Growing Mint in Containers
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Mint, it is tasty, it is easy, it is fun to grow. A few years back we lived in a small town that had a family owned nursery. One of their specialties was different types of herbs. They grew them in 4″ pots and sold them for $2 each. So, it was not only fun to experiment, it was also pretty darn inexpensive. I remember one day we were kicking around seeing what was new. The patriarch of the family came over to talk to us. He was saying that it was pretty boring living in a family of botanists. He said the conversation at the dinner table consisted of new varieties and how plant trials were growing etc. It sounded like lovely dinner conversation to me. But, I guess I was born with dirt on my hands.
What is Mint?
Mint is a perennial herb that is very easy to grow. (A perennial is a plant that lives more than 2 years.) In fact if it is not kept in check it may become invasive. It has a square stem with opposite leaves. The roots of mint are shallow and easy to pull out. The plant has runners under the ground. These will come up as new plants.
What types of Mint are Available?
There are quite a few different flavors of mint available. There are pineapple, chocolate, orange, spearmint, peppermint and lemon balm. I have personally owned all of these plants. It is amazing how much they smell like pineapple, chocolate and orange. They are easily identifiable. Just pick a couple of leaves and rub them between your fingers.
How do you plant Mint?
Mint can be started from seed, but it is about a 90 day time from planting to harvest. Plus some of the mint seeds do not have a high germination rate – meaning not all of the seeds you plant will grow. Most people choose not to do this as the plant is so easy to propagate from cuttings. You can take a cutting off your mint plant, take off the leaves towards the bottom, and place it in a glass of water, or dip it in some rooting hormone and then plant it in soil. You can even cut the runners which have a new plant formed and place that in soil to grow.
How do you grow Mint?
Plant your mint in soil that drains well. They should be placed 18 – 24″ apart. It will grow in full sun, or in morning sun with afternoon shade. Some people chose to plant their mint in a pot inside another pot when growing in a container. That keeps the mint from taking over the entire pot. You should keep your plants in control by pulling or cutting any volunteer plants that are not wanted. You can either discard of these, or you can pot them up as new plants. Be careful where you discard your mint, as it may just end up growing there. You can either selectively harvest only taking leaves when wanted, or you can do a full harvest 2 – 3 times a year. I would do a full harvest when I am planning on dehydrating or storing the leaves in any other manner, or using them for jam, etc. The young leaves will have more flavor than the old ones. You should harvest before the plant flowers, although the flowers are usually edible as well. Be sure to keep the tops pinched off for bushier more compact plants.
Mint is also a great plant to grow on a windowsill. It would be an excellent first plant for a child learning gardening. You can start it in a glass of water so you can watch the roots grow. Just think how fun that would be!
Avoid using too much fertilizer as this will cause the plant to flower sooner. You are looking for the leaves with these plants, although the flowers are pretty.
Mint should be planted outside after the last frost of the season. The roots will survive the winter into zone 5 – 8 . The plants should be trimmed and heavily mulched. The tops of the plants may live in zones 8 – 10. They are slightly frost tolerant. Or, if you want to use your mint year round you can just dig some up, plant it in a pot and take it indoors for the winter.
What can you use Mint for?
Mint has a lot of different uses. Of course mint leaves are great in drinks such as ice tea. You can also use spearmint for a mint julep and any of the flavored varieties for a mojito. Some mints have medicinal properties. They can be used as a digestive aid or a breath freshener. You can use mint in pesto, in baking, to make extracts, jams, sauces, in salads, etc.
Benefits of Planting Mint
Mint can attract beneficial insects to your garden such as predatory wasps. These cut down on the caterpillar and grub population, as they feed them to their young. Mint also may repel mice, ants, flies, spiders and deer.
Once you have started your mint plants you will probably never need to buy the same variety again due to the abundance of leaves plus the ease of propagating this plant. So, go out and get a good selection of “flavored” mints and see just how easy they are to grow.
Polycarbonate vs Polyfilm Greenhouse Covering
Polycarbonate Sheets vs Single or Double Polyfilm
So, you have decided to build a greenhouse, but you are confused about which type of greenhouse covering would be best for you. Let’s take a look at some of the pluses and negatives of polycarbonate sheets and polyfilm coverings. We will discuss R value, installation, cost and lifetime expectancy.
R value is defined as a materials ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R value, the less energy it will take to heat the same size space under equivalent conditions. This may or may not be a concern to you depending on how you are going to use a greenhouse.
