Archive for the ‘Gardening Help’ Category

WYPIWYG – What You Plant Is What You Get

May 26, 2010

You may have seen this infomercial doubling as a YouTube video. It is put out by Survival Seed Bank and can be seen at this URL.

Survival Seed Bank Video

While I like the quality of the video and can appreciate the message—that we all need to be responsible for our own food supply and not be dependent on those that might not have our best interests at heart—I do have a problem with the company. Now I know that they certainly have the right to sell a product to make a profit. And if they can get people to pay them what they are asking for seeds, then more power to them. But, that being said, since most of us don’t have unlimited amounts of money, wouldn’t it be better if you could put together your own Survival Seed Bank? Let me tell you how.

Before we get started, there are a couple of things we need to address. First, for survival seeds, you MUST make certain the seeds you purchase and store are open-pollinated or non-hybrid. What is the difference between the two? Open pollinated seeds will “breed true” as is the common vernacular. What this means is pretty much WYPIWYG or “what you plant is what you get” from the next generation of seeds or the seeds you save. Hybrid seeds, common notated as F-1 (first generation hybrid) is usually a cross between two (or more) separate plant strains in the same family that combine desirable characteristics from each plant to produce a “hybrid” or cross. For a more detailed explanation, see this link, Wiki. By way of example you could cross a tomato that produces small numbers of large fruit with another tomato that produces copious numbers of small fruit. So in theory you end up with a F-1 hybrid that produces large numbers of medium size fruit.

So for our purposes, we want to not only provide food for our family for this year but also subsequent years as well. In addition, we also want to grow our seed stock through barter, so we need more than we need so we have some to trade. Also, you always want to keep some seeds back, just “in case” something goes wrong and you have to replant. Because “things” happen, such as a late season frost or a flood or even vandalism by either humans or animals. So, always keep some seeds as insurance, because we are talking about survival after all.

Okay, on to the solution to the problem. Where do you get your non-hybrid, open pollinated seeds? Below is an abbreviated list, with many other links and sources available. The important thing is to get busy and do NOT procrastinate. If you wait until EVERYONE is concerned, then the supply of available seeds will be exhausted VERY quickly.

OpenPollinated

JohnnySeeds This site sells all types of seeds, so check each variety before ordering

These are just two of the better known seed selling websites. Don’t overlook local coops, seed and feed stores, farmer’s markets as well as old time gardeners. There are even organizations dedicated to preserving “old time” seed varieties.

Southern Exposure

UGA.EDU

SeedSavers.org

Once you have your seeds, how to you keep them viable for as long as possible? The short answer is to store them in a cool, dry, dark location in air-tight containers. Some suggestions are to use old film canisters, but I mean really, who has those any more? Tupperware containers work as well. Just remember that viability will decrease with time, but most seeds should be viable for at least two seasons. And even if your germination rate is low, with most plants, all you need are a few to keep the flame alive.

Now, how to prepare YOUR seeds for storage is another topic entirely, which I can go into at a later date. The important thing at this point is to get the seeds for the foods you would normally eat NOW and store them. This is just like buying insurance. While I can’t say that I don’t expect to use my seeds, ’cause you know I will, I hope I don’t have to DEPEND on what I grow to live. However, if I do, then I do.

Saving seeds is just ONE small step you can take to ensure the safety of you and yours. But a word of caution is in order. Don’t wait until you HAVE to plant to survive. Start gardening now, so that IF (and some would say WHEN) you start relying on your produce to survive you are ready. Preparation removes the tendency to panic. Because, remember, “only YOU can prevent starvation.” 😉

This is just the opinion of “a man out standing in his field.” Judging by some of my opinions, some of you think I’ve been standing out in my field under the noonday sun without a hat, but that would be YOUR opinion. And in the battle of opinions, mine wins, at least on this blog. Happy saving…

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My next step in taking over the world – one garden at a time

May 6, 2010

Well, it’s been a while since you last got the opportunity to read what I am writing. Sorry ’bout that. Have you missed me? Probably not, but I can live with that. But the real story is, can you live with me? Hmm, sorry to disappoint SO many, but I am already engaged in a “live in” situation, one that I am VERY happy with. So again I must disappoint. Now, on to the update.

