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HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD

HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD

Grow your vegetables and herbs

 

A kitchen garden produces fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for delicious, healthy meals. A kitchen garden doesn’t have to be right outside the kitchen door, but the closer it is, the better. Think about it this way: The easier it is for you to get into the garden, the more likely it is that you will get tasty things out of it. Did you forget to add the chopped dill on your boiled red-skinned potatoes?

Starting a Kitchen Garden

If you have to choose between a sunny spot or a close one, pick the sunny one. The best location for a new garden is one receiving full sun (at least six hours of direct sunlight per day), and one where the soil drains well. If no puddles remain a few hours after a good rain, you know your site drains well.

After you’ve figured out where the sun shines longest and strongest, your next task will be to define your kitchen garden goals. My first recommendation for new gardeners is to start small, tuck a few successes under your belt in year one, and scale up little by little.

But what if you’re really fired up about it? Even in year one, you may be able to meet a big chunk of your family’s produce needs. In the case of my garden in Scarborough, Maine, we have 1,500 square feet under cultivation, which yields enough to meet nearly half of my family of five’s produce needs for the year. When you do the garden math, it comes out to 300 square feet per person. More talented gardeners with more generous soils and climates are able to produce more food in less space, but maximizing production is not our only goal. We’re also trying to maximize pleasure and health, both our own and that of the garden. Kitchen gardens and gardeners thrive because of positive feedback loops. If your garden harvests taste good and make you feel good, you will feel more motivated to keep on growing.

Preparing the Garden Site

If you’re starting your kitchen garden on a patch of lawn, you can build up from the ground with raised beds, or plant directly in the ground. Building raised beds is a good idea if your soil is poor or doesn’t drain well, and you like the look of containers made from wood, stone or corrugated metal. This approach is usually more expensive, however, and requires more initial work than planting in the ground.

Whether you’re going with raised beds or planting directly in the ground, you’ll need to decide what to do with the sod. You can remove it and compost it, which is hard work, but ensures that you won’t have grass and weeds coming up in your garden. If you’re looking to start a small or medium-sized garden, it’s possible to cut and remove sod in neat strips using nothing more than a sharp spade and some back muscle. For removing grass from a larger area, consider renting a sod cutter.

Choosing Garden Crops

The most important recommendation after “start small” is “start with what you like to eat.” This may go without saying, but I have seen first-year gardens that don’t reflect the eating habits of their growers — a recipe for disappointment. That said, I believe in experimenting with one or two new crops per year that aren’t necessarily favorites for the sake of having diversity in the garden and on our plates.

One of the easiest and most rewarding kitchen gardens is a simple salad garden. Lettuces and other greens don’t require much space or maintenance, and grow quickly. Consequently, they can produce multiple harvests in most parts of the country. If you plant a “cut-and-come-again” salad mix, you can grow five to 10 different salad varieties in a single row. And if you construct a cold frame (which can be cheap and easy if you use salvaged storm windows), you can grow some hearty salad greens year-round.

When it comes to natural flavor enhancers, nothing beats culinary herbs. Every year I grow standbys such as parsley, chives, sage, basil, tarragon, mint, rosemary and thyme, but I also make an effort to try one or two new ones. One consequence of this approach is that I end up expanding my garden a little bit each year, but that’s OK, because my skills and gastronomy are expanding in equal measure, as are my sense of satisfaction and food security.

Planting a Garden: Where, When and How

Next, sketch out a garden plan of what will be planted where, when and how. To do this, you need to get familiar with the various edible crops and what they like in terms of space, water, soil fertility and soil temperatures. KGI also has a new, interactive Vegetable Garden Planner that makes it super simple and fun to handle planning a kitchen garden. Check out a 30-day free trial of the program.

Starting from Seeds or Transplants?

