Top 10 (ok, 9) advice for beginner gardeners

 

 

minisprouts

Begin:

Intention is everything and what usually inspires a new gardener. I speak from experience. With that, hindsight is 20/20. Here are the top mistakes a beginning gardener makes, so you don’t have to.

Sweat the small stuff
Don’t plant more than you can manage. Begin small, find out what’s best to grow given your location and time of year. Learn the types of plants you enjoy growing.

gardening-690940_1280Soil is Everything
Prepare the soil you plant in. Learn what makes it “good soil” and begin tending it in early spring. Come the summer, your veggies will show their thanks. For successful soil, check out our informative Know Your Soil article.

Location, location, light
Sunlight and warmth are pivotal to a garden. Notice where your yard get the most sunlight. Some plants require more than others. It’s good to know what your favorites need to thrive, our Spend Time on Site Selection article will help guide you.

Rich, but not too rich
That’s fertilizer, not money. Understand how much fertilizer is the right amount for what you plant. Some require more, some less. The same for manure, it can affect the time of harvest. Unsure? Consult a local Zukeeni.

“Water is the driver of nature.”
Leonardo DaVinci If over watered, a plant’s root system can rot. Once rotted? Let’s not go there. Too little and they begin to wilt. If you see this, add water– a much happier ending! Check out our Watering is Critical article for more specifics.

sprouts in gardenAre you deep or shallow? Don’t judge.
The larger the seed the deeper it should be planted. Most seed packets will advise. The flip side– who knew “shallow” could be good? Again, refer to the packet for a smart, healthy plant.

Give me some space, please
Seeds may look small but planting too many, too close means a grab for soil nutrients, sunlight and “agua”. No bueno. Go slow, see how things grow and then proceed accordingly.

How much is too mulch?
Mulch is good but everything in moderation. Light mulch after planting, good. Too much mulch? Not good. Add it lightly as a plant grows and it will help keep soil moist. It also discourages weeds, speaking of…

Weeds can be stingy
Talk about hoarding space, weeds grow fast and furious. Pull as soon as you see them. The longer neglected the more roots they grow and try to own your garden. Oh no, yank them quick and let your veggies dominate– you’ll taste their victory!

Zukeeni member advice: (Marin farmer) Pick something easy to start with. I would pick a squash or check out the plant selection and sort by winter months in your region… Your kids will love it.

Zukeeni member advice: (Mintyhorse 746) Pick things easy to grow, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers. Nothing that takes a lot of maintenance. Also, pick things your kids eat, care for and can help plant.

Growing Healthier Vegetables

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Growing Healthier Vegetables
Note: The Smart Gardener team is using this Andesite Mineral Complexin our own gardens and can absolutely see the difference. When we come across a great product (especially one you are not going to find at your local Home Depot or even your local nursery) that we believe in, we want to let you know about it.

Re-Mineralize Your Garden To Grow Healthier, More Nutrient-Dense Plants

volcano-iStock_000007857193Nature has been re-mineralizing the soils of the earth through volcanic eruptions and sedimentation since the beginning of time. Volcanic eruptions scattered valuable minerals from deep within the Earth, while wind, rainfall and rivers helped redistribute them to areas around the globe. Glaciers also played a major role throughout the Ice Age by pulverizing rock and blending it into the Earth’s soil.  Prehistoric plants were rich in minerals due to the abundant supply available in the soil.

However, these valuable minerals have been significantly depleted in most soils over the years due to over-farming, erosion and other factors and as a result, plant life, soil health and bio-diversity have suffered.  Today’s soils contain no more than 16-20 minerals on average compared to 80-100 minerals millions of years ago.  Without these natural minerals, plants become weaker, require more water, produce less, contain lower nutrient levels and are more susceptible to stresses, pest infestation and other issues.  This lack of minerals in our soil also has a direct impact on the quality of the food we consume today.

Minerals And Your Health

vegiStock_000026429668Minerals are the building blocks of a healthy body.  Minerals are present in virtually all of the cells in the body and help ensure that our internal systems function effectively and efficiently.  Minerals help the body build new tissues, balance pH, release energy from food and regulate a variety of other body processes.  The human body needs at least 45 – 60 different minerals for optimal health. However, on average only 8 minerals are available in any kind of quantity in most of the food we consume today – including fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Apsley states that “… that properly grown organic produce, in soils heavily re-mineralized with rock dust, are the key to health and longevity.  These are the only kinds of real foods that satisfy the hidden hunger plaguing the vast majority of people today”.

