How Seasonal Gardening Increases Soil Sustainability

How Seasonal Gardening Increases Soil Sustainability

By Emily Folk

Gardening is a passion that many people enjoy because of how simple and rewarding it is. If you know how to take care of the plant you want to grow, there’s almost nothing stopping you from filling your house or yard with beautiful blooms and foliage. At a certain point, though, gardening can get a bit more complex. There’s things to think about that most beginner gardeners don’t consider because it requires a bit of gardening knowledge.

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Extending Your Growing Season: Hoop Houses, Row Covers, and Cold Frames

Extending Your Growing Season: Hoop Houses, Row Covers, and Cold Frames

Think of hoop houses, row covers, and cold frames as small, unheated greenhouses that can extend growing seasons in either direction; imagine earlier springs and later summers.

(originally published at Fix.comOriginally published at Fix.com by Christine McLaughlin, reprinted here with permission))

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Art and the Outdoors: Helping Dementia Sufferers Cope

Art and the Outdoors: Helping Dementia Sufferers Cope

By Helen Young

Given what they bring to people's lives, art and the outdoors have always been underrated aspects of our society. Both are immune from our hectic everyday existences in the frantic modern world; both bring people together, bound not by profit or work opportunities, but by the shared love of something bigger than themselves; both offer a slice of beauty, a touch and a nod to something higher that is all too often not felt as part of our daily routine.

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Celebrate September with Better Farm's Bag Sale

One of Better Farm's $20 bags of freshly picked, organic produce.

One of Better Farm's $20 bags of freshly picked, organic produce.

To celebrate September, Better Farm is kicking off a month-long $20 bag sale of mixed organic produce.

The Better Farm bag sale is equivalent in size to about three full, plastic shopping bags. We've got peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, greens, herbs, carrots, potatoes, beans, eggplants, beets, radishes, corn and much much more!

All you have to do is call or email anytime this month to reserve a bag and select a pick-up time. We'll do all the legwork of picking all the produce for you. The result? One enormous share of delicious, nutritious, organic fruits, veggies and herbs for you to enjoy. 

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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Beginner's Guide to Growing Tomatoes

By Jane Blanchard

Gardeners often hear tales of woe regarding how fickle and hard to grow tomatoes can be. It’s no wonder that many beginners steer clear, often missing out on a delightful harvest of one of earth’s most versatile fruits. Growing tomatoes takes time and care, but they can grow almost anywhere. Don’t let the rumors about tomato gardening scare you away, these tips will help you gather a bountiful harvest year after year.

Via lettucebehealthy.com

Beginners should plant seedlings instead of trying to start the plant from seed. When choosing your seedling, don’t be fooled by a lush green plant. Always check the root system and look for strong, healthy roots. Choose seedlings without flowers on them and pinch off any flowers that you may see. Don’t try to plant tomato seedlings until the soil has reached 50 degrees fahrenheit, consistently. This thermometer is just $8.99 and will help you get an accurate reading and know when it’s safe to plant.

Plant your seedlings deep into the ground, “up to their necks” as midwestern farmers would say. This means burying the stems all the way up to the first full leaves. You’ll find allowing them to grow strong deep roots is invaluable to their growth. You may have noticed tomato plants’ tell-tale growing stakes. This is to support the weight of the plant should it grow 3 or 4 feet high. Place the stake a few inches from your seedling on the north side of your sprout. It will prevent the stake from shading your plant. The pole should be around 4 feet taller than the seedling and don’t worry about attaching it with ties until you see the first flowers. When you do see flowers, use rope to tie the stem to the stake and keep it upright and supported.

One expert tip is to use epsom salt as a natural fertilizer. Just dissolve 2 tablespoons into each gallon of water and use the solution at least once a month. When it comes to waterings, you should water your plants deeply but not often. Once every week should be good, or every five days at the height of summer. When your first fruit is ripening, add compost or mulch to your plant’s base to encourage more growth. Prune off any non-flowering branches.

Try to water your tomato plants from above the plant. You want to avoid the stems being soaked in water. When the stems become damp, disease and mold has the opportunity to attack your plant. If you do discover a stem mold, commonly referred to as blight, you can use an organic fungicide to be more environmentally friendly. 

