Late autumn/Early Winter is an ideal time to prepare your garden for the spring season to come. Many gardeners consider this season, the beginning of Spring, because what you
do or don’t do now, will be reflected in your garden next year.
For many of you, your fall/winter garden may just be part of your annual garden cycle. Either way, this is the time of the year to work on your soil, clean up beds, cut-back blackened stems and foliage and dead-head flowers. All this, helps prevent the possibility of harboring disease pathogens and insect eggs, over the winter. Another simple tip on preventing spreading pathogens is simply by not leaving the hose nozzle on the ground!
As winter approaches, there are many preparations to do in order to put your garden to bed, until late winter. Weed, weed, weed … by stopping weeds from spreading now, you will save yourself a lot of backache come spring. Since the ground is moist, weeding couldn’t be easier. While weeding, make sure that the root structure of your winter garden is not being compromised.
Once your beds have cleared, adding leaf mulch, specifically oak leaf, would be ideal. Avoid redwood, eucalyptus, bay and pine leaves for their acidic content. Cover your beds with 6 inches of lightweight mulch and fork that in a bit. For added nutrients, add compost underneath and work it in before adding the leaves. This thin cover will serve as the ideal winter layer to protect your plants, soil and roots. Though our ground does not freeze, this extra layer will begin breaking down and become organic matter for your spring and summer plantings.
As you are cutting back and dead-heading, this is an optimal time to work your compost pile. Remember to not throw in weed seeds or anything that may be diseased. Hot, active piles kill weed seeds and disease pathogens, but you need to have a compost thermometer to be assured your pile reaches 150 degrees or beyond.
A great way to add more organic matter to you soil is by cutting the annuals at their base and leaving the roots there to decompose over the course of time. Snip off the seed heads and sprinkle them around your garden.
How is your soil? The more fertile and aerated your soil is, the more hydration it will be able to receive. Know the texture of your soil, what it is made of, its structure and how it behaves. Knowing these qualities will help address the needs of your soil. With all the rain we have been receiving, it behooves us to be able to prepare our soil to receive as much moisture as possible. Adding mulch and wood chips can significantly help prevent runoff and erosion.
As the rains come down observe how the water travels in your yard, garden and around your house. Slowing water down while sinking it into the water table are ideal methods to maximize water penetration into the earth. Integrating burms into your landscape is a more project intensive solution, but could offer an excellent solution to direct and sink rainwater into the ground. Keep in mind that working deep into the soil, while it is still very wet, can be destructive to the soil structure. Wait until the earth has dried before starting any project.
Rain barrels are another easy way to collect all the water that we are receiving these days. They are easily found and simply to install. If you are handy, you can build one out of a range of materials.
These days are perfect to set the stage for a beautiful spring and summer garden to come!
The Living Seed Company is an organic and heirloom seed company based in Point Reyes Station. As a Bay Area seed company.
Want to have a garden, but don’t have the space? Fret not, container gardens are the solution to the woes of urbanites and farmers alike. Aside from having the ability to produce a significant amount of food within a limited space, container gardens allow you to have full control of what going into your soil. This could be an easy solution for folks that may not know their soil quality while also protecting your crops from soil-borne pests. The fact that your garden would be raised also helps with pesky garden critters. It is also a wonderful idea for students and other young people that move often and are hesitant to grow a garden that they will end up leaving the following year, they can simply take their garden with them!
Containers also solve the problem if your garden is lacking sunlight, if your containers are on castors, you can easily wheel them as they follow the sun. This type of gardening also knows no boundaries, literally. I have seen full-grown fig, lemon and an assortment of other fruit trees flourishing in wine barrels! The idea is to do a bit of research and give your plants the room and light they need to grow. Some vegetables may be compromised if their container is too shallow, such as deep setting root vegetables. This method of gardening allows you to grow food anywhere from your porch, to your balcony to the sidewalk and even your rooftop! Take advantage of the vertical space in your container and add trellises, teepees or wire cages.
