4 Absolutely Essential Kitchen Tools to Preserve Your Harvest
4 Essential Kitchen Tools to Preserve Your Harvest
After a long, cold winter, there is nothing that makes me happier than seed starting day. Gearing up for the new garden season. Getting ready for the cycle once again. I hover over my seedlings with great joy, watching and waiting. Then, Spring finally gets here and into the ground we go, seedlings and seeds. Oh, these are good times. But, absolutely nothing beats the euphoria of harvest season. When that first tomato finally gets red enough (you know the first one is always picked too early) to pick, slice and eat. That is why we garden. Then, when you finally reach the peak of harvest season there is the task? duty? nope, I think pleasure of preserving your food for consumption during the dark and dreary winter months. You can even make this a special family affair like my neighbor does. When the corn is ready to come off about 20 people show up to process it. They pick, shuck, clean the silk, boil, cut the kernels off and freeze. It is a full day event. Of course nothing beats the flavor of fresh picked out of the garden, but preserving your own food sure beats metal cans of overcooked mush out of the grocery store aisles. We use 3 basic methods of preserving our food. 1) Canning, 2) Freezing, 3) Dehydrating. We use 4 basic tools to do this 1) Our Food Saver Vacuum Packer 2) our Excalibur Dehydrator 3) Our Vitamix Blender and 4) my Grandmothers Porcelain Canner. It even still has most of the label attached! Those are all of my personal items in the picture above.
Food Saver vacuum packer
We have had a Food Saver vacuum packer for about 20 years. We love it. We have had a couple of them wear out and we have had to replace them through the years. We use it for meats as well as our veggies and fruits. Your food will stay much fresher, you can keep it in the freezer up to 5 times longer than with regular freezing methods. We have found through the years that if we pre-freeze our produce it will not smunch in the bag when we vacuum. We place our fruit or vegetables on a lined cookie sheet in the freezer overnight. We use this method for blueberries, strawberries, peppers, green beans, garlic cloves, apples, pears, figs, blackberries and persimmons.
This is another tool we have owned for about 20 years. We are still on our original model. This is a great, simple to use item for food preservation. We use this for herbs, vegetables and fruits. I dehydrate cilantro, basil, sage, principe borghese tomatoes (great for drying), strawberries, carrots, green beans and parnsips. We have used this method for zuchinni and eggplant, but have never really been satisfied with those results. Although we did make zuchinni chips one year. They were pretty good. You salt the slices pretty heavy before you dry them. It is a great alternative to potato chips.
Again, this is a tool we have used for about 20 years. We are still on our original model of this product as well. This is no regular blender, this is a very powerful machine. We use this a lot. We vrrmph (technical term) our tomatoes to make tomato sauce. We then just go ahead and freeze these. When it is time to make spaghetti sauce we heat this up, spice it, and add our principe borghese dehydrated tomatoes to the mix. We take the dehydrated tomatoes and grind them in a coffee grinder. We find that when we add this to our sauce it thickens it and intensifies the tomato flavor. We also use our Vitamix to make smoothies from our frozen cantaloupes, melons, strawberries, blueberries, etc. We simply add some ice, our frozen fruit or veggies, some protein powder, a banana (usually found in the freezer in a vacuum bag), and a little bit of water as needed. What a yummy breakfast or treat. The Vitamix cookbook that came along with our machine has a recipe for tomato ice cream. We keep saying that we need to try it, but haven’t ventured there yet.
We probably don’t and probably never have canned as many foods as some people. We always can some jellies. In fact this weekend we are in the process of making some pear butter (from an apple butter recipe) that will be canned. We do can tomato sauce, diced tomato and pepper mix and jellies, but that is pretty much all we do. I am thrilled to be able to use my Grandmother’s canner to do all of this. Some things change all too often, but the basics of canning has never changed. You can also can peaches, green beans, pickles, beets, tomatillos, to mention a few. This really is quite a simple method, but there are a few basic rules that must be followed. All of your equipment, jars and lids should be sterilized in boiling water before beginning. Be sure to follow recommended canning times for all foods that you can.
Preserving your food is a way to enjoy healthy, home grown food year round. This does take a little time and effort, but it is well worth the effort. Make it a family project like my neighbor does and it will not seem to be such a daunting process. Like I said, this is my absolute favorite time of the year in the garden. (Second place is planting day)!
This pear butter is just coming out of the canner.
Dehydrated Pricipe Borghese Tomatoes
Vacuum Packed Blueberries and Blackberries
Vitamix with tomatoes ready to be processed
5 Best Composter Reviews: Black Gold For Your Garden
Best Composters for your garden
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considered by some gardeners to be the best thing since sliced bread, is caused by the breakdown of organic materials. There are several different ways to do this from just piling stuff up and waiting for it to break down, to turning or tumbling your materials to get the process moving along faster. Compost is often confused with having the same purpose as fertilizer. Not so. Fertilizer will feed your plants, properly composted materials will feed your soil.
5 Best Composters
The Most Beautiful Composter in the World, Made in the USA, Food Safe, BPA and Rust Free, No Assembly Required, Envirocycle Composting Tumbler Bin and Compost Tea Maker
Worm Factory 360 WF360B Worm Composter, Black
Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler, Black, 80-Gallon
EJWOX Composting Tumbler 43 Gallon, Dual Rotating Compost Bin
Greenes Fence RCCOMP36 Cedar Wood Composter, 23.25 Cu ft/173.92 gallons
TOP PICK – Envirocycle 4.5 Composter
These beauties are made in the USA of food safe materials. They are available in a smaller 17 gallon size and a 35 gallon size. They are nice and neat and can be used on a back porch for easy access with kitchen scraps. You simply add your material in the proper ratio and rotate 3 times every 3 days. Once the compost is ready you can take the drum off and roll it to the spot where you will be using the materials. There is absolutely no assembly required.
Materials are food safe, BPA and rust free
Materials are UV and antioxidant protected for longevity
Available in black and pink (for the discerning composter)
Absolutely no assembly. Take the drum out of the box in put it on the base. Period. You can add plugs for the compost tea feature in the base according to your needs.
