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Garden Plans for this Sunday

Yellow Gingko leaves with blue sky background

The Time it is a-changin’!

Today is one of the greatest & most hated days of the year, when Time decides to leapfrog forward a whole hour to disrupt our sleep cycles by stealing an hour from us – but it is also a strong signal that spring is on its way! Yesterday I saw that we didn’t have freezing weather in the foreseeable forecast of 15 days out.

Whether or not I believe that we won’t dip into freezing temps, or maybe a light frost, is debatable, but my Hope for an early & strong Spring is not. I have been fairly patient this year with seed starting – I have some onions, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli started – and somehow I have refrained from planting tomatoes & peppers just yet.

All of this sunshine and pollen has my biological clock spinning out of control and screaming at me to plug seeds into the ground and get the garden rolling for the spring. Though I can’t fully follow my urges, I wanted to plan out a few things that I could do at this point of the season:

  • Seed Starting – though I said I was going to control myself, it’s been 2 weeks since I planted my first seeds of the season – so now’s the time to follow-up with a succession planting. This means that I’ll plant another 24-48 lettuce seeds and 60 arugula seeds or so – who knows, maybe I’ll get some cauliflower or something else started today too. I’m planning on getting a plot at the Piqua Community gardens, so I should be able to grow a much more diverse crop this year – and since I failed so miserably with Cauliflower last year, I really wanna prove that I can grow that little beast. And Kyla loves Cauliflower (call-EE-flower) wings, so I feel like I gotta deliver for her 🙂
  • More Seed Starting – I’ve been putting it off for long enough, but now’s the time to get those tree seeds started for bonsai trees. I have no clue if the time of the season is right, or if the seeds actually vernalized – but we’ll see what magic we can work. The varieties I am planning on starting include:
    • Baobab – this is a tree species from Madagascar and is extremely unique looking, with a fat trunk and small limbs/canopy.
    • Boxwood – I could easily take cuttings of these, but I really wanted to see if I could crack the code on growing everything from seed, not just the veggies for my garden.
    • Gingko – Gingkos are one of the most beautiful & ancient tree species on the planet. They have a unique leaf shape and turn an amazing shade of gold in the Fall
    • Sycamore – there’s also something magical to me about Sycamore trees. They are one of the mightiest varieties of trees with an ancient-scroll-style of bark that every kid loves playing with, a large imposing shape & profile on the skyline that any person can recognize, and they bear a striking resemblance to the dendritic structure of the neurons in our brains & bodies that connects them to us in a primal & subconscious way.
  • Mind & Body Exploration & Experimentation – today’s high temperature is supposed to be over 60 degrees so I am going to take advantage of that by going on a long bike ride – the first one of the season. There is nothing that can clear the Mind & push the Body like a long bike ride. It is soothing and challenging at the same time. You have the opportunity to push your body to new limits, but it depends upon the strength of your Mind, the power of your Will.
  • Writing – this blog is the beginning of me actually writing when I feel the inspiration – rather than collecting ideas like a hoarder and then never releasing them because I am too busy contemplating & strategizing. Beyond this, I think I just need to write – it is my natural state, a natural way of me to communicate; not only with the world, but with myself.
  • Meditation – I have been on & off with mediation – I do it when it absolutely needs to be done, but I think I need to treat it as a part of my nightly routine, in the same category as flossing & brushing my teeth. If we want to feel fully great, we have to commit to the things that we know contribute to our success & optimization of Life.

These are my plans for the Gains that I’m Cultivating in the Garden of my Life, I wish you the strength & the passion to cultivate your dreams & ideas into Realities 🙏

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Seed Starting Cold-Weather Crops in Zone 6

Title image reading: Seed Starting Cold-Weather Crops in Zone 6

It’s the end of February, and it’s still a little early to get most seeds started here in Ohio. Last year I made the mistake of starting my tomatoes & peppers extremely early with the thought that they would develop more fully & we would be blessed with an early & abundant harvest of Tomatoes, Jalapeños, & Habaneros. In reality, this just led to the seedlings becoming root-bound in the trays, and forced me to do more work than necessary by transplanting them up into larger pots before transplanting out into Root Pouches in the spring once the threat of frost had passed.

So the moral of the story is – don’t plant your Tomatoes & Peppers just yet! This blog will walk you through the crops that are safe to plant at this time of the year if you’re in zones 5-7 or so.

You can also check out the full Part 1 of the YouTube video, if you prefer to follow along that way, but I will cover most of what I discuss in the video, plus I feel I have more opportunity to elaborate on the pieces that I may have missed in the video.

