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


The Summer Edible Garden

 

A summer edible garden has the crops must of us associate with vegetable gardening like peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and the fresh favorite tomato. The summer garden is typically started in May. Summer crops love the warm soil and air temperatures. Most are subtropical in origin so a frost can kill them.

Crops for the Early May Garden

There are two basic categories of edible garden crops, cold crops and warm season crops. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, carrots, cilantro, kale, chard, cabbage will get bitter and bolt as the temperatures start hitting the 80s. For us in the Midwest, this is the end of May.

Warm season crops love the warm days of May through September and start waning in October. Most will continue to have some production into November or the first hard frost of the year.  

Since summer lovers thrive in warm temperatures, they don't really grow until the soil has warmed up so starting early outdoors isn't an advantage. Seeds will just sit in the chilly ground and many will rot if planted too early. Plant seeds or transplants after all danger of frost has passed and temperatures are on the rise.

Everyone loves to brag about their first ripe tomato, but tomatoes don't appreciate cold feet so resist the urge to plant too early. After it warms up, they will really take off.

You can start your warm season crops indoors or buy plants to get a jump start on getting harvests. There are many options nowadays at the local hardware store, nurseries and big box stores.

For indoor seed starting, here are some pointers: Indoor seed starting tips.

Crops that do well with just planting seeds directly into the ground are corn, cucumbers, melons, squashes, and beans. They have large seeds and very sturdy stems. Sweet potatoes are starting using slips that you buy and then plant directly into the ground.

Be sure to fertilize when planting and then monthly.  Water during dry periods.  Even moisture is important. Letting the soil get very dry and then giving a good watering can give you split tomatoes and peppers.

Warm Season Crops for the Summer Garden-Vegetables

The links here go to my site, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, where I offer plant profiles and growing tips in more detail.

  • Artichokes 
  • Arugula 
  • Beans (fresh and shelling)
  • Celeriac  
  • Celery  
  • Chard  
  • Corn  
  • Cucumbers 
  • Cultivated Dandelions
  • Edamame (soy beans)  
  • Eggplant 
  • Kohlrabi  
  • Malabar Spinach  
  • Melons  
  • New Zealand Spinach
  • Okra  
  • Peppers (sweet and hot)  
  • Sorrel 
  • Sprouting broccoli  
  • Summer squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes  
  • Zucchini  

Herbs are the easiest thing to grow. They thrive on heat and don't mind dry conditions. If you are just starting out, this is a great one to start with.

 

Mid-May Garden: Warm Season Crops for the Summer Garden-Herbs

  • Basil  
  • Bay
  • Bee balm
  • Borage
  • Catnip
  • Chives (Garden and Garlic) 
  • Cilantro (heat tolerant variety)  
  • Comfrey
  • Dill
  • Egyptian walking onions  
  • Horseradish
  • Mint
  • Lavender  
  • Lemon verbena
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Parsley (flat leaf) 
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Salad Burnet
  • Summer savory
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Mid to late summer is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests so be sure to have a spot in your summer garden for these tasty cool season vegetables. For more on late summer plantings for fall harvests, here is more information.

Crops Planted in Mid to Late Summer for Fall and Winter Harvests

  • Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauliflower (for fall harvests)
  • Beets, Carrots, Radishes, and Turnips (for fall and winter harvests) 
  • Cilantro 
  • Escarole, Radicchio, and Frisee (for fall and winter harvests)  
  • Fennel Growing fennel
  • Greens (Lettuce, Kale, Mustard, Pak Choi, Spinach) 
  • Leeks (for fall harvesting)  
  • Winter squash  

You can procrastinate until June and still have a productive edible garden. I always interplant my garden with flowers. More precisely, I plant my fruit and vegetable plants in my flower beds. Flowers bring pollinators into the garden. For fruiting veggies like tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, the more pollinators around, the more fruits you get. If you want, you can grow edible flowers.

I use zinnias, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, old fashioned Cock's Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Moonflower vine, Blue morning glory vine, heirloom sunflowers, and alyssum for annuals. For perennials, there are delphiniums, hollyhocks in a variety of colors-Summer Carnival and Peach, red hot poker, day-lilies, irises, dahlias, fairy lilies, and gladiolas.

Summer is an exciting time in the garden. Every day you go out, you can see things growing. Just be sure to keep ahead of the weeds and provide even watering. I garden in my flower beds so they are always mulched, providing protection against weeds and keeping even moisture.


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


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Summer Garden Tips

Summer garden

The dog days of summer see thriving warm season crops-tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, sweet potatoes, peppers and Mediterranean herbs. To keep your harvests at their peak, there are few simple things you can do for your garden.

