Vegetable Gardening Basics
All gardens have problems. One year it may be insects and disease and the next year it may be a drought. Gardening does require work, but by learning a few basic skills and techniques, you can make your vegetable gardening experience a pleasant one.
Gardening is an important step toward self-sufficiency. Having a renewable supply of fruits and vegetable, as well as healing herbs will put you well ahead in the survival game. When done correctly, a garden can provide years of healthy eating for your entire family.
Gardening can be a lot of work. Before diving in, you need to decide what your overall goals are. Evaluate your space, decide what you want to grow, and determine how active you want to be in maintaining your garden. Whatever your answers are, you can find something right for you—be it a full-blown garden of assorted fruits and vegetables or a few simple containers of tomatoes. Ultimately, you decide if you want this to play a major role in your self-sufficiency, or if you wish to merely supplement your supply stores.
“Gardening is the purest of human pleasures”
~ Francis Bacon
You aren’t limited to selecting one option – choose many if you want. Plant a garden in your yard, utilize containers where you can (inside and outside), add pots of herbs in windows in your kitchen, or utilize a cold frame, hoop house, or greenhouse and grow year-round.
Planning the Garden Location
Choosing a location for your garden is the most important step in the garden planning process. Vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight for best growth. Leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce will grow with less sunlight. Choose a location as far away as possible from trees and shrubs. The roots of nearby trees and shrubs will rob your vegetables of needed nutrients and water. Good soil with good drainage is needed. Have your soil tested before you start gardening (more on this later) to determine if your soil is lacking any needed nutrients. Since you’ll have to water your garden regularly, ensure to have a water source nearby.
If you’re starting off, don’t plan on an area that’s too large to maintain. Start with an area that’s about 6 feet by 8 feet or 10 feet by 10 feet and take it from there. Once you’ve had success in your first attempt with a small garden, expand it next year.
Finally, it is best to locate your garden close to your house for ease of access, as well as to keep predators (animals and pesky humans ) away.
Keep a Garden Journal
Keep a journal of your activities in the garden. Keep a list of the varieties of vegetables grown. Record seeding and planting dates, insect and disease problems, weather and harvest dates and yields. This information will be valuable as you plan future gardens.Check out: www.northerngardening.com/gardenjournal.pdf
What To Grow
Don’t go overboard with your seed ordering after viewing all the colorful garden catalogs with their beautiful pictures of veggies. Grow what your family likes to eat. As a first time gardener, stay away from “exotic” veggies like kohlrabi or hard to grow veggies like cauliflower or head lettuce.
Draw a Plan
It is always a good idea to draw a plan of your garden. It doesn’t have to be a fancy diagram. Remember the tallest plants in your garden such as corn should be at the north end of the garden and permanent vegetables like asparagus should be at the side of the garden.
If you don’t have space in your backyard or only have access to a sunny balcony or patio, you can still grow vegetables in containers. A container for vegetables can be as simple as a bushel basket lined with plastic, a hanging basket or a self-contained growing unit like an earth-box, pots, wooden boxes, cans, old electronics housing, vinyl hanging storage, plastic cups, and bins.
All containers, whether plastic or clay must have drainage. Soil in containers will dry out quickly, so frequent watering is necessary. Containers with no drainage will cause your vegetables to develop root rot. Use a sterilized, soilless mix for your container garden. Soilless mixes are light and contain some organic matter. Fertilize with a slow-release vegetable garden fertilizer that is applied in the spring and will provide nutrients for your veggies throughout the growing season.
Potting soil is recommended because it’s not only lightweight, it’s filled with nutrients plants need as well as the ability to stay moist. You can make your own if you have the right ingredients. (www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/how-to-make-your-own-potting-soil.aspx#axzz2lDBTywCH).
One of the advantages of container gardening is its portability. You can move your containers around for more sun, move plants indoors if it’s colder in the evenings and/or to protect them from harsh and violent weather.
Information provided by Ohio State University (www.ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/pdf/1647.pdf) can help you determine container sizes for different types of vegetables and herbs. There is also helpful information about fertilizing, watering, and regular maintenance that is required for container gardening—all thing that will need to be monitored for your garden to thrive.
Spade: Used to dig up the garden in preparation for planting and for adding organic matter to the soil.
