It isn’t too late to start your seeds indoors! Spring seems right around the corner, but for us in Ohio, we’ve still got a while. The last frost date in my area is listed as April 20th, but local gardeners always go by the Mother’s Day rule for spring planting.
With that date in mind, we’ve got 8 weeks until we can plant outdoors – which just happens to be the perfect amount of time for tomatoes & peppers. Here’s a few tips for starting your seeds.
Refer to your garden plan – or make a garden plan if you haven’t done so already. It’s quick & easy to do and ensures that you have enough of the supplies you need when it gets to planting time.
Select suppliers – there are tons of seed & seedling companies out there, do some research to find a good intersection of quality products with great pricing.
Determine last frost date – this is the most important thing unless you’re growing under cover of a greenhouse, or using frost blankets. Check out your last frost date here.
Check planting instructions & set a planting date for each crop – this is important so you don’t have pumpkin vines growing in your closet in March!
Location, Conditions & Care – make sure you have a location that will get 8-12 hours of sunlight or from grow lights. Keep your seed trays in a well-ventilated area that is around 70 degrees for optimal germination. And finally, be sure that you are checking daily for water, fertilizer needs, and turning trays if seedlings are reaching.
There is nothing more satisfying than watching the seeds you’ve sown, sprout & evolve into the plants in your garden – and eventually become the salsa in your fridge!
Stay tuned for more gardening tips through the spring & season. And drop me a line if there’s something you are curious about and I’ll tackle that issue in a future post – thanks & happy gardening!
Winter is a sad time for most gardeners, unless you have a greenhouse or some other structure to extend your growing season. There is always something you can do during the offseason to better prepare yourself for a successful springtime. Here are a few steps you can take, and projects you can work on to maximize your yields, minimize your waste, and Garden for Gains.
Pick the plants you want to grow – This seems like an easy task,but there is so much out there that you could grow! Do you want to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials, or trees or all of the above? No matter what your growing aspirations are, you can accomplish them with a plan. Research your growing zone, your last frost date, and the germination times of the seeds you select to sow.
Develop a farm plan with propagating, transplanting, & harvest schedules – It’s better to keep your seedlings inside or under cover until the threat of frost has passed. After that, transplant away! If you do run into a late frost you can cover your plants with frost blankets or make cloches – a mini greenhouse made by cutting a plastic bottle in half. If you plan on having a steady supply of fresh produce, then you’ll want to calculate how many trays to seed, how much space those seedlings will eventually take up, and decide how much of your space you would like to dedicate to each crop.
Decide on a fertilization method – I think most gardeners tend to wing it in this area of gardening – spreading manure or granular fertilizer with no regard to what is actually necessary. Talk to your local Extension Agency to get a soil analysis. This will give you a true profile of the available nutrients in your soil along with the knowledge you need to supplement your plants’ needs.
Create a compost area – Composting is a great way to turn grass clippings, leftover food, leaves, coffee grounds, and garden waste into nutrient-rich organic matter for loosening up clay soil as well as feeding your plants & building soil microbial health. (More to come on composting in a future post!)
Order tools & supplies – This is the fun part, but not always the easiest. Everyone’s first instinct is to go to the big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Menards, etc. but I encourage you to go to your local garden center or nursery to get expert help from someone who also has the horticultural bug. My personal first & only stop is my place of employment AM Leonard (also have our sister company Gardener’s Edge). We have just about everything you can think of that you need to grow or landscape along with our own line of high quality tools – give us a call some time!
The past few weeks have been a blur; so hard to believe that I now own a home. I was on the house hunt for about 2 months. Thought I wanted to buy a house in my hometown, but then kept getting hung up on the “what ifs” and the anticipation of the future. I stopped looking for a couple weeks, got my mind right and just started making a list of houses I wanted to see. I found quite a few that were in my price range, had good potential for a few key areas: live-ability, garden-ability, & a good investment – that way I could worry about the future in a more realistic way. If the “what ifs” came to fruition, you have to be able to turn a house around and hopefully profit.
All of that aside, I made a list of about 10 houses from Tipp City to Piqua – my hometown is Sidney which is just north of Piqua and I had seen about 6 open houses and wasn’t finding anything that spoke to me. A few of the houses really peaked my interest, but it wasn’t until the last house where I really felt that “I’m home” feeling. Ironically enough, my realtor sent me an email the morning of the day that we were going out to visit houses, and it was the first day that my current house was on the market. That was the only one that I looked at in Piqua, and was the last one on the tour that day, and I just knew that it was the one. Attractive price point, good potential house that didn’t need a ton of work – just basic maintenance, some paint, and a vision for the future projects.
Of course my starred project was the garden. Everyone who came to my house complimented the size of the backyard and my only reply was “yeah, it’ll look a lot better once I rip up all this grass for the garden”. And so I did.
I started digging the first bed out with my all-steel AM Leonard spade (15” blade) and learned that the soil wasn’t too bad on the top layer – but a decent amount of clay and found a few rocky patches, including what I think are 2 arrowheads. Because of the amount of clay that was deeper in the soil, I incorporated sphagnum peat moss into the areas where I was planning beds – just enough to fluff the soil and break up some of that clay.