The good news is – if you are growing your own food, there is something you can do about this: re-mineralize your soil.

Plants Need More Than Just N-P-K

garden iStock_000006815439Although N, P & K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) are important, many growers focus solely on these inputs and overlook many of the 90+ natural mineral elements that are key contributors to plant and soil health. Elements like cobalt, sulfur, copper, manganese, boron, carbon, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium, zinc, silica, iron and others also play a very important role.

Plants produce vitamins, amino acids and varying amounts of fatty acids if they are grown in soils containing abundant minerals.  If the proper minerals either do not exist in the soil or are “locked up” and therefore unavailable to utilize, plants cannot achieve their full potential.  In the case of edibles, this lack of minerals also translates to a lower nutrient-density and lower brix (sugar content) levels in their production.   Microorganisms, which also play an important role in healthy soil, feed on minerals and organic matter to create humus, humuc acid, potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen and other trace elements.

Re-Mineralization Offers Several Benefits to Your Garden Including:

  • Providing a slow, natural release of elements and trace minerals
  • Improving nutrient uptake of plants
  • Increasing yields
  • Enhancing flavor in edibles
  • Encouraging earthworm and microbial activity in soils
  • Improving brix (sugar content) levels in plants
  • Producing more nutrient-dense edibles
  • Improving resistance to insects, disease, frost and drought
  • Improving Cation Exchange Rates in soils
  • Helping balance soil pH levels

Hand-with-ande-smallSmart Gardener can now help you re-mineralize your soil by offering Andesite Mineral Complex™ – a unique mineral blend containing broad-spectrum essential and beneficial minerals and trace elements.  Andesite is available in three different sizes to suit all types of growers and gardeners.  Click here to learn more or to place an order.

More about Andesite, click here.

How much do I need? Download PDF

To purchase Andesite, click here.

Know when to use seeds vs. starts

6. Know When to Use Seeds Vs. Starts There are both pros and cons to using seeds or starts. Read more and find out which is best for your needs.

Seed

Seeds

  • Starting from seed is more cost effective and allows you to pick unique varieties, but it does require some pre-planning to make sure you get the seeds or starts outdoors at the right time.
  • Temperature is the key to germination, so follow temperature suggestions to try and optimize the range of temperatures a specific plant needs.
  • There are lots of seed starting kits available that really make it easy to set up and get going fast.
  • Plant 3 times the amount you will need to account for non-starters or seeds that dry out.
  • Look for a place where you can give them watchful care to ensure the seeds stay moist and warm.
  • Some plants are a real challenge to start from seed such as asparagus, garlic, and onions. We recommend getting starts, sets, or crowns for those plants either by mail order or at your local nursery.
  • Some seeds have need light to germinate, and some need to be soaked overnight.
  • Smart Gardener partners with the best seed companies so you can easily purchase varieties of organic and heirloom seeds online.

Starting Seeds

Seed Trays

  • Start by filling a flat with potting soil or a mix of your favorite compost.
  • Sprinkle seeds to evenly distribute them across the flat.
  • Cover seeds to the proper depth, as described by Smart Gardener, or on the seed packet, with potting soil or compost.
  • Water lightly with a mist spray until the soil or compost is fully wet.

Cell Flats

  • Fill the seedling cups with potting soil or compost.
  • Use the instructions on the seed packet to determine how far down to plant the seed. Then take a seed and place it down into the individual hole.
  • Cover the seed with soil or compost, and then water lightly with a mist spray.