When we “spoke” last, I was just getting started on my garden. I thought, after looking at the indigenous flora, that I was going to have some serious work ahead of me to get my soil, whipped into shape. Boy was I wrong. After getting the soil analysis back from Midwest Labs, I was very pleasantly surprised. I needed only a “little” NPK, along with some of the minor elements. So here’s what I did.

I tilled the garden area with a rear-tine rototiller, for the first and ONLY time, thank you very much. I then spread a “generous” amount of composted poultry litter that I then re-tilled, breaking up any chunks and going over areas I had not loosened completely the first go-round. I then built three 4′ x 16′ raised beds, along with several other free-standing raised beds. The free-standing beds are 2-3 feet wide and 8”+ tall.

Raised Bed Salad Garden
Raised Bed Tomatoes

After planting lots of stuff that I like to eat, such as tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, celery, onions, squash, climbing string beans …. okay, who am I kidding here? I REALLY don’t like string beans. They are just something that is easy to grow, there is NO shelling involved and they are easy to prepare. The fact that I planted them around the chicken yard should be indicative of the fact that if the chickens eat some/all of the damn things, I will be okay with that. Okay, back to the list. Climbing speckled butter beans, cucumbers, corn, hot banana peppers, bell peppers, jalapenos, strawberries, bok choi, broccoli, leaf lettuce, and of course some “herbs”. Enough said.

Backup Manure Source

BTW, this is the “backup” manure source for our fertilizer company. 🙂

After everything was up and growing, I was “finally” able to unload my dump trailer. Let me tell you something. Composted chicken $%#@*& is HEAVY, especially when it is wet! My dump trailer will actually carry WAY more than the hydraulics will dump. I had Anne on the controls of the lift while I had my tractor bucket under the front of the bed picking up. Everything was working as planned, until the battery leads over-heated, melting the insulation and then catching FIRE! Oh yeah, the heat was so great that the terminals actually MELTED, opening a hole INTO the battery. Fortunately, that is what JB Weld is for, so I was able to save the battery. The fire? I beat it out with a clump of grass. 🙂

As a side note, wet chicken $%#@*& compost will NOT slide out of a dump trailer once it “sets up” in the bed. I wish I had a picture of what happened AFTER the battery caught fire, as that was actually more humorous than the fire. With the 16′ bed almost vertical, and with the chicken $%#@*& compost tenaciously adhering to the sides and bottom, I had the bright idea of leaning an extension ladder up inside the bed (with the back doors open of course) to allow me to get up to the $%#@&* stuck “up there” to begin the process of loosening it and digging it out with a shovel. However, there was one problem.
In order to do this I needed someone to stand on the bottom of the ladder. Hmm, who could I call upon for this odoriferous task? Anyone, anyone? Yes, you in the back. That is correct. Anne, will you please step to the front to accept your award for “Performance in a Comedy” above and beyond the call of duty! Thanks babe.

So, to set the scene. I’m balanced on the top of a 16′ extension ladder, digging $%#@&* from out of this trailer while my lovely assistant is standing “knee deep” in what I am loosening out of the trailer! What a sight that was. If only I had of had the video camera rolling. Anyway, back to the narrative.

So, with my trailer once again empty, I went to a local wood flooring mill to pick up a load of hardwood sawdust. This worked perfectly as a mulch for the garden. As you can see from the pics, everything is covered, except that plants that I WANT to grow, which makes for a nice, “clean” garden. Since I wanted to make certain I didn’t rob from Peter to pay Paul (cause the soil microbes to pull nitrogen out of the topsoil to allow them to digest the wood mulch), I applied a thin layer of poultry manure fertilizer on top of the ground. So far, everything is working just like I wanted it to.

Stevia
This is stevia, ONE of the plants the FDA is/was at war with.

Field
In the meantime, this is the field I am “out standing in”.

So, since pictures speak louder than words. Sorry, I can’t let that one slid. Pictures don’t speak, and typed words don’t either. When the hell do we get some of these sayings anyway? Ok, since pictures are more DISCIPTIVE than words (sometimes) I hope you can get a feel (another non-involved sense in this situation) for what my garden is like.

So, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please let me know. I will either address them or loudly ignore them. 🙂

Until next time…

Celery

This is last years celery, which is so strong I’m not sure I can even eat it. If this is what people that don’t like celery think it tastes like, then I completely understand why you don’t like it. BTW, I’ve been told it takes two years to really get celery established. I will let you know how it turns out.

