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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.

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7 Seeds to Sow in April in Ohio

If you don’t like the weather in Ohio – just wait 5 minutes!

That’s how the saying goes in Ohio (and in a lot of places around the country) but this year’s weather has been exceptionally crazy! There was a lot less of the sub-zero temperatures, but instead of that, we’ve just been floating between 60-degree days & snow. You know there’s a problem when hydrangeas start growing/budding in late January when you’re in zone 6!

So, it’s early April – the weather is around 70 degrees – spring has come early, right?

Unfortunately – you couldn’t be more wrong!

On the positive side, there are still plenty of things that you can plant to get a jumpstart on your garden!

In the ground

Even though it may be 50-75 degrees for a few days doesn’t mean it will last forever – we’ve seen snow into May before (knock on wood we don’t have to deal with that this year)! However, there are some perfect candidates to plant at this time that will be able to withstand the cooler temperatures.

  1. Kale – this super green is extremely winter-hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as 18-20 degrees. Kale is packed with potassium, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Iron, and other antioxidants that make it a great addition to salads, or my favorite, smoothies.
  2. Spinach – another super green that can withstand freezing temperatures, spinach can be planted in mid-April & you could harvest your first leaves within a month. The great thing about spinach & kale is that the flavor is actually sweeter when grown in the cooler weather. As you get into warmer summer weather, you’ll notice that your greens will get more bitter – and the plants may even begin to “bolt” or begin to flower – and you definitely don’t want to eat it at that point!
  3. Lettuce – it’s best to be too early rather than too late when planting leafy greens. Cool weather enhances the flavors, while warm weather produces a more bitter-tasting product.
  4. Garlic – depending on the variety, you can plant garlic in late fall (Oct-Nov) or in early spring (Mar-Apr). Again, garlic is extremely hardy to freezing temperatures & the cool weather builds the flavor profile.
  5. Carrots – a lot of gardeners won’t grow carrots because they’re a little tougher to grow, take about 100 days to harvest, and they don’t want to “waste” that space in the garden. In my opinion, they aren’t planting carrots because have never tasted a garden-grown carrot – who knew they had so much flavor! You can literally taste the earthiness & the sugar since it hasn’t been processed & stored for months before it makes it way into your fridge.
  6. Onions –  like garlic & carrots, onions are another root vegetable that develop more flavor in the cooler weather and they can withstand the cold temperatures extremely well!
  7. Potatoes – you can plant potatoes in the early spring as soon as you can work the soil but they won’t begin to grow until the soil temperatures reach about 45 degrees. It is important to grow potatoes in mounds or mounded rows. This ensures that the soil is loose & doesn’t hold too much water. Water-logged soil can lead to rot of the seed potato or lead to disease/fungus issues down the road.

Hopefully this helps if you feel like you’re too late to start your garden – it is NEVER to late to start growing! A lot of gardeners typically start seeds indoors to get a head start on the season. If you haven’t started seeds indoors, now is a weird time to start them indoors because you typically need 6-8 weeks before you can transplant.

If you still want to get a head start on tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or other veggies that take a while to grow, I would recommend starting them in peat pods or a biodegradable pot that you can just plant straight into the ground. This will give you the option to start early, but won’t keep your plants trapped in a seed tray when spring does decide to stay for good!

 

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3 Tips on How to Care for your Seedlings

You started your seedlings a month ago – they’re growing like crazy, right?

If so – here’s how to keep them growing strong!

If not – this article will help you get them growing on the right track & help to set you up for gardening success this year!

The moment that you begin to plant seeds is such a revolutionary time. As you fill the seed trays with soil, you feel your soul being filled with the hope of growth; the hope that warm weather & bountiful yields are on the horizon. But first, you need to get these bad boys growing – and then you need to keep them alive & healthy!

Here are the most important things to monitor to grow like a pro!

