate. A Hot and dry climate will necessitate more water than hot and humid climate.To gauge general watering needs for your marijuana plants, ensure that your garden bed’s soil is moist an inch below the surface. Keep a close eye on the plants early on to get a good idea of your water schedule.


A special thank you to Matthew Sokolowski, Operations Manager at and consultant to multi-licensed, commercial cannabis cultivators out of Washington State, for providing his expert insight and ‘PRO TIPS’ to create this guide.

Bryan Traficante co-founded GardenInMinutes in 2013, turning a passion for home gardening and innovation into a family-owned venture to make starting a quality garden, easier. GardenInMinutes invented the Garden Grid watering system which combines square-foot planting principles with efficient ground-level irrigation. GardenInMinutes also crafts tool-free, modular raised gardens and provides time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook, Twitter, and read all of his 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 Container Gardening Tips to Successfully Grow Produce

growing tomato in a pot

I look forward to spring every year. I start planning my small raised bed vegetable and herb garden about a month before I can actually put anything on the ground. I learned the hard way that I need to be patient lest I lose everything to an unexpected frost.

My yard is not very big so, I have always filled clay pots with brightly colored flowers to place around the outside of my home. Over the past couple of years, I have expanded my container gardening to include fruits, vegetables, and herbs, not just flowers. I have discovered that I can grow almost anything in a container. Here is what I have learned from my container gardening adventures.

1. Assess Your Sunlight

You need to take notes on how much area receives full sunlight and for how long each day. I have underestimated how much sun my containers need by placing them in the wrong areas. Some plants do better in shade than others. So, you need to know how much exposure your containers are going to receive before you start your seeds or buy your plants.

You will need to time the sun exposure in certain areas. Once you know how much direct sunlight your container will get you can refer to a sun calculator to determine which plants will work best. Most seed packets and seedling plants come with instructions that tell you how much sun they need.

2. Choose Your Containers

This is a really broad category. You can basically grow plants in anything from 5-gallon plastic construction buckets to sophisticated, custom, raised wood boxes. You can read this article to find more ideas about container gardening.

I have experimented with different types of containers. What I have discovered is that you really need containers that will drain. Clay pots with holes work great. Same is true for plastic that you can drill holes into the bottom of. The roots need room and can’t be saturated with water all the time unless you are growing a plant like watercress that needs constant moisture.

Here are a few other ieas for containers:

Wooden wine casks
Plastic tote bags
Old wheelbarrows
Wooden drawers from discarded furniture
Rain boots

3. Get Nutrient Dense Soil

If you are fortunate enough to be able to find a rich, earthworm filled soil source that you can dig up, then that is the way to go. I live near salt water, so the soil is a bit sandy and likely high in salinity. I generally have to rely on purchased potting soil for my containers. This is usually not very nutritious for my plants.

If you have to purchase potting soil, look for organic soil that doesn’t have any chemical fertilizers or additives in it. You can mix in an all natural plant food of either your own composted vegetable matter, seaweed, free range animal manure, or even fish emulsion, depending on what you are growing.

For fruits and vegetables, you will want nutrients that aren’t going to impart an unpleasant taste into the produce. Here are some ideas of nutrients for edible container gardens.

4. Give Your Seedlings Time to Adjust

Seedlings are almost always started inside your home or in a greenhouse where it is nice and warm. Before you plant your seedlings in the containers, let them acclimate to the extremes of the outdoors gently. Place seedlings outside for an hour or two each day for direct sun and wind exposure. They also need to adjust to insects.

If you have been watering your seedlings with tap or filtered water, start adding some fresh rainwater to their hydration regimen. Eventually, allow them to stay outside overnight. Over time they will adapt to the conditions and will survive better once you plant them.

If your containers are inside, this might not be an issue.

5. Care for Your Plants

Any container garden needs care, just like ground gardens. Pay attention to how much water your plants are receiving. If rainwater is adequate, don’t be tempted to hydrate more. Remember, the containers will not drain as quickly as the ground.

Be mindful of the amount of sunlight your containers are receiving. They may need to be moved if it is too much or too little, especially as the seasons change and days grow longer. That is the nice thing about containers - you can relocate them.

