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.

Easy Hydroponics for Beginners

By: Richard Godke

Easy hydroponics are a passive system that produces a large amount of flowers or vegetables, very quickly, in a small space. Hydroponics is the process of raising plants without soil. How can this be? The plants are started in a soil-less medium like: rockwool, foam cubes, or compressed peat pellets (Jiffy-7). To start the plants, the roots should just touch the nutrient liquid; some of the roots will grow deep into the solution.  The nutrient solution contains easy to obtain fertilizers and other elements that are found in your local big-box stores, hardware, or garden stores.

Easy hydroponics or soil-less gardening is a perfect utilization of rooftops, patios or yards with poor soil quality. Hydroponic gardening provides essential nutrients quickly to the roots on a very consistent basis resulting in better growth and higher yields. Hydroponics provides a more stable soil fertility, temperature, and moisture than gardening with traditional soil. Because of the ample nutrients available, plantings can be denser. Soil-less gardening greatly reduces the majority of soil born insects and diseases, reducing the need for pesticides. Easy hydroponic gardening uses less water per square foot, compared to gardening with traditional soil. Hydroponic gardening helps to eliminate the back breaking work of carrying bags and bags of soil or the endless job of hoeing weeds. For a good video on easy hydroponic gardening, check this out:Http://Www.Youtube.Com/Watch?V=Odyeffycvky.

This article shares with you three different easy hydroponic systems.  In these passive floating systems, no water circulating pumps, aeration pumps or engineering skills are required.  Pumps are common in commercial systems. The passive floating hydroponic gardening system holds the plants just on top of the nutrient solution in cups with drainage holes, supported by a sheet of Styrofoam™™.  I will first share with you Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions that will help you get started. These instructions include: selecting crops, choosing containers, starting plants indoors, mixing fertilizer solutions, and starting plants in hydroponic solution. I will then describe the materials needed to construct three different systems including: plastic tote, wading pool, and wood frame systems.

Easy Hydroponics: Passive Universal Instructions**

Caution Even a small amount of water can be a possible drowning hazard for children. Please make certain that your hydroponic system is well protected from small children.

Selecting Crops

Cool season plants love this passive hydroponic system.  I recommend a spring and fall planting of leafy green vegetables that include: lettuce (bibb, Boston, leaf, and Romaine), mustard greens, bok choy, mint, chives, and kale. Warm season crops that can be planted after the early spring crop is done include: Swiss chard, basil, cucumbers, watercress, and zinnia, an annual flower.

Choosing Containers

This article guides you through building three different passive floating gardens. The sizes include: a 6.25-gallon tote, a kiddie 4-5′ wading pool, and a 4’ x 8’ plastic lined wooden structure. Any noncorrosive container can be used, including water tanks, buckets, or tubs that hold water and are 4 to 6 inches deep. To hold the plant roots just at the surface of the solution you will need net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups. Net pots can be purchase from a commercial hydroponic supplier.

Cut cup holes in a 1½” thick Styrofoam™ sheet large enough to allow the net pots or cups to drop 1/8 inch below the bottom. A 3” net pot or a standard Styrofoam™ cup will need a 2½” hole. A 2” net pot will require a 1¾” hole. .  Standard Styrofoam™ cups need to have 1/4″ slits cut in the sides and the bottom to let the roots grow through.

Purchasing Transplants

Purchasing seedling transplants is the easiest way for beginners to get started. It is easy to find a large selection of low cost, green leafy vegetable varieties in any garden center. In most cases the seedlings have been started in a soil-less mixture. It is common for these garden centers to have the plants displayed outside so they are already acclimated to the outdoor environment.

Starting Plants from Seed Indoors

I have had great success starting plants in compressed peat pellets (Jiffy-7). The pellets are very easy to water and show good resistance to dampening off disease. Start the seeds approximately three weeks prior to moving them outside. The plants need to be fully rooted with leaves approximately 1 to 1 and 1/2” inches long before moving them outdoors. It is critical that you harden off your plants before setting them out. Hardening off is the process of slowly acclimating plants to a more sunny, cool, windy outdoor environment. A week before transplanting, place your plants outside in a shaded area for approximately an hour. Then extend the time one hour each day and place in more direct sunlight each day for the remaining part of the week. Hardening off will have a very positive effect on the success rate of your transplants.