Cold-Weather Seeds I’m Starting Now

  • Arugula – Arugula is a cold-hardy crop that can tolerate a light amount of frost, plus it’s fairly quick-growing. I chose to grow Arugula because it adds a nice spicy component to salads, sandwiches, or burgers. It’s also important to note that Arugula attracts a TON of pests like flea beetles and cabbage worms / moths. This is a great reason to get Arugula out in the garden early while it’s still cold and the pests are hiding away for winter.
  • Broccoli – I didn’t think that I would be growing broccoli this year because of the stomach issues I’ve had, but I have been given the all-clear to add more fiber into my diet as long as it doesn’t bother me. And my garden isn’t all about me since I’m growing for a CSA, so I had to take that into consideration as well. Broccoli was a huge hit last year, and the Early Green Broccoli variety should give us a super strong start to the CropBox. Broccoli is frost-tolerant as well and the cooler weather actually helps to enhance the sweetness – so get those broccoli plants started!
  • Lettuce – What is a spring garden without lettuce? This year I’ll be growing two fan-favorites from years past: Buttercrunch & Concept Lettuce, plus a new one that I’ve been hearing about from every grower at every trade show: Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s. The amazing thing about Salanova is that you can treat it as a hybrid lettuce and harvest it as either head lettuce or leaf lettuce – meaning you can get up to 3-4 harvests from a single planting! It’s important to note that if you have a rainy season (like last spring in Ohio), or if you maintain an overly moist environment in the lettuce, you will almost certainly attract slugs and/or snails – I found this out the hard way last year, but will be combatting that problem with an organic solution of wool pellets. Last year I also made the mistake of planting 288 heads of lettuce at once – this year I’m taking advantage of succession planting to ensure that we maintain a steady harvest of the staple rotational crops like lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens. I’ll go into more detail on succession planting later in this blog and in more depth in a separate blog as well.
  • Onions – Typically I prefer to plant onion bulbs or onion sets, but I haven’t had much luck with growing onions from seed, so I figured I would give it another shot this year. I started off with Evergreen Onions which are a green onions variety, but I may also plant some Red Burgundy seeds as well (those are a bulb variety, not used for green onions). Onions have a looong growing season, so if you really want to grow them from seed, get those seeds a-going!
  • Spinach – As with Lettuce, what is a spring garden without Spinach! My variety of choice is Gurney’s Goliath Spinach because it’ll give you leaves the size of your hands and it provides abundantly. Like all of these plant varieties, mature Spinach is extremely cold-tolerant and, depending on the variety, can withstand temperatures down to 20ºF.

Seed Tray Selection & Succession Planting

This section is not a full-blown blog about Seed Tray Selection & Succession Planting, but it should help serve as a general guide. As overzealous gardeners, it is our instinct to fill the seed trays completely full of seeds – not realizing that we will end up with 72 or 288 heads of lettuce all needing harvested at one time!

When we plant our seeds, we need to ask a few questions:

  1. How many people are you growing for? This will give you an idea of what size of trays to start your plants in. I’m growing greens in 288-cell trays because I am planning to provide fresh veggies & herbs to 10-25 people. When I plant in these 288-cell trays, that will help the root systems form quicker in the smaller-sized plug and will allow me to pack more plants into a 10×20 tray-sized area. When I planted my lettuce I thought about the timeframes for harvesting and ended up planting 48 heads of lettuce & 60 plugs with Arugula. This left half of the tray to be planted up in another 2 weeks to ensure that we have staggered & continuous harvests of Lettuce, Arugula, Spinach, and other leafy greens or quick-turn crops like Radish or herbs.
  2. How much space do I have in my Seed Starting area & in my Garden? Every gardener in the world overestimates what they can handle – until they learn the hard way like I have over the past few seasons. This year I’m dialed in with a plan that I created wayyy ahead of time to ensure that I wouldn’t over-plant. Last year I found myself drowning in tomatoes & hot peppers, as per usual. This year, it will be drowning in greens, beans, cucumbers, melons, sweet, corns, and tomatoes, potatoes, & peppers. My Plan assures that we’ve got the space, but to really over-deliver this year, and to build some street cred, I’m also going to buy a plot at our local community gardens and plug it full of watermelons, cantaloupe, sweet corn & potatoes galore!

Supplies I Use for Seed Starting

I hope this Blog, Video, & Supply list helps you in your Seed Starting Journey! I will be producing more gardening content throughout the spring, summer, and beyond – so if there’s anything you’re curious about, or want me to dive a little deeper on – let me know & I’ll throw a video together for you!

Hang on for a few more weeks & the weather will start to turn in our favor. Within 4-8 weeks you will be planting your onions, lettuce, arugula, spinach, and broccoli outdoors – and then the real challenges & fun begin – Happy Gardening!

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Seeds, Soil, & Supplies

Seedlings under grow light

It may be the middle of winter, but I know we’re all itching to get seeds started for the 2020 garden season! Unless you have a greenhouse, it’s probably a little early to start seeds – but now is the perfect time to plan your garden.