Flowering plants need to be deadheaded from time to time. Herbs need to be pruned so that they don’t bolt and go to seed too quickly. Fruits and vegetables need to be harvested to make room for new growth. Weeds need to be kept in check so that they don’t choke the roots.

Sometimes insects are troublesome. Here are some natural pesticide recipes for flowering or green plants. For edible plants, your best pesticides are beneficial insects and removal by hand of the unwanted invaders. I recall one summer where I daily removed cabbageworm from the leaves of my collard greens by hand. If I missed a day the leaves would resemble Swiss cheese by evening.

Try it!

If you have limited space or are physically unable to work on the ground, containers may be your best bet for putting your green thumb to use this growing season. There are so many creative options for containers. And, you really can grow just about anything in a container, depending on the size.

Container gardens are attractive and relatively easy to maintain. Though, they do differ slightly from ground gardens. There is a bit of a learning curve. You will get the hang of it with a little trial and error. Try following some of the tips suggested here and you should end up with a bounty of greenery, flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

We always like feedback from our readers. Please feel free to comment or share some of your own container garden experiences and suggestions.

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 Blindly Trust Manure, Hay, or Compost!

Soil Amendment Warning

There’s a huge problem destroying gardens in the US.

For those that aren't familiar with the very high risk associated with putting manure or purchased compost in your gardens, you NEED to read this post. If you read me here or at, you may have heard me tell this story before—but I'm telling it again because it needs to be told. I don't want anyone to make the same mistake I made.

About five years ago, I dropped a load of cow manure onto my property and promptly spread it around many of my fruit trees and berry bushes and through my garden beds. Within a couple of weeks, the plants were twisting into obscene fractals. Eventually, most of them died. It took me a while to figure out what was going on and when I did pin it down, I'd already lost about $1000 worth of plants. Mulberry trees were stunted, blackberries were killed, tomatoes were wrecked... it was a mess.

Danger of Toxic Aminopyralid in Soil Amendments

The culprit was "aminopyralid," a toxin contained in the very popular herbicide Grazon(TM). I've since discovered that Grazon is everywhere in commercial agriculture now—and gardeners are losing their gardens right and left. Grazon is a "selective" herbicide. It kills broad-leafed plants... but it doesn't kill grasses. Hay farmers love it for that reason—but gardeners are paying a steep price.

I was devastated after losing my gardens so I started sharing my story far and wide – including in Mother Earth News. Since I warned gardeners about this persistent herbicide, I've heard many, many stories – and I’ve been sent multiple heart-wrenching pictures of destroyed plants.

This stuff is in hay, in straw, in cow manure, horse manure, goat manure and who knows where else. It's not destroyed in a compost heap and it passes right through an animal's digestive tract and into your garden fully capable of killing your carefully tended beds for years. Years!

Here's an example: I visited a homestead in Central Florida last year and saw the homeowner had piled composted horse manure into his garden beds. As soon as I saw all that manure, my heart sank and I dreaded what I might find on further inspection. Sure enough, all was not well. The newest growth on the tomato plants was twisting into thick coils that would never bear a single fruit—and the poor gardener who had added the manure to his beds had no idea what was going on. There's nothing worse than poisoning your gardens while trying to feed them! Manure has been a gardeners' best friend for time immemorial... but now it comes with huge risks.

I'd love to say there are still plenty of sources for safe manure or commercial compost, but there aren't. At this point, I've seen so many wrecked gardens and heard so many mournful tales that I don't trust any purchased manure or compost in the states. Let's say you find a manure supply on a local farm. The homeowner tells you they "never spray their fields with anything." That's a start — but what about the hay they bring in to feed the animals during the winter? Is that all safe? Chances are it isn't.

Is Purchased Compost Safe?

And what about purchasing compost? A lot of that compost contains materials that may be contaminated with aminopyralid or other herbicides. If an animal eats hay that was grown in a sprayed field, its manure will hurt your gardens — and most hay fields are being sprayed. That also means if you sweep up the hay from your local feed story to throw into your compost piles, you run a terrible risk.