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Figure 2. Nutrients Needed For Easy Hydroponics – Floating Garden. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184

Mixing Fertilizer Solutions

Add 1 to 2 level teaspoons of water-soluble 20–20–20 or 18-18 -21 fertilizer with micronutrients to each gallon of water (J. R. Petters inc. All Purpose 20-20-20 Water Soluble Fertilizer, or Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food 18-18-21) and ½ to 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). See figure 2. Additional calcium may need to be added if you have soft water. Stir until dissolved. In most cases you can grow an entire crop of greens without changing or adding solution. Monitor the water level and add water if it becomes low. If it rains alot you may need to add additional fertilizer and Epsom salts at the same ratio to compensate for the additional volume of water. The pH level of the solution should be checked with a simple pH tester that can be purchased at a pool supply store or garden center. The final pH of the solution should be 5.5 to 6.5. Adjustments can be made upward by adding agricultural line.  By adding aluminum sulfate, you can lower the pH. You can grow two crops of greens in the same solution before the entire solution needs to be changed.

Starting Plants in Passive Hydroponic System

Transplants should be flat bottomed, fully rooted in a soil-less media consisting of: rockwool, foam cubes, or compressed peat pellets. I would not recommend coconut fiber, sand, Perlite, or Vermiculite, because it doesn’t form a ball, which makes it more difficult to transplant. A flat bottom seedling makes good contact with the solution in the bottom of the cup. Do not add, remove, or pack the soil-less mix in the cups. This soil-less root ball should be surrounded by air. By having the roots extend slightly out of the nutrients the plant can absorb needed oxygen through the exposed roots. Use a toothpick can be used to prop the plant so it stays upright in the cup. It is important to remember that the plants roots should not be covered by the solution. Do not place the cup deeper than 1/8” into the solution. If the plant’s roots seem too wet, place the cup on its side to reduce contact of the solution.

Figure 3. Easy Hydroponics – Floating Garden with Growing Lettuce Root System. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184.

Easy Hydroponics: Tote with Styrofoam™
Floating System

This easy hydroponic system is low cost, easy to build and easy to operate. It’s an excellent way to explore soil-less gardening for the beginner. This is a reliable system I used with classroom
4-H clubs to encourage participation in the gardening program. I’m not aware of any of the demonstrations that were not successful. You can build this hydroponic system for less than $10. I have added two larger hydroponic systems below that you may want to try after you have success with this easy hydroponic passive tote system. See figure 3.

Materials Needed:  **

see plant starting instructions in “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.

  • 6.25-gallon (24.38″L x 15.13″W x 6.13″H) dark colored hard sided plastic tote
  • 1½” thick Styrofoam™ sheet 24″L x 15″W to fit the opening of the tote
  • 4-net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups**
  • Water soluble fertilizer**
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)**
  • 4-Plants**

Equipment –

permanent marker, sharp knife, hole saw, measuring spoons, water to fill the tote.

Construction Steps

Figure 4. Drilling Holes in Styrofoam for Easy Hydroponics. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184
  1. Place Styrofoam™ on a flat surface, set the bottom (smallest part) of the tote on top of the Styrofoam™ and trace around the bottom of the tote with the permanent marker.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut along the trace line through the Styrofoam™ to form a rectangle. The rectangle must be able to freely float up and down in the tote as the water level changes.
  3. Using a hole saw, drill 4 holes away from the edges from the edge to help prevent breakage according to directions in the container section in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above. See figure 4.
  4. Place the net pots or Styrofoam™ cups in each hole.
  5. Place the tote in an area that is level and will get 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.
  6. Fill tote with thoroughly dissolved fertilizer solution to about 2 inches of the top of the tote. Float the Styrofoam™ sheet on the fertilizer solution in the tote.
  7. Drop the plants into each net or cup making sure that the roots are in contact with some of the solution.
  8. Watch the plants closely for the first couple days to make certain that they are not wilting and remain in contact with the fertilizer solution. You should see noticeable growth within one week.
  9. Enjoy fresh nutritious crisp greens directly out of your soil-less garden.

 

Easy Hydroponics: Wading Pool1 with Styrofoam™ Floating System

Figure 5. Passive Easy Hydroponics – Wading Pool Floating Garden. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Publication “Wading Pool Hydroponics”

The easy hydroponics wading pool system is low-cost, easy to construct and can produce plenty of crisp nutritious lettuce for the family. This is a great first time experience producing food in a soil-less garden. You can build this hydroponic system for less than $20. See figure 5. Here is the link to the K-State Research and Extension, 4-H publication that I have adapted these plans used, Wading Pool Hydroponics.