Shovel: Used to scoop soil, compost, and other materials. Note: Sometimes, the term ‘spade’ is used interchangeably with a ‘shovel’ because it can perform the function of both
Hoe: Great for weeding, covering seeds and chopping up the soil. A standard hoe with a 4 or 6 inch blade will be your best bet to start off with.
Rake: Used to prepare the seedbed and to break-up large clods of soil.
Hand Trowel: Used for digging holes for transplants; planting and breaking up the soil around plants.
Hand Pruners: Used to prune hard branches of trees and shrubs, sometimes up to two centimeters thick.
Labels, string, ruler: Used to layout rows and measure correct spacing. Each vegetable should have a label with the name of the vegetable and the date seeded or planted on it.
Watering can: Use to water in seeds and transplants.
Potting Soil: It’s always a good idea to grab a bag of potting soil to add when planting. Depending on your soil, you might need a few bags. Potting soil amends compacted soil and clay, and helps plants take root.
Compost and Peat Moss: These provide an organic boost and improve soil during planting. It’s important to add organic matter like compost each year to keep your soil healthy.
Soil Preparation and Fertilization
Before you can plant, soil preparation is a must. A good indicator that your soil is right for planting is by reviewing the current plant-life in the area. Is it thriving? Does it appear healthy? If the surrounding plants are yellowing, look diseased, or infested with bugs, it’s probably not a good place to break ground.
Plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as trace amounts of many other minerals for optimal health. It is a delicate balance. While nitrogen is required for stem and leaf growth, too much of it and the plant will put on a lot of foliage and little or no flowers. Without flowers, the plant will not develop the desired fruit or vegetables.
Phosphorus is imperative for root growth, making it an especially important for root crops such as potatoes, carrots, and beets. Potassium is necessary for overall plant health.
Both nitrogen and potassium are water soluble, so they are naturally washed away over time. Composting is a great way to add these nutrients back into the soil, giving your plants what they need to thrive.
Another important part of the soil that affects plant growth is pH. Ranging from 1 to 14, with 1 be the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Plants prefer a range of 6.2 to 6.8 which is in the low-acid neutral range. The most accurate way to test pH is with a commercial test kit or by sending a sample off to be tested in a lab. This is a highly unlikely option in survival situations, but a simple home test can give you a general idea of what you can expect if you choose to plant in a given location.
Collecting organic scraps for compost is a great way to eliminate waste and provide your plants with nutrients that it needs to thrive. Any fruit or vegetable scrap, cut grass and other vegetation (no seeds), newspaper, egg shells, used coffee grounds, and woodchips can be collected to create high-quality compost. These matter can be collected into a bin ( called a compost bin) and broken down by mixing the contents together; or it can be planted directly into your garden to allow the earth to help it decompose.
Keep in mind that cooked meat should NOT be added to your compost pile—it will attract pests and possible disease. Here’s a list of 81 items you can use for your compost: www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/81-things-you-can-compost.
Testing soil PH
To get an idea of the pH level of your soil, scoop some soil into a container and add half a cup of vinegar. If the soil fizzes or bubbles it’s alkaline. If you don’t notice a change, scoop more soil into another container and add half a cup of water and mix it together. Then add half a cup of baking soda. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it’s highly acidic. (If you’d rather test your soil pH by using a kit from your supply store, please do so.)
Some gardeners recommend that you amend the soil yourself by adding lime or wood ash if the soil is acidic or by adding sulfur or pine needles if it’s alkaline. Other gardeners will argue that adding chemicals to the soil is an inadequate fix—that the reason the pH is off to begin with has to do with the nutrients in the soil. High pH soil can be attributed to an imbalance of minerals such as having sodium and potassium but lacking calcium and magnesium. It also suggests that maybe there’s a nutritional and microbial imbalance. Correcting the pH by adding lime or sulfur will not add those nutrients back into the soil or improve the overall health of your plants. However, if you add high-quality compost you can not only improve the soil pH but also improve the overall health of your plants.
Types of Soil
There are three types of soil: sand, clay, and loam. Sandy soil allows roots to push through the earth easily—it’s ideal for root vegetables like potatoes and carrots. It also allows water to drain away easily. Clay holds water longer but can become water-logged because it’s so packed. Shallow-rooted plants love this type of soil.
