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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Mulch Vegetable Gardens – Bigger Harvest, Less Weeds, Less Water, Less Disease

Mulching vegetable gardens is one of the best ways to make it better – in so many ways. Mulching is a way to be kind to your plants – and help yourself to make gardening easier throughout the season. This is because, once you mulch, you instantly reduce weeds in your garden (less work), reduce the amount of water needed (less money/resources), and help reduce pests in the garden.

There are basically two types of mulch – inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulch includes newspapers, plastic solar mulch and landscape fabric, While these work, they do not provide all the benefits of organic mulches because they do not enrich the soil. Organic mulches include grass clippings, leaves, straw, pine needles and wood chip mulch. Let’s take a look at some benefits of using organic mulch.

Mulching for Bigger Harvests

If you want a bigger harvest, then mulch vegetable gardens. This may seem rather simplistic – but sometimes the simplest things make the most difference. Mulching accomplishes many things. When you mulch deep – that is, at least six inches, you will ensure that the soil stays at a temperature that is better for the roots to soak up nutrients. That is, in cold weather mulch maintains warmth and in warm weather it maintains cooler temperatures. If you live in the hot south, during the summer, this can make a huge difference in harvests. When you mulch vegetable gardens, it is also beneficial for weed control, disease control, moisture control and pest control.

Mulching to Reduce Weeds

Let’s face it – who wants weeds in their garden? They look ugly – and if you are not careful, the weeds can easily take over the garden wiping out any veggies you have planted. Weeds are bad because they aggressively compete with the same stuff your plants need to grow well: nutrients, water and sunlight. Thus, when they invade and take over your garden, they can suck up everything your plants need to produce an outstanding harvest. While some say that a weed is just a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to grow, the garden is definitely one place you want to eliminate weeds.

Mulch helps prevent weeds in three important ways. First, when you completely cover the soil with mulch, you deprive the weed seeds of the sunlight that they need to germinate So, weeds won’t get a foothold in the garden early on. In addition, bare dirt allows weed seeds to land and then germinate. Covering your bare soil prevents the weeds from coming into contact with the soil to begin with. But, weeds are persistent beasties and some will show up anyway. I have also found that weeds that show up in the mulch are easier to see and much easier to pull out because they don’t have strong roots in the soil but are growing in the loose mulch. Reducing weeds is not the only benefit of mulch – they also

Mulching to Reduce Bad Bugs

Organic mulches are the best repelling bugs. One way they do this is by enriching the soil. As organic mulches break down, the chemistry of the soil is improved and this increases the beneficial bacteria, fungus and insects. Beneficial – or good insects keep out the populations of harmful, plant-destroying, harvest destroying insects.

While some organic mulches attract insects like saw bugs, earwigs or pill bugs, if needed, these can be easily controlled with Neem oil or diatomaceous earth. Another effective and non-pesticide way to get rid of pill bugs is to make a potato trap. To do this,

  1. Cut an old potato in half.
  2. Scoop out a depression in each half.
  3. Place the cut side of the potato into the soil where you have pill bugs.
  4. Wait a few days for the pill bugs to find the potatoes and start eating them
  5. After a few days, carefully lift up your potato – in the morning is the best time to do this. Drop the pill bugs attached to the potato in a bucket and scoop up the dirt around the area to find even more bugs. Feed to chickens (yum) or dispose of away from your garden.

If you are using mulches made from cedar or cypress bark, they are helpful for repelling insects. Cedar and cypress wood both contain natural oils and chemicals that deter bugs. Cedar chips can repel, kill or can inhibit termites, cockroaches, cloth-eating moths, carpet beetles and certain ants, such as odorous and Argentine. The wood bark from these trees is resistant to decay, so it will last longer than other mulches. Cedar mulch is especially good for plants that love acidic soil – such as blueberries.

