Tag Archives: organic gardening

Practical Organic Gardening – Free tips on Growing Lettuce

Red Butterhead lettuce ready for harvest.

Red Butterhead lettuce makes a soft, beautiful head that’s perfect for salads.

I love raising my own lettuce.  It’s a love born out of hate.  That sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t.

I started raising lettuce when the price for 12 ounces of the organic stuff hit $5.98 a bag.  For me, that’s $18 a week for under two pounds of green leafy lettuce.

Do the math.  I was spending almost $1000 a year on lettuce!  Try doing that on a fixed income.

I hated paying the price so I stared planting and growing my own.  And guess what?  Lettuce is one of the easiest crops I have ever raised.  And, it’s a
two-fer! Save your seeds and pay no more (well maybe you’ll have to buy every 3 or 4 years).  Just keep planting and harvesting.

So, let’s start with seeds.  I am pretty particular about whose seed I buy.  I want organic seed, especially if I plan on saving and sowing.

Organic red leaf lettuce

Organic red leaf lettuce grows quickly and tastes sweet by itself or in salads.

And I want flavorful leaf lettuce — not head lettuce you have to chop with a cleaver. And I definitely do not want Genetically Modified (GMO) seed.

There are three places I buy seed:

Hudson Valley Seed Library –  the variety they offer is impressive.  Their seed is  locally grown in a climate and soil not unlike mine here in Zone 6b.  And this company helps support school and community gardeners with donations of seeds.

Territorial Seeds – kind of the granddaddy of organic seed growers, this company was organic before organic went mainstream.  Family-owned, Territorial Seeds has a fantastic reputation for the seeds it sells and the customer service it brings to the table.

Grow Italian – I discovered this company more than a decade ago and it’s my go to seed company for all things Italian including lettuce and mixed greens.  When you buy a packet of lattuga from them, you get high quality, high-germinating seeds and a lot of them.

I think the hardest part of growing lettuce is picking the kinds you want to try. But once you have your seeds, planting is so easy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. I tend to sow the seeds right in the garden bed.

One problem when planting lettuce is that the seeds are small and lightweight and they tend to drop into the dirt in clumps or blow off my hand. I used to have a hard time getting them to spread out on the soil but here’s a trick my sister taught me.

  1. Get some soil – take it from your garden if it’s rich and light or grab some potting mix.
  2. Fill a quart jar about 2/3rds full of the soil.
  3. Put lettuce seeds in the jar.  I put different types together so I grow my own “mixed greens.”
  4. Shake the jar until all the seeds are mixed, uniformly, through the soil.
  5. Gently shake the soil out of the jar and into your beds. If you can still see some of them, put just a tiny bit of dirt over the visible ones.
  6. Water the seeds in.

Then all you have to do is water every day until the seeds spout.  Then water weekly and wait for the lettuce to grow.

A few more tips:

Don’t plant in the summer!  Lettuce, like beets, likes cool weather.  You can plant in the spring and again in August for harvest in late September and October.

Start lettuce plants indoors if you want.  I use 40-cell growing trays.

Seed starting in cells

Cell system for seed starting

And I start mine in early February.  When I transplant, I cover the babies with a small tunnel to protect them from frost.

When you cut lettuce leaves, don’t cut them down to the ground.  Cut about an inch from the bottom and you will get a second crop.

If you want to save the seeds, plant for a spring harvest but only cut the first crop.  Let the second set of lettuce leaves grow up and flower.  Then wait.  It will be tempting to take the flower heads off when they get their puffy, white hair.  DON’T.

The seeds need to mature.  Wait until the heads are dry, brown and about ready to burst.  Then pull the seed heads off, take the seeds out and let them dry in a small strainer for a couple of weeks.  I refrigerate mine once they’re dry and plant them in the fall.

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Free Organic Gardening Book

If you ever wanted to learn all about organic gardening, the good, the bad and the ugly…just sign up for this blog and sit back.

Every week or so, I am going to upload a chapter of my organic gardening book which you can read for free!

Today, I am starting at the beginning…that would be Chapters 1 & 2 (the chapters are short) of Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us. Enjoy!

Chapter I – Why This Book

Organic gardening is easy, practical and cheap!

My all organic, backyard garden.

Remember when you decided you wanted to start a garden?  You told a friend, spouse, garden center guy and then got bombarded with miscellaneous stories of gardening disaster.  All that support really made you want to go out and start tilling the soil, right?

I hate it when I hear someone telling another would be gardener how hard it is to get things to grow or how easy it is to kill this vegetable or that one.  Why?  Because, instead of gardening, you probably wanted to run home, mix up your favorite drink and sit down with the remote control.

