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Tilling Another Garden

As I sit down to type out my Nightly Blog, a navy hue hangs in the air extending dusk deeper into the night more & more every day as we inch towards the Summer Solstice. Today was another ultra-productive day that began with a slower-than-expected start & a later-than-expected wake time – but it all ended up perfect in the grand scheme of things.

I stayed up late last night finishing my nightly blog while Kyla conked out from all the work we put into scrubbing the front of the house. I find that I really enjoy writing the nightly blogs, but it is difficult to focus, and to properly articulate my day because I am so exhausted, and coming from a point of spending all my energy through the day, not from a point of pure pursuit of passion.

With that being said, I woke up early, cranked out my Morning Pages, then enjoyed my morning coffee with Kyla & the dogs before heading up to my parents’ house to get their garden prepared for the season. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think that they would have a garden because I didn’t think they wanted to care for it (and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to care for it) but I’m really pumped that they changed their mind so that we can plant tons of sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, cucumbers, & sunflowers.

Today’s project was long overdue, but had to be done – I needed to till up my parents’ garden. Yesterday we had a cookout at my parents’ and my grandparents were there as well. My Grandpa took a look at the weed patch that used to be a thriving garden for the past 4-5 years and asked me what I was going to be doing with it. I replied that I needed to till it up and that was all it took to get him rocking & ready to go.

“You wanna get that done in about a quarter of the time? I’ll bring the Kubota down and grind that up into a fine powder in no time,” my Grandpa said with a smile and a gesture with his hand like he was crumbling dirt.

“Hell yeah, let’s tear this yard up!” was my reply as I was laughing at my Grandpa hopping on the opportunity to help me with my gardens – and any excuse to use his new trailer and play with heavy equipment. But doesn’t everybody love playing with heavy equipment!?

It was funny because earlier my brother Adam texted me asking me if I remembered playing Army men on the dirt hills at Grandma & Grandpa’s house. I replied with an ‘of course’, and a burst of flashbacks of playing with Tonka trucks in the dirt with my brother & cousin – I feel like that was basically my whole childhood right there, just playing in the dirt with my dudes!

But after that wave of memories flooding back I realized something – I took those dirt mounds from my Grandparents’ house to build my parents’ garden into what it is today. So it was weird that Adam had those memories pop up – because it happened when I was tilling up the dirt that we played upon as kids. And the spot where my parents’ garden is located is where our childhood swings was; I’m just growing fruits, herbs, & vegetables on the mounds of our memories.

My Grandpa took the first few swipes on the Kubota and then handed it over for me to grind up the soil into the lush loam that all gardeners desire. There is nothing I love more than running heavy equipment or tractors – it just makes the job so much easier and it really makes you feel like a real Farmer ­čÖé

Grandpa on a tractor tilling up a garden
My Grandpa on his pride & joy

After I criss-crossed the garden I noticed that I had a heavy clay area in the southern portion of the garden. I had no manure, rice hulls, perlite, or anything to loosen the soil up – but then I found pine needles under the pine trees growing in the yard. After dumping 3-4 wheelbarrows-full onto the area, I tilled it in and it loosened the soil to an acceptable, and workable, consistency.

With the garden tilled up, we packed the tractor up and I followed my Grandpa back to his house to help him unload. Once we got there, we put the tools away and went on a little garden tour to see all that he has started so far this year. He always has a nice large garden, but this year it feels like he’s taking it to another level; I think I’ve got some competition. What I didn’t realize though was that he was actually growing potatoes for my CropBoxes – we’re still not sure if we will offer them at the scale we have, but it looks like we might have to with the volume that the whole family is growing!

After rounding up the kittens and then hugging my Grandma & Grandpa goodbye, I headed back to my parents’ to finish up the garden duties there. The last piece of the puzzle was to cover the garden with ground cover fabric to eliminate the weed problem, then I will burn holes in the fabric where I want to plant plants. As these things go, I ran out of anchor pins with only 2 more swipes of ground cover needed, so my plan is to get more anchor pins tomorrow & finish up the Garden of Gains North tomorrow if possible.

With sweat pouring off of me, I trudged from the garden to the garage to eat a double burger that my Dad made for me. There’s nothing quite like a thick, greasy burger after a long day of hard work under the hot sun. And it was also nice to get to spend more time with my parents, grandparents, Adam & Chelsea, and Kyla this weekend. I think we all take advantage of the value of the relationships that we have, but we realized how much we missed people, and how much we love people, through this whole Covid situation & social-distancing. Though it may have been necessary, it isn’t natural for humans to be separated from each other. We need each other to live, to heal, & to thrive.

