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Save Seeds for Sustainability

Savvy gardeners are known for not letting anything go to waste. They are the compost kings and queens. They are smart about how they water. They use every inch of their garden to plant something amazing.

So when it comes to seeds, why would that be any different? Saving seeds for vegetables is simple and wallet-friendly. It allows gardeners to be sustainable within their own garden.

Saving Seeds Basics

Saving seeds is easy to do. Its three simple steps: harvest the seeds from the vegetables, dry the seeds and store the seeds. Of course there’s a little more to know, but it’s truly that straightforward.

Depending on the vegetable you want seeds from, there’s a little bit of washing to do too.  We have outlined three popular vegetables to get you started.

Peppers

Peppers are the easiest vegetables to get seeds from. When they have changed colors and are ready to eat, the seeds are ready as well.

Cut the peppers open, scoop out the seeds onto a ceramic or glass plate and lay them out to dry. Make sure the seeds are lying flat, not stacked on top of each other. Twice a day move the seeds around to ensure they aren’t sticking together. When they break, not bend, in your hand they are ready for storage.

Be sure to use ceramic or glass as the seeds will stick to paper.

Cucumbers

At the end of the season, pick off overly ripe cucumbers and bring them inside. Cut the cucumber open lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. To get the excess goop and coating off, rise and swirl seeds in a sieve gently. Spread them on wax paper to dry. Mix them occasionally to ensure even drying.  Store when the seeds feel rough but not slippery.

Lettuce

Lettuce plants need to flower before you can harvest their seeds. One lettuce plant can produce a lot of seeds, so you don’t need to worry about all of them. When the flower heads are dried out and have puffs of white, the seeds are ready to be harvested.

Pinch off the flower heads and collect them in a bag. Bring them to a table and break them open so the seeds fall out. Some of the flower may stick to the seed, it is fine. It won’t disrupt the germination of the next season. Allow the seeds to dry and store.

Storage

Airtight containers work best for all seeds described. If taken care of, these seeds can last a few years! Keep them at room temperature and they will be ready to go when planting season begins.

When next year rolls around, start your seeds indoors and use Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus to grow bigger and better versions of your favorite plants.

Don’t Stop Believing – Your Garden Reinvented!

So you just finished harvesting all of your crops, you have tomatoes in every drawer in your kitchen and your garden is cut back. What now?

With enough time left before the first frost, you can still get another crop in the ground.

Whether you are a planner or a fly by the seat of your pants kind of gardener, succession planting is something to try.

What is Succession Planting?

Succession planting is a way of planting that maximizes your harvest. You plant one vegetable right as another finishes. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Harvest Crop – Using the same plot for another set of vegetables after harvest. When a crop is finished, plant another, with a shorter maturity date, in its place. Leafy greens, followed by potatoes, are a great example of harvesting and replanting.
  2. Companion Crop – Plant two or more crops with varying maturity dates around each other. After the first crop is harvested, your garden will continue flourishing. Radishes next to cucumbers are great companions. Radishes will be harvested before the cucumbers start to produce too much shade.
  3. Staggered Crop – Plant the same crop every few weeks in order to not be bombarded by the entire crop at once. Tomatoes and peas are crops you’d want in small batches through the whole season.
  4. Same Crop – Plant the same crop with different maturity dates. Seed packets will display the days to maturity on the packets. Broccoli is an example crop with various maturity dates.

Now you know what succession planting is, here are a few steps to send you in the right direction.

5 Tips for Succession Planting

  1. Plan Accordingly – Growing based on maturity can be a little tricky if you aren’t planning for your region. Make sure to check the seed packet or plant tag to find out how long the plant will take to mature and what temperature it will grow best in. Make sure you have enough seeds to keep you going through the season.
  2. Plant Transplants – Speed up the growing process by starting seeds This will allow you to harvest and quickly plant to keep your garden at optimum level all the way up to those winter months. Or, purchase plants as seedlings from your local garden center.
  3. Feed Regularly – Add Espoma’s Garden Tone to the soil between plantings to keep the soil rich and crops thriving.
  4. Don’t Hesitate – As you see plants starting to reduce or cease harvest, don’t hesitate to pull them to make room for a new crop.
  5. Rotate Crops – Try not to plant the same vegetable in the same spot year after year. This causes the soil to lose essential nutrients and increases the likelihood for diseases to develop. Rotate crops every three years.

Succession planting can ensure your garden is in working production all season long. Learn what veggies it’s not too late to plant.

4 Ways Gardening Improves Your Well-being

Whether it’s practicing yoga, writing a journal, going on vacation or taking an art class, everyone should have their release – something you can turn to when you feel stressed or need to clear your mind. Well, for us, spending some time in the garden does the trick. The greenery, the sun and the fresh air are just a few of the reasons we love unwinding in the garden.