Paper Towel or Newsprint

  • Begin by wetting the paper towel; then fold in half and sprinkle the seeds inside the fold.
  • Make sure to keep the paper towels damp and moist until the seed germinates.
  • Depending on the plant, you can transfer the seed, once it germinates, to a seed flat or tray and keep watered until ready to transplant outdoors.
Starts

Starts

  • Starts are very easy—they come ready to plant. On the other hand, starts are more expensive and give you a smaller selection of varieties to choose from.
  • Be sure to look for and purchase healthy looking starts with green leaves and healthy stems. Dying or yellowing leaves may indicate disease or lack of nutrients.
  • Don’t buy starts that are overgrown. Their roots can be bound if allowed to stay in the little pots, which deprives the plant of a healthy beginning. You also don’t want a leggy plant. While its height may look impressive it means it had to compete for light, which makes it less healthy.
  • A good test to tell if a plant is overgrown is to look at the bottom of the container.  If the roots are protruding from the holes in the bottom of the container the plants may be root bound.
  • Check out your local nurseries, farmers markets and special plant sales for some more unusual varieties that do well in your growing conditions.
Transplanting

Transplanting

  • Amend the soil according to the plant’s needs, which will help establish a strong root foundation.
  • Break up any compacted soil.
  • Water the area the day before you transplant to ensure the transplants won’t dry out in the ground.
  • Lay the transplants on the soil to map out where they will go.
  • Remove leaves from the plant that will be below ground level. This will help the plant spend its energy on establishing roots.
  • Dig a hole and place the transplant into the ground.
  • Lightly press the soil around the base of the plant and water the newly transplanted plants thoroughly.
  • Plants that don’t respond well to root disturbance should be transplanted carefully with as little damage as possible.
  • Don’t transplant during the hot, sunny parts of the day. Plants respond better during cooler, cloudier conditions.
  • To avoid shocking plants, allow starts to harden off one week prior to transplanting.
  • Smart Gardener will notify you when to harden off your seedings and when to transplant, and will track your plants’ growth once you check off your To Dos.
Starting Seeds Outdoors

Starting Seeds Outdoors

  • Some plants, such as carrots, cannot be easily transplanted. Direct sow these seeds in your garden.
  • Poke a hole in the soil to the proper depth, as described by Smart Gardener on the variety’s seed packet, place a seed in the hole, and cover with soil. Water seeds thoroughly after planting.
  • Young seedlings are susceptible to getting eaten, so try to protect them outdoors as much as possible, either with straw or row covers.

Also… Check out more vegetable gardening tips at hometalk.com… Smart Gardener was mentioned! http://www.hometalk.com/3437916/the-lazy-man-s-guide-to-starting-a-garden

Introducing Smart Add Ons

Introducing Smart Add Ons
Smart Add Ons* are optional extensions to your Smart Gardener account for a small fee. They enhance your garden by adding new functionality, content and the ability to personalize what you are growing and how you want to grow it. These are our first Smart Add Ons, and we welcome your feedback. Registered users who send us feedback will get a coupon code for a free Smart Add On in the future when we launch more!

Bundle: Shade, Shapes and Succession
Smart Gardener offers an exclusive Smart Add On for Smart Gardeners who asked us for a couple features that would really help them manage their gardens better – being able to add in shaded areas, to lay out paths, structures, or trees that are also part of their garden area and to be reminded via their To Dos to interval sow certain edibles for a continuous harvest.  $5.99 (One time fee)

 

Smart Shapes
Smart Gardener offers an exclusive Smart Add On for Smart Gardeners who want to include other items in your gardens, in addition to your planting areas. Lots of you wanted to be able to show where fences, trees, pathways and buildings were on your layout. $2.99 (One time fee)

 

 

Smart Shade
Smart Gardener offers an exclusive Smart Add On for Smart Gardeners who wanted to be able to designate the shaded areas in their vegetable gardens. Smart Gardener will know to recommend and place your shade tolerate plants in those areas. $3.99 (One time fee)

 

 

Succession Planting
This Add On converts your households total quantity of plants for a variety into small batches that you sow or plant over time. Several smaller plantings are made at timed intervals, rather than all at once. The plants mature at staggered dates, establishing a continuous harvest over an extended period. $1.99 (One time fee)

 

* More about Smart Add Ons…
We will be adding more of these over time, Smart Add Ons for square foot and vertical gardening, culinary herbs, fruit trees, recipes and lots more. You’ll find all this in a new section we are calling GOODS. GOODS will eventually include a Community Marketplace for sharing and trading your harvest locally. Local goods and services will also be offered, along with great products we hand select and offer from our online partners.

