Home Gardening Questions for Beginners

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Home Gardening Questions for Beginners

Here are some home gardening questions for beginners.  Starting a garden is simple and can be a little or lots of work depending on your desire.

How do I choose a garden site with the most available sun? As a County Agent I was called out to a location where the gardener was having a problem with her tomatoes not producing fruit. When talking to her on the phone she told me the tomato plants were in full sun. When I arrive at the location, to my surprise the tomato plants were surrounded by tall trees. The scrawny tomato plants were in full sun, but unfortunately only for about 15 minutes a day. When vegetable seed packets indicate likes full sun (tomatoes, peppers, peas, beets, cucumbers, and pumpkins) it means the sun hits the plants for at least 6 hours each day. I would recommend at least 8 hours to be producing the most vegetables. Morning sun is the best time because it dries the plants off earlier in the day to help prevent disease problems. If you do not have full sun make sure you choose vegetables that do not require full sun (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, or Swiss chard).

What size should my garden be? My second year garden was not as successful as my first and that is because the garden got too large. You will be more successful if you start out with a smaller size, I recommend 4 by 4 feet. Yes — 4 by 4 feet. When a small garden is properly managed you can produce more food than if you tackle a large garden and here is why. You can get more production out of a small garden by intercropping which is planning vegetables that mature early in with later maturing vegetables. An example would be radishes planted between the tomatoes plants. The radishes are finished before the tomatoes grow together. No rows also will help cut down on wasted space. The old method of planting in rows allows a place for weeds to grow. My second garden was 100 x 100 feet and by the end of the growing season it served as a hide-and-go-seek spot as a result of the 5 foot tall pig weeds that had over taken my garden. By planting vegetables close together to crowd out weeds you can produce plenty of wholesome vegetables for your family in a small space.

How do I choose the best garden soil? The biggest reason for my success as a beginning gardener was soil! The former chicken yard that I started with was full of well decomposed chicken manure. The soil had the perfect balance of soil pH (soil acidity), the nutrients N, P, and K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), micro nutriments, and organic matter. If you do not have access to an old chicken yard, go to your local garden store and purchase bags of soil. You might not want to spend the money on bags of dirt! But believe me this is the best insurance policy you have to being successful as a beginning gardener. I have taken college classes on soils and there is more that goes into the bag than dirt. The properly prepared bagged soil will be tested with less weed seeds to contend with later in the growing season. Don’t be cheat yourself; buy the bagged soil. For additional home Gardening questions for beginners check out The Home and Garden Information Center.

How do I choose the best garden location? My first garden was in the back yard where I played every day. The site or location was critical for the success of my first garden. Make certain the garden is close to a door that you use a lot. I moved to a new house and consistently lost the plants in the front pots due to lack of water. After several years of failure I moved the pots to the end of the garage where I would walk by every day. Moving the pots 25 feet made the care for the plant successful. Some of you may be involved with community gardens. This takes extra effort to go to another location to care for your garden. It works well when you set a regularly scheduled time on the calendar so the weeds do not get ahead of the vegetables if you can’t garden outside your door.

Home Gardening Questions for Beginners

If you want to get started with a successful garden this year you will need to find a location with at least 6 hours of sun to give you the opportunity to raise sun loving vegetables. Remember to start with a small garden. A 4 by 4 foot gardens can provide lots of vegetables for the family if you use intercropping and no row planting methods. For the beginners, it is my recommendation that you purchase bagged soil at your garden center. The soil is well balanced, with the correct nutrients and adequate organic matter plus the weed problem will be decreased. Having your garden in a location that you will walk by on a regular basis will result in greater gardening success. If you would like to get started gardening but do not know where to begin make sure you check out this website dedicated to http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/.

Richard Godke is a lifelong gardener since age 8. He studied agriculture and taught high school horticulture. He spent almost 20 years working as a County Extension Agent in three states where he educated farmers, home owners, and youth in the areas of production agriculture and home horticulture. Godke has trained adult Master Gardeners and school-age 4-H members in every aspect of gardening, as well as establishing community gardens. He has introduced two daylily varieties with the American Hermerocallis Society and has served as a national certified national daylily exhibition judge. Godke has started http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/ dedicated to answering questions and assisting people in starting home gardens.

By Richard Godke

Bucket Garden Idea

Bucket Garden Ideas

 

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Bucket Garden Ideas

By Richard Godke

Bucket garden ideas is the answer for you if you have a small space, little time, and a limited budget.  This is an ideal solution for people that are away from home for days at a time.  The bucket garden idea video includes easy instructions on how to build and maintain and expandable self watering system.

Worm Farms for Beginning Gardeners

By Richard Godke

Worm Farms for Beginning Gardeners provides a quick and easy instructional video on how to start a worm farm for beginning gardeners. Why Raise Worms? You can turn food waste into an Eco-friendly, economical, organic fertilizer. The worm castings are superior over traditional compost because it includes living organisms like microbes, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans. This is what keeps garden soil alive so plants can thrive.

Worm Farms for Beginning Gardeners – Step By Step

1. Drill 125 ?-inch holes in top.
2. Fill tote halfway with torn cardboard and paper.
3. Add 1 cup of starter garden soil or compost from another worm farm.
4. Add about 1 gallon of water or enough to bring to about 60 to 90% moisture.
5. Let bedding rest for 3 to 5 days, undisturbed.
6. Place the tote in a location, out of the sun, with a consistent temperature,
between 59-86°F (15-30°C). The ideal temp is 77° F (25° C)
7. Add 1000 Red Wiggler worms covered by several thin layers of bedding.
8. Add new food waste covered by several thin layers of bedding.
9. Check the temperature and replenish worm food, bedding, and water
weekly.
10. Harvest the worm castings and apply to soil. Start a new worm group.

Starting Seeds for Dummies – Beginners

By:  Richard Godke

Starting seeds for dummies can be easy, cost-effective, and fun for the whole family. As a gardener you are no longer held hostage by the plant suppliers. Starting seeds at home allows you to choose the vegetables and varieties you prefer, including heirloom and non-genetically modified organisms (GMO) varieties. By starting plants indoors you can get production up to a month earlier than planting seeds directly in the garden. Planting indoors also gives the seedlings protection against the cold, lack of moisture, and pests. My past failures with starting seeds at home have led to a surefire system that allows the beginner to be successful. My starting seeds for dummies system will cover what and when to plant, proper temperatures, correct lighting, choosing the soil and container, fertilizer, watering, and hardening off the plants. Remember, always read and follow the package information. I have also included a list of materials needed, and a step-by-step procedure to help you get started.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: What and When to Plant

If you’re just learning how to start plants indoors I recommend the following cool season vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. They need to be started about seven weeks before the final frost free date in your area.  My recommendations for warm season vegetables include: tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. This group needs to be started about six weeks before the last frost free date in your area. Here is a great website that will help you decide when to plant different crops in your area: http://allthingsplants.com/apps/calendar/.

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Figure 2. Starting seeds for dummies suggests only use a seedling heat mat only during germination. Photo from http://tscpl.org/home/growing-plants-under-artificial-lights.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Required Environmental Temperatures

Every plant has a preferred germination and growing temperature. For more details on individual vegetables check out http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetable/temperature.html. The serious gardener uses a seedling heat mat that will keep the seeds a constant temperature (see figure 2). The heat mat along with a cover to hold in moisture will result in quicker and more uniform germination with less chance of diseases.  If one does not want to spend the money, find the warmest spot you have in the house. The top of the refrigerator is sometimes a good spot. Here are some general germinating temperatures I use. Tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants sprout best at temperatures between 80 to 85°F (27 to 29°C). Broccoli, cabbage, collards kale, cauliflower and kohlrabi are best germinated between 75 to 80°F (24 to 27°C). After germination, quickly move the seeds to a brightly lit area that is 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). Make sure to remove the plastic cover as soon as the plants start to germinate. This allows the plants get plenty of air movement in keeps the surface dry.