Too many people in the gardening business write or talk about how hard organic gardening is or how complicated it is.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to make people who read their articles or buy their books put down the shovel or rake and walk back into the house.

They’re lying!  Organic gardening is easy!  It’s cheaper than going the chemical route and it’s fun!

Organic gardening is so easy the lettuce practically grows itself.

Organic lettuce is easy to grow.

The truth is gardening can be as easy as you want to make it.  It’s all about what you want to grow.  Figure out what you want to plant, how many plants you want to put in, how large a garden space you want and what works in your planting zone.

One tip from someone whose motto is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

Start small and only plant those crops you want.  Lettuce is so easy to grow that it practically raises itself! It’s a cool weather crop that loves early spring and late fall. And it helps save you $5.00 for organic greens in the store!

Think about it. Stores sell spring greens mix for $5.00 for 12 ounces.  Fifty two weeks of buying greens comes to just under $300.  You can raise enough for you and your significant other for less than $3.00 a year.

Some seeds, some dirt and some water, a little kindness and a lot of sunlight and you are on your way to creating your own organic garden.  So, dig in!

Reading This Book

Organic gardening tips

Organic gardening is so easy.

This book is designed so you can pick it up, look up a specific plant or bush and read about the good, the bad and the ugly for just that one selection.  Or you can read it cover to cover – starting at the back if you want to and working forward.

Why?

Because a lot of us gardeners aren’t very linear.  And many of us would rather “give it a go” than sit down and read about gardening.  So I tried to give you what you need, when you need it.

Want to raise blueberries?  Interested in saving your own seeds?  Want to get a handle

Organic gardening is easy.

Organic gardening is all about getting your hands dirty!

on techniques like composting, using organic fertilizers or even doing battle with Japanese beetles?  Check the Table of Contents and flip to the right page.

Want the back stories?  The pain of losing a loved one to Verticillium Wilt?

Make a cup of herbal tea, start here and just drift through the book, laughing, learning and, I hope, getting a powerful yen to get out there and get dirty.

 

PS – if you can’t find it in my book, I didn’t kill it.

 

Tips for Starting Lettuce Indoors

 

Lettuce seedlings started indoors

Tiny lettuce plants in grow tray.

Look closely. Can you see them? Tiny, the size of a filament, maybe a bit bigger than a human hair.

You are looking a freshly sprouted lettuce.  I tucked these seeds in this grow tray 3 days ago – moist seed starting mix, a dash of vermiculite on top and water in the tray.

They came up on their own.

Lettuce likes the cold and doesn’t need light to sprout. Once they stick their heads up out of the soil, all you have to do is keep the soil moist and the light on (for 10 hours) and close to the seedlings so they don’t get spindly.

Lettuce plants ready to transplant.

Lettuce plants just before transplant.

In 4 or 5 weeks, these tiny plants will look like these babies, which are about ready to be hardened off and transplanted so they can enjoy the cool days and cooler nights of early spring.

I put my first crop of lettuce in the ground when the price for 12 ounces of the organic stuff hit $5.98 a bag.  That comes to $18 a week for just a bit over a pound of green leafy lettuce.  I haven’t looked back since.

Why?

Transplant lettuce in March.

Transplanting lettuce is easy.

Lettuce is one of the easiest crops I have ever raised.  And, it’s a two-fer! Save your seeds and pay no more (well maybe you’ll have to buy seed every 3 or 4 years). Just keep planting and harvesting.

If you want to grow organic, you have to be particular about whose seed you buy. I want organic seed, especially if I plan on saving and sowing.  And I want flavorful leaf lettuce — not head lettuce you have to chop with a cleaver.  And I definitely do not want Genetically Modified (GMO) seed.

There are four places I buy seed:

Adaptive Seeds – this is relatively new company, established in 2009 and based at Open Oak Farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. Their seeds are absolutely wonderful.  The moving forces behind this company – Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still — are devoted to “…finding, stewarding and sharing rare, diverse and resilient seed varieties for ecologically-minded farmers, gardeners and seed savers.” They sell only public domain, open pollinated (OP) seed, as well as many diverse gene pool mixes.

Hudson Valley Seed Library –  the variety they offer is impressive.  Their seed is  locally grown in a climate and soil not unlike mine here in Zone 6b.  And this company helps support school and community gardeners with donations of seeds.

Territorial Seeds – kind of the granddaddy of organic seed growers, this company was organic before organic went mainstream.  Family owned, Territorial Seeds has a fantastic reputation for the seeds it sells and the customer service it brings to the table.