Post Script: Just so you guys (and gals) think I started with some kind of “blessed” patch of ground, this is what the original garden site looked like. The ONLY saving grace to all of this is there is NO Bermuda Grass on this property. I have lots of Bahia, but thankfully no Bermuda. I do however have LOTS of dewberry plants along with a whole host of other weeds.

Garden Site

Planting in Lasagna

February 13, 2010

This is the second part of a two part duology on permaculture. If you haven’t read “The Do-Nothing Garden – is it just a myth?” then this post probably won’t make much sense. But then again, if you are wondering about the title, that might be a good thing.

In the blog on getting started with a “Do Nothing Garden” we discussed “setting the table” so to speak in the garden or, in other words, getting things ready for the fun part of gardening – planting. I know the quote applies to something else, but one of my favorite passages of literature is “hope springs eternal in the heart of man” and I apply the quote to planting a garden. If you really think about it, planting a garden is one of the ultimate indications that you plan on being around for at least a few more months AND you plan on being both ACTIVE as well as HUNGRY! I mean, who would plant a garden if they didn’t think they were going to be around to harvest it? You get the idea.

Okay, to the nuts and bolts of planting in lasagna. Huh? Is that a sentence you have EVER seen typed in the English language? I mean, I wrote it and I’ve never seen it before.

As we address the garden prior to planting, please be respectful. You do NOT want to piss off the garden. She (and yes, it HAS to be a she, ‘cause the garden is the source of SO much beauty and goodness while also being the POTENTIAL source of SO much heartache) will tolerate NO disrespect. I mean there are RULES that MUST be followed. That is one of the reasons you are here; to learn the rules. But you have to be careful who you learn the rules from, ‘cause not all rule teachers are equal. Some are more “equal” than others. There! Did I successfully navigate that little minefield? Okay, all is good.

If you will recall, we laid down layers of various materials over the soil of our planting beds, almost as if we were making lasagna. As I mentioned, it would have been better to have done this in the fall, and it would be a good thing to do NEXT fall. But since we didn’t, let’s work with what we have. The order in which to proceed is as follows:

1. Determine what you are going to plant and where – if you are planting live plants (dead ones are NOT a good choice at this time) then I recommend you have a container of planting mix (see blog on getting started in container gardening for recipes) to fill in around the plant.

2. For the next step, procure a sharp trowel. Okay, who am I kidding; you don’t have a sharp trowel do you? I have only seen one SHARP trowel, and that one belongs to me. You probably don’t take the time to sharpen your little shovels. Do you? You really need to get out more. Okay, take a “sharp instrument” of some kind—a knife, the aforementioned sharp trowel, or whatever you need in order to cut the soggy cardboard layer to allow you access to the soil below.

3. If you are planting live plants, make a small recess in the soil below the cardboard larger than the root ball of the setting. Place the plant in the hole and fill in around the plant with the potting mix.

4. If you are planting seeds, then repeat the above procedure, but instead of putting in a plant, simply fill in the recess with potting mix and then plant your seed(s).

5. Depending on what type of mulch you are using, you can move some of it back either around your live plant or lightly sprinkled over the seed you just planted.

6. Lightly water your plants or seeds and PRAY that “she” will be good to you. If you have already forgotten who “she” is then please refer back to fourth paragraph of this blog. You know you really should take something for this memory issue you have.

Bonus Material

In order to really get into permaculture, you can plant PERMANENT plants in the raised beds and then plant your veggies/flowers in between. This is the best of both worlds. The permanent features of the garden will prosper due to all the nutrients you put into the soil prior to planting and the veggies/flowers will benefit from the permanent biology around the permanent plants as well as the protection from the scalding summer sun that we are expecting any day now.

BTW, if you haven’t figured out yet what I’m talking about, “permanent plants” would be things like small (or large) fruit trees such as peach trees. In certain climates and soil conditions, blueberries make good permanent members of your garden. I know it would seem a little “weird”, but you could plant roses or some other ornamental in the garden. You get the idea. There are NO rules! Oh, did I say that out loud? And after all the fuss I made about the rules above.