Easy to turn, just roll the drum with your hands
Opening conveniently sized for a shovel to fit
Only one side, no place for finished product and product in the process
What is compost?
Compost is an end product from the breakdown of decayed organic matter. It is dark and crumbly and should have an “earthy” smell. It acts as a soil conditioner or amendment.
There are many positive attributes to compost, but probably the most important is that it helps keep your plants healthy. It is a natural pesticide for soil and helps to attract beneficial life forms such as earthworms. It also helps your plants to make better use of the nutrients in the soil. Soil moisture is retained better. If you use compost regularly you may find that you are able to cut back on your usage of fertilizer and that would result in a cost savings. An original application should take placed approximately 2 – 4 weeks before planting in the spring. It may be applied again in the fall. Compost will release its nutrients slowly throughout the garden season, so no need to reapply. But, you may want to side dress your plants during their peak growing season.
How do you compost?
No matter what type of system you use there are a few basic rules to follow when composting. You need a proper mix of nutrients. Brown materials will supply the needed carbon for energy for the microbes. Green materials will supply the nitrogen that is necessary for the growth of the microbes. A general rule is 3 parts of brown to 1 part of green.
newspaper or cardboard
hay or straw
kitchen waste (vegetable peelings, etc)
A compost pile will get high temperatures in the center when it is working (up to 150 degrees F). For this reason some will say that it is safe to use meat trimmings and greasy foods. My opinion is to leave this items out of the compost bin. But, that is my personal opinion. I also like to keep diseased plants, weed seeds, etc out of my pile, but again, some will say this is safe due to the high temperatures.
The other things you need for a properly functioning compost pile are adequate aeration and proper moisture. You must either mix or tumble the materials at regular intervals. There is a simple way to troubleshoot your compost if you are having issues – If it is stinky like rotting eggs or a musty smell, add more browns. If your compost isn’t getting hot enough you can add more greens. There are actually thermometers to take the temperature of your compost pile .
A properly maintained system should yield compost in 6 – 8 weeks depending on your method used.
1) Envirocycle 4.5
2) Worm Factory 360
Want compost but don’t want the work associate with turning and maintaining? The worm factory is for you. Let the worms do the work. The tower has a thermo siphon air flow design for the proper mix of oxygen. The worms are breaking down materials all hours of the day and night. There is a spigot to collect compost tea. It has been proven that this type of compost will have 10 times the nutrients of compost created in a traditional manner. Better for your plants, your yard, etc.
Maintain in less than 15 minutes a week
Uses approximately half food scraps and half fiber and paper
Indoors or Outdoors
Made in the USA
Worms not included – don’t forget to buy some
Must be maintained at 4 0 to 80 degrees or your worms will die
Takes about 3 months for first batch of compost
3) Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler, Black, 80 Gallon
This is a heavy duty, large capacity tumbling composter that is made to last. With a large 36″ x 36″ door it is easy to tip the barrel into a wheel barrow to move your finished product. The easy to rotate barrel has indentations for both hands for ease of handling.
Heavy Tip Free Stand
Large Tumbler – 80 Gallon Capacit
Double wall panels to maintain heat
Internal bar for mixing and oxygen
Made from HDPE and powder coated steel
Pin to catch tumbler after turning
Only one side
Assembly can be difficult and require more than one person
Requires some drilling during assembly
4) EJWOX Composting Tumbler 43 gallon dual
This 2 sided composter is ideal for having finished product on one side while you are actively making compost on the other side. The sliding doors open easy. It has a powder coated steel frame. With an economical price, what could be better. This tumbler has passed the PAHS (Patan Academy of Health Sciences) and ROHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Test, but has not been tested as BPA free.
The stand is sturdy
easy to slide door
Small door opening
Assembly required – although it should be completed in an hour or so.
5) Greenes Fence RCCOMP36 Cedar Wood Composter, 23.25 Cu ft/173.92 gallons
Well, this is the way we always used to make compost. We had connecting wood “bins” that we turned and moved as it was ready. Except, we had to make the bins ourselves. What a delight to find them premade out of non rotting cedar.
non rotting cedar wood
only need a rubber mallet for assembly
you can vary the number of boards in the front of the bin to allow for easier access
expandable to a 2 or 3 bin system
May be tight to put together
Does not slide easily once together
Some of the edges could be sanded down smoother
No matter what method you use, you should start composting your kitchen and yard scraps for the health of your plants, our planet and yourself.
Cooling a Greenhouse without Electricity
7 Top Ways to Cool A Greenhouse Without Electricity
You want a greenhouse. You know it will build up a lot of heat during the day. Even on sunny days in the middle of the winter. You want to put it by your garden in a remote corner of your lot. Or maybe, on some land that you own that is undeveloped. What do you do? Fortunately, there are multiple options for cooling your greenhouse even when you don’t have electricity. Let’s take a look at the options.
Reflective Shade Cloth
This one is a no brainer. Just install a shade cloth over the top of your greenhouse. It has much the same effect as standing under a shade tree in the summer. The shaded area will be cooler. Shade cloths are available in a woven, knitted or reflective material. The woven material will ravel when cut and it is necessary to put tape on the edges. Knitted shade cloth has more give than the woven and does not require taping, although we prefer to do this as you can then put grommets in the tape. You can run a bungee or cord through the grommets to attach the cover to your greenhouse. There is also a reflective cloth available which is much more efficient. They result in lower greenhouse temperatures and a more consistent environment. Shade percentages run from 50% to 70% for greenhouse use, maybe lower for plants will low light requirements.
Greenhouse with open roof vent
Chances are if you are purchasing a greenhouse kit, it will have roof vents. There are very few kits out there without roof vents, and if you are building your own greenhouse, this is a highly desirable feature. We all learned in high school that warm air rises. Have an opening such as the roof vent in the top of your greenhouse, and the hot air will exit. Manual roof vents are available, but the best way to take advantage of this feature is to have a solar powered opener on it. That way if you are not at the greenhouse every day, you will know that the vents are opening and closing at appropriate times. These solar powered openers are basically wax cylinders. They work on the principle of contraction and expansion. When they get warm they expand, pushing the vents open. When they get cool they contract, pulling the vents shut. These can be adjusted to a certain degree to open and shut at desired temperatures.