 

Figure 3. Lighting system at the proper height above seedlings. Photo by http://www.whatscookingwithruthie.com/2012/04/30/how-our-garden-grows-week-2/

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Critical Lighting Requirements

Light is the most critical factor that affects starting seedlings indoors.  A south facing window with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight will provide the minimum amount of light needed. I recommend an additional 12 to 16 hours of artificial fluorescent light. An outlet timer will help you manage the on and off cycle of the artificial light. It is critical to keep the lights 1 to 2 inches above the plants. A simple fluorescent shop light (4-footers with two 40-watt bulbs) works great (see figure 3). Light-emitting diode ( LED) lighting is another option for plants that cost about 50% more for the purchase and costs about 60% less to operate.  The big advantage of the LED light units is that with the proper controller you can adjust the color range that the specific plants best preform in. Be aware that the lights will cause the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to dry out quickly. A lack of light results in a tall skinny plant that is very susceptible to dampening off disease.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Soil Media and Containers

My starting seeds for dummies system uses Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets instead of soil.  This compressed sphagnum peat moss held together in a find net bag help prevent soil disease problems. When water is applied to these pellets they swell to little bundles that the roots love to grow in. Watch how they expand when exposed to warm water http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UNNR_gcKzo&feature=youtu.be  . The seedlings can be planted directly into the garden, and the seedlings take off quickly because the roots are not disturbed. Make sure you start the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets in a container big enough to allow them to expand. The containers should also allow for easy watering from the bottom. If you choose to reuse containers, rinse items in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and ten parts water. Let them dry before filling with soil.

My second choice for soil and containers are complete commercial growing kits. These kits include: properly mixed and sterilized soil, plastic growing cells, clear dome cover, and instructions. Some even include the seeds. These kits are more expensive, but the consistent results are worth the money.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Required Fertilization

The Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets contain very small amounts of fertilizer. I recommend using a complete water-soluble fertilizer like (J. R. Petters inc. All Purpose 20-20-20 Water Soluble Fertilizer, or Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food 18-18-21). After the first true leaves appear on the seedlings, apply the first dose of fertilizer solution. Use only one-half the recommended label rate for the first application. The fertilizer solution should be applied until the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets will not absorb any more solution. Too much fertilizer will cause the plant to be tall, spindly and susceptible to dampening off disease. Use the fertilizer manufacturers’ label recommended rate; usually 1 tablespoon per gallon. Water with fertilizer every two weeks until the plants are set outdoors.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Important Watering Suggestions

Only water the soil from the bottom of the growing media. Watering from the top encourages the dreaded dampening off disease. The environmental conditions in your home will determine how much and how often you will need to water your seedlings. Try to let the plants get as dry as possible without letting the plants wilt. Add a small amount of water in the base of the container until the media no longer absorbs water. You will soon be able to determine how often and how much your seedlings need to be watered. It is better to keep them to dry, than to keep them to wet.  For more information about raising plants without soil, check out: Easy Hydroponics for Beginners.

Hardening off plants is the process of acclimating your seedlings to the harsh outdoor environment. This process should be started two weeks before planting outdoors. When the temperature is about 45°F or 7°C., the plants should be set outside in a protected area for two hours each day. Gradually increase the length of time the plants are exposed to the outdoor elements of direct sun, cool temperatures, and drying winds. This is a very important step that will prevent the plants from going into shock when they’re transplanted.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Materials

Waterproof container that can be watered from the bottom, with plastic cover to hold in humidity.

12 compressed Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets

1 South facing window with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight and/or 1 fluorescent shop light

1 outlet timer

1 thermometer

1 4 cup measuring cup

12 labels

1 marking pen

1 packet of seeds

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Planting the Seeds

Figure 4. Starting seeds for dummies with health tomato seedling.
  1. Select a waterproof container large enough to hold Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets when they have fully swollen. The container needs to be small enough so the fully expanded pellets do not tip over when moved.
  2. Select and make labels for the seeds that you will be planting.
  3. Place Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets with the open side up. The container must allow the pellets to be watered from the bottom.
  4. One hour before planting, wet the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to a point where they will not absorb any more water.
  5. With a pencil make three or four holes in the top of each Jiffy-7 plant starter pellet that is about 2 to 3 times the size of the seed.
  6. Put 3 or 4 seeds in each pellet.
  7. Cover the seeds by pushing down the top of the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets.
  8. Put your plastic dome over the tray holding the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to keep them from drying out.
  9. Place the trays in a warm spot in the house or a seedling mat. Do not place covered containers in direct sunlight.
  10. Remove the plastic dome when the seeds start to sprout.
  11. Move seedling trays to a South facing window that gets 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight or move under a fluorescent lights for16 to 20 hours a day.  Light should be placed 2 to 4 inches above the plants. Maintain night temperatures of 60-65°F (15-18°C); Daytime temperatures should be about 10°F higher.
  12. A fan blowing over the seedlings will help them adjust to the outdoors. Harden off the plants
  13. Thin to one plant per Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets by snipping the extra sprouts off with a pair of scissors. Do not pull them out by the roots.
  14. If the plants get too large. they can be moved into larger individual pots.
  15. . Water from the bottom as needed. Allow drying periods between each watering.
  16. Fertilize seedlings every two weeks as recommended above.
  17. Begin to harden off seedlings two weeks before moving the plants outdoors.

You can now easily start seeds at home with my starting seeds for dummies system. You are in control of the varieties and planting times. Here is a very good video from the National Gardening Association that gives you additional ideas for starting seeds at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FGH3MBZ21M&feature=youtu.be. By using the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets you have a reliable, low cost growing media. The seedlings can be planted directly in the garden without disturbing the soil ball. Light is the most important factor in starting seeds at home. Allow direct light for 16 hours per day with the lights being 2 to 4 inches above the plants. Biweekly fertilization will result in stocky, dark green plants that are disease resistant. Two weeks before transplanting outside you will need to harden off your plants. Slowly introduce your tender seedlings to the harsh outdoor environment over that two-week period. This will prevent plant shock that slows the plant’s growth. My starting seeds for dummies system will allow you to reliably produce healthy vigorous plants for your garden at a reasonable cost.

Resource List

“Starting Seeds Indoors”, Publication HO-14-W, Reviewed 4/2001, Michael N. Dana and B. Rosie Lerner Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

“Starting Plants Indoors From Seeds”, Publication G6570, Revised 6/2010, David H. Trinklein, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri Extension.

“Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors” Fact sheet FS787, Published 3/1995, Peter J. Nitzsche, Morris County Agricultural Agent & Stephen Reiners, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Vegetable Crops, Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension

Indoor Gardening Tips for Raising Herbs

By Richard Godke

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Photo by: Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Extension

Make your home more beautiful, meals more flavorful and improve your home environment by raising your own herbs with these indoor gardening tips. Raising your own herbs is easy, fun and can yield tasty rewards. Picking fresh herbs in your kitchen for cooking can lead to a sense of accomplishment. Use the winter months as a great time to experiment with raising herbs.  I will share some simple tips to help make your indoor herb garden a big success.  The most important topics include: selecting herbs, soil, planting containers and controlling the light, water, and, environment.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Selecting Herb Plants

The beginner’s list of herbs that grow well indoors includes: chives, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, and tarragon.  Avoid sun loving herbs such as: basil, coriander (cilantro), dill, lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  Here is a great website that will give you some ideas and help you get started http://www.gardenista.com/posts/urban-gardening-diy-shade-tolerant-windowsill-herbs-to-grow-in-your-apartment. Purchase the herb plants from a local garden store or nursery. Experienced gardeners may want to consider starting your herbs from seeds.  It takes more time and your success rate will not be as high as purchasing established plants. As winter approaches, transplant the herbs into individual pots. Move these plants to a partially shaded location outside for several weeks.  This will adjust the plants to the decreased amount of sunlight that they will encounter inside for the winter. Then you can move the herbs growing inside your house during winter to your outside garden in the spring.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing the Soil for Herbs