Harvesting your tomatoes at just the right time is essential to having a satisfying crop. Most tomatoes will be ready for picking about 60-85 days after the seedling was planted. You may continue to enjoy a crop from your garden all the way until frost. You will know that your tomato is ripe when the fruit has turned one solid color. For example, for a red varietal, if you notice that the fruit is all red except one shaded spot is still yellow, it’s not ready. It should be just a little bit soft when squeezed. Once you notice these identifying traits, go ahead and pluck your tomatoes. Once pulled off the vine, tomatoes no longer have a source of oxygen, so you may only have a week or so before they go bad. Contrary to popular belief fresh tomatoes are not well stored in the fridge. If you need to keep your tomatoes for any period of time, core them and store them in a freezer. Thaw them out when you’re ready and turn them into an amazing sauce or bloody mary mix.

For more tips and tricks, head to Modernize.com.

Seed Sharing

Seed Sharing

Each year, Better Farm experiments with saving some seeds for the following season—but as our operation grows, we've also been contacted by outside grow operations about expanding other heirloom plant genetics. We LOVE seed-sharing at Better Farm, so it was such a treat to be contacted by Miranda Thomas in Adams, N.Y., who came into large quantities of beautiful, heirloom seeds and decided to share them with us.

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Vegetable Gardening for Dummies: A Novice's Guide

Vegetable Gardening for Dummies: A Novice's Guide
Editor's Note: This is a guest blog from our friends over at RedShed.

Gardening is a great way to eat healthy and enjoy the outdoors.  This guide is made for anyone wanting to learn how to make a garden and how to grow vegetables for that garden.  In this guide you will learn how to select the proper location for your garden, learn about tools needed for the garden, how to prepare soil and how to grow basic vegetables.

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What's Growing at Better Farm in 2015

What's Growing at Better Farm in 2015

Spring is coming! Our Better Farm heirlooms have been inventoried, new seeds have been ordered, we're picking out trees for our incoming apple orchard, and 50 white spruces are on their way. That, in addition to new landscape designs over at the Art Barn, expanded strawberry and raspberry patches, and many more surprises!

Here's the list (so far!) of all the organic deliciousness growing at Better Farm in 2015. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up for our CSA program before March 15 in order to lock in last year's rates for a weekly share of fresh, delicious produce.

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Mulch Much? The Benefits of Gardening with Mulch


Gardening with Mulch - Moisture Retention and Yield
Written by


Originally published at Fix.com
One of the easiest ways to ensure success in your garden, especially a vegetable garden, is to incorporate mulching into your garden preparations. This doesn’t have to break the bank, but it will provide you dividends in the abundance of vegetables you will harvest from your garden. Whether you live in the city, country, or suburbia, and whether you have a huge garden, raised beds, or even if you are using pots and containers, mulches are the unsung hero in the garden. 

So Why Mulch?

The most basic benefit of mulch is moisture retention. Yields are directly affected by the amount of water in the soil. And, in dryer climates where rainfall is scarce, gardeners will want their soil to retain as much water as possible. Simply by covering the top of the soil in a thin layer of organic material, you will drastically reduce the level of moisture evaporated from the soil. The graphic below shows just how dramatically mulching can reduce evaporation. Mulching can retain up to 80% of added moisture in your soil. When you keep the top of the soil protected from direct heat, it will lose less water, and thus be a better environment for your plants. Great mulch also has the ability to breathe, and not become a place where mold issues arise, which would be unhealthy for plant life.
Compost is technically not mulch, but rather a soil amendment, an additive used to increase soil nutrition. Compost can also be used as a top dressing. It is a very significant component of a great garden, so it is good to keep it in mind as part of your gardening efforts.

Different Types of Mulches

There are many different types of mulch, and some of these cost little to nothing. Some common mulches are pine straw, grass clippings, leaves, newspapers, and wood chips.

Pine straw makes for fabulous mulch, but you have to make sure you place pine straw near acid-loving plants. In some parts of the country pine straw is an abundant free resource, and is very convenient to collect. Many acid-loving fruits and vegetables benefit from pine straw mulch, including blueberries, strawberries, garlic, tomatoes, and potatoes. A drawback to pine straw mulch is that it can be messy, the color fades very quickly, and it’s very flammable.

Grass clippings also make fabulous mulch; the best part being that they are free and accessible. Furthermore, you are re-distributing garden and lawn matter to other areas of your garden, which carries the added benefit of providing a place to dispose of that matter. The grass clippings will add nitrogen and much needed nutrients for beneficial microbes that inhabit the soil, which your plants will love.
A word of caution about removing grass clippings from the side of the road: you must be sure that the grass is not chemically laden with fertilizers and pesticides. The only other issue that could crop up is that if the clippings come from a weedy area you may be transferring weeds or undesirable plants unknowingly.

