Vegetable Garden Planting Calendar – When to Plant What

Yes, it may be frigid, raining and cold or even snowing outside, but now is the time to begin working on your vegetable garden planting calendar. Even though you may not be able to plant outside yet, all the preparation that you do now will ensure that you have a delicious selection of vegetables for the spring and summer. Many organizations, websites and apps provide tools for free that will ensure that you are successful whether you are interested in a moon or lunar gardening calendar, an organic gardening calendar, an astrological gardening calendar, a bio dynamic gardening calendar or even the tried and true Farmers Almanac gardening calendar. Let’s take a look at some tools that are available to you.

Lunar and Astrological Gardening Calendars

At Rhythm of Nature, you can find both a bio dynamic calendar and a gardening calendar to help you decide when to germinate, propagate, transplant, fertilize, etc. Why would you be interested in gardening by the moon? When you use the correct lunar phase for planting and fertilizing, plants will have increased strength because they are growing optimally. These plants are not prone to set backs that can affect less healthy plants. In addition, you can often harvest earlier with larger more abundant crops that will not go to seed as quickly.

Rhythm of Nature provides an easy to understand, icon-based bio-dynamic calendar and gardener calendar that will guide you through moon gardening. If you would prefer to do your own calculations on when to plant, try Gardening by the Moon for a detailed description of how to determine moon gardening dates for your area. In addition, they have an abundance of research and information on moon or lunar gardening.

The Farmer’s Almanac provides additional information about using lunar phases for gardening as well as access to a moon gardening calendar if you are interested in pursuing this method of gardening.

Organic Gardening Calendars

It is helpful to know generally what to do each season for gardening so that you can pre-plan ahead for each season. Dummies offers a simple and generic seasonal calendar to get you up to speed on what to do year-round. As they recommend, their organic gardening calendar will help you to work with nature as you grow, rather than against it.

Urban Farmers offers planting schedules for each state in an easy to use map that includes states and zones for planting. They provide a wealth of information on all aspects of growing as well a non-GMO seeds and other gardening products.

The National Gardening Association offers calendar information about garden planning with details for your specific area. This organization began in 1971 with a mission to teach people how to garden and to improve their skills. Their organization has the largest social media website dedicated exclusively to gardening. The site contains online tools for gardeners to teach, share and even trade with each other. In addition, the site contains a multitude of research and information for the gardener.

Other Gardening Calendars

Burpee also offers a gardening calendar by zip code that can be printed for your individual use. In addition, they provide first and last frost dates for your area. The calendars are based on location and growing zones and allows you to select calendars for vegetables, herbs, fruits, perennials and flowers. The site contains an enormous amount of other information for the home gardener.

Each extension office provides information and growing calendars for your area. The extension offices have a non-formal educational program provided by each state’s designated land-grant universities. Extension services are implemented in the United States to assist individuals in using research-based knowledge to improve their lives. You can either visit extension offices online or you can visit them in person for details on when to plant what in your location and zone. It is easy to find your local extension agent here by entering your zip code. If you have never taken advantage of the resources available at your local extension office, you are missing an invaluable resource.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that vegetables from the garden taste better than produce you buy in the stores. I cannot imagine anyone who has ever tasted something just picked off the plant disagreeing with this. While it can be more time-consuming to grow your own vegetables, the positive outcome can be well worth it. All the tools mentioned above will help you as you move forward on your gardening journey.

Ladies Garden Gloves – What Size Do I Get?

If selecting ladies garden gloves in the store, it is easy to try them on to see what size fits you best. But, if you are ordering online, you want to have a pretty good idea of your size before you order.

Luckily, the sizes for glove manufacturing are relatively consistent. Historical records document the existence and use of gloves all the way back to prehistoric times. But, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that someone devised a method for sizing gloves. In 1834, Zavier Jouvin from Grenoble established a systematic way of sizing gloves by measuring the hand around the widest part – that is, the knuckles. This measurement system is called the “Pied de Roe” and is still used today to size gloves.

Typically, the hand that is measured is your dominant hand because it is generally the larger of the two. In almost all cases, garden gloves are measured in letters, rather than numbers. It is important to get a good fit because it makes gardening easier, gloves will wear better and they will be more comfortable.

In the chart below, you can get an idea of the size of glove that you need. I have included the men’s chart – in case men are not sure what size of glove to get – but also because garden gloves may only come in men’s sizes. With this chart, you can determine what size you need in either ladies garden gloves or men’s garden gloves.

Measuring your hand

Your glove size is determined by the measurement around the palm of your hand either in inches or cm, as shown to the left. Measure all the way around the hand, excluding the thumb from your measurement. You will find this is easier to do if you have someone help you.

If you are right-handed, measure your right hand. Or, if you are left-handed, measure your left hand.

An alternative way to measure for a glove is to measure from the tip of the middle finger to the base of the hand. You may want to use this method if your hands are particularly long.

You will want to use the largest of these two measurements when you are determining which size glove to buy. Once you have measured your hands, use the chart below to decide which size glove to purchase.

Select size from chart below.

Once you have an idea of what size you wear, you will find glove size is fairly consistent. This will give you a great place to start in your quest for ladies garden gloves.

Long Gardening Gloves for Women

Gardening can be a dirty business indeed. In addition to digging around in dirt and getting all that black soil underneath your fingernails, you are also exposed to rocks, thorns, spiders, lizards, skinks, other bugs, and ugh!! snakes. Whoa – I don’t want to stop you from gardening. I just want you to use gloves when you are out digging in the dirt. Long gardening gloves for women are even better at protecting you from all that wildlife out there. Not only that, they will also protect you from damaging UV rays.