This blog is designed to walk you through how to start a garden from seed and serves as a support document to the podcast series that I am doing on Seed Starting, so if you want to listen in, check out the episode below:

The first step begins with deciding what you want to grow.

What do you & your family enjoy?

Or if you’re growing for a CSA or Farmer’s Market, what do your customers like to eat?

While you’re thinking about that, it might also be important to consider:

  • How much space do the plants require?
  • What are your anticipated harvest dates?
  • Do you only want to plant once in the spring? Or do you want continual harvests throughout the season?

This may seem daunting to a new gardener, so I will be breaking these topics down in more detail through this blog series. For now, the most important thing is to decide what you want to grow and where you’re going to get it.

The best place to start is to figure out what growing zone you’re in. Check out your Hardiness Zone here: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

This will give you an idea of what you can grow and helps you reverse engineer your seed sowing dates.

Next, you need choose what seeds you want to grow. A few of my top choices for seed include:

Once you’ve picked out your seeds, the next step is to get your supplies lined up. Supplies that you’ll need will include seed trays, pots, CowPots, soil or growing media, and fertilizer.

Below are my top recommendations with explanations of why you would use these products specifically. Also, some of these links are Amazon Affiliate links and I will get paid a small commission if you purchase through the links, pictures, or Amazon ads.

Seed Trays

For Seed Trays, I’m a big fan of TO Plastics. They make their horticultural plastic products from recycled material, so I like the sustainability factor, plus I feel that they produce a superior product with their Star Plug design to prevent circling roots.

CowPots

CowPots are by far THE best growing product I have used. At first I was skeptical – they’re pots made out of cow poop. Immediately it makes you think, maybe I’ll stick to Jiffy Pots! But once you try them out, you’ll be blown away. I felt like my tomatoes were completely thriving once I transplanted them into CowPots. Not only did they have more room to grow, but they are also getting oxygenated roots, which is probably leading to air-pruning (which is a good thing) AND you don’t have to worry about transplant shock. You just plop the whole pot in the ground and let nature do its thing! CowPots Pack of 20 Starter Pots Made from Cow Manure (3″ Diameter by 3″ Depth) 100% Biodegradable/Peat Free

Pepper plants in CowPots
Pepper plants in CowPots

HydroFloat & Fertilizers

This hydroponic seed starting kit is one of the easiest things to start seeds in. This kit comes with a tray, humidity dome, 55-cell styrofoam insert, and 55 grow plugs for the foam. Once you pop the plugs into the tray, you fill it with water until the foam is floating on top. You then plant your seeds, refill the water as needed and the grow plugs will soak up water & fertilizer through capillary action. Refills & the best fertilizers for this system are listed below:

Soil

Because the intro to seeds & supplies was so heavy, I am going to dive in on Soil in more detail on the next blog in this series. Keep your eyes peeled for the blog/podcast/video on Soil Health, Soilless Mixes, Soil Amendments, and more!

And if there’s any gardening questions I can help you out with – let me know, I would love to help!

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Top 10 Most Cold-Hardy Fruits & Vegetables

Credit: Gilmour.com

With the impending doom of 60 degrees below zero on its way to us in Ohio, it got me thinking – what are the most cold-hardy plants that survive in the harshest conditions on the planet? I started doing some research and wasn’t finding anything particularly interesting. When it gets that cold, or you’re looking at an area like the Arctic or Antarctic, there’s a layer in the soil called Permafrost. This is a permanent frozen layer beneath the soil, but there is a thin layer on the surface of the soil that will freeze & thaw, called the active layer. Grasses, lichen, and dwarf trees & shrubs grow here, but the shallow layer of soil prevents trees from becoming well-established.

Though it’s fun to learn about that frozen world, I thought it would be better to focus on the fruits & veggies you can grow if you live in a frigid climate or growing zone below 6

1. Ice Cream Banana (Blue Java Bananas)

Blue Java Bananas (Ice Cream Bananas)

Also known as the Blue Java Banana, this plant was a little bit of a stretch for this list, but extremely unique and totally doable even if you’re gardening in Zone 4! If you’re in zone 7 or lower, you’ll want to plug these guys into pots. That way you can move the pots indoors during winter. Just as the name indicates, these have a vanilla custard flavor that comes from the plant’s unique blue bananas. This one may be quite a challenge, but so cool to know that it’s possible to grow tropical fruits in a Midwestern climate!

2. Gooseberry


Gooseberries have been rising in popularity recently, but are still relatively unknown in the United States. These plants are extremely hardy all the way down to zone 3 – or -40ºF!

