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

How to Process and Cook with Homegrown Buckwheat

homegrown buckwheat groats

 Homegrown buckwheat groats by Mari Stuart

Homegrown buckwheat is a fantastic grain to grow on a small scale. Many gardeners grow buckwheat as a cover crop, but don’t end up harvesting and using the groats. But since you’ve gone through the trouble of growing it, you might as well eat it, too! The sweet, nutty kernels have a favorable nutrient profile, forming a complete protein. Buckwheat is also gluten-free, making it a great alternative grain to use in breads, muffins, and pancakes – or on its own as a cooked grain.

(Technically, buckwheat is not a grain but a seed, or a pseudo-grain, like amaranth or quinoa. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to it as grain.)

Growing Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a remarkably resilient plant. It grows well even in soils that are low in fertility, and requires minimal irrigation. It has few disease or bug problems, attracts beneficial pollinators – and of course, it’s an excellent green manure crop in addition to being edible.

However, you want to time the planting right. Buckwheat prefers cool temperatures, but is frost-tender. That makes it somewhat tricky to figure out an optimal time window for planting buckwheat, which has a sow-to-harvest time of 10-15 weeks. In Northeastern United States, a good time to sow might be in mid-summer. I garden in Zone 7a, in Southern Appalachia, and here the best time to plant buckwheat is around mid-August. The buckwheat gets to grow during the cooler fall weeks, but can still be harvested before the first frost, which here comes in late October.

You can plant the regular buckwheat that’s sold as a cover crop at garden stores. Having said that, breeders are working on developing buckwheats that have a more uniform seed size and improved flavor.

Plant buckwheat by broadcasting the seed over a worked seedbed.

buckwheat kernels ready for harvest

Buckwheat kernels ready for harvest by Mari Stuart

Harvesting Buckwheat

When harvesting buckwheat, keep in mind that the plant is indeterminate, meaning that the kernels ripen at different times. Some may still be green when others are ready. In some ways, that makes the crop particularly well suited for small-scale growing.

If you have the patience, you could simply walk through the field and strip the dark brown grains off the stalk with your fingers.

rich, dark brown buckwheat

Rich, dark brown buckwheat by Mari Stuart

The more effective methods is to cut the buckwheat down with a scythe or sickle mower, tie the plants into bundles, and let them dry protected from rain. When the stalks are completely dry, thresh them inside sacks or old pillowcases, or on old sheets beating them with brooms.

Processing Buckwheat

What you have at this point is homegrown buckwheat groats, but likely with some amount of plant matter and leaves in the mix. There are a few different methods for separating the groats from the chaff.

If you have a winnowing basket, you can winnow the groats. Otherwise, you can set up a fan next to a shallow tray and place a couple of cups of buckwheat on the tray. Then grab a handful of buckwheat and let them fall. All the dry leaves and other chaff fly off because they are very light. Keep repeating this grab-and-let-go. What ends up on the tray eventually is just the buckwheat groats.

Separating groats from chaff with fan

Separating groats from chaff with fan by Mari Stuart

You could grind the groats into flour as they are. The ground-up hull is a good source of fiber. But most people prefer the taste if you remove the dark brown hulls.

First, lightly toast the groats in a toaster oven, a hot cast-iron pan, or a hot oven. That makes the hulls separate more easily.

Next, grind the toasted groats to remove the hull. You can use a blender or a food processor, but I had the most success with a good old-fashioned food mill. The resulting coarsely ground buckwheat will still have some bits of hulls in it, but they can easily be sifted out with a flour sifter at the end.

Removing buckwheat hulls

 Removing buckwheat hulls by Mari Stuart

Cooking with Homegrown Buckwheat

Now comes the best part: eating your homegrown buckwheat! You can cook the groats as they are and enjoy them like rice or barley in a meal, as morning porridge with berries and milk, or you can roast them to make Ukrainian-style kasha varnishkes.

Alternatively, you can grind them into flour. Buckwheat flour is highly versatile and can be used to make pancakes or blinis, or baking quick breads and muffins. If you don’t have a grain mill, a food processor or blender works too.

Here is an easy recipe for buckwheat pancakes for a hearty, satisfying homegrown breakfast.

 Homemade buckwheat pancakes

Homemade buckwheat pancakes by Mari Stuart

Buckwheat Pancakes Recipe

Often you'll see recipes calling for 50% buckwheat flour and 50% all-purpose wheat flour. But it’s not necessary to cut the buckwheat with wheat — buckwheat’s nutty, sweet flavor is not overwhelming at all.

  • 1.5 cups buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 Tbsp salted butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • butter (for the pan)

Set a well-seasoned cast iron pan on medium heat. Mix the dry ingredients together well. Mix the melted butter together with the syrup, eggs, and buttermilk separately, and add to the dry ingredients. Mix until the batter is well blended and there are no more dry lumps.

Melt a dollop of butter on the heated pan and ladle the batter onto the pan in desired sizes. Enjoy with berries, syrup, or your favorite pancake toppings.

Mari Stuart lives in Asheville, N.C., where she stewards an urban homestead with her husband and daughter. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and Teacher and a Certified Ecological Landscaper, who cofounded Project Grounded, an initiative that connects urban consumers to the regenerative agriculture movement through their daily choices. She is currently working to develop a pioneering community-supported carbon farming program in Western North Carolina. Connect with Mari at Make Gather Grow and its Facebook and Instagram, and at Carbon Harvest and its Facebook and Instagram. Read all of Mari’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.

