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5 Ways to Extend your Growing Season

Gardening is a great hobby – it gets you outside, keeps you active, and there’s the great reward of fresh veggies! Of course, towards the end of summer, and as we drift into the fall, we know the fateful ending of the gardening season with the coming of football & frost.

However, you are still able to grow a wide variety of things through the fall. Some crops are frost-tolerant – spinach, kale, and garlic will even be more flavorful through colder weather or after a frost! But, if you are deep into Autumn & fear a hard frost, or even a freeze, you may want to take some precautions to protect your plants – or you can drastically extend your growing season with some of the following options.

  • Frost Blankets are a great option in the beginning or end of the season to provide protection from frost. Heavyweight frost cloth offers 10° of protection, so your plants should be safe down to almost 20°! Be sure to secure the blankets to something, or hold them in place with stone or bricks so that they don’t blow away.

    Image result for frost blanket
    Credit: pineislandfeed.com
  • Low Tunnels are basically mini-greenhouses that range from 4-8 feet wide & could be 100s of feet long. These tunnels can be covered with greenhouse poly (plastic), frost blanket, or even shade cloth in the summer. Low tunnels help you get a jump-start on the season & can help to extend your growing seasons as well. If you go this route, it’s also smart to run some irrigation through the tunnels to keep everything as low-maintenance as possible.

    Image result for frost blanket
    Credit: reformationacres.com
  • Coldframes can be a more-advanced unit like this one pictured below with an arm that automatically raises to vent, to something as simple as an old window nailed onto a makeshift frame – as long as it keeps the frost off & keeps the plants above freezing, you’re good!

    Image result for coldframe
    Credit: gardenersedge.com
  • Hoophouses – A lot of people group coldframes, hoophouses, & greenhouses into the same category, but there are some distinct differences. In the grower world, coldframes would usually reference an overwintering house – or a spot where trees are stored over the winter to keep them from breaking their dormancy too early. Hoophouses are greenhouses that do not have any climate controls – they are passively heated by the sun & passively cooled by roll-up sides, doors, and other ventilation.

    Image result for hoophouse
    Credit: nrcs.usda.gov
  • Greenhouses, on the other hand, are climate-controlled grow-houses. There is heat provided from the greenhouse plastic or covering, or there is cooling by fans, evaporative cooling, control of humidity, irrigation, fertilizer – most every variable can be controlled & that’s the point – to really dial in on the growing recipe that the growers knows will yield big results.

    Image result for greenhouse
    Credit: ggs-greenhouse.com

Not everyone has the money for a greenhouse or hoophouse, but the other alternatives listed above will help you cheat death-by-frost for a few weeks at least.

There’s only a few months out of the year that we can garden successfully, so why not extend that time a little further & extend the cycle of fresh vegetables in your kitchen?

Hope this offers some beginning tips – please let me know if you have any further questions & I’ll be happy to help!

Also, check out the Gardening 4 Gains YouTube Channel here! Feel free to leave suggestions for future videos & blogs below!

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My Garden’s Diverse Ecosystem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying Mantis
Praying Mantises are beneficial insects & love cleaning up pests from the garden.
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Garlic Guide: Growing, Harvesting & Storing

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

Hardneck vs. Softneck

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

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

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

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

Planting

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

Growing

Garlic really doesn’t require too much care.

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

Pest Control

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

Harvesting

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

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

Storing

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

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

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

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Start your Seeds!

It isn’t too late to start your seeds indoors! Spring seems right around the corner, but for us in Ohio, we’ve still got a while. The last frost date in my area is listed as April 20th, but local gardeners always go by the Mother’s Day rule for spring planting.

With that date in mind, we’ve got 8 weeks until we can plant outdoors – which just happens to be the perfect amount of time for tomatoes & peppers. Here’s a few tips for starting your seeds.

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  • Refer to your garden plan – or make a garden plan if you haven’t done so already. It’s quick & easy to do and ensures that you have enough of the supplies you need when it gets to planting time.
  • Select suppliers – there are tons of seed & seedling companies out there, do some research to find a good intersection of quality products with great pricing.
  • Determine last frost date –  this is the most important thing unless you’re growing under cover of a greenhouse, or using frost blankets. Check out your last frost date here.
  • Check planting instructions & set a planting date for each crop – this is important so you don’t have pumpkin vines growing in your closet in March!
  • Location, Conditions & Care – make sure you have a location that will get 8-12 hours of sunlight or from grow lights. Keep your seed trays in a well-ventilated area that is around 70 degrees for optimal germination. And finally, be sure that you are checking daily for water, fertilizer needs, and turning trays if seedlings are reaching.

There is nothing more satisfying than watching the seeds you’ve sown, sprout & evolve into the plants in your garden – and eventually become the salsa in your fridge!

Stay tuned for more gardening tips through the spring & season. And drop me a line if there’s something you are curious about and I’ll tackle that issue in a future post – thanks & happy gardening!

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Winter Gardening: 5 Steps to Planning Your Garden

Winter is a sad time for most gardeners, unless you have a greenhouse or some other structure to extend your growing season. There is always something you can do during the offseason to better prepare yourself for a successful springtime. Here are a few steps you can take, and projects you can work on to maximize your yields, minimize your waste, and Garden for Gains.

  • Pick the plants you want to grow – This seems like an easy task,but there is so much out there that you could grow! Do you want to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials, or trees or all of the above? No matter what your growing aspirations are, you can accomplish them with a plan. Research your growing zone, your last frost date, and the germination times of the seeds you select to sow.
  • Develop a farm plan with propagating, transplanting, & harvest schedules – It’s better to keep your seedlings inside or under cover until the threat of frost has passed. After that, transplant away! If you do run into a late frost you can cover your plants with frost blankets or make cloches – a mini greenhouse made by cutting a plastic bottle in half. If you plan on having a steady supply of fresh produce, then you’ll want to calculate how many trays to seed, how much space those seedlings will eventually take up, and decide how much of your space you would like to dedicate to each crop. cloche
  • Decide on a fertilization method – I think most gardeners tend to wing it in this area of gardening – spreading manure or granular fertilizer with no regard to what is actually necessary. Talk to your local Extension Agency to get a soil analysis. This will give you a true profile of the available nutrients in your soil along with the knowledge you need to supplement your plants’ needs.
  • Create a compost area – Composting is a great way to turn grass clippings, leftover food, leaves, coffee grounds, and garden waste into nutrient-rich organic matter for loosening up clay soil as well as feeding your plants & building soil microbial health. (More to come on composting in a future post!)
  • Order tools & supplies – This is the fun part, but not always the easiest. Everyone’s first instinct is to go to the big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Menards, etc. but I encourage you to go to your local garden center or nursery to get expert help from someone who also has the horticultural bug. My personal first & only stop is my place of employment AM Leonard (also have our sister company Gardener’s Edge). We have just about everything you can think of that you need to grow or landscape along with our own line of high quality tools – give us a call some time!

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