3. Currants

Currants are very similar to Gooseberries – they are extremely hardy down to -40ºF. The big difference between the 2 is that Currants grow in clusters of 8-30 fruit whereas Gooseberries will typically have 1-3 fruit per group. There are a ton of varieties of currant: red, white, black, and pink – I actually have a variety called ‘Pink Lemonade’ in my garden and last year was the first year we were able to harvest fruit. They taste somewhat like a mix of grapes & blueberries, but slightly more tart. This season will be the 3rd year we’ve had the plant, so should see some great yields this year!

4. Persimmon

I have been extremely interested in Persimmons ever since I had one of my grower customers at work (I work at AM Leonard horticultural tool & supply company) tell me that they were a native tree to Ohio. It’s funny because a) I have never seen or eaten a Persimmon and b) I have never seen a persimmon tree! These are another super-hardy plant that can tolerate up to zone 4, or -25ºF. Just like the Blue Java Bananas, these are supposed to have a custard-like taste & consistency – I’ve also heard it described as nature’s sorbet.

5. Beets/Turnips/Radishes

Veggies that you already know about are boring to plop into this list, but I think it’s important to include fast-growing plants and not just fruit trees/shrubs that take years to get to fruiting. Radishes, Beets, and Turnips love the cool weather and they get off to a great start because they begin growing before the weeds do. Beets will thrive when growing in the warm summer months, but do better when seeds are started in a cooler environment. All of these crops can survive freezes and the cooler weather actually increases their sugar content & decreases that spicy flavor that can sometimes affect Radishes that are grown in hot weather (sorry to all my CropBox people that got the fire Radishes last summer!).

6. Cranberry

Cranberries are very similar to Currants & Gooseberries, but thought it would be important to list them on here as well because they’re considered the most-consumed berry in the world – and they are extremely cold-hardy, growing best in Zones 2-6. A lot of Cranberry production takes place in cold climates – Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Canada. And if you’ve never seen a cranberry harvest, it’s something you’ve got to check out. Cranberries are grown in ‘bogs’ and during harvest they flood the bogs, the fruit floats to the top, and they’re wading through waist-deep water with rakes – think Ocean Spray commercials with the 2 guys standing there in cranberries – that’s the harvest. Maybe I can try to link up with some local growers to capture a harvest next fall?

7. Cold-hardy Kiwi

Cold hardy Kiwi is a special plant. Normal Kiwis grow in zone 7-9, but cold-hardy will allow you to grow them up to zone 3! Another interesting thing about this plant is that it is basically in invasive weed – if you aren’t regularly pruning or training, it definitely has the potential to take over your garden, maybe even your whole yard!

8. Cabbage

Cabbage and other Brassica plants (Broccoli, Kale, Brussels Sprouts) are extremely cold-hardy as well with most of them able to take temperatures as low as 15ºF. These veggies are great for starting off your growing season & getting some early-season greens, or you can extend your gardening season with these guys growing well into October or November for me here in Ohio.

9. Carrots

Carrots are another underrated crop that can withstand the cold down to 15ºF – but you may have to cover the green tops to prevent damage from a hard freeze. Carrots are similar to the other root veggies mentioned earlier – they grow well in the heat, but the cooler weather really elevates the sugar content & makes for a sweeter-tasting end result.

10. Haskap Berries (Honeyberry)

Haskap is also known as Blue Honeysuckle, Honeyberry, and a slew of other variations. This berry is native to Japan, Russia, and Poland and grows well in zones 2-9. Honeyberries are loaded with antioxidants & supposedly have a flavor that tastes like a mixture of a blueberry & raspberry – I’m thinking we might have to make some room in the garden for these guys!

The winter months are grueling for a gardener – it’s all about waiting for the weather to break & keeping yourself occupied with projects to help plan the upcoming growing season. I hope this brought a little entertainment & value, maybe even helping you extend your growing season this year, but stay tuned as I’m really ramping up my content this year and will actually stay consistent with it. Just as last year I will be running my Fresh Produce Subscription Box, but will also be walking everyone through the process of gardening – from Planning to Planting, from Pest-Control to Fertilization, and from Harvest to Processing.

Let me know what you would like to see – what would help you become a better gardener?

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Oil Change of Pace

mechanic handing keys to you
mechanic handing keys to you

I took a half-day off work today to get some long overdue chores out of the way before the holidays & inevitable travel that follows. We don’t have to travel far for family but Kyla & I both have 10 days off work between Christmas & New Years – who knows where we may end up with all that time.

I love my new job as a Product Manager, but when you dive in head first every day going 110%, with a huge variety of tasks, you need to unwind every once in a while – everyone needs a break – and not only that, but I feel as though it is necessary to get out & explore new terrain. Winter isn’t ideal but we can get creative & adapt.

And the more I think about it, bring on the cold! Lately I have been feeling like forcing myself into a certain amount of suffering – and by that I mean breaking out of your comfort zone – I feel like if you’re not struggling in some capacity, then you’re getting comfortable, and when you get comfortable, you become vulnerable. But vulnerable to your routine and inability to adapt, or better yet, to innovate; to be visionary instead of reactionary.