Mulching to Reduce Watering

For an abundant garden, it is important to maintain a consistent level of moisture in your soil. Plants which have adequate moisture are less likely to be stressed and they will be better able to resist insects and diseases. As mentioned earlier, mulch keeps the soil cooler in the summer so it will extend the time before plants go dormant or bolt. Since some plants bloom best in cooler conditions, mulch helps keep plants blooming longer.

In areas which have had drought conditions, mulching is almost necessary to maintain a healthy garden. But, even in areas with plenty of water, mulching helps to retain soil moisture and consistent soil temperatures, thus costing the gardener less money.

Mulching to Enrich Soil for Next Year

The biggest bonus to using organic mulches is that they will decompose and leave behind nutrient rich soil for next year’s garden. As it decomposes, mulch provides nutrients and humus and improves the soil structure, nutrients and moisture holding capacity. The decomposing mulch provides food for earthworms, stimulates microbial activity and helps beneficial soil organisms.

In the area I live, the soil is rich red clay – that is beautiful to look at and the devil to grow in. In most cases, I have resorted to using raised beds. Slowly but surely, though, I have begun uber-mulching large portions of future growing areas with deep wood chip mulch. I have found that not only does it tend to keep the weeds at bay, it is also enriching the soil and improving the composition of the soil each season. I can now dig down about four inches and have rich, dark soil that the earth worms are loving. In a few years, I will be able to move into those growing areas without the use (and expense) of raised beds.

Organic Mulch in Your Garden – Better for your Harvest and the World

As you can probably tell, I am not much for the use of herbicides and pesticides. I think the world is a better place when as few chemicals as possible are used. So, for those who agree, it is critical to find ways to improve your soil and keep pests away as expediently as possible. And for this, I say, mulch your gardens. Gardeners use both organic and inorganic mulches. While I have used both, I have found for my red clay dirt, the inorganic mulch works better because it enriches the soil each season. Whether you select organic or inorganic mulch, once you use it in your garden, you will never go without again.

 

 

 

Best Bee Attracting Plants – How to have a more Productive Garden

Bountiful HarvestLet’s face it. Gardening takes a lot of work. Yes, it has many benefits, including getting to eat fresh, great tasting and very healthy foods. But, with all the hard work and expense it takes, gardeners definitely want to have the biggest harvest possible. Aside from water and fertilizer, two very important ingredients for gardening, plants also need to be fertilized – and the more plants are fertilized, the more produce will be available. So, it is important that the gardener include the best bee attracting plants to their garden plans to ensure a more productive garden.

Bees are an important ingredient in any outdoor garden because they will ensure that as many flowers as possible turn into luscious veggies and fruits. Being aware of some easy to grow and best bee attracting plants is one way to quickly increase your garden yield.

So, why do plants need pollinators and how does a gardener get the pollinators to come to the garden?

Plant pollination

In simple terms, pollinators are animals (and most of us probably think of bees) that move the pollen in a flower from the male structure (anthers) to the female structure (stigma) of the same plant species. This movement of the pollen results in fertilization of the flower’s egg – this fertilized flower then produces seeds and fruit surrounding the seeds. The YouTube video below provides a very simple explanation of pollination.

Why is pollination important?

Bee Pollinating FlowerBottom line: If the flower is not pollinated, the bloom just drops off the plant and dies. There is no fruit produced and no seeds to continue growing plants in the future. Many animals, and many varieties of insects are critical to the pollination process. And, pollinators are critical to our food supply. Numbers vary, but it is estimated that pollinators are necessary for about ¾ of our food (1). While some foods are self-pollinating, for example bananas, it would get kind of boring to have a steady diet of nothing but bananas.

Pollinators are not just necessary for large commercial farms, but they are critical to your home garden. This was brought home to me one spring when we had day after day of rain. The plants were blooming like crazy – the cucumbers and tomatoes loved the rain. But, no fruit was being produced. I kept going to the garden, looking at all the plants and watching as bloom after bloom fell to the ground – and not a single tomato or cucumber was to be found. It dawned on me, after several weeks, that the ongoing rain had stopped the bees from coming out and pollinating the flowers. It took several weeks after the rain stopped to finally see fruit beginning to grow. As you can see, pollinators can be critical to the success of your home garden.

