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It’s Growing

May 14th, 2014

Now that the weather is warming up things are finally starting to grow well in the 5×5 Challenge garden.  I planted ‘Golden’ peas two weeks ago and the lettuce I seeded a while ago it starting to size up nicely as well.
5x5 garden 1
5x5 garden 2
Of course the weeds are growing as well! I don’t mind the dandelions so much, the have deep tap roots and pull up nutrient from below. I might eat the greens, or I might keep pulling the leaves off and laying them around the peas as a mulch.
5x5 garden 3
Overall the garden is doing very well, in just another week or so I’ll be harvesting greens for our dinner!

How’s your edible garden growing? Any harvests?

5×5 – When/How Do I Fertilize

May 7th, 2014

This week in our 5×5 Garden Challenge series we’ll be talking fertilization. When and how to fertilize is something that can be daunting to new gardeners. There are hundreds of products claiming to be the right thing for your garden and most of them will be unnecessary for your small garden. You will need to add organic matter and nutrients to your garden to optimize plant growth and to make your vegetables as healthy as possible.
5x5 garden
One way to fertilize your garden is to add a topdressing of compost before each crop. In spring you would add a layer of compost before planting, then again in summer if you plant another round. It’s also a good idea to add a layer before you put your garden to bed in the fall.
Generally compost won’t be sufficient for the home garden unless it includes some animal manure. Depending on the source, compost can be deficient in some vitamins/minerals. In my garden I use a liquid kelp/seaweed for my fertilization needs to help add micronutrients to my vegetables, compost and soil. Neptune’s Harvest is the brand I purchase most frequently. Dr Earth brand products are also great and very convenient to use.
neptunes harvest
You may wonder why I chose a liquid fertilizer? Because I find it works best for me. The plants absorb some of the nutrient through their leaves so it works faster than the granular fertilizer that you mix into the soil. Soil microbes play an important role in how plants take up nutrients and they can be deficient in a garden that has been tilled or worked. This will affect how quickly your plants can use fertilizer mixed in with the soil. This is not the case with foliar feeding through liquid fertilizers, they are absorbed very quickly.  I also like using this method because I can fertilize some plants more than others.  Heavy feeding vegetables like cabbage and broccoli can be fed more often than vegetables that require less feed like beets.  In a small garden like the 5×5 it can beneficial to be able to feed some plants and not others.  Of course you can just as easily feed every on an every other week or once a month schedule if that works best for you and you don’t want to think about which plants need more nutrition that others.
Liquid fertilizer is also valuable to your plants when the soil temperatures are low. The lower the temperature of the soil the more difficult it is for the plants to take up nutrients through their roots. A foliar feeding is recommended if you are growing early spring greens or late fall crops.  They can languish in cold soil unable to take up enough nutrients to for proper growth.
One note of caution if you choose to use liquid feeds. Never mix them up more concentrated than the packing recommend or you can burn your plants. It’s also not advisable to water your plants with them in the morning on a hot sunny day, this can cause burnt foliage. I prefer to water with a liquid kelp/fish food in the late afternoon so the leaves dry by nightfall and the plan has time to adjust before the sun comes out again.

What type of fertilizer do you use most often?

Get Those Hands Dirty

April 23rd, 2014

When I first started gardening I didn’t like to get my hands dirty.  Granted, I have sensory issues, so there are lots of things I have a hard time doing, gardening without gloves was one of them.  I’m working on this and I garden more and more without gloves.  Unless I’m digging for a long time and using long handled gardening tools I will often not wear gloves.
dirty fingers 1
dirty fingers 2
Getting your hands dirty gives gardening a whole new dimension.  It also gives you a much better feel for your soil – the moisture level, composition, etc. I highly recommend gardening with gloves at least every now and then.

Do you wear gardening gloves?

Soil Temperature – It Matters!

April 16th, 2014

In the spring, many of us are excited to get planting and we see the phrase “as soon as soil can be worked” on our seed packet and plant things a little too early. Even though the soil can be worked, it’s cold, this causes delayed germination and in some cases seeds will rot in the ground before sprouting. It pays to wait an extra week before planting things like beets and peas.  Beets in particular seem to be very picky about soil temperature.
planting peas 2
Lettuce can be sown early, it will take longer to germinate than it does in slightly warmer temps, but the germination rates aren’t as drastically reduced as they are for other types of seeds since they’re so close to the surface. In most cases waiting a week won’t put you any farther behind as far as harvest scheduled go, since the seeds often take longer to germinate they end up coming up at the same time anyways, you just have less risk of seed damage or birds eating the seeds if you wait.
arugula seedlings
In my 5×5 Challenge Garden out front the arugula seeds have started to germinate. None of the lettuces have yet. It’s been a week since I sowed the seeds, the ones I planted in a seed flat indoors germinated in 2-3 days. This shows you how soil temperature affects seed germination.

Have you noticed differing germination rates of some things in the spring when the soil is cold? 

Plant for Multiple Harvests

April 9th, 2014

This week my 5×5 Challenge Garden finally thawed out enough to plants a few things. It doesn’t take long for the soil to become workable after the snow melts. As soon as you can run a rake through the top of the soil you can plant a few things that like cool soil.
5x5 garden 1
There are a wide variety of things that can be planted in that space between the first thawing of the soil in spring and the warm summer months. You can’t plant tomatoes, corn, peppers or heat loving crops right now. Even broccoli and other cool loving crops risk early bolt if they experience too much cold this time of year. You don’t want to let your soil simply go fallow though, some quick crops are what you need so you can enjoy delicious food from your garden while you wait for summer to arrive. A few great options for quick crops: cilantro, lettuce, spinach, mustard, arugula and other greens. My garden was divided into four squares and I planted four different greens. These should germinate fairly quickly in this cool weather and be ready for harvest before the end of May when it’s time to plant tomatoes.
raised bed 2
Before I planted my lettuces I added a generous helping of compost on top of the soil. I don’t bother working it in as some people do, I find that the earthworms do a fine job of doing that for me. I don’t like to work the soil if I don’t have to. As you can see, the soil level had settled a bit and my raised bed was only about half full. After adding 2-3 inches of compost it’s getting better. Before I plant my warm season crops I’ll add another layer of compost and hopefully it will be nearly full by then.
5x5 garden 2
You can be I’ll be keeping an eagle eye on this garden watching for any signs of life. I can’t wait to see how it grows this coming season.

What’s your favorite cool season vegetable?


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.