Grow Italian – I discovered this company more than a decade ago and it’s my go to seed company for all things Italian including some lettuce and mixed greens.  When you buy a packet of lattuga from them, you get high quality, high-germinating seeds and a lot of them.

Lettuce is an easy crop to grow and so tasty.

I think the hardest part of growing lettuce is picking the kinds you want to try.  But once you have your seeds, planting is so easy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

I supplement my indoor seedlings by sowing seeds right in the garden bed.  One problem with sowing lettuce is that the seeds are small and lightweight and they tend to drop into the dirt in clumps or blow off my hand. I used to have a hard time getting them to spread out on the soil but here’s a trick my sister taught me.

  1. Get some soil – take it from your garden if it’s rich and light or grab some potting mix.
  2. Fill a quart jar about 2/3rds full of the soil.
  3. Put lettuce seeds in the jar.  I put different types together so I grow my own “mixed greens.”
  4. Shake the jar until all the seeds are mixed, uniformly, through the soil.
  5. Gently shake the soil out of the jar and into your beds. If you can still see some of them, put just a tiny bit of dirt over the visible ones.
  6. Water the seeds in.

Then all you have to do is water every day until the seeds sprout.  Then water weekly and wait for the lettuce to grow.

A few more tips:

  1. Don’t plant in the summer!  Lettuce, like beets, likes cool weather. Plant in the spring and again in August for harvest in late September and October.
  2. Start lettuce plants indoors if you want.  I use 40-cell growing trays and start mine in early February.  When I transplant, I cover the babies with a small tunnel to protect them from frost.
  3. When you cut lettuce leaves, don’t cut them down to the ground.  Cut about an inch from the bottom and you will get a second crop.
  4. If you want to save the seeds, plant for a spring harvest but only cut the first crop.  Let the second set of lettuce leaves grow up and flower.  Then wait.  It will be tempting to take the flower heads off when they get their puffy, white hair.  DON’T.  The seeds need to mature.  Wait until the heads are dry, brown and about ready to burst.  Then pull the seed heads off, take the seeds out and let them dry in a small strainer for a couple of weeks.  I refrigerate mine once they’re dry and plant them in the fall.

So while the wind howls around our house, I am happily ensconced in the basement playing with and planting lettuce seeds.

Excerpted from my book – Grow So Easy: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us – a guide to easy, fun and productive organic gardening for everyone.

Battle Japanese Beetles – Organic Tips

Last year, Japanese beetles arrived early and stayed late!

Drowning Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles win!

As an organic gardener, all I could do was try to drown as many as possible but I was outnumbered.

They started with my green beans literally wiping out 8 foot high pole bean plants and chewed through my Bumble Beans, too.

Japanese beetles eat green beans.

Green beans fall to Japanese invasion

Japanese Beetles destroy Chinese Cabbage

Japanese beetles make lace with Chinese Cabbage.

Japanese Beetles strip my apple tree of leaves.

Every leaf on my apple tree turned to lace. Japanese Beetles!

Then they moved to my Chinese Cabbage. By the time they were done, the plants looked like a bit of lace tatted by devils.

Then they moved to my blackberries. They finished their backyard rampage by stripping every leaf off my 25 foot tall apple tree while I stood by, helpless.

So, this year, I plan on fighting back…organically, of course.

I have ordered 50 pounds of Surround – kaolin clay – from one of my very favorite (and quirky) places to buy plants and products in person and online  — Edible Landscaping.

I need to spray it on the plants when I first sight the Japanese invaders.

However, this summer’s weather is wreaking havoc with predicting their arrival! So, I was wondering if there was a web site that could tell me when these little devils would be arriving in my neighborhood.

That’s how I found Big Bug Hunt!

NOTE: Big Bug Hunt is just getting started which means they are just beginning to collect data so they can’t help us this year. That’s where we come in. Gardeners are asked to report bug sightings in their  back yards and zip codes.

The web site has a few hiccups so you’ll have to be patient if you want to participate.  And I hope you do so I can get a better handle on when the Japanese Beetles will arrive in my backyard!

How To Water Your Garden

Successful organic gardening relies on a series of small but vital choices we, as the gardeners make. Something as simple as where you buy the seed you choose to plant is pivotal in today’s world of GMO where even the seed coat can affect the final product.

The view from the meadow.

Weather can help or hurt a garden.

Some factors, like the volatility of the weather, are out of our hands but other factors like proper hardening, picking the right site for each plant and deciding what day you put your babies in the ground all affect gardening success.