Here are some of the ways gardening can improve your well-being. 

  1. Let’s Get Physical –Exercising not only improves your physical health, but your mood, too. A healthy body is a contributing factor to a healthy mind. Think about all of the digging, pulling, moving and bending that takes place in the garden. This type of physical activity improves your flexibility, strength and endurance, as well as your immune, respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
  2. Green is Good – Simply being around nature has its proven health benefits, too. So even if you’re not working on the garden, just enjoying its beauty, you are still improving your well-being. Biophilia is the theory that all humans want to have a connection with other living things, and what better place to feel connected to the world than in the great outdoors?
  3. Fresh Produce – If you have fresh food in your own backyard, you are more likely to eat it. Growing your own vegetables not only encourages you to eat more of them, it also provides a sense of achievement. Gardening can be difficult, and nothing boosts your pride like a beautiful, homegrown tomato plant or blueberry bush.
  4. Sensible Sunshine – Gardening often means long hours in the sun. It is extremely important to take care of your skin, so always wear sunscreen and perhaps a hat. That being said, the sun is also a great source of Vitamin D. Sensible sun exposure not only improves your physical health, it can actually help with depression and other mood disorders. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

What benefits – well-being or other – do you receive from your garden? Let us know in the comments below!

Five Vegetables to Plant in the Shade

Summer gardens filled with fresh fruits and lots of veggies are worth the work. And while gardeners with shady areas may be envious, they can still have plenty of success on their own vegetables.

After, the secret to good crops is really in the soil.

A shady space that gets as little as two hours of direct sunlight a day is still a prime location for a veggie garden filled with root or leafy vegetables. Plus, you’ll have a longer growing period for cool-season crops.

Read on for five vegetables that don’t need to full sun.

 

5 Vegetables that Grow in Shade:

  1. Beets

Easy to grow in almost any space, beets are a shade gardener’s best friend. Beets can be used for both their roots and their greens. Sow seeds directly in the ground in early spring for the best flavor.

  1. Bok Choy

This cold-weather vegetable can withstand cooler temps and shade. Use in soups, salads and stir-fries. Sow seeds directly in ground in both the fall and spring for two harvests.

  1. Kale

Cold-hardy and resilient, kale will grow for months until the weather gets too hot. This plant can be added to stir-fry, salads, omelets and smoothies for a healthy addition. Plant kale about two months before your first frost.

  1. Turnips

Eat turnips raw or cook and serve in soups, stir-fries or mashes. These plants thrive in cool temperatures and shade. Scatter turnip seeds in your garden two to four weeks before the last frost in spring or from late August to October.

  1. Garlic

Requiring almost no space, garlic is simple to grow. Break off cloves from a whole bulb and plant in the ground. To harvest big and flavorful bulbs next summer, plant garlic in the fall. Allow garlic to cure after harvesting in an airy, shady spot for two weeks.

Want to get kids involved in vegetable gardening? Learn more about kid-friendly gardening.

How to start a kid-friendly vegetable garden

There’s a natural connection between children and the outdoors. And there’s nothing more special than caring for the Earth and enjoying Mother Nature in the family backyard. Toddlers, children and teens can explore a new hobby when they get outside and get growing.

This month, we’ve partnered with The Edible Schoolyard to encourage kids and families everywhere to grow their own food.

Here are our 5 tips to get kids growing.

5 Steps to creating a kids vegetable garden

1. Let them pick the plants.

“We’re growing broccoli and cabbage!” said no enthused child ever. Take a trip to your local grocery store or farmer’s market and let the kids pick out their favorite fruits and veggies. Research which ones will grow best in your yard and get ready to plant.

Choose to start seeds or purchase transplants for your new garden bed. Help kids understand what types of plants will thrive in your yard by asking them to pick out the sunniest and shadiest spots in the yard.

2. Prep Your Bed

Before planting, start at the beginning of the process by explaining the uses for different garden tools.  Encourage kids to pick the spots for their new plants. Ask them to check the plant tags for information on spacing and sunlight and then determine the best spot.  Be sure to bring a tape measure.

3. Plant

It’s a well-known fact that most children love digging holes. Once they’ve accomplished that task, it’s time to plant. Demonstrate how to gently remove plants from the container and loosen up the roots before planting.

4. Add nutrients and water

Just like people, plants need healthy nutrients to grow big and strong. Choose an organic fertilizer such Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus or Start! liquid fertilizer to give plants the boost they need.

5. Create a schedule

Get kids involved in maintaining the garden by creating a monthly chart that includes days to water and feed. Chart when plants should be ready for harvest and create a countdown for your favorite plants.

