What if I told you that you could catch fish for dinner right in your own backyard? And if you did, what if I told you that right up until you caught those fish, they were growing the veggies for the rest of your dinner? Would you believe me? You should! This is all within reach using a new style of gardening called aquaponics.
Aquaponics is, at its most basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides organic food for the growing plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. The third and fourth critical, yet invisible actors in this symbiotic world are the beneficial bacteria and composting red worms. Think of them as the Conversion Team. The beneficial bacteria exist on every moist surface of an aquaponic system. They convert the ammonia from the fish waste that is toxic to the fish and useless to the plants, first into nitrites and then into nitrates. The nitrates are relatively harmless to the fish and most importantly, they make terrific plant food. At the same time, the worms convert the solid waste and decaying plant matter in your aquaponic system into vermicompost.
Any type of fresh water fish works well in an aquaponic system. Tilapia is perhaps the most widely grown aquaponics fish, but aquaponic gardeners are also growing catfish, bluegill, trout, and even red-claw crayfish. Not interested in eating your fish? No problem! Koi, goldfish, and any decorative fresh-water fish you would purchase from a pet store work as well. In selecting your fish, however, you do want to pay attention to the temperature at which they both thrive and survive. Tilapia, for example, can survive down to temperatures in the low 60s, but they won’t thrive until they reach the mid 70’s. In contrast, trout will survive up to a maximum temperature of 65, but won’t thrive until their water is in the high 40s to low 50’s.
There are also only a few limits to the types of plants you can grow in an aquaponics system. In fact, the only categories of plants that won’t thrive in an aquaponics system are plants like blueberries and azaleas that require an acidic environment to thrive. This is because aquaponic systems stay at a fairly neutral pH and therefore are a poor environment for plants requiring a pH of 4.0 – 5.0.
So can all of this work in any climate? Absolutely…with some protection. A backyard greenhouse is ideal because not only can you create an ideal environment for your fish and plants, but the sunlight is free! As an added bonus, all the water in the fish tank, sump tank and grow beds creates thermal mass in your greenhouse which helps moderate temperature extremes. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a backyard greenhouse, you can also grow inside. Many aquapons have dedicated their garages and basements to their aquaponics systems!
Here is the rest of the good news about aquaponics:
- Aquaponic gardening enables home fish farming. You can now feel good about eating fish again.
- Aquaponic gardening uses 90% less water than soil-based gardening because the water is re-circulated and only that which the plants take up or evaporates is ever replaced.
- Aquaponic gardening results in two crops for one input (fish feed).
- Aquaponic gardening is four to six times as productive on a square foot basis as soil-based gardening. This is because with aquaponic gardening, you can pack plants about twice as densely as you can in soil and the plants grow two to three times as fast as they do in soil.
- Aquaponic systems only require a small amount of energy to run a pump and aeration for the fish. This energy can be provided through renewable methods.
- Aquaponics does not rely on the availability of good soil, so it can be set up anywhere, including inner city parking lots, abandoned warehouses, schools, restaurants, home basements and garages.
- Aquaponic gardening is free from weeds, watering and fertilizing concerns, and because it is done at a waist-high level, there is no back strain.
- Aquaponic gardening is necessarily organic. Natural fish waste provides all the food the plants need. Pesticides would be harmful to the fish so they are never used. Hormones, antibiotics, and other fish additives would be harmful to the plants so they are never used. And the result is every bit as flavorful as soil-based organic produce, with the added benefit of fresh fish for a safe, healthy source of protein.
- Aquaponics is completely scalable. The same basic principles apply to a system based on a 10 gallon aquarium and to a commercial operation.
Aquaponic gardens are straight forward to set up and operate in your own backyard or home as long as you follow some basic guidelines. They can even be constructed using recycled materials, including old bathtubs and commercial containers used to ship liquid foodstuffs. Or purchase a system kit if you are not very DIY-inclined. The main point is to set up a system soon and become fish independent! There is simply no reason to rely on the fish counter anymore.
1. Get the Optimal Balance of Compost Materials
It’s important to get the right mixture of ingredients in your compost to ensure that it heats up nicely and breaks down effectively.