When the time comes to plant your kitchen garden, you’ll need to decide which plants to start from seed and which to buy as transplants. Many gardeners choose to plant all of their crops from seed for a variety of reasons, including lower costs, greater selection, and the challenge and satisfaction of seeing a plant go from seed to soup bowl. But whether you’re a greenhorn or a green thumb, there’s no shame in buying seedlings. Doing so increases your chances of success, especially with crops such as eggplants, peppers and tomatoes that require a long growing season.

Much about Mulch

After you’ve sown your seeds or planted your plants, introduce yourself to the kitchen gardener’s best friend, Mr. Mulch. Just about any organic matter you can get your hands on — straw, grass clippings, pine needles, shredded leaves, dead weeds that haven’t gone to seed — can be used as mulch. I bring in mulch from neighbors who would otherwise throw it away. Mulch plays three main roles: It deters weeds, helps retain moisture, and adds organic matter to the soil as it decays. I apply it to the pathways between my beds and around all of my plants. 

When and How Much to Water Your Garden

Fruits and vegetables are made mostly of water, so you’ll need to make sure your plants are getting enough to drink. This is especially important for seedlings that haven’t developed a deep root structure. You’ll want to water them lightly every day or two. Once the crops are maturing, they need about an inch of water per week, and more in sandy soils or hot regions. If Mother Nature isn’t providing that amount of rain, you’ll need to water manually or with a drip irrigation system.

Garden Maintenance

Sun and rain willing, fast growers such as radishes and salad greens will begin to produce crops as early as 20 to 30 days after planting. Check on them regularly so you get to harvest them before someone else does. In my garden, those “someones” include everything from the tiniest of bacteria to the largest of raccoons. Various protective barriers and organic products can deter pests and diseases, and if you have trouble with rabbits, deer or other four-legged critters, your best defense may be a garden fence.

Succession Planting: Plant Now and Later

Getting the most  production from your garden comes from learning the beauty of succession planting. Rather than trying to “get your garden in” during one busy weekend, space your planting out over the course of several weeks by using short rows. Every time you harvest a row or pull one out that has stopped producing, try to plant a new one. Succession plantings lead to succession harvests spread out over several months — one of the key characteristics of a kitchen garden.

As you gain new confidence and skills, you can look for ways to incorporate perennials including asparagus and rhubarb into your edible landscape. And no discussion of kitchen gardens would be complete without mentioning flowers, which should be added from the start. Flowers add beauty and color to the garden and the kitchen table. They also attract beneficial insects while, in some cases, repelling undesirable ones.

Steve Macurdy
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Vegetables To Plant In Spring

Vegetables To Plant In Spring

 

Spring Vegetables, vegetables to plant in spring!

Spring is just around the corner, and you should be curious to know the vegetables to plant in spring for your garden. Read this blog to find out the best spring vegetables to plant.

 

Can you resist the blooming, thriving, colorful plant species that bless their presence in spring? Of course not! Furthermore, spring paves the way for many vegetables and fruits that grow quite well, keeping you sated the entire season. If you are enthusiastic about growing your own vegetables this spring, now is the right time to gather all information, get your seeds, and start with it. Whether you are an experienced gardener or a beginner, the first question that comes to your mind will be, what are spring vegetables to plant?

 

Read on to find the easiest vegetables to plant in your garden during spring that would give you the fastest yield before the summer starts.

 

5 Easy Spring Vegetables to Plant

  1. Kale

With high nutritional value, kale is one of the best spring vegetables to plant in spring. It is widely used in salads and as stir-fried sides. They do not need any strict environmental conditions. You can plant them as soon as the temperature becomes less chilly in a well-drained and sunny spot. You can get a full yield of these green leafy vegetables only after a month of planting. Either sow the seeds directly in the ground or plant them in a container indoors and transplant it to the ground later.        

                                          

  1. Carrots

Carrots are another great option to grow in your spring garden. They come in a variety of colors and types, from baby carrots to hybrid ones. You can even grow them in slight frost and get a good harvest. Plant your carrot in loose soil with adequate watering and sun. With proper care, you can see your carrots growing from the soil in a matter of 2 to 3 months. These delicious, crunchy root vegetables are a must-have for your kitchen garden.