There are also roof vents available that will go directly into a polyfilm greenhouse without additional framing. They have the solar powered openers. These vents can be retrofitted onsite to fit in a polycarbonate greenhouse.
3) Side vents in conjunction with roof vents –
Greenhouse with side vent
If you place a side vent with a solar powered opener below your roof vents you will get even better ventilation in your greenhouse. We like to place these approximately 6″ from the bottom of the greenhouse. This will give you a chimney type effect drawing the air from the bottom to the top of the greenhouse. We also use the wax cylinders on these to keep things simple.
greenhouse roll up side curtains
If you have a greenhouse with straight side walls you can install roll up curtains. Using these you can roll the greenhouse sides up during the hottest times of the year. These systems operate with a hand crank or can be automated. These come with a heavy duty 12 mil coated weave fabric. It is recommended to use a kneewall with these systems. That way your plants will have protection from the wind when the curtains are open. Also, if you are in a heavy snow area, this will keep the snow from laying up against your curtain.
solar powered exhaust fan
These operate on the same principle as a wired ventilation package. But, they are powered by a solar panel. The exhaust fan goes up high in the backwall of the greenhouse. The intake shutter(s) go down low on the opposite wall. The exhaust fans are wired to a thermostat. The manual intake shutters will open to allow fresh air into the greenhouse. The exhaust fan will draw this air through the greenhouse, cooling the air. No electricity is required, you are creating your own power.
12 inch solar powered circulating fan for greenhouse
Circulation fans are essential to the healthy greenhouse. They will increase CO2 availability, an essential for plant growth. They help to reduce excessive moisture creating an environment which reduces disease and pests caused by humid environments. They also help strengthen the plant stems with the same motion as a mild breeze when the plants are grown outside. These are fans that run low and slow.
7) Misting Systems –
Misting systems may be used if you have water to your location. They will help to lower the heat in a greenhouse. These can be set up on a battery operated timer, so no electricity required. These cause a cooling effect by tiny water droplets evaporating.
I have been fighting an uphill battle at times throughout the years. New greenhouse owners just do not understand the heat that will build up in a greenhouse during sunny days, even in the middle of winter. I have seen my ventilation package come on during a sunny 60 degree February day. And, I keep my thermostat set at 90 degrees. Quite a difference that you really would not expect unless you have experienced it. Proper ventilation is an essential item for your greenhouse. It will keep your plants healthy and happy. No more baked tomatoes on the vine. You will have to pick them and put them under the broiler in the kitchen for that! These options discussed above provide you with the opportunity to supply adequate ventilation to your greenhouse even when they are in an area with no power available. So, no more excuses. Get out there and build yourself a greenhouse today. I will also be discussing heating your greenhouse without electricity when the season dictates. Good Growing!
One of my favorite kinds of food to grow is strawberries. I just love strawberries. I have only been growing them for 4 years and as this year’s crop comes to an end, I have taken a few minutes to look back on my experiments and see what I have learned. I guess I have been doing some things right. My neighbor keeps asking me how I get them to taste so much like strawberries. I think he is used to getting grocery store berries. But, I must admit that these are some of the tastiest strawberries I have ever eaten.
Choosing plugs or bare root plants
I choose to use strawberry plugs. These are plants that are usually started from runners and grown in a greenhouse. They come in soil, with an intact root ball and are actively growing. I prefer to use these for several reasons. You plant these in the Fall and pick them in the Spring. You only have about a 1% loss of plants using this option. Also, the plants will become more vigorous sooner. I grow Chandler and Sweet Charlie. The plugs are typically shipped anywhere from the beginning of September to the beginning of October depending on your location. It is a good idea to plant these as soon as you possibly can, but it is not essential to plant them immediately.
Bare root strawberries are usually stored in a freezer and shipped dormant. They need to be planted right away. They come with no dirt on their roots and are usually rubber banded together in a lot of 25 plants. There is about a 15 – 20% loss on this option. These are planted in the Spring. You will not get as large of a crop with this method, as the growing season is shorter. But, if you are growing at home, how many strawberries do you need? I got lots and lots with the plugs and ended up putting up lots and lots and giving away lots and lots to neighbors and friends.
Choosing a location for Your Strawberries
Strawberries like a location with plenty of sunshine. As with any crop you should keep it weed free. The soil should have good drainage and a pH of about 6.5. If you do not have a location that will drain well it is best to grow your strawberries in a Raised Garden Bed. Mix peat moss or compost with your soil as you are working it prior to planting.
Planting Your Strawberries
The berries should be planted about 12 – 18 inches apart in rows that are 3 – 4 feet apart. You should plant them so that the midpoint of the crown is level with the soil.
Strawberry Plant Crown
If you plant them too deep or too shallow you run the risk of losing the plant. The easiest way to keep the strawberries weed free is to use plastic garden mulch. We use the white on black here in the South to help keep our soil cooler. We use a Drip Tape Irrigation System under the plastic mulch. Even with the mulch we find that we have runners that make their way to the edge of the bed and they will take root.
Care in Winter (for Strawberry plugs)
There are a couple of different way s to approach this. You can mulch with about 2″ of straw or hay in the winter when they start to go dormant. You will want to leave this on until the tops of the crowns start to show in the Spring. We have so many limited cold days in the Winter that we chose another option. We use Frost Protection Row Cover and only put it on when the temperature drops below freezing at night. We got this idea by watching our commercial strawberry growers in the area. This year I had a long double row and a short double row that was only about 10 feet long. I decided to experiment with the short row. We had unbelievably cold temperatures this winter. We even got down to 9 degrees F one night. That was a record for us. The entire week was chilly with overnight temps in the teens. I decided not to cover my short row during this week. Actually, I did not cover my short row all Winter long. The plants suffered a little bit with some burn on the leaves. But, come Spring they were producing at the same rate as the long row. I would not try this in a colder location, but it worked out well for us. This is the second year for these plants. Strawberries are perennials, so they grow year after year. I will probably try to leave them in for one more year, although I did see slightly smaller berries this year. The first year I grew them they died in our summer heat. Actually, my first try was not all that successful. I am not entirely sure why. But, we did move them from a separate location into our main garden the second year. I tried using a low tunnel with the slitted cover that winter. I left it on all winter, even though that is not the recommended way to use them. The problem came in the Spring. I was in there with a paint brush hand pollinating everything. I have to tell you, that didn’t last long. It was time for them to make it on their own or not. So, I reluctantly removed the cover. They did just fine. We removed these plants as we needed the space for other items. But, my third attempt has been my most successful just using the frost protection as needed. As I mentioned these plants are still in the ground producing in my strawberry growing year 4.