 

New CONNECT Area Added

New CONNECT Area Added

CONNECT is about making meaningful connections with other Smart Gardener members, with our friends, and with others in the world interested in growing organic food, learning more or staying current with food issues. Here’s the first features we’ve added to this new area…

Connect with other members means being able to share, view, filter and save Signature Gardens. Signature Gardens are gardens made public and shareable by any member of Smart Gardener. A Signature Garden includes all its plants, the layout, plan, and Journal for that Garden. Any other Smart Gardener member can view it, copy or save all pieces of the Garden to use.

Connect with friends includes being able to share one of your Signature Gardens with your friends on Facebook using the Smart Gardener Facebook App. The App includes your plant list, along with a link back to Smart Gardener to display your entire Garden plan on a publicly viewable page.

Connect with friends also includes being able to invite friends to join you on SmartGardener.com, even inviting friends directly from Facebook.

Connect with the world through our Smart News Wire, and get an up to the minute collection of what all the most influential social media sources are saying about Organic Gardening and Food Policy.

Add your own varieties

Add your own varieties

1. Select “Browse” under the PLAN menu.

2. In the Browse panel, you will see a new link underneath the Variety list. Browse to find the variety you think is the closest in type to the new variety you want to create.

3. Select the Variety “Beefsteak” (our example) . Then click on the blue “click here” link as seen in the closeup above. A new version of the Variety “card” will appear below the original one. Just rename the Variety and edit (or not) any of the information in that card. You can change the image and the description. Most importantly, making sure the days to maturity and plant height are as accurate as possible for your new Variety will help Smart Gardener give you the correct To Dos. Your avatar will also appear alongside the Variety you created.

4. Save it when you are done. Your new Variety will now appear anywhere you select plants.  It will then be Smart Gardener’s goal to find a vendor and the most accurate data for that variety.

Starting the Winter Garden

Starting the Winter Garden

One of the simplest ways to keep the garden producing at full volume is to make sure it is full of growing crops at all times. After you harvest the first of the summer crops, you will often have time to plant more of them (and should), but you should also start thinking about the fall and winter garden. Winter crops need to do most of their growth before cold weather and short days arrive and slow them down. The almost mature plants will then continue to grow slowly (if the winter is mild), or sit in the garden in an edible state until harvested (if the winter is cold).

Planning the winter garden starts with choosing suitable hardy crops, which would include Asian Greens, Beet, Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Collards, Chicory, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leek, Lettuce, Parsnip, Rutabaga, Spinach, Turnip and more. You also have to choose the right varieties for winter growing, as there can be considerable variation within a crop. You want cultivars bred to tolerate cold temperatures and short day length.

The right time to start your winter crops depends upon where you live, but generally you can start planting the slower maturing crops, such as leeks, parsnips, celery and Brussel sprouts in mid-summer (July). Transplants of broccoli and cabbage can be started in August for planting in the garden through September. Quicker maturing vegetables, such as turnips and kohlrabi may be planted through mid-October. Generally if you’re your garden isn’t super fertile it’s best to start all of these earlier rather than later. If plants are too small when winter arrives they will just sit in the garden looking pathetic and embarrassing. When spring comes they will resume growing for a week or two and then bolt.

When you open up large areas of bed by harvesting, it makes sense to use the first of them for direct sown crops such as carrot or parsnip that can’t be grown from transplants. At this time of year the bare soil of a seed bed will dry out very quickly, so it’s a good idea to cover it with shade cloth. This keeps it cooler and moister and reduces the need for watering. I like to go even further and cover slow germinating crops like carrot or parsnip with a sheet of cardboard or plywood until just before I expect germination to occur (this also keeps weeds down). Cool weather crops often don’t germinate well at high temperatures, so if a period of cool weather is forecast I try and take advantage of it and get sowing.

Where possible I like to grow winter crops as transplants, as I can get them growing while the garden beds are still occupied; no need to wait for vacant space. You can start the transplants in the greenhouse if it’s not too hot (some cool weather crops won’t germinate if the temperature is too high), but it is usually warm enough to start them outside too. You can simply grow them in flats on a table covered in bird netting, though they will need frequent watering, as containers dry out rapidly. You could also use a specially designated nursery bed, which is simply an area of bed with good soil and covered with bird netting.

For those of us in the milder parts of the country the winter garden is often just as important as the summer garden and this is a crucial time of year. If you miss the window for getting your plants established, you won’t have a winter garden.