                                            

  1. Beets

Who does not love red, juicy beetroots? How wonderful would it be if you could have a constant supply of this delicious spring vegetable in your garden? Beets are hardy vegetables that can survive frost too. You can plant your seeds in March or early April. This would give you a healthy yield by the start of next month. Make sure you plant your seeds with a distance in a bright, well-moisturized place.

                                                

  1. Cauliflower

Cauliflower belongs to the lettuce family like broccoli, kale, and Brussels. Therefore, it requires conditions similar to these veggies and one of the best vegetables to plant in spring. However, cauliflowers are exclusively a cool weather species. If you have a hot climate, it would be a little hard to get them to grow. You can eat it raw or cooked, both being delectable. However, to get a good harvest, your soil should be well fertilized and drained.

                                              

  1. Eggplant 

These purple beauties are an amazing addition to your spring garden. They grow in warm climates and cannot withstand frost. Hence, before you plant the seeds, make sure the last winter frost has ended. Eggplants come with broad leaves, which have fast growth. You can find a wide range of variety among the eggplants, all with alterations in taste and color. They take a little more than three months to give you a ripe yield.

                                                  

Get your Seeds:

Nothing compares to the joy of picking your own vegetables and having them for your lunch and dinner. Spring is a great time to experiment. This guide will answer your queries about what vegetables to plant in spring. Whichever vegetable suits you best, you can get the seeds here at the best quality and prices. What are you waiting for? Get those seeds and sow them now.

Steve Macurdy
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Planting Calendar for Vegetables, Flowers, Herbs, and Fruit

Planting Calendar for Vegetables, Flowers, Herbs, and Fruit

Two of the most important aspects of gardening are knowing when to plant and what to plant in your vegetable or flower garden. However, it can be difficult to know the exact time to begin planting in order for a garden to fully flourish throughout the growing season. If your plant or garden fails to thrive, simply adjusting your planting time frame might make a big difference. A planting calendar takes the guesswork out of the process.

Everharvest is working on completing a planting calendar for all of our buyers. 

What is a planting calendar?

A planting calendar is a simple guide that tells when the optimal time to plant any type of vegetable, flower or plant is.

How does it work?

Planting calendars are designed to calculate the best time to start seeds and plant a garden. Timing for all planting is based on first and last frost dates. For example, if planting in hardiness zone 5, the last frost date is generally between April 1st – April 15th, and the first frost date typically falls between October 16th – October 31st. These dates will in part dictate when the best time to plant is.

From specific plants and vegetables that thrive in one particular zone, to when to plant, to how much water they need, to when to harvest, the EverHarvest Calendar will provide everything you need to know to grow a bountiful garden.

What is a frost date?

A frost date is the first and last average day or range of days a frost is usually experienced in a zone. These are important to know, as some plants will not tolerate extreme cold from a frost. Keep frost dates in mind when deciding when to plant to ensure you have a garden that grows and produces as much as possible.

When to plant vegetables?

If you are wondering when the best time to plant vegetables in a specific area is, or what types tend to do better where you live, a planting and growing calendar is the first place you should look.

In zones where vegetables do very well as long as there isn’t an unusually late frost soon after planting (when a plant is still young and vulnerable). Even though you can plant and enjoy almost any vegetable here, we are still very cognizant of when to actually put something in the ground. For instance, broccoli and kale are planted in March – April, whereas corn and tomatoes won’t go in the ground until May – June. A planting calendar helps you decide exactly when to plant every type of vegetable.

When to plant flowers?