Preserving Your Strawberries
So, now that you have a bumper crop what do you do with your strawberries? I use several different manners of preserving. I made Strawberry Jam. Nothing better. I froze some. I wash them well and put them on a cookie sheet lined with clingy wrap in the freezer to pre freeze. Some of them I leave whole, some I cut in slices. We let them freeze overnight. In the morning we take them out and portion them in proper sizes for us and put them in one of our FoodSaver bags. This is a vacuum sealer. We have owned one for probably 15 – 20 years now. It is super as far as extending the life of food in the freezer. We then mark our bags and put them back in the freezer. Another way is to dehydrate them. We have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator that we have owned probably for 15 – 20 years. I like to slice them thin, my husband says too thin, but hey, I am doing the work so it goes the way I like it. Then you just leave them in the dehydrator on the preset temperature for the suggested time. I just store them in a plastic container and leave them sitting on my kitchen counter. They are great for a sweet little snack. Probably better for me than the snack size chocolates I keep in my freezer. I mean they are pure strawberries and nothing else. But boy, when you dehydrate them they become really sweet. Maybe that is why I like to cut them into thin slices.
This is not the only way to grow strawberries. They do well in containers. I have grown them before in a Strawberry Pot. These work well. I like to put them on a turntable type base so that I can turn them easily, but they can be turned manually just as easily. Give it a try. I am sure you will find growing your own strawberries totally enjoyable and delicious.
Red Plastic Mulch with Drip Irrigation System
There are several ways to set up an irrigation system depending on the type of gardening you are doing. When used with a timer this is absolutely the best way to water your plants. No more forgetting to water or forgetting to turn the hose off when you are watering. Just a nice even daily (or every 2 or 3 days) watering. Inconsistent watering is one of the main causes of blossom end rot in tomatoes and causes multiple issues with any plant. If your plant is too dry it will wilt and possibly die. If it is too wet you can drown it. When properly set up an irrigation will yield up to an 75% – 80% water savings. Irrigation systems are usually used with pressure regulators to lower the pressure of the water in a system. A direct water line will usually have too much pressure for these types of systems.
Drip irrigation is used when you are doing container gardening. This is the type of irrigation system that we used to use on our front porch. We had both hanging baskets and pots set around the edge of the porch. There are complete kits available to do this. Typical parts would include distribution tubing, a pressure regulator, a filter screen, an installation tool to make the holes for the emitters and stakes, end plugs to close off the end of the tubing and a few other parts. You are able to adjust these so that you have an emitter in each pot that you need to water. This kit pictured even comes with a timer.
Drip Tape Irrigation
This is what we use in our garden. In fact the picture at the top of the article with red plastic mulch is my personal garden. We have been doing pretty much the same setup for about 20 years now. It works well for us. This can be used in raised garden beds or standard gardens. We garden in 4′ wide raised garden beds. We plant our seeds and seedlings in 1′ from each edge. We have 2 rows of drip tape in the 4′ wide area, spaced at about 1′ 6″ in from the edge. We put our drip irrigation system down and then we cover it with plastic garden mulch. Then we plant our seeds or seedlings. We have ours on a timer set for 15 minutes every other day. With the water savings from the drip irrigation and the moisture retention from the mulch, we really do not use much water. Even in our summer heat of 100 degree days we do not change from the 15 minutes every other day.
There are drip irrigation kits available. They will have the drip tape which has holes predrilled and all of the fittings you need. A pressure regulator should be used with this system as well. Don’t forget the timer! These don’t usually come in the kits. You simply lay your tape out and staple it down with included ground staples, put all of your fittings together and you are ready to water. They even have goof plugs in case you poke a hole in your tape by mistake. Trust me, it happens occasionally. Oops.
DIY Drip Irrigation System
d-i-y pvc garden irrigation sytem
d-i-y pvc garden irrigation system
For all of you who like a d-i-y project, this one is simple enough to make. You should use schedule 40 PVC pipe 3/4″ in diameter. Drill 1/16″ holes in the appropriate spacing for your plants. You can place this with the holes up or down depending on your preference. Also, if you have a small area you want to do a heavier watering you can drill holes opposite each other. Lay the pipe so that these are pointing out. You will get quite a bit of coverage from this method. If you are doing smaller plants that are spaced closer together you can drill your holes about every 6″. For larger plants like tomatoes you should have holes where the plants are at and an extra 2 – 3 holes in between. I only plant my tomatoes at 3′ apart. I would just do one hole in the center of the plants and one at each plant. I know other people will space their tomatoes as far as 4′ or 5′ apart. For this you would want the 2 – 3 holes in between. You want to make sure that your garden surface is level so that the water will flow. You can lay these out in pretty much any configuration that you want, but you should have ball valves so you can shut off sections or rows. In addition you will need fittings such as t’s, elbows, end caps, pipe cement etc.
Spray Drip Irrigation System
This is perfect if you have a greenhouse or have your plants spaced closely together. The spray heads are adjustable from a light to a heavier spray. This system even comes with a timer!
Greenhouse Watering System
I have always had a similar system in my personal greenhouses. The picture above is from my Halls Magnum that I used to own. Unfortunately it got left in a move. I loved that greenhouse! It is tubing hanging from the top of the greenhouse with spray heads at appropriate spacing. You can see it at the top of the sidewall. The blue is a flexible conduit with wiring for the ventilation system. Again, a time and plant saver.
