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Using Fall Leaves as Mulch

Friday, December 2, 2016

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For many people, the release of fall leaves onto the yard is an unwelcome sight, fraught with raking, and bagging and disposing of mounds and mounds of debris. But, for me it is just the opposite. I welcome a yard full of fall leaves because I have always thought of them as a valuable crop (in a manner of speaking) to be harvested, shredded or composted and used as mulch in my garden.

 

I learned, long ago, that when you shred or compost leaves you end up with nitrogen and nutrient rich garden mulch that is totally free and readily available. When you layer the confetti like leaves in garden beds it settles down with each watering or rainfall and new application of leave to knit together creating a felted like carpet that doesn’t blow away in the wind, but stays loose and porous enough to let water penetrate.

 

My deciduous trees like the Sycamore and Gingko are in the front yard, which isn’t very big, so I don’t get tons of leaves, but what I do get is stored in an unused compost bin until I have good amount to shred. Throughout the fall they are collected and shredded and will mulch several garden beds.

 

When life gets busy and doesn’t leave time for raking or shredding all those leaves they get mowed over with the lawn mower and used as mulch, as is, or piled into the compost bin to break down into nutrient rich soil. If I’m feeling really energetic and need more leaves than my trees can provide I ask neighbors if I can have their’s. You can always find someone willing to let you clean their yard of leaves, so they don’t have to.

Homemade Fish Emulsion

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

indian-bury-fish

When I was in grade school (a million years ago) we would read books about the Pilgrims and the Indians this time of year. What always struck me as odd was the part of the stories that talked about how the Indians buried a fish in the hole where they planted corn or pumpkin or squash seeds. Little did I know at the time that the decomposing fish provided food and nutrients to the germinating seeds and growing plants, much the same way topical fertilizers do today.

But, unlike in the Pilgrim days, if you search for fish fertilizer, sometimes called fish emulsion, in garden or farm stores you’ll quickly discover that they are quite expensive, too expensive for a frugal farm girl, like me. So years ago I set out to learn how to make my own. What I found out was if you have access to fish parts the process is fairly easy. Fortunately, I had a father-in-law who was an avid fisherman, and not just the catch and release type. He only believed in catching and eating. I also live fairly close to the coast with a small, but vibrant fishing industry, so my supply of fish guts was pretty steady.

Once I had the supply part figured out, it was easy going from there on.

To make your own Homemade Fish Emulsion, follow these 5 simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to creating your own nutrient packed, Pilgrim era fertilizer that your plants will love.

STEP 1:  Find yourself a fairly large barrel with a lid, like a 33-gallon plastic trashcan or one of those blue water collection barrels, and label it FISH FERTILIZER, ‘cause you won’t want to mistakenly use it for anything else. A lid is important to keep the critters out, so make sure it fits securely.

STEP 2:  Gather up your fish guts and bones and skins and toss them into the barrel. Crab and shrimp parts also work well because they are loaded with calcium. They take a bit to break down, but they’re worth it. You want to fill the barrel about 1/3 of the way, so if you don’t want to make very much or you don’t have access to a lot of fish parts use a 5-gallon bucket and stick with the 1/3 ratio. You’ll see why in a second.

STEP 3:  Layer in some brown stuff, just like you would with a compost pile, so you have a nice carbon/nitrogen mix. Leaves work great. Layering the fish then leaves and so on will help the materials break down. You want the barrel to be about 2/3’s full.

STEP 4:  Pour on a bit of sugar for the bacteria and micro-organisms to feed on and to help lessen the fishy smell. It also adds a bit more carbon to the mix. I use a livestock molasses that can be purchased in a gallon jug from a farm supply or feed store. Use ¼ to ½ cup for smaller buckets and about a cup for the larger barrels. This isn’t a fine science so don’t get obsessed with it. The sugar helps with the fermenting process.

