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Gardening Tips 11-15


Tips 11-15

11. All about seeds (also see chapter 3.6)

12. Keep notes

13. Pest & Disease control (IPM, Integrated Pest Management)

14. Urban & Small Space Solutions

15. Think about food types

11. All about Seeds

A good seed packet should tell you how what you need to know to plant that seed. If not consult a good seed catalog or look online for planting information. Do this before you buy the seeds. They may not do well for you if you don’t have the right conditions for that plant. Buying seeds that won’t grow well for you will not make a productive garden.

The seed packet should list how much sun and shade the plant will need. It should list how many days it will take to sprout, to germinate. It should list how deep to plant the seed. A seed needs good contact with moist soil to germinate. Some seeds need to be near the surface and others need to be deeper for success. Sometimes seeds need special treatments like stratification (chilling), or scarification (nicking the seed coat). If you are a beginner do not attempt to grow seeds with special requirements. We want to start off with success.

Seed information should say how far apart to space the seeds for planting, and how far apart the seedlings should be after thinning. Thinning is pulling out extra seedlings. This is normal. Thinning plants may seem counter intuitive when you want to grow food, but overcrowded plants will not grow well.

The plants you kill by thinning will not die in vain. They can often be eaten, like microgreens, fed to animals, or left in the garden to be turned back into soil. This is how Nature works, always producing many more seeds that is necessary because not every seed becomes a mature plant.

Some crops, like corn, depend on wind to pollinate. Without pollination you get a plant but you don’t get food. So crops like corn need to enough other corn plants to same age to pollinate each other, called cross-pollination. For crops like lettuce you can plant a small row or block every week or two during your planting season to have extended harvests. This is called succession planting.

The packet should tell you when to plant in your area, your climate zone, and how many day until you can harvest. If you are in temperate zones and you get frosts, you want to wait until after danger of frost to plant in the spring, and you want to make sure you can harvest your food before it’s killed by cold and frost in the fall or winter. Frost dates are usually listed using USDA plant hardiness zones.

If the seed packet is listed as organic seeds that means it was grown under organic standards. Non-organic seed will grow just as well so buying organic seeds is a personal decision and will not affect your success.

If the packet is labeled as hybrid, or F1 seeds, that means they are a specific cross between 2 varieties, like crossing a Labrador dog and a Poodle dog to get a Labradoodle puppies. Hybrid seeds must be specifically crossed every generation and are not designed for seed saving.

Hybrid seeds are usually patented and if they are it is illegal to use them to start more plants from seeds or cuttings.

If the seeds are listed as heirloom that means they are favorite varieties that have been passed down from one generation to another. Heirloom seeds should be open-pollinated seeds.

Open-pollinated seeds means that the plants will produce viable seeds which will grow the same variety of plant every generation. Open-pollinated seeds is what you want in order to be able to save seeds.

Saving seeds means to gather seeds from your mature plants and save them to plant the next generation in the next growing season. Open-pollinated seeds mean you will not have to buy that type of seed again. You can grow your own seeds and save them. These are the type of seeds you should buy to sustain long-term food production and insure your personal food security.

GMO seeds are Genetically Modified Organisms (also called GE, Genetically Engineered), seeds that have been modified by cutting and splicing DNA in a lab. This is not a process that is possible in Nature. Sometimes a gene will be spliced in from something not a plant.

GMO technology is expensive and patented. The process used is secret. There are packets of GMO seeds sold in home garden packets. They will have a license agreement stamped on the package that says if you open the seed packet you are entering into a contract with the GMO patent owner. Beware.

12. Keep notes

If you want to learn how to grow food, keep a notebook, like a bound composition book. Jot everything down in a single place. Keep track of the weather, what you planted and on what day. Note how well it germinated and grew, when you harvest and how much, when you have pests, what they attacked. It’s hard to remember everything correctly. You will improve your growing skills faster if you keep track of details.

13. Pest & Disease control (IPM, Integrated Pest Management)

Much research has been done, and may books have been written on managing pests and disease holistically. This is most commonly called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.

Techniques include using beneficial predator species, such as ladybug beetles, praying mantis, and spiders to control pests like aphids and other chewing and sucking pests.

Sometimes a plant is used to deter a pest or disease from crops. Sometimes a plant is used as a trap and planted away from the crop to protect the crop from infestation. Different combinations of plants grown together, or planted in rotation, can control and eliminate diseases.

These pest management techniques use the life cycles and predator-prey relationships to control problems in the garden. If you go around killing things in your garden without understanding what is going on, you could actually be making things worse.

For example, if you killed every single aphid in your garden, then all the ladybug beetles would leave…because they have no food. Then when the next batch of aphids, or something even worse attacks your garden, there will be no defensive predators to protect your crops and you could lose everything instead of just a few vegetables. Keeping ladybugs in the garden will ensure you always have a partner to kill any newly arriving pest.

Instead of starting with the “identify then kill” strategy, try to find out why you have the problem, pest or disease. It may be a water issue or a nutritional issue. A nutritional issue is not just a lack of nutrients. The most common problem is actually too much nutrition, specifically Nitrogen. Yes that “miracle grow glow” may actually be what is causing your plants to end up dead or not producing.

Things like damping off and fungal diseases typically mean too much moisture. It could be the moisture is too constant, with no periods of drying out, although some plants like to never dry out. It could be the soil is too damp, or it could be the humidity. If the problem is humidity, the solution may not be changing the watering program, but rather increasing airflow.

Always look at your garden as a system. It is a natural ecosystem. Watch how all the plants and animals interact, and how everything changes with the temperatures and weather systems. You can figure out many of your problems just by watching your garden. If you rely on the internet machine you have no guarantees the information you find is correct. And what works for someone else, even a close neighbor, may not work for you. Let Nature be your teacher.

14. Urban & Small Space Solutions

People are innovative, and have figured out creative ways to grow food in small spaces. “Square Foot Gardening”, for example, has ideas on how to pack lots of food into small spaces.

You can grow food directly into straw bales, eliminating the need for garden beds or even soil. Kitchen scrapes can be tucked in for direct composting, and weeds will not be a problem. Look up the Ruth Stout method for ideas. Her books include “Gardening Without Work,” published in 1961. Her methods are even more popular today.

One caution with using straw bales is to be beware of getting straw or compost etc. that may contain persistent herbicides. An easy way to test for persistent herbicides is to try to grow legumes, which are beans or peas, in the suspect straw or compost. Legumes are the “canary in a coal mine,” and highly susceptible to these herbicides. If they won’t grow, most likely your crops won’t either.

If you don’t have a backyard you can still grow food. If done correctly plants in pots can be highly productive and grow a lot of food. If you are growing indoors sunlight from a window may not be enough, although a sunny kitchen window can grow many culinary herbs.

Potted plants are easy to take care of but do require constant care. If not watered regularly potted plants wilt and die. If you leave your house for more than a couple days or so, you will need to install an automatic watering system or have someone come over and water your plants. In addition, you will need to give them nutrients because they are unable to take it from the soil itself.

Dedicated lights may be needed to simulate sunlight for indoor growing. Grow lights will increase your energy use, however, sometimes by a lot. Vertical gardening, using a rack or shelves, can increase your food production in the same floor footprint.

Keep in mind that indoor growing is artificial and requires an investment in equipment, and you will be responsible for getting water and nutrients to the plants, something provided in Nature for free from rain and good soil.

One easy way to grow food on a deck or indoors, is the Kratky Method, a passive hydroponics technology, developed by Bernard Kratky, a researcher at the University of Hawaii. This method offers passive watering.

The roots are held in a net or something similar, above a container of water, allowing the roots to grow down to the level of the water. This leaves a zone of air, which provides oxygen that plant roots need, and just the tips of the roots reach the water so the plant can drink. Fully submerged plants (unless they are water plants) will drown. This airspace increases as the water evaporates and the roots grow bigger.

As long as your plants have adequate light, Kratky plants need little to no maintenance. The University of Hawaii CTAHR is a great resource for Kratky and many other gardening topics.

*Kratky Method, passive hydroponics, developed by Bernard Kratky, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, first proposed in Acta Horticulturae in 2009

15. Think about food types

When thinking about which food to grow to feed your family, think about total nutrition and consider these categories:

· Energy foods

· Strength foods

· Nutrient rich foods

· Fats

· Medicinal foods.

Energy foods are typically starches, like potatoes and other root crops, and grains like wheat, rice and oats. They are the base of any cultural diet, like rice in Asia, and pasta in Italy. They are starch based and don’t carry a lot of nutrition. The starches are converted to sugars in the digestive system and are a source of energy.

Protein rich foods offer strength to the body, and are used in building muscles and other structures in the body. These are foods like meat, eggs, beans and nuts.

Growing starches and proteins are important but will not offer enough nutrition. To add vital nutrients to your diet grow nutrient rich foods. Grow food in as many colors as you can. Each color food contain different nutrients.

Leafy vegetables are highly nutritious. Grow as many types of edible leaves as you can, not just salad green and cooking greens, but all types of herbs. Grow Moringa if you can.

If you are providing food for your family from your garden you will also need a source of fats. These can be plant or animals based but the human body needs fats. Many vitamins cannot be absorbed without fats and fats are part of every cell membrane.

Medicinal foods, typically herbs & spices, are foods that enhance health, prevent or treat diseases and disorders. Some plants have antibiotic properties or balance the immune system, for example. They can be used to treat symptoms such as headaches, painful periods, balance blood sugar, and enhance digestion.

Find a good herbal guide. Start with learning one plant. Many beneficial plants are found everywhere and are thought of as weeds. Dandelions, for example, have many health benefits and are probably growing in your lawn.

Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, will offer more nutrition than any vitamin pill created in a lab. The more varied your diet, the more balanced your nutrient intake will be, and the healthier your family will become. And if you grow them yourself, they will taste better, and offer better nutrition than food grown halfway across the planet, picked green, treated with chemicals and shipped “fresh” to your grocery store. Homegrown is always better.

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