So, before you go out the door, get into the habit of grabbing a protective pair of gloves – and if possible, grab those long gardening gloves. There are many options out there, so take a look at what will help you in your gardening tasks.

Benefits of long gardening gloves

Long gardening gloves protect your hands from getting dirty and scratched, but they also protect your arms from the same. The longer the gloves, the more skin area they will protect. There are some other benefits to consider as well. The gloves also:

  1. prevent cuts. Cuts are easy to get when gardening as you are handling sharp tools in digging and cutting. But, you can get cuts as you grab and pull weeds or grass. Gloves stop all these little cuts on your hands.
  2. protect cuts from dirt and germs If you failed to wear gloves earlier or you cut yourself in the kitchen, you definitely want to wear gloves to protect your skin. Believe me, it is not fun to scrub dirt out of a cut already on your hands. And a bandage simply won’t work to block dirt and germs.
  3. protect from animal waste. Um – no other comments needed here.
  4. help you to keep your nails beautiful and polish intact. I admit – I am not a beautiful nails person, but I absolutely do not like walking around with dirty nails. Gloves stop this from happening.
  5. protect your hands and arms from bricks, rocks, wood and glass. The people who lived at my property before I bought it apparently did not believe in putting trash out to be carried away. Instead, they apparently liked to throw empty bottles and light bulbs out into the yard – where they often broke. I cannot tell you how many times gloves have saved my hands from a nasty slice or puncture as I was digging in the dirt.
  6. protect your hands and arms from pesticides and herbicides. I don’t like to use any chemicals in my garden, but if you do, you want to protect your skin from contact with any pesticides and/or herbicides.
  7. protect from inadvertent run-ins with spiders and snakes. I don’t like to kill any wildlife (except fire ants!) but I also don’t like to accidentally pick up a snake when I think I am grabbing an earthworm. Yes, that has happened. Also, some spiders like to nest and lay their eggs in dirt and mulch. I also don’t especially like to grab them with bare hands. Gloves help with either of these situations.
  8. protect your hands and arms from splinters and thorns. Those are not fun and anything that can protect your skin from splinters and thorns is important.

Long gardening gloves for women are a great tool to use in your garden to protect yourself from any gardening hazards that are out there.

Goatskin durable for protection

Genuine goatskin leather will provide the ultimate protection from sharp thorns and stickers without sacrificing dexterity. Goatskin is soft and durable so you will be able to easily work in the garden. In addition to protecting you from rose thorns, they can also help you in handling cactus, keeping you safe from berry thorns and all prickly bushes, avoiding thorns when picking citrus and protecting you from poison ivy. The gauntlets of goatskins gloves are often made of cowhide and if made from 100% leather will be more breathable than synthetic gloves.

Bionic rose gloves great for protection and ergonomics

Bionic gloves are especially nice for those who are concerned about thorns. They are made of Cabretta leather and have additional palm padding to help protect your hands from injury.  In case you were wondering, a Cabretta leather is made from the skins of sheep that grow hair rather than wool. The leather is tougher than other sheepskins and used primarily to make gloves or shoes.

On this note, as many women do, I have trouble with pain in my thumb area from working with power tools, scissors and pruners. Recently, I had to have extensive therapy to allow me to even use my hands when working. The doctor, whose wife was an ex-florist who had injured her thumb from years of using pruners, used bionic gloves and found incredible relief from pain and from continued injury. These gloves are designed by an orthopedic hand surgeon and have motion zones over the knuckles and web zones between the fingers to promote natural, unrestricted hand movement. For a glove that not only protects skin from cuts and thorns but also the muscles and nerves used as gardening, this is the glove to consider.

Many other rose glove options

There are boundless other rose gloves that are available that extend up your arm and protect you from thorns. Although I don’t do much with roses, I am in a constant battle with greenbrier thorns in our woods out back – and as it creeps into the yard. Before I discovered long gardening gloves, I regularly came in from a day in the woods looking like I had been attacked by a rogue and very mean cat. Although some tough greenbrier thorns still get through, the long armed gloves have saved the skins on my hands and arms from countless scratches and punctures. If you are battling thorns, then you want to look for goat skin on the gloves and the gauntlets as they seem to be the most durable. (Guess that’s why the goats aren’t bothered as they dig through the brambles!)

Lightweight long armed gloves

If you want something that is thin but will protect your arms from chemicals, then Atlas makes a great glove that is 26 inches long and nitrile coated cotton lined for around $12.00. These gloves are puncture resistant, but won’t stand up to rose or bramble thorns. They should do nicely for keeping toxic chemicals off of your skin and for light duty gardening.

Long armed gardening gloves a can’t miss in the garden

Really – you can’t have too many pairs of shoes and for sure you can’t have too many pairs of gardening gloves. As you are looking to add to your selection of tools that will make your job gardening more enjoyable, consider picking up one – or more pairs of long armed gardening gloves. There are plenty of options that are available – and I am sure you will find one – or more – that fit your needs. If you have a favorite one, let us know what it is!

Garden Trellis Arch with Side Raised Beds from Cattle Panels

I have always liked the lush look of a beautiful garden trellis full of cucumbers, squash and beans. Or beautiful flowers. I looked at several ideas on the Web and found one that I liked at Weed ’em & Reap because it combined an arch and raised boxes on the sides. As usual, they provide great directions on how to build one so I convinced my husband that this was something we really needed to add to our garden.