Getting the right mixture of brown (carbon) materials, to green (nitrogeneous) materials will make a huge difference. Adding too much brown material will result in a compost pile that takes a long time to break down. Adding too much green material will result in a compost pile that is slimy and smelly that doesn’t break down well. In order for your compost pile to break down quickly and efficiently you should feed it just the right balance of brown and green materials.
The microorganisms in our compost bins need both carbon and nitrogen to thrive; carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein synthesis. For every one unit of nitrogen used by the bacteria they also consume about 30 units of carbon. So in order to keep the bacteria working efficiently we need to supply them with a mixture that is about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Needless to say, most materials don’t have a ratio of 30:1. However, if we know the approximate C:N ratio of the materials we use in our compost, we can combine them so that the total mix will be close to 30:1. It’s really not that complicated…
2. Turn the Compost More Often
Adding fresh oxygen into your compost pile by turning it more frequently will help your compost break down faster. Here’s why:
Many of the bacteria that break down your compost need air to survive. A week or two after the pile is made these bacteria will start to die off as they start to use up the available air in the pile. This drop in the amount of bacteria will result in the compost pile cooling off a bit from it’s peak temperature. When this happens it’s time to turn the pile to get more air into it.
When turning your compost pile, move the drier material from the outer edges of the pile into the center and break up any clumps to get as much air into the mixture as you can. Moisten any of the materials as you go if they seem dry.
If you have the time, we suggest turning the pile every 14 days or so, or when you see the temperature fall from the next peak in termperature of about 110° – 120° F. That’s more often than most of us have time for, but, in general, the more you turn the pile the faster you will have finished compost. If you’re using a plastic compost bin, an aerator tool will make the job of turning much easier. A garden fork is often the best tool for turning compost in an open style bin.
Another way to get more air into your compost is to stick a stake or metal rod into the pile and wiggle it around to create an air pocket. Some people even drill holes along the length of PVC pipes and the pipes horizontally as they build their compost pile.
3. Check the Moisture Level of your Compost
Acheiving the correct moisture content is an important factor in keeping a compost pile working efficiently.
The key to getting the correct moisture in your compost is to moisten the pile without making it too wet and soggy. Many people recommend adding moisture until the material is as moist as a wrung out sponge. This is far too wet. If you can squeeze water out of it, it’s definitely too wet. If your pile is too wet adding some dry brown materials such as chopped leaves or hay should help dry it out.
If you live in a very dry climate, make an indentation in the top of the pile to collect rainwater and help keep the pile moist. If you’re in a rainy area cover the top of the pile with a tarp or other covering to keep it from becoming too wet.
A moisture content of between 50-60% is desirable in an active compost pile but how many of us know how to measure moisture?…
4. Use the Berkeley Method of “fast composting”
A really fast method of composting known as the “Berkeley method” or “fast composting” produces finished compost in as little as 14 to 21 days.
Fast composting produces a higher quality compost in less time than traditional methods. The finished product contains a higher nutrient value becauase nutrients are not lost to leaching from rainfall and long-term exposure to the elements. The original Berkeley method involved the layering of carbon and nitrogen materials but today, many composters mix all the materials together into one large fast compost pile.
The jury is out on which of these options helps the pile to heat up faster. Choose whichever option you feel most comfortable with. For the purposes of this article we will mix all of the material together…
5. Shred Some of the Ingredients – Especially the Brown Material
If there is one secret to making compost faster, it is finely shredding the carbon rich ingredients such as leaves, hay, straw, paper and cardboard.
Shredding increases the surface area that the compost microbes have to work on and provides a more even distribution of air and moisture among the materials. Since it’s the brown materials that take the longest amount of time to break down, shredding them significantly reduces the finishing time of compost.
The type of chipper or shreddder used is not important, provided it can handle the materials. Rotary lawn mowers can also be used for dry leaves by running the mower back and forth over a pile a few times although this method is not as effective as using a commercial shredder. Some readers have recommended shredding dry leaves in the bottom of a plastic garbage bin with a rotary grass trimmer – we do not recommended this method due to the risk of injury. If you insist on giving it a try, be sure to wear both gloves and goggles!
Nitrogen rich materials such as manure, vegetable wastes and green prunings can also be shredded. Soft succulent materials do not need to be shredded because they break down very quickly in the compost pile.
