Saturday, May 30, 2009

Daily Dose of Daffodils and Tulips

I see as I walk past gardens, different ways gardeners have handled the unsightly left-overs of a beautiful spring garden that was once daffodils and tulips.

The very last thing you want to do is cut down the plant. That's like putting a stake through a gardeners heart.

Bulbs grace us with their early display of colorful life, drawing from the bulb the life it has stored over winter, life it has saved for the thrust of splendor few plants in our yards can muster that early in the season. What would we do without these harbingers of spring to lighten the dreary cold days that linger from winter.

If you cut down those scraggly leaves and stems with no color left, the bulb has nothing to replenish the life it has so freely given for our early spring pleasure.

I have seen two separate answers to dealing with the not so pretty aftermath of the daffodil and tulips lovely display.

This first one is the first time I have seen such an innovative solution. To bend the leaves down and rubberband them, so they can continue to send the life saving energy to the bulb without "being in your face" with the scraggly colorless remnants of a once beautiful display.

The other is a more traditional solution, to interplant the bulb with a late arrival in the garden. Plant with a perennial that is slow to wake up in the spring and somewhat slow to get started to give the bulb time to replensh itself before it is shaded out by the perennial.

Handle your bulbs properly and they will flourish and multiply and bring you great pleasure year after year.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tomatoes Are at the Top of my List!

When it comes to tomatoes it's hard to beat a Roma. Meaty and flavorful it is one of the most versatile tomatoes I know.

And ask any gardener, they'll tell you, nothing beats homegrown over store bought like the flavor of a tomato.

As far as being clean (talking chemicals in the commercially grown tomatoes) the tomato is on the clean list, being 14 out of 15 with #1 being the cleanest. So off season if I had to choose where to spend my organic dollar it might not be on a tomato.

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the easiest garden plants to grow from seed. The fact is they grow so fast that you often run out of space for them before you can safely put them out in the garden. If you start tomatoes from seed in early spring be prepared to transplant multiple times and have plenty of space for them in a sunny area. Most important to your success, once you get them out into the garden, is to not let them get root bound. Keep transplanting into bigger pots until you can safely plant the tomato plants outside.

You can also purchase seedlings from local nurseries and get an even faster start. I personally would purchase from my local farmer's market. You will get plants that are hardy for your area, have the benefit of the knowledge of the farmer who grew it and you will be supporting your local industry. An added benefit is that you will easily be able to try different varieties without having to purchase multiple seed packs and ending up being over run by tomatoes. Remember that tomatoes need plenty of room and full sun pretty much from the time they are germinated. (The local farmer's market is sounding better all the time, right?)

There are two types of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate types are bushier and more compact than indeterminate types. Indeterminate types have sprawling vines and need support. Determinates are better suited to smaller growing areas.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so it's important to make sure there's plenty of good organic matter mixed into the growing area. Here again, home made compost or better yet, worm compost or vermicompost is far superiour to the bagged stuff you buy at a big box store. When I drive by and see all that bagged material sitting out in that hot sun just baking, I know there's not going to be a speck of life left by the time the bag gets home and gets used.

When transplanting your young tomato plants bury them deeper than the previous soil level. You can even remove a good portion of the lower leaves, dig a deep trench and bury the whole stem, leaving just the upper portion of the plant sticking above the soil. The stem will root all along it's length. Planting your tomatoes deeper encourages healthily initial growth and stronger plants.

Watering is probably the trickiest part of growing tomatoes. It's important to not allow the soil to dry out or keep it too wet. Too dry and they will develop leathery shoulders and just one over watering will cause the fruit to split. Remember to water deep.

Caution: When growing Tomatoes always remind yourself - they do not like their leaves wet. To prevent diseases, water only the soil below and around your Tomato plants.

Here is a great book on organic gardening that I highly recommend. I always enjoy his approach to the earth. Eliot Coleman will become one of your most valuable resources.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Multi Tasking

To have a successful garden, a gardener must be a multi-tasker. In other words, it's not enough to get your seeds started.

Once the weather has warmed a bit and the soil has dried out too, early prep of the garden bed is necessary. Once you have a season in the garden under your belt, then much of this prep work will have been done in the fall, when you put the garden to bed for the winter. As a matter of fact that is the best time, as you can add copious amounts of organic matter in the form of leaves, grass clippings and other organic waste along with some valuable organic fertilizer like alfalfa meal and leave it all for winter to work its' magic. A late fall cover crop will add to the quality of your bed come spring as well.

However, if this is your first garden or like me you have had to neglect your garden because life just got in the way, then prepping your bed is something you want to get done as early in the season as you can.

Raised beds will warm up faster in the spring, you can cover the bed with material to help warm the soil as well. This morning at 7:30 a.m. when I took this picture the soil was 48 degrees F. The day will warm and warm the temp up to about 60.

Note: When you are thinking of planting and/or transplanting you always want to take into consideration the night time temperature of the air and soil.

