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How to Extend Your Gardening Season to Enjoy Fall Vegetables:

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Most avid gardeners will tell you that planting crops in the summer can produce some wonderfully tasting vegetables. However, many of us are guilty of becoming too complacent with crops during fall months, leaving them diseased and unhealthy. It’s essential that harvesting is continued throughout cold winter months, to ensure vegetables have the best chances of growing naturally and healthily. In fact certain vegetables prefer to grow during cold and frosty conditions notably, leaks and potatoes. So it is always wise to ensure your harvesting areas are kept well looked after all year round. You may need to consider storing vegetables within a potting shed if it’s too early for them to be planted; this will keep them out of the way and well sheltered.

Many fall vegetables can be grown at home, some of which are; lettuce, turnips, leaks, and pumpkins. These crops can be planted during mid-summer once you start to harvest you other vegetables. Early in the summer you should think about what to plant for arrival in the fall. Leeks are one crop that actually survive the frost and thrive in cold weather. The problem is they should actually be planted early on in the year but harvested in the cold months such as late October or November. This means you would have to maintain this crop throughout the spring and summer months as well. They can be planted outside as soon as the soil is dry enough. Butternut squash is another that will keep well with frost and can be harvested in the cold. They are actually sweeter when picked in the cooler temperatures. Just be sure to harvest them before the ground gets frozen solid.
 
To keep fall crops efficiently maintained throughout the summer and into the colder months, they should be planted indoors, allowing them to become seedlings more readily. Place them in the ground once they are a couple inches tall and can withstand the elements. In order to avoid drying out during the summer months it is best to cover your crops in straw or even hay. This will help retain moisture in the soil as much as possible. Once the frost arrives you should keep a close eye on your plants. Some of the plants survive well in frost just as long as the ground doesn’t get frozen solid. Depending on the plant some of them may prefer to be covered with cold frames or tents to avoid the cold shock. You can use an old window frame on legs with a transparent sheet or simply drape transparent sheets over your plants. Make sure it is transparent enough to allow sunlight as this will create a greenhouse effect and keep temperatures warmer underneath.

It may be clear now that vegetables from a home garden can be enjoyed throughout the year. Nevertheless, the only way to achieve this is to maintain your garden throughout the late summer and fall months and carefully choose plants that survive well into the colder months of the fall and winter. As mentioned before plants such as leeks and butternut squash are at their best when harvested in the colder months. Butternut squash is an easy plant to care for in the fall time and only requires harvesting once the frost starts to arrive. Leeks on the other hand can withstand much of the cold of fall and winter but require much longer growing times than other vegetables. Yet, with careful decision making and maintenance of plants in late summer and fall you can almost certainly enjoy these vegetables fresh from your garden even when it’s cold outside.

Robin Hay is an editor/writer working on behalf of tiger sheds. Over the last 12 months he has written numerous articles relating to gardening matters which aim to educate newcomers to the garden environment. To view more of his work please visit – http://www.tigersheds.com/garden-resources/

Always have a Plan B in gardening

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In college I had a business class, it definitely wasn’t the most memorable since all I remember it had something to do with working with small businesses.  There was an important takeaway, which was always have a “Plan B”.  The teacher used this term in particular when we were preparing to give presentations to the class, it was fine to use a PowerPoint presentation, though better have some overhead slides “just in case,” which many times became a necessity in the end due to “technical issues”.

This advice definitely applies to gardening as well.  In my case, especially if you want to push your planting date for your summer vegetables due to your short growing season.  It is great to be ambitious and plan on getting your tomatoes out weeks before your last frost date, though when the inevitable frost comes and kills your plants you need a “Plan B”  Last year, I really didn’t have one so I was forced to go to my nursery and blowing my gardening budget on the limited selection of summer vegetable seedlings.

This year I was a little smarter and planted my seeds still ambitiously but also planted a few more a couple week later.  This way, if Mother Nature is cruel to my optimism I still have a backup.  If she is kind I always have some extra tomato/pepper seedlings to offer to friends and neighbors or create a couple more upside down tomato/pepper planters.

How to save onion seeds from the garden

In the past I have harvested seeds for cilantro which worked so well I have decided to try more this year. Now my gigantic onions are producing seed stalks and umbels are beginning to open seems like a good time to try harvesting my own onion seeds.

To save these seeds it is pretty simple, when the umbels have dried out and begin to open. At this time carefully cut them off (making sure that seeds do not fall) and place in a them in a cool dry location for 2-3 weeks. I prefer to put my harvest seeds in the refrigerator in a paper bag. It is a good idea for onions to cross pollinate so I will plan on buying some other onion seeds to mix with the ones I am harvesting to allow for cross pollination.

Onions take 100-120 days from seed to maturity, if you start from sets which you grow from the previous year can shave 3-4 weeks off that time. I could make my own onion sets by planting 30-40 seeds in a square foot area during late summer. After two months rake over the tops and let them turn brown and dry out then store them in a dry place until next spring.

My PC grow box will be empty 10 weeks before my last frost date so planning on starting my onion seeds in there moving them outside 4 weeks before the last frost.

If you want to learn more about saving seeds for onions or other vegetables be sure to check out International Seed Saving Institute which has great advice about saving seeds from dozens of different plants.

Tips for Getting Started with Year-Round Gardening

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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.

Releasing ladybugs in your garden


When we started my garden at my our current house my daughters and I noticed we didn’t have any ladybugs roaming around the leaves. Now I would like to think that aphids and mites feared me so much to dare to step foot in my garden, but the reality is I live in a newer neighborhood with vegetation in its early stages and with the lush forest around me it is hard to compete.

If the ladybugs will not come to your garden your only choice is bring them there yourself. I did this by purchasing some ladybugs at our local home and garden store which ours starts carrying them a little after the local last frost date. Unfortunately, I took my daughters with me when I bought a bag of 1000 lady bugs for $5.00 so no every time we go to Home Depot they need to check to see if the ladybugs are there today, guess this will be a yearly tradition. If you can’t find them locally you can always purchase live ladybugs online.

Why would I want these bugs in my garden? Well other my girls get a lot of joy searching in our garden for them they are also an awesome beneficial insect which each one can eat up to 5000 aphids/mites in their lifetime. When you decide to release them be sure to follow the directions on the package and do so at night so they don’t all fly off to the neighbor’s yard. If you have kids you might want release a 100 or so during the daytime so you can make sure you get some cute pictures like the one below.


UPDATE:
Shortly after posting this I was taking some pictures of some of my mystery bulbs coming up and noticed the lady bug below, guess my garden can actually attract a few of them on its own.

Oh the carnage…


I am sorry to inform you that we have had a death in the garden. By entering this world a just a little sprout started from a packet of seeds just a couple of months ago. They spent most of their life being nurtured in the comfortable surroundings of the PC grow box our poor tomoto plants did not survive the harshness freakish winter storm we which occurred weeks after our supposed last frost date. On the positive side all of our cold season crops (garlic, onions, cilantro, lettuce, peas) as well as the corn and butterfly garden flowers have endured and enjoyed cozying up with the snow and are doing just fine.

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