My first garden at my first house was the first time that I’ve planted a garden with someone; Kyla of course. We planted a pretty good-sized garden:
-4’x18’ strip for late-season tomatoes and cantaloupes. I’m thinking about trying to train the cantaloupe up a stake, never tried it before but excited to test vertical farming out!
Then there is the U which consists of:
-4’x22′ with the first 6 feet of the bed dedicated to the future growth of a golden raspberry bush and then 2 rows of cucumbers 16 feet long. One variety is called Pickle Barrel Hybrid and I will set up a trellis for that side, while the other row is a variety called the Picklebush and those – as you might have guessed – grow more like a bush.
-4’x16′ is the size of the bottom of the U and that has 2 rows of corn called “Baby Corn Bonus”. This should be harvested in 30-40 days and will be awesome in a stir fry! Also have a few rows of Garden Beans – had some for dinner tonight and they taste awesome, nothing better than a good homegrown meal!
-3’x22′ completes the U and I filled that with a mixture of “Space Hybrid Spinach” and “Dwarf Blue Curled Vates Kale”.
-A 4.5’x20′ rectangular “I” sits inside of the U and that is loaded with herbs: Bouquet Dill, Cilantro, Greek Oregano, & Dark Green Italian Parsley. We wrapped this bed up with a colorful mixture of Carrots & German Giant Radishes.
Here’s the status on the Garden of Gains II:
Tomatoes: growing strong and recovering from the 90-100+ degree days we have been having the last 7-10 days.
Cantaloupe: starting to expand their reaches and they have their “feelers” looking for something to hold onto – hopefully I can train them up a bamboo stake and save some space.
Cucumbers: sprouting and looking healthy!
Beans: sprouting quick & strong
Radishes: wouldn’t be surprised if every single seed I planted germinated within like 3 days of planting
Spinach & Kale: starting to peak through
The Rest: other things I planted should be coming up within the next couple of days, especially with all the much-needed rain we have gotten the past few days and hopefully we will get a little later in the week as well. No other method irrigation compares with a good soaking rain.
I’m happy with how the Garden of Gains II has shaped up so far. This is a pretty good-sized garden but the planting flew by with Kyla there to help out. Usually I garden alone, but it is definitely nice to share your passion with someone you love. And you learn a lot about each. You work together. You build something. You are assisting in the creation of something. The key thing is that you do this all together – as a unit, as one. Or at least that’s how it was with me and Kyla. There is never a moment when we can’t find a solution to our problems. It doesn’t mean that we don’t encounter problems, but when both people strive to be the best person for their person then you have a special relationship.
Gardening for gains began with my first attempt at a garden. It wasn’t all that bad in the beginning of the season; harvested 10 pounds of spinach, had a few strawberries, yukon gold potatoes, way too many chili peppers and a head of broccoli. The name Gardening for Gains came from my brother when we were in the garden after a lifting session and it just stuck from that point on. I may not be quite as hell-bent on bodybuilding as my “little” brother, but I’m still dedicated to lifting & healthy-ish diet, I love gardening, and so the name fit on that level as well as a philosophical one.
Like bodybuilding, gardening has no instant gratification – what you put in is what you get out. It takes patience, perseverance, and passion to endure the slow-moving process of cultivating gains. It takes a lot of research mixed with educated guesses and experimentation once you get a feel for what you’re doing.
The first year I started gardening, which was last year, I planted a few things in the ground but planted a lot of things in Root Pouches. A Root Pouch is a fabric pot made from recycled water bottles that are then spun into fibers and manufactured into a nursery container. The main benefit to the plant is that it air-prunes the roots, creating a dense fibrous root ball. Not sure if it was the best choice for spinach (although it grew amazingly) but the tomatoes looked great – grew really tall – but I did not fertilize enough & it rained all summer long which caused a lot of disease and fungus since the garden area was slightly sunken since it was our old swing set area.
This year I brought in topsoil in the fall and then covered that with leaves from my Grandpa’s woods – about 4 pick-up truckloads for my 28’x30′ plot. I brought more dirt in the spring, tilled it into my clay-packed soil & then come home one day to my Grandpa in my garden, “You wanted manure, I got you some manure buddy!”. So I tilled it in twice around and came out with a healthy soil mixture. It only took about 6-8 truckloads of soil and a truck of manure haha!
But the whole point is that even though the first garden was not as big a success as the current one is, I learned more and wanted to learn more so that I could be as successful as possible – but it isn’t even in the sense of success that I thrive, but in the sense of the passion. I imagine that my passion for gardening is similar to my brother’s passion for bodybuilding – and I do have that passion, but not to the degree that he does. It is something that pulls you from within your soul towards it and the point is that you are meant for it and it for you because it is a symbiotic relationship where both enhance each other.
So I garden for gains; it is a passion of mine & it enhances my life physically, psychologically & spiritually. It’s a little bit of science and a lot of faith; a lot of hard work and the curiosity to think what-if and to Google every single aspect of planning, planting, pruning, fertilizing, pest management & everything in-between. I planned my garden out in excruciating detail, but not everything survived that I originally planned for and the spacing didn’t completely translate from paper to reality.