Determining when to plant flowers is easy once you learn the first and last frost date in your zone. Zones can be divided even amongst themselves, and this can slightly vary suggested planting dates by a week or two. Always look at the type of flower to see if it will tolerate your zone and frost dates. Hardy flowers like pansies and alyssum will survive light frosts, whereas tender flowers like dahlias and nasturtium need warm soil to grow properly. So, it is the type of flower combined with frost dates that will be the ultimate guide in creating a garden calendar that will result in the most beautiful blooms and bounty.

When to plant herbs?

Most herbs can be started from seed indoors or outdoors. Young starter plants can be put directly in the ground. All three options will often yield a great result. When to actually start or plant an herb greatly depends on zone and the type of herb you want to grow. Some herbs like chives can be started indoors 8 – 10 weeks, or outside 3 – 4 weeks, before the last frost.

When to plant fruits?

Planting fruit trees in early spring or late winter is typically fine if planting them in the ground. Container trees tend to do well if planted any time from September to May. However, if deep in the heart of winter, wait for a milder spell before planting. Other fruit such as strawberries can go in the ground as early as 6 weeks prior to the last average frost date in an area. The best time to plant fruit depends on what you want to plant and where you live.

How to calculate planting dates?

Calculating planting dates is different for each plant. It’s based on growing zone, frost dates and a plant’s maturity date and needs. A planting schedule can be created by determining the first frost date and then working backwards. This will help figure out the best planting date for whatever you are growing. The goal is to ensure a plant has enough time to mature before the first frost of the year. Once armed with this information, check the growing and maturity times for each individual plant or vegetable you will plant.

Why start planting seeds indoors?

Many people wonder about when to start planting seeds. There are many reasons why gardeners may choose to start plants from seed. Some do so simply to get a jump start on the gardening season, since the process can be started even while still cold out. For others, it’s the cost-factor that’s so attractive, as a pack of seeds is cheaper and will produce much more yield than a starter plant. And still others like to know exactly how their plants are raised – this is especially true for gardeners who are concerned with organic practices. But the biggest reason to start seeds indoors can be to protect seedlings from harsh weather conditions.

Which seeds should start indoors?

Some plants are better suited to be planted outdoors from the start. However, many varieties will do exceptionally well when started from seed indoors. Of course, it’s always important to keep in mind there are other factors to note besides just the type of plant. When to plant, and how well a plant will do indoors versus outdoors, will vary from plant to plant. Growing zone also needs to be taken into consideration.

Plants that you can start indoors from seed include:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkins
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

When should you transplant seedlings?

One of the most important components to starting plants from seeds is timing. Knowing when to move seedlings outside is critical to a plant’s success. Wait too long and you risk a root bound plant and transplanting too soon means your plant may not be strong enough to survive the elements and shock from being moved to a new environment.

Surprisingly, size is not always a steadfast indicator of a plant being ready to move outdoors. Some seedlings will grow quickly but may not be ready to move outside. A better way than size to tell if a plant is mature enough to be transplanted is by the number of true leaves it has. If a seedling has between 3 and 4 true leaves, it is likely ready. Note that the very first leaves to grow are not what you’re looking for. Those initial leaves are cotyledons and store food for growing plants. True leaves emerge after the cotyledons.

Of course, temperature and frost play a big factor on when to transplant seedlings. Knowing the last frost date and a plant’s standard frost guidelines is important.

Common questions about planting calendars

Can there be more than one planting season?

Some zones offer succession planting, or “second plantings.” Warmer climates, such as zones 7 – 10, will often provide two opportunities to plant some of your favorite veggies. For example, in Florida, you can plant peppers and tomatoes in February to enjoy a summer harvest, and then again in early fall for a winter harvest.

How to tell how much to water your garden?

A good rule of thumb is to water your garden about 2 inches each week. Use this guide very loosely, though, as specific plants, zones and planting areas will all dictate how much water is actually needed. The water needs of one plant versus another can vary tremendously.

When is the best time to plant a garden?