How can you attract more pollinators?

While bees buzzing around can be alarming to some, they are really critical to the production in your garden. So, I recommend, in addition to growing veggies and herbs, plant some flowers in your garden. Not only are they pretty to look at and make your garden even more attractive, they perform a vital function – they attract busy little bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.

Attracting Honeybees to your Garden

Honeybees are a very attractive and desired pollinator because they are so efficient at pollinating. Their specialized hairs trap pollen when the bee brushes against the stamen and spreads that pollen as it moves from flower to flower.

These bees prefer purple, blue and yellow flowers – so flowers in these bright colors will attract honeybees to your garden. Also consider planting vetch, alfalfa, clover in your yard to attract honeybees. These have the added benefit of being good crops for green manure and will not only attract honeybees, but will improve your soil.

Marigolds
Long used as a companion plant, the marigold is a great addition to your garden for attracting honeybees. While some conventional garden wisdom says Yellow Marigoldthat marigolds serve as a bee detractor – they definitely attract the honeybee. They can be beneficial by not only attracting the honeybee, but also discouraging other garden pests. Some gardeners swear that their strong odor seems to ward off other pests such as rabbits and could discourage wasps and other “bad” insects from attacking you and/or your plants.

The marigold blooms all season if you regularly deadhead them. They are also are very long-lasting as cut flowers. Although some find the odor to be too strong, I love having a vase of marigolds on the kitchen counter because I like their fresh smell.  I guess beauty, in this case, is in the nose of the beholder.  Easy to grow, heat resistant, and sun loving, marigolds have long been a favorite companion flower in vegetable gardens. You can read more at Gardening Know How: Do Marigolds Repel Bees: Learn About Marigolds And Honeybees.

Cosmos
Cosmos is another prolific and attractive flower for the gardener as well as one of the best bee attracting plants. They come in a wide array of colors. One of my favorites is the Bright Lights cosmos. This one comes from Mexico – so it can stand high heat and drought conditions and perform all summer long. This variety blooms in bright golds, yellows and oranges, lasting all summer if you regularly deadhead and comes back from seed year after year. In areas with a long growing season, they will bloom into the fall as well.

Sunflowers
Sunflowers in their bright yellow colors are great attractors for honeybees. There are single bloom varieties that grow on a tall stem and multiple bloom varieties that are smaller and certainly attractive and colorful bee attractants. For an inexpensive and lush sunflower garden, just sprinkle black oil sunflower seeds in the yard before a rain and watch as a multitude of sunflowers grow.  They will bring many a happy bee to your garden.

Bee Balm
Bee balm (monarda) is another great plant for attracting honeybees. Because it is rich in nectar, gardeners will see not only honeybees, but also Bee Balm - Purplebutterflies and hummingbirds buzzing around the bee balm bloom. Once established, bee balm will come back year after year.

Bee balm is a great addition to the garden for you as well as the bees. The flowers look attractive and make a beautiful edible garnish in summer salads. Bee Balm is considered an herb that is noted for its fragrance, and is also the source of oil of thyme. The leaves of the plant, either dried or fresh can be brewed into a  a refreshing aromatic and medicinal tea.

Medicinally bee balm can be used as a diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant, carminative, and antiseptic. For more information about its medicinal properties,  take a look at Alternative Nature Online Herbal. Best yet, bee balm is a perennial that will come back to your garden year after year.

Clearly, bee balm is one of the best bee attracting plants – good for your garden and good for you.

Basil
Tibetan BasilBasil is another great addition for your garden to attract honeybees. Basil is available in many varieties and is a prolific grower that will have the honeybees all abuzz. Let some branches bloom to attract the bee to your garden, then harvest the rest of the plant for cooking.

While the above are not the only honeybee attractors you can grow in your garden, the above are easy to grow plants that will provide visual enjoyment, smell great, and bring many honeybees to your garden to pollinate all your veggies and flowers. Not only will your garden benefit from the addition by producing more veggies, but the honeybee population and the environment will benefit as well.