Here’s how it looks right now:
I really did pack as much into this space as I could. Really felt like I could’ve done better last year, so this year I made sure to!
A lot of my garden was planned around the concept of companion planting, though it didn’t always work out. I had to have both tomatoes and potatoes but they aren’t necessarily good to plant next to each other due to the fact that they can share the same blight. The rest of the garden is planned more appropriately.
Sunflowers & Cucumbers – they are great companions, the theory is that the cucumbers provide shade to the roots of the sunflowers which reduces weeds & helps retain moisture, while the sunflowers provide a natural trellis to the cucumbers.
Corn – excellent companions with cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, & beans (which I have sprinkled in next to the corn, but didn’t list on the plan due to space). Also, placed the tomatoes far away from corn because they share the same pests/worms.
Carrots & Onions – also good companions, and root crops so that’s why I put them in the raised bed and they get along with all surrounding plants.
Pumpkins & Watermelon – from the same family and good companions with corn.
Tomatoes, Peppers & Onions – all good buddies in the garden and once I harvest them and throw them together in a nice spicy salsa!
So this is my passion and I will be writing more about Gardening for Gains tips on companion planting, fertilization, irrigation, pest management, & anything else that can help you make gains in the garden! Follow me on Instagram @gardeningforgains to see more of the current garden and the new plot coming in August!
And in case you’re wondering what’s in the garden plan above: carrots & green onions in one box, strawberries & broccoli in the other, and then left to right: sunflowers, cucumbers, pumpkins, Silver Queen sweet corn, garden beans (not pictured), pumpkins & watermelon, red, blue & purple potatoes, Big Boy, Roma, Purple Cherokee & some rogue Cherry tomatoes, jalapeños are the dark green chilis, bright green are Thai chilis, red chili peppers, orange are habaneros, the white radish is garlic, bell peppers, cilantro at the top, dill at the top right, and the flowers by the carrots are Columbus hops.
“You’re going to love your birthday gift, I think it’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten anyone. You’ll find out this weekend because you have to sign a waiver.”
I thought for sure this girl was trying to kill me, but was excited to find out that I was going to a ropes course for my 26th birthday. The pure excitement of going and doing something adventurous and extreme with a girl – with my girl – was enough to blind me to the imminent fear of being 30-60 feet up in the air.
We get to the course, go through the safety training, and as we are walking up to the course we realize the shear height. Despite that, I stayed pretty positive because nobody seemed phased by it, they were all the adventurous type and Kyla seemed pretty chill too. After we get all our gear on and start walking to the point where you climb up to the first platform, she turns to me with eyes huge, watery with fear, and beautiful as could be, and she says, “I’m really scared of heights”. All I could do was laugh and say, “Are ya [freaking] kidding me?”
And in that moment I felt what true love is – I felt the sacrifice and the willingness to go beyond her own fears in order to make me happy. When I think she can’t get any better, I’m always proven wrong.
She took the more difficult route up to the first platform, climbing the staples. I followed after she got up to the top and felt good until I was realizing how high up we were going to be. We sat on the first platform for at least 15 minutes trying to get the courage to adventure out, but she just couldn’t do it, so I went out on my own – I was just happy Kyla was up there and faced her fear that I didn’t know she had until a few minutes before the climb up. Oh, and the head instructor said that this sort of thing happens all the time and 9 out of 10 relationships do just fine afterwards.
I’m not exactly sure that I can say I enjoyed myself, but glad that I at least gave it a shot. My thinking was that this was going to be a physical challenge, not such a psychological one. Everything is connected by wires – wires secure the poles to each other, to the ground, and the wires all pull on each other; the tension between them creates the balance that holds everything together. The problem with this is that everything sways a little and nothing is really stable. The platforms, the ropes, the elements you’re climbing on are all connected by wire and your weight causes them to sag slightly – basically it was just really nerve-wracking because nothing felt safe because of the slight wobble and play in the lines. I walked on wooden platforms that were on wires connecting platforms, then up the Stairway of Heaven, over 2 parallel telephone poles, through rope loops, then back through the loops and telephone poles, where I then walked the plank 60 feet above the Earth to the final platform where I met Kyla to zipline back to safety, security and sanity.
Poor Kyla had to climb up to that top platform and was even more terrified about zipping down. She looked so cute as we finally got her talked into going down. They say that couples usually look at each other as they’re going down and that helps – she looks at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes full of tears of fear, we count down and as she starts zipping she says, “I love you!” and I was in such shock that she zipped and I had my mouth hanging open and had to catch up to her to tell her I loved her too! I know she didn’t take it as me snubbing her, but she just opened up in such a way I was in pure shock.
After we pulled the lines back to the platform, we wrapped our arms around each other and kissed like we were on the brink of death, with thoughts that we would never see the ground or each other again. Neither one of would have done this ropes course if we realized what we were getting into, but we Gardened for Gains. We made gains in our lives by uprooting ourselves from our conventional ways and taking a leap of faith. When you lift your roots from the Earth it may be a shock to your system, but you may just find yourself planted in a much better place when you return.