Materials Needed:

**see plant starting instructions in “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.

  • Hard sided plastic wading pool 4-5 ft. in diameter
  • 1½” thick Styrofoam™ sheet to fit the opening of the pool
  • 12-15 net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups**
  • Water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer**
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)**
  • 1- Packet of seeds and 12 to 15 Jiffy-7 pots or 12-15 started plants **

For hydroponic supplies check out: http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/category/hydroponics.

Equipment –

permanent marker, sharp knife, hole saw, measuring spoons, water to fill the pool (measure how many gallons are needed to fill the pool before you mix the growing solution.

Construction Steps

Figure 6. Easy Hydroponics – Wading Pool: Lettuce Plug Grown In a Compressed Peat Pellet. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Publication “Wading Pool Hydroponics”
  1. Place Styrofoam™ on a flat surface, set the bottom (smallest part) of the wading pool on top of the Styrofoam™ and trace around the bottom of the pool with the permanent marker.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut along the trace line through the Styrofoam™ to form a circle. The circle must be able to freely float up and down in the pool as the water level changes.
  3. Using a hole saw, drill 12 to 15 holes that are at least 6 inches from the edge and 12 inches apart inside the circle to help prevent breakage according to directions in the container section in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.
  4. Place the net pots or Styrofoam™ cups in each hole.
  5. Place pool in an area that is level and will get 6 to eight hours of sun per day.
  6. Fill pool with dissolved fertilizer solution to about 4 inches of the top of the pool. Float the Styrofoam™ sheet in the pool.
  7. Drop the plants into each cup making sure that the roots are in contact with the solution. See figure 6
  8. Watch the plants closely for the first couple days to make sure that they are not wilting and remain in contact with the fertilizer solution. You should notice notable growth within one week.
  9. Enjoy fresh nutritious crisp greens directly out of your soil-less garden.

Easy Hydroponics: Wooden Frame with Styrofoam™ Floating System2

Figure 7. Healthy Lettuce Being Grown in a Standard 4×8 Ft Floating Easy Hydroponics. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184

This easy hydroponics system uses a large wooden frame that is big enough to supply nutritious greens for the whole family and neighborhood. See figure 7. This system was designed by the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Florida, but it will work anywhere in the country. You can build this hydroponic system for under $50. The biggest drawback I see with the system is the plastic liner; it could be susceptible to rodent damage. For the beginner, I would recommend starting with leafy green vegetables, concentrating on the spring and fall seasons. Warm season vegetable crops are harder to manage in a passive hydroponic system. For the complete extension publication go to:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs184.

Materials Needed:

  • 3 – 2” X 6” X 8 ft. lengths of treated lumber; cut one of the boards into two 4 ft. lengths
  • 12 – #10 x 4-in Philips-Head Zinc-Plated Interior/Exterior Wood Screws
  • 1 – 4’ x 8’ x 1½” sheet of Styrofoam™ insulation board
  • 1 – 12’ x 6’ six mill polyethylene plastic sheet
  • 3 – 1 x 2 x 8 Spruce-Pine Furring Strip; cut one of the strips into two 4 ft. lengths
  • 24 – 11-Gauge 1¼” galvanized roofing nails to hold down furring strips and plastic
  • 36 net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups**
  • Water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer**
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)**
  • 36 started plants **

Equipment –

power drill with head Philips screw attachment, 4” x 1/8” drill bit for screw pilot holes, hole saw or sharp knife, hammer

Construction Steps

Figure 8. Lettuce Transplant in Net Pot for Easy Hydroponics. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184
  1. Connect the 4 ft. and 8 ft. lengths of treated lumber to form a rectangle. Make certain corners are square.
  2. Drill three pilot holes in each corner and insert screws.
  3. Check the ground where the frame sit and remove any debris that could puncture the plastic liner.
  4. Place the frame in an area that is level and will get six to eight hours of sun daily.
    Center the 12’ x 6’ six mill polyethylene plastic sheet in the bottom of the rectangle to form a trough.
  5. Put the long edge of the plastic sheet on the long edge of the rectangle. Secure by placing the furring strips over the plastic on the top edge and nail through the furring and the plastic into the wooden frame.
  6. Make sure the plastic sheet is pushed down into the bottom of each corner of the wooden frame. Be careful not to puncture the plastic liner.
  7. Secure the plastic with the furring and nails on the second long sides.
  8. Secure the plastic with the furring and nails on the remaining short sides.
  9. Place the Styrofoam™ sheet in the frame to make sure that the edges clear and that it can move freely up-and-down when the water is added.  Trim if needed.
  10. Drill holes according to directions in the container section in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.
  11. Mix the nutrient solution thoroughly as recommended above in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions**” section. It should be at least 5 inches deep. This frame method will take approximately 50 gallons of solution.
  12. Check liner for leaks.
  13. Small punctures in the plastic can be repaired by cleaning and drying the surface and then applying waterproof glue on each side of the plastic.
  14. Place plants in net pots or Styrofoam™ cups making sure the roots are in contact with the solution. See figure 8.
  15. Watch the plants closely for the first couple days to make sure they are not wilting and remain in contact with the fertilizer solution. You should notice notable growth within one week.
  16. Enjoy fresh nutritious crisp greens directly out of your soil-less garden and be prepared to sell or give away some fresh produce.