The next installment (or it could be the one after that), will take up the discussion of companion planting. No, this does NOT mean finding places to bury the bodies of childhood companions you have grown tired of. “Companion planting” is the age old practice of planting two or more varieties together so that they compliment (no mean or nasty plants are accepted) each other’s biology. Think of it as a marriage, where each plant has strengths and weaknesses, but together they are both stronger than they would be alone. A prime example of companion planting is planting onions around squash plants. The phytochemicals in the onion plant protects the squash from such little beasties as cut worms, while at the same time the onion benefits from special chemicals given off by the squash. Also, since they are both right together, when you get ready for steamed squash and onions; you don’t have to look for the onions.

As usual, if you have any comments or suggestions for future blogs, please leave them in the comment section just below this entry. That’s all for today from Michael, just a “man out standing in his field,” which today happens to be 5” deep with SNOW. How the hell am I supposed to garden in the SNOW? I live in the SOUTH, not north of the Mason-Dixon! If I wanted SNOW I would live in Maine! Oh, well. I’m sure that “global warming”, known locally as SPRING, will take care of things soon.

The Do-Nothing Garden – is it just a myth? Could it be true?

February 5, 2010

In a previous blog I alluded to this subject of low-maintenance gardening. That’s called foreshadowing. You see it all the time in movies and even in some books. The author (that would be me) cleverly lets the reader (that would be you) know that something either very cool or very bad is coming. I hope you find this very cool, since I am trying to save you from something very unnecessary work. I define “work” as something you have to do but don’t want to do. Gardening is NOT work, for some of us, yet it is “hell on earth” for those who can’t stand it. The idea behind the type of gardening outlined in this blog is to get everything in order in the beginning so that you can reap the rewards of your labor later.

Now what is it about gardening that people don’t like? Okay, okay, calm down! One at a time:

• All the digging and constant work
• The expenses – every year
• Having to start over EVERY spring
• WEEDS and GRASS – no, not THOSE weeds and certainly not THAT grass
• Bending over – the ground is SO far down there

Okay, nominations are over. What if I could show you a gardening method that addresses ALL these issues while at the same time improving (not guaranteeing – we went over that earlier) the outcome of your efforts. In other words, you have a MUCH better chance of growing what you want – tasty veggies, while not growing what you DON’T want – weeds and grass. One caveat – this presupposes you are not trying to grow GRASS and WEED. 

Okay, let the lesson begin. What I am talking about goes by several names and, as with most things in gardening, there are no hard and fast rules. The phrase de jour is permaculture, which, as the name implies, is permanent agriculture. The idea is to mimic as closely as possible the forces that Nature employs in her natural gardens.

Okay, another list. I love lists. This one details what Nature DOES NOT do to grow, well, nature:

• No artificial tilling – natural tilling is performed by worms, bugs, beetles and roots
• No/Reduced fertilizing – just what generally grows on the site and what the plants take out of the air
• No/Reduced weeds – such as you would expect to find in a permanent landscape, such as an old growth forest
• No/Minimal failures – Nature makes a crop every year. Some years are better, but there is always a crop.

Now how do you suppose WE are going to do all these wonderful things? I’m glad you asked. I have to warn you that while I promised less work than conventional gardening, the first time will probably be more work. But you can rest assured that NEXT year your garden will be better than this year and will take a LOT less work. The idea is for you to look forward to springtime so you can garden, rather than dreading the very thought of gardening.

We are going to build a raised bed garden. Actually “we” aren’t going to build anything. You are going to do all the work. 😉 First, when we talk about a raised bed, what we are trying to accomplish is to deepen the good soil we have to work with so we can control the outcome of our planting and growing. You do not have to use anything to hold the soil in place, but it is a good idea for those planting areas you plan to use for growing typical garden veggies as opposed to “field” veggies. I put peas, beans, and corn into this “field veggie” category. It is just too much work to have that many raised beds. What you would typically plant in raised beds are early spring crops such as lettuce, spinach, herbs, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc… These work very well, especially if you can grow three or more crops per year, so you get maximum production from your initial work and investment.

These are step by step directions in an ideal situation with easy-to-work soil and lots of raw materials; or in other words, probably NOT where you are coming from. But just follow the principals outlined in the instructions as best you can. While I would like to do everything at once, that may not be practical. If you can just get the beds tilled and the soil amended, the rest can happen when it happens. Ideally, this should have been done last fall, but since my time machine is on the fritz, we will do what we can.

