How to Grow

13 Items to Upcycle for Indoor Growing

a very tiny greenhouse

There are a number of items you may be recycling that can save you some money when it comes to indoor growing.

You can start seeds in a lot of clean containers, such as:

1) Yogurt Cups
2) Plastic produce containers
3) Empty toilet paper rolls
4) Likewise, scaled down paper towel rolls
5) Aluminum cans, be careful cutting these
6) Tin cans from canned soup or veggies
7) Milk cartons
8) Wax cartons such as for orange juice
9) Disposable cups such as solo cups
10) Other food grade plastic containers such as tofu tubs, guacamole, and ready to eat food trays

The main thing to remember is that you need some form of drainage holes. This is easy enough to do in plastic with a scissors or sharp knife. Use caution of course.

For metal containers hammering a nail through them in a few places should do the trick.

Keep in mind you need enough room for the plants to be able to establish their root systems. We would say no less than 3 inches.

You can aid germination by covering containers with (11) recycled plastic sandwich type bags, as shown above. You can see a tiny seedling just sprouting, surrounded by water droplets. This creates a green house effect, keeping your seeds moist until they sprout.

And when that happens, there is one more way to upcycle using a sharpie marker. (12)

plastic ware make great plant markers

Don’t tell me you’ve been getting rid of free plant markers. ;-)

13.) When you transplant, you can still use some of the larger food containers, 5 gallon buckets, as well as reuse pots from plants you have purchased. Again, be sure all containers are clean and have drainage.


Categories: all about seeds, extending the season, How to Grow


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6 Tips to Growing Better Garlic

growing better garlic

The following information was learned from farmers who have been growing garlic for a living, and from years of hands-on experience:

1. Choose a permanent location.

Although many gardeners might disagree, garlic actually prefers to be grown in the same spot. An obvious example of this is in its relatives chives and perennial onions.
My Uncle was well known in his neighborhood for his garlic and every year he replanted in the same bed.
The exception would be in the rare case that your garlic gets hit with rust or white rot; otherwise, give it a forever home.

2. Replenish the soil.

Some good compost and manure goes a long way. It also helps garlic, like onions, to add bonemeal to the soil. We work some in between rows rather than right where the garlic is planted.

In most cases, that’s all you need.

3. Choose the type(s) you like, then adapt to your area.

When you save the best cloves from the garlic you have grown to replant, you are helping them learn to live under your area’s weather conditions.
If you can purchase starters that were grown in your region, you are ahead of the game.

This way your garlic will thrive and get better over time.
Yeah, that’s how you get a reputation for growing garlic.

4. Plant at the right time.

We were always told to plant Columbus Day weekend for our area Zone 5/6 Northeast Pa.
That’s was until a local farmer said that isn’t quite right.

“Plant when the soil just starts to get that first frozen crust on top. That’s when you know it is the right time of year, not by the calender.”

Makes sense, right?
Some years, that might be late October or even November.

5. Give them some compost tea.

Of course we prefer Moo Poo Tea that comes from grass fed cows. Brew up a batch and soak the cloves in it overnight. This will help a lot with their root development, the most important first step they take.
Likewise, give them another dose when the long winter is over.

6. Mulch well.

This is more for colder regions like us and farther North. A good layer of mulch helps prevent the ground from heaving so much as the temperatures change over the fall, winter and then the thaw.
This makes life a little easier on your garlic babies.

And here’s a bonus tip we haven’t personally tried:

Towards the end of the growing season, summer for us, bend back the tops of the garlic.
Many gardeners tell us this forces the garlic to put its effort into the bulb, and not into producing scapes or flowers.
We’ll be trying this one out for ourselves come August.

More on garlic growing. Use the link, then scroll down.

Categories: garlic, How to Grow



6 Things to Know About Saving Seeds

how to save seeds

Saving seeds is a great way to have some food independence.
There are a few things to keep in mind to make you more successful:

1. Which seeds to save.

Every gardener wants next season’s harvest to be as good or better, so save the best seeds. This means the healthiest squash, the biggest or best tasting tomato, and the corn that grew more and plumper ears.

2. What your seeds might be.

Natural cross pollination can easily take place in the garden. The veggies that are the most susceptible are squashes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, corn and tomatoes; probably in that order.
Not only can sweet peppers cross with each other, they can also cross with hot peppers, making the seeds you harvest questionable. Other than that a naturally made hybrid is not necessarily a bad thing, and can even be fun to grow.

