As many of us grow more environmentally conscious and feel an increased concern about exposure to chemicals and toxins, one appealing option for wrestling back control over what goes into our systems is to grow our own fruits and vegetables. However, the steps involved in planting, maintaining, and harvesting a successful crop can feel daunting, especially to those of us who have had trouble keeping household plants alive in the past.
The key to overcoming this anxiety is simple: by employing a few simple techniques, planning ahead and creating a manageable chart of necessary activities, it will be easy to keep your garden blooming year-round.
Step One: Decide What to Plant and When
Because you’re going to be a year-round gardener, any time is a good time to figure out which plants to grow in the coming season. Which ones you choose will be dependent to a large extent on where you live. Different vegetables thrive at different times of year and in different climates. Consult your local gardening organization or gardening center for advice concerning which crops are most advisable for your particular location.
Certain hardy crops can be planted as early as February, while warm season crops should generally go into the ground after the last average frost date. By late summer, you can plant crops for your fall garden – these should go in at least two months before you expect the earliest fall frost. Certain crops like garlic and onions can be planted as late as October! The key is to keep planting throughout the year, so that you can also harvest vegetables year-round.
Step Two: Create a Gardening Chart
Create a gardening calendar with sections for each month of the year. Here is an example of a basic planting guide that was prepared for gardeners in Central Arkansas: http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-6062.pdf. Another example focuses less on which vegetables to plant in which month and much more on the activities that are needed to maintain a garden: http://www.humeseeds.com/projndx.htm.
A different option is to create a chart with rows for each month and columns for different types of things to do in the garden. For example, you could have a column for planting, another for maintenance activities, and one for harvesting. This means that for April, you could look at column one to see which plants to put in the ground, column two to see how often to water or fertilize them, and column three to check on which plants should be ready to be harvested.
Step Three: Use Techniques That Enable You to Extend the Growing Season
There are many methods of extending the growing season of your garden. Three basic ones that will be discussed here are:
- Raised bed gardening
- Planting seeds indoors
- Plastic-covered tunnels
Other options you might wish to explore include cloches, cold frames, underground greenhouses, and solar-charged hot water bottles.
To begin with, raised bed gardening offers several advantages. In particular, raised beds allow you to extend the gardening season because the soil will warm up earlier, meaning you can start growing crops sooner. Additionally, because the beds are raised off the ground, it is not as difficult to work on the garden in rainy weather. This type of garden also typically offers higher yields and better soil.
Raised bed gardens even require less water and generally contain fewer weeds. You can purchase or build raised beds, or even create them by shaping rectangular mounds of soil a few inches above the ground level so that they are wide enough to reach across. However, make sure to use sufficient mulch to keep the soil in place if it rains heavily.
Next, planting seeds indoors allows you to multiply the number of planting seasons available to you. Instead of winter, spring, summer, and fall, you will have early spring, mid-spring, late spring, summer, early fall, late fall, and winter. By starting the plants inside and only moving them to the garden when other plants are harvested, you can make use of more limited space. The key is having a firm plan for garden layout and crop rotation.
Finally, this technique can be supplemented by using plastic-covered tunnels for mini-greenhouses. Not only will this allow you to plant earlier in the spring, it also provides a place to harden the tender seedlings you have been growing indoors while you are waiting for space to open up in the garden. You can use fence wire to support the tunnels; another option is to use hoops cut from wood, wire, or pipe. In addition, cover the tunnels with blankets or tablecloths when it is especially cold and cut V-shaped vents in the sides in order to improve ventilation.
What vegetables would you like to grow in your garden? Have you had success with year-round gardening in the past?
Since 2000, Chris Long has been a store associate at a Home Depot in Illinois. He also contributes to the Home Depot blog, and provides raised bed garden advice as well as tips on other home landscaping topics.
Interesting approach to get gardens in some very interesting places. The system uses the waste from the air conditioning to water the plants and can provide some much needed photosynthesis in very congested areas in the world scrubbing air as they go. So sure you prized tomatoes would not survive going 50 MPH down the freeway but a very interesting approach to make use of some otherwise dead space.
When my first cucumber started to rot in the vine when I was waiting for it to mature, I realized that I grew the smaller variety of which grows 6-8 inch cucumbers which are perfect for pickling to enjoy a nice nutritional snack. Having a few nice specimens on the vine this afternoon I decided to make myself a few pickles. Step 1: Clean the pickles. One of the surprises when I picked my first cucumber a few years back was the little spikes they have on them…you don’t see any of those by the time they make it to you in the grocery store. I quick bit of brushing of your hand should get these off. Finish this off with a quick wash in the sink and you should have a few clean almost pickles. Step 2: Cut the Pickles. If you have a small variety like mine you can get away with simply quartering (or cutting in sixths if you have an extra girthy one). For full size cucumbers you will probably need to cut it into two pieces and cut each half into sixths or eighths depending on how large of spears you desire. Step 3: Brine the Pickles. There are many good recipes for brines out there. Here is my favorite that provides a good balance of sweet/salty/spicy as well as some extra components to have a nice balanced flavor profile. Simply add the ingredients to a 1 quart mason jar, give it a little shake, then add your cucumbers. Secure the lid of the jar and give the jar another shake and place in your refrigerator.