While different plants prefer different types of soil, loam is preferred on average because of the balance of sand, clay, and organic matter. Most plants will thrive with loam soil.
How to Determine Your Soil Type
Determining your type of soil is fairly easy. The first step is the dry test; can you push your shovel through it easily? When dry, both sandy soil and loam are fairly easy to shovel. Clay, on the other hand, will be quite hard to push your shovel through—when it’s dry, it’s very dry.
The next part of the test is the wet test. Clump some damp soil in your hand and roll it into a ball. If it rolls nicely and is sticky and gritty, you have loam. If you have trouble rolling it or it falls apart, and it’s gritty, it’s sandy. If you can roll it nicely and it’s shiny, it’s likely clay.
Plan to use all the space in your garden. Through planting techniques like vertical cropping, succession planting, intercropping, using raised beds, and no-dig gardening, you can make maximum use of the space you have.
Train veggies like pole beans, cucumbers, squash and gourds to some type of support to save space in the garden. Existing fences, poles, wire cages, trellises can be used for support.
This technique involves growing a crop like lettuce in the spring and replacing it when the warm weather hits with a crop like beans. In the late summer, you can reverse the process and replace the beans with a cool season crop like lettuce or radishes.
Intercropping is the growing technique of planting fast growing vegetables among slow growing vegetables. An example of this technique would be planting radishes, lettuce or green onions among caged tomato plants.
Using Raised Beds
This is a form of gardening in which the soil is raised above the surrounding soil (approximately 6 inches to waist-high), is sometimes enclosed by a frame generally made of wood, rock, or concrete blocks, and may be enriched with compost.
The vegetable plants are spaced in geometric patterns, much closer together than conventional row gardening. The spacing is such that when the vegetables are fully grown, their leaves just barely touch each other, creating a microclimate in which weed growth is suppressed and moisture is conserved.
Raised beds produce a variety of benefits: they extend the planting season; they can reduce weeds if designed and planted properly and reduce the need to use poor native soil. Since the gardener does not walk on the raised beds, the soil is not compacted and the roots have an easier time growing. The close plant spacing and the use of compost generally result in higher yields with raised beds in comparison to conventional row gardening. Waist-high raised beds enable the elderly and physically disabled to grow vegetables without having to bend-over to tend them.
Historically the reasons for tilling the soil are to remove weeds, loosen and aerate the soil, and incorporate organic matter such as compost or manure into lower soil layers. In areas with thin soil and high erosion there is a strong case against digging, which argues that in the long term it can be detrimental to the food web in the fragile topsoil.
While digging is an effective way of removing perennial weed roots, it also causes seeds to remain dormant for many decades before they germinatet. The act of aerating the soil also increases the rate of decomposition and reduces soil organic matter. Digging can also damage soil structure, causing compaction, and unbalance symbiotic and mutualist interactions among soil life. Digging tends to displace nutrients, shifting surface organic material deeper, where there is less oxygen to support their decomposition into nutrients for plants.
No-dig methods allow nature to carry out cultivation operations. Organic matter such as well rotted manure, compost, leaf mold, spent mushroom compost, old straw, etc., is added directly to the soil surface as a mulch at least 5-15 centimeters (2–6 in) deep, which is then incorporated by the actions of worms, insects and microbes. Worms and other soil life also assist in building up the soil’s structure, their tunnels providing aeration and drainage, and their excretions bind together soil crumbs. This natural biosphere maintains healthy conditions in the upper soil horizons where annual plant roots thrive.
No-dig systems are said to be freer of pests and disease, possibly due to a more balanced soil population being allowed to build up in this undisturbed environment, and by the buildup of beneficial rather than harmful soil fungi. Moisture is also retained more efficiently under mulch than on the surface of bare earth, allowing slower percolation and less leaching of nutrients.
Another no-dig method is sheet mulching wherein a garden area is covered with wetted paper or cardboard, compost and topped off with landscape mulch.
A no-dig system is easier than digging. It is a long term process, and is reliant upon having plentiful organic matter to provide mulch material. It is also helpful to remove any perennial weed roots from the area beforehand, although their hold can be weakened by applying a light-excluding surface layer such as large sheets of cardboard or several thicknesses of spread out newspaper before adding the compost mulch. The newspaper or cardboard should be thoroughly wet to help it lie flat and keep it from blowing away until the overlying material is added. A popular book, Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza (Rodale Press, Inc.) provides excellent instructions for the novice user.