*****

Sorry for the severe detraction but I can’t help but wonder what all these guys are thinking as I’m sitting at Sidney Tire, waiting on my oil change, while writing chicken scratch in a notebook. What kind of “kid” writes instead of being on their phone or laptop?

First, this is partly about not giving a shit what people think – if you want to be an anomaly, you have to act like one. Secondly, I think that the action of writing, the mode I choose to write with, has been the bottleneck. It’s much easier to write & flow with a pen & pad of paper. Typing is mechanical and restricted to certain strokes, but with handwriting, you work your way down the lines, down the page physically, not in a theoretical technological representation of it.

We grew up writing everything & only recently have things been switched to digital. Does the younger generation feel weirdly about writing vs. typing/texting?

Either way, feel more creative with the pen – and I’m so thankful that I figured it out. If anything, it is the 1st draft & when I type it, that will be the time to refine & perfect.

And I thought didn’t give a shit – this African dude is blasting some African chanting music on his phone in the waiting area – some people just don’t care and that’s the way to be! No matter how cringe-worthy it can be for everyone else!

Being carefree & not judging one’s self is crucial to survival. And yet at the same time you need to care about a lot & be very judgmental of yourself in order to improve. Finding the balance is tough but one that I’m working towards in several aspects of my life: health, wealth, & happiness, to be extremely vague & cliché.

It all basically circles back to the statement I made about forcing suffering. Being overweight is a product of over-indulging on foods, not working out enough, not walking the dogs frequently enough. It is also a product of being in the happiest relationship I’ve ever been in, happy with my job – and simply being overall satisfied with the direction my life is going.

I’m not extremely overweight, but I would like to be slimmer. I’ve been bulking for about 5 years – it’s time to begin the cut for next spring/summer – after Thanksgiving.

It all begins with the consistency of lifting & activity. Since I spend the majority of the day at my desk, I NEED to walk the dogs (maybe run them), lift at least 3 times a week, and get cardio in wherever I get the chance.

When you force yourself into difficult situations like waking up early, lifting hard, doing morning yoga – when you overcome the struggle, you unlock more & more energy to propel you forward. Become the habits. Live the change.

Other than that I really am working hard towards formulating the right plot to take the garden to a full-blown farm. I keep talking about buying land but I think the better way to think about it is, “how much can I squeeze out of my small garden area that I already have set-up?” The Netherlands is one of the smallest countries, yet produces an enormous percentage of the world’s food & plant material because of agritech and grower knowledge that is beyond the conventional realm of agriculture & horticulture.

I feel confident that with more diligent planning, & the accumulated knowledge through experience and education, that I can at least double my production next spring on the same amount of land. To be fair, half of the garden at my parents’ house was devoured by hungry deer, but I think I can double production at the Garden of Gains South (my house) too. Through the use of container production, organic principles, biological controls, and a little bit of luck, I have learned how to dial it in & prevent disease rather than trying to cure them.

Learning from experience is different than education from classes though. Through classes, you learn more about the biology, the chemistry – and that fascinates me – I just wish that I learned those subjects under the same context in high school & college – it probably wouldn’t have changed my mind without me actively gardening though, but I’m glad that I found it at a certain point in my life. I was always interested in those areas of science, but never realized how I would utilize them in my future passion that is growing plants & gardening.

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How & Why I Began Gardening

Vegetable garden with bamboo fence, raspberry bushes, Root Pouch fabric pots lining the fence, and potting shed
Vegetable garden with bamboo fence, raspberry bushes, Root Pouch fabric pots lining the fence, and potting shed
The Garden of Gains

I sit here sniffling on a chilly Sunday morning in November talking with Kyla about our dreams to buy a house on expansive acreage. Somehow I’ve got her roped into this whole farming thing & I really believe we can make this work as a lifestyle, a business, and eventually, an empire.

Right now it’s just a dream, but something that I’ve been inching towards over the past 5 years that I’ve been working at AM Leonard. When I was in college I studied psychology & philosophy with intentions of becoming a psychologist, but after going through the process of writing my senior thesis – writing & working my ass off for no direct compensation –  it hit me,

“What if I put all this hard work into something business-related? How much more impact could I make on the world through a freer environment that wasn’t crippled by intellectualism & political correctness?”

Writing my thesis & working in the realm of academia forced me to change who I was on a certain level. You’re forced to remove your thoughts, feelings, and intuition in favor of objectivity devoid of any personality – and that’s just not my style. Passion has to be a by-product of the things I do in order to continue to fuel the journey into the subject.

My decision to go into business, or sales, or marketing came towards the end of my senior year of school. I really had no idea what I wanted to do but thought marketing would be a good fit. In my mind, studying psychology was the perfect field because it was the basis for everything – understanding people & developing relationships is the foundation of business & life – relating to people, knowing yourself & the value you can provide to others.

