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How to Grow Mushrooms

It is mid-January & I can’t wait another week to start growing something, so I got some Mushroom Growing kits to grow Portabella & White Button Mushrooms!

Mushrooms are not my favorite food – I really only like them on pizza or steak – and only sometimes! But between Kyla’s family & mine, I know we can find plenty of people that will love them.

My biggest concern with the growing kits I got is that they sat out in sub-zero weather for X amount of hours before I got home to bring the delivery in. You typically want to keep the temperature above 50 degrees to ensure the spores aren’t killed. I’m sure the mail person read the box that said “Magic Mushroom Growing Kit” and didn’t even see the [TEMPERATURE SENSITIVE] sticker on the top.

So with that being said, we began the kits with a little bit of faith that the cold didn’t destroy our potential shroomies!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A knife to open the box & rake the mushroom compost.
  • 32-40 ounces of room-temperature water
  • Trowel or Fork

Here’s how you set it up:

  1. Open the box & remove the “Casing”. The casing is peat moss & sand fines that will sit on top of the mushroom compost and help to keep the media moist.
  2. Look at the mushroom compost – you should see white spiderweb-like strings running through it – that is the mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus. Now take your knife or fork & rake through the top 1/2″ of compost.
  3. After that, add a half-cup of the mushroom compost to the bag of casing & then add 32-40 ounces of water, stirring until you have a muddy-looking mixture. Allow is to sit for 15 minutes & absorb the water.
  4. Once the mixture has sat for 15 minutes, dump the wet casing on top of the mushroom compost creating a top layer. Take care to not compress the media.
  5. Now we wait! Make sure that your boxes are in the temperature range of 55-75 degrees (62-68 is optimal). They do not need direct light to grow & should thrive in a dark, moist environment.
  6. In 1-3 weeks you should see grow & hopefully the first harvest. You should be able to harvest for 6-8 weeks from this kit.

Check back to see our progress with our kits & check out our harvest!

For a more visual aid to growing mushrooms, check out my latest Plant Rant on How to Grow Mushrooms – happy growing!

 

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Plant Rant Radio on Anchor

This year has been an inflection point for Gardening for Gains – our vision has been shared with the world & this coming year I want to really ramp up what that means.

The most difficult thing about running Gardening for Gains is having a clear focus on what I truly want (a farm 3-5 years down the road), yet maintaining what Gardening for Gains currently means.

So what does Gardening for Gains mean – what’s the point? what do you do?

And that’s why I have started my newest venture called “Plant Rant”.

I plan on doing Plant Rant segments on YouTube, but my main medium of delivery is going to be on Anchor.

Anchor is an app that allows you to have your own radio station. Quick, easy set-up and it’s Free!

Basically you hold your phone up to your ear like you’re on a call and that’s how you record your segments – super easy! There is also an option to add background music, interludes, and you can integrate music from Spotify.

Anchor used to have the Snapchat effect – your segments would be archived after 24 hours. Recent updates allow you to convert your segments into episodes. I haven’t really gotten too fancy with episode creation, but I imagine this is a way you can make a super-solid, professional-sounding radio show: throw a background track on it, add a song for an intermission between segments, toss in some sound effects for humor or drama & boom! You gotta radio show!

Check mine out here! 👇

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Would love to hear your thoughts on the show or any requests for future Plant Rants!

Leave some love!

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My Garden’s Diverse Ecosystem

This year my garden has been full of Birds, Bumblebees, Praying Mantises, Spiders & more – and that’s a good thing!

With every garden, the main concern is to grow food & you must protect it from pests, insects, and disease. In order to do this, it would normally require some sort of pesticide or insecticide – these are not always bad. In the modern world, everyone thinks that a pesticide or a “chemical” is a dangerous, cancerous thing – but in order to grow food, you have to make some decisions. Do I want to eat the literal fruits of your labors, or do you want to leave it to bugs?