There really isn’t any one, good answer to this question. Just like water, soil, light and other growing conditions, plants can have very different needs for the best time to be planted. The only way to know for sure is to use a gardening calendar that calculates the first expected and last average last frost date in a specific zone – this will help determine planting timing for each plant.

What can I plant before winter?

Just because the weather is cooling off doesn’t mean the growing season has to be over. Cooler fall temperatures are the perfect time to plant many delicious vegetables such as garlic, asparagus, peas and onions and shallots.

When should I stop watering before harvesting?

For most plants, stop watering about 1 -3 days prior to harvest. Ideally, soil should be relatively dry, but plants should not be so thirsty they wilt or droop.

Planning a gardening calendar is exciting – and a planting calendar takes some of the guesswork out of the process, so it can also be fun and rewarding. With careful thought, the end result is an entire garden of gorgeous plants that will produce all season long.

Steve Macurdy
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What is hydroponics? How does it work?

What is hydroponics? How does it work?

How does hydroponic farming compare to traditional farming? 

When we tell people that we grow our produce using hydroponics, we usually get something close to this response: 

“Sounds cool…sounds like it has something to do with health food maybe? What even is it?”

For all the hydro-curious folks out there, we’ve put together a primer on the basics of hydroponic farming. 

We suggest you start here to learn the essentials of hydroponics, and if you’re inspired to try growing some hydroponic plants of your own, browse the organic seeds you want here.

So What is Hydroponics?

Put simply: Hydroponics is a way to skip the soil, sub in a different material to support the roots of the plant, and grow crops directly in nutrient-rich water. 

There are multiple approaches to designing hydroponic systems, but the core elements are essentially the same.

What you need: 

  • Fresh water. Were talking primo, filtered stuff with a balanced pH. Most plants like water with a pH level around 6–6.5. You can adjust the acidity of your water with over-the-counter solutions found at your local hardware, garden, or hydroponic store.
  • Oxygen. Don’t drown your plants! In traditional farming, roots can get the oxygen needed for respiration from pockets of air in the soil. Depending on your hydroponic setup, you will either need to leave space between the base of your plant and the water reservoir, or you’ll need oxygenate your container (think of bubbles in a fish tank), which you can accomplish by buying an air stone or installing an air pump.
  • Root Support. Even though you don’t need soil, your plant’s roots still need a little something to hold on to. Typical materials include vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, coconut fiber, and rockwool. Stay away from materials that might compact (like sand) or that don’t retain any moisture (like gravel).
  • Nutrients. Your plant is going to need plenty of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and other nutrients to stay healthy and productive –– just like plants growing in the ground need healthy soil and fertilizer. When you’re growing plants without soil, this “plant food” must be included in the water that’s feeding your plants. While you can technically make your own nutrient solution, it’s easy to buy mixtures online and in stores.
  • Light. If you’re growing your plants indoors, you might have to invest in some special lighting. Each kind of plant will have a different requirement for the amount of light it needs and for the placement of lights (typically referred to as Daily Light Integral or DLI).

While there are other elements to consider as you increase the sophistication of your hydroponic farm (for instance, things like CO2 supplementation), the five listed above are the most foundational elements of any hydroponic system. 

By monitoring and adjusting these key variables, you can begin to discover precisely what your plants need to thrive, and replicate those conditions for every grow in the future.

Why Grow Without Soil?

This seemingly subtle shift in how we make food (skipping the soil, that is) is actually revolutionary –– it allows growers to produce food anywhere in the world, at any time of the year, and to net higher yields with fewer resources. 

Grow Anywhere

Yep. Take that, climate change. Growing seasons and regions are in major flux right now as temperatures change and growing conditions change along with them. Even in “normal” conditions, there are plenty of places where the ground just isn’t conducive for farming (like deserts, concrete jungles…you get the gist).

Right now, most of the vegetables you come across in a store have been shipped in from afar, and have lost nutritional value along the way. 