Use No-Till Gardening Techniques for a Low-Work Garden

Our no-till, low work garden

The Campbells no-till, low-work garden after the first couple of years.
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

When we first moved to the country I excitedly turned my hand to raising vegetables. We bought a rototiller with which I turned the soil in a small, neglected garden plot between our house and the shed. I had very little prior experience at growing anything but figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The biggest thing I didn’t know was how much work it was to garden traditionally. Surrounded by every imaginable weed, my new plot was the perfect breeding ground for weed seeds. After I had spent every morning all summer hoeing in that little garden, my husband informed me that I was not allowed to create any more garden area until I could figure out how to garden with less work. My middle-aged back was in full support of him!

Hoe, hoe, hoe!

Hoe, hoe, hoe!
Photo by Pixabay/deanmoriarty

I spent that winter reading everything I could find about gardening with less work. It turned out to be a fairly popular topic in garden publishing! If you too are tired of the constant, back-breaking work of hoeing and rototilling, read on to learn how to use no-till gardening techniques.

Approaches to No-Till

There are a number of approaches to the no-till method. Most popular among home gardeners are those of Ruth Stout and Lee Reich. We used ideas from both of these wonderful gardening pioneers, but found that modifications were necessary to both their systems to create the truly low-work garden we desired. Go here to read more about Ruth Stout’s System for Gardening and Lee’s method to Maintain a Weedless Organic Garden.

The system we’ve developed over the past decade in our never-tilled, permanently mulched garden is based on:

  • disturbing the soil as little as possible
  • rejuvenating the soil
  • mulching with weed deterrent toppings

This method costs us one third of using Ruth’s full system. Using slow and lazy methods to create compost (more on composting later this summer) allows us to use Lee’s ideas without so much physical effort.

 Undisturbed raised beds

Undisturbed raised beds
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Create a No-Till Vegetable Garden

Follow this process to create your own no-till/low-work vegetable garden:

Undisturbed Soil

  • Use a metal rake to scrape the existing soil into a series of 3-foot wide beds separated by 1.5 foot walkways
  • Never walk on the beds – only on the walkways
  • Keep the walkways weed free by placing several inches of straw over them
  • Be careful when harvesting root vegetables to gently lift each tuber while shaking the loose dirt back into the hole

Soil Rejuvenation

  • Top the new beds with a couple of inches of finished compost each spring
  • Top half the beds with 6 inches of rough compost each fall rotating so that the other half the beds receive rough compost the following year (don’t plant root crops in the beds that received rough compost the prior fall or sow bugs will ruin the harvest)

 Weed deterent mulches

Weed-deterrent mulches.
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Weed-Deterrent Mulches

Straw provides excellent winter and summer insulation and weed deterrence. Following final harvest in the fall or winter, top each bed with 4-6 inches of fluffed straw.  Straw stalks are hollow and don’t compact, while they do retain air providing for good winter insulation of the soil. Straw is slow to decompose and doesn’t tie up nitrogen or other soil nutrients. It also stops the spread of diseases caused by rain splashing soil onto plants.

Grass clippings add nutrients while recycling a waste product. Collect all grass and weed clippings (before seed set!) instead of throwing them away. Scatter them lightly over freshly seeded beds, or lightly place them around the base of tomato plants.

Finished compost also eliminates the growth of weeds. When transplanting tender seedlings, place some extra finished compost around the plant to give it a boost of nutrients and cut out weed competition.

 Enjoying the garden

Enjoying the garden.
Photo from Sheryl Campbell

Work Less – Enjoy Your Garden More!

Now you’ve created your own low-work garden using easy no-till gardening techniques. You’ll have more time now to focus on new ways of cooking the wonderful vegetables you are growing, and more time to relax and simply enjoy your garden.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

5 Tomato Growing Tips for Beginner Vegetable Gardeners

 tomato seedling plants to grow in your garden

Brandywine Heirloom Tomato Seedlings (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)

Homegrown tomatoes are the jewels of the summer vegetable garden. While they can seem intimidating to grow, there are a few key things that can make (or break) your edible garden harvest. Here are five of the top tomato growing tips to help you grow terrific tomatoes.

Start With A Potted Seedling Plant

Some veggies grow best when planted as seeds directly in the soil outdoors. Unfortunately, tomatoes are not one of them. The best option for beginner gardeners (and many experienced gardeners) is to purchase potted seedling tomatoes from a trusted local garden center or farmer. 

In many climates, tomatoes must be grown indoors in a heated space with a slight breeze, with heating mats below the seedling plants and plant lights above them. Growers start growing the seedlings in January-March for sale in April-June. The baby plants require daily care to grow into the bushy, healthy starts we see at the nursery. While tomatoes can certainly be grown from seed at home, they are not nearly as easy as some other veggies.

Growing tomatoes from seed is a time-consuming, energy-intensive project. You can also end up spending quite a lot on different seed packets if you’re growing more than one variety. Of course there is always the problem of growing too many seedlings and not having room in the garden for them as they grow!

Choose starter potted seedling tomato plants instead of growing your tomatoes from seeds. Some nurseries are even offering fancy grafted tomato plants! Either way, you’ll save yourself the trouble of tending to leggy seedlings in your living space.

Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes (Easy to Grow)

Sungold Tomatoes Fresh Off The Vine (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)

Choose a Type of Tomato That Tastes Delicious

The best tomato growing tips in the world won’t matter much if the tomato you’re growing simply doesn’t taste very good. Since growing tomatoes does take some care and maintenance, it’s worth putting in some research time to choose a variety of tomato that tastes delicious fresh, right off the vine.

One of the top-tasting tomato picks for beginner gardeners is the Sungold tomato. These orange hybrid cherry tomatoes have a fantastic, bright, almost tropical flavor. Even gardeners who grow big heritage tomatoes will often tuck a few Sungold plants in among their hefty heirlooms.