We live in east Texas and it is hot, hot, hot all summer so I wanted something that would be shady to sit under during those hot summer months. We modified the plan for the garden trellis arch provided on Weed ’em & Reap to fit our garden area and our needs. By the end of the summer, we had a beautiful, lush arching trellis that will be useful for many years to come. Yes, there is a trellis under there although the cucumbers (as they usually do) kind of went wild and took over the arch and all the in between space too. At that, they were at least rather contained as they climbed up the trellis.

Longer, Deeper and Wider

Since we are aiming for an edible landscaping look rather than a manicured lawn full of grass, we have plenty of space to put up raised beds. So, we made our beds longer and wider and spread them out further for more space between the edges of the trellis arch than the plan provided at Weed em and Reap.

We used 2x6x12 treated lumber for the length with the boxes inner dimensions at 24″. Each box was stacked two high. The extra width would allow me to add plants on the opposite side of the trellis, hopefully giving me more growing room. The length allowed us to put two 50″ cattle panels up side by side with almost four feet left over at the end to add additional plants that do not require a trellis.

I wasn’t sure if this plan would work to give us additional growing room, but since putting up raised beds is a labor consuming process on our property, I wanted to give us as much additional growing space as possible for the initial labor done. Does that make sense?

Building the Outer Boxes to Contain the Cattle Panels

Our land is NOT level, so building raised bed requires either building up the bed on one side or digging down on one side through hard, hard, hard red clay – with lots of rocks. Did I mention that the clay is hard? So – any project requires us to measure additional cost for materials to build the bed up on one side – and then fill it with soil or additional labor to dig down in the clay on the other side or both. In this case, we opted for a little of both. To level the boxes, we had to dig down on one side and set the box into the dirt. We also had to dig out all the Bermuda grass to clear the area for planting.

Attaching the Cattle Panels

Attaching the cattle panels was an adventure. We opted to use the entire panel so we attached the bottom edge to the bottom of the boxes. Those babies are pretty sturdy, so getting them to flop over was an interesting two-man job. We attached the right side first and then flipped the other end to the inside left and attached it. We set the boxes about three feet apart, but after looking at it for a while, I did a typical female thing and decided the boxes needed to be moved apart more so there would be more room under the arch. OK – I admit, I had this romanticized idea of hiding under the arch on a hot summer day, sipping on sweet tea and reading a book while a cool breeze fluttered through the cucumber leaves – and the distance between the arch was not big enough to do that. While I didn’t give him full disclosure, I did ask my hubbie if he thought moving the arch further apart would be better.

Bless his heart, he agreed to move it apart – did I mention having to dig some more in the hard clay to get the side level and the Bermuda grass up? To be fair – I did offer to help. Anyway, the final distance between one side of the arch and the other ended up being four feet apart.

Filling the Boxes with Soil – and a Mistake

The next step was filling the boxes with the most cost effective growing medium. We ended up going out into our woods and using the composted leaves, pine needles and earthworm munchies from an area we were clearing. Please note: We did not hurt the surrounding trees and spread around where we gathered soil to not disturb the ecosystem in place in the woods.

Our big mistake that we have to rectify this year is putting a layer of hardware cloth on the bottom of the boxes to keep the gophers out. Although Mr. Gopher and family did not find the boxes in the first year, the second year, he discovered the easy to dig soil and wonderful tomato and spinach plants just waiting for him to chow down. So, all the soil needs to be taken out and hardware cloth added to dissuade his access to our garden next year.

Extra Space – Did Wider and Longer Work?

If you remember from the beginning, I decided to make the boxes wider and longer to give us more growing space. Did that work? Well, I did learn some things from the mistakes I made. First, cucumbers and beans are robust and energetic and will spread wherever they can. So, I found that I had to be highly dedicated in training the plants up the trellis so they would not spread out into the extra side growing space and crowd out what I had planted to the outside of the boxes.

Second, the dirt that we used from the woods was apparently teaming with nutrients so the plants took off and grew like crazy. I planted okra on one side and it sort of took over – well, it gets big anyway. So, it was really not a good choice for growing on the other side of the cucumber. I would stick to growing plants that stay shorter and don’t spread for the “companion” planting. Something like bush beans or even marigolds would have worked great. But, I would have to count the idea as a success.

Third, the extended ends worked out great for growing extra plants. I had a giant sunflower growing on one end and then planted some Thai Red Roselle plants beside the sunflower. On the other side, I planted yellow squash and let it trail off the end. One plant yielded all the squash we could eat that season. The distance between the boxes allowed both the squash and the Thai Red Roselle plants to spread out nicely so I am glad *we* decided to move them apart.

The idea of sitting under the arch sipping tea and reading a book didn’t quite pan out, but the area underneath was certainly shaded and cool enough to sit under at the warmer part of the day. As an added bonus, the cucumbers hung down between the spaces in the panels and were much easier to find and to pick.

Garden Trellis Arch Project Deemed a Success

I think I would overall consider this project a success that will be used in our garden for years to come. It is solid and, IMHO looks great as a nice garden feature – even when it is bare. If you are looking to expand your growing space vertically, this is a great way to grow cucumbers, melons, squash, beans, pumpkins, etc. As an added benefit, this trellis makes it easy to pick your produce as it is climbing up the trellis and often hangs through it. We will be adding another of these trellises to our garden next year.

If you try this project, let us know how it went.

 

 

World Best Banana Cake Recipe – Ever!!!!