7 Summer Garden Tips

1. Harvest frequently! Plants are in the business of reproducing. Their entire life is dedicated to giving the best chance possible of maintaining more plants for the future. The more you harvest, the more babies the plant will produce. I have noticed that my cucumber plant can only support one large cucumber on each vine. As soon as I pick the big one, you can see one of the small ones jump in size by the very next day! Harvest in the morning for peak juiciness.

2. Mulch your beds. The mulch keeps the moisture from evaporating, allowing more infrequent watering. It also moderates the temperature of the soil so it doesn’t get baking hot. I use mulch in both my garden beds and pots.

3. Water consistently. The cause of cracked fruits is inconsistent water. The plant gets used to very little water and when deluged the fruit’s skin can’t expand fast enough and the fruit cracks. Over watering can also be a problem. Too much water will cause your fruits to be tasteless and mushy. If in the ground, your plants need either a good soaking rain each week or a good watering. I use soaker hoses in my mulched garden beds. Do not water the foliage of your nightshade plants! They are very susceptible to fungal diseases and water on their leaves encourages fungal growth. It is best to water in the morning; you get maximum absorption (biggest bang for your water buck). For pots, you will likely need to water 3 times per week during the height of summer heat. I like pots with a water reservoir built in the bottom.

4. Fertilize monthly with side dressing of compost. It is also a good idea to add minerals to the soil. You can purchase minerals just for gardening. You can also use kelp or seaweed as a fertilizer that also adds other nutrients. If your plants have more minerals, their fruits will, too!

5. Pick insects off daily. Keep a close eye on your plants to you can stop an infestation before it gets started. I pick off bugs daily. If I do get an really bad infestation, I will use diacotomus earth. It is organic and not a chemical. Some people even eat it! It works by scratching the exoskeleton of the insects which leads to dehydration and death. Be careful, though, as it will kill good bugs too. I use it very sparingly and only if desperate. A few bugs don’t eat much. Another option is the use of light covers to keep the bugs from your plants.

6. Keep any diseased leaves groomed from your plants and do not compost them. Diseases can be killed if your compost pile is hot enough. I haven’t progressed far enough yet in my composting skills to trust I am getting the pile hot enough and I don’t want to spread diseases to all my plants.

7. Compost. For all the trimmings from the garden and the kitchen, start a compost pile or get an indoor composter. I have both. My husband built me a fencing ring outside that I throw the big stuff. I have an indoor Naturemill electric composter in the garage for all the kitchen scraps.

For more small space and container gardening tips, visit Melodie's blog.

Melodie Metje is an engineer in Ohio who started her blog, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, to help guide her family's gardening efforts and to keep track of what was happening in her own garden. She named it after the victory gardens grown to help the WWII effort. Melodie thinks we are in a similar situation today: Our country needs our help in battling the war on ill health. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Growing Summer Cover Crops

 

Buckwheat in flower.

Don’t sow your winter cover crops too early! Oats, barley, wheat and rye sown too early can head up and seed before you get to winter, making them less useful. Instead, sow fast-growing summer cover crops in any space possible, for weed suppression and a boost to soil organic matter. Keep live roots in the ground as much of the time as possible, to feed the microorganisms and anchor the soil, preventing erosion in heavy rains. Dead roots also have a role, providing drainage channels in the soil and letting air in deeper. Adding organic matter to the soil is a way of banking carbon, as well as providing nutrients for your crops.

Deep-rooted cover crops draw up nutrients, bringing them up where crop plants can access them. Leguminous cover crops provide nitrogen, saving imports of organic fertilizers or a big compost-making operation.

Advantages of Summer Cover Crops

Suppressing weeds. Weeds grow fast in summer, and fast-growing summer cover crops will suppress them. Sowing cover crops helps us stay on top of developing problems.

Growing biomass. Many summer cover crops can be mowed or scythed down (before flowering) to encourage regrowth. The cut biomass can be left in place, or raked out and used as mulch in another part of the garden. Some can even be used as feed or bedding for small livestock.

Feed the soil life. Cover crops are solar-power generators, transforming sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into leaves and roots. They also release carbohydrates and other nutrients that feed soil microbes, earthworms and other soil life forms that make soil fertile. This cycle of nutrients constantly passes through plants and back into the soil. When you aren’t growing vegetable crops, cover crops keep this cycle going.

Increasing biodiversity. Cover crops can attract beneficial insects, birds and amphibians to feed and reproduce. Biodiversity encourages ecological balance that can help reduce plant diseases and pest attacks.