Other tips for attracting honeybees to your garden

Avoid Pesticides
This may seem obvious, but if you are trying to attract bees to your garden, avoid using pesticides because they will kill not only the pests you don’t want, but the bees as well. Use natural pesticides such as ladybugs or sage burning. If you must use pesticides, according to the Xerces Society, some that are considered non-toxic to bees are:

  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Garlic
  • Kaolin clay
  • Corn gluten
  • Gibberellic acid

Give them something to sip on throughout the day
Have shallow dishes of water in your yard and around your flowers for the bees to hydrate. If you have a deep fountain, be sure to place pebbles in it so the bee can sit on it to drink water as needed. When you first place water in your garden for bees, it is a good idea to “flavor” it to attract the bees. You can spike it with a tiny bit of chlorine bleach, ground up oyster shells in a shallow pan or a weak sugar solution. The smell in the water alerts the bee that you have provided something for them to drink. After they have found the source, the gardener can just put plain water in the container.

Don’t kill or swat at them
Just let the bees go about their business in the garden and they will leave you alone. Don’t swat at them or otherwise try to aggravate them. If you are allergic to bees, you would want to step away when they are around. But, I have found, I can garden around them all day and they will be busy working and not bother me or sting me. They are a great contributor to the garden, so appreciate them as they work hard to ensure your success as a gardener.

Bees in your garden make a happy garden

Yes, gardening is indeed hard work. But, keep in mind, if you select and plant the best plants to attract bees in the garden, you are not the one doing all the work. When you are inside taking a break, bees are working all day long pollinating everything in your garden. You will have more produce than you know what to do with and the bees will be well-fed and busy making honey. Attracting bees to your garden is good for you, good for the bees and good for the environment.

 

 

 

 

7 Best Garden Hand Tools – Top Tools For Beginner Gardeners

 

Pruner and seeds

As with any hobby, gardening requires a few tools to get started and be successful. Luckily, the tools needed to get started with gardening are relatively inexpensive. With a little careful shopping, the seven best garden hand tools can all be purchased for small change. Having said that, if you are going to purchase hand tools, you may want to save up to get the best ones you can afford.

While tools can be found cheaply, the wear and tear of gardening will cause less expensive tools to break quickly – ending up in frustration and – well – wasted money. On the other hand, purchasing better quality tools from the beginning can ensure you are well-equipped for many years and gardens to come.

Below I will discuss the top tools that I recommend for beginning gardeners.

Gloves

Admittedly, gloves may not generally be considered a tool. However, gardening can be hard work and is hard on the hands – the skin, the muscles and the nerves. Not only will gloves keep your hands (and nails) cleaner, they will also protect your hands from cuts, bruises, scrapes and thorns. Not much is worse than grabbing a vine or branch only to find sharp thorns gleefully poking through your skin. Wild blackberry thorns are some of the worst!!!

For those who are not sure of the creepy crawlies you may encounter, gloves also protect you when you run into a rogue spider or reach for an earth worm only to find it is a snake. While running into wildlife is part of gardening – and in gardening we like to see worms and bugs inhabiting the soil – you may not always want to pick them up with your bare hands.

With many women suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and other hand ailments, like a sprained thenar eminence muscle, gloves provide a measure of protection from injury and when injured. So, put a good pair of gardening gloves at the top of the list of products to buy. If you want more information on gloves, check out the post on gloves for gifts.

Pruners

While pruners are typically separated into three types: bypass, anvil and ratchet, by far, the most popular one is the bypass pruner. Bypass pruners make a nice clean cut much like scissors do – except they are much stronger and can cut through branches and stems. In the bypass pruner, a sharpened blade sweeps past the lower jaw which avoids crushing the stem.