STEP 5:  Fill the bucket with water to a few inches from the top. Now stir you’re gunky, sloppy mess until everything is well incorporated. Looks great, doesn’t it? Yep — it’s supposed to look that gross. Now place the lid on, but not too tight, the pressure that builds up from the fermenting will blow the lid off. You’ve been warned.

NOTE:  Try not to let flies in the barrel or you’ll have a stellar breeding ground for maggots, and that’s not what we want. One solution is to drill a few holes in the lid and then line the underneath side with a fine mesh. This will let the gases release, but won’t let the flies in.

 

Now comes the hard part.

 

Let it sit for a few weeks, a month is better, so everything can ferment. Give it a good stir every few days to keep things well mixed and decomposing. It will ferment faster in warmer weather than in cooler weather, but it smells worse in warmer weather. You’ve been warned, again. After about a month your brew is ready to use!

 

fish-bucket

Using Fish Emulsion

 

There are several different ways you can use your fish emulsion. One is to stir it well and then scoop out what you want to use, drizzling it around your plants. This gives plants bio-available nutrients in a soluble form. You can also strain off the solids and use just the liquid in a watering can like you would a manure tea, using the solids to start another batch. Or, you can use it as a drench, diluting 2-3 tablespoons in a gallon of water, and then applying it around the base of your plants. Some people use it as a foliar spray, but there’s something so unappealing about rotting fish guts coming in contact with my salad greens that I personally refrain. But, if you’re braver than me, mix 1 tablespoon of emulsion per gallon of water and use a foliar sprayer, applying it in the cooler part of the day rather than in the heat of the day.

 

Other Tips for Using Fish Emulsion:

 

  • Kick start your compost pile by using ½-cup in a gallon of water and layering it in.
  • Your brew will keep for a year if you make it in large batches. Smaller batches can be made seasonally.
  • This stuff smells! Store it in an out-of-the-way place so the odor won’t knock you off your feet.
  • Did I mention this stuff smells? EVERYTHING it comes in contact with will smell like dead fish. Choose your buckets, stirs and sprayers or water cans with this in mind, and be careful not to get it on your clothes or shoes when using it, the deodorizers don’t work very well.
  • Solids can be used up to three times before they lose their potency. After that you can add them to your compost pile.

 

Sources for Fish Parts:

 

  • Your own fishing trips
  • Fisheries
  • Local fishermen
  • Farmer’s Markets
  • Grocery store fish counter or fish market

Brewing & Using Manure Tea

Friday, September 16, 2016

manure-tea

 

Looking to make your garden grow even better than it does now?

 

Well—if you have chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats, cows or horses you have all you need to make your own power packed liquid fertilizer.

Yep, that’s right. Manure can be made into a liquid fertilizer, often referred to as “manure tea”.

Mulching your garden with leaves, grass clippings, used livestock bedding or any other organic material is a great way to add nutrients back into the soil, making it friable and easy to work. But, adding a dose of manure tea will punch up the nutrients ten-fold.

We have a routine around our homestead…late fall is the time when the livestock trailer is cleaned out and old shavings and straw is used to fill the nesting boxes in the chicken coop. It’s wintered over in the coop and the hens add another layer of manure to the mix. Come spring we have a good amount of compost to add to the garden beds, enriching the soil and increasing the good bacteria and microorganism population. Gotta keep up the good stuff in our soil, right?

But now we have one added step. We add a generous dose of manure tea to the beds before mixing in all that great compost. Unlike compost tea, which increases the good microbes in the soil, manure tea pulls the nutrients out of the manure, dissolving them into a liquid tea. Making manure tea is also a simple and fast process, so it won’t take long before your garden can benefit from all those added nutrients.

Although chicken manure has the highest level of nitrogen and one of the highest levels of Phosphorous and Potassium, any manure can be used to make manure tea. Since we have chickens, rabbits, ducks and sheep that’s what we’ve used over the years.

 

So—how simple is making manure tea?