In conclusion, I would not even attempt to garden without an automatic watering system. As busy as we all are it is just too easy to forget, even though we spend hours in our gardens. Plus, the plants seem to really thrive with a consistent watering schedule. And that is really what it is all about – healthy, high yielding plants.
Top Ten Gardening Tools
Top Ten Gardening Tools
Whether you are a seasoned gardener, or just getting started, you will need a few tools to help you along the way. These tools make our life as gardeners easier. Here is my top 10 list of necessary items.
America’s Best Polycarbonate Greenhouse
If any of you are surprised by this I don’t know why. I absolutely love greenhouses. Now, this may not be in the budget for some, and actually it may not even be an absolute necessity. But, a greenhouse is valuable in a couple of different ways. You can start your vegetable seeds for your garden in a small greenhouse. But, if this is not viable for your circumstances you can start your seeds indoors. If you have a large enough greenhouse you can grow your own vegetables all year long if it is set up properly.
2)A mini cultivator or small roto tiller:
You may need to rent or borrow a large tiller for the first time through your garden. I highly recommend a rear tine tiller for this job. It is smoother to run and just seems to get the job done better and faster than a front tine tiller. But, once you get your garden established I find that a mini tiller will do the job for you. They will aerate your soil and remove weeds at the same time. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver. Also, these are great to use working in raised garden beds. You can get them turned in a tight space.
This is pretty self explanatory. If you are going to “dig in the dirt” you just have to have a shovel. Try to get one that fits you best. I am only 5′ tall and find that many of the shovels have handles that are just too long for me to handle easily. I would recommend going to a local garden center and trying them on for size!
You absolutely must have your ground leveled before you plant your garden. Once you have done your digging or tilling level it out with a rake. This also helps to remove any stones or debris that you may have missed. I recommend this Bully Tools rake. It has a fiberglass handle and steel tines. Besides that, these are Made in America. Talk about a win/win.
5) A set of hand tools:
These should include a cultivator, a weed fork, a transplanter, and a trowel. The cultivator will break up the surface of the garden bed. This will aerate, help in the conservation of moisture and will help control weeds. The weed fork will help by loosening, lifting and turning over the soil in your garden. The transplanter will help you find the correct depth for planting. Garden trowels are used for digging holes for bulbs, small plants, etc. They can also be used in weeding.
Of course you will need something to transport all of your lovely vegetables once your garden is growing. This trug does double duty as a carrier and as a colander to rinse off your veggies.
7)Frost Free Hydrant:
You will need a water source close to your garden. We use frost free hydrants for all of our outdoor watering needs. These are buried to a level below your local frost line. No need to worry about faucets freezing and breaking. Of course you will want to disconnect any hoses in freezing weather. A sprinkling can is a nice tool to have as well.
This is the perfect way to preserve many of your crops. We have owned our 9 shelf dehydrator for about 20 years now. We have tried many different things, some successes, some failures. One thing that I love to dehydrate is strawberries. I cut them in slices (too thin according to my husband). Once they are dehydrated I eat them like candy. And just think how much healthier that is than grabbing a chocolate bar. We have dehydrated bananas (bought on sale, not grown), carrots, parsnips and tomatoes with huge success. We actually take our dehydrated principe borghese (Italian heirloom) tomatoes and grind them in a coffee grinder.
We then put the powder in our tomato sauce to thicken it. Actually for our tomato sauce we just put our tomatoes in our Vitamix and pulse. Failures in dehydrating were eggplant (it just kind of dissolves when you reuse) and zuchinni (it doesn’t really have any taste although we tried salting them and eating them like chips which wasn’t too bad).
9)Gloves, Nail Brush and Lotion:
Ladies, you will probably appreciate this more than the men. I have a tendency not to wear gloves to garden. They just seem to impede me. So, my new best friend is my nail brush. I have come out of the garden too many times with dirt under my nails and gotten some really weird looks. Yeah, I wash my hands, this is honest dirt. Anyway, I find that non gardeners just don’t understand, so to my nail brush I go. Also, nothing will smooth out your hands like Bag Balm. I found this by mistake when I was raising Nubian Goats. I loved my girls and guys. This was an essential for the new mommas. But, as I was smoothing it on them, I found that my dry hands felt really great. They even have it in tubes now. I haven’t tried them yet, but I am going to get some and try it. I have always used the product in the tin.
10)A Garden Cart:
I love working in my garden just as much as the next person. But, there are times when you just need to sit down for a minute. These rolling tractor seats are perfect with their under the seat storage. They are good for picking, planting, weeding or just contemplating life in the garden.
These are my top ten. Of course everyone will find that their own top ten is probably a little bit different. A lot of what you need depends on how you garden. Raised garden beds will have different set of tools than a standard garden bed. Just experiment with different tools until you find the one that works the best for you. The most important thing is to get out there and get digging in the dirt and have fun!
Planning Your Garden
Planning Your Garden. You can’t start too early.
That’s me and my Dad. I doubt if we were doing much planning at that point. Looks like we were just trying to get our shovels in the dirt. Dad is gone, my hair is gray, but he has instilled a lifelong love of gardening in my soul. I have pretty much always had a garden, even at houses where I rented. I had great landlords. I think we should all go out and motivate a child to get started gardening…..today. Yep, let’s do this today. It will be the best gift we could give them. All of that being said, let’s get into the subject of planning a garden.
1) Keep it simple.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Don’t burn yourself out with too large of a space. Or, plants that need special care. Stay with the standard veggies that you see in your small hometown grocery store…lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs etc. If you go too big at first and get too many plants with special needs, you are heading for failure. If you are experimenting with new veggies, try a few plants at first. There is no sense having a bumper crop of tomatillos to find out that you don’t like tomatillos. Then what do you do? Throw them out? Give them to your neighbors? Just try one or two plants of new vegetables.
2) Learn Your Zone
This should really be first. It is THE most important piece of knowledge in gardening. This dictates what you can grow and when you should grow it. If you are a first time gardener you will have to learn that carrots and tomatoes grow at different times of year. Learn your zone, learn when to plant. Here is a link to the USDA zones chart.