For more info on this method, visit: www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s867068.htm
▼ Run a germination test of your veggie seeds before planting. Wet a paper towel and place the seeds in a row about an inch from the edge. Roll the paper towel up from the opposite side and put the towel in a warm area like the top of the refrigerator. Mist the towel to keep it moist. After 10 to 14 days, unroll the towel and check the number of seeds that have germinated. If less than half have germinated, either discard or seed more heavily this spring.
▼ Clean your garden tools. Remove soil and use a wire brush to remove rust. Prepare a mixture of a bottle of motor oil and builder’s sand in a five-gallon bucket. Dip the tools into the sand several times to clean and prevent rusting. This mixture can be used over and over again. Treat the handles with boiled linseed oil and paint the handles with a bright color to make them easier to find in the garden.
▼ Avoid damping off with seedlings. Damping off is a major threat to young seedlings being grown indoors. Damping off thrives in cold, humid, wet, conditions with poor air circulation. Symptoms of damping off include curling, wilting and collapse of emerged seedlings. Some preventative measures that will reduce the likelihood of damping off include: Use high-quality, treated seed; use sanitized soil and containers; keep soil on the dry side; and provide plenty of light and air circulation to the seedlings.
▼ In the spring, never work your soil when it is wet. Tilling or digging when the soil is wet will cause it to dry into concrete-like clods. Pick up a handful of soil before digging and squeeze. If it crumbles easily, it is ready to be tilled. If it doesn’t crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a couple of more days and test again before digging.
Planting the Garden
When To Plant
The old saying that “patience is a virtue” applies to gardeners who get the itch to garden when temperatures warm up in the spring. One of the ways to determine when to plant veggies is based on their hardiness or their ability to withstand frost and cold temperatures.
▼ Very hardy vegetables can be planted four to six weeks before the frost-free date in the spring. Potato tubers and onion sets can be planted. Asparagus, broccoli and cabbage can be planted as transplants (more on this later). Collards, spinach, peas, lettuce and turnips can be planted outside directly from seed (i.e, not as a transplant.)
▼ Frost tolerant vegetables can be planted two to three weeks before the frost-free date. Cauliflower can be planted as a transplant. Carrots, mustard, parsnip, beets and radishes can be planted outside directly from seed.
▼ Tender vegetables can be planted on or after the frost-free date. Beans, sweet corn and summer squash can be planted outside directly from seed.
▼ Warm-loving vegetables can be planted one to two weeks after the frost-free date. Warm loving vegetables need warm temperatures and warm soil before planting.
What To Plant
Reitering what was mentioned before ->Don’t go overboard with your seed ordering after viewing all the colorful garden catalogs with their beautiful pictures of veggies. Grow what your family likes to eat. As a first time gardener, stay away from “exotic” veggies like kohlrabi or hard to grow veggies like cauliflower or head lettuce.
Choose disease resistant varieties of vegetables. Just because a vegetable has built-in resistance to a specific disease doesn’t mean that that vegetable will not get the disease, but it will fare better than a vegetable that has no resistance to the disease. Verticillium and fusarium wilt attack tomatoes. The tomato variety ‘Celebrity’ is resistant to both wilt diseases. The letters VF by the variety’s name in a garden catalog or on a plant label indicates that the plant is resistant to both wilts.
How To Plant
❶ Plan: Outline the area of the garden that you want to plant in (remember, you can start off with a 6 X 8 feet, or 10 X 10 feet area) – dig stakes (sticks, stones, or whatever) on to the ground on the four corners of the area, and tie a string across the perimeter of the area by latching onto the stakes. Use white spray paint (or something comparable) to mark the perimeter enclosed by the string. This is where you will be digging
❷Dig: Remove the string and using a sharp shovel, cut along the painted line, going gown 4 to 5 inches. Most ground will be easier to dig than dry, so you may want to dig just after the rain – or, water your garden location the night before.