3. How to get the less obvious seeds.

Everyone that has ever thought about it knows not all veggies have seeds inside, take carrots for example.
So how do you get those?
Root veggies need to be allowed to go to seed. Some, like radishes, will do this during the growing season. Others, like carrots and parsnips will need a full year to bloom and produce seeds.
Leafy veggies and herbs only need to bolt, and then produce seed you can gather.

4. How to save the seeds.

Some veggies, like peppers, are easy; just let the seeds dry on a plate then store. Corn for seed isn’t harvested until it dries on the stalk. This process is recommended for both tomatoes and cucumbers. Once you get the information you need, it becomes second nature.

5. How to store your seeds.

Be sure your seeds are fully dry first. Many gardeners recommend a simple envelope for storing. This allows for air circulation and can be labeled with the contents. Some gardeners save empty seed packets for the purpose.
We have also seen advice that suggests envelopes be placed in a food grade glass container, and a silica gel packet added. The container prevents any critters from getting at your seeds, while the gel packet insures no undetected moisture can cause an issue.

6. How to know you were successful.

Of course you don’t want to wait until you have planted your saved seeds to find out whether or not they will sprout. Just to be safe it is a good idea to test for germination ahead of time.
Take a few of the seeds, 10 if you have a lot, and place them between two paper towels. Moisten the towels, and keep them moist. Wait to see if the seeds sprout. If they all do, you have a wonderful germination rate and you are good to go.
If some do, but not all, plant a little heavier.
If none sprout, give it a little more time. You may want to have a back up though, to play it safe.

So that’s it folks, pretty easy and fun to do.
We’re off now to knock a few more corn seeds off the cob and be ready for next year.

Happy gardening!

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow


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How to Grow Aronia for Both Health & Landscape Appeal

aronia berries

Tiny powerhouses for health.

A beautiful and nutritious perennial border?
Yep, you can grow that!

There are a number of varieties of chokecherry, AKA Aronia; we chose the black ‘melanocarpa’ because it has higher levels of anthocyanins, the substance that both produces the dark color and brings up the level of health benefits. These berries are reputed to have the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit.

The specs on it are below, but basically it is a fairly cold hardy plant that will make a border that is both beautiful in the spring with its pretty white flowers, and then healthy later in the season, with bright green leaves that turn color in the fall.

aronia plant

A little bitten, but none the worse.

This is the first year for our plant, and we did get a few of the deep purple colored berries shown above. They were on the tart side, which is why they are often processed into syrups, jams, and such.

It did get a wee bit of some of the smaller leaf eaters’ attentions, but nothing that caused much damage.

We’ll watch it come spring to make sure things don’t get out of hand. This is certainly something the bunnies would love, and we’ll keep an eye out for that as well.

Botanical name: Aronia melanocarpa
Hardiness: Zones 3-8
Size: Up to 5 ft high by 8 ft wide.
Planting: Enjoys full sun but also does well with larger trees.
Harvest: When the berries turn blackish-purple, usually towards the fall.
Storage: Can be frozen; best processed into a more palatable product. We’ve heard they are good added to chili. Hmmm.

you can grow that

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Categories: How to Grow, less common berries



How to Grow Turmeric – Update

turmeric plant

Getting bigger.

It has been 3 months since the last post about growing turmeric, and we must say the plant enjoyed the outdoor weather this past summer.

It already has grown to be about 2 ft. tall, close to the final height of 3 ft.
When you water it or get close enough, it has a very slight smell of turmeric. Mmmm.

Here’s a close up of the leaves:

turmeric leaves

Once trimmed, it will be quite lovely.

They did get some brown on the edges, which I wanted to show before I trim them off in case you are trying this as well.

Since we are going to be brewing up a batch of Moo Poo Tea for the garlic we will be planting soon, we are also going to give some to the turmeric and other plants we brought indoors.

It helps a lot with root development, and we think it will make the outside-to-inside transfer easier on the plants.

We expect to harvest fresh turmeric some time late winter or very early spring. It will be exciting to see how much better homegrown tastes.

We were shocked when we did this with the ginger!

Although we really shouldn’t have been surprised, is there anything that doesn’t taste better when you grow it yourself?

There will be more recipes coming, for now here’s what we have using turmeric.

Categories: ginger, turmeric, How to Grow



Notes to Self

sunflower and friend

One of the survivors, with a hitchhiker.

Sometimes we refer to gardening as the yearly crap-shoot; but whether things go wrong because of Mother Nature or at the hands of the gardeners themselves, it is always an opportunity to learn.

That being said, some years we learn more than others. ;-)

Planting beds of sunflowers and okra seeds on each side of the front porch steps is a great idea. It will look so wonderful!