But one of the most important factors is watering. When do you water? How do you deliver the water? How much? How often?

These are all important watering questions but I like to think that “when” is one of the most important. Why? Because timing is vital especially to the “newly transplanted.”

Half a century ago, at my mother’s knee, I learned one tip that has helped me

Watering in new transplants is vital.

When you water new transplants is critical.

move vegetable and herb starts from peat pots to the ground, easily.

Transplanting is pretty simple. Dig the hole, peel the peat pot back so that none of it is sticking up above ground level, place the transplant in the new hole and firmly press dirt all around it.

But there is one more step you have to take to help ensure every plant you put in the ground survives. Mom called it, “watering in.”

Watering in is so simple but so many people forget to do it. Once the transplant is in the ground and the earth is tamped down around it, pour a couple of cups of water over the plant. This simple act – watering in – does a couple of critical things. It:

  1. Ensures the roots of your baby and the dirt are in solid contact.
  2. Eliminates air pockets that could dry out bits of the baby roots and kill the plant.
  3. Stops the dirt from acting like a sponge and wicking off the water.

Watering in new transplants works. This year, I transplanted a total of 199 fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers in my garden. I only lost 2. I credit watering in with my success.

Watering in is just one tip in Deep-Rooted wisdom.

Deep-Rooted Wisdom is my favorite gardening book.

It’s been 60 years since my Mom introduced me to this concept and this summer, for the first time, I read about this technique in what has rapidly become my favorite gardening book.

Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer was a gift from my sister-in-law,(I think the best gift I got for my 68th birthday!) Watering in is just one of the common sense ideas for gardening that the author offers.

Read up, give them a try and let me know what happens in your garden!

If you want more watering tips, check out the best soaker hose I have found! It’s also one of the tools I consider “nice to have.” You can garden without it but over time, the hoses will pay for themselves.

Happy gardening!

 

Bees Susceptible to Neonics Used on Seeds & Seedlings

Bee on sunflower.

A bee visits one of my sunflowers.

If you’re an organic gardener, you don’t use neonics which we know are killing bees and damaging the environment. Or so you think.

But, if you are not buying organic seeds and organic plants, you very well may be poisoning bees right in your own back yard.

Eartheasy shares the latest information on neonics and on how these deadly herbicides and pesticides have slipped into just about every aspect of the farming and gardening world and the result is devastating.

For example, Marta Spivak, an entomologist and Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota, suggests that  this could be the foundation for “…the problem of the Varroa destructor mite, which spread widely in the 1990’s. If a bee’s immune system is already compromised by even a low dose of neonics (for example, the concentration found if only the seed of a plant is treated) it can make it all the more difficult for the bee to recover when it encounters the dreaded mite.”

Eartheasy provides more information and more insights on their site. Check it out and find out how we might just be undermining the health and well-being of our bee friends and not even know it!

 

Beekeeping: Getting Started!

The buzz about beekeeping seems to be getting louder or maybe I am just listening a bit better.Bee-apis

Margaret Roach’s podcast this week is with Olivia Carroll, author of The Bees in Your Backyard.

The April-May issue of National Wildlife offers a special issue focused on gardening for wildlife and offering a feature article on nurturing native bees.

Bee on sunflower.

A bee visits one of my sunflowers.

Jacqueline Freeman, natural beekeeper and author, was one of the stars of the recent Food Summit.

Bees have always been something I always dreamed about having in my backyard and this spring, my dream is coming true!

I am taking part in a research project involving “ruburbian”dwellers – not quite a suburbanite and not quite a rube. And I will be getting a hive placed in my back yard, lessons on beekeeping and a chance to care for them all summer long.

And I am trying to win a hive all for myself via Margaret Roach! Bees are her latest giveaway. And I could really use them.

Cherry, apple, pear, and pluot trees share space with 13 blueberry bushes and about as many thornless blackberry canes in my backyard. This spring, I am adding elderberry bushes to my meadow. And I’m currently growing chamomile, fennel and marshmallow in my basement to sow around the new additions and keep the lemon balm, milkweed and sunflowers that are already growing there, company.

Add my very big, totally organic veggie and herb garden and it’s clear that I could use all the pollinating help I can get!

I just completed the Chester County Beekeeping Association’s Beginning Beekeeping so I could make a plan for getting my own bees. And now, I am doing research, reading and getting really excited about getting bees!

I would LOVE to provide a happy, safe, pesticide free home on my 2.3 acre “farmden.”

If you want to get an up close look at bees, visit the National Geographic feature with photographs by Sam Droege and his team who are populating a database using data collected by backyarders around the country.