I love all things banana – and they are very good for you too. They are rich in potassium and magnesium, both nutrients that help you sleep. In addition, they also contain L-tryptophan which converts to 5-HTP in the brain which then converts to serotonin and melatonin – both of which help you sleep.

But – even more than that – bananas taste great especially in cooking. I really love moist, yummy easy to make banana bread – doesn’t everybody? But, when I found this recipe for banana cake, I feel like I hit the goldmine. This cake is very easy to make and is lighter and fluffier than banana bread. In addition, for those who have a problem with gluten, it is quite good baked with alternative flours.

When my son was young, he was allergic to both wheat and to corn. So, this was always my go to birthday cake for him. Instead of using powdered sugar (which contains cornstarch), I would grind sugar in a blender and make coffee icing. Talk about a yummy combination – it was always a happy birthday with banana cake and coffee icing. Usually, I bake the banana cake in a rectangular cake pan, but it will do just fine as a round two layer cake or moist cupcakes.

The use of both baking powder and baking soda make it extra light – and even better, it cooks super fast. I have baked it in electric, natural gas and propane gas ovens and it comes out great every time.

So without further discussion, here is the recipe:

World Best Banana Cake Ever

  • 2 1/2 C flour
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 1/2 C suger
  • 1/2 C shortening (I have used butter, lard, even olive oil and it works fine)
  • 1 C mashed ripe bananas
  • 2/3 C buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla

FROSTING

  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 C butter softened
  • 3-3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 1 t instant coffee
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.
  2. Beat together shortening and white sugar until combined.
  3. Add in eggs one at a time and beat well.
  4. Add vanilla and buttermilk. Mix on high until light and fluffy (almost the texture of frosting).
  5. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  6. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to egg mixture stirring just until combined. (Do not over mix).
  7. Fold in bananas.
  8. Dump into prepared pan – it will be pretty thick – and spread the batter evenly in the pan.
  9. Put cake into the oven.
  10. Bake 30-35 minutes (see note below) or just until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (do not over bake).
  11. Cool completely before frosting.

FROSTING

  1. Cream together butter & cream cheese until fluffy.
  2. Blend in milk and instant coffee
  3. Add powdered sugar a little at a time until you reach desired consistency. Spread over cooled cake.

This is a fast cake to put together and one that I am sure will be a mainstay at your home once you have tried it. You will find that it goes together fast and tastes fantastic. When you bake it, be sure to let me know how it turns out!

 

How to Grow Vegetables from Seed and Save a Ton of Money

Spring and fall are great for going to garden centers. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing row upon row of all those beautiful vegetable plants just waiting for your garden. But let’s face it. They can be quite expensive when you have a medium to large sized garden. The good news is – you can save a lot of money starting your vegetables from seed. It may seem scary to do but learning how to grow vegetables from seed is quite easy.

There are many suggestions about how to get started, but one of the absolute best ways that I have found is to pre-start your seeds in preparation of planting them. To do this, all you need is some paper towels (or some stronger material for using over and over), a shallow container and some seeds. Let’s get started.

Start with a Grid

I have seen many ways to set up your seed pre-starting, But, in my mind, the most efficient and best way to pre-start is to set up a grid with letters and numbers on a sheet of porous material. Draw a grid on material (sponge sheet or paper towel) with a sharpie and label the top row and the first left row. After drawing this one inch grid several times on paper towels, I decided to use something more permanent. I found some sponge sheets I had purchased to wash my car and decided this would be the perfect long-term material to use. I could wash out the sheet with soap and water as needed to clean it and reuse over and over.

I cut the sponge sheet to fit in a baking sheet for a semi-permanent seed pre-starter. See the example below. You can see that I made a little mistake and started the “1” on the leftmost row. Oh well, I just modified the grid to reflect the mistake.

The nice thing about the grid numbered/lettered is that it is easy to pre-start a lot of different seeds at one time and keep track of what is what. Believe me, a lot of seeds can look alike and if you don’t label them, you will lose track of what is what. For seeds that I wanted to plant more of, I could use several blocks and still easily identify what is what.

As you can see, this method of pre-starting works for any type of seed.

Moisten the Grid

Next, moisten the grid – not dripping wet, but very moist. Put the grid in you pan. Place your seeds on the blocks of the grid and identify them on the chart. (I have included a PDF of a chart than you can print and use.) Put the pan some place warm – you don’t have to worry about light. Seeds don’t need light to germinate.

Check Seeds the Next Day

This method is so fast that you won’t believe it. Check back the next day and you will see that some of the seeds have already sprouted. Those that have sprouted are ready to be placed in soil. Now, this may seem silly – but the first time I planted the sprouted seeds, I got mixed up and planted them upside down. The poor little plants had to struggle to turn around and grow up. So some of them did not make it. In a nutshell, the white tip sticking out is the root – plant it down.

Continue to Check Daily and Plant Seeds that Have Sprouted

Seeds will sprout amazingly fast – so continue to check them daily. Everything in the cabbage family sprouts fast, often within twenty-four hours. That includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc. Herbs – especially the basils are very fast to germinate as well. Pepper, eggplant, fennel and celery take longer, sometimes five days or longer. Other veggies such as tomatoes, squash and beets take about three days.

The beauty of this method of germinating is that you know ahead of time which seeds are viable. If the seeds are fresh and viable, they will sprout. If they do not sprout, then you have not wasted time planting a seed that will not sprout.

Once they have sprouted, plant them in moistened potting soil. I generally plant several in a three-inch pot as they begin to grow. Since seedling are so fragile, I like to water them from the bottom as they grow. No matter how carefully you water from the top, the tiny seedlings will topple over if watered from the top.