3) Figure out how many plants you need. If you are going to start your own tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, etc start them about 6 – 8 weeks before you will plant them in the ground. If you are new to gardening, it is probably a good idea to buy your plants at least the first year. No sense adding an extra layer of stress. This is a neat little tool I found online. Use the how much to plant calulator. It tells you how many plants of each crop you need for whatever size your family is.
4) Pick your perfect garden spot. This should be an area that has at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you only have a shady spot you will probably not be able to grow some of the crops you want. Make sure that you have enough space to plant the plants that you have calculated that you need.
5) Decide on what type of garden you are going to plant. Are you going with raised beds? Maybe a lasagne garden, maybe vertical gardening, or maybe just a good old fashion dig in the dirt standard garden bed. Maybe you are in a limited space and will need to start with container gardening. They will all work. Just figure out what is best for you.
6) Gather your tools. If you are doing a standard gardening, or even raised garden beds, you will probably need a tiller. We have been using a rear tine tiller for years. They are a lot easier to operate that a front tine tiller. Or, you may have a space small enough that you can dig it up with a good shovel. You will want a rake, a trowel, a hose or irrigation system, a timer for your irrigation, garden trellises or support for your climbing plants. Make sure that you have a water source nearby. You don’t want to be carrying buckets of water to your garden. And, nobody likes to drag water hoses hundreds of feet, especially me. (That is a pet peeve in case you didn’t notice. I can’t stand dragging a water hose behind me.Grrr)
7) Work your soil. You need to work your soil when it is moist, not wet. You want it to be dry enough that it will crumble easily when you squeeze it. Turn it over at least 12″ deep. Add 2 – 3 inches of compost and turn it into your bed. Cover it with a thick layer of natural mulch, or with plastic garden mulch if that is the way you are going to garden. Be sure to put your irrigation system down first if you are using plastic garden mulch. You may want to have your soil tested. To do this you can go to your local extension office and get a container. You then take a sample and return it to them. They will give you a report with recommendations on what amendments you need to add to your soil.
8) Figure out how you are going to use your vegetables. Are you going to only eat fresh? Or, are you going to preserve some vegetables for the winter? We do a lot of preserving, so our garden is way bigger than necessary for 2 people. We can, we dehydrate, we freeze. We keep and use our veggies all year long. I will discuss how we do this in later posts. Or, if you want fresh veggies all of the season you may want to do succession planting. This is waiting a couple of weeks and planting the same crop in a different spot in the garden. Once the first crop gives out you will be harvesting from the new plants. Be sure to allow room for this if you are going to grow this way.
9) Network. Go to the garden shows. See if you can find the booths manned by the Master Gardeners. They will be able to answer all kinds of questions for you. Go to your local extension office. They may have fliers and information for free that you will find useful.
10) Have fun. This is not a do or die situation. It is a learning curve. Remember, we all have our failures. Even seasoned gardeners. I lost all of my zucchini plants last year after harvesting one or two plants. My neighbor lost his also. We still don’t know why this happened. Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. And don’t forget the bugs that are not on your side. This is just part of gardening. When we run into an obstacle we try to overcome it. Don’t let this be a deterrent to you. Get out in the sun and get a garden planted. Your mind and soul will thank you. Not to mention your body being grateful for real honest to goodness food. Get out there and get growing.
Mini Greenhouses or Season Extenders
Get a Head Start on Your Growing Season
I am anxiously waiting for the day when I can get my Spring garden planted. I imagine most of you are feeling the same way I am. But, we don’t need to sit by and patiently wait. There are several ways that we can get a jump start on our growing season. This is done by using mini greenhouses or season extenders.A few examples of these are cold frames, low tunnels, a 4 tier stand, a pop up greenhouse and a mini lean to greenhouse.These are typically inexpensive and temporary set ups. But, what an added benefit they give us in the early Spring.
Growing Vegetables in a Cold Frame
This is a picture of my cold frame a couple of years ago. As you can see in the picture we had the covers off on that day. That is a typical setup for a cold frame. The covers will either be removable, or you can prop them up for daytime ventilation. These are excellent for getting an early start on cabbages, lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, pak choi, spinach and cilantro. We dig down about 5″ and put soil cables in the frames to add extra heat to the cold frames. We have attached the soil cables to the bottom of a piece of hardware cloth so that we don’t damage it when we are digging. We then cover it with our soil mix. When we are planting carrots, etc we always choose a shorter variety so that the soil cables do not interfere with their growing. This is a great way to get a head start on growing your vegetables. Most of these crops really just need protection from the frost, but they will do great growing in this setup.
Low Tunnel with Slitted Cover
Low tunnels will enable you to plant in your garden about 2 weeks earlier. You can also use these in the fall to extend your harvest season. They are available in a perforated cover (maximum temperature retention) or a slitted cover (maximum ventilation). They will warm the soil and give you frost protection both. If you use the black plastic garden mulch under these covers your soil will be warmed even more. These are temporary and only meant to be left on about 3 – 4 weeks. But, I am a great believer in experimenting in the garden. In Louisiana we plant our strawberries in the fall. When the temperatures drop below freezing (which typically is not very often) we cover our plants with a row cover. A couple of years ago I covered my strawberries for the entire winter with the slitted cover. The cover held up surprisingly well to our harsh winter winds. The only problem I had was in the Spring when the plants started to bloom. I had to hand pollinate all of the blooms. I quickly gave up on that and removed the cover. But, I was very happy with the outcome of this experiment.
Pop Up Greenhouses
These are temporary greenhouses that you can use for a variety of purposes. You can start your seeds in here. Or, if you start your seedlings in your home you can use this to harden off the seedlings. These greenhouses virtually Pop Up! There are no tools required to set these up. There are tie down stakes to keep them secured to the ground. You can also use these to overwinter some plants that do not require higher temperatures. These are great season extenders. There are even openings for ventilation which include screens. Portholes are supplied for water hoses or electrical cords. These come with the rip stop polyfilm coverings for durability. What a great place for your plants in the winter.