Anvil pruners work similar to the principal of a knife on a cutting board. The top blade pushes through the plant onto the anvil to cut. If not sharpened regularly, the anvil pruners can mash the stems and sometimes will not cut all the way through leaving you to wiggle, twist and turn to get through the stems.

Ratchet pruners have a ratchet built in that makes cutting tough or thick stems easier. While this is a handy pruner to have in your toolkit, a beginning gardener would probably want to have at least a bypass pruner on hand before branching off to get a ratchet pruner (no pun intended).

Pruners come in all sizes from very tiny ones to loppers – large pruners used for bigger branches. Start off with a medium-sized pruner and when you find the need for closer work or are cutting large branches or trees, you can move into a palm sized pruner or a lopper.

Hori Hori Knives

Hori-horiI debated whether to add trowel to this list of tools and decided since it is basically for the beginning gardener, I would instead recommend a hori hori because it does the work of a trowel and so much more. This tool basically does it all from weeding to planting, digging, cutting, sawing, scooping, separating, splitting and anything else you can think of. The hori hori is smooth on one edge and serrated on the other – so it will saw through tough stems and roots easily. The hori hori also comes with depth markings on the blade so you can easily tell how deep you are planting.

The hori hori design comes from Japan.  Hori means dig and hori hori is an onomatopoeia of the sound of digging. The shape of the sharpened blade allowed foragers to harvest by digging deep and slicing through plant roots and tough vegetation. It comes in equally handy for the modern gardener.

Most hori hori knives are solid with blades made of stainless steel that will last for years. Once you use this handy tool, you will never be without it. One caution, the serrated blade is sharp, so handle with care.

Rakes

I probably don’t need to explain what a rake is – and if you have a yard, you probably have one (or more) lying around. There are various kinds of garden rakes, and after gardening for while, you will probably find that you need more than one kind. While the leaf rakes are great for fall leaves, for gardening you will probably need one with shorter, stiffer tines to help you level dirt or break up clumps of dirt when preparing soil. Also, when raking up those pesky weed piles that you will have, a rake with stiffer tines will be ideal.

While you can probably find a garden rake for around $10.00, try to spend as much on getting a good one as you can. Also, when selecting a rake, consider the weight of the rake. If you are a smaller person or you have physical limitations, carefully consider how heavy the rake is. If the handle is made of wood, it will generally be heavier and may be tiring to use for an extended period of time.

Shovels

There are so many types of shovels that you can be overwhelmed when trying to decide which shovel to choose. So, for a beginner, I Shovel and rakerecommend the digging shovel as one of the best hand garden tools. The digging shovel is just that – a shovel to dig. They have a curved scoop for holding materials and edges that slant up. Choose one with a point – shovels with flat tips are pretty useless for most gardening – unless you have the perfect soil. Again, while you can get an inexpensive shovel, look for ones that are steel and sturdy. Wood is the best material for a handle, although you have to keep it out of the weather. Plastic will break easily and metal is durable, but heavier. Unlike a rake, you won’t be using the shovel for extended periods of time, so you don’t have to be as concerned about the weight. In fact, a nice heavy shovel can be your friend in clay or other heavy soils.

Tool Belt or Apron

As you are working in your garden, using all your tools, you will find that you want some way to keep them handy and accessible to you. The best way to keep them handy to use and safe from being lost in the dirt, left alone to rust, is to have an apron or a tool belt that will hold all your tools.

There are probably as many choices for tool holders as you can imagine and some are even made to fit over a 5-gallon bucket. Depending on your size and how many tools you use regularly, you will have to explore the many options available. One of the best things you can do to save money in the future is to get into the habit early on of keeping all your tools in the belt and put them back in when you are finished using them. It is incredible how easy it is to lose a tool in all the gardening materials you are working with.

Work Made Easier with the Best Garden Hand Tools

Gardening is a healthy activity and a fun form of exercise for those who do not like to go to the gym and lift weights. But, don’t kid yourself – gardening can be hard work. While rewarding, and definitely worth the effort, having the right tools can make your work a lot more enjoyable and help you stick with it when times get rough.

 

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