The most common single film used for greenhouses is clear 6 mil, 4 year covering. What this means is that the film is 6 mil thick and that the UV protection is warranted for up to 4 years. There are also some other types of film such as overwinter (this film is meant to last one year), white films (lower light transmission) , and reinforced polyfilm (with a rip stop cord).
The R value of single polyfilm is 0.87. It is the least efficient of all of the greenhouse coverings we will discuss.
Installation can be done in several different ways. If you have a wood frame you can use batten tape and staple through the cover and the tape into your frame. If you have a wood frame or a metal frame you can use the base and wire system. The base is screwed to your frame and the cover is secured using a W or wiggle wire. This is a pretty simple installation, but you want to make sure that you do not try to do this on a windy day. You will need several people to do this depending on the size of the greenhouse.
The single polyfilm will be the least expensive of all of the coverings we will discuss.
This film should last you the 4 years that the UV covering is guaranteed for. The only issue with this covering is that you may get a tear. There is repair tape available for this. But, if you are not there and not able to fix a tear in a timely manner you may lose the entire cover. This is why some people will choose to go with the reinforced polyfilm over the clear 6 mil, 4 year. It has a rip stop cord that will keep a tear from spreading. That way you will be able to fix the tear no matter how soon you are able to get to it.
Reinforced Polyfilm with Rip Stop
You can do a double polyfilm greenhouse a couple of different ways. You can just buy 2 pieces of the film and attach them together. Or, the easiest way to do this is to buy a tube of the polyfilm. This is just a double layer that is already fastened together. The base and wire system is set up to hold up to 6 layers, so this is not an issue. You will also need a poly inflation fan kit to inflate the 2 layers. I have had some people mention that they think this makes the cover tighter and less susceptible to tears. I have no proof of this, but it does seem a logical conclusion.
The R value of double polyfilm is 1.7. This will save you 40% on the energy costs over a single layer of polyfilm.
The installation on this is done in the same manner as a single layer of polyfilm.
This film will basically be twice the cost of the single polyfilm, as you are basically just using a double layer of the same material. You will have the additional cost of the blower fan. These are typically around $200 or less, depending on the size of the greenhouse and the size of the motor needed.
This film may last a little bit longer than the single layer. As I stated earlier some claim that they inflation keeps the film from tearing as easily. The UV protection is rated for the same amount of time as the single polyfilm.
Polycarbonate is the greenhouse covering of my choice. It fits my needs the best of all of the materials. However, a lot of people don’t like it because of its appearance. It is a rigid plastic configured in much the same way as a piece of a cardboard box. It has a sheet on the outside, a sheet on the inside and a rib that runs through between the 2 sheets. The rib in polycarbonate will be straight vs the wavy rib in a cardboard box. This will distort your view. You will be able to see color, but you will not see form clearly. I use the example that you can see a green leaf and a red flower, but you will not be able to make out if it is a poinsettia, geranium, impatiens, etc. Of course the clear polyfilm is not exactly clear either. It will have a hazy type of appearance to it. If you want a clear glass like view, tempered glass is your only option.
Polycarbonate sheets are available in several different thicknesses. 8mm clear twinwall will have an R value of 1.8. 16mm clear triplewall will have an R value of 2.4. This will be the most efficient of the coverings we are discussing.
Installation of this material requires polycarbonate H profiles to join the sheets side by side and polycarbonate U channels to close off the ends. You will need more framing for this material vs polyfilm greenhouses. Typically polyfilm greenhouses will have 4′ or 6′ wide spaced bays. You can do the same with the polycarbonate, but you will need to run purlins between the rafters spaced according to your snow load needs. There are charts available to determine this. You can typically install this with 2 people as the sheets are not heavy and you install one 4′ wide or 6′ wide sheet at a time. You still do not want to try to install under windy conditions as the sheets can be caught by the wind and sail away.
This will be the most expensive of the coverings discussed in this article. But, it will be the longest lasting. Depending on the manufacturer polycarbonate sheets have between a 10 year and 20 year warranty on the UV. Most sheets also have a 10 year warranty on hail damage, so no need to worry about tears. The practical life expectancy of this material is 20 – 25 years.
When considering which of these materials to use to cover your greenhouse you should look at the initial cost, the cost to install, the cost to heat the greenhouse, and the life expectancy of the material. Once you have made these decisions you should be able to choose the best covering for your greenhouse with ease.
Growing Vegetables Vertically
Growing vertically is an excellent option when your space is limited and you are looking to increase your yield. There are some plants that naturally grow vertically, but there are also planters where you can “stack” your crops to save precious space. Let’s take a look at some of these.
