Process & Budget Tips to Get Ready for Seed Starting

seedlings in trays on seed rack Sometime in January or February I really start honing in on starting seeds indoors for my spring and summer plants.  It occurred to me, the steps I take to get ready to start my seeds could be useful for you, so here we go …

I start by deciding what I want to grow in the spring and follow-on for the summer.  Make a list of what you want to grow, using variety names where you know them.  Also make notes about what you’d like to try that would be new for you.  Include any types of crops you would like to replace because they did not do well. This could be a type of crop, like broccoli, or it could be that a variety that didn’t do well, so you want to find another one to try.

image of seed inventory spreadsheet page
Your seed inventory can be in a spreadsheet, notebook, jotted on a peice of paper or on your phone.

At some point in this process, do an inventory of your seeds and see what gaps you might have between what seeds you have and what is on your list of plants to grow.

By Mid-January I have received most of my seed catalogs, although there are a couple stragglers in February.  Once you have your list of what seeds you need, then you can go through your catalogs and see who has what you want.

When looking for a new variety, compare not only different choices in one catalog, but in more than one.  If you think you have found a variety you want to try, see if any of your other seed companies carry it and read their description also.  More information on the variety helps you hone in on the best variety for you to try based on your goals.

Seed Catalogs
Seed Catalogs

Granted, I tend to go through each catalog when I get it and then multiple times thereafter.  I’ll put a tick mark by anything that looks interesting and I might want to get.

I make a photo copy of the order form so as I start to hone in on what I want to get, I can use the form while looking at the catalogs. That way I am not constantly looking in each catalog for where the order form is.  I don’t send the forms in, I will call (first choice) or order online, but having the list makes the ordering processing faster, simpler and easier, plus I can calculate any tax or shipping for budgeting. I can also check my list against the packing list when the seeds come in.

I’ll fill out the forms in pencil, so when I see the total cost of them all, which is pretty much always more than I want to spend, I can go back and erase what I cut out to stay in budget.  Alternatively, I’ll star the items I am not going to order, or erase the price, so  it does not end up in the total. This way I have the list of everything I wanted to grow in case my budget allows for another seed order later.

dollar and months graphicWhich leads to another budget tip. Spread out ordering from your preferred companies.  Order from the ones who have the first seeds you need to start and order last from companies with varieties you can start later.  I will sometimes adjust who I am buying what from for this purpose. If I see something I want to grow in the fall, I will often wait to order those varieties until June when I’ll be needing to get them started.

Enjoy a cup of tea and browsing those seed catalogs!

Not sure the best companies to buy from – Get My List of Recommended Seed Companies – Its Free! 

Gardening with Natives & Veggies – Part 3 – From a Native Gardener’s View

My native gardening friends tend to prefer the “low maintenance” of native perennials for their garden. They love to feed the wildlife and so do I, to a point. My neighbor three doors down has a managed native meadow for a front yard and it is always fun to walk by and see what is blooming, or what birds are munching on the fall seed heads.  These are some of the delights of growing natives. They are not so picky about what soil they have, if you add compost each season or what native they are planted next to.

Yet, the low maintenance native garden approach leaves more time for other endeavors, and this is where the native gardener can grow a few things for them to eat.

swallowtail butterfly on queen anne's laceOne of the challenges a native gardener might have is all the wildlife they attract. This can be viewed as a problem, but it is my experience that an abundant mix in the right places gives everyone bounty. So here are my suggestions for native gardeners to add a few veggies for themselves without compromising their native gardens.  Native gardeners already tend to attract pollinators and other helpful insects to their gardens, which can give them an immediate advantage.