Unless you have free range chickens.

Note to self #1:
Build a raised bed with a removable chicken wire cover to give those seeds and seedlings a chance to survive. Duh.

Planting the garlic in the area where the new dwarf fruit trees and berry shrubberies are will save space in the garden.
Makes sense, right?

Except that fruit trees and shrubs grow fast, suck up a lot of nutrients and create too much shade.

Note to self #2:
Remember Uncle Joe’s garlic bed and the best bulbs in the family? Garlic likes to be in the same space year after year. Sure, give it some bone meal and soak the cloves in moo poo tea, but follow his example. Build a permanent garlic-only bed.

Planting the brassicas near the grapevines will offer them some shade. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a very hot summer, we better not take a chance.

Note to self #3:
Since when did you start believing the Farmer’s Almanac? It never barely hit 90F all summer.
Plus, some people think grapes are detrimental to the brassicas. Strawberries are, so who knows? Better play it safer next year.

If you keep trying, eventually you will be able to grow an almond tree.

Okay, so the first one was eaten by deer, a learning experience.
The second was bought online, and arrived so extremely pruned it could not recover.
The third year a gourd plant growing nearby and rapidly upward latched on to the baby tree and took it with it, roots and all. A bizarre learning experience admittedly, but still a good one.
This year the tree was planted in a very good spot. Success?

Noooo! The tree was purchased last fall from a local big box store and never survived the winter.

Note to self #4:
Put on your big girl panties come spring and cart yourself off to a local nursery. Find a good almond tree. Ask questions about how to grow them. Learn what you need to learn.

Four trees have already been sacrificed, this is your last chance.

Categories: How to Grow, Keeping up with the Joneses


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How to Grow Turnips

Similar to its relatives cabbage, broccoli and rutabagas, turnips are a cool season veggie.

Ready to harvest.

Ready to harvest.

They mature quickly so can be one of the first crops to harvest; and one of the last since they can take the cool fall temps.

These were planted at the end of July, as a succession crop when the potatoes were harvested. Of course we replenished the soil well first.

Here in the northeast area of the US, turnips, as well as a few other veggies, can be planted as late as September.

Turnips are pretty easy to grow, simply plant the seed about 1/2″ deep and water. The seeds are tiny so if need be just thin a few plants to about 2″ apart.

You can enjoy the greens in a salad or steamed, both from your thinnings as well as the mature veggie.
Don’t you love it when you get more from a veggie?

They have a mild flavor and are wonderful added to mashed potatoes, in soups, or simply braised or roasted.

There are other ways to use them as well…

The first three went into the Russian Sauerkraut. Mmmm...

The first three went into the Russian Sauerkraut. Mmmm…

Botanical Name: Brassica rapa
Yield: One veggie plus greens per seed planted.
Spacing: 2″
Days to maturity: 30-50
Hardiness: Can take some frost.
Storage: Refrigerate for a week or so if you leave some of the top on. Otherwise, dehydrate, freeze or pressure can. The greens can also be stored the same way.

Categories: How to Grow, turnips



9 Common Myths About Zucchini

zucchino rampicante

Not all zucchini are created equal.
Here are a few common thoughts about this misunderstood garden plant:

1. Zucchini are dark green.

The most common varieties of zucchini grown and seen in grocery stores are dark green, but there are a number of zucchini varieties that are different colors and even striped. Zucchini are squashes that were taken from America to Italy, developed there and brought back. They aren’t all green. Pictured above is Zucchino Rampicante, a beautiful shade of yellow.

2. Zucchini are very prolific.

They can be, and certainly the hybrids bred for market selling are. But most of the heirloom varieties produce far less. Here are two we favor.

3. Zucchini grow as a bush.

Again refer to the photo above. This zucchini is growing as a vine, as do a few other varieties. These are a great way to save space in the garden.

4. Zucchini are a summer squash.

Technically, yes. A squash is classified as a summer type if it has a thin skin. These are harvested throughout the summer and not stored fresh over the cooler months, as the thin skin will deteriorate too fast.

Conversely, winter squashes develop a thick skin by the end of the growing season, are generally harvested then, and stored in a cool area.

There are exceptions to every rule.

Some summer squashes, as is the case with the zucchini pictured, can develop a harder rind and then be treated as a winter squash.
Pretty neat, huh?

5. Zucchini are bland tasting.

The ones you buy at the market that have been grown primarily for high yield have a tendency to be bland, as do even ones developed for their productivity that you grow at home.
This is in comparison to some of the heirloom varieties that produce less, but IMHO are much better tasting zucchini.