For a delicious medium-sized tomato choose a variety of tomato bred for taste as well as vigor. The Green Zebra tomato is another favorite of tomato enthusiasts - both for its pretty green stripes and for its fresh, zesty flavor. The Red Snapper is another top-tasting tomato that closely resembles a supermarket tomato in appearance (but certainly not in taste!). These medium-sized, modern introductions are generally easier to grow than the large, legendary heirlooms.

On the topic of heirloom tomatoes, there are a number of varieties that are well-known for their terrific taste. Some of the most delicious heirloom tomatoes to grow are Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim and the Pineapple tomato. These can be a bit more fussy to grow than the varieties previously mentioned, but the taste is worth the extra effort.

Tomato Growing Tips - transplanting timing

It’s Finally Warm Enough For The Big (Transplanting) Day (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)

Tomato Temperature Transplanting Tips

Tomatoes are heat-loving plants. They do not respond well to cold air temperatures and can be permanently damaged if the weather gets too cold. While there can be a tendency to “rush the season” in the spring, you should overcome the temptation to transplant your tomatoes outside too early.

When is too early to transplant tomatoes outdoors? A good rule of thumb is to keep tomatoes indoors when temperatures are below 50°F (10°C). The growth of the plants is drastically slowed at temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C), so it can be counter-productive to plant them out too early. 

 Tomato plants can be killed by frost, but they can also be severely injured at temperatures hovering above freezing. Temperatures do not need to reach freezing levels to damage tomato plants. Cool weather at 43°F (6°C) and below can cause injury to the plants. So, try not to rush the season!

Further Reading: 

Tomatoes grow best in raised garden beds

Tomatoes Growing in a Raised Bed Garden (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)

Grow Tomatoes In A Large Container Or Raised Garden Bed 

One of the top tomato growing tips is to grow the plants in high-quality potting soil within a large, raised container. Tomatoes planted in-ground are stuck with existing soil conditions, while those planted in containers can be grown anywhere. Such as in a lovely planter of potting mix. The tomato plants thrive with rich, porous potting mix that warms quickly from the sun.

Raised garden beds are a top choice for growing tomatoes, as they’re generally filled with excellent soil. The raised elevation of the beds helps the soil warm quickly in the spring and prevents us gardeners from stepping on the soil around the plants as they grow.

If raised beds aren’t available, there are some other great options for large tomato planters. Some gardeners grow each tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket, while others swear by 20-gallon grow bags or leftover nursery pots from planting trees. These large containers provide ample root space and access to water/nutrients, together with allowing the gardener to choose their growing medium.

Brandywine Heirloom Tomato - Tips for Growing Healthy Yummy Tomatoes

Fresh Brandywine Tomato from the Vegetable Garden (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)

Use A Slow-Release Organic Fertilizer

Tomato plants require an ample supply of nutrients to fuel their growth and production of fruit. While many potting mixes contain compost or organic fertilizers, the soil is not being actively replenished with nutrients. For this reason, it’s worth applying a gentle organic fertilizer to the plants as they grow.

One beginner-friendly tip for feeding tomato plants as they grow is to use a slow-release granular fertilizer. These fertilizers are simply placed on top of the soil and watered in over time, generally lasting for a couple months. They don’t require pre-mixing with water or weekly/bi-weekly application like many water-soluble liquid fertilizers. Pick a slow-release, easy-application, organic fertilizer to reduce maintenance as the plants grow.

Tips for Growing Tomatoes

Enjoying the Tomato Harvest (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)

Hopefully the tomato growing tips above help you to grow your own food this year. Edible gardens are incredibly rewarding and fun to grow. So, regardless of your space, whether you are balcony gardening, container gardening or growing in a larger urban garden or rural homestead, you can put those green fingers to the test and grow your own tomatoes with these tips.

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening blogger and video creator based in British Columbia, Canada. She is continuing the task of creating a productive landscape around her childhood home for her own children to enjoy and learn from. Mary Jane writes about her experiences on her gardening blog, Home for the Harvest. She also vlogs about her garden and about natural living on her YouTube channel. Connect with Mary Jane on Pinterest, LTK, and Twitter, 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.

Illustrated Guide to Growing Dahlias: Varieties, Overwintering, Propagation and More


Decorative Dahlia flowers at the great summer day of 2019. Photo by Michael Feldmann

Summer wouldn’t be summer without these lovely flowers, dahlias. Their beautiful flowers come in almost any color imaginable, from pale pastels to vibrant shades. They are also come in a range of flower shapes, from small tight balls to waterlily-like blooms the size of dinner plates. They are perfect for adding late summer color to gardens from July to October and look perfect in any style of garden. They also look especially great with summer blooming plants such as roses, cosmos, sunflowers, rose of Sharon, hibiscus, and bulbs such as iris, lilies, gladiolus, begonias, crocosmia, and freesia. Dahlias are also very brilliant and prolific cut flowers. The more you cut them, the more flowers they produce.

I have written a guide on how to grow these lovely flowers in your garden or yard!

About Dahlias

The dahlia originated in Mexico, where it was known to the Aztecs and recorded by Europeans in the late 16th century. Two centuries later the Spanish introduced it to Europe. It was, however, a quite different plant from the dahlia we know today.

One of the original species, Dahlia imperialis, had single lilac-colored or reddish flowers and grew in a tree-like form to a height of 6-18 feet. Smaller species were also discovered, including Dahlia coccinea, which had single red flowers. From several of these single-flowered species, the modem plants with their large, complex blooms were developed. The plant was called dahlia in honor of the eminent Swedish botanist Dr. Andreas Dahl.

As a native of Mexico, the dahlia is a subtropical plant that requires humus-rich soil, constant watering, and regular feeding. It has tuberous roots, hollow stems, bright green to bronze-green leaves, and flowers ranging from pure white through attractive shades of yellow to the deepest maroon. Some dahlias are bicolored. There are two plant types: bedding dahlias, most commonly grown annually from seeds but also available as tubers; and exhibition, or show, dahlias, which are almost always grown from tubers.