Early in the growing process I used a few products to help control pests: Neem Oil, Hot Pepper Wax, and Diatomaceous Earth. All of these products are OMRI-listed & certified organic, but I took care to not spray the garden with Neem Oil or Diatomaceous Earth when flowers started emerging & pollinators began doing their work. Although Neem is safe to spray – as long as it isn’t directly on the bees – I didn’t really want to take the chance when I started noticing the intricate food web unfolding before my eyes.

Looking closely at some of my tomatoes, I began to see the start of whitefly, and also of mites, but then they would disappear after a couple days. This was due to 2 factors. The first one is the huge amount of birds that I have visiting the garden. For whatever reason, I hate birds in my garden – I thought they were just there to pick some flowers, eat my raspberries, and dig up my earthworms. A closer look revealed that they were also cleaning up the bugs from the tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.

The amount of pollinators in my garden has also really been astounding. I’m not a big fan of bees, but the role they play in the garden makes them a priceless asset. This year I began to really pay attention to them because of the huge push to “Save the Bees”, what is going on with them anyways, why are they dying?

(Check out this video I got of a Praying Mantis Attacking a Bumblebee!

There have been at least 6-8 different types of bees, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps buzzing around the backyard – drunk off pollen, indulging themselves in the buffet on Boone Street. The bees may be pollinating, but the others guys (wasps, yellow jackets) have been spotted crawling along the soil or leaves of the plants – why? When you really look, you see they’re cleaning up the whitefly & the mites.

And that is the beauty of a healthy-functioning garden ecosystem – there is a true food web that is being naturally sustained!

Praying Mantis
Praying Mantises are beneficial insects & love cleaning up pests from the garden.
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What to Plant at the End of August

Cucumber pollination

It’s the end of August here in Ohio – the nights are cooling off, tomatoes & peppers continue to produce fruit to no end, but you still have the itch to keep planting.

Luckily, there is still a ton of stuff you can plant!

Being in zone 5, our last frost date is approximately mid-October – that means we’ve got about 2 months to get growing! With ~60 days, you won’t have enough time for corn, potatoes, or tomatoes, but there are a few options.

Cold-weather crops

  • Arugula (rocket)
  • Beets
  • Collards
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery (mild winter climates)
  • Chard
  • Coriander (Cilantro)
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions (bulbing)
  • Onions (bunching–standard onions harvested before they form bulbs).
  • Pak choi (Bok choy)
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach

Below is a little more detailed cool-weather crop breakdown I got from Bonnie Plants:

Cool-weather crops are broken into 2 categories – Hardy & Semi-Hardy.

Hardy – can tolerate hard frost of 25-28°F. Collards, Kale, & Spinach can handle low 20s and teens in some cases! The beautiful thing about cool weather crops is that they are more flavorful when grown under these circumstances – you know this first-hand if you’ve ever had Spinach in the garden when temps hit 90-100! Image result for tongue out emoji

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collards*
  • English peas
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Parsley
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Turnip

Semi-hardy – can tolerate 29-32°F

  • Beets
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Endive
  • Irish potatoes
  • Lettuce and gourmet salad greens
  • Radicchio
  • Rutabaga
  • Salsify
  • Swiss chard*

*Tastes better in winter, but will grow well through summer.

Grown in 60 days

Arugula 30-40 days to harvest
Basil 35-45 days to harvest
Beet 50-65 days to harvest
Cabbage 50-65 days to harvest
Carrots
55-75 days to harvest
Cilantro 60-75 days to harvest
Collards 55-60 days to harvest
Cucumbers
55-65 days to harvest
Garlic 90-110 in ground all winter
Kale 45-60 days to harvest
Kohlrabi 55-65 days to harvest
Lettuce 45-60 days to harvest
Leek 85-105 in ground all winter
Mustard 30-50 days to harvest
Green bunching onion 55-60 days to harvest
Snap Peas 55-60 days to harvest
Radish 25-40 days to harvest
Spinach 37-50 days to harvest
Swiss Chard 50-60 days to harvest
Turnip 45-60 days to harvest

Planting a garden at the end of the summer is something I enjoy for 2 reasons:

  1. Watching a whole new growing process from seed-to-salad or seed-to-sandwich is my favorite process in the world. It is so amazing that 1 tiny seed can turn into a meal, or part of a meal. Growth isn’t limited to spring if you know what to plant & when to plant it.
  2. A whole new batch of fresh veggies! I didn’t grow much other than Tomatoes, Jalapeños, and Habaneros this year so it’ll be nice to get fresh Spinach, Lettuce, Radishes & other salad-friendly veggies back in rotation.