 

This simple:

 

  • Grab yourself a 5-gallon bucket (preferably one without a crack, (sometimes hard to find around here).
  • Dump in a heaping shovel full of aged manure. (Use aged, as fresh can burn your plants and roots).
  • Fill the bucket with water and vigorously stir to churn everything up.
  • Let the bucket sit for about a week so the “tea” can brew. Stir every day to aerate the mixture so bad bacteria doesn’t grow.

 

I told you it was simple.

 

How to Use Manure Tea

 

Finished manure tea can be used straight from the bucket using a ladle or watering can.

If your tea turns out really dark it should be diluted at a 1:1 ratio. Simply pour half the tea into a new bucket and fill with water, then strain out the solids from the original bucket and fill with water. Now you have two buckets of tea. Add the solids to your compost pile or till them into garden beds.

Manure tea is best used around the base of young seedlings or plants, giving them a boost of nitrogen to help them grow. Applications can be made once a week using a watering can or pump sprayer.  Be cautious, though. Manure has pathogens that can cause illness, so manure tea should not be used on root crops like beets, carrots, onions or potatoes. Also, it should not be applied to the leaves of edible plants like lettuce, kale, spinach or other greens where the leaves can be eaten.

 

NOTE:  I make a big batch of manure tea using an old 35-gallon water tub. Because of the container size I fill it with about 8 to 10-inches of manure, then fill with water. I let it steep and pull out the finished tea using a bucket or watering can. It is used straight on the garden beds as I am preparing them for planting in early spring. I wait about a week or so before planting. After planting I can reapply using a watering can or ladle.

earthworms

Last fall I was about to pull my hair out!!!

 

Seriously.

 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone…the same conversation you’ve had with them for years? Well, that was me this past summer, and I’m still recovering.

 

For the umpteen millionth time my mom asked me what is wrong with her garden. And—for the umpteen millionth time I have responded…STOP ADDING SAND AND GYPSUM!!!

 

Mom thinks that if a little is good a whole lot more is better.

 

Let me explain…

 

Years ago someone, somewhere convinced my mom that adding sand and gypsum to her soil would help break up the clay and make the soil more plant friendly. But, somehow I don’t think they meant she should make those additions every year for 50 years.

 

Yep…you got it. For the past 50 years my mom has been dumping buckets of sand and bags of gypsum onto her garden beds. Rather than creating the dark rich workable soil that is deep with organic material and teaming with life all she has managed to do is make CEMENT!

 

Ya know what grows in cement?  Not much of anything.

 

This is a conversation we’ve had every year since I became an avid gardener and suburban homesteader. Every year I tell her how to improve her soil, and every year she tells me I have no idea what she deals with because my soil is so wonderful.

 

Well…I have a news flash…my soil wasn’t always wonderful. Great soil is created more often than it just exists. Soil can be good, but great soil is constant work and somewhat of an art form, albeit not fine art.

I think I’ve made a breakthrough, though. Mom has finally decided to take my advice on how to improve her soil so she can finally have the garden she has always wanted.

 

So how does one go from dead and barren soil to dark, rich, friable soil that plants actually want to live and thrive in? One step at a time, that’s how.

 

7 Steps to Improve Your Garden Soil During the Winter Months

 

Grass Clipping & Yard Trimmings:

If you still have a lawn to mow, layer the clippings in the garden instead of dumping them in the yard waste barrel. Alternate with trimmings from flowering plants, vegetables, and non-woody shrubs. Any soft plant material can be laid right on ground, like our forefathers use to do.

 

Pile on the Manure:

Manure is one thing most farms have in abundance. I consider my chicken, rabbit and sheep manure to be “gold” for my garden. Although chicken manure can be a bit “hot” to spread directly on plants, it is perfect for building up your soil before the planting begins. Cow manure is a great all-round addition, but may be hard to find in suburban areas. Check with local 4-H Clubs or FFA programs for possible sources. Horse is usually very plentiful, but it can contain more salt from the urine than is good for your garden. Apply it sparingly or mix with other less “salty” manures from sheep or goats. I’ve had success finding large qualities of cow and horse manure on CraigsList, but a word of caution here…you may get weed or grain seeds in the bargin, so be sure to mulch heavily so the heat of decomposition will kill them.