Beginners should always start with commercially prepared potting soil.  These soils have all the correct nutrients, organic matter, and adjustments for the proper pH.  In most cases potting soil will have a higher concentration of organic matter which causes it to be a lighter soil with less chance of compaction.  The downside to this porous potting soil is it tends to dry out more quickly.  Soils with a high amount of organic matter provide an ideal environment for microorganism activity. This activity provides a slow usable release rate of required plant nutrition.  This great indoor gardening tip came from a greenhouse operator — these light potting soil mixes should always be pressed firmly into the containers.  Pressing the mix tightly will aid in water retention and stimulate root growth.  I recommend using a layer of fabric (old t-shirt or towel) in the bottom of the planting container.  This holds in the soil and allows water to wick up into the pot from the bottom.  I like this method better than using stones in the bottom of the pot. If you choose to make your own potting soil, use sterilized materials, and at least one-third of the mix should be organic matter (peat moss or compost).  Herbs grow relatively slowly indoors during the winter. Fertilizer should be used sparingly.  If your herbs do not have a deep green appearance apply a liquid fertilizer using 50% the recommended rate on the label.  If the plant then shows a deeper green color, continue the applications at the half rate.  It is always better to under fertilize plants that are being grown indoors.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing Herb Growing Containers

Containers for growing herbs can be as simple as a cut down two-liter bottle, an exquisite handcrafted art pottery, or a commercial plastic pot.  University research has shown that plants benefit from being re-potted. Begin with a smaller pot working up to larger pots as the plant roots grown to fill the container.  I experimented by planting seeds in a very large pot.  Then I planted seeds in a small pot and the plants were transplanted into a series of larger pots.  The results showed that re-potted plants grew faster and more vigorously than the seeds that were planted in a large pot and not transplanted.  So to increase the production of your indoor herb garden plants increase the pot size as the plant roots circle around the edge the pot. Containers with more soil have a larger margin of error when it comes to watering.  Most containers will function as long as they’re clean and have drainage hole(s) in the bottom.  I’ve not found a lot of functional differences between plastic, terra-cotta, wood, metal, or fiberglass containers. In most cases your choice of container will depend on your individual preferences.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing Light Sources for Herbs

Light is the herb’s best friend! Most herbs love lots of high quality direct sunlight.  A minimum of 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily should be the goal to raise herbs indoors.  Less light may keep the plants alive but the plants will not thrive.  A south facing window will provide the best light with west and or east being your next best choices.  My indoor gardening tips include: maximizing production by grow growing herbs in a south window with the addition of artificial light.  Two practical choices of grow lights are fluorescent or high-intensity discharge (HID).  The light can be a fluorescent shop light that is positioned within an inch or two of the growing plants for up to 16 hours a day.  I have experimented with artificial lights at different distances from the plants.  My results show that the lights that are 2 inches away from the plants will quadruple the growth, compared to lights that are 2 feet away from the plants.  Fluorescent lights or specific grow lights are highly recommended over incandescent light bulbs.  Old style light bulbs are not as efficient and will produce more heat, which tends to dry out the soil quickly.  If your plant has long spaces between leaf nodes and is tall and lanky, your plant is not getting enough light.  Tall is not always better.  Learn how to build a low-cost, simple to make, artificial lighting system for your indoor herb garden at this website http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy5fzPlsXK0.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Proper Watering of Herbs

Over watering is the biggest mistake made by beginning indoor herb gardeners.  Place your herbs in a location that you will visit on a regular basis (example kitchen window). If you see the herbs many times a day, you can keep a close watch on the soil’s moisture level.  The best way to determine the moisture level of the soil is to stick your finger into the pot about half an inch.  If you can feel the moisture the plant can go another day without being watered.  After repeated daily moisture samplings you will be able to estimate how often the plant needs to be watered.  In most cases a heavy watering once a week will provide enough moisture for your plant.  My indoor gardening tips include: checking the soil’s moisture level often and watering your plants from the bottom.  To water from the bottom, put the pot on a saucer or water reservoir tray designed specifically for potted plants.  Adding water to the saucer or tray allows the plant to wick up the water into the soil.  Remember, most herbs prefer to be on the dry side rather than the wet side.  If your plant turns yellow, you are watering your plant too much.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Proper Environmental Conditions for Herbs

When raising herbs indoors it is important to consider temperature, air movement, pests, and humidity.  Most herb plants prefer a temperature in the 70°- 80° F. range.  A quick temperature change may be detrimental to the plant when moving it in or out of the home.  If the plant is outdoors and the temperatures have cooled off, moving the plant back into a warm interior temperature may cause the plant to go into shock.  I have seen the leaves completely fall off of plants after being moved into a warm home.  It is important not to have your plants sitting near air ducts or doors.  The direct contact with extreme temperature and moisture changes may kill the plants.  My indoor gardening tips include: examining your plants on a weekly basis for pests.  If possible remove bugs by hand or use an insecticidal soapy spray at the first sign of any insect problems.  Most heated winter homes have a very low humidity level.  Having potted plants in this environment will help add moisture to the air.  Be aware when the artificial heat is on in your home, it will be using up moisture that is stored in your plant’s soil.  So additional water will be needed by your plants during these periods.

 

I hope my herb indoor gardening tips have helped you discover how simple and easy can be to grow herbs.  With a small amount of time and money you will have quick access to herbs that will add some new flavors to your cooking.  The beautiful green plants growing in your home helps to bring nature indoors.  This touch of nature also helps increase the amount of humidity in your home’s dry winter air. Plants help clean the air, and the photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. You can be successful growing herbs by remembering these herb indoor gardening tips: select the correct herbs to plant, purchase high-quality potting soil, and select a container that can be well drained.  Light is important and you must provide a minimum of 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight or substitute with 16 hours of fluorescent light daily.  Indoor herb gardeners must be aware of the plant’s total environment including: temperature, drafts and air movement, pests, and indoor humidity.  You can easily enjoy growing herbs indoors and add flavor to your cooking by growing flavorful herbs in your own home.

You can learn more about gardening at:General Web Directory

Fall Garden Soil Preparation Tips

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Fall Garden Soil Prep Tips

By Richard Godke

Fall is the best time to prepare your garden soil for next spring.  Soil is the most important factor in raising a successful garden.  There are five basic fall soil preparation components that you will need to explore to maximize soil fertility.  These components are: soil pH; soil structure; and the levels of  phosphorus and potassium, secondary and micro nutrients, and nitrogen.  New gardeners will not want to mess with soil preparation.  Purchasing bagged garden soil is simple and easy.  The bagged soil has been tested, nutrients added, and is properly mixed to give you what you need to get started.  I would recommend checking out http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/featured/bag-gardening-for-home-vegetables/ which explains a great way to easily grow vegetables right in the soil bags.

Fall Vegetable Garden Soil Test

Fall is the best time to annually test your soil so you can adjust the pH, phosphorus, and potassium.  Check with your County Extension Office http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm for places to have your soil tested.  Many Extension Office test soil samples for pH levels for free.  Most offices can send samples to their affiliated university for pH, phosphorus, potassium and other tests for a fee.  This office recommends soil additives and application rates to correct any problems specific to your soil samples and soil in your area.   To take a soil sample get an equal slice of soil at least 8” deep for every 100 square feet.  Keep surface debris out of the sample.  Place the samples in a bucket with up to five other spade slices., mix all samples together well, and take about two cups out for each sample.  Record on the sample label your name, date and sample number.  Make a diagram map that shows where the sample came from.  Let the samples air dry to prevent soil fertility changes.  You can purchase a home test kit and meters that you can test for pH, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).  I have not had very consistent results from these home tests.