❸ Remove unwanted material: Use the shovel to clear the top area. Cut grass turf (if you have any) into easy to handle square strips. Force your shovel under each square and lift. Remove any weeds or sod in the area.
❹ Loosen the soil: With the sod removed, use a shovel to loosen the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. A rototiller (not required, but awesome if you have one) makes this job a breeze.
❺ Level it out: With a rake, level the now-loose soil, being careful not to pack it down with your feet. Pick out any rocks, roots, and weeds. Prepare a smooth seedbed.
❻ Fertilize: Vegetables need nutrients to grow. A good vegetable garden fertilizer (regular fertilizer) should have an analysis of something like 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. The first number stands for the per cent of nitrogen, the second number the per cent of phosphorus and the third number the per cent of potassium. Nitrogen promotes green growth, phosphorus promotes root growth and fruit development, and potassium promotes disease resistance and root development. If you are growing your vegetables organically, organic fertilizers like peat moss, compost or composted cow manure are a good source of nutrients for your vegetables.
If you plan to use regular fertilizer, spread 1 1/2 pounds of a vegetable garden fertilizer over every 100 square feet (i.e. 10 X 10 feet) of your vegetable garden . A one pound coffee can hold 1 1/2 pounds of fertilizer. Rake the fertilizer into the top 2-4 inches of soil.
If you plan to use an organic fertilizer, add a two to four inch layer of organic matter (compost, peat moss, and so on) over the vegetable garden and dig it into the soil. Organic matter will improve your soil structure besides adding nutrients to the soil.
Fertilizer Tip 1: Apply fertilizer regularly. Many gardeners apply once and then stop. Watering and rain will wash away applied fertilizer in a few weeks, so you need to apply it at seeding time as well as every few weeks (at least every 3weeks) through the growing season. Refer to your fertilizer label for amounts as well as frequency of application.
Fertilizer Tip 2: If you’re using liquid fertilizer (as opposed to solid granular fertilizer), it should be applied every other time you water your plants as they don’t last in the soil for long periods of time. Refer to your fertilizer label for amounts as well as frequency of application.
❼ Time to plant: Quick checkpoint: have you created a smooth seedbed? To avoid compacting the soil, try to avoid walking over areas you will be seeding and planting. Tall plants and staked plants (plants requiring supports, such as tomatoes and pole beans) should be on the north side (yes, if you don’t know which side is North, use a compass) Be sure to follow the directions on the seed manual for the spacing between seeds, spacing between seed rows, and planting-depth of the seeds. As a general rule, seeds should be planted to a depth 2 to 4 times their diameter or largest width. Cover the planted seeds with soil and tamp it down with the back of your hoe.
❽ Water: Give your new garden a gentle but thorough watering as soon as possible after planting, and keep moist until germination occurs. Optimally, your garden should get 1 inch of water a week, which equates to a once a week “thorough” watering session. Let the garden get a little dry between watering sessions. During the rainy season you might not need to water for several weeks. Remember: Do not let your garden get too dry and do not let your garden drown in water (too much water will suffocate the roots and cause the plants to rot.)
Watering Tip 1: Water the roots, not the foliage. Showering the foliage is of no use to the plant (unless of course it’s an indoor plant and you want it to look clean.)
Watering Tip 2: Try to water in the morning. This will ensure that the plant’s roots have enough moisture for the heat of the day. If you water in the evening, the plants could stay wet overnight, which could lead to diseases.
❾ Stake the plants (if needed): Within a few days to a few weeks, you can begin staking (i.e. erecting supports and trellises) those plants that will need it, such as tomatoes and pole beans. None of the plants in the ‘High-Protein’ seed pack requires a stake.
Additional Planting Tips
▼ If you’re planting tomatoes, ensure to mulch and to use stakes. Put a layer of hardwood mulch around your tomato plants. This serves many purposes from water retention and insect repulsion, to the reduction of rotten fruit and weed elimination. When planting, be sure to install supports such as stakes/cages (for the plant to climb/latch on to), so that you don’t damage your plants by adding them later in the season. Stakes and cages keep your plants upright, increasing airflow and reducing disease.