Choosing Your Favorite Varieties

Dahlia flowers come in a variety of beautiful colors and shapes. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson.

Dahlias come in many beautiful colors and shapes, from which it is amazingly easy to choose the perfect variety for your garden. Official dahlia classification identifies them by flower form, here are the several types:

Single Dahlias. Single dahlias consist of a central disc surrounded by a single row of flat or slightly curved florets, evenly spaced, without gaps in arrangement. Most flowers are over 2 inches in diameter and contain up to 3 rows of bright orange or yellow pollen, which attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. They are excellent to grow in small-sized gardens and containers.

Cactus Dahlias. Cactus dahlias have astonishingly beautiful blooms, that brighten every garden. The unusual, fully double flowers of cactus dahlias have pointed tubular petals that give them a spectacular look! The blooms come in almost any color combination. Cactus dahlias are also quite hardy, having the ability to withstand inclement weather, including strong winds and heavy rains.

Semi-cactus Dahlias. Semi-cactus dahlias have flowers slightly similar to Cactus dahlias. They have fully double fluffy-looking flowers. The petals have a wider base at the bottom than cactus dahlias and are curled about half their length. Semi-cactus dahlias are great to grow in every home garden. They are also excellent as for bouquets.

Ball Dahlias. Ball dahlias are characterized by their round, ball-like blooms. The small, fully double flowers have a seemingly endless number of curved ray florets that form a perfect spiral around the center. Ball dahlias look wonderful in gardens, containers, and bouquets.

Pompon Dahlias. Pompom dahlias are remarkably similar to ball dahlias, their flowers are fully double and perfectly round. The petals are curved inward and tightly packed in rows. They produce smaller blooms than ball dahlias but are equally beautiful in bouquets.

Peony Dahlias. These fluffy, fully double flowers have a beautiful classic peony look. The center is surrounded by many rings of ray florets, which at the base are either flat or curved inward. Peony dahlias are fast-growing plants popular for garden borders. Their open flower form makes them a great plant for a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

Anemone Dahlias. This beautiful flower looks excellent in the gardens as well as in containers. The center consists of a dense group of elongated tubes. There may be one or more rows of flat flowers surrounding the center in the form of a wreath. Anemone dahlias are also great for bouquets.

Decorative Dahlias. This group consists of perhaps the most well-known of all dahlias—the Dinnerplates! The large, showy flower can be up to 12 inches long and have broad flat-topped petals, arranged in either formal (petals appear evenly) or informal (petals appear irregularly). Formal decorative dahlias are ideal for vases while informal dahlias look wonderful in borders and containers.

Collarette Dahlias. Collarettes are marked by a collar-like circle of short florets close to the center. There is an outer ring with one row of larger, flat, or curved, often overlapping florets. The open flower structure allows easy access to butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. Collarette Dahlias are an excellent addition to any garden!

Planting Dahlia Tubers in The Garden

Dahlias grow best in a location with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson.

Dahlias are an extremely easy plant to grow, and only several of them can provide you with plenty of beautiful flowers from summer to fall. Planting dahlias is easy, first of all, you just need to familiarize yourself with their needs such as soil, location, and others.

Soil preparation. Dahlias need full sun and rich, porous soil that retains moisture well but drains easily. Ideal soil pH is neutral to slightly acid 6.5 - 7.0. Since dahlias are heavy feeders, you will need to bury the garden bed generously with dried or well-rotted manure, compost, or other suitable organic material in the fall. Sprinkle 4 ounces of bone meal or 2 ounces of super-phosphate for each square yard. To allow frost and air to penetrate and break down the added materials, do not smooth down the soil. If the soil is not rich, apply a complete fertilizer (such as 5-10-10), according to package directions, monthly after growth begins.

Choosing the right location. Locate your dahlias in a warm, sunny spot where there is good air circulation. Dahlias grow best in a location with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. A site with some shade from the afternoon sun will do. And also, locate your dahlias in a location with a bit of protection from the wind.

Spacing. Dahlias should not be planted too close together, there should still be space between the plants, this ensures adequate ventilation of the leaves, which prevents plant diseases. It also makes it easier to pick the flowers for bouquets and other work on your dahlia plants. Allow 2-3 feet between tubers for tall dahlias (4-5 feet), 2 feet between medium plants (3-4 feet), and 15 inches between for shorter ones.

When and how to plant your dahlias tubers. Plant your dahlia tubers as soon as the danger of frost no longer exists—mid to late spring is best in most areas. New growth comes from eyes at the base of the previous year's stem. Each stem has several tuberous roots. These can be planted as a clump or divided into single tubers. In the planting bed insert a 1-inch-square stake long enough to support tall plants. In front of it dig a 6-inch-deep hole. Prepare a mixture of half peat moss and half soil and incorporate about a handful of bone meal. Fill the hole with this mixture to a level that will bring the tuber's eye to about 2 inches below the surface. Place the tuber in front of the stake with the eye against it. Cover the tuber to ground level with the soil and peat moss mixture. Firm the soil gently over the tuber. Do not water until new growth begins. You can also label the stake with the variety name.

The tubers can also be started into growth indoors ahead of time. If more plants are needed, divide tubers when the new shoots are about 3/4 inches tall. Harden the plants before planting them out.

Caring for Beautiful Dahlias

With proper planting and care, your dahlias will award you with plenty of beautiful flowers from mid-summer to autumn. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson.