It was by luck that I ended up at AM Leonard; I had probably applied to 50+ jobs, but they were the first (legit) company to give me an interview, and eventually, my first real job.

My first real job was as an Associate Account Manager – entry-level sales – and I worked with landscapers, growers, governments, & universities to supply them with their horticultural tool & supply needs.

As time went by, I began to learn about the industry through email newsletters, articles, YouTube videos, and basically anything I could get my hands on. This fueled a lot of learning & my passion began to grow, but I realized I was still having trouble relating to growers – they seemed to be a breed of their own. It was easy to bullshit with landscapers because I had done a lot of that work, but growing was something that I didn’t know much about. So instead of just reading, I realized I had to get growing.

Something made me very hesitant about growing – maybe I was afraid to fail, maybe I was worried what people would think, but either way I got over it because I wanted to take on this challenge to learn.

Not only did I want to learn, but I was seeing that my customers were able to make a living by growing plants of all kinds – why don’t they teach you about this stuff in school? or life in general? I have always said that I wanted to be a farmer, (since at least the third grade maybe?) but I never realized it was something I could make a reality!

My first year of gardening was pretty experimental with broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, spinach & strawberries in Root Pouches, because my garden area at my parents’ house was on the ground where our swing set used to sit. The pea gravel was mostly scooped up, so the garden-area was a couple inches below the surrounding lawn & the ground was basically pure clay. For this reason I grew in Root Pouches (fabric pots) that I filled with potting soil.

That summer ended up being one of the rainiest years on record and my “garden” was flooded for most of the growing season. Because of this, there was a lot of disease, and eventually, a lot of weeds growing wild.

And there was nothing I could do but sit there and watch the rain fall into the pit I tried to make into a garden.

My next mission was to fill this pit & make it the Garden of Gains.

I started by hauling countless loads of top soil from my Grandparents’ house to the garden. Gradually it filled with dirt that I tilled into the clay bottom. Further soil conditioning was necessary – over the years I have added multiple bags of peat moss and perlite, ashes from the fire pit, leaves, grass clippings & several loads of horse & chicken manure.

Through loads & loads of work, I finally had a garden plot where I planted the seeds that would eventually grow into my passion & my big moonshot dream – to become a grower.

In the beginning, it was the learning & the challenge that really excited me & piqued my interest. It was like this super secret special talent of being able to grow things – and not only that – but being able to sell them & make a business out of it is incredible if you really think about it!

You quickly learn that growing things is not the hard part – it’s the keeping them alive that poses the biggest problem for most people. Growing teaches you the delicate balance of nature – you must be patient for things to grow & think long-term, while at the same time taking a proactive approach to the plant’s life by monitoring for pest or disease pressures.

It’s such a micro/macro game & that’s what I love most about growing – it’s all about managing perspective.

And that is exactly what I have done with my gardening journey. I did initially start off to learn, but then I wanted to grow flowers, starter plants, and veggies at the farmer’s market; a short-term sight.

When I actually started to grow plants, I began to realize how hard it was to grow from seed, how hard it was to keep any type of plant alive without disease or pests dominating it, how important fertilizer is, and ultimately, how this was not a get-rich-quick type of business, but something I enjoyed regardless of my results. I also realized that I had plenty of time to learn to grow, AND THEN think about going to a farmer’s market; a long-term sight.

So, as I have grown as a gardener, so too have I grown within my role at AM Leonard – the core reason why I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of gardening & greenhouse growing. After my first year of being an Associate Account Manager, I was promoted to Account Manager – essentially working with bigger clients & growing my account base to a larger level. My interest & passion for the green industry only continued to grow and I really enjoyed sales – not at first, but it’s something I had to grow into.

I believe that we’re all fed certain prejudices about business or sales – you instantly think of the “used car salesman” or a telemarketer – but real sales experience will give you so much empathy for those people, regardless of how pushy or horrible they are. AM Leonard did a good job of working around those objections, teaching how to provide value & be other-centered – it sounds crazy but in my first few weeks of training I felt like I learned more psychology than I did in 4 years of school. And that is because the knowledge was PRACTICAL, not simply theory, discussion groups, and assignments.

Entry-level sales was a great role to start in because I was in the trenches from the get – handling customer service calls from homeowners & professionals, calling on some of the largest growers in the nation to some of the smallest landscapers in our local area. You get a ton of requests for things that you’ve never heard of, learning things about chemicals & fertilizers that you never knew, start understanding the operations of different types of businesses & also identifying their pain points.

I began incorporating this knowledge into my own garden, slowly perfecting my methods in the same way I view my game of golf – it will never be perfect, but I can always improve. Not only did my growing methods improve, but so did my social media efforts – blogs, videos, Instagram, Facebook, and my podcast – they weren’t perfect, but I had to allow my passion to spill out into something tangible.