Want to help? Be sure to Like our Facebook page and follow along!

Top Seeds to Sow in March

It’s our favorite time of year again, spring is here! This marks the start of prime time gardening season as the weather begins to warm up.

Now’s the perfect time to put on some gardening gloves and repot indoor plants or start fresh with new seeds outdoors. Either way, March is the time to get a head start on rejuvenating your outdoor garden to ensure your harvest is ready by mid-spring or early-summer.

Beets

Healthy and delicious, the best time to plant beets is right now. They’ll harvest quickly, leaving us with an early summer treat. Plus, beets are known to lower blood pressure, fight inflammation and they’re rich in nutrients and fiber.

Broccoli

One of our favorite greens, broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Fiber and Folate. This cool-weather crop can germinate in soil with temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to keep the soil wet, though, because this plant is thirsty.

Cabbage

Whether leafy green or perfectly purple, this annual vegetable is perfect for colder temperatures. Pests love Cabbage, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Try using natural repellant methods instead of harmful chemicals to keep your cabbage healthy and safe.

Carrots

Why plant orange carrots when you can choose from the entire rainbow? Choose from purple, black, red, white or yellow. Not only are they good for eyesight, carrots are also one of the best plants for reducing the risk of Cardiovascular Disease.

Lettuce

This true cool-weather plant is actually stunted by hot temperatures. Perfect for early spring gardens, lettuce requires light watering since its leaves will develop quickly. And, don’t forget to use organic mulch to conserve water. Once true leaves grow, it is time to harvest the crop before it becomes bitter and tough.

Spinach

Perfect for salads and sides, spinach loves the spring weather. This green is extremely sensitive to excessive heat. Spinach is fast-growing, forming flowers and developing seeds in no time at all.

Onions

Onions have disease fighting power and high nutritional value, making them one of the healthiest vegetables to eat. Onions can endure all of the hardships that come with early spring weather. Note that this crop will not be as fruitful if temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peas

Sweet peas, snow peas and snap peas are perfect for planting in March. They’re easy to grow and so delicious.

Give seeds a boost this spring by using Espoma’s organic liquid Start! plant food.

6 Heirloom Plants We Love

Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes are not the only heirlooms out there. Heirlooms are plants that are grown from seeds that have been passed down through the generations for at least the past 50 years. They must also be open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention.

Your organic vegetable garden wouldn’t be complete without some heirlooms. So grab your shovel and get ready to plant.

Here are six heirlooms we love!

1. Armenian cucumber

This cucumber is also known as yard-long cucumbers or snake melon, because of the cantaloupe-like scent that’s released when sliced. It yields large amounts and turns yellow when ripe. They’re also great for slicing and pickling!

2. Black Diamond Watermelon

It has a blackish green rind that covers its bright red flesh. The seeds are black and can grow to be pretty big. This watermelon is drought resistant and prolific, which means that it produces a lot of “offspring.”

3. Clemson Spineless Green Okra

This plant yields large amounts of pods that should be harvested when they reach three inches long. It will keep growing until the weather cools down during the fall, so it’s possible for them to grow up to 6 feet or taller in warmer areas. It is also a traditional favorite for soups and stews.

4. Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage

This cabbage is dark green and has a smooth, sweet flavor. It usually harvests pretty early, but is slow to split and bolt. After it matures, it’s best to keep it in the garden for another two to three weeks. It is also really rich in vitamins and minerals.

5. Rutabaga

This plant is grown in the cooler seasons and is desired for its root, the Swedish turnip. It is essentially a natural cross between a cabbage and a turnip, but its yellowish root and smooth leaves differentiate it from an actual turnip.

6. Spaghetti Squash

The squash starts off as white and eventually changes colors to a pale yellow once it matures. It can yield up to four or 5 plants and they will last several weeks after harvesting. This plants it known for its double as a healthy substitute to pasta.

Once your vegetable garden gets growing, don’t forget to feed with an organic fertilizer such as Garden-tone.

Fall Gardening Checklist

September marks the turn of a new leaf. The hot summer weather is fizzling out in favor of cool, crisp fall breezes, prompting bonfires, football games and pumpkin everything.

For gardeners, fall can be one of the busiest seasons. Often, gardeners juggle wrapping up their summer harvests with the responsibilities of preparing for the coming seasons.

With this to-do list from Homestead Gardens, you’ll be ready to fall in love with fall; and with some extra preparation, you’ll be better prepared for winter and spring, too!

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7 Things To Do in the Garden This Fall  

1. Deadhead to get Ahead. Freshen up flowerbeds by deadheading and removing plants that have stopped blooming. Do maintenance in the morning before the weather gets too hot.