The easiest way to do this is plant all your sprouts and seedlings in 3-inch pots and place them in one of those trays from the garden centers. Then, place that tray down in another tray that does not have any drainage holes. Pour water into the bottom tray and let the 3-inch pots soak up the water for about an hour. When the 3-inch pots are wet, take the tray out of the water and let the pots drain. You can even add fertilizer to the water as the seedlings grow.

Benefits of Pre-Sprouting Your Seeds

There are some great benefits to starting your vegetable seeds this way. Once you try it, I doubt you will want to go back to any other method of germinating.

  1. You will have a great success rate. Starting the “old-fashioned” way can lead to a lower rate of germination. This is because it is easy for the soil to dry out and stop the germination process. You will find that with healthy seeds, you will have virtually 100% success with your seeds. And you will know they have germinated when you plant them in the soil.
  2. You can test seeds to see if they are viable. Ever have an old seed packet and wonder if they will germinate. Within a very few days, you will know whether the seeds are going to grow. It is a good way to test your own seeds that you have collected as well. Nothing feels better than watching your gathered seeds as they begin to sprout.
  3. Germination is much faster so you can start your garden faster. What usually takes days and days to germinate, can be ready to plant in just a few days. You will be amazed once you try this method of germinating.

Ananda at A Piece of the Rainbow was a great inspiration to me as I began germinating seeds this way. She provides great information on this method of germinating. Without a doubt, when you grow vegetables from seed, you will find that you save a ton of money and get great joy from doing it “from scratch.” Let me hear about your successes!

 

 

DIY Cold Frames Gardening – How to Have Fresh Produce Almost Year Round

One thing that challenges most gardeners is what to do in cold weather to either start seeds or protect seedlings and plants from freezing. Rather than shut down in the winter months, building an inexpensive cold frame could be a solution. Cold frames gardening will extend your growing season – and who doesn’t want fresh produce on their table in dreary cold weather?

Cold frames are typically unheated. They use solar energy stored within the structure and in the soil during the day to maintain warmer temperatures at night. Generally cold frames have a light-permeable cover like glass, Plexiglas, or greenhouse plastic for the top. The sides can be made of any material that is strong enough to support the cover. Generally cold frames do not have a bottom because they use the soil to maintain heat. If a bottom is built on the cold frame, it is important to have drainage holes in them so that water does not stand.

You may think building a cold frame would be too expensive, but they can be built on the cheap from recycled, reused materials – my favorite way to build. Starting from scratch, cold frames can be constructed using PVC pipes and plastic for an inexpensive cold frame. For larger cold frames, the cost can be a bit higher, but still a good alternative for those who want to start their gardens early or who want to have fresh veggies year round. Take a look at some of the ideas and go get creative this winter and begin exciting cold frames gardening in your back yard. .

A Free and Fast Cold Frame Idea

Kevin Lee Jacobs has been using water bottles as mini-greenhouses and cold frames for almost a decade. To start seeds, these cold frames are almost effortless because you pretty much plant the seeds and forget them. They work great in the coldest climates – even covered in snow, they retain enough heat to protect the seedlings. In warmer climates, such as we have in east Texas, the greenhouses are easy to open up on those days when it suddenly turns 80.

In addition to water jugs, you can use milk jugs or soda bottles. Jacobs provides extensive directions for how to build and use your new cold frame, both indoors and out, with numerous examples of how successful using these mini greenhouses has been.

In addition to having a great way to start seeds early and to protect seedlings from cold extremes, by using your empty water jugs, you are being friendly to the environment.

Biodegradable Cold Frame

Grow Journey offers a unique biodegradable cold frame made out of straw that is actually used for three different purposes throughout the year. They use straw as the sides of the cold frame and then cover the inside with recycled windows.

Grow Journey details how they use the straw as mulch for their blackberries, then feed for their chickens once they no longer need the cold frame. Although they do not recommend this cold frame for below USDA Zone 6, it is a good idea for those who have a plentiful supply of straw and are above Zone 6.

Easy to Build PVC Cold Frame

For beginners or those who do not have tools for woodworking, a small PVC cold frame can be built cheaply. This one has a hinged lid that can be opened in warmer weather as needed.

Complete plans are available for building this little cold frame.

Inexpensive Cold Frame for a Square Foot Garden

This inexpensive cold frame was built to fit over a square toot garden. Hinges on one end allow the gardener to raise the top when it gets warm.

While the blogger does not give detailed instructions on this cold frame, it would be easy to build and he provides enough direction that you would be able to easily replicate this cold frame. With this cold frame over your raised beds, you will be able to extend the growing season in the fall and start your garden early in the spring. More fresh veggies for longer is a good thing.

Empty Water Bottle Cold Frame

Looking for something to do with your empty water bottles? This simple cold frame will keep water bottles out of the landfill and provide a great service to you in extending your gardening season. Washington State University Recycler Composters of Lewis County provide detailed directions for building this cold frame from empty water bottles.

You can adjust the size to fit your needs. In fact, you could even build a whole greenhouse out of empty water bottles. All it takes is initiative, imagination and a lot of empty water bottles.

Simple to Build Plywood Cold Frame

This simple to build cold frame costs a bit more than the previous ones but will last for many years. You might have to replace the plastic on the top, but that will be simple to do.

BHG offers detailed plans for this cold frame that extend your growing season for many years.

