4 Absolutely Essential Kitchen Items to Preserve Your Harvest

4 Absolutely Essential Kitchen Tools to Preserve Your Harvest

Preserve Your Garden 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.

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Excalibur dehydrator

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.

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Vitamix Blender

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.

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Canning Supplies


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.
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Conclusion

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)!

Canning Done

This pear butter is just coming out of the canner.

dehydrated tomatoes

Dehydrated Pricipe Borghese Tomatoes

Vacuum Packed Blueberries and Blackberries

Vitamix with tomatoes

Vitamix with tomatoes ready to be processed




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Growing Strawberries

Growing Strawberries

Growing Strawberries

Growing Strawberries




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

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.



In Conclusion

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.



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Irrigation System

Irrigation System

Red Plastic Mulch with Drip Irrigation

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




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

d-i-y pvc garden irrigation sytem

diy pvc garden irrigation

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 Sytem

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.



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Top Ten Gardening Tools

Top Ten Gardening Tools

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.

1)A Greenhouse:  

America's Best Polycarbonate Greenhouse

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:

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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.

3)A shovel:

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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!

4)A Rake:

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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:

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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.

6)Vegetable Trug:

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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:

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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.

8)Dehydrator:

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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.
iconWe 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:

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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:

iconI 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!

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Planning Your Garden

Planning Your Garden

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)

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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.

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Container Gardening

Grow Your own Veggies in Containers

Container Gardening is for Everyone!

Growing Food in Plant Pots

Dreaming of fresh vegetables? Picked right outside your door? Or maybe you would prefer some fresh fruit? You may think that this is not possible where you live, but container gardening may be the answer for you. There are a surprising number of plants that will do well in planters. Maybe you live in an apartment with only a small balcony. Maybe you are renting a house and the landlord won’t let you dig a garden. Or, maybe you just want to be able to walk outside your door and pick your favorite herb while you are cooking. Then container gardening may just be what you need.

What is it?

Container gardening is simply growing plants in buckets, specialty containers, troughs, elevated planters, window boxes, strawberry pots, hydroponic systems, etc. You are really only limited by your imagination on this. Just be sure that there is a hole in the bottom of the plant pots for good drainage. If you let your plants sit in water they will die. Out of room? Grow Vertically!
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What do I need?

To get started you will need a few items.

  • Containers – these can be just about anything as previously discussed. But, one important factor is the size. Consider the size of the plant when it is in production. It is all but impossible to transplant a grown plant into a larger pot successfully. Are you going to try tomatoes? Make sure to have at least a 24 – 30 inch container. Maybe you are going for radishes and carrots. Make sure your pot is deep enough. Lettuce will grow nicely in a nursery flat or similar container. As I was writing this post I was thinking about a nice strawberry pot I used to have next to my kitchen door. I filled it up with cooking herbs. There is a local nursery that specializes in all sorts of herbs, with lots of variegated varieties. This makes for a beautiful container. Later in the spring I am going to go get some and plant them. I will make a post and a video about this later.
  • Soil – It is best not to dig up dirt from your backyard to place in a container. For the beginner I would suggest going to your local nursery to see what they have available. Be sure to tell them you are going to be growing in a container. A lot of places will have a mix by the tractor bucketful, or less if needed. If they don’t recommend their mix for containers they will probably have a bag of soil that they think is good for your purposes. For those of you who are more advanced, you can mix up your own favorite mixture using peat, vericulite, compost, bark, etc.
  • Fertilizer – To save time and effort later on, it is OK to use a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote when planting. If you prefer you can water with a dilute fertilizer solution with every other watering.
  • Location – Pick the sunniest location that you can. Also, you want to keep in mind if there is a lot of wind in the location. Try to protect your plants from harsh winds. Containers will dry out a lot faster than plants in the ground, especially in heavy winds. Not to mention the damage to your plants, fruits and vegetables. If you have pots that have plants on both sides, such as a strawberry pot, you may want to place the container on some sort of turning mechanism. I find that an old lazy susan works well, as long as it is heavy enough to hold the pot you are using. That way you can rotate the plants to the sun.
  • Plants or seeds – You may have started your own seedlings, or you may have purchased plants that are ready to go into your planters. Some vegetables can be started from seeds. I would definitely start the fast growing plants such as lettuce and radishes directly in my container. If you are buying fruit trees, be sure that they are labeled for container growing.
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What can I grow?

There are a whole lot more options today than there used to be. As with any planting, make sure you are putting your plants in at the proper time of year. Also, make sure that the variety you are getting can be grown in your zone. Don’t know your zone? That is rule 1 of gardening – know your growing zone. Check it out here if you are not sure.

  • Blueberries – These are my favorite.
  • Strawberries – although I prefer to grow these in the ground due to the runners.
  • Fruit trees – There are many different types of fruit trees for containers.
  • Carrots – I prefer the shorter varieties for containers.
  • Lettuce – This is so simple to grow, and it produces within 65 days or so. I prefer the loose leaf rather than the head lettuce for this purpose.
  • Potatoes – There are special containers for growing these.
  • Tomatoes – There are also special containers for growing these.
  • Herbs – Basil, Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Parsley, Rosemary, etc, etc
  • Green Onions – Sometimes referred to as scallions.
  • Garlic – I grew a bumper crop of garlic in window planters last year.
  • Radishes – These are typically ready in just over a month. Don’t crowd them.
  • Peppers – Be sure to have some support for these plants.
  • Squash – Although due to the sprawling nature of these plants I prefer the garden. Make sure to use a larger container.
  • Edible Flowers – Calendula and Nasturtiums are 2 that come to mind. Plus you get the added benefit of color from the blooms.

In closing, don’t let your location discourage you from growing your own food. Even the smallest balcony will hold a couple of plants. For those of you with no balcony, we will be discussing growing your veggies inside in a later post. Because we believe you can “grow your own food anywhere”.




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