Why Grow Vertically?
Well, there is the obvious point that I have already discussed about saving space. But, believe it or not there are other advantages to growing this way as well. Harvesting is easier. You do not have to bend down the entire time you are picking. Plants are healthier and give higher yields. There is greater air circulation around the roots and greater exposure to light.
Probably my first exposure to growing vertically was a strawberry tower. I used one of these about 30 years ago to grow my herbs. I totally enjoyed it. Today there are so many different type of vertical planters.
There are pouches with pockets sewn into them for individual plants, similar to a shoe holder. In fact I have even seen articles where people recycle and use their old shoe hangers for this. I think I would be careful with this, you want the holder to be of a breathable fabric. In my mind I see old style shoe holders made out of rigid plastic.
There are planters where it appears that pots have been strategically stacked on top of each other. A nice feature to look for in this type of planter is to see if there are any wheels or a cart below it. You may need to turn the container to get all of your plants the needed sunlight. If you are growing indoors you can probably set up your lights so that this is not a problem.
You can take an old set of stairs and add planter boxes to each step. This is a picture of a herb/flower garden combination I did a couple of years ago.
My Herb Garden
Yet another way to recycle pallets. You can close off the back, sides and bottom of the pallets with landscape fabric. Put your soil between the exposed slats and plant your plants. I would leave this lay flat on the ground for a week or so allowing the plants to become rooted and established. That way they will not droop or potentially fall out when you hang the planter.
Growing with trellises, supports
There are some plants that want to grow vertically naturally. These would include tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, etc. You should supply them with support whether you are growing in a container or in the dirt. Make sure that your support is sturdy and securely fastened. You can purchase trellises or you can recycle and make your own. I have watched my husband go into our woods and come out with three sticks of the approximate same size. He placed them in a tepee type configuration and wound this together with rope. He says this is something he learned in the Boy Scouts. I am not sure of that, but I am sure that it was virtually free (the rope was laying around but it had been purchased at one point) and the plants loved it and did well.
If you are growing these types of plants in containers make sure that you have a large enough container for the job. There are some tomato planters out there that are all set up except for the dirt and the plant. Some of them even have lights so you can use them inside.
There are quite a few hydroponic systems out there that have multiple layers. These can be purchased, but I sure that they can be a pretty easy diy project as well. These systems are great because you get more food in less space as with all of the vertical systems. But, hydroponic systems have a tendency to have an increased yield over some other growing systems. Plus, crops will grow faster, harvesting is easier, you have less pests and disease with these systems. And you will have less problems with pets and wildlife with the systems, especially if you are growing them indoors.
Be sure to plant your bigger plants, or plants that tend to droop toward the bottom of “stacking planters”. You do not want these bigger plants hanging down and shading your smaller, more upright plants.
Use potting soil that is not as heavy as regular soil. You want to use the same type of soil as we recommend with any container gardening. You want a soil that will not dry out too quickly. You need something with peat moss, perlite, etc. Something fluffy.
Be very careful about how you set up your water. Of course with hydroponic systems or stacking systems watering is usually an integral part of the set up of the system. Let’s say that you are hanging pouches and planters from a fence wall or an exterior wall on your house. You want to make sure that you have the watering set up so that it does not lay on or run down the wall. You do not want to cause any water damage or leave water streaks on the surfaces.
Plant crops with similar needs such as having the same growth rate. This will ensure uniformity in your vertical garden. Also, consider plants with the same needs regarding sun vs shade. Make sure that your containers are not shaded by another structure if they are outside.
Make sure that you hanging planters are securely fastened. Also, check roots periodically to make sure that they are not growing into siding or just becoming a problem in general.
If you are growing inside be sure to set up your system in a sunny area, or supply them with the proper type of lighting. Options available are LED (light emitting diodes) lights, HID (high intensity discharge) lights and fluorescent lighting.
“I don’t have enough room to grow my own food” is definitely not an acceptable response anymore. Take advantage of one or a mix of these vertical growing systems to grow food for you and your family year round. Tammy
Don’t forget the gardener on your Christmas list.