Your Imagination is Your Only Limitation

As you can tell from these examples, building a cold frame can be accomplished in a weekend or two at the most. The concept is basically simple – a box with a plastic lid that will hold in warmth and moisture. The ideas and plans listed above should give you a great start on building your own cold frame. You will find that having that cold frames gardening will extend your growing season – in some areas to year round gardening – will be a welcome addition to your table. If you build a cold frame using one of these plans or come up with an idea of your own, then please share your design.

Five DIY Garden Trellis Plans – Inexpensive Ways to Garden Vertically

A trellis is an architectural structure for your garden with a purpose: a vertical support for training plants to grow up and around it. Trellises make it easier to access some vegetables – like cucumbers – and make an attractive structure in your garden when full of trailing vines, fruit and flowers. Because trellises encourage upright growth, they can actually give you more space in the garden since plants are growing up rather than out. Generally trellises have an open framework or lattice of interwoven pieces of wood, bamboo or metal or really any found object that you may have.

There are many types of trellises that can range from very inexpensive to hundreds of dollars. But, you can make a trellis yourself for very little. Many DIY garden trellis plans are available that will add an attractive flair to your garden or landscaping. Whether you make one or several of the designs, definitely consider looking at them all.

Garden Obelisks

No DIY garden trellis plans would be complete without designs for a garden obelisk. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite types of trellises. They stand tall in the garden and allow your crop or flowers to stand tall too. They can be natural colored or painted a variety of colors to match your color scheme or tastes.

Leo from Cottage at the Crossroads shares his detailed plans on how to make the garden obelisk.

Very Easy DIY Garden Trellis

Gina Michele gives detailed directions on how to make this easy and inexpensive garden trellis. It is made out of 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 strips of lumber and will easily attach to your wall. It would be easy to change the configuration to fit the space in your garden.

This could easily be made in one afternoon and would provide a great trellis for morning glories or passion flowers. Plans on how to build this trellis are available here.

Easy Lattice Garden Trellis

This is another easy to built garden trellis that you could build in an afternoon. Lorraine from Of Faith and Fiber shares her plans with you on how to build this trellis.

This would be a great trellis for a vertical garden of veggies – peas, cucumbers, squash or beans. But, it would also be quite attractive as a privacy screen with flowers growing on it. Directions for the design are found in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.

TeePee Trellis for Under $5

Angela from the Coupon Project shares her design for a very simple three-pole trellis.

Angela uses bamboo poles and twine for these very easy to build trellises. They are easy to put up at the beginning of the season and easy to take down at the end. The directions are pretty simple, but she provides additional tips on trellises.

Simple Wood and String Trellis for the Garden

A trellis can be as simple as tying some string onto a wooden frame using nails, screws or hooks as anchors. If you use reclaimed wood, it can be virtually free and easy to construct.

You can watch a video about how to construct this simple trellis or just look at the ample plans on the site. Jute twine was used for this trellis because it is inexpensive and can be cut down and thrown in the compost bin at the end of the growing season. This simple trellis can be attached to a raised bed or be freestanding.

Five Plans to Build Your Vertical Garden

These DIY garden trellis plans are by no means the only ones that are available. I will have continuing posts on additional plans that are available. The good thing is that you can spend as little or as much time building trellises that will allow you to grow plants up instead of out. The trellis will give you more garden in the same space, thus improving your harvest. Trellises also give the plants air and room to spread out as they grow. You don’t have to worry about stepping on plants or fruit as the growing season progresses. In addition to making your plants happy, trellises just make your garden look great! Try some of these ideas and let me know how your garden grows!

How to No Dig Garden – Esther Deans’ “Easy” Way to Garden

Gardening provides many health benefits – beyond just eating good, healthy food. However, gardening can be difficult for the elderly and those who have health issues. Learning how to no dig garden can make gardening a real possibility for anyone – regardless of age or health. In addition, home gardeners can benefit the environment – more specifically build the topsoil that is being rapidly depleted by current agricultural practices. David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and author of Dirt, “Estimates that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture.” Recent research has determined that the topsoil in the United States used for crops is being eroded at least 10 times faster than the time it takes for lost soil to be replaced.

Soil isn’t just dirt – it is actually an outer protective layer over the bedrock of the planet that is teeming with life: living organisms, nutrients, and minerals. The busy environment in soil provides a habitat for plants and animals as well as helping to regulate water flow and temperature. According to Ecology Action, current farming practices reportedly destroy about six pounds of soil for each pound of food produced. Indeed, worldwide only about 33 to 49 years of farmable soil remains.

Alarming? Yes. But as the home gardener, you can indeed implement practices that will help replenish Earth’s topsoil. One way to do this is through Biointensive Gardening. In another post, I will review this type of gardening. However, it is not easy – in fact, to get started, you will find Biointensive gardening to be – well, intense. However, in 1977, Harper and Row published their first book in Australia, a little gardening book called No-Dig Gardening & Leaves of Life by Esther Deans, which offers a way to grow an abundant garden, build topsoil and never have to dig in the dirt. Often called lasagna gardening in the U. S. her easy way to garden will get you started in one season. You will be amazed at the ease with which you will learn how to no dig garden.

High Yield from a No Dig Garden

Esther Deans had health issues and could not grow a garden the traditional way. But, she didn’t know how effective this method of gardening would be – no research was out there since really no one had tried it before. Her first try was a 6 X 8 foot garden using her no dig method – and from just the first planting, her yield was 49.5 pounds of potatoes. A visitor to her garden became very excited about the prospect of growing this way and during her first season of the no dig garden, she produced 200 pounds of zucchini and button squash – enough to feed her family and sell to others. Clearly, you can expect high yields from this type of garden.