1. ***Get your soil tested. If you have ANY idea what your soil is like, then most county agents can give you at least an idea of what “most” soils in your area need. For example, in the Dallas area with the very heavy black clay and the high pH, you need LOTS of compost tilled into your soil, along with gypsum (to supply calcium without raising the pH) along with sulfur flowers (to lower the pH). In Mississippi, where I am currently living, we need high calcium lime, along with LOTS of compost tilled into the soil, Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate) and boron (from 20 Mule Team Borax). You get the idea.

2. Till (for the LAST time) all the recommended soil amendments into the soil. After the soil is well mixed, open up a trench, moving the soil to either side. The trench is backfilled with a mixture of wood chips, compost, tree limbs, and grass clippings. The idea is to put as much organic matter UNDER your beds as possible. Then replace the amended soil on TOP of your organic material. Water in your newly formed beds. This practice is called HUGELKULTUR, which is German for “mound culture.” BTW, does it strike you as strange that the German’s would have a NAME for something like that? It does me.

Ideally, all of this would have been completed last fall. I realize you didn’t know me then, but we are doing the best we can. Let’s continue.

3. Scatter a thin layer of manure or natural fertilizer. I recommend MightyGrow Organic Fertilizer with Trace Minerals or some other (howbeit less effective) good quality fertilizer.

4. If you can find it, lay down an overlapping layer of cardboard or just use a 3/8” layer of newspaper (no shiny print – that contains heavy metals). Make sure you overlap at least 6” so the weeds will not reappear. (Remember the weed discussion we had? I don’t, as I have wiped weeds from my MIND!) Yeah!
5. Another thin layer of manure or natural fertilizer scattered on top of the weed barrier.

6. Now comes the piece de resistance – 8 – 12” of OLD hay, straw, stable bedding, leaves or other mulching material. A good source of material for this layer can be found out in the country. Keep on the lookout for old round bales of hay that are of no value for feed. Tree companies will sometimes deliver loads of chipped limbs for FREE right to your door. BTW, that is actually just a FIGURE OF SPEECH. Put them as close to your garden as possible, not by the front door.

7. On top of the bulky mulching material, apply a 1 – 2” layer of good compost. If you have a compost pile, go ahead and raid it, since from this point forward you can do most of your composting IN the garden rather than composting somewhere else and taking it TO the garden.

8. Finally, put 2” of straw (not pine straw – use wheat straw or some other weedless material) on top of the compost. Don’t forget the areas between the rows.
You are done—for now. Water everything in and go get a beer! If you want you can go get a beer and THEN water everything in. Either way, drinking a beer is crucial to the success of your garden. I know. I drink beer every time I garden and my garden is always great. Now it is possible the beer is NOT the reason I have a great garden…but I’m not taking any chances. 😉

Next blog will be how you go about planting in this stuff. Relax, it’s easy. Trust me.

*** For soil testing you can try your local/state agricultural colleges such as Miss. State or Texas A&M. They offer low cost soil testing, but the timeliness of the results sometimes leaves a little to be desired. For fast, efficient, well qualified soil tests, contact Midwest Laboratories. They are good people to work with you can get your results online.

One of the primary reasons for a soil test is you cannot “fix” what you have not measured. Your particular soil may not need a lot of soil amendments or lime or sulfur or whatever. It may need something you just don’t know about. Also, a soil test provides a benchmark so you know where you are starting from. You can test every year or every other year, especially if you have problems. The soil lab can be one of your best resources to facilitate your gardening success.
This is just home spun wisdom with a sprinkling of experience from a “man out standing in his field.”

If you find this helpful, please let me know. If you have specific questions about gardening, you can email Michael at: research@plusminerals.com. For general questions, like “what is the meaning of life” just ask in the comment section.

Getting Started – With Container Gardening

February 1, 2010

It is rapidly approaching the time of year when the hearts of men (and some women) turn to thoughts of love….love of gardening, of course.  Now I know that there are some out there who don’t LOVE gardening and growing things like I do, and I feel for you.  The process of growing food or flowers, or just creating a quiet place to reflect is both good exercise for the body AND a way to exorcise the demons of day to day hectic living.  My goal in this series of blogs is to encourage you to at least THINK about trying gardening again even if you were “over worked” as a child in the family garden.