 

Add Mulch:

I’m a hug fan of mulch as the primary source to build up your soil. Straw, hay, shavings and shredded plants help retain moisture, suffocate weeds, and when it breaks down it makes the perfect breeding ground for an army of beneficial garden worms. Some mulching materials can be purchased from local feed stores or garden amendment companies. Lay your mulch about 4-inches deep.

 

Compost:

If you don’t already have a compost pile, it’s time to start one. It’s the best way to turn kitchen scrapes, coffee grounds, egg shells, weeds, trimmings and manure into a nutrient rich soil additive. When building your compost pile think green and brown, fresh and dried. To set up a compost bin quickly, fasten 3 wooden pallets together and then hinge the 4th for s gate. Nothing fancy is needed.

 

Natural Amendments:

Inferior garden soil will benefit from a sprinkling of natural amendments like bone or blood meal, worm castings, wood ash (I fill a small trashcan full when I clean out the fireplace), fish emulsion, or Epsom salts.

 

Add Earthworms:

Earthworms are nature’s eager tillers. As they move through the soil they create air pockets, allowing air, nutrients and water to penetrate dead soil. They chew up decomposing matter and shed castings that help improve the soil’s body.

 

Plant a Winter Cover Crop:

Cover crops are a great way to build up soil and break down hard soils while infusing it with nutrients, improving aeration, killing weeds and weed seeds, and improving water retention.  Deep rooted crops like ryegrass are especially good because they’re deep root systems help break up and aerate the soil. Once you’ve built up your soil you can plant nitrogen fixing cover crops, like clover, to improve the nitrogen level of your soil.

 

When mom made the decision to seriously improve her garden soil we had a lot of work to do. Here are the steps we took beginning in fall and extending into the next growing season.

 

Season One:  Layering the Garden 

  • Remove all plants and weeds.
  • Lightly till soil.
  • Add natural amendments, sparingly.
  • Layer on manure.
  • Top with mulch.
  • Pile on compost.
  • Plant ryegrass cover crop.
  • Drench with manure tea.
  • Winter over.

 

Season Two:  Building the Soil 

  • Deeply till the garden to incorporate all the organic matter from season one.
  • Test soil and add needed natural amendments.
  • Add earthworms to help speed decomposition and aerate soil.
  • Layer on manure, mulch and compost.
  • Plant nitrogen fixing cover crop.
  • Water generously with manure tea.

 

Now, here it is…the following fall and my mom’s garden is ready to plant with fall vegetables, bulbs, perennial herbs and flowers.

How to Test Your Soil’s pH Level

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Soil Test - Mason Jar

Soil pH is the backbone of any productive garden. Soil pH is important to know because it influences how easily plants can absorb nutrients from the soil.

But, what is pH?

Simply put, pH shows how acidic or alkaline your garden soil is. And, although some plants like and do well in acidic or alkaline soil, most common vegetables thrive on a balanced pH level.

The ideal pH level for garden soil is 6.0 to 7.0 pH. Levels below 6.0 are considered acidic, while levels above 7.0 are considered alkaline.

Garden soil should be tested before you begin gardening so you can find out how “out of balance” your soil is and make adjustments. There are soil testing kits and companies that test a soil sample you send them, but these are often times expensive and time consuming.

I much prefer a simple “homemade” test that I can do any time before planting or after the last harvest. That way I can start adding amendments to balance out the soil between planting seasons.

To test your soil at home, use this simple process.

 

NOTE:  Soil pH can vary from garden spot to garden spot. Each growing area should be tested.

 

  • Find 2 glass jars (for each growing area to be tested) and label them “Alkaline” and “Acidity” (include the garden area they came from). Example: “Raised Bed Garden – Acidity” or “Berry Patch – Alkaline”. Quart-sized canning jars work great.

 

  • Dig down a few inches and add a handful of soil to each jar.