Fall Garden Tips for pH

The pH is the most important single soil component.  pH is the scale is from 1 to 14 that measures the levels of acid or alkaline in the soil.  Most garden plants prefer the pH between 5.5 and 6.5.  Lime is used to raise the pH and sulfur is commonly used to lower the pH.  If the pH is too high or low it can tie up many needed plant nutrients.  It is important to make the recommended additions in the fall before deep tilling.  The soil pH is not mobile in the soil.  For example, if limestone is applied to the surface without tilling, pH will be very alkaline on the surface and very acid deep in the soil.  It takes time for the additives to change the pH of the soil so it is ideal to apply lime or sulfur in the fall.  The smaller the lime is ground up the quicker it will change the pH.  Soil pH is the most important component when preparing you fall garden and will correct most deficiencies of micronutrients.

Phosphorus and Potassium Suggestions for Fall Garden

Phosphorus and potassium are two macro-nutrients that are needed by plants in relatively large quantities.  A fall soil test is the best way to determine the level of these two elements.  These elements are not very mobile in the soil like the pH additives.  They need to be tilled into the soil at a depth of 8”.  Your Extension office can recommend the amounts of phosphorus P?O? and potassium K?O for you soil types.  Phosphorus deficiency results in slow growth and older leaves turn purple.  Potassium deficiency results in slow growth and leaf edges turn light green to yellow.  Fertilizer labels have 3 numbers, the N-P-K formula, for example: 10-5-15. These numbers represent 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 15% potassium per bag. The remaining 70% consists of fillers.

Fall Garden Soil Structure Information

Soil structure refers mainly to the size of soil particles.  Soil has three size categories: clay –small, silt-medium, and sand-large.  Which is best?  Each size has advantages and disadvantages.    Clay for example will hold nutrients and moisture but it is so dense the plant has a hard time sending roots through the tight mass.  Sand has plenty of air pockets for the plant roots but does not hold nutrients, and the soil dries out quickly putting plants at a disadvantage when it is dry.  A combination of different sizes is the best.  Adding organic material to any of these soils is what I recommend.  Compost, coconut coir, large animal well-rotted manures and peat moss will provide needed plant nutrients, hold water and allow good air movement in the soil.  I had a garden with some of the best soil in the world that was 6 feet of top soil and I still had a big increase in yields as a result of adding compost.  Adding organic materials to your fall garden will help correct any problems you soil structure might be causing.

Fall Garden Plan for Secondary and Micro Nutrients

Secondary nutrients include: calcium, magnesium, sodium, and sulfur.  They are required in small quantities but are still essential for good plant growth.  Plant micronutrients are elements needed in even small amounts than the secondary groups for the plant to thrive.  They include manganese, boron, copper, iron, chlorine, molybdenum, and zinc.  Soils with high amounts of organic material and have a soil pH between 6 and 7 tend to have adequate amounts of these elements.  In most cases testing for micronutrients is not needed unless the plants are not productive.  To insure you have enough organic material spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or partially decomposed manure per 100 square feet.

Nitrogen Advice for Fall Garden

Testing for nitrogen is not recommended.  Nitrogen is very mobile in the soil.  Excessive snow melt, rain and irrigation can move the available forms of nitrogen below the root zone.  For the most eco-friendly application of nitrogen, fertilize in small amounts and increase amounts when the plant is rapidly growing.  For example a corn plant uses the largest percent of total nitrogen between being knee high and tasseling.  Here is a good video on “Planting a Vegetable Garden for Spring” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNOe0UogfY0&feature=youtu.be.  My rule of thumb is to fertilize with nitrogen when the plant loses its deep green color and the growth slows.  Too much nitrogen will cause green plant growth and suppress fruit formation.  Adding too much fertilizer is a problem many beginning gardeners make

Fall is an excellent time to prepare your garden for next spring.  Soil preparation requires soil testing and an adjustment period for the soil.  If pH additives and additional phosphorus and potassium are needed it all must be incorporated 8” deep to maximize the results.  Tilled in compost or animal manure in the fall helps build beneficial soil organisms (bacteria, fungi, and worms) during the winter months.  Here is some excellent information on “Fertilizing the Organic Garden” http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000489_Rep511.pdf.  By understanding and preparing the soil you will maximize the production of your spring garden.  Many gardeners wait until a later convenient time and that results in this gardening task not getting done.  Start your spring garden with the proper fall garden soil preparation.

 

Worm Facts for Beginning Gardeners

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Worm Facts for Beginning Gardeners

By Richard Godke

Fall is a great time to start a simple family worm farm (vermicomposting) under your kitchen sink or cabinet. Trust me this will not stink up the house. Watch nature take food waste and turn it in to an ecofriendly, economic, organic fertilizer for your garden. Children love to see the transformation of food scraps to soil. Beginner gardeners can be very successful raising worms by understanding some basic worm facts dealing with; housing, bedding, and feeding. This natural recycling process depends on a balance of: water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and live organisms. Check out this video if you want to learn the truly scientific worm facts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFGQR5ERaPQ. It is so easy to take kitchen scraps and turn it into organic fertilizers by following my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started”.

1. Worm Facts – Red Wrigglers (Eisenia fetida/Andrei) perform well in a confined space.

Red Wrigglers love to spend their time close to the surface and only burrow down 12 inches. They are organic surface feeders that quickly reproduce and convert organic waste into nutrient rich organic soil. They tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, eat up to 1 ½ times their own body weight a day and produce worm castings (poop) as much as 75% of their own body weight. You can purchase Red Wrigglers on the web or you may be able to purchase from a bait shop. Beginners should always start with at least 100 Red Wriggler worms.

2. Worm Facts – Worms need housing that is dark, quiet, and has a consistent temperature.

A non-opaque Rubbermaid® tub or tote makes a great home for your worm farm. This video shows you how to build a worm farm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX_JDkiwhOc&feature=youtu.be. A comfortable worm eats faster and converts more waste into worm castings (poop). Keep the box out of the direct sun. Sunlight could kill the worms since they love darkness. Worms like the same temperature as humans who are between 59-86° F or (15-30 °C) and 77° F (25° C) is ideal. Worms like it quiet. They do not like vibration and being moved around. Beginners should always keep the worm farm in a dark, quiet location, with a consistent temperature around 77° F (25° C).

3. Worm Facts – Worms need bedding high in carbon.

Corrugated cardboard and shredded fluffed up newspaper is very high in carbon. You can never have too much high carbon bedding. The worms will eventually eat the bedding because it is an organic carbon. High carbon bedding causes many beginners startup problems. I recommend laying a sheet of corrugated cardboard in the bottom of the tub to help absorb any execs water. Worms love to burrow in the tunnels. Red worms multiply quickly in this cardboard. Do not use bleached office paper, garden soil, potting soil, fresh green grass or paper board. Paper board is the single layer cardboard with a slick coating. Beginners should always use plenty of corrugated cardboard and shredded fluffed up newspaper as the worm farm bedding.

4. Worm Facts – Worms like to eat organic matter including fruits and vegetables.

Worms love to eat all kinds of organic matter: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and garden waste. Before feeding: age, chop, cook, or freeze the worm feed to help start the structural breakdown of the materials. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans help to break down the worm feed. This speeds up the composting process. The amount you feed depends on how much the worms are eating. Inoculating the worm farm with decomposed worm castings from another farm will help jump start your worm farm. It is recommended that you feed the system with finely crushed egg shells to enhance the worm’s digestive system. Beginners should use only food items the worms like to eat.