Fertilizing for better growth

Soil that has been well fed before planting will not need much additional fertilizer during the growing season. Mulching with rotted manure or rich compost will help to develop the growth of the plants if the soil is poor or if extraordinary blooms are the objective. An additional feeding can be given when bedding dahlias show their first buds or, in the case of exhibition dahlias, after they have been pinched out for the second time. For quick results, use a 20-20-20 fast-release liquid fertilizer. For a slower response, scatter a handful of 5-10-10 around the plant.

Too much nitrogen at this time of year will encourage an overabundance of foliage rather than flowers and can reduce the winter storage quality of the tubers as well. After feeding the dahlias with any dry fertilizer, water them well to make sure that the nutrients are carried down to the root area.

It can be helpful to feed the plants every two to three weeks until the end of summer. If you plan to store the tubers, feed the soil in late summer or early fall with a mixture of equal parts of superphosphate and sulfate of potash.

Mulch your plants to keep weeds away. When the plant is about 1 foot high, put a 1-inch layer of mulch around the base but not against the stem. This helps to keep down weeds and retain moisture. Use materials such as wood chips, buckwheat hulls, cocoa shells, or clean, dry straw. Apply in thin layers and let each dry before applying a new one. Do not mulch too early. Wait until the plants have grown to a height of 1 foot. When the mulch is applied, the soil should be moist, and immediately after it should be well soaked. If weeds appeared before mulching, remove them by hoeing, which will also keep the soil aerated. Do not cultivate more than 1 inch deep.

Water your dahlias thoroughly as the buds develop. When your dahlia tubers are first planted, watering represents a danger to them—it can cause the tubers to rot. The search for moisture does not harm the roots. For best results, give your dahlias more moisture as their flowering season approaches. In dry spells, the plants should be watered freely, whether or not they are coming into bloom.

When the weather is hot and sunny, water every five days or so on heavy clay soils. Lighter soils dry out more quickly and the plants should be watered about every three days. Use an automatic sprinkler that throws a fine spray up high enough for the water to fall vertically on the plants or a soaker hose laid through the plants. Any of these will provide the necessary thorough soaking of the area around the dahlias.

If you use a can or hose, give about 3 gallons of water to each plant when they are 2-3 feet apart; use a little bit less if they are set closer together.

Add supports as the dahlias grow. Dahlias need support to prevent wind damage. Two or three weeks after planting, loop string around each stake 4-8 inches above the ground. Tie each plant around the stem in a figure-eight pattern. Fasten the knot against the stake. As the plants grow, make further ties up the stem. Make sure the bottom ties are not too tight around the main stem. To prevent damage to the side growths, insert thin canes firmly in the ground—three in a triangular pattern around the main stake and about 9 inches from it—sloping out. Wrap a soft string around these canes to support the side growths.

Some dahlia varieties may require some support such as a stake or trellis. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson.

Pinching out and disbudding the big Dahlias: Most exhibition or large-flowered dahlias send up strong, center shoots but develop little side growth until the center shoots have flower buds. To encourage side growth and more flowers, pinch out the center shoots two or three weeks after planting. The center shoot is the growing tip of the stem. Usually, this is done in late spring or early summer for tuber-grown plants.

In two weeks or so half a dozen side shoots should have developed in the leaf axils. Remove the top pair of shoots to promote growth in the lower side shoots. These will each produce a terminal bud and several side buds. To encourage big flowers, remove the side buds as soon as they are large enough to be removed without harming the tip buds. To promote longer-stemmed side shoots and to encourage more growth in the upper part of the dahlias, cut off all the leaves that develop on the main stem a few inches from the ground.

What can go wrong with Dahlias? Dahlias are affected by several viruses, notably the dahlia mosaic virus, which causes yellowing foliage and sometimes stunted plants. It is transmitted by aphids. Spotted wilt virus causes spots and rings on leaves; it is carried by thrips and affects a range of plants. Watch for thrips and aphids early in the season and spray if necessary. Snails love dahlia foliage and flowers so take care to control them. They will climb up into the plant and stay there: if plants are being damaged, search for snails on and under the leaves and take them away, or use slug bait, making sure it is positioned out of the reach of pets and wildlife. Earwigs can also damage blooms, feeding mainly at night and causing ragged holes in petals or distorted blooms. During the day they can be trapped in upturned pots stuffed with a straw positioned on stakes amongst the plants.

Overwintering Dahlias

Dahlias are tender annuals, but you can overwinter them pretty easily. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson.

Dahlias are tender annuals, but they are very easy to overwinter. In fall, after the first frost has occurred, cut off all but 2 to 4 inches of top growth, and carefully dig up the tubers. Allow the tubers to dry for several days in a frost-free place away from direct sunlight. Once it is dry, remove any excess soil, leaving 1-2 inches of stem.

Store the tubers in a ventilated box or basket, filled with slightly moistened sand, peat moss, or vermiculite, and place it in a cool, dry location with temperatures that remain between 45- and 55-degrees F. Check tubers periodically through the winter for rotting and drying out. It is advisable to inspect the tubers every few weeks during the winter to check for disease or Shriveling. If your tubers appear shriveled, spray them lightly with water. If some start to rot, trim the rotted portion of the tubers so it will not spread.

In the early spring, when the warm weather arrives, you can successfully plant your overwintered tubers and enjoy their beautiful blooms again and again.


There are many wonderful ways of propagating dahlias all of which will reward you with lots of new plants. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson.

There are three ways of propagating dahlias including propagating by cuttings, propagating by dividing tubers, and propagating by seeds. The method you choose depends on how many plants you want to grow and how much time you are willing to invest.

Propagating by taking cuttings. Taking cutting is a tried and tested way of propagating many plants and also works excellent with dahlias. Propagating dahlias by cuttings is slightly different from general propagation by cutting.