How to No Dig Garden – A Garden of Paper, Straw and Hay

No dig gardens are maintained using organic principles without toil and sweat. It is easy for a child or old person to build and if built up on a raised bed, can be built and maintained by someone in a wheelchair. The idea is to build a garden on top of the existing ground – even if that means building it on top of concrete – or as in my case, on top of hard, packed red clay. The garden comprises rectangular beds raised above the ground, surrounded with hardwood, small bricks or concrete blocks, or anything that can hold the rich organic moisture in place. The no dig garden can be built in two environments – one that will go on lawn or an existing garden, the other one that will go on top of hard, rocky ground or concrete.

To build on top of a lawn or existing garden, select a sunny area. Surround the area with a wall, then spread a layer of newspapers at least a quarter inch deep. Overlap the pages of the newspaper to keep the lawn from growing through. Do not use the colored paper from the newspaper or cardboard for this step. Cover the newspaper with pads of alfalfa hay. Then sprinkle a light dusting of organic fertilizer or dry chicken manure over the hay. Cover with eight inches of loose straw and sprinkle with more fertilizer. Finally, top with a patch of good compost three to four inches deep and about 18 inches across where you will plant the seeds. According to Deans, two bales of alfalfa hay and one bale of straw will make a good-sized garden.

To build on top of hard, rocky ground or concrete, first put down a layer of old leaves, small sticks and pieces of seaweed three to four inches deep. On top of this, build the garden as described above.

Follow the steps below to build your first no-dig garden – seemingly instantly.

  1. Make a frame of any materials you have available – old timber, pallet boards that have been heat treated, bricks or concrete blocks. The purpose is to contain the garden – around the area you have selected for your garden.
  2. Cover the area with a layer of newspaper at least 1/4 inch thick, overlapping the layers four to six inches to keep weeds and grass from growing through. Thoroughly soak the newspaper before laying it down or water it once on the ground. Remember: do not use glossy colored paper as it bleeds ink that can be toxic.
  3. Cover the newspaper with pads of alfalfa hay as they come off the bale, about four inches deep. Water the hay lightly. NOTE: You can use other types of carbon containing materials such as pea straw, straw, sugar cane mulch, etc. but alfalfa has a much higher nitrogen content making it preferable for no-dig gardening.
  4. Sprinkle the hay with blood and bone fertilizer or chicken manure and lightly water it in.
  5. Cover this area with about eight inches of loose straw and lightly water in.
  6. Again sprinkle the straw with blood and bone fertilizer or chicken manure and lightly water.
  7. Top in a circle of compost about four inches deep and 17-18 inches across. If you have enough compost, you can cover the whole area.

Planting in the No Dig Garden

This is quite simple: Plant your seedlings in the compost. Water gently.

Maintaining the No Dig Garden

To maintain any type of no-dig garden, remember one simple rule – don’t dig it!!!! If you dig the garden, you will ruin all the work the earthworms and other aspects of nature are doing for you. Earthworms continue to cultivate the soil and they don’t like to be disturbed.

After harvesting and the end of growing season, the layers will have rotted down into the soil, enriching it and improving the structure. At that time, you can replenish the no-dig layers and will replenish them again at the end of each major growing season.

How to replenish the layers of the no-dig garden:

  1. Add a layer of manure. As an option, you can also add compost.
  2. Next, cover the manure layer with a layer of straw
  3. Water the straw and compost it in and you are ready for the next growing season.

No-dig Gardening is the Way to Go

Learning how to no dig garden is definitely a great way to enrich your soil, improve the environment and make your job as a gardener easier. For those who have disabilities or who are elderly, this could be a way to be able to garden again or for the first time. This is definitely a way to make your life and gardening more sustainable. If you would like more information about how to no dig garden, I found these sites to be helpful:

Deep Green Permaculture – No Dig Gardening

Charles Dowding’s No dig gardening on No Dig Gardening

How to Use Mulch in the Vegetable Garden

If you read the post on the benefits of mulching in the vegetable garden and are convinced that you want to start mulching, your next concern might be how to use mulch in the vegetable garden. It can’t be as easy as just spreading it around the plants, can it? Well, there are a few things you will want to consider before you begin mulching in your vegetable garden. Although inorganic mulch is beneficial, I find that organic mulch provides all the benefits while providing nutrients and improving the structure of the soil as it decomposes.

What is Organic Mulch?

Organic mulches are biodegradable. When you use them in your garden, they will decompose over time. This decomposition process will return nutrients to the soil and also improve the structure of your soil. An bonus is they will invite earth worms and other beneficial insects to enrich your soil.

I believe that mulch is aesthetically more pleasing because your garden looks tidier and weeds are diminished. It also adds a critical thermal layer of protection for the soil and roots during extreme weather. If you have a plant that is borderline for your zone, the extra protection in the winter can help ensure that it survives a particularly cold period. In heat extremes, quite simply, mulch can make the difference between surviving, thriving and dying.

There are a variety of types of organic mulches:

Wood Chips as Mulch

Fresh wood chips are often available at local landfills and can sometimes be dropped off by the truckload if you know the local company that clears roads and highways in the summers. A common misconception is that fresh wood chips are bad for mulching because they tie up nitrogen during their decomposition. But, since the material will only be used on the surface of the soil and not mixed in with the soil, they will not pull nitrogen from the soil. While some say that it is best to use wood chips for shrubs and trees, I have mulched many a vegetable garden with wood chips and found them to be successful. If you are concerned about using fresh wood chips, then you can let them age before using in the vegetable garden.