5. Worm Facts – Worms do not like certain foods.

Worms do not like onions, peppers, citrus fruits, bones, oils, meat, dairy products, grease, fresh lawn grass, paper board, animal manures and urine, and foods high in protein, spices, and salt. Beginners should avoid using these items that worms do not like to eat.

6. Worm Facts – Worms easily die from too much ammonia gas.

Ammonia gas is produced in a worm farm when the carbon to nitrogen ratio is above 20:1. Bedding items that are high in carbon that I have not mentioned earlier include: paper egg cartons, peat moss, coco coir, toilet paper rolls, shredded brown paper, sawdust, wood chips, shavings, leaf mold, rotten straw or hay, coarse compost, and well-aged manure. The nitrogen source comes mainly from what the worms are fed in addition to the ideal food items already mentioned that should be used sparingly and should only be used by experienced worm farmers: fresh grass clippings, and large animal manures. Worms will survive better with excessive bedding rather than too much high nitrogen feed. Off-gassing of ammonia is a quick worm killer. Beginners should remember not to introduce to much nitrogen to your worm farm.

7. Worm Facts – Worms are sensitive to chemicals.

Worms are covered in slim that make it easy for deadly chemicals to enter their body. Introducing feed or bedding that has been exposed to chemical pesticide or disinfectants is a mistake some new worm farmers make. If you use chemicals in the garden or on your lawn make sure you do not introduce these chemical to your worms. Household cleaners should be used with caution around your worm farm. If you encounter insects do not spray with a bug killer. Using organic mechanical controls are much safer. Feed management, vinegar traps, and vacuum sweeper management can eliminated the problem over a period of time. Beginners should not use chemical around the worm farm.

8. Worm Facts – Worms perform best in bedding with a 60-90% moisture level.

Worms are made up of mostly water and they need water to facilitate gas exchange (breathing). Simply take a handful of bedding and give it a squeeze it to determine the moisture level. If water drips out it is too wet. Another way to describe the moisture level of the bedding, “it should feel like a well rung out sponge”. Too much water cuts down on the amount of airspace in the bedding. This results in anaerobic fermentation and creates ammonia gas and other chemical imbalances. Beginners should keep the worm farm moisture level between 60-90%.

9. Worm Facts – Worm need good ventilation.

Worms are tolerant of low oxygen levels. It still is important to provide plenty of ventilation for your worm farm. A rotten or sour smell indicates that more carbon based bedding and aeration is needed. Placing small holes on the top and high in the sides of the container will provide oxygen and ventilation venting away unwanted gasses like ammonia. Make sure the holes are small, about 1/8 inch, to limit light and so the worms do not sneak out. Some worm farmers like to use fabric covers over the worms. This allows for more air and moisture circulation but still keeps it dark. It is always a balancing act trying to keep the ideal moisture and adequate ventilation levels. Beginning gardeners should keep the worm farm well ventilated to prevent gas build up.

10. Worm Facts – Worm production must be thought of as a total ecosystem.

The worm farm concept is very simple. By understanding my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started” you can solve most worm farming problems. If you do encounter additional problems you can revisit the natural ecosystem of water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and living organisms. Beginners should keep the ecosystem balanced while solving the problem.

Worm composting is a perfect project for beginning vegetable gardeners. Know your worm facts and use the nature ecosystem to change food waste to an ecofriendly, economic, organic fertilizer for your garden. You can easily get started with very little investment by understanding how to deal with the main worm management categories of: worms, housing, bedding, and feeding. The natural ecosystem process makes a great educational study of the balance of: water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and live organisms. To learn more about vermicomposting check out this great website http://www.redwormcomposting.com/. Bring your garden inside this fall. Start out easy if you follow my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started”.

 

 

How to Compost Fall Leaves?

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How to Compost Leaves

By Richard Godke

“What do I do with all those leaves?”  Look at the beautiful fall leaves that pile up as future plant food.  People have been asking how to compost fall leaves.  Composting is a great way for beginner home gardeners to prepare for next year’s garden, save money, and help the environment.  Garden soil is the most important factor in the success of a garden.  Compost loosens the soil, provides slow release of nutrients, aids in soil drainage and aeration, and allows great water retention – saving on the water that you use.  Composting fall leaves is easy if you understand the science behind the process.  Rather than sending your leaves to the landfill consider composting them using these easy steps.
The composting process takes organic materials (previously alive things) and breaks them down into basic nutrient components that are easily absorbed by plants.  How to Compost Autumn Leaves is a great video to help you understand the basis.  Composting requires needs these components in the correct proportions to quickly complete the process: moisture, heat, composting organisms, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.  Nature does it all the time without the help of humans.  Proper management of the compost can greatly speed the process. You can produce leaf compost more quickly by looking for these four basic indicators in your compost pile: 1. temperature, 2. moisture, 3. odor, and 4. fluffiness (available air pockets).  Take the temperature with a thermometer.  Within days of building your compost pile the temp should rise until it reaches between 104-150°F (40-65°C).  Measure the moisture level, by squeezing a handful of compost, if water drips out it is too wet.  Too much water takes up the space needed by oxygen that feeds the aerobic bacteria.  A highly efficient compost pile should first smell like the materials the being composted – grass, leaves, or straw for example.  Later in the composting process it will smell like garden dirt or a fresh rain.  If the compost pile smells sour or rotten the materials are too wet or lacking more carbon-based material.  Knowing how to Compost fall leaves can quickly turn litter into black gold or compost.  Here are my 6 ways for a speedy leaf composting adventure.

How to compost using full sun

The quicker the sun heats up the compost pile the quicker the bacteria start growing and begin the composting process.  Autumn can have very cold temperatures.  Additional heat from the sun can jumpstart the process in the fall.  Once the bacteria begin growing, it will generate its own needed temperature.  A warm compost pile can be covered with snow and still produce plumes of steam.  Giving your compost pile a warm start can continue the process throughout the winter.  Knowing how to compost involves getting the temperature up to start the process.

How to compost using a mower and grinder

Flat leaves fall to the ground and stack up in layers cutting needed air pockets for the bacteria.  Mow over the leaves, rake, and then pile.  Or you can use a grass catcher bag on your mower and then pile.  The addition of the grass clippings in the mix will speed up the composting process.  Grass clipping have higher nitrogen content than leaves only.  The pulverized leaves should be dumped in layers onto the compost pile.  You can also use a machine made to grind up leaves and twigs.  Another way to chop up leaves is to place the leaves in a garbage can and plunge a string trimmer down into the can.  When using power tools always read and follow the safety instructions.  Breaking leaves down into smaller pieces will help stop leaf packing and speed up the composting process.  Leaf crushing may not be practical if you have lots of leaves.  Knowing how to compost involves air pockets in the pile.

How to compost using an additional nitrogen source

Nitrogen is needed to feed the aerobic bacteria that break down the leaves.  Low cost organic nitrogen sources include: fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and cattle, horse, poultry, and rabbit manures.  Avoid – meats, dairy products, fats, oils and cat and dog manures.  A non-organic nitrogen source could be commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer.  Most leaf compost piles will benefit from about ½ cup (118.29 Milliliters) per 1 ft. deep X 4 ft. X 4 ft. or (0.30480 M X 1.2192 M X 1.2192 M).  Adding extra nitrogen will greatly increase the decomposition rate of your leaves.  Any extra nutrients added will be available to your garden when the compost is applied.  Additional nitrogen sources will give your leaf compost a jump on the winter temperatures.  Knowing how to compost involves using the correct nitrogen ratio.

How to compost using layers of different materials?

