Tag Archives: veggies

How to Fertilize an Organic Garden

I’ve put off a post about organic garden fertilizing for awhile, because I sometimes wonder “who am I to offer gardening advice?”  After all, I’ve made it very clear that I am also learning as I go. In fact, if you’ve been following my blog since the very beginning, you’ll know that my garden last year was abysmal.  It was my first attempt at organic gardening, and it was a huge learning experience for us.  However, I’ve had some questions about how I fertilize to help my plants thrive without resorting to commercial fertilizers.  I thought I’d go ahead and share my tips now, so hopefully I can encourage other gardeners to convert! After all, if you see something that works, it might help you make the switch to organic.  All of these tips are based on trial and error, and a lot of research on organic websites (see bottom of post for links).

My favorite fertilizers for my organic garden include:

  • homemade compost (come back next week for a post on composting)
  • Epsom salts
  • used coffee grounds & banana peels
  • egg shells
  • natural garden mulch.

I feel that the combination of these in my garden has made a much bigger and healthier garden this year.  Now, I’ll break down the how and why of each item I use.

June 2013 Cage Free Mom Garden

June 2013 Cage Free Mom Garden

First, and foremost, compost is the easiest and most essential addition you can make to your organic garden.  I let mine mature all year, and then add it to my garden bed and till it in once before planting.  It can make a world of difference! Not only does it add essential nutrients to your soil, it can also improve the drainage.  This means that if you have heavy clay soil like I did, you can make it better year after year by simply tilling in your compost each year.  Eventually, you won’t even be able to tell it was ever clay.  It will just be dark, rich, well drained soil.  If you aren’t adding compost to your garden yet, do it!

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Epsom salt is another favorite in my garden, but this one seems to be more plant specific.  Plants that really seem to benefit the most from the use of epsom salt are tomatoes and peppers, although I’ve also been advised to add it to my cucumbers as well.  Epsom salt adds sulfur and magnesium to your soil, which are both vital nutrients to these plants.  In addition, if it is added to your soil dry, it can help deter slugs, which are a really common garden pest.

To use epsom salt in your garden, there are a few ways you can do it.  A great way to get your plants off to a healthy start is to add about a tablespoon to the hole before you plant your pepper or tomato plant.  This gives your plants a great source of nutrients right at the beginning so they have the best start possible.  In addition to using this during your first planting, you can also add it occasionally during the growing season.  The best way to do this is to either apply it dry around the base of your plant, or mix 2 TBS of epsom salt into a gallon of water and use that to water your plants.  This is my personal favorite method, although I’ve added it dry on a few occasions when I was in a hurry.

My natural fertilizers ready to work.

My natural fertilizers ready to work.

Coffee grounds and banana peels are two other great natural sources of nutrients for your veggie plants.  Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen and banana peels are used to add potassium to the soil.  For both of these fertilizers, you can either add them to your compost bin, or put them directly in your bed.  I do a bit of both.  When I want to put the coffee grounds in my garden, I generally just sprinkle the used grounds around the base of the plant.  Not only does this fertilize the plant, but it also burns slugs, keeping them off of my valuable produce.  For banana peels, I generally take whatever peels we’ve produced in the last few days and puree them in a blender with a bit of water, then pour it around my plants.  You can add them whole, or broken into bits, but I feel that pureeing them first allows the break down of nutrients to occur much faster, giving you quicker nutrients for the plants.

Egg shells are another great addition to your organic garden.  They provide calcium, and can also help deter slugs (are you noticing a pattern here?).  When planting my garden at the beginning of the season, I added a handful of blended egg shells to the holes during planting.  Then, throughout the growing season, I simply rinse my egg shells after breakfast and add them to a bag.  Every few weeks I toss them into a blender and then pour them directly around my plants to give them an extra dose of nutrients to keep them healthy.

Straw mulching the garden

Straw mulching the garden

Lastly, if done correctly, your garden mulch can also be a great source of fertilization for your plants and soil!  Many gardeners don’t consider this, since mulch is usually used to keep the soil moist and protect the plant roots from heat, but if you opt for a natural mulch rather than a bag of the rubbery mulch offered in stores, your plants will thank you.  Natural mulch includes hay, straw, dried yard clippings, shredded tree leaves, and tree branches sent through a chipper.  You will have to reapply your mulch more often this way, but that is because it breaks down so fast and goes right into the soil.  As an added bonus, at the end of the season you can just till in whatever is left and leave it for next year!