2. Don’t stop Planting. After you’ve harvested your remaining summer veggies, you can plant fall crops and begin transplants!

3. Serve… or Preserve. Have more vegetables and herbs than you know how to handle? Preserve your harvest. Experiment with making jams or pickles, and try freezing raw fruit, veggies or herbs. Make sauce out of your tomatoes, or slow-roast them.

4. Flower Power. Keep your annual flowers blooming as long as possible! The key to success? Use Espoma new Bloom! liquid fertilizer.

5. Watch out for Winter! Start winterizing your garden’s watering system. Keep an eye out for the first few frosts of the season, and cover plants when necessary. Gradually transition your summer houseplants back indoors.

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6. Divide and Conquer. Divide and split your perennials, dig and store tender bulbs like dahlias and caladiums, and start planting spring flowering bulbs.

7. Red, Dead Ahead! Are your tomato plants lacking fruit? Producing dull leaves? Sprinkle some Tomato-tone to give them a final boost.

With these tips, your fall landscape will be looking better than ever. Have a picture of your fall garden that you want to share? Drop by our Facebook page!

Grow Scrumptious Tomatoes in Easy Containers

True love is biting into a juicy tomato you’ve just picked off the vine. Even if space is limited, you can still grow delicious tomatoes in pots.

Tomatoes grown in portable containers are just as tasty and satisfying as garden grown. Plus, containers are versatile and can easily be moved from one spot to another to suite your gardening needs.

It takes just a few minutes to plant and maintain for a summer of delicious fruit.

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Make Space for Tomatoes with These Easy Planting Tips

Growing tomatoes in containers is easy. Tomatoes just need soil, sun and a little care.

Whether you live in an apartment or farm, containers are the perfect solution when space is limited or soil is tough to work.

1. Start by choosing a sunny patio, driveway, walkway, stairway or deck. Tomatoes need 6-8 hours of full sun a day.

2. Pick a pot big enough for your variety. A container 18 inches or larger in diameter with drainage holes will work. Tomatoes can grow 6-8 feet tall and 2 feet across. Place drainage material (like gravel) in the bottom of the pot before you add soil to provide air pockets so roots don’t drown.

3. Select the right tomato variety for containers. While any variety will perform, determinate varieties such as Patio Princess, Baxter’s Bush cherry tomato and Balcony are great choices.

4. Fill container 3/4 full with Espoma’s organic potting mix.

5. Add an organic starter plant food, such as Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

6. Moisten mix slightly.

7. Add tomato plants. Sit the plant in the hole so its lowest leaves are below the soil level. Pinch off lower leaves.

8. Fill with potting soil.

9. Mix compost into the top few inches of your container.

10. Place container in a sunny spot that’s easy to access so you can regularly monitor plants.

11. Water tomatoes generously for the next few days. Then, give tomatoes about 2” of water at their base each week.

12. Add stakes or cages to your container to keep tomatoes from growing out of control and to help prevent diseases.

In addition to watering, feed tomatoes with Espoma’s Tomato-tone every other week. Organically fertilizing tomatoes with Tomato-tone produces larger, plumper tomatoes all season.

To learn more about choosing, planting and caring for tomatoes, visit our organic tomato guide.

Step-by-Step: Prep the Garden for Winter

Did you feel that? Jack Frost has flown in for the season. We’ve already felt the first nip of cold weather, which means your garden has, too.

For many, the first frost date arrives in late October or early November.

Help your garden weather the cold this season. Prepare the lawn and garden beds now for an easy, fruitful spring.

Gardening for winter consists mostly of outdoor cleanup, followed by an indoor revival. Cleanup first, though!

winter lawn

Clip, Drip and Equip the Garden before Winter

  • Discard the Deceased. Compost spent annuals and vegetable plants.
  • Protect Perennials. Water perennials (rose bushes included!) once more. Then, after the ground freezes, cut perennials back to 3”, and remove any dead or diseased cane on roses. Finally, mulch.
  • Create a Clean Slate.Remove weeds from garden beds and then create superb soil. Take the soil test and add organic amendments as needed. After a hard freeze, mulch beds.

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So Long to the Lawn

winter garden tips

Ta-Ta for Now Trees

  • Leave the Leaves. Turn those golden leaves into garden gold by composting them!
  • Bolster the Bark. Feed trees with an organic tree fertilizer, such as Espoma’s Tree-tone for winter sustenance.
  • Stare at the Bare. After the leaves have fallen, examine your tree for weak spots and problems to prevent damage from fallen tree limbs during snow storms.

Your garden’s been put to bed for the winter and will surely sleep soundly. Now, let’s focus on those incredible indoor plants to keep you gardening all winter long.