Leaves tend to compact easily when they get wet.  It is important to layer the leaves with dampened garden soil, and a nitrogen source.  Do not use soil that has recently been treated with weed killer.  It could slow the compost process and kill the garden plants.  Damp soil has the useful bacteria that are needed to begin the composting process.  You can purchase commercial compost starter.  I have found that garden soil works just as well.  It is easier to first apply the dry soil, nitrogen source, and then dampen with a garden hose.  The ideal moisture content for compost is 40-60%.  In comparison, freshly mown grass has about 50% moisture. When compost is squeezed it should stick together.  It must be dry enough that a squeeze does not produce a drop of liquid.  Spraying the water on each layer will work the soil, bacteria, and nitrogen source down into the pile, speeding the process.

How to compost using the flat top method

A mound of dried leaves can seal the top of the compost pile causing the water to run off like shingles on a roof.  Some compost piles then stay completely dry in the middle.  The mound of leaves on the top caused the rain to run off.  When building a leaf compost pile it is important to make the top flat or slightly concave (dipped).  This causes the water to run into the middle of the pile carrying the soil, bacteria, and nitrogen down through the pile.  This will encourage an explosion of bacteria growth.  Knowing how to compost fall leaves involves getting moisture to the center of the pile.

How to compost by introducing oxygen

Hard and shiny leaves tend to easily compress together.  It is vital to turn the compost pile to introduce oxygen to the bacteria.  Several days after building a leaf compost pile the temperature increases.  The temp will then slowly decrease.  When the temperature significantly drops it is time to turn the pile.  Simply move the pile from one spot to another to introduce new air pockets.  This will also mix up the elements so each piece comes in contact with the moisture, bacteria and nitrogen.  Turning the compost pile is kind of like kneading bread dough.  It causes the pile temperature to increase again.  Repeat these turning process until the materials are broken down and the temp does not increase.  At this stage, the shape of the original material is not recognizable.  A great way to speed the process is to use a rotating compost barrel that allows you to easily turn the compost, usually several times a week.  It is surprising how much the additional aeration will speed the process.

Your fallen leaves can be made into a valuable environmentally friendly garden accelerator.  If you want a successful garden it starts with organically rich soil.  The best way to get high quality, low cost, and environmentally friendly soil additive is to compost your own leaves.  By following my 6 steps To Speedy Leaf Composting you can possibly produce a batch of completed fall leaf compost in three months.  How to compost and why are covered on a great web page Composting at Home Introduction to Composting.  If the compost is not properly managed it could take from 6 to 12 months.  To maximize the composting process it is important to understand the 4 basic compost pile signals: 1. temperature, 2. moisture, 3. odor, and 4. fluffiness (available air pockets).  By understanding the composting process and how the elements work together your process time will greatly be reduced.  As you manage your compost pile I encourage you to experiment with different combinations of: moisture, heat, organisms, carbon based organic material, nitrogen and oxygen.  Composting is another way beginner gardeners can enjoy the beautiful leaves in the fall..

Fall Garden Ideas Help Beginners

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Fall Garden Ideas Includes Lettuce

By Richard Godke

Here are some fall garden ideas that will get the beginning vegetable gardener started without waiting for spring to arrive. August and September are perfect times to start a fall garden in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4B and higher. The warmth of summer gives the new vegetable plants a quick start and can provide some of the best quality produce of the year. Yes, this is the time for beginning gardeners to get started. The experienced gardeners have been enjoying fall vegetable gardens for years.

Fall Garden Ideas – Which vegetables do I plant?

My favorite quick harvest, cool loving fall crops are frost sensitive. They include: radishes (maturing in as little as 18 to 21 days), kohlrabi, (one of my favorites), leaf lettuce, arugula, and spinach, (maturing around 55 days). A frost blanket row cover can keep the plants 4-6 degrees F. warmer and greatly increases the length of your production. I like the frost tolerant brassica crops that can take some frost like: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. The frost sensitive root crops that I recommend are beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. If they are well covered with straw you can leave them in the ground until the soil starts to freeze, and they will become tastier. However don’t let them get frozen into the soil. I have had good luck with frost resistant crops like evergreen bunch onion, garlic, leeks, and chives wintering over in USDA zone 5A. Many gardeners recommend these risky frost crops including: bush beans, sugar snap peas, and cabbage. However, I would not recommend them for beginners. Any of these vegetables are great fall garden ideas.

 

Fall Garden Ideas – When do I plant?

How does a beginning gardener know the best date to plant a fall garden? First click on Plant Hardiness Zones, then enter your zip code, and click on the zone it provides. It will show you the date of the Average First Fall Frost. Count back from the Average First Fall Frost, the number of days needed for your crop to mature. It will be found on the seed package. This will give you an estimated planting date for that crop. These fall garden ideas are just an estimate; mother nature does not always follow the charts. Areas within a specific zone may be affected by buildings, trees, hills, lakes, etc. creating a micro climate. You can reduce the number of days needed by using a frost blanket, closures, covering plants with straw, or by purchasing vegetable transplant from your garden center.

Fall Garden Ideas – How do I start?

Gardening in a bag, square foot gardening, and straw bale gardening are fall garden ideas that are easy, cost efficient, and productive ways for the beginning gardener to get started. Bag gardening is when you plant your vegetables directly into the bags of soil you purchase from the store. Yes it really works! I had two bags going this summer and they produced sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, and meal after meal of okra. I am now getting ready for my fall crops. Straw bale gardening is a method where one takes a wheat or oat straw bale, tip it on edge, soak it with water, let it set for a week, make a depression in the bale, fill with potting soil, and plant. As the bale slowly decomposes the vegetables will grow into the decomposing bale. Square foot gardening take a little more planning and cost but is well worth the effort. Build a small raised bed 4 feet by 4 feet by 6-12 inches deep and then fill it with quality organic matter. I have had square foot gardens that yield four times as much produce compared with a traditional row garden.
Fall is a great time for beginning gardeners to get started. Fall gardens provide seeds with faster germination in the warm soil. It is very pleasant to work outside in the fall weather and the soil takes less water while many of the common insects are no longer around. Try these fall garden ideas and enjoy the cool loving crops that thrive in the pleasant fall weather. So if you are a new gardener it is time to get started with these great fall garden ideas.

Bag Gardening for Home Vegetables

By Richard Godke

Bag gardening is raising vegetables in the bag the soil comes in. This is an easy, convenient and a fun way to get your family involved with growing your own food (Figure
1). The bag gardening method is easy, low cost, and a quick way to get started with a garden. It takes no digging, plowing, tilling, and soil testing, or building expensive raised beds. Yes, it really works! I know several experienced gardeners who use this same method with multiple bags rather than tackling a large traditional garden.

Bag Gardening Advantages:

  • Easy soil preparation – no digging, plowing, and tilling or sod removal.
  • Space saving – all vegetables are concentrated with no rows.
  • Easy weeding – potting soil is free from weed seeds.
  • Low cost – It cost me about $13 to plant one bag with Swiss chard transplants in March 2013.
  • Little time – it took me about 15 minutes to plant one bag and I expect about 5 minutes a week to water and harvest.
  • Minimal soil diseases and insects common to vegetables like tomatoes.