To begin, bring your overwintered dahlia tubers in about late January or early February. It is recommended to choose the firmest and healthiest tubers. Plant the tubers in a plastic planting tray filled with a damp potting mix or a mixture of half peat moss and half sand. For the best result, plant your tubers in a tray with a depth of about 6 inches or 15 cm. Make sure that the tray has several drainage holes. If you plant only a few tubers, you can use pots instead, one-pot per tuber. Plant your tubers in rows about 4 to 6 inches apart, with each stem 1 to 2 inches above the surface of the soil. Then place the tray or pot with tubers in a warm, sunny room, but avoid direct sunlight.

Watch for eyes to appear, which generally takes about 7 to 10 days (about 1 and a half weeks). However, some may sprout sooner, while others may take a month or more. When the shoots have three or more sets of leaves, then here is the time to take cuttings. Use a sharp, sterile, knife to cut off the shoot with a narrow sliver of the tuber. Remove the lower leaves, leaving the top two leaves intact. Dip the bottom of the cuttings in natural rooting hormone. Then plant your cuttings in a pot filled with a mixture of half potting mix and half sand. Water them carefully to keep the planting medium moist, but not soggy. Next, place the pots with cuttings in a warm room. The cuttings will start root in about 2 to 3 weeks. At this point, you can allow them to develop a bit more, or you can plant them directly into the garden if the weather permits.

Propagating by dividing tubers. Propagating by taking cuttings produces more new plants, but propagating by dividing tubers is easier, so if the need is for only a few new plants, dividing tubers is best. For each new plant, you will need one section of the tuberous root and a piece of the stem with an eye in it. New growth comes from this eye. Each plant needs only enough tuber to keep the plant growing until new roots form. A single piece of tuber with a single piece of stem attached is best. Too large a section of the tuberous root will delay the formation of new roots, and the plant will produce a mass of leafy growth, which will further result in few and inferior blooms. Before cutting the clump of tubers, examine each stem to locate the eyes. If they prove difficult to locate, place the tubers in damp peat moss or soil, and keep them in a warm place for a few days to give the buds time to develop. As soon as the eyes or buds are visible, use a sharp knife to cut down through the stem, doing your best not to damage any of the eyes in the process. Dust raw cuts thoroughly with sulfur to prevent rot. The best time for planting in most areas is late spring to early summer—or as soon as all danger of frost is past.

Propagating by seeds. Propagating dahlias from seeds is an easy and fun way, but it takes a little bit longer than others. Seeds are sold for both small bedding dahlias and tall exhibition types, but they will not run true in color or form. To start a collection of exhibition dahlias from seeds, plant them one year, and save the tubers of the best plants for the next year. Start seeds in early spring if an indoor space or a warm greenhouse is available. In a cold frame plant four to six weeks before the safe outdoor planting date. Prepare pots or flats of sterilized soil or seed-starting mixture, level the surface, and firm it. Water thoroughly. Thinly sprinkle the seeds over the surface and cover them with about 1/4 inch of vermiculite. Cover the pots or flats with glass shaded by brown paper or with a plastic bag.

Set in a warm place in a greenhouse or in a dark, warm room to germinate — in 10 to 21 days (about 3 weeks). When the seedlings are up, remove the glass or plastic. If you are growing them indoors, set them on a sunny sill. When the seedlings are sturdy, transplant them to individual 3-inch peat pots filled with potting soil. Once established, they can take full light and sun. If the plants are being grown in a cold frame, harden them their several weeks before setting them out. If there is no cold frame, set them in a dependably warm, sunny spot outdoors for a week before planting.

Keeping these various points in mind, you will easily be able to choose the right location, plant your dahlia tubers, fertilize and water them properly, get rid of pests and diseases, propagate them correctly, and finally enjoy lots of blooms throughout the year.

Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’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.

Growing Tomatoes in a Cold-Climate Garden Without a Greenhouse


Harvested tomatoes by Kat Ludlam

As the majority of gardeners in America are planting their seeds and enjoying time in their gardens, many of us are cooped up in our houses, snow falling outside, as we continue to pour over seed catalogs and dream of warm weather. Living in a short-season/cold climate might make you feel like you can’t grow tomatoes without a greenhouse. We used to think that ourselves. We live in the high-altitude Rockies, where we have a 10-12 week growing season frost-to-frost, and our nights during the summer regularly dip down to the 40s Fahrenheit. But over the years we have learned through trial and error, and ideas from others, that it is absolutely possible to grow and enjoy tomatoes from a short-season/cold climate garden without the use of a greenhouse.

Pick the Right Varieties

The first step to success is to choose good varieties for your climate. It is so easy to get caught up in the beautiful seed magazine and want to try a little of this and a little of that. You can try different varieties, just make sure you are picking the fastest-to-harvest varieties that tolerate the colder temperatures. We have found that the varieties that originated in Siberia and Russia are a good place to start and they generally do very well for us. Our favorite varieties include Mount Roma, Mother Russia, Russian Yellow, and Long Keeper. Seeds Trust has a great selection of tomato varieties for cold climates.

Start Indoors

When you have a very short growing season, starting your plants indoors is a necessity. We found that using a light shelf unit worked much better than our windows. My husband was able to build us one pretty easily and it saved us a lot of money. I start our tomatoes indoors about 10 weeks before our average last frost.

light shelves

 Start indoors with plant lights by Kat Ludlam

Once they have their first set of real leaves, we transplant them to bigger containers and continue to keep them under the lights.

tomato seedlings

Fragile seedlings by Kat Ludlam

A week before they are going to be planted outdoors, we harden them off. To do this we wait until the sun is up and warm and then we place them outside in a splotchy shaded area. The first day they stay out for about 30 minutes, the second day an hour, and so on as we work them up to being able to handle a full 8-hour day out in the splotchy shade. We bring them in if the weather is windy, or it starts to rain. And when they come in, they are no longer under the lights, they are just next to windows in the house. By doing this they will become “hardened off” and thus be able to survive outdoors better.