After careful research all winter long, I devised this system of fertilizing my veggie garden.  I’ve been using these natural fertilizers all season, and I’ve never had a garden look so good.  I feel that a combination of these natural fertilizers gives my plants everything they need to remain healthy all season long.  An added bonus is that you probably won’t have to spend much extra money by doing it this way.  If you do your own composting, that is a free soil amendment.  Bananas and coffee are already on my grocery list, and we eat eggs most mornings for breakfast.  This system simply uses our waste to help produce more veggies! The only things we had to buy to help fertilize our garden were straw and epsom salt, both of which have provided other uses as well.

My favorite gardening websites are MotherEarthNews.com , Organicgardening.com, & organicgardening.about.com

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In the Garden This week – June 1-7

I haven’t shared any photos of our garden the last few weeks, and thought now would be a great time to do so.  We were outside Monday evening and the light was just perfect and all of our plants looked so good that I just couldn’t help but pull out the camera and snap a few pictures.  It’s fun to see the changes over the season.  I hope you agree.

Tomato Plants

Currently, my favorite plants in the garden are my tomato plants.  We have 14 in varying varieties, and they are all producing really well.  The best production so far appears to be Romas and Cherries, but there are tomatoes and blooms on all 14 plants, and they are just looking so green and lush.  I couldn’t help but take this picture of all of them in rows.

Roma tomatoes on the vine

Roma tomatoes on the vine

Cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Cherry tomatoes on the vine.

As you can see, I’m getting some beautiful cherry and roma tomatoes this week.  These pictures were taken after our tomato harvest that day, where we got about 8 tomatoes that were fully ready.

Recovering jalepeno plants

Recovering jalepeno plants

Probably one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen in the garden this year are our jalepeno plants.  A few weeks ago, most of these plants had lost their leaves.  They were still producing fruit, but had mysteriously lost almost all of their leaves.  They were just twigs in the ground with tiny peppers coming out.  After some good pest prevention and organic fertilizing (more on that later) they’ve made a drastic recovery in a short amount of time. There are even some new flowers!

Bell Pepper Plant

Bell Pepper Plant

So far, we’ve only got one bell pepper growing on the 3 bell pepper plants we purchased, but it is getting pretty big.  It’s supposed to be a red bell pepper, so we’ll see what happens! So far, it’s bigger than the peppers that came off our plants last year, and it’s not even starting to turn red.  One of our bell pepper plants we assumed was totally done for.  In fact, even the main stalk had turned brown and drooped away from the stake holding it up.  Then, suddenly, it turned around! It’s now green and growing again.  I’m optimistic for later in the season.

Baby Carrots

Baby Carrots

Okra starts

Okra starts

We planted okra and carrots from seeds back at the beginning of May (or end of April? I can’t remember).  I didn’t weed around that area from the point of putting in the seeds until this past weekend, because I was paranoid about actually pulling up starts.  I wanted to be sure I could tell the difference before I started yanking.  Needless to say, in Southeast Texas, those weeds went rampant before I got to pull them up.  When I finally had a few hours to dedicate to wedding, I was shocked to see just how good this section of my garden looks.  In fact, I realized I have room to plant a lot more carrots! This week I’ll be mulching around the okra and planting new carrot seeds, but for now, I’m just enjoying how clean and well kept it looks.

baby orange on the tree

baby orange on the tree

baby lemons and blossoms

baby lemons and blossoms

Baby lemons on the branch

Baby lemons on the branch

My citrus trees are also doing pretty well.  Our crop won’t be nearly what it appeared when we first started getting baby fruits, but since I didn’t expect any fruit this year, I’m still happy.  As you can see in this last photo of the lemon tree, we keep getting little babies that turn yellow and fall off.  The same thing happened on our orange tree, even after we fertilized (although I believe we did that pretty late). Our lemon tree also lost a lot of it’s leaves when we transplanted it, but what is still there looks healthy, and as you can see from the second photo, we’ve still got some green lemons getting big!

Figs!

Figs!

We also have a new addition to our backyard garden this week.  2 Fig trees! This is the smallest of the 2, a Texas Everbearing fig tree. We also bought a Celeste fig tree that is much bigger (about the size of the lemon tree), but it also lost a ton of leaves when we transplanted, so it didn’t look pretty enough for a photo this week!  Hopefully it recovers quickly.  Both trees were loaded down with fruit when we bought them, so fingers crossed that they get ripe for us this year.

Mimosa tree: a pleasant surprise

Mimosa tree: a pleasant surprise

Some Pink Oleander Blooms

Some Pink Oleander Blooms

And, finally, I just wanted to share some pretty pictures from around the yard.  I’ve had so many pleasant surprises this spring.  Whoever lived here before us must have really loved to spend time in their yard at some point before they got too old to handle it (this was an estate sale, so I can actually say that). We’ve found some gorgeous plants and flowers that I didn’t recognize until they bloomed.  As you can see, we have a beautiful Mimosa tree in the back corner of our yard.  We also found a huge Oleander bush along the fence line as well.  And yes.  I’ve read the book White Oleander, and do realize that these plants are poisonous.  We have no intentions of ingesting any part of the plant, and Pistache believes that the fairies will not come to our yard if she harms any living plant, so she doesn’t play with it, either!