  • Containers on the deck: Adding one, two or a few containers on your deck is the first place I would recommend growing some veggies, or herbs as a native gardeners. This will not take up your native bed space, and be right out the back door for easy access. This is also the place least likely to be visited by larger animal critters.  You can grow anything you like to eat in a container, so choose a couple things you live to eat and start there.  You might want to give your tomatoes a screen to protect from birds, but small animals that would go onto your desk don’t tend to bother cucumbers, melons or squash.

    container garden on your deck
    Grow veggies on your deck away from deer
  • Let winter squash and pumpkins meander through your native beds. These crops are super low maintenance too.  They have a long “days to maturity”, meaning it takes a long time for them to ripen.   You can put in the plants, let them ramble and harvest them in autumn.  Then you’ll have some yummy squash in storage to enjoy all winter.

    large winter squash
    Let winter squash ramble like these Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash next to native Asters
  • Add in a small fenced veggie garden close to one of your flowering native beds. Adding in a small veggie garden, with protection from wildlife can bring much joy and healthful food to your table. It is satisfying to sit at your table, eating some fresh picked veggies and watching all the buzz of life in your native garden beds. If you are new to veggie gardening, and want some tips, get in touch, I’d be happy to help!

    Native flower bed next to a veggie bed
    Native flower bed next to a veggie bed

Hope you have enjoyed this three part series on growing natives and veggies.  If you missed a part:

  • Part 1 covered three reasons to grow both natives and veggies.
  • In Part 2 we looked at the topic from the point of view of the veggie gardener, and
  • Here in Part 3, we saw three ideas for native gardeners to add some veggies.

Happy gardening, and if you have any topics you’d like me to cover, let me know.

Gardening with Natives & Veggies – Part 2 – From a Veggie Gardener’s View

Okay folks, lets look at gardening with natives and veggies from the veggie gardener viewpoint.  If you grow primarily vegetables and “savory fruits” such as tomatoes and squash in your garden, adding natives amps up your overall diversity as we saw in Part 1.

In addition there are several natives that can have direct benefit on your veggie production.  Lets look at a few of my favorites:

  • Blue Wild Indigo, Baptista australis: This beautiful 5’ tall native has beautiful blue-purple flowers in spring and is a member of the legume family of plants. Members of this plant family sequester carbon in the soil and the leaves can be cut down to add nitrogen to plants either around them or in your compost pile. Native bees love it, therefore attracting more pollinators to your landscape.

    bee visiting a wild blue indigo
    Wild Blue Indigo
  • Yarrow, Achillea millefolium: I love growing Yarrow, maybe because it is such a wonderful herb for stopping bleeding, but also because it will bloom all summer if you deadhead it and bring the flowers in for bouquets. The native common yarrow has creamy white flowers, cultivars have many others. Yarrow contains fairly high amount of calcium, which helps with the metabolic processes of plants taking up other nutrients. IT also help strengthen plant cell walls. High humidity, like we have here in Virginia, along with a cold winter can cause calcium deficiency, so plant yarrow, put the leave around your plants or in your compost to add calcium for your plants.

    Native White Yarrow
    Native White Yarrow
  • Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum: This beautiful tall, mid-summer flowering native is a pollinator magnet, and frankly, just darn beautiful. Its big puffy mauve flowers look wonderful at the back of a native flower garden bed, attracting so may different types of native bees and butterflies, you’ll want to stop veggie gardening and just watch the show. Perennial.

    Yellow Swallowtail butterlfy on Joe Pye Flower
    Yellow Swallowtail butterlfy on Joe Pye Flower
  • Goldenrod, Solidago spp.: Want to push the window on pollination into the fall. Then you want to add goldenrods to your landscape to attract those pollinators. This is really helpful if you love to grow fall peas like I do. Perennial.