Leaves are a favorite mulch of many gardeners. There are few to no drawbacks when mulching with leaves, and they can be spread to protect your soil during winter months. Oak and maple leaves in particular are popular mulch material because they are plentiful. Mowing over the leaves turns them into shredded mulch, which helps release some moisture, and also makes them easier to spread. Many times, leaves are free for the taking since most folks won’t mind you raking their lawns for them, and that will happily load you up with your fill of mulch!

Next up is newspaper. Your first thought might be “ugh!” but there is a place in the garden for non-colored and non-magazine-type newsprint. It’s inexpensive, available, and can often be found at your local recycling bin. Newspaper is a very easy and efficient way to keep weeds at bay as well as assisting to keep the soil moist. It is particularly helpful when you have not been able to amend your soil as well as you would like too, or if your garden plot is in an extremely dry location with lots of drainage. You will want to wet your newspaper down when you use it and you will need to place another type of mulch on top, possibly mixed with some amended soil and compost, to help hold the newspaper down.

Composting is basically decomposing your kitchen trash from fresh foods such as vegetable scraps, egg shells, whole grains, any green growing material, chicken, horse, cow, or rabbit manure (but not household pet waste), and any dried matter in the garden. Often, local horse farms will gladly let you come collect their manure right out of the barns or pastures and in many cases you can barter with friends, neighbors, or your local farmer for chicken or rabbit manure. Rabbit manure can be put straight into the garden and is often referred to as “Gardeners Gold.”

Another mulch option is wood chips, shredded wood, or saw dust; however it is important to note that you should not use treated wood as it is loaded with chemicals and not good for you or your garden. There is debate over whether you should place fresh wood chips in your garden, and popular opinion is on both sides of the fence. Some folks say the fresh wood chips rob the soil of much-needed nitrogen and other folks argue that the fresh wood chips may decrease nitrogen initially but then it cycles back to the soil by naturally breaking down and amending the soil. Whatever you decide in the end, wood is nice and heavy and it will keep the soil moist and cool along with keeping weeds away from your beautiful plants.

Reducing the Cost

You may find mulching to be expensive, and it could be, if your garden is large and you don’t have any of the six mulches above at your disposal. But many communities have options for free mulch: some communities have yard debris recycling programs that turn debris into mulch, allowing citizens to gather it for free or a very small cost. Sometimes tree companies give away shredded branches as mulch. Landfills may have some free mulch options as well. Check online forums and hardware store bulletin boards for options in your local area. Mulching is probably not out of your reach.

Storing Mulch

When gathering mulch in the fall or winter when it is more readily available, you need to address storing the mulch for spring and summer use. The most important issue when storing mulch is to keep it dry. If the mulch is completely dry then you could store it in plastic bins, trash bags, or trash cans. If the mulch is not dry then your next best option would be to pile it up in the yard in an out-of-the-way location and turn it frequently until it dries out, then store in bins or bags.

Placing Mulch in the Garden

Placing mulch in the garden should be done very strategically. For example, wait until most of your seedlings sprout through the top soil: this allows time for any volunteers to poke through the ground, for transplanting elsewhere in the garden. It is also a good idea to add more mulch halfway through the gardening season and to spot-check your gardening areas from time to time so you can ensure the soil for your plants is staying moist.
Mulch is an often-free, valuable resource for the success of a garden. It keeps your roots moist, adds beneficial nutrients to the soil, and can really make the difference to an abundant garden. Take the time to experiment with different mulches, keeping note of which mulches work best with your plants. Also, to have your garden soil tested, contact your local agricultural extension office or check out our soil testing article, to make sure you are using the ideal mulch for your garden.
To sum up, it pays to consider the best mulch option for your garden situation and conditions. Consider your soil requirements, your space requirements and your wallet. Your payoff is in abundant plant production. I wish you much success as you add beneficial nutrients and just the right amount of ongoing moisture by using mulch.
Have you mulched much lately?

Karen Lynn is a gardener and beekeeper, who writes for Lil’ Suburban Homestead. She previously wrote for Frugal Families.com, and has been featured on several popular blogs. She is a Homestead Bloggers Network Contributor, as well been featured by Scratch Magazine.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.