▼ Galvanized wire fencing can be used to enclose your garden area to protect it from rabbits and deer. If deer are not a problem for you, 3 ft. fencing is sufficient; if they are, a 5 ft. fence will keep your garden protected. Secure it on all sides with stakes placed three to five feet apart
▼ To keep birds away from your garden, be creative and get a scarecrow. Have some fun with it You’ll need a long stake or pole, bright colored clothing, a staple gun, twine or thin rope, straw or fiberfill, gloves and a funny hat. Once you’ve attached the scarecrow to the pole, mount it securely in or near your garden. Be sure to move it every couple of days to keep birds guessing
▼ Tips for using stakes, supports, and trellises: Low-growing plants like lettuce, cabbage, squash, broccoli and herbs don’t need any support – just let them do their thing. Beans, peppers, eggplants, e.t.c, will also be just fine, but they may benefit from a small trellis to help protect them from wind damage and to support them from wind damage when they’re weighed down with fresh veggies. Vining vegetables with heavy fruit, such as melons, pumpkins, and squash are most often left to trail across the ground, which is why you should give them plenty of space.
▼ In your High Protein seed pack, only the ‘Henderson’s Dwarf Butter’ Lima Beans will need any kind of support. It’s the vigorous vining plants – tomatoes, cucumbers, and pole beans – that benefit most from a good support structure. You can use any sort of structure ( use your imagination) – tree branches, garden trellises found in hardware stores, plant cages, wooden sticks, whatever works. Thicker and stronger, the better.
Try to sink your supports into the soil at least ¼th their length – so, a 4 ft. support should be buried 12 inches. As the plants grow larger, they will have tied to the supports. Use stretchy plastic tie material designed for the purpose, or use garden twine, raffia or other natural materials. Just try not to tie too tightly or the plant’s stem won’t be able to expand as it grows.
5 Tips from Master Gardeners
❶ Consider using raised beds: Make a frame from 2 ft. X 10 ft. (or similar) lumber and fill it with garden soil. It is easier than digging out sod; plus, you can move it. It brings up the height of the garden to an easy working height. You can start off with 4, 2 ft. X 10 ft. beds.
❷ Plant your tomatoes deep: They must be planted deeper than the pot from which they were transplanted. Completely immerse the plant in the hole and leave just the top tip of the plant with some leaves exposed (about 2 inches exposed,) and you’ll grow a sturdier plant. Note: Don’t try this with any other vegetables, or you may rot them.
❸ Reuse branches as plant supports: Save long, long, or artfully shaped branches to use as plant supports. They lend a natural look to your garden.
❹ Pull weeds early and often: It’s much easier this way than having to pull weeds when they have developed strong root systems
❺ Grow a little, often: Stagger your plantings throughout the spring. That way everything won’t ripen at once, and you’ll have smaller quantities of fresh produce for a longer period of time.
Transplants (i.e. Planting indoors first and then transplanting them outside)
▼ Starting seeds indoors is a great idea with any garden. It allows you to get an early start on your planting, and you can transplant seedlings outdoors once the weather warms. Many plants will continue to do well indoors and can be tricked into producing longer or earlier, depending on its growing season. Whether you are planting in a particularly sunny room or if you’ve constructed a greenhouse, these gardens can be extended into winter months to offer continually provisions throughout the year
▼ Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, eggplants and collards are planted as transplants. In your High Protein seed pack, only broccoli needs to be planted outside as transplants.
▼ When you purchase transplants directly from your garden store (if you choose not to grow indoors and to plant directly outside), choose transplants with the following characteristics:
Choose plants with healthy green leaves. Avoid plants with yellowing or browning leaves. These plants may be diseased.
Avoid plants in pots with roots growing out of the drainage hole. This usually indicates the plant may be root bound. Tap the plant out of the pot and check the roots. Healthy roots will be white. Roots that have browned are dead. Avoid purchasing these plants.
Check the plants for insects. Shake the plant. If you see tiny white flying insects, they may be whiteflies. Check the undersides of the leaves for aphids. Aphids are tiny, oval shaped insects that cluster on the undersides of leaves. Both of these insects are sucking insects that will cause browning and curling of leaves. Do not buy insect infested plants.
▼ Before planting your transplants, harden off your plants. Hardening off is a process of slowly introducing transplants to cooler temperatures and brighter light conditions outdoors. Gradually increase the time your transplants spend outdoors over a week to ten days before planting.