 

  • To the Alkaline jars add ½ cup of white vinegar.

 

  • To the Acidity jars add ½ cup of water and ½ cup of baking soda.

 

Now wait a few minutes.

Reading the results…

If the Alkaline jars, with the vinegar, start to bubble your soil is too Alkaline and you need to lower the soil’s pH by adding pine needles or sulphur.

If the Acidity jars, with the baking soda mixture, start to bubble your soil is too acidic and you need to add lime or wood ash (which we have lots of coming out of winter).

Each time you test your soil you can readjust the additives to help level out the pH so your veggies and plants will grow strong and healthy. It is also a great tool to measure the soil for alkaline and acid loving plants, that don’t like a balanced soil.

 

A few acid loving herbs and veggies

Garlic

Parsley

Spinach

Peas

 

A few alkaline loving plants

Sage

Oregano

Asparagus

Artichoke

 

To find out what pH level your favorite plants will like, check out this list from The Farmer’s Almanac

How to Create a Deep Mulch Garden

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Deep Mulch

It may be the beginning of a new year for us all and the dead of winter for some, but I, like many other die hard homesteaders can’t help but think about spring and a garden bursting with fresh grown produce.

But, before we sink seeds into the soil and sprouts rise to the sky there is much work and planning to be done. My favorite winter break project is to lay out my spring garden. Long stormy days just cry out for gardeners to put pen to paper. Sheets and sheets of graph paper lay strewn across my kitchen table, colorful felt pens stand in an old mason jar and the ideas of how I want my garden to look swirl in my head. It’s a creative time, but also an important time that takes thought.

My garden planning starts long before spring temperatures warm the soil enough to plant. The work of preparing the soil is just as important as which seeds to order and should be given as much care. The nutrients derived from mulch and compost are the basis of a productive garden and should not be overlooked.

How we Converted a Traditional Garden into a Productive Deep Mulch Garden

The steps below will work for first-time gardeners and seasoned gardeners trying to resurrect an unproductive garden.

1. We start in the fall. Bedding from the sheep trailer, that had been pooped on and peed on and stomped on, fluffed and turned all during show season is the first layer tilled into the garden beds, followed by a layer of rich compost.

2. After garden beds are cleared in the fall and any beds not in use for fall vegetables, each bed is spread with a very thick layer of a hay, straw, shavings, leaf and grass clipping mixture, about 6 to 8 inches. The thickness is important because the heat generated during decomposing helps kill weed seeds. If you are able, a 10-12 inch thick layer would be great. I get my spent hay from local horse farms because it is readily available. Straw can be purchased from local feed stores, and leaves or grass clippings can be gathered from the yard or from neighbors.

The amount of mulch you need depends on the size of your garden plot. I use 32-gallon trash cans to transport mulch and calculate 6-8 cans per 4’x12′ bed. A good rule of thumb is about a ½-ton minimum of loose matter for a 50’x50’ garden plot.

3. In early spring, all the layers are tilled in along with a broad spectrum fertilizer. This is allowed to sit for a few weeks while the soil warms enough to plant.

4. When it’s time to plant, I spread another thick layer of mulch over the beds. Using my garden diagram as a guide I decide where to put the rows and separate the mulch to expose a strip of soil.

5. I plant direct-sow seeds directly in the soil, like normal. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, I pull the mulch back around the sprouts to block weeds and conserve water. Veggies that were started inside are transplanted in the same way—pull the mulch away to expose a row of soil, plant and pull mulch back around each transplant. I check the garden often to see if more mulch is needed or bare spots have developed. This is where grass clippings come in handy. I keep a pile near the garden beds so I can spread it on any time.

6. When the growing season is over and everything has been harvested, I lightly till again and cover all the beds with a fresh layer of mulch. This will sit all winter until we start again in the spring with a new layer of mulch.

7. I rotate the beds used for fall/winter veggies so each bed has a chance to get mulched and composted every few years.

At this point I should offer a word of warning.