Aminopyralid stays in the soil for a long time, too. Estimates range from 2 to 5+ years. The poison is taken up into the grass and passes through the animal's digestive systems without losing its plant-killing power. If you add straw or hay to your gardens or compost pile, it can kill your plants. If you add manure, it can kill your plants. If you add compost from off-site that contained manure or any plant material contaminated with aminopyralids, it can kill your plants.

Compost Everything Right

As I wrote in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting:

"Don’t bring manure, compost, straw, or grass clippings onto your property. Trust no one except people that don’t feed their animals any purchased hay and who you are sure do not spray their fields with anything. This is the only way to be completely sure your garden won’t get whacked!"

I stand by that statement. Just this spring a gardening group I’m involved with had multiple cases of poisoned gardens thanks to some compost-enriched soil with herbicide contamination they bought from a local supplier. Once this stuff gets in the supply line, it ends up everywhere.

Watch your backs, folks — I really want your gardens to succeed. What a shame that some of the very best organic amendments you can buy – manure and compost – are now a high-risk addition to your gardens. I’m seeing more and more people post about this problem and it’s very good to observe other gardeners take up the warning.

I lost my shirt (or at least a bunch of my plants) — you don't have to lose yours, too. Learn to compost everything you can to avoid potentially contaminated outside amendments and stay safe out there.

David Goodman (David The Good) is a gardening expert and the author of five books available on Amazon, including Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Outside the Tropics and Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening. Find new inspiration every day at his popular gardening website. Read all of David'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.

Seed Conundrum

Nankeen Brown Cotton--SESE-Sunfield-BLOG

I have some brown cotton seeds that I have been calling Nankeen Brown. They are smooth, with no lint, otherwise known as naked. I grew them out in 2005 and saved the seeds. Beginning in 2011, I have grown them every year. Recently I saw some Nankeen Brown cotton seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. To my surprise, they were fuzzy seeds! How could that be? Although I can’t find printed proof of it, I thought I had bought my original brown cotton seeds from them. I know the folks at Southern Exposure, so I contacted them to ask about it. Anything they can find shows that Nankeen Brown has fuzzy seeds. What a conundrum!

I am still not sure how the mix-up with the cotton came to be, but it caused me to think about what seeds look like and how they express themselves. You can’t tell by looking at different varieties of tomato, squash, or kale seeds which ones fit which variety descriptions. Of course, it is evident when you grow them out. Tomatoes can be different colors and shapes, and have distinct flavors. The seeds for yellow squash and zucchinis look the same, but their production is different. If you were looking for Red Russian kale and ended up with Lucinato, with its pebbly surface, you would be in for a surprise, but you wouldn’t know by looking at the seeds. All of that potential in such tiny packages is nothing short of amazing. 

Beyond the descriptive characteristics we can see in the grow-out, there are many other nuances that help things adapt that we can’t see. A multitude of genes are involved in any living thing and the greater diversity, the better. When different situations arise, different characteristics come to the forefront to deal with them. We (plants, animals, and people) are not static creatures. Keeping with plants as my example, within the same variety, some plants will adapt to climate changes more readily by doing well in heat and humidity better than other plants, or germinating in cooler or warmer soil better than expected. Some plants are better at fending off disease that may take out some of your crop. If you watch for evidence of those kinds of things, you can save the seeds of the plants that do well for you in your garden, essentially breeding your own strain of that variety. Read more about that at Homeplace Earth.

My daughter is doing the grow-out of those fuzzy Nankeen cotton seeds for Southern Exposure this year and I am looking forward to seeing her harvest. No matter what the name, seeds are wonderful things to experiment with. Whether it is saving your own seeds, breeding your own vegetable varieties, or just observing what is happening in your garden, there is always something to look forward to and always something new to learn.  

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.

How to Make Willow Structures for Your Garden


Making a willow hurdle is easy. Build as many as you need to make all sorts of useful and attractive fences and screens.

You’ll need:

• 4 hazel posts (at least 1 1/2 inches in diameter)
• Willow rods (flexible stems)
• Hammer
• Knife or ax (Optional — to whittle ends of posts to a point so they pierce the ground more easily.)

How to Make a Willow Hurdle

1. Hammer your hazel posts into the ground to form the upright posts for your hurdle. If the ground is hard, whittle the ends of the sticks to a point first.