  1. Light – I know this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s usually one of the hardest things to adjust for, and in my opinion, the #1 reason for new gardeners believing that they have a “black thumb”. Light is the most important thing for a plant to have – it’s how they transform carbon dioxide & water into food that fuels growth. When you start your seedlings in a window in February-March, there a few things you have to realize. You need a south-facing window. During winter & early spring, the sun will travel low in the sky in the south & a south-facing window has the most light exposure. Also, daylight hours are short, not usually long enough to facilitate proper growth because seedlings need between 10-14 hours of light to reach their full potential. If you see that your seedlings are getting “leggy” & stretching out – you may not have enough light and may need to consider using grow lights to get the results you want.
  2. Water – Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but trusting the plants to take care of themselves is another beginner mistake that just happens – you live & learn after a few seasons of “practice” 🙂 You want to make sure that you’re keeping water at an optimal level. What does that mean? Check on the soil – is it visibly dry? If yes, then water. If no, check later in the day or tomorrow. On the flip side, don’t keep the soil so moist that it never gets a chance to dry out. This will essentially drown the seedlings by not allowing air to get into the growing media – not to mention the potential for algae, disease, or fungus growth.
  3. Fertilizer – This was an area that I was always shaky about when I began gardening. Mainly because you think that the plant already has everything it needs. And also because you hear horror stories of people who over-fertilized & “burned” their plants up. The good news is that there’s this cool thing called a label on the fertilizer. If you read that, it will tell you exactly how much you need – in most cases it will even have a recommended rate for seedlings! As a rule of thumb, I usually look at the recommended rate & cut that in half and then will fertilize every other time I water the seedlings. This isn’t to steroid the plants out, but to keep them happy. If you are inconsistent with fertilization, it will affect the pH of the soil & affect the ability for the nutrients to be delivered through the soil media into the plants (this will have to be its own separate, and highly technical article in the future).

So I’m sure this advice seems basic or elementary, but success is on the other side of executing the fundamentals exceptionally well.

And if you want a more in-depth analysis & conversation around seed starting, check out the podcast I did with Tori from Mustard Seed Farm Market

Happy Gardening!

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Spring Fever Anxiety

It’s April – that time of the year when everyone is talking about having spring fever. Here in Ohio we have been getting teased with mild weather since the end of January – and then we’ll get snow, or ice, or both – but this year’s spring fever is different for me. I’m not just anxious for spring, but I’m also anxious for what the spring will bring & how my CSA Veggie Box Subscription is going to do.

As we inch into April I am still waiting on some additional seeds to come in, and quite frankly, it’s making me nervous as hell!

The good news is that I have all of the necessary crops planted:

  • 4 varieties of Tomatoes – Jelly Bean, Tommy Toe Candy, Golden Rave, & Tribute Hybrid.
  • 6 varieties of Peppers – Anaheim, Cayenne, Gurney’s Primo Jalapeño, Habanero, Yum Yum Mini Bell Peppers, & Ghost Peppers
  • Winter Wonderland Kale – I started this out under fluorescent lights & it was thin, leggy and I really wasn’t sure if it would recover. Once I got it under the TotalGrow Broad Spectrum LED lights it completely changed the game & now the kale is going wild with growth!
  • Green Onions – they aren’t growing as well as I would have liked, but you live & learn! The good news is that I can direct-sow those seeds in the soil now & then get the transplants out in the garden once they get to a good growth point – shouldn’t be too long!
  • Lettuce – this has been a huge fail & it’s my fault for using expired seeds. The good news is that lettuce grows fairly quickly. I’m replacing the failed lettuce trays with Buttercrunch lettuce.

The biggest reason for my Spring Fever Anxiety is the fact that I now have customers – I’m growing for a greater purpose other than just for my own curiosity & passion. I’m now spreading my passion into practicality and I think that is why it makes me so nervous. I want everything to be (nearly) perfect – I want to supply my friends & family with a full produce box bi-weekly & that is a much bigger challenge than simply growing veggies – it’s about planning AND growing veggies.

We’re exactly 2 months out from our first round of delivery, so there’s plenty of time to get the herbs, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and other small add-ons growing for harvest by then.