My wife, Anne, really isn’t much of a gardener, but loves having the basic salad veggies and herbs near at hand.  She tries, unsuccessfully, to share my delight in endless rows of beans and corn and tomatoes and anything else I have ground and seed to plant. But, you see, she spent childhood summers slaving away in the fields of her youth, tending and harvesting truckloads of produce. According to her, the rows were uphill from BOTH ends and it was ALWAYS at least 100 degrees and she was hardly even permitted a drink of water while she was workin’ in the fields…..well, maybe that is a bit exaggerated, but to hear her tell it, not by much!

And then there are those people who have NO background in gardening or growing ANYTHING.  This is the intimidated soul who says, “well, I can’t grow anything. I have a ‘black thumb.’”  First, there is no such thing as a “black thumb.” There may be some with uneducated thumbs, but that can be fixed.  All it takes is a desire to learn and experiment and a willingness to “bury your mistakes” cause as I’ve said before, even your mistakes can be useful, for fertilizer if nothing else.  😉

One of things that is peculiar about humans, and I speak as one, is we fear what we do not understand.  You may have heard the question posed by motivational speakers before that goes something like this. “If you knew you could NOT fail, what would you do today?”  It is the FEAR of failure that stops many people from trying new things, and gardening is no different.  What if I could show you how to get started with only a minor investment, with the certainty that you would not fail?  Would that interest you?  Well, I can’t do that—the failure part.  What I can do is give you information that will lessen the likelihood of failure and make the experience a whole lot more fun.

Because let’s face it.  Eating is FUN!  That’s why there are so many people who LOOK like they enjoy it SO much!  Well, what if you could grow your own highly nutritious food that tasted great, and for pennies a serving?  And what if you could brag about what you had done at dinner parties and to friends at work?  I mean, it is the cool thing to do in this economy—grow your own food.  Do you know that last year 20% MORE people grew some of their own food than at ANY other time in recorded history?  Some people are growing their own food ‘cause they are foodies (like Anne and me) while others are growing their own veggies ‘cause they have to.  Whichever category you fall into, and it may be a combination of the two, I can help you do better. So, let’s get started.

Where to begin? First, we need to decide on whether or not you want to plant a garden or just plant in a few containers.  I mean, I’m okay with whatever you decide because often you may start out with a few containers and catch the bug and end up with 40 acres and a mule!  Okay, THAT probably won’t happen, but you COULD start out with a small herb garden and end up with a raised bed garden on the side of your home.  If you do catch the bug, then you may find yourself out looking for more ground to take in. I know I did.  But that is a subject for another blog, because, to say the least, Anne’s vision of “gardening” differs from mine just a bit.  😉

So, if you either don’t want to “go to the field” so as not to risk a flashback of your horrible childhood, OR, more likely, you just don’t have the room or time for a REAL garden, then container gardening is a great way to supplement the available fare from the local supermarket with locally grown, highly nutritious food.

The basic process is easy.  Locate suitable containers, as close to free as possible.  Craig’s List is a good source, as are local nurseries.  I have used 55 gallon plastic barrels, cut in half with drain holes drilled in the bottom and they worked great.  You can add the flair of “southern” raised bed gardening by using old tires filled with planting mix, but that might not be the look you are going for. If you want to combine gardening with woodworking, you can build your own.  In the next blog I will talk about raised-bed gardening, which is conceptually related to container gardening but gives the gardener more latitude with what can be planted and how permanent the garden can become.  Raised bed permaculture gardens can even prosper with NO added fertilizer. It also reduces weeding time to almost zero….Anne likes THAT! Stay tuned.

Other than good drainage and stability (which is why the bigger the container the better) the most important decision you will make is: “what type of growing soil do I use?”  Some of the commercially available mixes are fine, but I personally would mix my own.  Because containers are not as forgiving as planting in the ground, you have to take into account that the planting soil MUST drain well and have a balanced nutrient content.  What that means is you need to have more in the soil than just compost.  The following is a good rule-of-thumb soil mix:

  • One part peat moss (or equivalent – aged compost works well so long as it has lots of organic matter),
  • One part garden loam (garden soil from Home Depot works okay for this)
  • One part builders sand which is washed sand that would be used for mixing mortar (NOT “play sand”).  This can be found at nurseries or even masonry supply businesses.
  • ***Some organic fertilizer (1%-5% of the total mix, depending on type of fertilizer), such as composted cow manure (5%) or poultry litter based fertilizer (1%).  Remember that plants take over 80% of what they need from the air, so you don’t need too much. *** I realize “some” is a VERY subjective term.  It is something you here from experienced cooks who say “add some butter” or “mix until it LOOKS right”.  The main idea here is temperance.  You can always add MORE, but it is hard to take away what you have already mixed in.   
  • Depending on where you live and what type of soil you have available, 10%-20% of the total amount can be ordinary garden soil.  This assures that the planting mix is not sterile.