Transplant Early, With Protection

We transplant the seedlings to the garden about 1 month before our average last frost. The reason we can do this is that we use Wall-o-Waters (WOWs) to protect them from the frosts for that month. We have had our WOWs buried in 4 feet of snow, and the tomatoes in them still survive.


Thermal protection with wall-o-waters by Kat Ludlam

It is important to prepare the WOWs at least 24 hours ahead of time, so the temperature of the water in them can stabilize before you put the seedlings in them. Fill them from your hose (the easiest way is the put the WOW around a 5-gallon bucket to support it during the filling).

filling wall-o-waters

Filling wall-o-water by Kat Ludlam

Then place them in the garden where you want them and squeeze the top 1/3 of them, causing the water to come out of that top section and forming a teepee shape with the WOW.


Wall-o-waters by Kat Ludlam

After 24 hours the temperature in the WOW will have stabilized and you can plant your seedlings in the center of the WOW. We have found that ours do best if we first plant them at the time of day that the section of the garden they are in is in some shade, which for us is early morning or late afternoon.

tomato seedling in wall-o-water

Ttomato seedling in wall-o-water by Kat Ludlam

Once the threat of frost has passed, and the tomato plants have grown so much that they are filling up the WOWs, we remove them and put a cage around the plant.

TIP: Helping Your Wall-O-Waters Last Longer

We have been using WOWs for many years to garden in our cold climate. Over time, the wear and tear of use, plus the effects of the sun on the plastic, will break down the WOW and it will begin to get holes. We have found that just because a WOW has a hole or two, doesn’t mean it can’t continue to be used. We take our most damaged one and cut it carefully, saving any of the tubes that don’t have holes. We then insert those tubes in to the tubes on other WOWs that have holes, doubling them up so they won’t leak. This has helped us keep using the WOWs for many many years. We are still using WOWs that are over 10 years old and going strong.

wall-o-water tube  

Wall-o-water tube by Kat Ludlam


patched wall-o-water 

Patched wall-o-water by Kat Ludlam

Harvest Before First Frost

As autumn approaches, we begin to watch the weather closely for our first frost. At this point we are harvesting a few ripe tomatoes, but most of them are still green. The day before the first frost we harvest all the tomatoes, cutting them off the plants, leaving about an inch or so of stem on them.

harvested green tomatoes

Harvested green tomatoes by Kat Ludlam

We then put them in the basement in our root cellar racks.

tomatoes ripening in racks

Tomatoes ripening in racks by Kat Ludlam

You can put them anywhere that is cool and dry, just be sure to lay them out in a single layer.  Before we built our root cellar racks, we set up folding tables and put the tomatoes out in a single layer on them in the basement.

Over the next weeks, the tomatoes will ripen and are great for fresh use or for cooking or canning. We harvest our tomatoes green in early September and are eating and canning them all throughout the fall as they ripen. Our longest keeping varieties are ripening in early December, and we have even enjoyed “fresh” tomatoes, from our garden, at Christmas – months after the first frost hit our area.

You don’t need a greenhouse to grow delicious tomatoes in a short-season cold-climate garden. With careful planning and a few tips from my high-altitude garden, you will overcome your climate challenges and enjoy fresh tomatoes all through autumn and into winter. To read more about how we successfully garden in our climate, check out my blog series “High-Altitude Cold-Climate Gardening.”

Kat Ludlam is a high-altitude homesteader and owner of Willow Creek Farm in the Colorado Rockies, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. Check out Kat’s custom fiber-processing business, Willow Creek Fiber Mill, and read all of Kat’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.

Powers Social Permaculture: Leading with Care and Science


Permaculture leader Matt Powers
Photo by Adriana Powers

With an M.A. in Education, Matt Powers is one of the most watched permaculture instructors online--author, teacher, seed-saver, plant-breeder, gardener, consultant, speaker, and publisher at his website, The Permaculture Student. Matt has taught K-12, college, and adult learners all over the world. A former public high school teacher, Matt authored the first government-accredited permaculture curriculum in North America (fully cited, peer-reviewed, & aligned to national standards), and his work continues to spread in schools, colleges, and universities globally with 20 books in 6 languages and 10 online courses. 

I caught up with Matt to ask him about his vision for social permaculture, or the “people care” aspect of permaculture.

Matt, first: How did you get into permaculture?

MP: About a year after our first child was born (he’s 14 now), my wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She went through the standard radiation treatments but soon within months had another form of cancer. The doctors wouldn’t meet my eye when I asked if the radiation was connected to the new cancer, and then they couldn’t agree upon how soon was safe for her to be near the baby. I didn’t know who to trust - I lost all trust in the medical system, and I found myself studying for years searching to figure out how to help my wife. I found that food and diet were the things we could control and I needed a deep understanding of plants and nature to grow in the 140 degree Fahrenheit soils. That’s where permaculture came in. She’s had other cancers since then and we’ve faced them together and she has beaten them all, so in some ways we are still on that quest.

While all that was going on, I got my M.A. in Education and started teaching high school in the sixth most violent county in the country. The kids needed a way out, the way to a decent livelihood, a way to connect to the land. I felt in some ways too that I was caught like them in a dead-end job in a dead-end area.

Permaculture gave me hope and made all the connections ethical and regenerative, but it wasn’t in a curriculum yet - it was only for adults at that point. My mission is to fix our education system with regenerative science and permaculture ethics. As a teacher--I have to have standards and objectives related to those standards for this. So that’s why I proposed the Permaculture  Education standards and why I wrote my books in alignment with the  National Science Education Standards (NSES) and the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS). My works are cited and peer-reviewed as well. The idea is to prepare this information for mainstream adoption and scrutiny - it has to be able to get into schools, universities, and the economy. It has to facilitate permanent cultures.