    Goldenrod
    Goldenrods have cherry yellow flower in Autumn
  • Asters, Symphyotrichum spp.: Like Goldenrod, asters bloom later in the year, in autumn, thus they give you the benefits listed above for goldenrod, and give you more color in your garden as the weather turns cool. They also can make a nice cut flower for the vase.  Some are annual, some are perennial.

    purple aster flowers
    Native Aster flowers can be white, purple or pink.
  • Northern Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum: Got a shady area? Consider adding some of these ferns as they are a great toad habitat.  Toads eat bugs, so can help keep your bug population in balance and away from your veggies.

    northern maidenhair fern
    Northern Maidenhair Fern

So veggie gardeners, you can put in a flower bed of Blue Wild Indigo, Joe Pye, Yarrow, Goldenrod and Asters and have a beautiful garden area that blooms in spring, summer and fall.  Add some ferns to your moist shady spots and you’ve helped that native bee and toad population and your garden!

In Part 2 of this blog series, we looked at six native plants you can add to your landscape to benefit your veggie garden. There are many more, so I encourage you to add these and get in touch if you want more inspiration and ideas.

Check back or Subscribe to this blog to get notified for Part 3, when we look at the native, veggie gardening thing from the view of the native gardener.

Gardening with Natives & Veggies – Part 1, Three Benefits of Growing Both

Hey folks,

I’ve chatted with some gardeners who primarily grow natives and some who primarily grow veggies.  Turns out, there are folks who feel they have to grow one or the other.  Since diversity is one of the two top ways to help insure a healthy thriving garden (living soil being the other) I wanted to give all you gardeners out there some inspiration and ideas on how I like to grow both.

  • In this first part, we’ll go into the benefits.
  • The second part we’ll look at it from the veggie gardener point of view and,
  • in the third part, we’ll look at it from the native gardener point of view.

Garden panorama

3 Benefits of growing both natives and veggies:

  1. Diversity! Every critter that happens into or around your garden is part of the priorly connected web of garden life. Insuring you have a large diversity of plants in your garden is an insurance policy that not any one critter will wreak havoc on your entire garden. By including both a vegetable garden and some native garden beds in your landscape, you add even more diversity that if you have one or the other.

    Annual Flowers, Veggies and Natives
  2. Beauty. As I am fond of saying, “Beauty is food too”. Natives can add flowers and leaf shapes to your landscape and veggies can be grown in a pleasing manner, they don’t have to be in rows.

    Mixing Food, Flowers and Natives
  3. Food for everyone. Native gardeners tend to pride themselves on growing food for wildlife. Veggie gardeners tend to pride themselves on growing food for themselves and their families. Why not have some of both – everybody wins!

bee on flowers and gardener holding fresh harvested potatoes

In this intorduction, we took a quick look at three benefits for growing both natives and veggies.

Check back for Part 2, or subscribe at Right to be notified of the next post and to get some ideas for adding natives that benefit you and your veggie garden.

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 4 of 4

As I continue reflecting on the garden year so far we did have some great harvests …

white eggplant
White Eggplant

Eggplants, no water, no problem.

Love the white eggplants.  They look like large duck eggs so not too big and not too small. We got loads, made dishes with them all summer and into fall. Have some cooked and frozen too.  If you have a place with loads of sun and little water, your eggplants will be happy.

If you have an area that gets loads of sun and not much water, consider putting eggplants there. I did water them occasionally, but not that often and they were super happy.

 

over witnered fiesta broccoli
Overwintered Fiesta Broccoli

Overwintered broccoli, hardier than expected.

Wow, just didn’t protect the broccoli plants we got in late.  Yet got a super early broccoli harvest, even with temps down into the single digits off and on for a couple weeks.

Hardier than I expected.. check out Fiesta Broccoli from High Mowing Seeds.

We also grow Belstar and De Ciccio green heading types.

 

Melons, melons, melons!

melon patch
Charentais melon patch looks like there is only one melon
lots of melons
But when we looked under the leaves, we had about 8 per plant.

Remember when I didn’t water the potatoes and got no harvest.  Well, the opposite happened with the melons this year.  Both melon patches were in places that got watered allot and we had loads of melons.  Water folks, plants love it.