Other additives that can be beneficial are composted granite (this could take the place of the sand), and gypsum (calcium sulfate) which provides the all important calcium for the plants and doesn’t change the pH of the soil.  If your potting soil doesn’t contain fertilizer (I don’t recommend those that do) vermicompost is about the best, unless you have access to poultry fertilizer such as Cockadoodle Doo or MightyGrow.

MightyGrow has trace minerals and is a biologically active fertilizer, which makes it superior to any other organic fertilizer available. But, with just a little effort you can find several additional sources of organic fertilizer.  Craig’s List, if you are not familiar with it, can be found here, (search for the city nearest you) and is a great source for all kinds of gardening related items.  I have looked under the heading Farm & Garden and found all kinds of things I could use.  People will sell plastic barrels, bricks (for raised beds), and horse manure and just about anything else you can imagine.  BTW, CL has a “Free” section that often contains posts from people that just want someone to come clean out a horse stall for the manure.  Not a bad trade, an afternoon of mucking out a stall for a truck load of fertilizer.

Before you fill your containers, choose a location.  While the “ideal” esthetic location may be the outskirts of your backyard, you may want to consider locating your containers closure to your house.  Hopefully these containers are going to be bursting with vibrant, tasty veggies, so why hide them where no one can see them?  Also, from a practical standpoint, the closer they are to “where you live” the more attention you will pay to your plants and the better they will perform.

I will make one more comment about container gardening.  Remember that your plants are – hopefully – going to GROW!  Don’t plant too many in one container or put the containers sp close together that they crowd each other.  Plants are solar collectors, so arrange them accordingly.  If you are tempted to plant too many plants in the containers or find that you have run out of room for containers, then I must say to you: CONGRATULATIONS! You have been bitten by the gardening bug and should be spending your spare time scouting out a nice clear acre or two for the day when messing around with containers no longer gives you the fix you need!.

After reading this you may still not feel comfortable with planting your containers.  Remember, we discussed that you have to be willing to make a mistake or two along the way to learning how to garden.  Don’t worry about it.  All you have at risk are a few seeds or plants and some of your time. Start out small and take your time.  You really don’t have to plant the entire season’s crop all in one afternoon.  Remember that some plants grow well in the spring, while others need more heat to prosper.  Even herbs grow at different times of the year.  BTW, this begs the question: how did the Mexicans ever figure out how to make salsa, when tomatoes get ready in late summer, while onions are pretty much done by early spring and cilantro is finished by late spring?  How did they ever get all the parts together at the same time…but I digress.

Let me give you a pointer or two on plant selection. Transplants are sometimes easier than seeds, especially for things like tomatoes and herbs.  Why not try planting a few green onions around the base of a tomato plant?  Basil is THE easiest herb to grow, but contrary to popular belief, it can get HUGE! So it should really be planted in its own container.  My basil last year was well over 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  FYI, ONE basil plant will supply a good sized neighborhood.  The same is true of many plants that come “six to a package.”  I mean how many habanera plants do you really NEED?  I could say the same thing about eggplants, but the answer to the question, “How many eggplants do you need?” is NONE!  😉

One way to handle this predicament is to share some of your plants with a fellow gardener.  That way you can buy a six pack of basil and they can buy peppers.  Then you swap around for what you want.  The same practice works well with seeds.  Do you know that there are around 75 tomato seeds in one package?  Enough to send my wife running for the hills!

Now there is NO way I can give you all the info you need in one blog.  I have been studying gardening my whole life, even before I knew I loved it.  And I will admit it—I have made my share of mistakes.  Truth be told, I made my share and probably a good portion of YOUR share as well!  If you have specific questions, please ask away.  My email address is: michael@plusminerals.com or you can leave comments at the end of this blog.

The next post will deal with getting a raised bed garden started.  The word of the day will be “permaculture” and the emphasis will be on growing food with the LEAST amount of work for the MOST amount of food.  If you like the sound of that, then tune back in later this week.

Until then, remember, I’m just a man “out standing in his field.”