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.

Top 10 Easiest Varieties to Grow by Season

When starting a garden, the options are many. Where to begin? Our experienced gardeners have pulled together the top fruits and veggies (in order of season) we’d suggest.

eastereggradishRadishes – Fall/Winter

Very easy to grow , takes barely a month between sowing seeds and harvest. Seriously. Seeds can be sown every week (even through summer.) The three main types are: round, long and daikon.

Zukeeni’s favorites:

Easter Egg are a mix of pastels, with a zesty crispness

French Breakfast have a somewhat milder spicy flavor

Salad Greens – Winter

There’s nothing tastier than a salad harvested from your own garden. Crispy romaine, soft butter, or fresh baby greens, all are delicious. Pick a favorite or plant all… your salad awaits.

Most popular varieties:

Sweetie Baby Romaine is a fast producer

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix is a great mix of flavors

Green Beans – Winter/Fall

Green beans are easy to grow, harvest and eat! Pole beans grow up walls and fences, perfect for small spaces. Bush beans are shorter, more compact, but provide aplenty.

Best bets:

Blue Lake for tender beans with good flavor

Rolande for a delicate flavor for special dishes

Swiss Chard – Winter

Loaded with vitamins A, K, & C, this is a “nearly-perfect” vegetable. The baby greens are tender enough for salads and its mature leaves can be sautéed or added to soups. It’s not bitter and ideal for “cut-and-come-again” gardening. In temperate climates, it can survive for years.  BREAKING: Swiss Chard, upgraded to perfect!

Zukeeni suggests these:

Rainbow Bright Lights for a fun, colorful plant

Italian Silver Rib for large, flavorful leaves

Borage – Spring

Borage is a favorite. Its beautiful, edible flowers bloom all summer long. It attracts bees (pollinators) and its flavor is mild, think cucumber. Use in salads or as a garnish for cocktails.

Blue Borage is most common, but can also be found in white and pink, how civilized.

tomatoesonvineTomatoes – Summer

There are so many varieties of tomatoes, you’ll never taste them all. #bummer We’re sorry, but no matter what your climate, you’ll be able to find several that grow well. #silverlining

All-Around Pleasers:

Sungold for the sweetest cherry tomatoes

Brandywine for a great slice tomato

Amish Paste for rich tomato sauce

Basil – Summer

Basil got big in the ‘90s. Everyone realized how great it tastes in Italian food. It’s an easy-growing herb and produces all summer long. Use in salads, soups, baked dishes, so many options.

Genovese for the best pesto dishes

Cinnamon for a spicy flavor in salads

Thai Sweet for Asian dishes

strawberryplantStrawberries – Summer

If you’ve ever tasted a homegrown strawberry, the store bought variety will be dead to you. They’re easy to grow, grow pretty much anywhere and once you taste one… trust us.

Chandlers are super sweet

Mingonettes are heat-tolerant

Yellow Wonder Wilds are unique and delicious

 

 

Peppers – Summer

The “spice of life”. Whether you prefer sweet peppers or those with a bite, they’re a must in your garden. They love the summer heat and make a difference in any salad or a kabob.

Rainbow Bell Mix for a colorful assortment

Sweet Banana for salads and grilling

Jalapeño for pizzas and spicy dishes

Summer Squash – Three guesses

Summer squash grows fast and provides delicious fruit all summer. If picked young, it’s tender with a delicate flavor– perfect for grilling, sautéing and stuffing. Sliced thinly, it’s lovely in a salad. Plants can be grown up a trellis or fence, you tell it what to do.

Ronde de Nice for cute little globes

Summer Scallop Trio for UFOs and pattypans

Black Beauty for the classic zucchini

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

Smart Gardener Beta launches! The free online tool that lets you simply grow great food.

Smart Gardener Beta launches! The free online tool that lets you simply grow great food.

From plot to plate. The easiest way to plan, grow and harvest a successful organic garden.

It’s for all of us busy people, novice gardeners and even seasoned gardeners who want to integrate growing food into our lifestyle.

Smart Gardener is the simple answer to “Where do I start?” “How much should I grow?” “What do I do next?”

Here’s what SmartGardener can so for you:

Get an optimized garden plan so you can get out in the garden.
Smart Gardener combines your selected plants, garden layout, and household size with complex planting variables, to create a Smart Garden Plan just for you.

Makes it easy to find the right plants, so you can’t go wrong.
With over 500 organic seeds and starts to choose from (and buy), Smart Gardener offers personalized recommendations, along with super simple ways to select plants, suited to your taste and growing conditions.

We track all of your gardens “To Dos”, so you don’t have to.
SmartGardener calculates and tracks all your gardens “To Dos”, from prepping to picking. View To Dos at a glance and get email reminders when it’s time to get in your garden.

We manage a dynamic Journal that tracks, collects and shares.
Smart Gardener keeps your Journal, so you don’t have to. But go ahead, enter notes, and photos too. It’s also dynamic, meaning it tracks and displays all others’ entries about the varieties you are growing.

Share a garden or start one by selecting a Signature Garden.
Your garden’s plan, growing conditions, and Journal are all part of a unique “playlist” of plants. Share it or use a garden from this growing gallery of templates, ideas, and inspiration.

Link to SmartGardener to get started.

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Cabbage

Cabbage

I was first introduced to cooked cabbage on a beach on Orcas Island in Puget Sound, where a friend sautéed it in a black iron skillet over an open fire. It was the only accompaniment to fresh barbecued oysters and, with its deep purple color was not only visually dramatic but surprisingly delicious. A vegetable I had  considered peasant fare took on a new status that afternoon and has stayed on my list of favorite vegetables ever since.

Cabbage may still not be the vegetable that entices you into organic gardening. It’s not graceful like the climbing pea plant or dramatic like the artichoke. But it’s an ideal crop for so many reasons. It is easy to grow and store, rich in vitamin C and several cancer preventing phytochemicals, high yielding, hardy (late varieties will survive temperatures down to 20˚ F) and can be harvested in cold weather after most other crops are finished.

If you live in a mild climate and have a nice crop of late season cabbage going in your garden now, you can let mature plants stand right through the winter in good condition. In fact, it is easier to leave them in the garden until you need them, protecting them with mulch if necessary.

Harvesting Cabbage

You can begin harvesting the first cabbage heads as soon as they are big and solid enough to provide a meal. Harvest by cutting through the base of the stem with a knife. Remove the roots after harvest, and compost or burn them to help prevent the buildup of disease. Then look to our blog for new ways to enjoy this versatile vegetable.

If a mature head begins to crack (this may be caused by excess nitrogen, aging or irregular water supply) harvest and use it promptly. The cracking won’t affect its edibility, but it does affect its storage life.

If too many Cabbages are maturing at once, you can slow their growth by cutting through some of their roots with a spade. You can also twist the head a quarter turn, to break some of the roots.