I am thrilled to announce that Amazon has approved us for their infuencer program. Through this I am able to share my personal recommendations for gardening products. I have spent the last week scouring Amazon deciding which products were worthy of this page. A lot of the products are items that I have used personally. Some of them are items I have sold before and had positive response on them. Some of the products are items which I have seen while attending trade shows. And finally, for the items I was unfamiliar with, I studied all of the reviews to decide if I thought they were good enough to make the cut. All items are garden related, although some of the items are just a little bit whimsical. Gotta have a little fun while digging in the dirt. Oh yeah, and this is an affiliate program. We will get a small commission on any item which you buy from Amazon as long as you start your search on this page. Any help is appreciated. This is part of what helps us to be able to supply our free content to you. Check it out and see what you think! Tammy
Growing Vegetables with Grow Lights
Do you want to grow vegetables and herbs indoors? Unless you are growing a few plants such as herbs on a sunny windowsill, you will definitely need lighting. If you do not use grow lights your plants will become leggy and spindly. They will not develop a healthy root system and let’s face it, they will probably never produce into the food you are looking for.
Trying to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse in the short winter days? You will need supplemental lighting. There are a lot of different lighting options available. Let’s take a look at them now.
Different types of lighting
There are basically 3 types of lamps available. They would be HID (high intensity discharge), LED’s (light emitting diodes) and fluorescent fixtures. There are a couple of sub categories in each of these categories.
HID lamps are twice as efficient as fluorescent bulbs. They are available in several different sizes from 250 W to 1000W. If these are used as a primary light source a 250 W fixture will cover an area of 3′ x 3′. A 400 W covers 4′ x 4′, a 600 W covers 6′ x 6′ and a 1000W covers a 7′ x 7′ area. You should place your fixtures as close to your plant as possible without getting it too close. The HID lights put out a lot of heat. The best way is to put your hand under the light at the desired height. If it is not too hot for the back of your hand it will be OK for your plant. HID lights come with metal halide (MH) or high pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs. The metal halide is for the vegetative or growth stage. It supplies a blue range of light that is similar to what we have in Spring. The high pressure sodium is for the fruiting or flowering stage. It supplies light in the red range. These systems come with a ballast. It used to be that we had to have one ballast for each type of bulb. But now there are switchable ballasts available that will work with either type of lamp.
Historically fluorescent lights were thought of as to be used with seedlings or plants that did not require as much light. But, that has changed with the development of HO (high output) T5 lamps. These are only about 5/8″ in diameter. These high output lights will give twice as much light as the standard T5. They are able to produce enough light for larger or fruiting plants. Of course they will be more expensive than the standard fluorescent lamps. They are available in 2700K(yellow, red light) for flowering or 6500K (full spectrum light) for plant growth. Fluorescent bulbs are also available in T 12, T8, T5 and compact fluorescent models. They are not as efficient and may be best left for seedlings and low light plants.
Fluorescent lamps have several benefits. They are lightweight, affordable and easy to assemble. They do not put out much heat at all. These lights should be placed within 4″ to 6″ of the top of the plant.
LED lights have historically been very expensive and pretty much out of the range of the non commercial grower. But the prices have come down considerably in the last couple of years. The price on LED lights is still typically higher than the other types, but they will definitely cut down on the electric bill. They use half the electricity of HID and fluorescent lighting and will last up to 5 times as long. Most of these lights have a small built in fan which means they will run cooler.
There are full spectrum lights available where you can switch the growing mode. This is much the same concept as the switchable ballasts for the HID lighting. You should check the manufacturers specifications for coverage area and height to hang these fixtures. They are typically hung 18″ to 24″ over the plant.
How Long Should You Leave Your Lights On?
I know everyone hates this statement, but it is something you will need to experiment with. It depends on if you have any other light source and what type of plant you are growing. If you are using it as a primary light source growing inside I would recommend starting at 14 – 18 hours for the growth stage. Once you are fruiting or flowering you can cut this down to 12 hours.
If you are using the lights for supplemental lighting in a greenhouse you will not need them on during sunlight hours. The way we always did this was to have our lights come on 2 hours before sunrise and then turn them off. At night we would turn them on at dusk and leave them on for 2 hours. Of course this is all easiest to do with an automatic timer.
What can I grow using grow lights?
With the proper setup you can grow just about any crop under grow lights. One thing to take into consideration is what kind of space will you need. It is probably not practical for most of us to try and grow crops like corn or watermelon inside. A few examples that do well include tomatoes, lettuces, spinach, herbs, peas (will need to be trellised), bush green beans, bush cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, radishes, etc. Keep in mind that you must meet the same temperature requirements that these plants need outside. For example, you cannot grow cauliflower and broccoli in an 80 degree room. You cannot grow tomatoes in an unheated basement in the winter.
Just because you don’t have a yard and it is the cold of winter does not mean that you cannot have fresh herbs and vegetables for dinner tonight. Set aside a little space and try growing some food indoors under lights.