It is this expression of passion that I believe helped me advance my role at AM Leonard from an Account Manager to an Associate Product Manager. The title bothered me at first – “associate” – but I kind of like it now because I can just continue to climb thru the ranks. And because titles don’t mean shit.

A leader isn’t chosen because of a title, they’re chosen as a result of their actions & execution.

So now I have decided to mash my job as a Product Manager with my life as a Gardener & completely immerse myself in providing value around gardening, growing, and the healthy lifestyle communities.

Recently, I have realized that I was setting some goals too far down the road. I keep saying that I can’t wait to own acres & acres of land; I can’t wait to become a farmer; one of these days we’ll be growing x; yet I am failing to recognize that I am already a farmer – just not in the traditional sense. I grow with organic methods & grow my plants in Root Pouches – fabric pots made from recycled water bottles, using a custom-blended soil concoction that I have created that includes beneficial microbes that a natural soil would have, but this is better because it eliminates the possibility of soil-borne diseases that could already exist in your garden.

My plan has drastically shifted from owning acres & acres to pumping as much food out of my small backyard as I can. I believe that growing only in Root Pouches will increase our space efficiency in the garden & in other spots around the garden perimeter / patio area – hopefully doubling or tripling production capacity since we’re adding an additional 300 of 10/15 gallon Root Pouches.

For the 2018 growing season we were able to feed 10 people with our CSA CropBox (CSA is Community Supported Agriculture & essentially provided our customers with a bi-weekly box of fresh produce). Peppers, cucumbers onions, garlic, turnips, potatoes, and some herbs were grown in the ground, but tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach, cabbage, rainbow chard, and other herbs were grown in 70-80 containers – for 2019 we should be able to add another 300 containers at our current location – PLUS I should be able to put AT LEAST that many containers at my parent’s house (where we grew potatoes last year & where the deer obliterated my Sweet Corn patch). We will fence off the corn & put the potatoes in Root Pouches – the yields will be HUGE, just wait!

A lot of the additional containers will be optimized for succession planting of carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach, greens, and onions. Not only will the increase in containers help, but I also have a plan to build a seed propagation rack with a sample LED grow light I got from a potential new supplier & I added some new LED lights at AM Leonard made specifically for vertical growing & propagation/seed-starting that will occupy the other shelves. We should have plenty of plugs to plant – and maybe we’ll even grow enough microgreens to begin to offer them as well!

So far here’s what I plan to offer in the CropBox this year:

  • Lettuce – Head & Leaf
  • Spinach
  • Mizuna
  • Arugula
  • Radish
  • Microgreens
  • Turnips
  • Bell Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes – Purple/Red/Yellow
  • Jalapeños
  • Habaneros
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Sweet Corn

Our revised plans may not involve 1,000s of acres, but if you’re an entrepreneur then you can make an acre out of a 1,000 square foot garden – if there’s a will there’s a way!

Stay tuned as we document the process of our growth in the garden & within the business we’re building!

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How to Make Spaghetti Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes

🗡Remove cores & cut tomatoes into 4s

🌪Blend tomatoes on pulse, leaving them slightly chunky

🌱Chop garlic & onion into fine pieces and lightly roast in olive oil

🍅Add tomatoes to pan and bring to boil

👌Season to taste (salt, pepper, fresh basil, oregano, spaghetti spice packet)

🐷Add Italian or spicy sausage, hamburger or meat of choice

🔥Simmer on low boil to thicken

🍽Time to eat!

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3 Garden Pests & How to Defeat Them

This has been an amazing garden season so far. We’ve had more tomatoes than ever before, an excellent variety of peppers, and so much more that we’re waiting to harvest. But wait – where’s the lettuce been? what happened to the carrots? and when will we get sweet corn?

3 words – Slugs, Rabbits, & Deer

In my 4th year of gardening, this is the first time that I’m battling pests other than bugs, fungus, or disease – and I’m so thankful for that! Now I am just realizing that I need to take an even more preventative outlook & approach.

Slugs

Slugs are tough to spot because they typically feed at night, so that explains why I catch them sliming around early in the morning. Rains haven’t been too terrible this year, but when it rains, it pours, and that moisture has been attracting them as well.

When I find slugs in the garden I typically will throw them out of the yard and hope that a bird finds them instead of my dogs eating them. Other than that, there are some real alternatives to give you real results. Sprinkle coffee grounds, crushed up egg shells, or diatomaceous earth around your plants – this will act as a deterrent, plus the rough surface will cause damage to the slug’s soft body. You can also look into wool pellets or slug deterrents that may benefit your garden as well.