2. Weave your first willow rod in and out of the upright posts. Weave your second rod in the opposite direction.

3. Select an extra-long rod and weave it into the hurdle, then flex the thinner end of the rod around the end post and weave it back into the hurdle. This will tie in the rods to hold the end upright posts in place. Repeat the process for the opposite end. Do this every few rows.

4. Continue adding rods, alternating the weave each time. Occasionally firm up the weave by tapping down the rods with a hammer or your hand so they lay firmly against each other.

5. Weave the final two rods around the end posts and tuck them into the weave for a tidy finish. Trim off any rods that stick out of the ends, or twist and weave them back in.

Learn more about making willow structures in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great 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.

Mulching with Arborist Chips


In my recent blog about Garden Thriftiness, I mentioned using free mulch from local tree services in the garden. I decided it was imperative to include a few key facts and pointers about plant and people safety when using said mulch.

You might want to ask the tree service what type of trees are in the mulch mix that they bring you. There are some trees that are not a good mix for certain plants and other trees. For instance, the walnut family (particularly black walnut) is toxic to many annuals, perennials, and trees. If you are able to let bark chips sit for six months, they should be usable without negative consequence because the toxicity diminishes.

Toxicity. Many of us don’t have the luxury of space to let a pile mulch just sit for undetermined amounts of time. For this reason, simply knowing what is in your mulch will be more beneficial. I learned this by a random drop off of mulch that I discovered contained black walnut. I immediately researched and found out about the toxicity. Though my newly planted apple trees were not on the danger list, I wanted to take no chances about their health. While it looked a little strange, I put safer rings of matured mulch around those trees and used the questionable mulch in areas with plants not at risk (see link above for a list of plants).

Disease. Using arborist mulch in this way is not conducive to spreading disease. You should be good to go as long as you are not tilling in fresh mulch as most diseases need easy access to the roots. Topical application is safe in most cases. Remember to leave a small ring of ground around your small plant, shrub, or tree. It is beneficial to most plants to have breathing space around stem or trunk and not to be smothered by the mulch. In fact, it can be very unhealthy for most plants to have mulch piled up around their stem or trunk.

Composition. Tree service mulch would drive anyone with OCD bonkers. The composition of the pile is quite diverse (see photo above). Most piles include long sticks (that can poke and puncture) and parts of branches, shredded leaves or needles, composted matter from dead wood, and pockets of mold. This latter could be a problem for people with certain allergies or pose a health risk if moved without a breathing barrier mask.


The arborist-mulched bed looks far more natural, in my opinion, than those covered with purchased piles or bags of uniform mulch. I have both types of bed in my own garden. Some people prefer the neat look of the bagged mulch as it helps frame the plants that they are highlighting. I have to say that even though I like the convenience of toting bags around, I prefer knowing that I am living more sustainably with my tree service arborist chips and I like the diverse nature. It also allows us to more easily clean up around our river birch because we can simply toss the smaller litter onto our beds and it blends right in.

Depending on the availability, you can vary the depth as needed. While the most beneficial depth of mulching with chips is four to six inches, I find that my beds end up with an average of three to four inches. The result is a few more weeds to pull but I use what I can get for low or no cost and that’s important to me.

If you don’t have easy access to a tree service willing or able to leave the gifts of their labor in your driveway like I do, you can watch for end-of-season sales. Last fall I had no way of knowing that my early spring deliveries of mulch would be so abundant so I took advantage of a sale at Lowe’s and stocked up on bags of mulch (see photo above).

Benefits of Mulching

Why mulch at all? I practice this way of gardening to keep down weeds, help maintain an even moisture for my trees and plants, and to provide a slow, steady addition of organic material to my soil. Ideally, I add more mulch every two to three years. Moving mulch is a large job but it cuts down on maintenance time throughout my garden between overhauls and I think that is worth the effort.

Below is a photo of a recently covered bed of tree mulch (the green bits are pine needles that came in the mix) surrounding one of my vegetable beds that has been covered with visqueen cloth and straw and is ready for planting. This particular bed (now under the arborist chips) was covered in straw. I simply added another layer of cardboard and topped it with the newly delivered tree mix. I’ll be able to leave it barren or add new plants in the fall or coming seasons.


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

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