That is all my Autumn musings for now.  If more useful lessons come to mind, I’ll be sure to pass them on.  For now, happy gardneing and check out all our resources if you haven’t yet.  – Debby

 

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 3 of 4

Okay, folks, here are some things that did work this year.

dried christmas lima beans
Dried christmas lima beans. The bowl of beans in the photo is about 1/16th of the number we have gotten.

Lets go back to those pole beans, they were Christmas Limas, one of our favorites. We got LOADS, I am seriously so many beans.  We have had five means from them, have enough for another 8 or so meals of them fresh and a half gallon dried for winter.  So .. eve thought we had to repair the deer fence – we got load of luscious beans!

 

fresh lima beans
Freadh Christmas lima beans
colors of christmas limas
Ripening progression of Christmas lima beans. Left are the youngest. Right are dried.

 

Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato vine.

Tomatoes! Have you ever been sick of too many fresh tomatoes? I didn’t think it was possible, but it is. Gratefully, everyone loves them, so they are easy to give away.

Have been experimenting with pruning the last few years and have gotten it to keeping two to three leaders and pinching out the suckers.  One leader – they were too tall to harvest.  Not pruning enough suckers and they didn’t get enough air flow so we got diseases.

 

 

Crispers packed with tomatoes

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 2 of 4

Hi everyone,

Continuing my consideration on what didn’t work so well this year. There were a couple things I really did know, but life and laziness can sometimes happen to not such good outcomes.  A couple of these lessons are:

3.Blowing off watering potatoes. Okay, they were in the back, the farthest away from the water and I just got lazy, didn’t want to drag a hose back there, my bad since we got no potatoes. They have always been a super simple crop, but like other plants, when it doesn’t rain for a month, they need water.

Lesson: Water, duh, don’t get lazy about it if you want potatoes.

Was so bad, there was nothing to photo, but here is an inspirational one from a normal harvest.. buckets fo potaotes

4.Getting plants in late.  So this year, it took a long time to get some of the garden beds cleaned out and so some of the pepper plants went in super late.  They were just getting going pumping out peppers when it was time to pull them out to make room for fall and winter crops.  Granted, lack of rain for a month didn’t help.

Lesson: If life happens and it gets late, if you have your plants already, perhaps have grown them yourself like I have, then you’ll want to plant to leave them as long as possible and potentially forgo using that bed for fall and winter, or know you’ll get less of a crop. If you don’t have your plants yet, consider short days-to-maturity varieties to get your fall and winter garden in on time.

Late pepper harvest

More musings to come .. have a great day .. Debby

 

 

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 1 of 4

Hi folks,

Sitting in my office on a Tuesday in autumn, I begin reflecting on the passing gardening year.  As I consider what worked and what didn’t, it occured to me there are lessons here that may be useful for you so here you go …

What didn’t work:

1.Pole beans too close to the deer fence. Yikes, the pole beans grew over 15 feet and jumped onto the deer fence, seems okay, until a big wind storm came. The weight of the beans took down a section of deer fence in a big wind.

deer fence down inside garden
Deer fence caved in toward the garden
deer fence down outside
Bent deer fence from outside the garden

Lesson: keep space between your pole beans and fence, or trim pole beans away from fence.

2. Watch the last day of school. If your garden is accessible, hang out there the last day of school. Had someone/s throw spring cabbages around the garden the evening of the last of school at a display garden I manage.  It was heartbreaking to see them all over the garden, such  a waste of food. There was vandalism all over the area, which is normally very safe and benign.  Several folks said it was Jr. High boys.  This is a good reason to get your children and grandchildren involed in growing food and understanding what goes into food production, so they have respect and don’t waste.

spring cabbage
Spring Cabbage Bed, small sized, short Days-to-maturity types

 

Vandalized cabbage
Vandalized cabbage were all over the garden …
cabbage on top of 12 foot tomato cage
They even threw them on top of the 10′ cage we have to protect tomatoes from birds

Lesson: If your garden is accessable on known potential vandalism days, like the last day of school, shedule a pot luck, or hang out there, or rotate folks being in the garden into the evening.