So, that’s it for this week! I hope you enjoyed the “stroll” around our garden.  I know I sure did.

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Let the Harvesting Begin

I can’t believe the day finally came.  It always seems to take ages for the first harvest, but today, I picked the first ripe veggies from my garden (not counting the occasional green onion clipping).  It feels so good! I just can’t wait to put these goodies to use.

first harvest

 

Today, I had a jalepeno pepper (or at least it’s supposed to be jalepeno…that’s a pretty light pepper!), 2 cherry tomatoes, a green onion clipping, a cucumber, and another handful of berries.

So far, the garden is doing better than we could have hoped.  As long as all the peppers and tomatoes hanging on our plants right now ripen, we’ll be doing loads better than our garden last year!  Hopefully, we’ll be harvesting more veggies in the next few weeks, but I’m so excited to already have ripe food straight from the garden.

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Filed under Gardening, Healthy Eating, In the Garden, Self Sufficience

In the Garden: This Weekend

This weekend, we spent a lot of time in the yard (again).  It’s the story of our lives now that we’re home owners.  However, I just love this time of year with everything coming into bloom and surprising me. I thought I’d share a few more pictures for you, since everything is coming alone nicely.

Baby jalepenoThe most exciting development so far (because they’re new to me) are our baby jalepenos! I just photographed the largest one, but we’ve got at least 5 that are definitely going to grow, and several more that are little green nubs right now.  So cool!

Tomatoes

 

cherry tomatoesAnother exciting update is the wide array of tomatoes we have growing in our garden right now.  Last year, we only got a few small cherry tomatoes out of our garden, but this year I see little green tomatoes on all 14 of our plants.  We have cherry, roma, and big boy tomatoes, so I’m very excited to see what sort of crop we’ll get this summer! Hopefully we’ll have some to can.

first baby cucumber

I remember in last year’s garden, I sat around and watched our plants for days, studying and figuring out why I wasn’t getting a crop.  With the cucumbers, I even pollinated them myself! This year, however,  I vowed to make my garden less stress and more fun.  I haven’t done a thing other than my original fertilizing and using better soil (and watering).  Still, I noticed a baby cucumber yesterday! The one on the right should turn into a cucumber.  It’s grown considerably from what it looked like before.

magnolia blossom

And, since this is my favorite tree, I had to share one of my first Magnolia tree blossoms. I’ve been waiting on this for about a week because I knew it was coming.  Our tree may be a little worse for the wear, but I still love the flowers (and smell) that it produces in the late spring! I can’t wait to see the whole tree covered in blooms.

 

 

 

 

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Surprise Carrots

Yep, you read that title correctly!  If you have read my blog from the beginning, you’ll know that our first garden struggled.  We planted lots of carrots and we were really excited about them.  According to the seed packet, we expected to wait a little while for our crop, but still expected carrots by mid-summer.  Unfortunately, while the tops sprouted up really quickly, we only ever got tiny orange slivers underground.  Eventually, we gave up, and then moved.

This past weekend, we went back to our old garden site to pick up a few things (it’s in my grandmother’s back yard, so we still have access), and when we drove back there, we were surprised to see a garden bed nearly full of carrot tops!  Curiously, I went and pulled up a few to inspect them, and sure enough, I had a garden full of carrots.  They’d clearly reproduced and made a second crop, too, because some of the carrots were smaller and some were huge.  I didn’t expect much from all of them, since they were so huge and basically abandoned, but I went ahead and filled 2 5 gallon buckets with carrots to bring home and clean.  I couldn’t believe it!  We got to cleaning and ended up with a lot of carrots.

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I still can’t believe we found these a full year after planting, and that they still tasted good!  We discussed what to do with these, and decided to try a recipe we found in our canning book.  We’ve tried it before, when some friends made it, and it’s a really interesting, different dish that we really enjoy during the summer!

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So, Cage Free Dad and Pistache got to work in the kitchen Sunday night after dinner, and got to work on our dilled carrots.  Those two love canning together!  We ended up with 9 cans, which should be ready just in time for Easter dinner.  If you have the Ball canning book, I suggest you try the recipe yourself! It’s a great, different way to enjoy carrots, especially when you have too many to eat before they go bad.

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Life’s a Garden (Dig it!)

This weekend was the first weekend that Cage Free Dad was home after his 2-month-long training course out-of-state.  Needless to say, Pistache and I were very excited to spend time with him! Not only that, we had many projects to complete now that he was back to help.  The most important was to start our veggie garden! We’ve been really looking forward to our garden this year, after using last year as a learning experience (hello, fertilizer and compost!)