Bag Gardening Disadvantages:

  • Ugly bags – try covering with mulch.
  • Water management is more involved with bags – regular soil has a deeper water reserve.
  • Bag breakage – be careful with the mower and string trimmer.
  • Not organic – no solution.
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Bag Gardening

Things You Will Need to Start Your Bag Gardening Project (Figure 1):

  • Plants either transplants or seeds
  • Bagged soil – two cubic feet, preferably potting soil
  • Utility knife or scissors to cut holes in bag
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • 3 yards of duct tape
  • Weed barrier (optional) – newspaper or brown paper bags

Procedure:

  • Choose a sunny location with at least 8 hours of direct sun each day with easy access to water.
  • Arrange bags so you can reach into the middle of each bag without stepping on the soil, about 4 feet maximum.
  • The best plants to start with are leafy vegetables: leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, or Swiss chard. After you get these mastered, try peas, kohlrabi, bush beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and herbs like parsley or basil. I would avoid squash, pumpkins, melons and root crops. If you have had success raising these vegetables in a bag please let us know the secrets.
  • Use square foot gardening planting rates.
    • 1 plant per bag: tomato, pepper, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
    • 9 plants per bag: bush beans or spinach
    • 12 plants per bag: arugula, leaf lettuce, parsley, Swiss chard
    • 16 plants per square foot: kohlrabi or micro greens
  • Use duct tape on the outside seam edges and one strip around the middle of the bag to prevent breakage (Figure 2).
Taped Bag Gardening

 

  • On the bottom side of the bag, cut 6 to 12 ½-inch holes in the bottom of the bag. Sometimes the vegetable will grow through the bag and start growing into the soil under the bag.
  • Flip the bag back over.
  • On the uncut side of the bag, mark the locations that you want to cut for plant openings. See step 4 for the number of plants per bag.
  • Cut an X in the bag in the smallest size needed to plant the transplant or one square inch if you are planting seeds (Figure 3).
  • Fold back the triangular shaped flaps for seeds (Figure 4).
Cut X Holes
Fold back flaps
Ready to plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Make a hole in the soil by pushing the soil back just deep enough to cover the transplant or seeds. I found you do not need to remove the soil from the bag (Figure 5).
  • Put transplant or seeds in the soil.
  • Reach under the plastic and pull back the soil to cover the root ball or seeds
  • If you planted seeds, cut the plastic flaps off so the sun can help germinate the seeds quicker.
  • Water the plants as needed; ensure you have a good soil to seed or soil to root contact for a quick start.
  • After one 1 week or when the seeds grow 2 inches high make sure there is only one plant per hole. It is sometimes difficult to see the multiple plants (Figure 6). This process is called thinning. See the single plant after thinning (Figure 7)? One plant will produce more vegetables than two plants growing close together. I have tested this theory. Even though it hurts to cut out the extra plants, thinning is for the best with bag gardening. It is common for plant producers to leave multiple plants in a single plant pack cell. My last purchase had up to 3 plants per cell. It is possible to use each plant if they have not grown together. Use scissors or shears, if you pull it could also pull out the best plant you want to leave in.
Two plants
Single plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Check moisture level at least 3 times a week (Figure 8).
  • Harvest lots of fresh vegetables.
Newly planted
Bag Gardening After 3 Weeks

 

Bag Gardening After 3 Weeks

 

 

Watering:

Don’t over water. Leaving more plastic on the top will decrease the water loss and will help cut down on excess watering during rainy periods. Expect to increase watering during hot sunny days. Sticking your finger into the soil is the best way to tell if you need to water again.

Fertilizing:

Some potting soil has slow release fertilizer that usually last for 3 months. Check the bag to see if it is infused in the soil. Add liquid fertilizer as recommended on the package if the plants are growing slowly, or the plants have a light yellow-green color. Remember it is better to use too little fertilizer rather than too much.

Helpful Tips:

  • Be careful with string trimmers and mowers to prevent bag breakage.
  • When mowing blow grass away from the bags to prevent insects, diseases and dirt getting on the vegetables.
  • Root crops sometimes do not perform well in the bags.
  • Climbing tomato plants need a trellis.
  • I recommend transplants over direct seeding for beginners. Seeds are very sensitive to correct water management.
  • Mulch the soil bag beds mid-summer with compost, grass clippings, or bark. It will decrease water loss and keep soil temperatures lower during the hottest part of the season. It also helps to hide the ugly bags.
  • If using more than one bag, wedge them tightly together to stop weeds from growing between the bags.

Weed Control:

Placing old newspapers down on the grass or soil will serve as a good weed barrier. Weeds growing from the bag garden can be hand pulled.

End of Growing Season:

Plastic bags are designed by the manufacturers to last one year. At the end of the season you can pull the old plastic bag out of the garden area and add new bags on the top the next year. Or you can add amendments, and work the potting soil into the soil underneath. This will be a great start to enhancing your soil.

By: Richard Godke

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Bag Gardening Videos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaXVO5F6zTI&feature=youtu.be

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL9ks3xw-E0&feature=youtu.be

Food Costs Rising? Try a Home Garden

By Richard Godke

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Budget Food Costs Rising

Food costs rising? As United States food costs and family grocery bills hit new highs, interest in home gardens are blooming. So what is the cost of starting a home garden? Calculating the cost of raising a 4 by 4 foot small home garden is similar to budgeting for a large farm. A farmer amortizes (averages) the cost of the land over several years because the value of the land is not depleted the first year. Calculating the cost of the garden is the same concept. There are large start up costs like soil; raised frame beds and fabric cover costs that need to be averaged over several years or the life of the investment. One needs to understand and explore the cost of a small home garden before you start. Here is a sample budget for a small 4 by 4 foot raised bed garden (for beginners) to get you started. You can use these numbers to calculate a larger garden but for newbies I recommend this size.

Long Term Costs

The long term investment items that need to be amortized over three years are: 8 – 2 cubic feet bags soil at $8 each = $64, 1 – raised bed plastic frame kit 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 6 in. = $40, 1 -10 lb. bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer = $8, and a 10 X 10 fabric cover = $15. The total cost of these Items are $123.00 divided by 3 years = about $41 annual cost. If you don’t have the money to invest in these long term costs here are some ideas that can greatly reduce these expenses. Composting your own soil is simple, easy and cheap but takes time and knowledge. Begin by collecting grass clippings and leaves you can make a compost pile that can produce high quality composed soil (black gold) in 6 months. The composting process will reduce the volume by 75% so it will take a lot of material and time to save the cost of purchased soil. If you are handy with a saw and hammer you can save money by making your own raised bed. You can buy dimensional lumber, cut it, (some stores will cut it in 4 foot lengths), paint it, nail it and you have a low cost raised bed. You can save even more money by reusing lumber. In my neighborhood the unpainted wood privacy fencing is being replaced because the bottom 6 inches has rooted off. In most cases you can cut out a good 4 foot by 4 inch board that can be painted and nailed together for a raised bed garden for a very small investment. A fabric cover is something that you can live without but the benefits of an earlier planting date and an organic way to control insects make the cover a worthy consideration.  Does the long term costs justify the food costs rising ?

Annual Costs

The reoccurring annual costs are: 8 packets of vegetable seeds X $3 = $24, 4 plants X $2 = $8. So an estimated annual cost for a small 4 by 4 foot garden would be about $32. To save money on these costs you can save seed from vegetables you buy (heirloom tomatoes) or plants that go to seed in your garden (basil) and plant them instead of purchasing seeds. This will only work with non-processed, non-hybrid varieties and is not recommended for beginners. Starting seeds indoors before the planning season can save you money, again not recommended for beginners. By growing you own vegetable plants you can choose varieties that are not available in the stores.  Does the annual costs justify the food costs rising ?

Can a home garden save you mon

Other Costs and Benefits Compared to Food Costs Rising?

 

I do not calculate a labor or water cost for raising a garden. Using the square foot gardening method cuts down on watering and weed control because the plants are so close together the weeds are shaded out. If you want

to calculate labor you can figure about 15 minutes a week in a small garden. The more gardening space you maintain, the more efficient you become per unit, but beginners should always start small. In most cases people who garden consider their labor cost as a method of getting outside and getting some exercise. The free labor that you contribute will also provide a learning venue for children or grandchildren, plus the freshest, most flavorful vegetables you will ever eat.

For man years the cost of food has been so cheap you could not justify the raising vegetables strictly on dollar cost. Now with the high cost of food it is more economically feasible to raise vegetables at a profit. The cost of starting a small raised bed 4 by 4 foot home garden will be approximately $123. Long Term Cost + $32 Annual Costs = $155 is the total first year cost. The next 2 years it would only cost $32 a year. The amortized (average) cost over 3 years is about $73 per year not including labor. Every family is different and you will need to calculate your own costs and benefits of raising a garden.