4 Tier Stands
These are super mini greenhouses. They come with 4 tiers and a cover that has a zippered door. They are great for starting seeds or protecting frost sensitive plants. These stands are lightweight and will fit nicely in a spot on your back porch. The covers are removable if you want to use these later as a plant stand.
Mini Lean To Greenhouses
These lean to greenhouses do not attach to your home. They have a back in them and can be placed up next to a wall. The lid and doors both open offering easy access to your plants and supply needed ventilation. The shelves are adjustable for a variety of plants. This season extender is covered with a polycarbonate covering. It can be used for a variety of purposes.
So there you have it. Just a few ideas for trying to get ahead of Mother Nature (and your neighbor). I have a neighbor who I compete with for the first vine ripened tomato of the year. No sense in not taking advantage of some of these great tools that are available to use. If we get just a little bit creative, we can probably come up with our own mini greenhouses. I have seen people cut the bottom out of liter pop bottles and place these over top of a plant for added warmth and frost protection. You would have to be careful with these and monitor your plants during the day. You don’t want to bake your precious seedlings. Also, if you garden in a raised bed you can make a pvc frame and cover the frame with a clear plastic. You have probably seen me talk about using only 6 mil, 4 year UV protected polyfilm for greenhouses. But, for a temporary structure such as this you could probably use any clear plastic. Again, just be sure to ventilate this during the day if needed. So hopefully this will give you ideas of your own and you will get out there and get a head start on your garden this year! Happy Growing. Tammy
10 Free Greenhouse Plans
10 Free Greenhouse Plans
Here in Louisiana we call it Lagniappe [lanˈyap]. It’s a little something extra……for free! Everyone loves free. I get asked all of the time how to build your own greenhouse. So, today I have gathered together 10 free greenhouse plans for you. Not everyone can afford or needs a glass greenhouse kit. Tom and I have reviewed the plans and have added our comments to each. These comments are based purely on our years of experience building greenhouses. We have not received any compensation of any kind from any of these plans. So, enjoy and get busy building a greenhouse this week. Please keep in mind that as far as we know no engineers were involved in these plans. In other words, we do not feel that any of these plans have been built with heavy snow and/or wind loads in mind. Also, as a general note: A lot of the plans mention using plastic sheeting that is not UV protected. Don’t expect any more than 1 years use out of non UV protected plastic. We always recommend using 6 mil, 4 year polyfilm to cover greenhouses. With the appropriate waivers in place, let’s get busy building!
California Style Roof Greenhouse
California Roof Style Greenhouse Plans – We used to sell and install sunrooms. That is how we really got started with greenhouses. Anyway, we used to sell a sunroom that looked like this and it was called the California Roof Sunroom. These plans seem very thorough. They even tell you how to square up your base. It is a bit distracting to try and read the plans on their website due to all of the ads, etc. But, they do offer a downloadable set of plans (ad free) for $5. Might be nice to have these to take to the jobsite.
YellaWood Greenhouse Plans
YellaWood Greenhouse Plans – These plans are from the manufacturer. They do give you a lot of specifications about the building materials, but the plans are pretty much a line drawing with measurements. If you are an experienced builder, you probably would not have much trouble with this. If you are a beginner and need more detailed instruction, this might be one to pass on.
Barn Style Greenhouse Plans
Barn Greenhouse Plans – They state one weekend for this. I am a bit skeptical of that time frame. This greenhouse has a lot of miter cuts and will require what seems like a lot of fitting to me. But hey, who can resist the looks of a barn style greenhouse?
Raised Garden Bed with Removable Cold Frame
Raised Garden Bed with Removable Cold Frame – This is a super plan and will work nicely along side of a standard garden and greenhouse. They are stating a 10 – 15 degree increase in temperature inside the cold frame. This is a great project for someone with limited space, or someone who just wants to get a head start on the garden.
300 Square Foot Hoop House
300 Square Foot Hoop House – This is a well thought out design and plan. I do however have a couple of issues with his recommendations. First is to use landscape cloth as a shade cloth. Why wouldn’t you just use a shade cloth that is made for greenhouses? Also, this is a little bit large not to have a ventilation system. I think a couple of roof vents and a ventilation package would make this greenhouse a whole lot more useable in the warmer months.
Attached Greenhouse Plans
RunnerDuck Greenhouse Plans– I really like the looks of this greenhouse, although I am wondering what it would look like with a small overhang on the roof on all sides. He has stated that you can adapt this to make a freestanding greenhouse with these plans as well. I do like the dutch door feature and the fact that he used a roof vent with an automatic opener.
Bamboo Greenhouses Plans
Bamboo Greenhouse Plans – What a great way to use bamboo! I would suggest using batten tape also when securing your film to your frame. I am not really crazy about using a door that is secured with velcro. If you are in a high wind area I would think this would give you problems. Other than that a great simple plan.
GeoDome Greenhouse Plans
Geo Dome – This may not be for a beginner. Lots of angles to cut for the frame to fit together properly. But, who doesn’t love the look of a dome greenhouse? Sounds like they did a whole lot of research before designing this. If you have some skills and time I would consider this plan.
$50 Greenhouse Plans
$50 Greenhouse – Of course this is if you can recycle a whole bunch of materials. But, he states that even with new material you can build this for around $200. If you are in an area with high snow be sure to look at the picture of what happens when you get a couple of inches of wet snow. His greenhouse collapsed. So, I would definitely rule this one out for snowy areas.
10 x 16 Greenhouse Plans
10 x 16 Greenhouse – These are nice plans. I think he is very realistic when he gives a one week time frame on building this. I would suggest a ventilation system and roof vents with a greenhouse this size. He mentions covering it with polyethylene/foil sheets. I am not really even sure what this is. I would recommend using 6 mil, 4 year greenhouse polyfilm.
In closing, my first, and second greenhouses were both ones that we built ourselves with our own plans. They were both covered with clear plastic (non UV) film. We did not know where to get the UV protected film at that point. One year is the life expectancy of the non UV material. I wish at the time we would have known the difference, but we just kept recovering. Also, not to tell tales on myself, but at the time we were building these greenhouses there was no internet and no free plans. What a help that would have been! Most of these plans are from individuals who have taken their time and energy to supply these plans for us. We thank them for their help.