Farmer in a straw hat on a tractor tilling up a garden
Me, living the American Dream
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Seedling Sales on a Saturday

Today was a beautiful Saturday here in Ohio.

Kyla & I began our day somewhat late because we took advantage of not setting an alarm and sleeping in on the first day of a long holiday weekend. Sleeping in for us is 7am – but it always feels amazing when you wake up on your own power & can face the world with your own force.

We didn’t really have an agenda today other than to prepare boxes of veggie plants for our friends & family who bought starter plants from us. It’s been incredible to see the overwhelming response that people have to our garden and to our plants. Just with our small circle of family & friends I feel like we have begun to sell a decent amount of plants – I just wish I started marketing the plants earlier!

But on the flip side of that, I think that this whole Covid situation has amplified people’s interest in gardening & growing their own food – plus it completely changed my focus for the Garden of Gains this year.

For the past 2 seasons we have offered our CropBoxes – a bi-weekly box of fresh produce from the garden. Once lockdowns began, and it became clear that we wouldn’t be going back to work anytime soon, I completely changed gears & rather than grow a bunch of quick-turn crops for 10-20 people, I needed to double-down on food production for our household & for our families.

What this meant is that I would plant a ton of plants that would produce a high yield of food, or things that would store for an extended period of time. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs were the crops I chose for producing high yields, and offering veggies that we could can. Root crops such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, and beets are the veggies that will store for 3-4 months in the proper conditions and keep us fed for a while.

While my aim became more selfish with the garden, I saw that I had plenty of space to grow plenty of plants on my Grow Rack in the Plant Lab. The Grow Rack is a 4-tiered rack that holds 4 trays per level and each level has 2 Stratum LED Light Bars. I have started all of my seeds on it for the past 2 years & absolutely love the results that I’ve gotten with starting tens of types of tomatoes, jalape├▒os, habaneros, Banana peppers, Anaheims, Dill, Cilantro, Basil, Thyme, Lavender Hyssop, cucumbers, squash – you name it; we’ve grown it!

So with all that extra space on the grow rack, I decided to grow tons of popular tomatoes & peppers so that people who are looking to start a garden can get all the basics from us. It’s funny because in a way it feels like we have been “working” the past couple days that we have prepared plants for people, but it also makes me so happy that I can’t quite quantify it – there’s something about it that makes me realize that that could be my whole life; growing plants & putting smiles on people’s faces because of the seeds that I pushed into soil.

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Haikus of the Mind, Body, Garden

tomato and pepper seedlings in jiffy pellets

Recently I have been trying to learn more about my WordPress site, its functionality, and in doing so, I found out about WordPress running daily writing prompts for the month of April. I know I’m a little late to the game, but yesterday’s prompt was: Three – whatever that means to you.

Unsurprisingly, my mind went to 3 things: Mind, Body, Garden, but I wanted to break away from the monotony & attempt some creativity. In place of a long-form blog I wrote 3 poems, that consist of 3 lines each; also known as Haikus – a Japanese form of poetry that consists of an alternating number of syllables per line 5-7-5.

Mind

When we doubt, we Seek;
Meditate upon the Truth;
Feel your Emotions]

Body

Acknowledge Power;
Your Body is a Temple;
Push Limitations]

Garden

Sow the Seeds of Hope;
Cultivate the Peace Within;
Harvest Happiness

Hope you enjoyed ­čÖé

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Microbes in the Garden: Mycorrhizae & Trichoderma

Mycorrhizae has been a hot topic in horticulture for a while and I had become familiar with it through products like┬áGrotabs. I became completely obsessed with how fungi or bacteria could be beneficial for plants, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. We have beneficial bacteria in our gut that help us break down & process foods, and that’s the same basic mechanism that soil-borne fungi or bacteria have – they work as pre- or probiotics for the plants, providing them with nutrients and protecting them from disease.

Grotabs are great because they contain mycorrhizae, fertilizer & Trichoderma (see bottom of this blog for more information on definitions for endo- & ecto-mycorrhizae, Trichoderma, etc) but theyÔÇÖre perfect for transplanting flowers or shrubs in your landscape, or for the veggies you plant in your garden. The downside to traditional Grotabs is that they come in tablet form (although they do make┬áGroTab Powder), they contain fertilizer (although there are some┬ágiant buckets of GroTab Microbial-only Powder), and many growers may just want Mycorrhizae only so that they can fertilize with their own fertilizer of choice. Personally I love GroTabs for transplanting my veggies, but I also love fertigating with Neptune’s Harvest Hydrolyzed Fish & Seaweed fertilizers.