With the deep mulch method you will be spending a lot less time weeding and maintaining your garden. Don’t feel guilty! Just enjoy!

So…what do my garden chores look like now?

• I check small seedlings often to make sure the mulch hasn’t covered tender sprouts. When veggies are bigger this won’t be an issue.
• Water as needed. Of course, this will vary depending on your area and amount of rainfall. I end up watering only twice a week, except during really hot weather. The mulch will help retain moisture in the soil.
• If any weeds pop through the mulch simply pull them and add more mulch to the area, but there won’t be many if the mulch layer is thick enough.
• Lastly, I often breath a deep sigh of relief, grab a chair, a glass of tea and enjoy my garden!

Once you’ve tried deep mulching you’ll never want to go back to your old way of gardening. But, don’t get too caught up in the details of variety or quantity of mulch. Just mulch!! It’s really hard to mess this up as long as you use a pretty thick layer. Now, you’ll have fresh grown produce from a garden that doesn’t take over your life. How great is that!

Earthworms – your garden’s best friend

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

earthworm
When we think about a garden’s soil teeming with life we generally think of tiny microbes that can only be viewed with a microscope.

But, there’s one major player that needs no magnification—earthworms. These industrious creatures burrow into the soil, improving its structure from the surface down, and producing castings that feed the earth and provide nutrients to plants.

Around the world there are about 7,000 species of earthworms. They live in most countries, except hot, arid deserts and very cold regions with permafrost.

No matter where you live, these squirmy wigglers bring huge benefits to the garden as they chew their way through the soil, forming small pathways for water to drain, oxygen to reach the roots and carbon dioxide to escape.

Earthworms that live close to the surface typically eat organic matter, like grass clippings and dead leaves. Worms living lower grind their way through the soil gleaning fungi, bacteria and other bits of organic matter trapped between the soil particles.

For the most part, earthworms ingest soil and the like at a rate up to 30 times their body weight each day. All the while, their up and down and sideways movements deposit nutrient-rich castings to plant roots, redistribute organic matter and allow water to penetrate. The lubricating mucus earthworms secrete helps bind soil particles, open pores and help prevent caking and erosion of the soil. They also help prevent runoff in rainy areas.

There are three main categories of earthworms found in the garden—shallow-dwelling, field worms and deep-dwelling night crawlers.

In my area, shallow-dwelling field worms are most common. They live in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil for about a year or two, creating horizontal tunnels and secreting their castings wherever they travel.

Field worms are primarily active in the spring, when the soil is moist and the temperatures are moderate. Hot, dry soil sends them deeper into a resting stage, but they perk up in the fall with early rains or irrigation, then return to a resting stage to wait out a cold winter.

Deep-dwelling night crawlers are rare in my area, but more common in the east and mid-west, where they dig vertically into the soil creating tunnels several feet deep. When they slink to the surface to gather food and slide down to digest it, then back up again they deposit their castings and plant residue on top of the soil.

Like field worms, night crawlers burrow deep into the soil during hot spells, then perk up with spring and winter rains. Some studies claim they can travel up to 60 plus feet in one night. Night crawlers can live 3 to 4 years, if they’re not collected for fishing bait.

Another category of earthworm is the red worm, those debris loving wrigglers that thrive above the soil in leaf litter and compost bins or worm bins.

For most of the year in my area (the Central CA Coast) earthworms are dormant, curled up in little balls just below the soil’s surface encased in a protective covering lined with mucus.

No matter which type of earthworm you have in your area they are a powerhouse worker in the garden and should be cultivated, encouraged and protected, so they can produce maximum benefits for your vegetables and flowers.

5 Ways to Preserve your Carrot Harvest

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Carrots2

I sat at the patio table organizing my stash of vegetable seeds, sorting by like kinds and those that were out of date. Without thinking I decided to sprinkle an old package of carrot seeds in my patio wash tub garden, not thinking what would happen if the seeds were still viable. When I say out of date I mean years, like 3, out of date.

I suppose I thought not many of them would be good and only a few would sprout. Man was I wrong, dead wrong!