Not only did we do a lot more to our soil this year, but we also re-thought our growing plans.  Last year, we thought it would be fun to grow a wide variety of plants so we’d have lots of different veggies to eat all season.  However, the few plants that did produce last year, didn’t produce enough to keep us from buying veggies at the store.  So, this year we decided that instead of coming up with a long list of plants to grow, we’d rather fill our (much larger) garden bed with just a small variety but a lot of each plant.

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The final planting verdict in our bed this year (which is about 10×20) includes:

  • 8 jalepeno plants
  • 8 okra plants (a little early)
  • 14 tomato plants
  • 4 cucumber plants
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 4 chives
  • small patch of carrots

We’ve got a separate bed in a different part of the yard that includes 5 strawberry plants as well.  All in all, I’m excited for our prospects this year! I’m envisioning lots of fresh and canned tomatoes and pickles, as well as salsa and fresh carrots on the table this summer. Yum!

If this bed is a success this year, we’ve already got plans to make another bed the same size for next growing season, and we’ll add green beans and purple hull peas to the mix as well.  So, let’s keep our fingers crossed for a great growing season and a successful garden!

Have you planted your garden yet? What are you growing?

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5 Tips for Gardening with Kids

Gardening and homesteading is a lot of work.  Sometimes, it’s a lot of hard work.  However, it’s also a great opportunity to get the whole family together for some bonding.  When you plant your garden together, you have a great opportunity to teach children about where their food comes from, and they’ll be much more interested in the whole process when they are involved in some way.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many kids that love hard work, so as parents we need to get creative to get them involved in these projects.  Over the last few years of gardening with my daughter, I’ve come up with a few handy tips to make gardening with kids more fun.  Read on to see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your gardening chores.

1) Let them get dirty.

Getting dirty in her first garden.

Getting dirty in her first garden.

When you go out to garden, do you wear cute clothes and worry about your nails? Probably not.  So don’t expect it of your kids, either.  Accept the fact that dirt is very appealing to kids, and they will  put their hands in it, and most likely rub their hands on their shirts at some point, too.  Letting loose and allowing your kids to get dirty and feel the soil allows them to truly get into the gardening experience.

2) Let them help.

She lives for watering the plants.

She lives for watering the plants.

Kids just want to feel useful, especially as they get to be “big kids.”  If you don’t trust them to actually handle the plants (which I wouldn’t blame you), let them dig holes, add fertilizer (only if they are old enough to not eat it), water the plants, or pat down the dirt.

3) Expect them to get distracted.

What girl can resist smelling flowers?

What girl can resist smelling flowers?

I can’t tell you how many times Pistache has wandered off and gotten distracted during a long gardening session.  Whether she’s smelling the flowers, chasing butterflies, or digging up earth worms, there’s always something that captures her interest while we’re all hard at work.  That’s what kids do! Appreciate the fact that they are still out in nature and let them enjoy their distraction for awhile while you get some of the harder work done.  Sometimes, it really is nice to get them out of your hair for a few minutes while you do some more tedious chores.

4) Let them taste the fruits of their labor.

A special treat, straight from the garden!

A special treat, straight from the garden!

From our first strawberry plants, I think I got one strawberry.  Pistache just loved them so much! She had helped us grow them, and she watched every day for  new red berries to pick and eat.  It got her excited in the process.  It made her want to help out more.  As long as you aren’t spraying pesticides onto your plants, let your kids taste things straight from the garden! The little bit of dirt won’t hurt them, and they’ll thoroughly enjoy picking food straight from the plants and tasting it at its freshest.

5) Remember to smile.

Just keep smiling.

Just keep smiling.

Smile, and remember to keep smiling. Smile when they get distracted.  Smile when they eat all the strawberries. Smile when they accidentally pull up a carrot while helping you weed the garden. Smile when they are covered head to toe in dirt.  Just smile.  Because you are outside enjoying nature.  Because you are teaching your child to love a valuable chore.  Because maybe one day this generation may be a generation of gardeners and homesteaders, all because you made it fun.

Gardening with kids can certainly pose a challenge, but it is also a great bonding experience for the whole family.  I like to think that the last three years of gardening with Pistache has taught her to love being outside in nature.  Unlike many kids her age, she knows where her food comes from, and what each vegetable looks like.  She gets excited when we go outside and runs to grab her own gardening gloves, shovel, and ho so that she can help.  Sure, she gets distracted sometimes, and she doesn’t keep her mess as contained as I’d like, but she gets better every year!  I hope these five tips can help you have a satisfying and rewarding gardening experience with your kids this year, too.

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