First Fall Frost

As is noted above, most of these crops are somewhat frost-tolerant – some vegetables will even be more flavorful after the frost! But, if you are deep into October & fear a hard frost, or even a freeze, you may want to take some precautions if you want to extend your growing season even further.

Please let me know if you have any questions about starting your garden & I’ll be happy to help!

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Garlic Guide: Growing, Harvesting & Storing

It is the end of July here in Ohio. Normally it’s scorching hot & we’re dancing between 90-100 degrees at this time of the year, but this summer’s been a little cooler & a lot wetter. Since it’s getting to be July-August area, the garlic that you planted this past spring should be ready to harvest! But how do you know when the time is right to harvest your garlic? Here’s a simple guide below, plus you can check out my latest YouTube video that will give you a visual how-to guide for harvesting & storing Garlic.

Hardneck vs. Softneck

There are 2 different types of Garlic – each one has its own benefits, but the type you plant will depend on what your goals are. Below is more detailed info.

Hardneck varieties are more winter-hardy are characterized by a long, flowering stem (called a scape) growing from the middle. The scape will produce a pod that contains bulbils, which are smaller versions of garlic gloves & can be planted in the same way. Hardneck varieties form a single layer of cloves.

Softneck varieties have a stem that is softer & it is much less winter-hardy. When you see garlic braided – it is a softneck variety. This type does not have a scape that reproduces bulbils & that may be the reason that softneck can have bulbs yielding anywhere from 8-30 cloves per bulb! Compare that with hardneck varieties that typically yield 4-12 cloves per bulb – but the scape could contain hundred of bulbils!

(What is a bulbil?) A bulbil is basically a garlic seed that forms in the scape of hardneck types. They are much smaller & may take up to 3-4 years before you get a full-sized bulb!

Planting

  • Prepare beds that are 3-4′ wide, till in compost/manure and make sure beds are accessible from both sides (2 foot reach from each side).
  • Break cloves apart – the first year I grew garlic, I planted a whole bulb and didn’t realize I could have ended up with 20 bigger bulbs instead of the weird harvest I got!
  • Space cloves 4-6″ depending on the variety & how much space you want to give your plants. Closer planting may mean less weeds, but could also mean less room for your plants to grow.

Growing

Garlic really doesn’t require too much care.

  • Make sure you don’t over-water. This can lead to root rot and/or fungal issues. Water every 3-5 days.
  • Pull weeds weekly to keep the nutrients flowing to the good guys.

Pest Control

Garlic is a natural insect repellent! The smell keeps a lot a pests out of the garden ranging from bugs to deer. I like to plant Garlic & Basil with my Tomatoes to help keep everyone pest free as naturally as possible!

Harvesting

When the tops of your garlic plants begin to get yellowed, or start dying, that is the time to harvest.

  • Gently dig up with shovel, spading fork, or trowel.
  • Brush off dirt/mud.
  • Keep wrappers on bulbs in-tact.

Storing

  • Hang in cool, airy place to dry & cure for 2-3 weeks.
  • You can braid softneck varieties to save space.
  • Flavors will intensify after curing.

Growing garlic is fairly easy – the hardest part is bending over to plant & weed, but there’s not too much maintenance in-between! Garlic can store for up to 6 months, so if you planted a lot, you’ve still got time. And if you really have too much, hit up your local farmer’s market & you’ll sell out in no time.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop me a line AND please feel free to check out my most recent YouTube video on “How to Harvest & Store Garlic”.

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Start your Seeds!

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.

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  • 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!

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Winter Gardening: 5 Steps to Planning Your Garden

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. cloche
  • 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!

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New House, New Garden

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.

New Garden

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.

We are all just out here Gardening for Gains.