▼ Try to plant outside on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon to avoid planting in high temperatures. Planting in high temperatures will put your plants under a lot of stress. Dig a hole big enough for the plant’s root ball (i.e, the transplanted plant’s root ball). Try not to damage the root system as you remove the plant from its pot. Space the transplants at recommended distances.
▼ Water your transplants with a cup of a starter fertilizer. Mix one to two tablespoons of a soluble starter fertilizer with a gallon of water. A starter fertilizer is high in phosphorus. Phosphorus helps to promote root development. Promoting root development will get your plant off to a good start.
▼ Be sure to label all the plants in your garden. It is very difficult to identify plants, especially just after germination.
▼ Save orange juice and tuna fish cans to use as barriers around newly transplanted plants to protect them from the cutworm. Cutworms will chew through the stems at soil level. Cut both ends from the cans and push cans about an inch into the soil around the plants. After two to three weeks, the cans can be removed because the stems will have thickened enough to withstand any cutworm damage.
▼ Water vegetable transplants with a starter fertilizer. This should be water soluble, high phosphorus (N-P-K) mixed fertilizer. Phosphorus helps to promote root growth.
▼ Protect cucurbit crops (cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins) from cucumber beetles and the cucumber wilt that they spread as they feed with floating row covers after planting. Make sure to remove the row cover after the plants have begun flowering, so that they can be pollinated.
▼ Tomatoes are subject to a few diseases. Verticillium and fusarium wilts are soil borne diseases that cause yellowing of the leaves, wilting and premature death of plants. Resistant varieties are the best preventative. Resistant tomatoes will have “VF” on the label.
▼ Carrots can be planted as early as the end of March/first of April. To get long straight carrots the soil should be loose, worked deeply, well drained and have no clods or rocks in the soil.
▼ Plant onion sets in April. Buy sets early before they start sprouting in garden centers. Divide the sets up into those that are larger than a dime in diameter and those smaller. The bigger sets are best grown for green onions. The smaller sets make the best large onions for storage. Torpedo-shaped onions will produce round onions while the round sets will produce flat onions. For green onions, plant the bigger sets one inch deep and touching each other. For large, dry onions plant the small sets one inch deep and two to four inches apart.
▼ Reiterting this point again ->Buy healthy vegetable transplants (if you choose not to grow indoors and to plant directly outside). Leaves and stems should be green and healthy without any signs of yellowing or browning. Yellowing or browning leaves may indicate an insect or disease problem. Gently remove transplants from their tray and check the root system. Roots should be white with visible soil. Transplants with brown dead roots should not be purchased. Check for insects such as whiteflies or aphids.
▼ Reiterating this point too -> Be sure to gradually introduce your transplants to the outdoor environment over a period of days, especially plants grown and purchased in a greenhouse. When you do plant, water your transplants in with a starter fertilizer that is high in phosphorus which helps to promote root development.
▼ Plant flowers in your vegetable garden. Many flowers will attract the beneficial insects, parasites and predators that help control pests. Good choices are sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, tansy, cosmos, yarrow, coneflower and sunflower.
▼ Choose disease resistant varieties. Provide good air circulation to help control disease. Stake or cage plants and allow proper spacing.
▼ Time plantings to avoid insect problems. For instance, to avoid the worst time for squash vine borer and corn earworm, plant squash and corn so it can be harvested by July.
▼ Sow radish, lettuce, spinach, beet and turnip seed late in August. These vegetables will mature in the cooler fall weather.
Harvesting (i.e., Plucking)
Some fruits and vegetables can be harvested year-round, while others produce for a few short weeks, and they’re done. Try to keep notes on all of the plants you are growing—if you can keep your original seed packages, this will be helpful. Many varieties grow to different sizes, and these packages should let you know the ideal size to harvest at, as well as sun and watering specs and the ideal time to plant each year.
Most vegetables are at the peak of flavor and tenderness when they are smaller, so consider harvesting while they are relatively small.
While you’re harvesting your plants keep an eye open for trouble. If you notice yellowing leaves or rotting fruit, remove them to prevent your plant from wasting energy, allowing it to focus its effort on healthier sections.
Best Storage Tips for Your Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom seeds are very practical because they can provide a seed supply and food source for a lifetime. All you have to do is preserve the seeds that come from your harvests and you can use them for many decades to come! You can even save money because you won’t have to buy new seeds at the beginning of every season.