Mandolin Jones, the cook, will only use heirloom types. Not that he is a foodie snob, he just doesn’t think the other zucchini are worth eating.

6. Zucchini should be picked at a certain size.

Some people who consider themselves zucchini connoisseurs will insist a zucchini be harvested at about 6-8 inches. Anyone who has ever grown one knows that their size can change a lot in one day.

It really depends on how you are going to use them. For a stir fry or ratatouille, sure the smaller size is better. Less or no seeds to deal with, and the veggie is more tender. For zucchini bread or especially if you are going to stuff the zucchini, you can or even need to have them bigger.

7. Zucchini can cross pollinate with other squashes.

They can, but only with other squashes that also have the botanical name Cucurbita pepo. This is a good example of why knowing the Latin name can help you. Other examples of Cucurbita pepo are pumpkins, crookneck, patty pan and acorn squash.

8. Zucchini are vegetables.

Technically, since they develop from an ovary, they are fruit. Not that this information changes anything, you’re certainly not going to toss them with some grapes and strawberries; but learning something new is good for your brain so we through it in here.

9. Zucchini cannot be frozen.

Obviously they can if you have the right equipment, or you wouldn’t be able to buy frozen zucchini. But for the home grower, freezing zucchini generally turns it to mush. Many people grate the zucchini, and freeze in the right quantities for zucchini bread. We have been freezing ours as zucchini burgers.
It’s all good and a wonderful way to have that fresh veggie taste all winter long.

Categories: How to Grow, squash



How to Grow Flax for Beauty and for Seeds

True blue flax flowers.

Flax seeds from your garden? Yep, you can grow that!

Here’s a plant with a long growing history. In times gone by it was used not only to consume the seeds, but to weave clothes as well.
We’re not taking it quite that far though.

The beautiful feathery leaves on stems about 2-3 feet tall will produce an abundance of lovely ‘true blue’ flowers. Reason enough to plant flax.

flax seed pods

When the flowers dry they produce seed pods. Each pod will hold about 1/2 dozen seeds; not a lot if you use flax seed a great deal. But since you can tuck them into your flower beds, it can add up.

You can easily collect the pods when they begin to turn brown, as pictured above. To remove the seeds you can thresh by shaking them in a paper bag, or simply lightly crush the pods.

Note that you’re not going to get a lot of seed, but still it is fun and freshly homegrown is wonderful in teas and adds a lot of nutrition.

Harvested flax seeds

We’re thinking of hanging on to some of what we harvest this year to top some homemade rolls for our next family holiday gathering.

Of course, seeds will also be saved for next year’s planting. It’s always good to know you can grow some fabulous nutrition in amongst the daisies.

Flax Flowers with bee.

Flax flowers are self-pollinating, but the bees can sure help.

Botanical name: Linum usitatissimum
Germination time: 1-3 weeks, faster if kept moist.
Days to maturity: 90-100
Growth habit: 2-3 ft tall, full sun. Like good organic matter and frequent watering.
Height: 1.5-3 ft.
Hardiness: Considered an annual but may reseed.
Storage: Store dry in a cool place like other seeds.
Uses: In baking, as a substitute for eggs in some recipes, crushed as an oil or in tea.

you can grow that

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Categories: grains, herbs



Perennial Parsnips Part 2

parsnsip seed heads

This experiment is already over a year in the making, having first planted the seeds in the spring of 2013.
Last April we looked at the beginnings of it, and what the plan was.

Basically, it is an effort to get a biennial root crop to reseed itself, thus making it one veggie we never need buy seeds for again; and to do that in a zone 5/6 region.

So far so good, though it has taken all summer.
We did what we planned and left 3 roots in the bed to flower and reseed.

collecting parsnip seeds

And man did they reseed! Not only is the bed full of wee babes, but we also have sufficient seed to share with our friends and kids.
If we repeat this experiment, one root will be enough to fill a 4×4 bed, and keep everyone in parsnips.

The main question now is whether the seedlings will be strong enough to survive the cold. They will get a splash of some Moo Poo Tea to insure great root growth and as a way to replenish the soil.
We may also give them some help with a cold frame cover and mulch, but the less we need to intervene the better.

parsnip seedlings

It is also very possible that the timing for this may be just a little off, and that eventually we will need to plant from seeds again.

Of course, if we continue to save them each year, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Now we are prepared to take what we have learned and see if we can get similar results with carrots.

You’ve got to love free veggies.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow, parsnips



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