Hoops can be placed over the bed for the placement of plastic over the beds to help heat the soil and to help hold the heat in over night.
Lengths of rebar are driven down along side the beds and PVC pipe can then be bent over the bed and slid down over the rebar.
This creates a great skeletal structure for plastic in the early and late season and shade cloth in the hot summer months.
In this picture you can also see how I used Hog Wire bent over and placed inside the bedding frame. This can be an alternative method to the PVC or the wire can be used to grow vining plants up on. This method can be used to companion plant. Plants that need more shade can be grown on the north side of this vining plant. That way in the hot summer months, once the vining plant has covered the wire a wonderful area of cool shaded area is provided for something like your favorite greens which need the cooler temps provided by the shade.
Think about what you are growing and how they can compliment each other. Use your space wisely and you will be able to grow more in less space.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Starting Seeds

There is nothing more miraculous than watching a seed push it's way through the surface of the soil towards the light, other than the birth of a child.

Seriously, a seed so miniscule and seemingly inert when put to soil with added moisture, heat, and sometimes light (depending on the seed) will suddenly erupt into a power of life that can move mountains compared to it's size. That must be where God's meaning behind "faith the size of a mustard seed" stems from.

The conditions must be right in order for the seed to awaken from its dormant slumber.

  • moisture to soften and swell the seeds tough outer shell

  • heat to awaken the life inside from it's slumber

  • light to show the way and beckon it forth

Just about any container will work if it will hold soil and allow excess moisture to drain away.

Trays that have fitted domes will help keep the environment moist and warm creating a incubator effect for the seeds. Once the seeds have germinated the lids will come off.

A heating mat will help create the right amount of heat for fast germination so the seeds do not sit in the soil and rot.

Lighting must be supplied, as even the light from a southern facing window will not provide enough light for an emerging seedling in early spring.

It's best to water from the bottom up, keep the soil moist but not soggy, and keep the lights within inches of the upper most leaves.

Read your seed packets so that seeds planted together will share the same needs for moisture, heat, light and space.

Take good notes and any mistakes made the first time around will not be repeated.

Once you know exactly what you will be growing you should sit down and make the final plan for your gardening space. Pay close attention to specific requirements for each plant and check to see if certain ones would be happier together or far apart.

I know I promised a video but I will be much more careful in the future to not promise something that is not already in the making. The person I was to video today opted not to involve herself. Maybe another time.

This should get you started, and start you must if you are in the North. The season is short and any way you can extend it will help you get the most out of your crops.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dusting off the Organic Gardening Blog

I look at the date on my last post and I think, OMG, where did all that time go?

So now it's time to dust off this blog and get back to business.

It's spring in my neck of the woods, and that usually means being busier than a one armed wall paper hanger.

We've talked about it before, if you're an organic gardener you know that the gardening season really begins in the fall with lasagna style sheet composting and getting that organic matter into your gardening space for the spring, which is now.

Over the winter, while the weather outside was frightful we all curled up with our favorite hot drink and our seed catalogs, dreaming of warm spring days with the sound of song birds on the air and the scent of something sweet blooming nearby.

Now, while spring fights to get her foot in the door and ol' man winter struggles to keep hold just a little while longer, it is time to get the seed starting mix out, sort through all the seeds that have arrived on our doorstep and get to planting.

The biggest mistake made now is planning a garden too big for the time and energy we have to invest AND not having the right seed starting environment to get our plants off to a healthy start.

Seeds have a specific requirement for heat and light. If either of these requirements are not met, the whole process may never even get off the ground, let alone thrive.

Heat can be provided by heating the whole area where you are germinating seeds or you can simply heat the soil the seeds are planted in by providing a germination mat. Light needs to be a full spectrum bulb that is adjustable so that it can be kept within a few inches of the plant.

I have a video planned for tomorrow which I will post here that will show you an example of how simple a set-up you need and the small space that should accomodate you.

Until then,


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Many Uses of Garlic

From the earliest times garlic has been used as a food. Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating as far back as the time that the Egyptian pyramids were built. Here you can see that garlic can be used ornamentally as well

The leaves, stems(scape) and flowers(bulbils) on the head(spathe) are also edible and most often consumed while immature and still tender.

You can grow your own garlic and now is the time to get started. Garlic can be grown in spring as well, but to get the biggest and best bulbs the plant needs the winter time to set its' root system and begin to set its' bulb as well.

  1. Plant from October 1st through November 1st or anytime right after the first killing frost.
  2. Leave the outer skin on the bulbs and do not separate cloves from the bulbs until you are ready to plant.
  3. Plant cloves root end down, 4 to 6 inches apart in rows.
  4. Cover with 2 to 4 inches of soil. The best soil offers good drainage and ample organic matter. Be sure to prepare the area by working the soil with a garden fork and add some quality compost. Consider adding worm castings and some organic fertilizer that will supply balanced nutrients (e.g. 10-10-10). By applying the organic fertilizer in the fall the nutrients will be available in the spring when the garlic begins actively growing.
  5. Keep weeds under control. You can facilitate this by mulching with a quality mulching material. Garlic does not do well in competition with weeds.
  6. Once the growing season begins in the spring make sure the developing garlic has ample water while growing, but let the ground dry out a few weeks before harvest.
  7. Harvest when the tops start to die and fall over (usually in midsummer).
  8. When harvesting, shake the dirt off. Clip the roots and tops, leaving an inch of stem above the bulb, then place on screens to dry for four to six weeks. Obviously, if you want to do garlic braids such as those in the picture above, then you would want to leave the tops intact. If you can, find a screen to lay the garlic on which would allow the leaves to hang down straight.