I have developed a home gardening budget spreadsheet at http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/garden-budget/ that allows you to put in your own estimated costs. Remember you can save money by building your own frame, composting your own soil, and collecting your own seeds. If you would like to save even more money on your gardening check out http://gardening.about.com/od/gardendesign/a/GardenBudget_2.htm.  Gardening will become even more popular as the price of vegetables sky rocket. Are Food Costs Rising, yes so learn how to garden?

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Novices

By Richard Godke

A good soil calculator for raised bed is the most important decision a beginning gardener. It starts you on the right road for producing lots of high quality vegetables. I recommend the square foot gardening method that concentrates the production in a smaller space using less soil. Learn the important math calculations you will need to get started along with a connection to a spreadsheet that will do the calculations for you. Soil is a living breathing constantly changing substance. The soil must have the ability to hold water and also slowly release nutrients to the growing roots of the plants. During the growing season the organic part of the soil is broken down by organisms living in the soil. This happen if it has the soil has the proper water, air, microorganisms, soil nutrients and correct temperature. Here are some important questions a beginning gardener needs to ask.

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Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Novices

Should I purchase organic soil?

Do not let the marketer confuse you. Organic soil is soil that has some organic material in it. If you want soil that is produced without chemicals you need to purchase Organic Certified Soil. This is organic soil produced from plant materials that were not treated with pesticides, within standards set by an organic certification organization. You can check with the certifying organization for the details of the process and standards. If you want to eat truly organically grown vegetables you must start with organically certified soil. Be prepare – the organically certified soils will cost more.

How do I calculate the amount of soil I will need?

The formula is simple: The garden’s length times the width times the depth gives you the amount of soil you will need to purchase. Here are the calculations for a typical beginner’s square foot garden that is four feet wide by four feet long and eight inches deep. Calculate by multiplying the width 4 ft. X 12 in. = 48 in. and Length 4 ft. X 12 in. = 48 in. Take the 48 X 48 = 2304 square in. Multiply the 2304 square inches X 8 in. deep = 18432 cubic in. Finally divide the 18432 by 1728 [the number of cubic inches per cubic foot] = 10.7 cubic feet. For the non-math gardeners I have developed a simple spreadsheet link towards the end of this article where you enter the length, width and depth in yards, feet or inches and it will calculate the cubic feet or yards of soil you will need for your specific garden space.  The calculation for experience gardeners is the same as for beginners.

How do I compare prices among the different produces or brands?

Some manufacturers use cubic feet others use quarts and others use pounds abbreviated as lbs. For the non-math gardeners the spreadsheet link later in this article will also let you enter three different products, the number of cubic feet or US Quarts per bag, and the cost per bag. It calculates the total cost of each soil choice for your garden size. For the gardener that loves math, here are the calculations for converting US quarts to cubic feet. US Quarts X (57.75) cubic inches divided by the number of cubic inches in a cubic foot (1728). Example for a 10 US quart bag: 10 X 57.75 cubic inches per quart = 577.5cubic inches. Divide 577.5 by 1728 cubic inches in a cubic foot = 0.334 cubic feet. When it comes to comparing ingredients in pounds like cow manure you need to compare the percentage of moisture present.  My soil calculator for raised bed can help you with these calculations (see below).

How do I compare different bagged soil ingredients?

The Standard Soil Mix consists of ? peat moss, ? compost, and ? vermiculite or perlite (a non-organic soil additive). This mixture is very similar to bagged potting soil. Bagged Potting Soil provides great growing material for you vegetables if you can closely manage the watering. When this mix is moist you can squeeze ahandful and it will easily crumble into small pieces. Unfortunately this mix is expense, it tends to dry out more quickly in the garden and it will quickly decrease in volume. Bagged Garden Soil is the lower cost than potting soil and the watering of the garden is easier to manage. This is my pick for the beginning gardener. Bagged Compost is dead plant materials that have decomposed during an aerobic process that has reached 160 degrees F. This product varies a great deal among different manufacturers. It sometimes lowers the garden soil pH and requires nitrogen to be added during the growing season. It is less expensive than other products. Compost is a good additive but it will have a high soil replacement percentage, and should not be used as the only ingredient. Non Organic Soil Additives like perlite and vermiculite are used to lighten or aerate the soil. It is expensive, and increases the need for careful water management. Only use these produces in combination with other soil additives. Peat Moss is a partially decomposed ancient swamp material that is harvested from peat bogs. It loosens clay soil and provides organic material to your garden. It has a high decomposition rate and will lower you soil pH. This should only be used in combination with other soil additives.

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Available

Soil is one of the biggest expenses when starting a home garden. I highly recommend that beginners purchase a mid-priced prepared bagged garden soil. Trying to mix you own individual ingredients may seem cheaper but it is more difficult. In most cases the soil has been prepared by an expert and has the proper nutrients, pH level and organic materials to set you on the road to a successful vegetable garden. You can use my garden soil calculator spreadsheet http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/soil-calculator/ to help you figure the volume of soil you will need, compare prices of different types of soil and experiment with your own soil mix combinations. Here is another link to a garden soil calculator http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/soil-calculator/7558.html. You can expect to replace from 10 to 20 percent of the soil each year because of the microbial break down in your soil – remember this is a good thing.  By Richard E. Godke.

Top Ten Organic Gardening Tips

Organic gardening grows more and more popular each day, and for good reason. Organic gardeners avoid the use of synthetic chemicals to keep their yards healthy and hazard-free. The methods of keeping plants growing vigorously without the heavy reliance on environmentally unfriendly sprays are the true success of organic gardens. The most important aspect of organic gardening? Soil.

As the life force of the garden, soil enriched with organic matter becomes moist, airy, and fertile–ideal for healthy plants. It also nourishes beneficial organisms and bacteria and supports fungi that optimize growing conditions. Prevention is also the watchword of organic gardeners. Plants can thrive if they are given the right amount of sun, suitable soil, proper spacing, and ideal planting.

Here are a few tips that will help you keep your organic garden thriving and healthy.

1. Maintain a good compost pile. The nutrients derived from your composting provide everything your soil needs to sustain the garden. Start the compost pile on a bed of branched sticks that will allow air to rise. Add a perforated pipe (PVC works well) in the center and build layers of old leaves, grass clippings, and other garden leftovers around it. The air will flow through the pipe into the pile. If you cannot use the finished compost for a while, cover the pile with a tarp to trap the nutrients in the compost.

2. Be mindful of the length of the growing season. The longer the growing season, the more compost is needed in the soil. A longer growing season requires more nutrients and organic matter in the soil.

3. Try companion planting. Some plants replenish nutrients lost by another plant, and some combinations can effectively keep pests away.

Consult your local garden center for advice pertinent to your area.

4. Water in the morning. Doing so will help you avoid powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that are often spread by high humidity.

5. Give new beds that extra kick with plenty of compost, soil amendments, and double digging.

6. Keep dirt off lettuce and cabbage leaves when growing by spreading a 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch (untreated by pesticides or fertilizers) around each plant. This also helps keep the weeds down.

7. Recycle your soda bottles, milk jugs, and other plastic containers as great mini-covers to place over your plants and protect them from frost.

8. A garden soil that has been well mulched and amended periodically requires only about a 1-inch layer of compost yearly to maintain its quality.

9. Diatomaceous earth is an abrasive white powder used to damage the cuticle, skin, and joints of insects, and it makes an excellent organic insecticide. It also makes an excellent slug barrier.

10. Rotate your crops each year to help reduce pest and disease problems, as well as to correct nutrient deficiencies and excesses.

Plant World Nursery (http://www.plantworldstgeorge.com) has all the tools and information you need for organic gardening in Utah Rachel Spohn is a freelance author.