Overcoming the Challenges of Summer Cover Crops

Finding time for the work. Hopefully you have a lot of harvesting to do at this time of year. You are probably also hoeing whenever you can find ten minutes. Give a thought to sowing some cover crops, which will reduce future weeding time and improve your soil. Buckwheat can be in and under in a month. Think of the time you’ll save in weeding.

Finding space. If you’ve been carefully filling every space with vegetables, you may think you have no room for cover crops, but because they feed the soil, it’s worth making space for them too. It’s part of the wholistic picture of sustainable food production. It’s worth making a priority to have one bed or one section of your garden in cover crops, because of what they can do for your soil.

Have a goal of No Bare Soil. Seek out odd spaces to fill with cover crops. Use space beside rows of sprawly crops short-term, until the vines start to run.

Take a cold, hard look at aging crops: better than keeping an old row of beans to pick every last bean, is to pull up those beans and sow a quick cover crop. It will be a more valuable use of the space.

Take a look at your planting plan. When is your next crop going in that space? Rather than till the soil to death, use a cover crop to manage the weeds. In the winter, see if you can re-arrange your crop rotation and planting plan to make more time windows of a month or more, with the plan of using more cover crops.

Undersow growing crops with a cover crop when the vegetable crop has been in the ground for about a month. The food crop will be big enough to resist competition from the cover crop, and the cover crop will still get enough light to grow. This way fewer weeds grow, and your cover crop is already in place when the food crop is finished, giving it longer to reach a good size. We undersow our sweet corn with soybeans (soy and oats for the last sweet corn planting). You can plant a short cover crop on the sides of a bed of any tall crop like tomatoes or pole beans. You will need to provide extra water, especially while the cover crop is germinating. Read my post on undersowing in late summer and early fall.

You can also undersow winter cover crops during late summer and early fall to last over the winter and even the next year. We broadcast clover among our fall broccoli and cabbage with the plan of keeping it growing for the whole of the following year, mowing once a month to stop annual weeds seeding.

Sweet corn undersown with soybeans. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

High temperatures. Most summer cover crop seeds will germinate just fine at high temperatures provided they get enough water.

Drought. If it doesn’t rain much in your summers, or your irrigation water is limited, choose cover crops that are drought-tolerant once germinated. After sowing, work the seed into the soil and roll or tamp the soil so that the seed is in good contact with the soil, which will help it get the water it needs rather than drying out in an air pocket. To get good germination, keep the soil surface visibly damp. You can use shadecloth, a light open straw or hay mulch, or even cardboard to reduce evaporation. Be sure to check every day and remove the cardboard as soon as you see the first seedlings.

Sowing small spaces. You can sow cover crops in rows by hand in very small spaces, or use an EarthWay seeder. Or you can broadcast: tuck a small bucket of seeds in one arm, take a handful of seeds and throw them up in front of yourself in a fanning movement, trying not to spread seed into neighboring beds where you don’t want them. Aim for about two seeds/sq in (1 sq inch is 6.5 sq cm, I’ll leave you to think what it looks like). Don’t sweat the details, you will get better with practice! This isn’t brain surgery! For more even coverage, try broadcasting half the seed walking up and down the length of the patch, then sow the other half walking at 90 degrees to your original direction. Rake the seeds in, trying to cover most of the seeds with 0.5-1” (1/2.5 cm) of soil. Water with a hose wand or sprinkler to keep the soil damp until germination.

Summer Cover Crops that Die with the Frost

Buckwheat is the fastest and easiest cover crop, a broadleaf annual that can be flowering within three weeks in very warm weather, 4 weeks in regular warm weather. Because it grows so fast, it quickly crowds out germinating weeds. Plant buckwheat after all spring frosts have passed, up to 35 days before the fall frost. If you have longer than 4 weeks for cover crops, you have the option of letting the buckwheat seed and regrow (only do this if you’ve finished growing vegetables for that year in that space). Another option if you are not close to the frost date is to incorporate the buckwheat in the soil and then sow fresh seed.

Buckwheat is very easy to incorporate into the soil. Use a mower or scythe to cut it down, and then either let the dead plants die into a surface mulch and plant into that, or rake it up and compost it, or dig or till it into the soil. For small areas, buckwheat can simply be pulled up by hand – this is what we do in our hoophouse.

Buckwheat can be used as a nurse crop for fall-planted, cold-tolerant crops, which can be difficult to germinate in hot weather. Sow a combination of buckwheat and a winter vegetable to shade and cool the soil. When frost kills the buckwheat, the vegetable crop can continue growing with no competition.