Using hydroponics, we can create hyper-local food systems – and we are! Our container farms are set up right in the communities and regions that we serve. It’s even possible to put a farm directly behind restaurants that want ultra-fresh produce! And when you’re growing hydroponically, you don’t have to hit pause for a season or risk crop loss from inclement weather.

Higher Yields

Plants grown in well-managed hydroponic systems are living the good life. Since roots are bathed in all the nutrients they need, plants spend more time growing upward and less time and energy growing extensive root systems to search for food. 

Growth rates vary based on the type of system and quality of care, but hydro plants can mature up to 25 percent more quickly than the same plants grown in soil, with increased crop yield, to boot.

 

Fewer Resources

We bet you didn’t see this coming: hydroponic systems actually use less water than traditional soil-based systems. This is because closed systems aren’t subject to the same rates of evaporation. Plus, the water used in hydroponic systems can be filtered, re-populated with nutrients, and fed back to plants again so that water is constantly being recycled instead of wasted! 

At Vertical Roots, our systems use up to 98 percent less water than traditional soil-based systems. 

Other “resources” indoor hydroponic plants don’t need? Pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals, since the hydro crops are protected from many of the pests and plant diseases found outdoors in soil-based farms. 

 

Easy Troubleshooting

How many times have you walked out to your garden and seen one of your plants thriving while its next-door-neighbor is drooping? In that situation, it’s almost impossible to know which variable is negatively affecting your poor plant. Is it a pest problem? Are the nutrients in the soil different in that spot? Has this plant become your dog’s urinal? 

With a hydroponic system, you know exactly what conditions your plants are being grown in. As such, you can easily isolate variables and experiment! Once you find the perfect formula of light, pH balance, and nutrients, you can replicate success without always getting hit with curveballs.

The five best plants to grow in a hydroponic system are:
  • Lettuce.
  • Spinach.
  • Strawberries.
  • Bell Peppers.
  • Herbs.
  • Veggies (shop now)
Steve Macurdy
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Teach your children to grow organically

Teach your children to grow organically

 

Teaching Kids About Organic Gardening

How to get kids to eat more vegetables?

Teach them to grow!

Teaching kids about organic gardening is a fantastic way both to spend time together and to give them a sense of wonder and respect for plants. Organic gardening with kids can be very easy and rewarding, as long as you keep things simple. Keep reading to learn more about organic gardening for beginners and garden tips for kids.

Organic Gardening with Kids

When organic gardening with kids, simplicity is the name of the game. Keep your garden space small – a 6 x 6 foot patch should be plenty. If you don’t have the space for an in-ground garden, containers are a great alternative.

Make sure to leave room to walk between your rows, as this will make for easier movement and teach kids to stay on paths. You can put down some flat stones to make a clear path to stick to as well.

Organic Garden Lesson Ideas

When picking plants to grow, opt for those that have fast, solid payoff.

Radishes [1] grow fast and early and should get kids excited for a whole summer of gardening.

Beans [1] and peas grow fast and produce lots of pods that are fun to pick and easy to eat.

Plants like squash [2], tomatoes [3], and peppers [4] should keep producing throughout the summer, and you and your kids can track the progress of the fruit, watching it grow and change color. If you have the space, supplement your faster growing crops with a pumpkin vine [5]. You can watch it grow all summer and make a homegrown jack-o-lantern in the fall.

If you’re looking for easy-to-grow flowers, you can’t go wrong with marigolds [6] and sunflowers [3].

Whatever you choose to grow, make it special and be forgiving. Even if the seeds spill, or they don’t get sown in a straight line, your kids will see them grow into real plants and real vegetables, giving them a cool look into nature and food production.

And since the garden is “organic,” with no harmful chemicals, the garden will be a welcoming place for pollinators, another great topic to cover with your children as they watch in wonder while pollination [7] takes place.

Steve Macurdy
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Life is good at the EverHarvest Ranch

Life is good at the EverHarvest Ranch

Welcome to EverHarvest Ranch
Steve Macurdy
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