The easy hydroponic passive floating system, regardless of size, is ideal for the beginning gardener. It is low cost, and gives gardeners with small space a way to produce large amount of quality vegetables. This easy hydroponics requires less work than traditional gardening. There is no need for tilling soil, toting and mixing big bags of soil, and no hoeing weeds in the hot sun. By following the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above, you can use any size container and successfully produce great vegetables at home. The three examples of passive floating hydroponic systems give one a choice of a small, medium, or large system that are all low cost. I would encourage any new gardeners to try this easy hydroponics system for growing vegetables.

1Evelyn Neier, “Wading Pool Hydroponics”, Family Nutrition Program/ Junior Master Gardener/, 4-H Youth Development, funded by UDSA SNAP.

2M. Sweat, R. Tyson, and R. Hochmuch, “Building A Floating Hydroponic Garden” By Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs184.

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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..

Growing the Tallest Corn Plant

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Tallest Corn Plant

By Richard Godke

I am a Midwest boy that was trained by some of the leading corn professors in the world. After building a 20 foot tower with a grow light inside an upside down garbage can in my back yard with; full sun, 5 feet topsoil, and the best corn fertilizer program available. My corn plant reached 17.5 feet. I asked my professor why after following all of the best management practices, why did the corn plant not break the world record which was 21.5 feet then.it not grow higher? His answer surprisingly was day length. When summer starts, June 21 the days get shorter and this tells most corn plants that it is time to prepare to tassel. It may take different number of days to tassel depending on the corn variety. My stock started tasseling in mid July.stopping its upward growth. That year I moved away from my tower, excellent soil and a full sun yard so I have never tried again.
Key to growing the tallest corn plant is a shade program that does not let the corn plant know the days are getting shorter starting June 21. It is easier to set a system that limits light rather than trying to substitute artificial light. My garbage can with a 100 watt grow light had little effect on the day length effect, according to the expert. So build a tower that you can keep 100 % of light out, and can open it up every day so the plant thing the days are getting longer the plant will never try to set a tassel so it will keep growing upward. This takes a lot of planning and limiting the day length at the beginning of the growth.

Beginner Gardening Tips For Everyone

There are reasons why people choose to build a garden. Some wish to experience the brilliant and astounding beauties of the garden at their home front yard. Some for economic reasons want to be self-sufficient and save money on vegetables. Some use gardening as a form of relieving stress from their busy work schedules at the same time use it as family bonding at weekends.

While you are encouraged to create your garden by yourself, building your own garden is simpler than you may imagine. All you need is the appropriate equipment and a little professional advice for gardening beginner to create his dream garden.

Beginner gardening tips

1.Choose a Location

The first step is to choose a location for your pond that will give considerable enjoyment to you. The location must be a good choice for you to relax and entertain yourself by viewing your garden.

It can be near your house deck, patio or overlooking your master bedroom or family room.

2.Proper planning and design of the your garden

This is where your aesthetic ability will come out. Draw out simple blueprint of your garden. At the same time, this is the moment to decide on what plant or flower varieties to breed in your garden and where to allocate them to specific location.

3.Basic Equipments for Gardening

You will need a rake, shovel, hoes, water hose or sprinkler and garden stakes. You may also have read up some gardening reference books to learn more about suitable fertilizers and soil for the kind of plants or flowers you wanted to grow.

4.Watering your Garden

Also water your plants for longer period of time instead watering frequently.

The best way is to water them in the morning, to let your plants have the time to dry out during the day. On the other hand, this also helps your plant to prevent fungal disease. Water your plants at night or at the coolest time of the day will reduced the speed its water loss from your plants through evaporation.

These are some of the beginner gardening tips to kick start your gardening hobby. Always remember, to maintain a healthy and beautiful garden required patience and time. But I can guarantee you, at the end of the day; it is very rewarding and satisfying once you experience your

first harvest from your garden. Enjoy and have fun!

Esther Kwan is netrepreneur. For more information on beginner gardening, please visit http://www.InfoForWoman.com

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.