Sorghum-Sudangrass. One of our favorite summer cover crops is sorghum-sudangrass, a hybrid that grow 5 to 12 feet (1.5-3.6 m) tall and produces an impressive amount of biomass. You’ll need big machinery, at least a big BCS mower, to deal with sorghum-sudangrass. If you have only hand tools and a lawnmower, I recommend growing one of the millets instead.

Plant sorghum-sudangrass about two weeks after your first sweet corn planting date and anytime onward until six weeks before frost. After it’s established, sorghum-sudangrass is highly drought-resistant and thrives in summer heat. Plant in rows 8 inches (20 cm) apart, with seeds 1 foot (2.5 cm) deep, 1.5 inches (4 cm) apart. Sorghum-sudangrass will smother weed competition, and make big improvements to the soil texture and the levels of organic matter.

When the sorghum-sudangrass reaches 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, cut it down to 1 foot (30 cm) to encourage regrowth and more, deeper, roots growth that will loosen compacted soil. The cut tops make a good mulch, or you can leave them in place.

Sorghum-sudangrass roots exude allelopathic compounds that suppress damaging nematodes and inhibit small seeds (weeds and crops) from germinating and inhibits the growth of tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli. Wait at least 6 weeks after killing sorghum-sudangrass before planting another crop in the same spot. Plant earlier at your own risk — I think we’ve had some success despite the warnings. Be careful if feeding to livestock. Read up about prussic acid poisoning from this cover crop.

 

Sorghum-sudan cover crop. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Soybeans. These are a quick easy leguminous cover crop for warm weather. Buy organic seed if you don’t want GMOs, as almost all non-Organic soybeans in the US are GMOs. We plant these whenever we have a minimum of six weeks for them to grow before frost or before we’ll need to turn them under. They aren’t the highest N-producing legume, but they are very fast-growing.

Southern peas. Also known as cowpeas, although I have heard this might be perceived as insulting by African-American families who use them as food. Southern peas grow fast, thrive in heat, and are very drought-tolerant. Their taproots can reach almost 8 feet (2.4 m) deep. They grow well in almost any soil, except highly alkaline ones. Southern peas attract beneficial insects.

Sow southern peas 1 to 2 weeks after your sweet corn, when the soil has warmed up. You can continue sowing until 9 weeks before a killing fall frost. Sow seeds 2 inches (5 cm) apart, 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep in rows 6 inches (15 cm) apart (give vining types more like 15 inches (40 cm) between rows. Close planting is needed to shade out weeds.

Because they are fast-growing, southern peas can follow spring vegetable crops and fix nitrogen in time to feed heavy-feeding, fall-planted onions or garlic.

Sunn hemp is a nitrogen-fixing legume from the tropics, which can grow as much as 9 feet (2 m) tall in just weeks. Sow sunn hemp from 1 to 2 weeks after your sweet corn sowing date, up to 9 weeks before a killing frost. It tolerates a wide range of soils (but not if waterlogged), and dies with the frost. Plant inoculated seed (use the same inoculant as for southern peas) 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep, with seeds 1.5 inches (4 cm) apart in the row, and with rows 6 inches (15 cm) apart. Sowing densely will smother the weeds.

If you sow in a summer gap between spring and fall vegetable crops, it will provide a nitrogen boost for the fall crop. In dense plantings, it can fix more than 120 pounds (54 kilograms) of nitrogen and 12 pounds of biomass per 100 square feet (0.56 kilograms per square meter). 60 days after sowing, the stems thicken and become fibrous and high in cellulose; cutting at this stage produces long-lasting mulches that increase soil carbon. If you cut the crop back at a younger stage, this will stimulate branching (more biomass) and more root penetration (better drainage).

Late Summer Cover Crops for Winter: Oats and Barley

In late summer you can sow oats for a winter cover crop that will be killed at 6 degrees F (-14 C). We sow in late August and early September in Zone 7. Inexpensive and easy to grow, oats are a standard fall cover crop: a quick-growing, non-spreading grass, oats will reliably die in Hardiness Zone 6 and colder, and nine years out of ten in Zone 7.

Barley grows even faster than oats, and on average it will get killed later in the winter. It usually dies at 17 degrees F, making barley another choice for gardeners in regions where oats are used.

Cover Crop Resources

For more about using cover crops at other times of year, see my post All About Growing Cover Crops

My book Sustainable Market Farming has a chapter on cover crops and 9 pages of charts about particular options.

The book Managing Cover Crops Profitably (third edition) from the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE), is the best book I know on the subject. You buy the book for $19 or download it as a free PDF from SARE.