If you don’t have a chipper or shredder you can chop your materials into smaller pieces with pruning shears or strong scissors. We often do this with our tomato vines at the end of the season. It takes a fair amount of effort but the results are worth it.
6. Use More Than One Pile
If you have a lot of material to compost it’s a good idea to start a new pile rather than adding to an existing pile.
Once the composting process begins and the material in the pile starts to break down it is advisable to avoid adding new material unless there is an imbalance of greens to browns that should be corrected. Adding new material to an existing pile will usually prolong the wait for finished compost and, in an open pile, the longer the process takes the greater the risk that nutrients will be lost to leaching.
A better idea is to start a brand new pile with the fresh material. Both piles will be break down more efficiently and will be ready sooner!
7. Start a Worm Compost Bin for Food Scraps
Worm Composting, also known as vermiculture is an often overlooked composting method. It’s not just for city folks anymore!
One advantage of worm composting is that it can be done indoors and outdoors, allowing for year round composting. It also provides those living in apartments with a means of composting. Worrm compost is made in a container filled with moistened bedding (often shredded newspaper, or shredded fall leaves and a handful of sand or soil) and red wrigglers (also known as branding or manure worms).
You add your food waste and the worms and micro-organisms will eventually convert the entire contents into rich compost. Worm compost bins are also a fun and eductational project for children!
For New Guinea Impatiens (both Hanging Baskets & Wallbags)
- These containers are NOT pre-fertilized, but are LIGHT FEEDERS and should not get too much fertilizer. Use ½ strength 20-20-20 once a week. To make ½ strength fertilizer use about 1 ½ level teaspoons per gallon (4 litres). Use warm water to completely dissolve the fertilizer crystals before use.
For Zonal Geranium Hanging Baskets, ½ Wall Pots & all Patio Planters
- These containers are NOT pre-fertilized, and should get a weekly feeding of 20-20-20 at full strength. To make full strength fertilizer use about 3 level teaspoons per gallon (4 litres). Use warm water to completely dissolve the fertilizer crystals before use.
For All Other Hanging Baskets including Tomato Baskets & Wallbags
- These baskets ARE pre-fertilized, but still need a weekly feeding at ½ strength of 20-20-20, for optimum show. To make ½ strength fertilizer use about 1 ½ level teaspoons per gallon (4 litres). Use warm water to completely dissolve the fertilizer crystals before use.
- Watering frequency will vary from once every second day on rainy, cool days to three times a day on very hot or windy days. When the lobelia flowers close or wilt, this is an indication that watering frequency is inadequate and needs to be increased.
- When adjusting to weather conditions, the best indicator is the weight of the container, not the “finger test”. When watering or fertilizing, water until it runs out the bottom of the container. Note: Watch for shrinkage gaps after severe drying – in this case water will prematurely run out the bottom – in this case place the container in a bowl full of water for ½ hour.
- Wallbags need patient watering. The TOP half and the BOTTOM half of the bag are watered separately. The top is watered directly through the soil surface and the bottom is watered through the pipe. Alternate watering the soil surface and the pipe until water drips out the bottom drain holes.
- Geraniums, Calibrachoas, Petunias, and mixed sun baskets should be placed in bright locations with a reasonable amount of direct sun. Petunias and Calibrachoas are best for full sun.
- Fuchsias, Begonias, all Impatiens, and mixed shade baskets should be placed in bright, but shaded locations or filtered sunlight locations, and could receive early morning orlate evening direct sun.
The great thing about aquaponics is that it’s very versatile. You can adjust an aquaponics system to suit your needs.
If you don’t have enough space in your garden or if you don’t have one at all, don’t worry because with aquaponics, you can grow vegetables indoors.
The best options are either in a basement, garage or a spare room. Alternatively, you can just keep it in a corner space in any room and since an aquaponics system is flexible, it won’t take up much space and won’t look out of place either. As a matter of fact, it makes a great talking point and feature in your home!
The most basic aquaponics system is the flood and drain system which can easily be built within your home (find out how to build one here).
The most important things to consider when you grow vegetables indoors are:
This will main the main issue especially if you live in a small apartment. However, an aquarium based aquaponic system in a closet style setting is ideal for gardening in city apartments because they’re small, decorative and portable.