In addition, we have about 60 heads of garlic growing in the garden right now along with oregano, peppermint, 2 varieties of raspberries, and blackberries. I think we’ll get a good amount of raspberries this year – the golden raspberries will definitely burst with fruit & it should be the first fruiting year for the red raspberries & blackberry – fingers crossed!

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So far we have 5 confirmed customers and I am expecting at least 5-10 more. I really think that I could handle more than that and the good news is that we’re at a very scalable point in the game. Right now it is all about succession planting for the consumable crops.

The next step is to re-sow lettuce. This time around, I’ll start off with half of the tray – that should give us 36 heads of lettuce which should feed my customers for 2 weeks. So essentially, I will reseed lettuce every 2 weeks & do the same with similar consumable crops: radishes, cilantro, green onions, & spinach/kale (not so much because you can continue to harvest from these throughout the spring, but depends on consumption too!).

My reason for writing this post was to air out my irrational feelings of being behind the 8-ball & I think I realized that I am in a great spot even though it doesn’t feel like that! You have to take stock of where you’re at, admit your challenges & defeats, and then develop an attack-plan in order to conquer your concerns.

Gardening is definitely a patience game – it’s about the long-term – but if you aren’t auditing yourself on every micro-action, it is easy to fall behind. I feel a metaphorical sigh of relief after writing this post and I can’t wait to get out in the garden to turn that patch of dirt into a thriving ecosystem of life again!

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Growing Microgreens in the Plant Lab

Since we have set-up the Plant Lab I have been focused on growing the plants that will feed my customers for my small CSA I’m running this year – but I also wanted to test out Microgreens & see how well they would grow under the Total Grow Broad Spectrum LED lights we have.

Microgreens are baby seed sprouts that are harvested early for a robustly-flavored, nutrient-dense additions to everything from salads to sandwiches. Some of the common seeds used for microgreens include: arugula, beets, broccoli, basil, cilantro, dill, kale, carrots, radishes, sunflowers, mustard & more!

There were so many different varieties to choose from, it was hard to pick one to grow. I actually had Mustard seeds left over from last year’s test with Microgreens & I was determined to make it work this time around!

Here’s a link to the video version of this blog!

Before we get growing, here are a few supplies you’ll need:

  1. Seeds – take a packet, any packet! There are almost unlimited options for varieties to grow. I thought about what was typically missing from a salad that I like (spice) and chose my seeds (mustard) from there. I would recommend looking up “microgreen seeds” to get some ideas of options available & to make sure you’re not using a seed that is treated with fungicides, pesticides, etc.
  2. Growing Trays – a standard 10″x20″ tray will work just fine, but you can grow them in pots or anywhere you want.
  3. Growing Media – you can use standard soil mix, but I used Biostrate felt which is designed for growing microgreens (and I was curious how well it would actually work).
  4. Water – microgreens are like any other seed & need moisture to germinate and water to continue growing.
  5. Fertilizer – since we are usually using growing media that doesn’t include nutrients, we will need to add them to feed the microgreens throughout the growing process. I used Seedlingers Plant Fertelixer & had great results! It has an analysis of 3-.6-.6 & contains 3% calcium. The label states it is an all-natural, biological fertilizer & also says “Feed the soil. Feed the microbes. Feed the Plants.” So I’m guessing there may be some mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi) in there, but can’t verify that.
  6. Light – sunlight works great & it’s free! I used TotalGrow Broad Spectrum LED lights because I don’t have a greenhouse or a window that will get the amount of light that I need. Fluorescent lights will work too but LED has been proven to produce more nutrient-dense & flavor-rich microgreens.

Steps to Growing Microgreens

  1. Moisten the soil or felt so that seeds will stick in place.
  2. Liberally scatter seeds on the growing media. You want a dense coverage, but you also need to think about airflow through the tray – don’t seed so densely that it chokes out your crop.
  3. Spritz with water from a spray bottle or gently water seedlings in.
  4. Check them every day & keep the media from drying out completely.
  5. Begin a low-dose fertilizer regimen when you see green growing from the seeds.
  6. Harvest in 10-21 days depending on the seeds. The should be about 2 inches tall.