My Pickle Brine
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water (or enough to cover the pickles)
- 3 T sugar (artificial sweetener works here)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dill
- 1/4 tsp pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 1/4 tsp mustard seed
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
Step 4: Wait. This can be the hardest part, you need to wait at least 3 days for your pickles to brine, possible a couple of days more if you needed to add much more than 1 cup of water to cover your cucumbers. As more cucumbers come in you can simply add them to the jar and have a non-stop supply of incoming snacks…at least until the end of summer. For something a little more traditional you can also try the following:
Alton Brown’s Dill Pickle Brine
- 5 1/2 ounces pickling salt, approximately 1/2 cup
- 1 gallon filtered water
- 3 pounds pickling cucumbers, 4 to 6-inches long
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- 1 large bunch dill
Directions: Same process as above though probably going to have to wait 6-7 days before your pickles are ready and are good for about 2 months.
If you’re growing your own fruit and vegetables, or just trying to eat the things that are produced locally, you come across one obvious problem: when something’s in season, you have more than you can handle, and then there’s nothing for the rest of the year. So the obvious solution is to preserve your food when you have it in abundance. Dehydration is an excellent preservation technique that’s easy to do and that maintains a lot more of the original nutrients than canning or freezing.
Wanting to get the benefits of dehydrating excess fruits but without the expense of purchasing nor the costs of electricity of powering the thing. The author had the great idea of building a solar powered dehydrator. Check the link for full build instructions…
The great thing about growing zucchini in your garden is it is a great producer, but at times you can get overwhelmed with the yields but fortunately zucchini bread is a delicious way to take a care of this problem. Below is my favorite recipe, typically you would swap out the chocolate chips with something like walnuts but have a kiddo with nut allergies and it is always easier to get kids to eat some veggies hidden in bread when you add a little chocolate
- 1.5 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup butter (softened)
- 1¼ cups white sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cups grated zucchini (one medium zucchini)
- ⅓ cup chocolate chips
- Grease one 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F .
- Add flour, salt, baking powder/soda, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
- Beat eggs, butter, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Flour from bowl to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
- Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until wooden toothpick/skewer comes out clean when inserted in the center. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes
If you own a food processor you can shred the zucchini, switch to the chopper attachment and pulse for 2-3 seconds and remove zucchini into small bowl. Add wet ingredients and turn on for 30 seconds, add dry ingredients, zucchini, and chocolate chips and run for 5-10 seconds (until well combined) and you are ready to pour into pans and bake to deliciousness.
In my area, the tomatoes and cucumbers plants are starting to take off and are in desperate need of some additional support. After walking the aisles of my local home improvement store I couldn’t make myself pay the $15-30 for a single support. Sure they look real pretty but at that price it could take a few seasons to even break even for an inexpensive vegetable like cucumbers.
For this build I wanted something that was inexpensive and would be strong and hold up for years to come. My first thought was cattle panels they are made of 1/4 inch steel. You can find them even thicker if you want, but this size was perfect for my needs and is much easier to work with.
Note: For those observant people out there you may see some similarities between the cucumber/tomato cage and my pea tower…well they are the same thing and in my case I even reused my pea trellis tower to use with my cucumbers when my peas stopped producing. So this is a great multi-tasker in the garden.
First I started with a 4 foot by 8 foot cattle panel which ran me about $6 at Home Depot.
Given the panel had sharp edges and my largest vehicle is a pretty new minivan with leather seats I planned ahead and started the construction in the Home Depot parking lot (yeah got a couple funny looks) Taking a piece of scrap lumber I brought with me, I placed it on the 5th cross section on one side and bent it up until it was perpendicular to the ground then repeated with the other side.
The I carefully placed the bent panel into my minivan and brought it home for the remaining construction which pretty much was adding a zip tie in the middle to make a isosceles triangle and then tucked both ends to interweave with the other open side of the tower.
Next I used some pliers to not have as many sharp pointy parts for my kids…probably more likely me to poke myself with and also filed down any ends that seemed overly sharp. If you happen to have an angle grinder this would be a great way to quickly take care of these
Now you have everything constructed all you need to do is carefully place this over your tomato or cucumber plants and they shouldn’t have any problems climbing up this structure. I also just used my foot to push the pointy ends on the bottom into the ground to provide some additional support.
You might also see in this case I am also using a self watering 5 gallon bucket for my planter for this cucumber plant which has been working awesome. Just top off the water every few days and every two weeks include a little fish fertilizer in with the water to keep the growth vigorous.
Due to the size and shape of this design it should remain very stable the entire season and many more to come and at just $5-6 a piece and about 5 minutes of work a great value as well.