Where will you put your aquaponics system in your home? If you decide to put it in a small room make sure that you leave the door or window open slightly to let air circulate.
Some grow lights will produce a lot of heat so make sure there’s enough space between your plants and the grow lights especially in small enclosed rooms.
You probably won’t have enough window lighting indoors so you’ll have to supplement it with grow lights (or use it entirely). Make sure that you’re covering the blue and red spectrum your plants will absorb.
The following lights can be used:
- T5 Fluorescent Lights: These are low power consumers and produce little heat. However, they’re not very flexible because they only reach through 45cm of plant canopy and their performance significantly drops after six months so the bulbs should be replaced.
- High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights: These are intended for serious indoor growers and come in five different parts. The lighting produced are very effective and the bulbs last around a year. Needless to say, they’re very expensive and use a lot of power.
- Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) Lights: These are one of the most recent lighting technologies. They produce no heat and have very little power consumption so the bulbs rarely need to be replaced. LED technology has advanced and gone cheaper within the past few years, but they’re still not as effective as other forms of grow lights yet.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider for backyard composting success.
Finished compost is a free soil amendment and fertilizer for the garden. It is mild and won’t burn plants like chemical fertilizers. By adding compost you’ll improve the overall texture of your soil enabling it to retain and drain water better.
Choose a Compost Bin
In the DIY Compost Bins post I collected some nice examples of homemade compost bins on the Internet. The post on Compost Bins for Small Spaces showcased three commercially available compost bins for those who weren’t born with the DIY gene and don’t mind spending money.
Compost Bins as Pets
Think of your compost bin as a pet. This will do two things: it will help you see it as a living thing that shouldn’t be neglected, and teach you to ‘feed’ it a balanced diet.
There are two main types of organic materials you can feed your compost bin: greens and browns. Greens are high in nitrogen and described as ‘wet.’ Browns are described as ‘dry’ materials and are high in carbon.
When feeding your compost bin try to maintain a balance of 50% greens and 50% browns by weight. Since greens are typically heavier, you should add 2 to 3 buckets of browns for every bucket of greens you add.
Green Materials to Compost
Vegetable and fruit scraps. Coffee grounds and filters. Tea bags and leaves. Fresh grass clippings. Plant trimmings from your garden. Houseplants.
Brown Materials to Compost
Dry leaves. Straw and dry hay. Woodchips and sawdust from untreated wood. Dried grass clippings, shredded paper. Egg and nut shells. Hair and animal fur. Paper, shredded newspaper (printed with soy ink to be safe) paper towels, and paper tubes.
DO NOT COMPOST!
Meat. Fish. Eggs. Dairy products. Oily foods or grease. Bones. Cat and dog waste. Diseased plants and seeds of weedy plants. Anything treated with pesticides.
Chop your materials into small pieces, which will break down faster. Always cover your layer of green material with a layer of brown material to cut down on flies and mask any odors. If you want fine compost, like in the picture above by normanack, run over it with a mulching lawn mower. When composting whole plants remove seed heads and seed pods. If possible avoid adding roots of plants to your compost pile that could generate a whole new plant.
Tulips are some of the most popular spring flowers of all time, and the third most popular flowers world-wide next only to the Rose and Chrysanthemum. Tulips come in an incredible variety of colors, height, and flower shapes. Some Tulips are even fragrant.
Facts about Tulips
- There are now over 3,000 different registered varieties of cultivated Tulips.
- Every year billions of Tulips are cultivated, a majority of which are grown and exported from Holland.
- Historically, Europe considered Tulips as the symbol of the Ottoman Empire.
- Tulips grow wild over a great territory in Asia Minor through Siberia to China.
- Tulips were first cultivated and hybridized by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.
- Tulips symbolize imagination, dreaminess, perfect lover and a declaration of love.
- Fresh out of onions? Use your Tulip bulbs instead! Tulip bulbs are a good replacement for onions in cooking.
Classification of Tulips
The following classification of Tulips is based on the time of bloom. Tulips can be divided into early, mid, and late season flowering Tulips.
- Early Flowering Tulips: These Tulips bloom in March and early April. Early Flowering Tulips are Species Tulips, Kaufmanniana (e.g. Waterlily), Fosteriana (e.g. Red Emperor), Single Early(e.g. Apricot Beauty), Double Early, Greigii Tulips etc.
- Midseason Flowering Tulips: These bloom in April and early May. e.g. Triumph, Swan Wings Tulip, Darwin Hybrids, Parrot Tulips
- Late Flowering Tulips: These Tulips bloom in May. e.g. Single Late, Double Late, Viridiflora Tulips, Lily-Flowered, Fringed Tulips, Rembrandt Tulips, Multi-Flowering Tulips.
Tulips are very easy to grow. Many people design an artistic, colorful layout for the Tulip blooms.
- Select the location for planting.
- Prepare the soil by working it well, removing rocks and weeds.
- Mix in plenty of organic material and fertilizer.
- Special bulb formulas and bone meal work best.
- The Tulips will bloom in almost any soil with a good drainage.
- When buying Tulip bulbs, select only the finest quality bulbs. In general the bigger the bulb, the bigger the bloom.
- Follow the directions from the supplier for spacing and depth. If no directions are included, plant the bulbs 6-8″ apart and at a depth twice the diameter of the bulb.
- After the Tulips bloom, let the plant continue to grow until it dies off. During the post bloom period, the plant sends energy to the bulb to store for use next spring.
- Tulips require a period of cold while they are dormant and resting between shows.
Care For Tulip Bulbs
Tulips are vivacious perennial plants, i.e. they lose their outer parts but conserve the underground stems called bulbs.
- For the propagation of new Tulip bulbs one should cut them and leave the stem and the leaves to dry off.
- Usually this should be done before the Tulips dry off, approximately some three weeks after blooming.
- After a month and a half of having cut the Tulip flowers, extract the bulbs and conserve in a cold, dry place.
- A high temperature can ruin the Tulip bulb or result in a poor quality in new plants. (These conditions are applicable to both types of cultivations, either in soil or in hydroponics).
The Jasmine is a very popular flower around the world especially in the tropics because of its unique fragrance. The Jasmine is native to tropical and warm or temperate regions of the old world.
The Jasmine flowers are white in most species, with some species being yellow. The Jasmine is believed to have originated in the Himalayas in western China.
Unlike most genera in the Oleceae family, which have four corolla lobe petals,Jasmines often have five or six lobes. Jasmines are often strong and sweet scented. Jasmines are widely cultivated for their shining leaves and beautiful clusters of fragrant flowers.
Flowering in Jasmines takes place in summer or spring which is usally six months after planting. The Jasmine flower releases its fragrance at night after the sun has set and especially when the moon is waxing towards fullness. Jasmine flower buds are more fragrant than the flowers.
True Jasmines have oval, shiny leaves and tubular, waxy-white flowers. The false Jasmine on the other hand is in a completely different genus, Gelsemium, and family, Loganiaceae, which is considered too poisonous for human consumption.
Fact About Jasmine :
- Jasmine shrubs reach a height of 10-15 feet, growing approximately 12-24 inches per year.
- Jasmine leaves are either evergreen or deciduous.
- A Jasmine leaf is arranged opposite in most species. The leaf shape is simple, trifoliate or pinnate with 5-9 leaflets, each up to two and half inches long.
- The Jasmine stems are slender, trailing, green, glabrous, angled, and almost 4-sided.
- Most of the Jasmine species bear white flowers, which are about 1 inch in size.
- The Jasmine oil, which is a very popular fragrant oil, contains benzyl acetate, terpinol, jasmone, benzyl benzoate, linalool, several alcohols, and other compounds.
- The variety Jasminium sambac, is a clustered flower of an equally strong scent known in Hawaii as the Pikake.
- The two types of Jasmine which are used for oil production are the Jasminum grandiflorum and Jasminum officinale.
- The nectar of the fragrant flowers of Carolina Jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens, is poisonous, although its dried roots are used as a sedative in medicinal preparations.
- The Jasmine flower oil, extracted from the two species Jasminum Officinale and Grandiflorum, is used in high-grade perfumes and cosmetics, such as creams, oils, soaps, and shampoos.
Growing Jasmine Flowers :
- Jasmines grow well in moist, well drained, sandy loam to clayey garden soil with moderate level of fertility.
- Jasmines prefer a full sun to partial shade and a warm site.
- Jasmine bushes should be planted during June to November.
- Jasmine plant should be kept at least eight feet apart in order to save the later growth of the plant from jamming together.
- Adding of leaf molds to the soil makes a better growth of the plant.
- Mild fertilizer should be applied during spring.
- Plenty of water should be given during summer.
- Jasmine plants should be provided with full sunlight up to at least four hours a day.
Plant lovers, I have a confession to make. My first orchid was a fake.
It still is, in fact: it never died, and it sits, in all its lilac artificialness, on my bedroom window in my parents’ house. It’s a realistic fake, though, which I begged my mum to buy for me when I was 13. It’s potted in a clear, square vase with pebbles around it. Very Zen. Besides, it’s lasted 15 years, which is more than I can say for my real orchids.
When I moved into my new flat last year, I picked up a pale purple phalaenopsis orchid for about £5 from Ikea, chose a simple white ceramic pot for it, and placed it on my white glossy sideboard next to a turquoise vase with a cherry blossom trail on it. Again, very Zen.
It did marvellously and reflowered twice. So I bought another one, in a deeper, velvety shade of purple.
But it was disastrous: tall, spindly, and slightly menacing. Every night when I came home from work, I found the floor strewn with decaying flower heads. The stem slowly turned an unhealthy shade of yellow. It was dead within a fortnight.
A month ago, I tried again. This time, I chose a very pretty white phalaenopsis pinned all the way round into an arch. It, too, died. Within a week the fleshy leaves started to whither and, weirdly, turn a bit mushy.
Time to call in the experts. What was I doing wrong?
“It’s very hard to kill an orchid!” said a spokeswoman from the Flowers and Plants Association, making me out to be some sort of orchid murderer.
But I am not alone. “Orchids have a reputation for being a challenge to look after,” says Simon Richards, a product developer for flowers and plants at Marks & Spencer, who sympathises greatly with my orchid ordeal. “They are tropical plants, and it’s hard to replicate those conditions at home.”
Richards says a good orchid, raised in the right conditions (room temperature, not less than 16.5C) should last eight weeks with flowers, after which the blooms will slowly start dropping off (perfectly naturally) from the bottom up. It will eventually re-flower.
Like most pretty things, they are a little high-maintenance and a bit picky: they like light, but only north-facing; they hate draughts; and they only like soft water. Never, ever cut the aerial roots off (the slightly greying roots curling around the top – apparently some people don’t like the look of them), and never, ever remove them from the original plastic pots they’ve been rooted in.
“If you live in a hard water area, use cooled boiled water from the kettle,” says Richards. “Either water them once a week with an eggcup-sized amount of soft water, or stand your orchid in a bucket and drench completely with soft water to replicate a tropical rain shower – let it soak for a minute in enough water to cover the compost. But don’t let any water sit in the area where the leaves cross over [if it does, dab away with tissue].”
While the flowers are in bloom, keep the stems pinned to the sticks they are supplied with for support.
Every node (the little triangular etch) on the stem is a potential new bloom. Once all the flowers fall off, trim the stem all the way down, just above the very lowest node, and cut diagonally. “This will help to stimulate new growth, hopefully a new flower stem,” says Richards.
It’s ideal to put cut-down orchids in a conservatory or greenhouse to encourage reflowering; failing that, a north-facing windowsill will do. Keep watering weekly, and you should see a new stem coming through. And that, says Richards, is that.
“Some people just have a knack for reflowering,” he says, although I’m not sure I really believe him. My Ikea iris is in the process of reflowering yet again, and I’m sure it isn’t down to my “knack” at all. Still, maybe there’s hope for this former faker yet.
Spring is an exciting time for gardeners. It’s the time when we can survey our bare garden plot, spade in hand and say, “From this ground will spring multitudes!” (Gardeners are easily excitable.) Of course, spring also means a lot of hard work. Planting. Lots of planting.
To ensure that you’re getting the most from your garden, plant your seeds and seedlings at the correct time for your region. The USDA has a plant hardiness zone chart that will give you a good idea as to when to start planting. Keep in mind that a chart doesn’t know everything. If there’s ten inches of snow on the ground but the chart tells you its time to plant… well, just use your noggin. To more precisely determine planting times, consider using a soil thermometer. When the average soil temperature (over a five day period) reaches 40˚F, plant cool season crops, like spinach, carrots and beets. Sow warm weather crops, such as corn, asparagus and tomatoes at 50˚F, and wait until soil temperatures reach 60˚F. or more to plant “hot” weather crops such as squash, beans, peppers and melons. If you need more information on proper planting times give your local extension service a call.
Once you know it’s safe to plant a garden, begin preparing your soil. Remember, a few hours of planning and preparation will make all the difference. It’s quite easy to dig up a plot of land and throw some plants in the ground. It is another thing entirely to create a healthy garden. Begin digging only when soil moisture conditions are right, the ground needs to be moist enough to work easily, but not too soggy. Prepare your beds by working the soil as deeply as possible without disturbing its natural structure. If you have it, work plenty of organic compost into the soil. Double digging is a great way to accomplish this. Finish the preparation of your garden by raking over it several times to rid it of large clumps, and discard any stones you happen to find. This will help get your plants off to a good start. Seeds will not grow well if they have to compete with clods of soil, bits of wood, or rocks.
Read the seed packet for directions on the depth and distance apart to plant seeds. To plant small seeds, use your finger or the corner of a trowel to prepare a trench to the depth you desire. Take a few seeds and scatter them down the trench, it doesn’t have to be perfect. In most cases, seeds are sown closer than their final spacing because having too many seedlings is always better than having too few. You can always thin out the rows later. After sowing the seeds, spread a light layer of mulch or soil on top to protect them. This will also help the seeds germinate. Make sure that you thoroughly water right after planting.
Tip: For small seeds that are going straight into the garden, mix them with a little sand before spreading. Adding sand will help make it easier to properly space plants.
Transplants are a good choice if you have a hard time getting seeds to sprout or if you live in an area with a short growing season. Before you start planting, you’ll want to determine the correct spacing recommendations for your plants and dig holes accordingly. Dig a hole that is as deep as the plant container and about one and a half times as wide. Remove all rocks and un-decayed organic matter so the roots have plenty of room to grow. If you like, you can add a bit of organic fertilizer or compost to the hole, but mix it with some of the soil before you put the plant in. Next, remove the transplant from its container and examine the root ball. If several of the roots are circling around at the bottom, gently loosen them. Try to disturb the root ball as little as possible. Use both hands when placing the plant into the hole and make sure the plants’ base is even with the soil surface, neither protruding nor sunken into the ground. Gently fill and tamp with your hands. Transplants need water shortly after they have been planted. When you have finished, make sure to give your garden a gentle but thorough watering. If temperatures drop, you can protect your young plants by using row cover, plastic milk jugs, or other season extenders to keep them warm at night.
Transplants and newly sown seeds need to be kept constantly moist for the first few weeks. Water your new garden lightly every time the surface is dry or thoroughly twice a day in hot weather (see Efficient Use of Water in the Garden and Landscape). Seedlings should emerge from the ground in a week or two. If the weather is cool, it may take a bit longer. Transplants take a while to recover once they’ve been planted. You’ll know they’re doing fine when you see them start to grow again (usually in one to two weeks).
Once your garden is established, water in the early morning hours (avoiding overhead watering if possible) to give the plants time to dry out during the day. This will prevent many fungal disease problems and encourage deep roots, which will make your plants more hardy and less likely to suffer when deprived of water.
Tip: If a plant starts to wilt, don’t assume that it is drooping because it needs water. Check the soil first. Plants can wilt for a variety of reasons. You may do more harm than good if you water first and ask questions later.
I find gardening to be the ideal activity to pass the hours away, completely lost in the solitude and pleasure of time alone—just me and my plants. Honestly, I revere those rare occasions of peaceful bliss. It is a wonderful break from the busy pace we all seem too caught up in these days.
However, there’s another side of me that relishes the opportunity to experience the joys of gardening with others even more. There is a certain excitement and energy in sharing such a wonderful activity. Community gardening is the perfect way to scratch that gardening itch. And I love it for even more than simply the social interaction of a shared passion. Gardens do bring out the best in people and community gardens are a great place to bring it all together.
First, we learn so much from others. Even as an experienced gardener, I always enjoy the contribution of others and admittedly, I learn something new all the time. On the other hand, what a joy it is to be able to share some nugget of wisdom with a budding fellow gardener. I still get a kick out of feeling the excitement of those I am able to help improve their skills. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to start an ongoing dialogue with a new friend.
Best of all, community gardening provides an opportunity to give back; from beautifying a run down or neglected space, to unifying a neighborhood or community to donating the harvest to a local food bank or shelter as with the Plant a Row for the Hungry project.
There’s a magnetic quality that seems to draw people into a garden. Strangers become friends and neighborhoods come together in a community garden. It often becomes the catalyst to stimulate social interaction and community development. Quality of life improves and neighborhoods are beautified. And what better way to enhance an unadorned space while creating a place to connect people across inter-generational and multi-cultural boundaries.
But community gardens take more than the dedication and determination of its caretakers. When it comes to providing the equipment and funding for the start up and ongoing costs involved in smaller projects, individuals may chip into the pot. It’s also possible that grants for these plans might be available from the city, state, or federal government to subsidize such a project. Even some corporations with an interest in gardening often set aside grant money to promote community gardening efforts.
Fiskars is one such corporate example. Their grant program, code named “Project Orange Thumb” was started in 2003. The company helps provide community garden groups with the tools and materials they need to reach their goals, from neighborhood beautification to horticultural education. Through 2007, the project has provided over $200,000 to more than 100 community groups, providing everything from gardening tools to the seeds and plants to get started.
Grants like these from generous corporate and private donors make it possible for groups of all ages and interests, without regard to financial means, to become involved in their schools and communities through beautification and outreach, make friends and get their hands in the dirt, all in the name of gardening!
Choosing a landscape designer can seem daunting. As with hiring any professional, you want to be careful to choose the person that is best for you. This article provides information on things you need to know to make finding a landscape designer an easier process.
How to Find a Landscape Designer
The first step in choosing a landscape designer is determining your budget. How much money do you have available for this project? Remember that a well-designed and implemented landscape design can increase your property value.
The second step involves making three lists.
- Look at your landscape. Create one list that contains everything you want to remove from your garden. Tired of that old 1980s hot tub you never use? Put it on the “GET-Rid-OF List.
- Write up a second list that contains everything you like in your existing landscape. You love that funky DIY slate patio you installed 5 years ago. It’s perfect. Put it on the TO-KEEP List.
- For the third list, write down all the features you would love to add to your new landscape. You dream of a grapevine and wisteria draped redwood-Douglas fir pergola that provides shade for a table that seats 16. But you don’t know if that makes sense or even it if you can afford it. Put It on the WISH-List.
Write everything down even if you can’t imagine how it will all fit in. These lists don’t have to be perfect or definite. The idea is to develop some clarification for you. With your three lists and your budget in mind, choosing a landscape designer will be much easier.
Contact your friends, family and local nurseries to get local recommendations. Interview two or three local landscape designers. Ask them about their design process and discuss any concerns you have about the project. See if they are a good fit for you personally.
- Does this person want to impose a design upon you?
- Is he/she willing to work with you to create a space that fits your microclimate and your design aesthetic?
- Discuss costs in as much detail as is necessary for you to feel comfortable moving forward. Let him or her know your budget.
- Listen to his or her feedback. Is your budget reasonable? Is this designer willing to work with you on a project that fits your budget?
Before you move forward, make sure you have a written contract that specifies costs, the process for change orders and a timeline.
Landscape Designer Facts and Information
So what does a landscape designer do anyway? Before you begin your quest for a designer, it helps to understand more about what he/she does or doesn’t do. Landscape designer facts that may impact your decision are as follows:
1. You can find a list of professional landscape designers at the national Association for Professional Landscape Designer (APLD) website: https://www.apld.org/
2. Landscape designers are unlicensed – so they are limited by your state in what they can depict in a drawing. Typically, they create detailed planting plans with conceptual drawings for hardscape, irrigation, and lighting.
3. Landscape designers can cannot create and sell construction drawings – unless they are working under a licensed landscape contractor or landscape architect.
4. Landscape designers typically work with or for landscape contractors to make the installation process seamless for their clients.
5. Sometimes landscape designers obtain their landscape contractor’s license so they can offer you both the “Design” portion of the project as well as the “Build” portion of your project.