Rabbit

These guys have been hanging around ALL season long. At first I thought they were cute. I saw them munching on some grass & weeds in the garden (and didn’t see damage on anything else). Little did I know, they were plotting on me the whole time – carrots ripped up, turnips getting the tops eaten, and the latest, they bashed all the lettuce that was growing so perfect – and that my CropBox customers have been missing out on all year! To solve this problem, I have installed garlic clips – just a clip filled with a garlic oil mixture that smells extremely strong to animals & deters them from an area. I’ve never used them, but when I worked in Sales, I had a large pecan orchard that swore by them to fend off rabbits AND deer.

Deer

This one just really hurts me to have to say. Majority of my crops are grown in the Garden of Gains – at my home. Garden of Gains North is a small plot that I’m growing at my parents’ house. It has been responsible for green beans, cucumbers, & potatoes thus far – and I thought sweet corn. After inspecting our sweet corn this weekend, it is apparent that somebody has already gotten to it – deer!

Though my parents’ live in the middle of nowhere, with a field behind their house, with deer running through their yard all the time – we’ve never had an issue with them eating anything from the garden. Though I think the garden may be reaching its completion at the North location, we will move forward by using garlic clips and also installing netting around future crops we’ll plant there like lettuce, spinach, and other tasty deer treats.

But not too long ago, the ferocious, loving & sweet guard-dog Gizmo had to be put down. I think that her fierce chicken-like bark was just enough to keep the deer out of our yard & to protect our garden & landscape delicacies. It was really sad to hear the news about Giz, but she had 16 awesome years of chasing tennis balls, making friends with stray cats, & being the most loyal dog a family could ask for – Rest in Pupper Peace Gizmo.

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Needless to say, these are the challenges of gardening – battling pests for your food. As you go along in your gardening journey, all you can do is pick up little details to perfect your approach to the next planting.

And to everyone in the CropBox program – THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME THE CHANCE TO GROW FOR YOU! I really appreciate the faith & patience and will pay everything back 10x as I grow & learn through this process!

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Vertical Growing

Vertical farming has become a hot topic in the last couple years in the Green Industry & is only continuing to grow in interest & popularity.

A big push has been made for Vertical Farming due to a few factors:

  • Decreasing amount of arable land
  • Increasing amount of extreme weather
  • Uses less land to grow more food
  • Uses less water
  • Uses less fertilizer
  • Moves Green Industry closer to technology

Here are a few of the ways you can grow vertically – indoors & outdoors!

Grow Racks

Grow racks are probably the most popular method that is currently out there. Some companies are growing 10-15 levels high, or even higher in some cases! Crops grown in these systems is limited to leafy greens & herbs due to the smaller space they occupy. Commercial crops like Tomatoes & Cucumbers are already “vertical growing” – some grow up to 30 feet tall!

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Zip Towers

Commercialized by Bright Agrotech, these grow towers are essentially like 2 gutters sandwiched together with a foam growing media that you grow the plants in. Unlike a gutter that lays horizontally, these are grown vertically and then you stack towers side-by-side. I have not tested these out, but have had my eye on them since the first time I heard about them! You can grow them outdoors, but I feel like it would be more ideal to do indoors or in a greenhouse to maximize production.

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Grow Towers

There is a wide variety of Grow Towers out there. Some are hydroponic or aeroponic – meaning that the roots are either growing in nutrient-rich water, or the roots hang in the air & is misted with nutrients & water. Typically, those types of towers are also using artificial lighting, but I have seen some growing in greenhouses.

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Other Grow Towers do use soil – some are made by growers themselves, but I am going to be testing this Tower out this summer that holds 250 plants & uses soil – so excited to see how well it works! This is going to save me from building as many Gutter Growing systems & will save a ton of space as well! Instead of 250 heads of lettuce taking up 250 square feet, it will take up 4 square feet – pretty impressive right?!

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Gutter Growing Systems

This has been made popular by In.Genius Farms out of Canada & I’m excited to give this a whirl this season. I think I’ll mainly grow leafy veggies, herbs, green onions, & maybe even strawberries. My concerns are that they will not stay hydrated enough – & will be hard to keep watered when temperatures get in the 90s this summer. Not only the water issue, but the actual heat issue – how will that affect the plants roots, will it bake them? I guess there’s only one way to find out!

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I think that Vertical Farming will only continue to expand, but there are some challenges that need to be tackled:

  • Energy usage from Grow Lights
  • Ease of harvest from higher racks – typically a scissor-lift is used
  • Crops grown – most vertical growers only grow leafy greens, microgreens & herbs
  • High startup costs

Vertical growing has been in theory for nearly 100 years, but companies are just beginning to tackle this growing option with plant factories & new growing systems coming out all the time. There are challenges, but through testing, failing, & innovating, I believe that this will be the future of growing as the population expands & the size of farms continues to shrink.