Pam Dawling has worked at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia for more than 27 years, growing vegetables for 100 people on 3.5 acres and training many members in sustainable vegetable production. She is the author of Sustainable Market Farming and The Year-Round HoophousePam often presents workshops at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRs and at sustainable agriculture conferences. She is a contributing editor with Growing for Market magazine, and a weekly blogger on SustainableMarketFarming.com. Connect with Pam on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Building a Pallet-able Compost Bin

 compost-bin
Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

Composting in the office often seems like a far-off dream, but here at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS headquarters, we’ve found an office-friendly solution: a repurposed trash can for the collection bin and a compost bin built from pallets. (Find the tutorial to build the bin here.) Now, we’re adding a second chamber to the compost bin, since we’ve been so successful with our composting endeavors.

office-compost-bin
Our compost collection bin doesn’t take up much space in the breakroom. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

As you might suspect, adding on a second chamber is merely a matter of attaching three pallets to the original compost bin.

 compost-bin-sides
Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

The pallets are attached to the preexisting structure and screwed into place. That’s it!

 compost-bin-back
Jay and Tyler install the back of the new chamber. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

attaching-boards
 Photo by Staff

 A board across the two chambers helps to reinforce the integrity of the structure.

 strengthening-compost-bin
The rest of the structure is further strengthened by screws. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

Next, the overflowing compost has to be moved to the newly built chamber. The bin is opened from the side, and the compost is transferred.

opened-compost-bin
emptying-compost-bin
Photos by Amanda Kim Stairrett

Our bins also attracted a visitor — this friendly cricket who was undeterred by the construction.

 compost-bin-cricket
Photo by Ingrid Butler

We hope our cricket visitor enjoys its new, spacious home, and we look forward to the time when our compost is ready to be integrated into the soil.

More on composting:

More on building with pallets:

More on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Community Garden:


Want to grow a garden as lush as ours? Find our go-to products for garden maintenance, harvesting, and more at in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Garden Shed.

compost-teas

COMPOST TEAS FOR THE ORGANIC GROWER

In Compost Teas for the Organic Grower, you’ll find everything you need to know about feeding your garden, orchard, or smallholding with homemade and chemical-free “teas.” It’s packed with recipes for creating nutrient-rich, healthy soil, to give you healthy plants and ecosystems. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

If you’d like to be a MOTHER EARTH NEWS Community Garden sponsor, contact Brenda Escalante.

Thank you to our sponsorsGarden In MinutesNeptune’s HarvestCoast of MaineSouthern Exposure Seed ExchangeMeadow CreatureLehman’sMOTHER EARTH NEWS StoreHappy Leaf LEDBerry Hill Irrigation.

How to Build Your Own Raised Beds and Garden Boxes

Raised bed 
Photo by congerdesign

Raised beds are garden boxes that are all the rage in the gardening world. No matter where you live, they offer a long list of benefits to combat many challenges that may get in the way of growing your own plants at home.

Learn how your garden can benefit from raised beds, and what type of plants grow perfectly in them. We'll tell you how to get started building your own stunning raised beds and garden boxes today. This is your ultimate guide, complete with everything you need to consider before you start.

Why You Need Raised Beds or Garden Boxes

A raised garden box or raised bed is typically a large planting box that works well in a variety of different settings, for various types of plants. There are tons of benefits to having them, particularly because they help solve the following top three main gardening issues: drainage, pests and accessibility

Garden boxes are especially handy if you live in an area that doesn't have ideal planting conditions. They're great for apartments with no yard space, or land that has sandy or clay-like, hard-packed soil.

With raised beds, you can create the perfect conditions for whatever you choose to grow at home. Is there a problem with the soil near you? Not an issue. With a raised garden bed, you can grow: fruits, vegetables, ornamentals and herbs.

How Much Room Do You Need to Build A Raised Garden Bed?

Raised garden boxes help turn any backyard into the garden of your dreams. They work just as well in urban settings as they do in spacious acres of land and allow you easy access to your plants. Whether you choose edible crops or want to plant colorful flowers and shrubbery, they'll help to bring nature closer to you.

Many raised beds are 4 x 8 feet and at least 6 inches tall. Of course, the best part about building your own raised garden bed is that you can design how large the box is. Pick your own shape or build a box that will fit perfectly on your urban patio or balcony.

Don't go wider than 4 feet so you can easily reach the plants in the center. The ideal depth is around 12 to 24 inches for most garden boxes. If you plan to create more than one raised bed, leave yourself a path that's at least 18 inches wide so you can walk a wheelbarrow between them.

