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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?

Should You Start Your Own Seeds?

March 5th, 2014

It’s Wednesday, that means it’s 5×5 Garden Challenge Day.  As I was starting seeds this past weekend, I thought newbie gardeners might wonder if they should start from seed or buy plants from a local greenhouse instead.
I’d have to say that perhaps the best place to get seeds and plants is from a local gardener.  If you happen to know someone that has a beautiful vegetable garden, chat with them.  I’m always giving away seedlings to local friends for their gardens.  You may end up with a great new friendship and a few lovely plants for your garden.  They will also be a great resource for your new gardening efforts.
Frost Kissed Seed Tin from Peaceful Valley 5
If you don’t have a friendly local gardener to get plants from, I’d recommend direct seeding a few things and buying a few plants as well. Some things, like beans, peas, and zucchini are easy to start from seed, so go ahead and buy seed for those.  They are also direct seeded in the garden, so you won’t have to worry about buying seed starting supplies.  The seedlings are also easy to differentiate from weeds, so you don’t really have to worry about accidentally pulling one of your seedlings while weeding!
Tomatoes are easy to start from seed, buy you might not get the timing quite right.  Plus you might want to try a few different varieties in your garden.  It’s much easier to buy a few plants at the greenhouse and purchase the seed and supplies to start your own. I’d recommend finding a small independent greenhouse nearby to see what kind of selection they have. Most likely you’ll be able to find tomatoes, peppers and herbs there.
Another reason to buy plants is because of the number of seeds in the packet. If you only want two tomato plants, you’ll end up with a bunch of unused seeds. They will remain viable for a while if stored in the right conditions, but you’ll have to find a place to keep them. You might also not end up liking the variety you grew or you might want to try a new variety the next year.
Another reason to buy seeds is because you can get a jump on the growing season. Most often greenhouse will have lettuce seedlings very early in the season. You can buy those, plant them in your garden and have lettuce ready to harvest in a few weeks. After you harvest the lettuce you can go back to the greenhouse and purchase tomato seedlings to plant in their place. Learning how to time starting seeds can be a bit trick for a newbie.
Starting from seed isn’t difficult, but there is a greater risk of failure if you have never done it before.  You also need to purchase a few supplies to do it, soil being the most important.  If you are interested in starting your own download my free Seed Starting 101 e-book (see the link in the sidebar).
seed starting 101 cover image
I don’t want to discourage anyone from starting all their plants from seed the first year if they want to.  Jump right in if you want, you can always find plants easily enough if things don’t go quite as planned, and you may end up with fabulous plants and a great gardening experience!
first raised bed in the garden
My first edible garden consisted of two 4×10 raised beds. All of the plants in them that first year were purchased at a local greenhouse. The following year all my seedlings were grown in my basement. Do what you want to do and what you have time to do.

As a newbie, are you planning on buying plants, starting from seed or both? As an experienced gardener, do you have any advice for newbies when it comes to finding plants for their first garden?

5×5 Challenge: What to Grow?

February 19th, 2014

Last year my choices for the 5×5 Challenge were easy, I was using the Rainbow Kitchen Garden Collection from Renee’s Garden. This year I plan on trying different vegetables. As a beginner, you may wonder how to choose which vegetables to grow when you only have a small space?
garden planning
First, you have to look at what you like to eat. If you hate zucchini, don’t grow it. If you love using fresh herbs, fill your garden with fresh herbs.  If you hate salad, don’t grow lettuce, plant basil instead.
Second, grow vegetables that mature quickly so you can make the most of your space. As a beginner, you’ll enjoy the garden much more if you’re harvesting vegetables often. Lettuces can be a great beginning vegetable, though they can be susceptible to slugs and other pests. Growing something like potatoes that are planted in spring and aren’t harvested until late summer isn’t the best option for your garden space.
catalina_spinach 1
Third, grow vegetables that maximize your space. For example, even if you love broccoli, it’s not really the best choice when you only have a small space. It takes a few months to reach harvest and only provides one head. Garden peas are the same, they mature in about 60 days, but it takes a lot of pods to make a bowl of peas.  You’re better off growing something like lettuce and herbs that reach maturity faster and will provide more harvest from the same space. Some vegetables and herbs will also grow back after being harvesting, thus allowing two or three harvests from the same space.
fresh cilantro
Fourth, grow what will save you the most money. If you can buy a head of local broccoli for a few dollars there’s no point in growing it when you can grow a few pounds of lettuce or herbs that would cost you much more to buy. Zucchini is very inexpensive to buy when it’s in season, spinach is much more expensive to purchase.  I grow a lot of cilantro because we really enjoy it and it’s expensive to buy. Growing it allows me to save lots of money, I also love that it grows back after cutting and will seed itself down from year to year.

Which vegetables would you recommend to a newbie as quick to mature? 


Cultivate Simple 65: 5×5 Challenge

February 10th, 2014

This week on the podcast we talk about the 5×5 Challenge and why you should join in. If you are new gardener, joining the challenge is a great way to get your hands dirty! For the experienced gardeners, the 5×5 challenge offers a good structure to mentor a new gardener.

Round 5x5 logo

Check out the 5×5 Challenge Posts from last year’s challenge.
5x5 garden

Books of the Week

Will You be Joining us Again?

January 29th, 2014

Well, it’s officially time to start talking about the 5×5 Challenge once again.  I’ve had a lot of people excited about doing it again this year and more that watched last year and are ready to jump in and start a garden this year.  I’ll be using my raised bed outside the front door again for this challenge, this year I’ll be growing different vegetables.  I haven’t decided which ones, perhaps you’ll have suggestions.
5x5 garden
This year we’ll hopefully be joined by a few members of the tiny house community, Tiny House Magazine will be running an article about the 5×5 in the next issue.
5x5 garden challenge
This year we’ll continue with the same schedule, Wednesdays will be the challenge days. The posts here on Chiot’s Run will focus on garden education, tasks to complete in your garden, and updates on my 5×5 garden.

Who’s in? Did you do the challenge last year? Are you a new to gardening?

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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.