It is a solution that allows for maximizing productivity and creativity …. containers can be upcycled from old basins, bath tubs, wheelbarrows, wagons, baskets, chairs, cinder blocks, you name it! The sky is the limit with what you can use to make your container garden out of. Best of all, the more unique the vessel, the more outrageous your garden will look! Some things to keep in mind when you are reusing pieces that have old paint on them, it may have lead and you will not want to use it. Also, another thing to keep in mind is to remember is to drill sufficient holes for drainage, if not you will drown your plants. It has been suggested to drill the holes 2″ up on the sides, instead of on the bottom – this allows for a extra moisture retention, just don’t over water your crops! Knowing how your pots hold or release water will also help you gauge the quantity of moisture necessary. There are solutions for self-watering, make sure you do sufficient research before you take off for the weekend! Depending on where you live will determine how moist/dry your vegetables will want to be, consult your local Extension office.
These types of gardens add dimension, texture, color and depth to a garden. You can specialize each container with specific vegetables or herbs. Perhaps using a few for companion planting vegetables and others create a medicinal, culinary and spice garden! Think of all the incredible things you enjoy eating and explore the possibilities of growing them, noting beats fresh food right out of the garden! Consider researching what plants do well together and which ones prefer to be at a distance. Take into account the amount of sunlight you have available and note to have a water source near-by, watering on a daily basis is key to a successful container garden. Our Urban Collection/Small Space Garden is geared for container gardens. These varieties thrive in variable light and space. When purchasing your seeds, always purchase them from a reliable source, check out our post on the Renaissance of Heirlooms to learn about why growing heirlooms and using open pollinated seeds is so important. Now is an ideal time to plant your heat loving crops, from seed, in order to enjoy a late summer and autumn harvesting! Take this opportunity and dig through your garage or attic, thrift-stores of curb side sales and create your container garden today!
Spring is in full bloom and your excited to get back into your garden or start your first one. You know you want to start your plants from seed, but not quite sure where to start. Commencing this venture with the finest seed is an essential part to the success of your garden and the quality of your fruit. Not all seed is the same, even if it is the same variety – not all seed houses preserve the genetics in the same manner. A lot of the organic seed sold at local nurseries is actually from China, so always call and ask your seed company where their seeds are grown. Also, if you plan on saving seed, which we highly recommend, then you want to make sure that you are not buying hybrid seeds. Take a look at our article on Heirlooms vs. Hybrids, it’s an excellent guide that will help you understand what the difference between an heirloom and a hybrid is. Always buy open-pollinated seeds.
For those of you that ordered our Living Seed Collections, you have already received them already and you are thrilled, but perhaps not quite sure where to start? Fret not, follow this simple step-by-step model and your seedlings will be growing in no time.
Choose what you want to grow your seedlings in, are they going into temporary pots where the seedling will be transferred to the ground later or will they be placed in containers where they will stay. If you are transplanting, consider some of the great biodegradable pots that are available. We have seen some made from coir, coconut husks, DIY newspaper, toilet paper rolls and even eggshells! Using a biodegradable medium will make the transplanting less traumatic for your seedling, if this isn’t an option, transplanting the seedling, will be discussed later.
Soil is the next key ingredient in the success of your garden. Remember this is the foundation of where your seeds are going to start. Don’t know why soil is so important? Check out my blog post on the importance of soil. Initially though, you will want to use a seed-starting mix and not potting soil. A mixture that has vermiculite, perlite and peat moss are all an excellent combination. This mix will facilitate with drainage and proper water retention. Fill pots 3/4 full of the seed starting mix.
Next is the most beautiful part, when you interact with the very seeds that are going to grow an abundance of food to sustain you and your loved ones. Read the growing instructions on the seed packet as some seeds have very specific needs and should be planted only during certain times of the year. Ideally you will not be starting your roots or deep-rooted vegetables in small containers with the intention of transplanting, as they do not like to be transplanted. If you follow the Moon cycles, ideally you will want to wait until the New Moon to plant your seeds. Know what the desired depth for planting is – air on less depth and do not compact the soil, this is a very common mistake. Lightly cover your seed with additional starting mix and give gratitude to the miracle that is about to happen.