Garlic is easy to grow and doesn't have a lot of problematic diseases or pests. As a matter of fact it is a great companion to grow to help protect the plants around it.

Organic gardeners know that diversity in the garden creates a healthy and beautiful environment. It's also believed that certain plants help enhance the growing environment for other plants. Garlic is one of these plants and is often paired up with roses, as garlic is said to ward off pests that attack roses.

Garlic is a great choice for fall planting.

Happy gardening, organically...

Mother Earth's Farm

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fall Is Perfect Time For Planting and Building Your Soil

Now that the gardening season has run its course, most gardeners are kicking back and thinking the end of summer means the end of the garden. But, if you have decided that you want to make a go of gardening organically you must know that fall is not the time to get lazy.

Fall is the best time for planting your trees, shrubs and perennials with the long winter months providing the down time needed for building a healthy root system. Plus, fall is the most important time to be working on improving your soil.

If you are serious about going organic then you have to get the nutrients into the soil that the chemicals would normally provide and add the organic matter that sets the stage for healthy root growth.

Fall's chore list can be long, but the benefits go way beyond much of what you do during the hot summer months or the cold wet days of spring. If you do your work in fall you have winter to do much of your work for you.

There are three things you should concentrate on adding to you soil this time of year:

  1. raw organic matter

  2. organic nutrients

  3. finished compost


Unless you live where your weather allows you to garden year around your garden will lay fallow through the winter months. If you do garden year around then you should be allowing a portion of your garden to lay fallow in order to build up the soil between plantings.

By adding raw organic matter to your soil you feed all the beneficial bacteria and fungi that live in your healthy soil. These beneficials are a big part of your success in your organic garden. These beneficial organisms will need nitrogen to do their work and would benefit from an addition of a nitrogen source to help them function properly. A good source of natural nitrogen comes from animal manure. Fall is a great time to add manure to your soil. You don't have to worry about the manure burning anything as "O'man Winter" takes care of everything. See my post on animal manures titled "The Scoop on Poop" posted on 5/15/07 for valuable information on manures. If you don't have a ready supply of any type of manure available you can use granular organic fertilizer. This is a good one to choose:

All-Purpose Fertilizer, 25 Lbs.

Shredded leaves are at the top of the list for good additions to the soil in fall. It's the time of year when leaves are readily available and they break down to provide valuable humus. Use a shredder if you have one or mow over them with your lawnmower to break them up.


Nutrients from an organic source are not immediately available as with chemicals. This is why you need to add them to your soil in the fall, so the nutrients will be available next spring. Again, you are feeding the beneficial organisms with each addition to your soil. Kelp meal, greensand, soft rock phosphate, alfalfa meal, feather meal or bone meal are all good sources of organic nutrients. Many of these are also an excellent nitrogen source. Follow the instructions on the package for application rates. Sometimes a little will go a long way and more is not always better. It's all about balance of nutrients.

It's a good idea to do a soil test to determine the pH of your soil. Fall is a good time to adjust the pH so it happens slowly over time. If your pH is not in optimum levels for the plants you want to grow then it won't matter that the nutrients are there, the plant cannot utilize them.


If your compost bin, be it conventional or a worm bin, is not producing a large amount of quality, finished compost it is worth purchasing what you need to supplement it. Also, understand that your worm compost is different from conventional compost. A quality worm compost has a wide variety of beneficial organisms that will compliment the soil food web you support with your soil ammendments.

Purchasing a truckload of quality compost might seem like over-kill. But do it once and you'll never go through another fall without it. Store it on a large tarp to keep the area neat and keep it covered to keep it from getting soggy in the fall rains. The tubtrug is a great garden helper when it comes to getting compost where you need it. With it's bright colors it's easy to spot no matter where you leave it.

Colorful Tubtrug

As you remove the garden debris from your beds use a garden fork to work up the top soil down about 6" and work in a 3"-4" layer of compost.

Flower beds also need compost. As you cut back your perennials in preparation for winter work compost into the soil around the root zone. As you remove your annuals and plant new bulbs add compost as you work.

And as you plant your trees and shrubs, a few shovels full of compost added to the soil that goes back into the hole is a good idea.


By building your soil you are arming it with what it needs to help retain water, support healthy root systems, and help your plants fend off disease and pests. Building better soil is the single most important thing you can do to help guarantee success in your garden.

So get out of that hammock and off the patio and get to work on next years garden.


Mother Earth's Farm / VermiCulture Northwest

Worm Factory

The cleanest, most efficient way to compost with worms.