If you're looking for some more practical ways to grow a garden at home—especially if you have a small space to work with or live in an urban setting—check out this book on how to grow more in less space.

Think About What You'd Like to Grow

Many raised garden boxes are around 6" high because you can grow just about anything you could possibly want, and the materials are cost-effective. If you create a 12-inch-tall box, however, you may be able to grow plants that require more room for the roots.

Carrots, for example, have deep roots that a 6" box simply can't hold. A fully sunlit area is best for vegetables as well, but you'll want to tuck them away so they aren't a focal point of your garden during the off-season.

Watermelon, on the other hand, will require far more room to grow. A bush watermelon typically has vines that extend from 3 to 4 feet, while full-sized tomato plants can grow over 7 feet tall in some locations.

Consider what plants you'd like to grow, and weigh their growth habits into your decision making. You can always create more than one raised bed for different types of plants to keep unruly varieties from competing with their neighbors for nutrients or sunlight.

A Vegetable Encyclopedia, or guide on when to plant which types of veggies, will help you with your decision-making process. Decide which veggies you want to plant and the best time to do so, and make sure to include the foods you and your family enjoy eating the most. Why grow anything you don't want to eat?

Root crops often perform well in the majority of areas, and they can be sown from seed. Certain greens and vining plants do well in raised beds as well. Consider choosing some of the following for your own space:

  • Squashes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Corn
  • Salad greens

Most people enjoy taller raised gardens. Plus, you won't have to bend over quite as far each time you tend to your garden, which your back will really thank you for.

Where to Locate Your New Garden

Think ahead when planning your new garden's location, and consider the types of pests you're likely to contend with. You need to pick a spot that not only gets at least 8 hours of sunlight but also where you can easily reach it with a hose for daily waterings.

Look for a location that also offers level ground. This will help make the building and gardening process easier later. If you plan to work on a patio, no worries.

Make Sure Your Hose Will Reach It

If you wind up too far from a hose, you'll need to fill up a watering can and carry it to your garden, which can be extremely physically demanding. It's much easier to use a hose instead.

You can buy a new hose if the one you have is too short, or find one with a swivel connection that allows you to gently water the base of your plants. Many species do better if you don't get the leaves wet anyway, and a swivel connection will keep your hose from becoming twisted.

I personally love hoses with a thumb control for the nozzle as well. It helps to control the water flow and pressure easily, and it keeps me from accidentally spraying my shoes or creating a huge puddle in my yard each time I water the garden.

Consider the Animal Species Near You

The whole point of creating a raised garden box is to keep pests and animals from your plants. If there are a lot of wild animals or insects in your area, you'll need to protect your garden against them. Not all animals are interested in your garden, but moles, voles, and gophers are common culprits.

You can protect your raised beds by adding a line of chicken wire to the bottom lining when building the boxes. It's easier to complete this step before you fill the box with soil, so plan ahead. This is essential if you need to keep animals from digging up through the bottom of your garden bed.

As an added precaution (if you have space), you can also add a cage to the box tops. Depending on what animals live near you, this can help keep species like deer and raccoons from attacking your garden box from above.

To add a cage to your garden box, use thin boards to create a frame. Then use more chicken wire to drape over that frame. Create an opening in the middle that you can swing open with a hinge to access your garden or water the plants.

This step isn't necessary for everyone, and creating a cage above your garden is only needed if you really want to keep animals from getting into it. If you live near the woods or in an area where moles are common, for example, you may consider building one.

How to Build Raised Beds or Garden Boxes

If you're ready to take on this DIY project, you'll need a few tools to get started. Head to your local hardware store to compile the following list of materials before you get started.

Materials

  • Untreated wood that's rot-resistant, especially cedar or recycled redwood
  • Avoid using railroad ties; stick to using a staple gun and staples
  • Cardboard, newspaper, or weed cloth make great bottoms, as they keep weeds and grass from overtaking your raised bed
  • Drill, and 5/32-inch drill bit
  • Wood screws, at least 2" long
  • Pencil and ruler for measuring
  • Shovel or trowel to scoop soil
  • Gloves for your protection
  • Bagged soil, or soil and manure mixture
  • Wire cutters and chicken wire (optional)
  • 4 adjustable woodworking bar clamps: 2 short and 2 long (optional) to help keep the frame in place while building
  • Drip-watering system (optional)
  • If you're cutting your own wood, you may also need a wood saw

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Gather the materials you'll need and either screw the pre-cut wood planks together or cut your wood into the right lengths to fit your desired box dimensions.

2. Build your frame. Line up the boards and pre-drill the holes in the outer board into the corner posts. These will secure boards to your four corner posts. Use a woodworking bar clamp to hold the boards in place while you work, if desired.