Once you have set up your flats, generously water them and place them in a warm location (minimum of 50 degrees) the warmer it is the better their germination will be. While they are germinating, they do not need light, but they need to stay moist and warm. Remember the seed is a living an embryo that needs air to breath and water to awaken its state of slumber. Once they start to sprout, they will need a source of light, either natural light (south-facing) or a grow light, placed just above them. In either case, protect your vulnerable seedlings from drafts, pets and any other disturbances. Lack of light will cause your seedlings to become leggy, a phenomena by which the seedling is trying the reach the light and becomes tall and lanky causing them to become susceptible to the elements once transplanted.
Keeping the soil with a similar moisture level to that of a wrung out sponge is the ideal. Too much water will drown the seed or cause dampening off, which means there was a high level of moisture and heat which created fungal activity, both situations result in killing the seed or seedling. A watering-can usually offers an optimal spray with enough control. Should you forget to keep the soil moist, you may jeopardize your seedlings and their growth may be stunted or they may die. There is a sweet balance of presence that is required of your seedlings as they emerge from the soil and begin to grow their roots. Sometimes adding a plastic dome or even DIY yogurt cups for individual seeds can help keep moisture and heat in.
Once your seedlings have reached a recommended height, you will want to transplant them as soon as possible. A big mistake of young gardeners is leaving their starts too long in their transplant pots. Generally you will want to wait until your seedlings have 3 – 4 true leaves – refer to image below for a reference. Make sure your garden is ready to receive your seedlings and holes have been made and are ready to be occupied. If you have your seedlings in plastic 6-packs or non-biodegradable pots, you will want to disturb the roots as little as possible. Turn it on its side and gently tap. Always hold the seedling by its true leave and never from the stem or roots.
Make sure you acclimate your seedlings to the elements, a term known as hardening off. This can either be done by leaving them in a sheltered place for a few hours during the day, over several days. If you have a cold frame, you can use that as an ideal way to transition your starts from the comfort of your home to the garden. Once they have fully hardened off they will be strong and ready to be planted in your garden. Take a look at the diagram, to the left, for an ideal way to plant your seedlings. Best to transplant towards the end of the day or on a cloudy day, this gives your plants enough energy to recuperate from the shock without having to be in the mid-day sun.
Continue to nurture your garden with water, regular compost and amendments. Observation is a meditative part of being in the garden that also informs you if your plants need certain attention. Read local gardening blogs and how-to books to guide you on this beautiful journey. Prepare for the abundance and enjoy the harvest!
Many people have misconceived notions about soil, it is usually associated with words such as something being dirty or soiled. An inaccurate correlation to an element of our life that is so critical and and that is such a dependent element to our survival. Healthy soil goes hand in hand with a healthy environment.
“The nation that destroys its soil – destroys itself” (Roosevelt 1937)
The first and most important step in improving soil health is to recognize that soil is a living organism and all parts of our ecosystem depend on it – it is vital to our survival, the growth of our food and maintenance of our ecology.
There are billions of microorganisms that make up a whole network below ground. In one spoonful there are 600 million bacteria! Imagine that – there is an entire network of life below the ground, right underneath our toes. A network that works together with the trees, the plants, the fungus and so much more, all to be able to sustain life above ground for us – amazing!
Soil, for example, is the measure of the health of biological systems. In other words, soil is the metaphor of our environment, if we have healthy soil we have a healthy environment. Annually, we are losing 1 percent of our topsoil per year, due to industrial agriculture, the process of mono-cropping, heavy chemical use and erosion of our soils. Just to put things into perspective – it takes thousands of years to form one inch of topsoil.
Life in the soil provides the structure for more life, and the formation of more soil. Soil is equated to food and food is equated to life. The fertility and the quality of soil will determine the health and stability of all life that is relying on it – just as the health of each human being will determine fertility and the quality of their life.
The reality is that a simple way to help maintain healthy soil and manage waste in your home is by simply composting. In essence it is an excellent free resource of nutrients for our plants and the earth. It doesn’t smell, but mainly, it reduces the amount of waste going to a landfill, all are creating the fertile ground for a microcosm universe to exist and for soil sustainability to flourish! Don’t know where to start? Check out our simple DIY Urban Vermiculture Composting post!
We are all organisms working within one larger organism – called Planet Earth. Seeing on the micro and macro level, gives us a wider perspective into the many realms that are living in harmony here with us.