Some great options for growers who are looking for Mycorrhizae-only are listed below with a description of uses & key points.

  • UE1 – MycoApply┬« Ultrafine Endo Mycorrhizae
    • 4 species of endomycorrhizal fungi
    • 130,000 endomycorrhizal propagules per pound
    • OMRI-listed Organic
  • UEE1 –┬áMycoApply┬« Ultrafine Endo/Ecto Mycorrhizae
    • 4 species of endomycorrhizal fungi & 7 species of ectomycorrhizal fungi
    • 130,000 endomycorrhizal and 110 million ectomycorrhizal propagules per pound
    • OMRI-listed Organic
    • Application rates are same for UE1 & UEE1:┬áMycoApply┬« Ultrafine Endo/Ecto┬áis a suspendable powder mycorrhizal inoculant that can be sprayed onto bare roots, used as a root dip, drenched into porous soils, hydromulched, or blended into potting media.┬áThe goal is to create physical contact between the inoculant and the growing roots.┬áUse higher rates for propagation or high-stress circumstances.┬á
  • SMAXX1 –┬áMycoApply┬« Soluble MAXX Mycorrhizae
    • This product is like GroTabs on steroids ÔÇô less fertilizer, but more beneficial fungi, bacteria, & natural growth hormone precursors
    • Combination of:
      • 1-0.5-1 fertilizer analysis
      • 9 species of endomycorrhizal fungi & 10 species of ectomycorrhizal fungi
      • 2 trichoderma species
      • 12 species of beneficial bacteria
      • Blend of: Kelp, Humic Acids, & vitamins
      • 30,000 endomycorrhizal and 1-1/2 billion ectomycorrhizal propagules per pound
    • MycoApply┬« Soluble MAXX┬áis best used with applications that create physical contact between the roots and inoculant. MycoApply Soluble MAXX can be applied to established plants including nurseries, ornamental seedbeds, propagation trays, or field grown plants, as well as new seedlings and transplants. Applications can be made through drenching, soil injection, or root spray applications to achieve the best contact with the roots to optimize plant benefits. Applications can be made at any time the root systems are active. Additional applications may be required for stressed plants. Use filters or screen no smaller than #50 mesh when using application equipment.

Endo vs Ecto Mycorrhizae:┬áThe key┬ádifference between ecto-mycorrhizae and endo-mycorrhizae┬áis that the fungal hyphae do not penetrate into the cortical cells of the plant roots in┬áectomycorrhizae┬áwhile the fungal hyphae penetrate into the cortical cells of the plant roots in┬áendomycorrhizae. In other words ÔÇô┬áEndo grow into the root cells and Ecto grow outside the roots.

Endo=into, Ecto=exit

Benefits of Trichoderma

  1. Disease Control: Trichoderma is a potent beneficial fungus and used extensively for prevention & control of soil-borne diseases. It has been used successfully against pathogenic fungi; Fusarium, Phytopthara, Scelerotia.
  2. Plant Growth Promoter: Trichoderma strains chelate & solubilize phosphates and micronutrients.
  3. Drought-Tolerance – Increases the number of deep roots, increasing plant’s ability to resist drought.
  4. Biochemical Elicitors of Disease: Trichoderma is known to induce disease-resistance in plants. Three classes of compounds that are produced by Trichoderma and induce ethylene production, hypersensitive responses and other defense related reactions in plant cultivars.

The best way to ensure a strong garden is by giving your plants the best chance to succeed. Mycorrhizae and Trichoderma will work as a shield from pathogens such as pests, fungus, or disease for your plants’ root zones. Plus, it will help you reduce the amount of fertilizers you will need to use, while also making your plants more drought resistant – and overall, giving you the healthiest plants possible that will grow into a lush, productive garden in your backyard or balcony.

Happy Gardening ­čĹĘÔÇŹ­čîż

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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 ­čÖé
  • 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 ­čÖĆ

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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, Jalape├▒os, & 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 20┬║F.

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 -40┬║F!

3. Currants

Currants are very similar to Gooseberries – they are extremely hardy down to -40┬║F. 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 -25┬║F. 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 15┬║F. 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 15┬║F – 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,┬áI┬áfeel 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┬áI┬ádidn’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 & clich├ę.

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┬áat least┬ádouble┬ámy 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 &┬áprevent 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.