It was kind of exciting to see a few green shoots emerge from the compost rich galvanized tub a week or so later. But, as time went on the sprouts multiplied and before I knew it the entire tub was covered with a feathery green carpet. I was not expecting a good portion of the seeds to sprout, that I can tell you. By now it was clear…I would have a bumper carrot crop, but in a potted garden instead of a raised bed.

As time went on and the feathery tops grew it occurred to me that at harvest time I would have more carrots than a one person household could handle. I needed a plan and I needed one FAST!

Fortunately, I love carrots, but honestly who needs that many fresh carrots…all at one time.

I mulled it over in my head and did a bit of research, then went back and forth trying to decide what to do. It was exciting to find several very useful ways to preserve my orange harvest, ones that would fit nicely with the kinds of dishes I use carrots in. That was a relief, I can tell you.

So here are five ways to preserve your carrot harvest, whether it’s small or large.

1.)    Leave them in the ground

How easy is that? My temperate climate lends itself well to just leaving carrots in the ground for quite a while. In colder climates, though, carrots can be covered with a thick layer of straw or leaves, about a foot deep, then covered with plastic, a tarp or even a small hoop house. If you live in an extremely cold area you can add an extra layer of mulch just to be safe. These thick layers will help insulate the carrots while the covering will help keep them from getting overly wet and rotting. When it’s time to use a few, simply move the mulch away from the tops and pull as many as you need, then push the mulch back into place. Easy, right?

2.)    Store them in a root cellar

Root crops do especially well in root cellars. The trick to holding them for a long time is to leave them as natural as possible, meaning don’t was them. When they are harvested, gently brush off the excess dirt, trim the tops to about 2-inches and store them in a single layer in sand, straw or shavings. Make sure, though, that the shavings have not been treated with any anti-flammable substance. For best results and long storage the root cellar temperature should be consistently between 35-40 degrees and have plenty of humidity. Under the right conditions carrots should keep for about 4 to 6 months in a cellar.

If you don’t have a cellar, like me, check out the link below for a simple root cellar perfect for the suburban homesteader. Or, you can cellar them in the fridge. Simply harvest, brush off excess soil and trim then store carrots in a zip lock bag or a shallow lidded container.

They won’t keep as long in the fridge, but you should have fresh carrots for several months at least.

3.)    Freeze your carrots.

With a little bit of prep work carrots freeze very well. Wash thoroughly before cutting off tops and peeling. Slice or dice into desired size or cut into sticks, then blanch them for 3-minutes in boiling water. Remove from boiling water and immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Cool completely before placing carrots into plastic freezer containers or bags. Frozen carrots work great in soups, stews, pot pies or casseroles.

If you don’t mind a little bit more work, place carrots on a parchment lined cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze. This way they freeze individually and are easier to pull out a small amount if that’s all your recipe calls for. I freeze my carrots this way because it’s the easiest method if I don’t have a large batch of carrots all at once.

4.)     Traditional canning works, too.

Carrots are a low-acid vegetable and needs to be pressure canned if you choose this method. However, if you choose to make pickled carrots you can use the regular water bath method.

To pressure can carrots…

Wash thoroughly, removing all dirt then trim tops and peel.

Pack carrots into hot sterilized jars, and fill with boiling water leaving a 1-inch headspace. For my one person house I use primarily ½-pint and pint jars, but families may want to use larger jars.

Processing time & pressure…

Pints – 25 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure

Quarts – 30 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure

5.)    Dehydrate your carrots.

Carrots lend themselves very well to being dehydrated, to be used later in many crock pot or casserole dishes, even baked goods like muffins and cakes. To dehydrate carrots, wash, trim and peel as in the other suggestions, then blanch them for 3-minutes in boiling water and dry completely before placing them on the drier tray. Place in a single layer at 125 degrees and dry until they are almost brittle.

 

There you have it, five ways to have the great taste of carrots in your winter dishes and baked goods.