 Permacuture ethics poster by Matt Powers

Matt, how would you define permaculture?

In the simplest terms, it is a way of seeing the world through nature’s eyes, based on three ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Future Care. This requires constant observation and adaptation because nature is always changing. 

Permaculture is action-oriented. You gotta do right action to feel right. Studying is one thing; only when we create, work, do-- is it real. 

Permaculture provides a framework for regenerative ecological design of wild and crop land, cities, neighborhoods, houses and homes, and communities. Permaculture is a roadmap--my roadmap on all levels-- to a prosperous, sustainable, healthy, and ethical future where everyone in their communities and bio-regions can provide for themselves in abundance.

For instance, in almost all places of historical logging in California, the terrain was re-designed to drain, not retain water, to bring logs downslope using the annual flow of water, but overtime that has drained the landscape of moisture and carried the topsoils away. They are also draining the water from catchment above the food hills, drying them out further, making these wildfires in actuality man-made events. Constant short-sightedness has led us here. We can fix this using permaculture as a lens and applying keyline design.

People are realizing that  retaining water in the landscape is a necessary reserve against today’s droughts and mega fires. Permaculture can design to do this. Local communities around the world have grown more resilient socially as well as ecologically by implementing these kinds of earthworks together. Why don’t we see more large permaculture community examples in the U.S.?

Yes, exactly. It’s a challenge here to do it on a large scale due to regulations not set up for this kind of thing and in many ways designed to prevent this sort of thing. But we can do it on private land in some of the freer areas of the country still. 90% of permaculture is observation, so if we can get working examples out there for folks to see, we’d even see a powerful change and adoption take place. 

What’s your take on the three Permaculture Ethics as a whole?

They give me the lens through which I view everything.

Permaculture ethics start a conversation that never ends. Introducing them to young children--they become a reference point for the rest of their lives. 

They’re all based on Care. When we lead with Care, our thoughtful solutions sometimes surprise us. In this time of turmoil, the three ethics provide clarity and direction.

What does the People Care ethic, aka Social Permaculture, mean to you?

When I first realized Permaculture didn't have principles for People Care I was a little surprised. David Holmgren's approach has a holistic edge that gives it traction in this area, but I've never seen any principles anywhere…. 

Permaculture is a path of service and a process of healing. It is all about CARE. We have to lead with CARING. So I created a proposed list to start the conversation around what principles we should have and how they should be worded.

I did the same exact thing with Permaculture Education Standards - we didn't have them, so I made them public for comment, edited them, and have them released in my book, The Advanced Permaculture Student Teacher’s Guide. I hope we can see the standards adopted everywhere in time. I want the Social Permaculture principles, as well, to evolve and go out into the world. 

Social Permaculture is People Care in Action, the design, planning, and action of People Care, and the lynchpin for successful projects and cultures. At this time of social change especially, we need to double down on people care, working together with earth care, with our eyes on future care - that overlap is Permaculture.

How did you come to the Social Permaculture Principles you’ve distilled?

First--the unexamined life has the ability to divide us. Unless we can see ourselves clearly, we can’t see others clearly. This is basic to mental and physical discipline.

So much harm comes from living carelessly, without thinking…

Social Permaculture must have principles, standards, and objectives to be properly taught especially in a schooling context. Guiding principles are essential. 

What are the first principles that unite us?

What common rubrics do we hold? If we examine them, do we want to keep them? Being Unstoppable is great--until moderation is what is needed.

So the Social Permaculture Principles themselves?

To start:

  • Treat others better than they expect to be treated. Then...
  • Build trust by showing trust and being trustworthy.
  • Be Clear. Choose your words carefully.
  • Set clear boundaries--like all edges, boundaries are areas for productivity.
  • Educate by example--people have to see it, touch it, taste it, experience it, and know its story to adopt a significant change in the way they live. Live it. Be it.
  • Share as much as you can. 
  • Be self-reliant and prepared [floods, for instance, happen!]. When you’re safe and secure on higher ground, you can help people in the floodwaters get up to where you are.   
  • Be patient. This is Caring on the most fundamental level. 
  • Be local. It’s the driver for influence.
  • Be open to new ideas.  
  • Be timely. This shows respect for yourself and others.
  • Solutions, not complaints! Think of what’s possible. This attitude spreads stability.
  • Be the first to smile. It shocks people! Then most often they’ll mirror you and smile back.
  • Family first. We can’t stress ‘em out! Family is the foundation of culture.
  • Work on priorities. What matters right now?
  • Innovate and adapt.
  • Don’t take offense--be better. This brings the most rewards in learning and growth.
  • Look to and honor elders.
  • Celebrate common interests.We need national cultural celebrations. It could set the tone in every walk of life.
  • Listen to and make space for children, youth, and young adults. With very young children, stories and active immersion are key. Give them seeds, help them sow and propagate them--beautify and foodify...

Matt, thank you. Any further thoughts right now?

We as a society are like kids singing along to a song whose lyrics we don’t actually agree with - if we just slowed down and listened, we’d likely be disgusted or at least shocked with the things we are repeating… people right now in America are seeing each other as locked in to certain definitions and thus unchangeable. Socially we are in one of those places where we can’t see the other side of the hill. Or maybe it’s waves--we can see and get above these waves, these hills, to live and care, starting a new conversation with no preconceived ideas, honoring and celebration, BUT we must lead with Care.

Pam Sherman blogs for Mother Earth News, and gardens at altitude.You can read all of Pam’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.

5 Container Gardening Tips to Successfully Grow Produce


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.

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.

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 ideas for containers:

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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