Seed Storage: Canning jars with seal
Keep these seed-storing tips handy:
▼ When saving seeds from your heirloom crops, you’ll want to air-dry them for a week before storage. Just lay them out on newspapers until they’re completely dry. Add labels so as not to mix them up. Your seeds have to **totally dry** before you consider storing them for long term storage (A quick test to see if seeds are totally dry: they should shatter or break into two when struck with a hammer)
▼ To prolong the shelf life of your heirloom seeds, you need to always keep them away from moisture. Do this by first putting them in ziplock (poly) bags (make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing the zip) and then placing them inside suitable containers. Mylar bags (such as the one provided in your High-Protein pack) work extremely well as they prevent light, air, heat, moisture, gas and aromas, from coming into contact with your seeds. Mylar is a also good insulator against electrical disturbances. For all of these reasons and more, Mylar bags are considered a gold standard when it comes to long term food storage. Canning jars (with rubber seals) and Kilner jars (with rubber seals) also work well as containers for your heirloom seeds in ziplock bags.
▼ Use desiccants (such as rice grains, dry powdered milk, silica gel beads, or oxygen absorbers) as an added insurance to remove the excess humidity and moisture in your Mylar seed package or canning/Kilner jar containing the ziplock seed packets. A cloth bag filled with ½ cup of dry, powdered milk placed beneath the seed ziplock packets at the bottom of the Mylar bag or canning jar will do the trick. The desiccant should never come in direct contact with the heirloom seeds – hence the reason for storing the seeds in ziplock (poly) plastic bags. Remember to change the desiccant every six months
▼ Aside from moisture, heat is one of the worst enemies of seed storage. Never expose the seeds to any kind of heat because it will shorten their viability. Keep seeds away from heating vents, cupboards near the ceiling where heat rises up, air conditioner vents, exterior doorways, and direct sunlight; also, make sure that the temperature in your storage location does not fluctuate, as it is detrimental to your seeds. Places where temperatures fluctuate, such as in a garage which is not air conditioned (spring time: cool/summers: hot; nights: cool/ day time/hot), and so on should be avoided.
▼ The best place to store your seeds is in the darkest, driest and coolest part of your house. Here’s an estimate of how long your seeds will be viable, under various storage conditions:
Stored damp -> maybe 1 year [Never....never do this !!!]
Stored dry at room temperature -> 4-5 years
Stored dry and cold (e.g., a refrigerator, a cool basement 40-50° F) –> 5-10 years
Stored very dry and very cold in a deep freeze (e.g., freezer) ->10+ years
▼ If you are storing the seed in a cool basement, you have to protect against the possibility of moisture intrusion. The seeds (with or without bags) should be placed in air-tight containers, such as canning jars with rubber seals.
▼ For storing for longer periods of time, the refrigerator is a good option. To completely eliminate the possibility of any moisture entering your seeds, here is our recommendation for seed storage in a refrigerator or freezer:
Place the seeds in ziplock (poly) bags into the Mylar bag containing a desiccant (such a rice grains or dry milk.) Then, place the Mylar bag inside of a canning/Kilner jar (with rubber seals). This will give you a three-fold protection against light, moisture, and aromas. Remember: Zip lock bags + Mylar bag + Canning jar/Kilner jar (with rubber seal)
▼ For frozen/refrigerated seed, be sure to allow the container – still closed – to warm to room temperature before opening. If opened too soon, moisture can condense on the cold seeds, leading to spoilage.
▼ For larger amounts of seed, dividing them between several ziplock bags in the same Mylar bag or canning jar allows you to remove just the seed you need, without warming the entire quantity. Frequent warming & cooling is detrimental to long-term storage.
▼ Label and date your heirloom seed containers. This way, you can instantly tell which is which and how old they are. It’s also a good idea to organize the seeds according to the season they were harvested, for easy tracking.
▼ Note that heirloom seeds have different shelf lives depending on their variety. For instance, corn might only be viable for a year while cantaloupes can go up to five years—which is why you’ll have to keep planting and saving the seeds from your crops if you want a continuous supply of quality heirloom seeds.
For more information on seed storage, check out: