Gardening tips

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  1. Save Seeds and buy them when they go on sale later in the year: Keep all your seeds in a cardboard box in your refrigerator. The permeability of cardboard prevents any excess moisture accumulation that might cause mold, While having a single place for seeds makes it easy to retrieve them. I have been doing this for almost 50 years, with no problems (same box!). I have found all seeds to be viable for 10 years or longer. I have corn seeds that germinated nearly 100% after 15 years and Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans which had 8 out of 24 seeds germinate after 33 years!)
  2. Rather that planting in long rows, plant many vegetables in groups of a few, but also plant them in different places: This not only confuses the bugs but for some reason, some places will do very well, while other spots may fail. The result is an increased chance of success.
  3. Use diameters instead of row distances for plants: I think the recommended Row spacing on packages allows for tractors to fit between! Some examples that work: Kohlrabi take up an 9-10 inch circle. Beets and Carrots take 4-5 inch, but Carrots can also have some plants close together just pick the crowding ones first, leaving the adjacent one to fill in.
  4. Plant shade tolerant vegetables in places with only half or a third of sunlight: This works well for Beets, Carrots, Arugula and Kohlrabi. But NOT for Peppers, Tomatoes, Potatoes or Lettuce - these should get your sunniest spots.
  5. Plant some vegetables amongst your flowers: Beets are very ornamental, with their green and red-lined leaves. Carrots, Basil and Kohlrabi also look good there. And Beet Greens are edible (even raw in salads). Or cook them like Spinach or Swiss Chard. Kohlrabi tend to spread their wide green leaves so they only look good where these effects are desired, but Kohlrabi does well with slightly less than half sun.
  6. Garlic: When processing garlic cloves, set aside the tiny bulbs which are too small for cooking. Later stick them a into the soil about an inch (root-side down) any time of the year and anywhere you have at least half sunlight and a 4 inch patch of space. Between other plants is a great place for them as garlic is said to ward off some bugs. The ideal time to plant garlic is in the Fall (October) but they will grow most anytime. You can also pick the green slender leaves as needed, chopping them finely for salads or seasoning. Otherwise, the bulbs can be pulled when the plants die in late Summer (forgotten bulbs will re-sprout in the fall and over-winter).
  7. Plant Leaf Lettuce and Arugula in beds spaced about 2 or three inches each way instead of in rows: Either: Use a pencil or golf tee) to make holes for each seed. Or: Sprinkle seeds lightly, cover with dirt and thin what comes up. Either way is work, but it is less harmful to the plants and results in a more uniform plot to plant seeds individually. Arugula is the fastest sprouting plant I know of …coming up in only 3 days during warm weather!
      Note: If covered lightly when the temperature goes below about 20ºF, Arugula will over-winter and be your first crop of the next Spring! If it snows about 3 inches or more, Arugula will survive near-zero temperatures without a cover. And they are great in salads!
  8. Easy method for Storing garden-fresh Basil: The best way to preserve Basil is NOT to dry it. To preserve the aroma of fresh Basil, pick the leaves and flower buds at a time when they are dry. You don't want them wet, so if they are dusty (which rarely happens) sprinkle clean water on them and wait until they dry naturally before picking (their waxy leaves let any dust easily rinse away). Trim the stems off and put the good parts (un-chopped) into a plastic bag (old, long newspaper bags work best here). Then gently flatten the bag to push excess air out leaving three times as much empty space empty in the bag (for later crushing) and secure with a twist tie. Put the bag in the freezer for at a day or until next picking. Have towel and a zip storage bag ready when you take this basil bag out of the freezer. Cover it top and bottom with the towel and kneed it thoroughly with your fists to crush the leaves into a near-powder. Then remove the tie, and quickly transfer the crushed basil into the storage bag and put it in the freezer (Easily done by placing this bad inside the storage bag and turn it inside out). When ready to use, sprinkle some frozen basil into your dish or cooking pot and put the rest back in the freezer. Hint: I keep the newspaper bag in the freezer and only remove it when crushing the previous batch of basil and adding your new pickings.
  9. Tomatoes: I have great luck with Early Girl plants. I buy them early (late April) at the nursery and then re-pot to larger pots that I can leave outside in the sun when the weather is above 40ºF. Note that you should pinch off the suckers (low lying shoots) and if you stick the larger suckers into well moistened soil, they will grow into new plants! Some times we get the first ripe tomatoes by the 4th of July (Ohio)! These tomatoes are medium sized, round with few imperfections, uniform ripening and are very tasty.
  10. Peppers: The secret to large peppers is sand (regular construction sand, not sandbox sand). For years, I grew sweet bell peppers and they were always small. For years, I grew sweet bell peppers and they were always small. At the end of the season, I would pull the plants out and noticed that the roots had barely moved beyond the ball I bought them in (I have a clay soil, but lots of compost). Then a friend told me to add a handful of sand to the soil at each plant. WOW!   Since then, I have enjoyed bell peppers the size seen in stores. The plants get so big that I have to prop up the peppers with Y-shaped sticks to prevent the branches from snapping.
  11. Starter Pots: I use left over pots and trays from plants that I bought from the nursery in previous years. A little forethought can save gardeners lots of money while reducing their garbage footprint. I use the tiny (2 or 3 pocket) ones to start seeds, and the 3 to 6 inch diameter sizes to re-pot pepper and tomato plants that I bought from the nursery (until warm enough to plant). Did you know that the sucker shoots at the bottom of tomato plants (that you should pinch off) will often root if put a pot and kept watered. For the first week, cover them in a plastic bag to keep the moisture in. Give them gradually more sunlight.
  12. Potting Soil: I don't buy it, I make it. I use a mixture of half compost (from last year) and nearly half topsoil scraped from my garden, along with a little peat moss and sand. I use it in starter pots (see 10).
  13. Save seed trays and pots from the nursery: They are very useful for starting plants early the next Spring. If you plan to leave the pots outside, cover them with a clear plastic bag to hold the heat and moisture inside until they germinate.
  14. 36 Pots in a tray 36 pots covered with Bag
  15. Preparing your garden: Every Spring, I rejuvenate the garden soil prior to planting:
      a) Pull out any weeds too big to turn under. Exception: If this is your first time in this plot and if sod is there, then use a rototiller in part (e), to chop up the sod and mix everything with the dirt.
      b) Spread 1 to 3 inches of old leaves (bagged last fall) or grass clippings or manure.
      c) Sprinkle a little lime to counteract the acids of decomposition. Add a little fertilizer to hasten decomposition.
      d) Sprinkle a little compost to inoculate the soil.
      e) Use a shovel (preferred ) or rototiller to mix in the new layer into the soil. A shovel works best for well-loosened soil and also makes it easy to bury the additions deep (It takes me about an hour to hand dig a section about 4 x 8 feet).
      f) Use a rake to level the soil. To avoid compressing the soil with your footprints, lay down some old boards where you want to step.
  16. Compost Pile: Start a compost pile when you have an accumulation of waste vegetation (garden scraps, leaves grass clippings). Find a permanent, well drained spot in your yard, (corners are good). Spread your waste vegetation in layers a few inches thick while covering each layer with about an inch of soil. If you worry about starting with useful bacteria, you can buy some at a nursery, sprinkling it about as you go. This is a one-time application as the bacteria will be there as long as some compost remains. Sprinkle water on the finished pile so that the pile is moist throughout. I have a small plastic bowl in the kitchen for table scraps, which I empty often into a large plastic bowl in the garage for garden and table scraps. When near full or messy, I empty this bowl into my compost pile, by digging a hole and adding the scraps. Mix a little old compost into the scraps to spread the bacteria then cover the scraps with compost. This also a good time to turn any sections of the pile that have settled. I tend to add compost near an end, moving forward as the pile grows so the more composted stuff is kept apart, ready to use. I use compost for (10, 11 and 12 above) and I also sprinkle a little bit on my garden before turning over, in order to inoculate the soil with good bacteria.
  17. Mulching -ALWAYS: A mulch drastically reduces weeds, holds moisture, keeps the surface from baking hard and encourages worms. Any weeds that make it through are easily pulled because the soil doesn't harden. The only downside is a possible increase in slugs. I use grass clippings applied 1 to 4 inches thick and apply other coats as they disintegrate. Other mulch materials are wood chips or hay, but grass clippings are easier and available all summer. I have a deal with my neighbor to dump his grass clippings over the fence when he cuts. He uses no pesticides of herbicides. The only problem is that I have to distribute the clippings within about 4 hours, because a pile thicker than about 6 inches will sour. Mulch nearly up to the stems of most plants, but mulch thin around peppers which like warmer soil. I use wide boards to step on in my garden and lift them before adding mulch(get boards from people's trash -they last about 10 years). Another advantage of mulch is that it keeps your plants free of splashed mud from rains. Beans especially benefit because otherwise their leaves pick up disease from the soil. Leaf Lettuce is much cleaner, but watch for slugs.

  18. Enjoy!  Ray Herrmann

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