Check out this post to learn how to make a simple mini green house for your garden beds.

How to Save Garden Seeds

Saturday, July 11, 2015

 

Dried Peas

 Want to keep the garden going year-after-year without having to spend a lot of money on seeds?

 

Well—I do, too. That’s why seed saving is an essential garden skill.

 

This time of year the garden is bursting to overflowing. Veggies are producing at such a rapid rate it’s almost impossible to keep up with the harvesting, canning, freezing or consuming, much less think about the next year’s garden season. But, this is exactly the time to think about your next garden, when you have so many plants to collect seeds from.

For centuries gardeners and farmers alike have selected the best plants from their crops and collected seeds for the next planting, essentially creating their own personal seed bank, and you can too!

Following these few simple steps will start you on your way to harvesting not only today’s fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers, but tomorrows as well.

There are two types of seed categories—dry and wet, and while some seed saving steps are similar for both types, seed harvesting starts with one common and important step.

 

START WITH HEALTHY HEIRLOOM PLANTS!

 

Healthy plants produce healthy seeds, which in turn produce healthy plants. Choosing unhealthy plants produces just the opposite, so select robust, healthy plants to save seeds from. Planting a garden using heirloom seeds will give you a much better chance of producing viable seeds for saving versus their hybridized and highly modified counterparts. In fact, some plants are developed so they can’t reproduce seeds that can be saved, forcing you to buy new seeds every year.

Dry Seeds—come from plants like sunflowers, beans and peas.

Select a few good plants and allow them to flower and dry-out on the stem. With beans, peas or any other “pod” type vegetable let the pods hang on the vine until they are dry. When the seeds are completely dry, cut them from the stem before they scatter, or before the birds get to them and gently remove them from the head or pod.

Plants that produce a flower head like onions or delphiniums can be cut with a length of stem and dried on a tray or stored up-side down in a paper bag to dry. Punch a few air holes into the side of the bag for ventilation. This paper bag method is also a good place to “catch” smaller seeds.

To clean heavier seeds of chaff pass them between two cups in front of a gentle fan or outside on a breezy day. Lightweight seeds like lettuce or carrot can be clean using a fine sieve. Place seeds in the sieve and gently toss them while blowing out the chaff.

To “cure” the seeds before storing, place them in a single layer on a fine window screen elevated on a few inches and store in a non-windy area for a week. After the seeds have cured completely they can be stored in envelopes or small lidded jars in a cool dark place until ready to use.

Tomato Seeds

Wet seeds—come from plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

Wet seed fruit should be picked a few weeks past its prime, but before the fruit begins to rot. This will give seeds time to mature completely.

Gently scoop out seeds and place them in a large bowl. Fill the bowl, not quite to the top, with room temperature water and let the seeds stand for about four days. This soaking helps remove the film coating on the seeds and gives the “dud” seeds a chance to float to the top so they can be removed easily. No sense in storing bad seeds.

Drain the seeds through a sieve and rinse well with running water. Rub them gently to remove and residue.

To “cure” wet seeds use the same window screen treatment as before. Be sure to “cure” seeds completely as damp seeds will mold and rot, ruining your hard work and next season’s garden.

Be sure to store all saved seeds in a cool dry place so they don’t lose their viability.

Oh…and don’t forget to label each seed during the cleaning and saving process so you can properly label the storage envelope or jar. You don’t want your next garden to be a guessing game!

There you have it, an easy way to keep your garden going year-after-year for little or no money.

 

How to sanitize garden tools

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Garden Tools

 

Garden tools get quite a workout during the growing season. Digging new garden beds, planting new vegetable starts and pruning all use a variety of hand and long handled tools that help make the garden a success.

With all this activity and contact with different plants dirty tools can spread disease from plant-to-plant. Not a good idea for keeping a healthy garden. To prevent disease from effecting other plants clean tools of dirt and grime after each use. Use a stiff brush to remove dirt and sanitize tools with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Swirl tools around in the bleach solution for a bit, then let them air dry in the sun.