Below is my Mustard Microgreens’ growing journey – from seed to salad!

DAY 0

DAY 1

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DAY 2

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DAY 3 & 4

DAY 5

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DAY 6 & 7

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DAY 8 & 9

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DAY 10

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DAY 12

 

I hope this guide helped you gain an understanding of what Microgreens are & how to grow them. If you have any further questions, concerns, or comments, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments section below or hit me up on any of my Social channels & I’ll be happy to help.

Happy growing! 🍀🤓🍀

 

 

 

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4 Lessons Learned on Seed Starting

A little over one month into our seeds’ journeys & you can see that they have all taken very different paths on their journey from seed to CSA.

Evergreen Green Onions & Starhawk Lettuce were the first seeds we planted on February 12th. Both began with decent germination, but I soon saw the flaws in my methods. As the Onions & Lettuce grew, I noticed that germination was spotty, the seedlings were laying down rather than growing tall & standing and I didn’t really figure it out until I planted my 2nd round of trays – I didn’t dibble deep enough holes for the seeds & they were essentially sprouting on top of the soil. This left the roots exposed & did not provide a strong environment for survival.

Lesson 1!

Kale was another one we seeded early because it too is a cold-weather crop. We started it under fluorescent lights and it was doing okay – a little leggy because it wasn’t getting the proper amount of light distributed amongst the whole tray, but it was a whole different story once we put them under the Total Grow Broad Spectrum LED lights – mmm, real light! However, the Evergreen Onion seedlings seem to be doing amazing under the fluorescent – I’ll take it!

Lesson 2!

While everything else is thriving, I look at these empty trays and wonder, “what did I ever do to you Starhawk Lettuce, why won’t you grow!?”

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Starhawk grew great for us last year, so I can’t quite figure out the problem. At first I thought it was temperature – but even tomatoes & peppers have germinated and they typically need a warmer environment (especially Ghost Peppers) so it couldn’t be that. Then I thought it was the trays – but here’s how the Starhawk Lettuce looked in the same growing trays last year:

Lettuce sprouts
Lettuce growing in the greenhouse

So it couldn’t be the trays fault. I know I planted the first tray of seeds too shallow, but I corrected it for the second tray – and still having issues. At this point, the only thing I can think is that the leftover seeds from last year’s planting actually did hit their expiration date – I’m going to keep the faith on these bad boys & hope they decide to come around! Moral of the story, always analyze, refine, and attempt to correct issues early or preemptively if possible!

Lesson 3!

The seeds that I am the most surprised & excited about are the Tomatoes & Peppers. We planted 4 types of tomatoes & 6 types of peppers and saw germination of the tomatoes within 7 days & germination of the peppers within 10 days. Since I am growing some hot peppers including Habaneros & Ghost Peppers, I knew that I would have to add some heat to get them off to a strong start. In order to do that I put them under fluorescent lights which give off heat unlike LEDs which usually don’t add much heat to the system. And I also used seedling heat mats under the trays of tomatoes & peppers, which sped up germination like I couldn’t believe! I’ve always thought that it was hard to get Ghost Peppers to sprout, but I saw sprouts in 10 days! Maybe I’ll try another tray of lettuce & use the heat mats 🤔

Lesson 4!

Seedstarting is always a time of excitement with anticipation of spring, but more importantly, it is a time to analyze your challenges and develop a plan to dominate your garden execution. Here are the 4 lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Dibble holes for seeds – AKA plant seeds at the proper depth.
  2. Total Grow Broad Spectrum LED lights over everything! (Except, maybe, for onion seeds).
  3. Be aware of the challenges – analyze, refine, correct & always have an open mind to learn from mistakes rather than punish yourself for them.
  4. Seedling heat mats make life better by jumpstarting germination

Seedstarting is my favorite time of the year because I get to dive into my passion of plants & gardening and because it’s conclusion is spring! I hope this helped with your seed starting questions – leave a comment with any further questions or challenges you have and I’ll be happy to answer in the comments or on my podcast on Anchor called Plant Rant!