3. Line the bottom with weed cloth or another material to keep your soil inside, and burrowing critters out. Staple this across your raised beds in strips until it's covered.

4. Flip the bed over once the bottom liner is attached, and place the box in your ideal location. Position it in a location that gets full sunlight, or a north-south orientation for the best sun exposure.

5. Dig 5- to 6-inch deep holes for each corner post, and sink each post into the ground. (Ignore this step if you're placing your raised beds on a patio. If doing so, you may consider weighing down the box if necessary.)

6. Fill the garden box with soil or a 50/50 mixture of planting soil and compost. You can often save money by buying in bulk from your local soil yard, and they'll often back a truck right up to your garden to save you a ton of work.

7. Plant the crops you've selected and watch them grow!

One Final Consideration

If you don't like the aesthetic appeal of wooden planks to build your new garden boxes, you can create some stunning raised beds from the following alternative materials:

  • Wattle - Weave a frame out of long, flexible sticks.
  • Concrete - Blocks of concrete make easy barriers and offer open ends to provide extra growing room.
  • Logs - If you clear trees on your own property, you can re-use the logs as a cost-effective and decorative way to build garden boxes.

Have you ever built your own raised beds or garden boxes? What are some of your favorite and gorgeous designs?

I personally love some of the new and clever urban designs that are allowing people to bring a bit of nature back into the city. It's a clever way to add a veggie garden while living in a place where you couldn't normally do so, and it's a relatively inexpensive option for most people.


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.

A Chicken In Every Garden

Chicken In Organic Garden

Here in north Texas, the summers are hotter, longer and drier than ever. Growing an organic vegetable garden in this climate can be... tricky, so you have to utilize every available advantage to get your produce from garden to table. Hopefully my blog will not only provide you with gardening tips but also inspire you to grow more of your own produce, regardless of where you live. If you'll just follow Mother Nature's path, you'll find yourself engulfed in a fresh, nutritious and very tasty world of homegrown vegetables. So prepare to get your hands dirty and use the old noggin for something besides a hat rack.

But really folks, it isn't rocket surgery. After all, I'm doing it, and so can you!

 

 

Now I don't know all the tricks — many of the ones I do know, I learned from Mother Earth News and its vast array of resources, but I've tried everything in my garden from Epsom Salts (not naturally organic but a good source of magnesium), to human hair ("No ma'am, I'm not gluing it to my head, it's for keeping rabbits out of the garden."). My advice is to try all the old remedies, the newfangled discoveries and maybe even think up a few of your own. Just make sure you try them out on a small scale before you go spraying wild cow's milk on everything.

Chickens In the Garden: Natural Fertilizer and Pest Control

Here's a few solutions to common garden problems, specifically how chickens will help you battle the elements and insects.

Last year, I began raising chickens. I truly love farm-fresh eggs, but the main reasons for my new feathered friends are bug patrol and fertilizer production. Other than water, these two elements are possibly the most critical in maintaining a healthy garden.

Grasshoppers have destroyed my crops in the past, but so far this season, I'm ahead of their annual assault. The chickens have kept them to a minimum around the garden while at the same time fertilizing the immediate area for expansion next season. Their coop is inside the garden fence but cordoned off in one corner with a gate to the outside. This allows the chickens to roam the outer perimeter of the garden, keeping the leaf-hungry pests away from the plants. Once the chickens become true free-range birds, they take to bug catching and eating green grasses as in Nature, which also adds nutrition and a better taste to their eggs. I keep the grass and brush mowed short all around the perimeter as well, which cuts back on the grasshopper's food source.

As I worked the garden soil late last year, I added enough chicken manure to just cover the dirt, plus measured amounts of corn gluten, blood and bone meal, and my own compost. I use a broadfork rather than a tiller to bust up and mix the soil. I've found that the high winds early in the year scatter and blow away too much of the finely ground dirt and manure.

Choosing Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom Seed Packets For Sale

By mid-March of this year, I was ready to plant having started my seedlings inside. For years I bought vegetable starts from nurseries but always had trouble with disease, virus and, of course, insects. A few years ago, I made the switch to all heirloom variety, non-GMO seeds. The plants seem to have the ability to fight off those diseases and viruses, and with a little help from Garrett Juice, orange oil, BT and Neem, diatomaceous earth, and garlic pepper spray, my plants are thriving.