Wood chips from tree services are usually a combination of bark, sapwood, hardwood and leaves so as they break down, they provide small amounts of nutrients to the soil slowly. As an added benefit, they increase the organic matter of the soil as they break down. Through the years, the organic matter works down into the soil with the activity of earthworms and insects that live and burrow through the soil. This added organic matter in the soil produces healthier plant growth.

Ideally wood chips should be applied at a depth of 4 to 6 inches. They will settle after a few weeks and like any organic mulch, need to be replenished periodically to keep providing benefits.

Bark Mulch

Shredded hardwood bark is a popular and inexpensive mulch. As a derivative of the lumber and paper industries, it is a great way to recycle. As it decomposes, this mulch helps increase soil fertility. It can come in a variety of sizes from large nuggets to smaller shreds. I think it is one of the most attractive mulches – it looks great around trees, shrubs and perennials.

If you get shredded bark that is dyes, check to ensure the dye is vegetable based and acceptable for organic gardening, if that is your goal.

Sawdust Mulch

Sawdust is readily available from sawmills so it can be inexpensive to acquire. This mulch is acidic, so it would be a good mulch for acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and blueberries. A mere 2-inch layer of sawdust will provide good weed control. Fresh sawdust contains very little nitrogen, however, and its breakdown pulls nitrogen from the soil – so use sparingly or add extra nitrogen to the sawdust when used for mulch. To add extra nitrogen to the sawdust, mix one pound of actual nitrogen to 50 pounds of dry sawdust, to cover about a 100 square foot area in your garden. If you are using ammonium nitrate (33-0-0), add about five pounds. For ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), add about three pounds to the sawdust. If you want to use organic fertilizer, add seven pounds of blood meal.

Lay the sawdust mulch out to a depth of about 1 to 1 ½ inches being careful not to pile it up near the trunk of trees and shrubs or the stem of the plant to avoid rot. A 1/4 inch layer of sawdust can be helpful in starting seeds since it will help to keep moisture in. One disadvantage of sawdust is that it can form a crust that makes it difficult for water to soak through. Another disadvantage is that it decomposes quickly thus compacting upon itself. If you use sawdust in the garden, you will likely have to replenish it and re-fluff each year.

Grass Clippings for Mulch

They cool the root zone, conserve moisture and add massive amounts of nitrogen back to the soil. They allow you to use the refuse from mowing the yard. They can be used either fresh or dried. Use a layer only about 1/4 inch thick layer if using fresh grass so that the clippings can break down before they begin to rot. Dried clippings can go on thicker. The dried clippings also make great side dresses for vegetables. Late fall and early spring are great times to add grass clippings to the garden, mixing them into the soil at least eight inches.

Leaves as Mulch

Leaves are great as mulch and are of great nutritional benefit to the soil. Dried leaves actually contain about 80% of the original plant nutrients including carbon, potassium, and phosphorus. They also feed the earthworms and beneficial microbes. When added to your garden, leaves feed earthworms and beneficial microbes. If you go look at the soil in a forest that has decomposed leaves from years past, you will find soil that is light and rich. In addition, they can make a great looking mulch in the flower garden and they provide great insulation from the cold.

Because leaves can matt up and stick together when they get wet, it is important to shred as many of them as you can. If you don’t have a leaf shredder, you can pile them up on the lawn and run over them a few times with a lawn mower. Over time, shredded leaves become leaf mold which is a fantastic mulch that enhances the soil tremendously. For a wonderful enhancement to your garden, don’t burn your leaves this year – instead shred them and use them as a fantastic mulch.

Using Newspapers as Mulch

Newspaper is extremely helpful during cold weather for keeping your plants safe and warm. And it’s also an effective way of for keeping weeds out of your beds. Layer the sheets, overlapping the edges so they don’t separate. You can use anywhere from 2 to 20 sheets of newspaper, depending on your purpose for the mulch. Five to 10 sheets are good for weed control and 10-20 sheets for protecting the plants from the cold. Another option is to shred the newspapers, tearing by hand or even using a paper shredder. In some parts of the country, shredded newspaper in bales is available. Your local Recycling Center or Solid Waster Management facility will have information on this if available in your area.

Newspaper can be used alone, but covering it with straw or another mulch will make it last longer. The newspaper is more environmentally sound method to control weeds than traditional black plastic.

How to Apply Mulch

There are some things to keep in mind when applying mulch. The biggest thing people do wrong is not applying enough mulch. At least two to three inches are needed to smother weeds and retain soil moisture. If less than two inches of mulch is applied, light will go through allowing weed seeds to germinate.

Another important part of applying mulch is ensuring that it is not pushed up against the plants. Make sure mulch is pulled back at least an inch from tree trunks, shrubs and the crowns of your vegetables, annuals and perennials. Mulch applied up to the plant stem or trunk can hold moisture thus causing the plant to rot.

Organic mulches decompose, so they need to be replenished every year. In especially harsh summer weather, the mulch may need to be replenished in the spring and in the fall. Mulch can benefit all areas of your garden and make your gardening easier and more productive. When you mulch, it mimics the natural processes of a forest, where each year leaves fall to the ground, decaying, then recycling in the soil to provide nutrients and protection to the plants above. As an bonus, the more that you are able to use materials from your own garden as mulch, the more sustainable it becomes. And, your plants and soil will love you for providing a better environment for them.