Hydroponic Growing – It’s All About the Roots
There is a lot of interest in hydroponic growing systems. We had a try at this several years back. We had a 18′ x 24′ greenhouse full of different hydroponic systems trying to decide which systems we liked the best. Our greenhouse was covered in 8mm twinwall Polycoolite and had a steel frame. Unfortunately, since then we have moved, but the greenhouse did not come with us. Tom read all kinds of books on hydroponic systems and how to maintain them. I think most of them were written by PhD’s and were very technical. Even though Tom and I both have a science background we were a bit overwhelmed. Fortunately this has made it into the mainstream and a lot of people have tried simpler methods and have been kind enough to share their results with us.
• What is a hydroponic system?
A hydroponic system is basically a system where you grow your plants in a liquid nutrient solution rather than soil.
• Components of a hydroponic system
A hydroponic system basically consists of your reservoir for your liquid nutrient solution. Pots or rafts to hold your plants. Air stones to raise the oxygen level and pumps to keep the water circulating. For your growing medium we recommend coir or clay pebbles. You will need a Ph test kit and solutions to adjust the Ph. Nutrient solutions to keep your plants growing. A thermometer with humidity reading in helpful. If starting your own seeds be sure to do it in a hydroponic system compatible seed starting plug or the like. You do not want to start your seedlings in soil and then have to wash the soil off before you plant.
• Setting up your first system
Keep it simple. Start with one small system and get the hang of it before venturing out into multiple system types. You will need to learn a few things that may be new to you, but just approach this from a learning curve type journey and you will soon be an expert on hydroponic gardening.
• Types of systems
1. Lettuce Raft or DWC (Deep Water Culture) – This is used for green lettuces and leafy greens. These basically consist of a reservoir with a raft full of your plants. The nutrients are in the reservoir below the plants. You also need a bubbler and air stones to keep the water circulating. This is probably the simplest system to manage.
2. Ebb and Flow – This has a large flat basin with large pots for your plants. The pots have holes in the bottom to allow the nutrient in and out. This will be on a timer and will basically flood the tray for a certain amount of time. Then it will ebb or recede. This is repeated 2 – 4 times a day. You can use these for a variety of plants including tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, lettuce, we even grew edible flowers in this type system.
3. Dutch Bucket Systems – This is a recycling system of sorts. There are large buckets with tubing between them and the reservoir. There is a tray beneath the buckets. A pump will come on at a specific time and pump the nutrient solution to the pots. The solution then drains into the bottom tray and is returned to the reservoir to be reused. This repeats 2 – 4 times per day. This system is great for larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers.
• Benefits of growing in hydroponic systems
1. You can plant your plants closer because the root system is smaller
2. You can grow with these indoors, outdoors or in a greenhouse
3. No weeds, no tilling
4. Go will get higher yields with a shorter growing cycle
5. They use less water and less fertilizer.
Simons Simple Hydroponic Plans
You will need to spend some time each day with the system checking lights, containers, solutions, checking for bugs, etc.
• When to plant
Growing in a hydroponic system is just like growing in a garden in the fact that you must plant each crop in conditions to meet their needs. In other words, we plant carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, etc in cooler weather. You need to simulate this with your hydroponic system. You will need the daytime temperature to be 60 – 70 degrees with a minimum of 40 degrees.
For warm weather crops, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc you will need a daytime temperature of 70 – 80 degrees with a maximum of 90 degrees.
• Optimal growing conditions
1. You should aim for a relative humidity of 50 – 80%
2. There should be a circulating fan running continuously. This should be a low speed fan that will keep the air moving for best plant health. You should just see the leaves moving slightly.
3. Lighting – If you are growing in a greenhouse or outdoors you will be able to take advantage of the natural sun. If you are growing indoors you may need artificial lighting unless you are in a position to take advantage of a sunny location in front of a window. The best lighting for growing anything but lettuce is the HID lights. For lettuce you can use fluorescent lights. These should be on 12 – 14 hours.
4. Protect the systems – You should never set up your system outdoors in an unprotected area. Rain will dilute your solution and flood your trays. Also, let’s not forget the electrical components of the systems. You never want to leave them exposed to the rain.
5. pH – This is a test for the acidity/ alkalinity of the solution. The best range is slightly to the acidic side at 5.5 – 6.5. You can test this with a swimming pool kit and adjust it with chemicals up or down.
6. Shade – Don’t place the units in direct sunlight. This may overheat your water and end up eventually killing your plants. If you are in a greenhouse you can use a shade cloth.
7. Solutions – Your growing solutions will have instructions on how to add the nutrients to your water. You will need to follow the directions. Also, you will occasionally need to drain the entire system and start over with fresh solution.
• Fighting disease proactively – The easiest way to prevent disease and pests is to keep it clean.
1. Wash your hands before you go in and between crops
2. Remove all dead leaves and plant debris
3. Clean up any spilled media or nutrients
4. Remove dead or dying plants
5. Use a separate set of hand tools. Don’t bring your tools in and out of your garden
6. Disinfect your tools in a 10% bleach solution
7. Keep your humidity at 50 – 60% and your temperature cool at 75 degrees
8. Have proper ventilation and air movement. This will help prevent mold and fungus.
9. Do not go in after working in your yard or on your compost pile
10. Don’t bring in other plants that are in dirt.
• Get organized. This will help you ensure the best, healthiest crops you can get. Make a daily, weekly, monthly and between crops to do list. Hang it where you can see it every day. Stick to your ritual religiously. It will not take that much time per day and it pays to keep ahead of any potential problems. Let’s face it. You are going to be checking your progress daily anyway. We are all patiently (not really) waiting for our first taste of our new crops.
We highly encourage you to try hydroponic growing. Just remember to start small and don’t get overwhelmed by the new terms and the new way of gardening. For complete plans to build mini and full size systems, check out this ebook. There is also a complete set of instructions on how to set up and maintain your hydroponic systems.