Check back for the more lessons from this year and have an awesome day! Debby

Keeping Track of Your Seeds

hands holding seeds Bet there are some of you out there who are seed freaks like me.  Can’t wait for the next seed catalog, find yourself trolling through seed websites, seeming to always be looking for the next thing you want to grow.

Then what do you do when you do order your seeds, and don’t use the whole packet?  Do they go in a drawer, or bag in a big jumble?  Oh, then sometime later, you find some other seeds you just have to confused woman get, and those packets get put, well, on the kitchen table, a pocket in your garden bag, in a jar – somewhere!

It is time to plant and you were absolutely sure you got that variety, but darn it, can’t find it, quick buy more.  A month later, oh there are those seeds I knew I bought, darn, I double bought and now have more than I need.

I confess to have done all the above!

The answer is coming up with a seed inventory system that works for you.  It can be simple or complex, depending on how many seeds you have, and what your personal style is.  Make it something that works for you.

I have allot of seeds, I run a seed swap, save seeds, partner with seed companies and did plants sales for years, so having a system became critical to business. You don’t have to be in business to need to organize your seeds.

Here are some tips to create a seed organization system that works for you:

  • Create a spreadsheet, chart, list on your phone, or a notebook to jot down seed orders when they come in.
  • Have one place to put seeds that have not made it onto your inventory yet.
  • Have one place where you store your seeds after they are on your inventory.
  • Create a way to know when you have used up your seeds. I fold my seed packets in half for example.
  • Have a trigger in your system that lets you know when you need to buy more of that variety.
  • And a trigger if you grew something and you don’t want to grow that variety again.
Seed Catalogs
Seed Catalogs

Review your inventory at least once a year.  I like to do it over the winter, and if you have a system in place, it takes much less time, so you can get back to important things, like looking at more seed catalogs and websites 🙂

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Why Growing Dry Beans is So Awesome

holding a bowl of hot vegetable soupDo you love soups in the winter?  I sure do, a pot of soup on the stove heating up the house with its yummy smells filling the air. Dried beans are a must have for winter soups.

Today is a pleasantly cool rainy fall day, perfect for listening to some favorite tunes, enjoying a cup of tea and shelling beans, humming and dancing while the shelled beans pile up in a bowl, ready to be planted next spring and eaten this winter.

When I shell dried beans, I keep some of the biggest, plumpest out for planting the following year.  The rest are put into jars for eating.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of dried beans, so choose the ones you like to eat. Are you into Minestrone soup, then grow Cannellini beans. Into nachos, then grow pinto or black beans.  Love making chili, grow some Kidney beans.   Beyond these pretty well known favorites there are loads of other types to try to make you own unique winter soup.

Christmas Lima Beans
Christmas Lima Beans

A couple lesser known of favorites I like to grow are Vermont Cranberry and Christmas Limas.  Vermont Cranberry is a bush bean, where Christmas Limas are pole beans.  They are both beautiful and both make your soup broth a rich warm burgundy color.

You can find lots of varieties of dried beans that grow as bush beans or pole beans, depending on which you prefer to grow.  I like a bit of both. Bush beans yield faster, but I get a larger harvest from pole beans.  Check the Days to Maturity on the varieties that look interesting to you. This will tell you if you’ll have enough time to grow them until they dry on the plant.  If you are in the south, this is usually not an issue. Northern gardeners whose number of hot summer days are shorter may want to stick to shorter days to maturity bush types.

Dry Beans
Home Grown Dried Beans

When looking at seed catalogs for bean varieties, note that some beans are good both fresh and dried.  This can be a good use of garden space, as you can have a round or two of fresh green beans, then let the rest go for dried beans.  This way you get two types of beans from one plant!

Bon appetit, I’m off to enjoy my first cool weather soup made with home grown beans.

 

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