Be careful to choose vegetable varieties that grow well in a hot, dry climate if you live in Texas or the Southwest. Most heirloom varieties will stand up to adverse conditions; just research what grows best in your locale. Cedar mulch and recycled ground-cover fabric add another layer of defense against insects plus keep weeds and grasses from taking over. I leave a little grass growing along the walkways for plucking and feeding to the chickens. I have two or three hens that prefer bugs to greenery, so I let them loose in the garden every couple of days for a few minutes to peck out the stray grasshoppers and a few other bugs. Jealousy and some harsh clucking comes from the hen gallery, but Ann-Margaret, Lucy and Ana Marie go on about their gourmet dining, apparently absent of guilt.

Keep a close watch that your birds don't reach for a salad to go with their main course of protein.

The symbiotic relationship between chickens and gardens proves what I've thought all along: There is no substitute for Mother Nature's wisdom and wealth. There's also no need for pesticide, herbicide and genetic modification if you'll allow Her to show you the way to a bountiful, nutritious and flavorful vegetable garden.

Green Tomatoes On The Vine

Multiply the Bounty by Cloning Free Plants

Filling pot with soilless mix 

Several weeks ago, when it became clear that we would not be able to have monthly garden club meetings, I began a podcast about gardening in St. Johns. I also put together short videos as I was doing things around my garden and put them on TikTok, as well as posting to our Garden Club Facebook page. One thing I had several people asking me about was how to take cuttings and turn them into new plants.

Many plants can be cloned through taking softwood stem cuttings. I've used Wisteria for this blog post, but I've done grapes, Rose of Sharon, roses, hydrangea, and many more. If you want to know if you can propagate your plants from softwood stem cuttings, do a general web search. Most deciduous shrubs can be copied this way.

In St. Johns and the surrounding area, maintaining moisture while cuttings take root is the hardest part, so preparing your rooting area should take place before you go to cutting stems off of plants.

Fill a pot with some soilless mix. When you are going to take cuttings, rooting them in soilless mix is much easier and more successful than it would be to try to root them in heavy soil. It is easier to water and is more consistent.

When I water potting "soil" for the first time, I always overwater, making sure water runs all the way through and out the holes in the bottom of the pot. Northern Arizona in incredibly arid, with "humid" days being somewhere around 25 to 30% humidity. Extra water will drain out of the pot very quickly.

Water until the water runs out the bottom

Knowing when to take cuttings, and how to take them and prepare them to root is the first step. Most cuttings should be taken from soft wood, before the bark has hardened. 

Wisteria, ready to be cut

The cuttings themselves should only be about 6" long, at a maximum, and all but the top couple leaves should be cut off. This not only helps the cutting to send out roots rather than sending energy to the leaves, but it also helps the cutting to lose less water through respiration out of the leaves. 

Short cutting, with 2 sets of leaves

**Note** This next part can be done with or without rooting hormone. I have had less than 60% success with wisteria in the past without rooting hormone, so I did use it for this round. 

After you have your stem cuttings (notice how they are still somewhat green, rather than covered with bark), dip them in rooting hormone. Shake off the excess powder. 

rooting hormone

Whether or not you used rooting hormone, it is best at this point to poke holes in the soil with a stick or something, about 4 inches deep. The potting soil will rub off the hormone if you used it, or can plug the phloem at the bottom of the cutting if you didn't use it, so it is best not to use the cuttings and press them right into the soil. Blocking the phloem, or the little channels water runs up the stem through, will cut down your success rate. Just poke a hole with a pencil or small stick, set the cutting in it, firm the soil around the cutting, and then continue with all the rest of the cuttings.

Pot full of cuttings, ready to be covered

In a pot this size, about 8 inches in diameter, you can place 10 or so cuttings. Once the soil is firmed up around each of the cuttings, water well, allowing water to run through the bottom of the pot. This pushes out air from around the cuttings, and will allow the stems to be in good contact with the potting soil.

Because we are in this arid area, I always set my watered pot in a seedling tray to allow a small amount of water to sit to increase the humidity immediately around the pot. Then cover the pot with a big trash bag or other plastic cover, making sure the plastic doesn't touch the leaves (more important in more humid areas). In 4 to 6 weeks, the cuttings should have roots strong enough to allow you to transplant each new baby plant into its own pot or directly in the ground where it will be growing. 

Make sure you water well, until the plant recovers from the shock of transplanting, and then enjoy your new babies as they grow!

Regina Hitchock is a high school biology teacher in St. Johns, Arizona, where she co-founded the Gardeners with Altitude organic garden club and brings gardening, aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics, and seed starting into her classrooms. She serves as Secretary for White Mountain Community Cooperative to promote food- and economically secure self-sufficiency in Arizona. Connect with Regina on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.







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