The Easy Way To Harvest Seeds

I want to learn, and hone, how to harvest seeds from my garden for the next year’s crop. To me, it is the ultimate in self reliance! No more seed ordering every year or the expense that goes with it. Not that my seed cost is huge, mind you, but that’s not the point. The problem is, I have a lazy streak that doesn’t do me any favors.

Because of that, I tend to try and learn the easier things first. It helps me feel like I am accomplishing something and able to see some results more quickly. I’ve fiddled around with seed saving before, successfully at that, but I feel I got lucky more than anything. I got a wild hair and decided to take a few pinto beans from a bag I had in the pantry and planted them to see what would happen. Well, the plant grew and a few pods survived the slug battle of 2014. I ended up getting a small handful of beans that eventually ended up in a soup pot but hey, I did it!

Beyond peas and beans, however, are things like carrots and onions. What about those? You plant them, then harvest and never see any signs of seeds. That’s because they are a biennial plant – meaning they need two years to fulfill its full life cycle. To get seeds, you need to let the plants overwinter and grow again. While the carrots and onions are still edible the second year, they aren’t very palatable.

The plants will flower and make seeds that you harvest when dried! Simple as that. You don’t need to let that many plants overwinter, either! Depending how large your crops are of each type of biennial, it’s unlikely you would need more than 5 (3 should be sufficient in all honesty). Each plant will give you dozens, if not hundreds, of seeds but it’s always wide to plan for crop failure. If you only have 2 carrots that you let overwinter and they both fail, you’re sunk. It’s also a good idea to not have all the ones you’re going to let ‘go to seed’ in one area. This will reduce the chance of it all going bad or succumbing to pests or other issues.

To me, it seems lazy – almost like you’re cheating! “All I have to do is not pick a few carrots or onions and I get seeds?” Yes. Now, the trick is to make sure you leave behind a few each year for the next year’s crops. Over time, and so many seasons, your plants will have evolved some to better survive in the climate you are growing in. It’s just nature’s way of adapting! A fine example is the garlic we grow. We got several bulbs from a lady who has been growing the same variety in her garden for over 20 years. The variety is a Killarney Red which grows well in a wet climate in general. We have a really wet climate and it holds up to the hard winds and feet of rain it will get in a growing season.

Speaking of garlic, and growing it, this is another ‘seed’ that is just about the easiest seed to harvest and plant! The cloves themselves are the seed! Take note: garlic will not split properly unless you plant it in the fall before the first freeze. For more information on how I learned that particular lesson, click here (will open in new tab)!

There are many other plants that are biennials and make for some incredibly easy seed harvesting:

  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Kale
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Leeks

With a little research, you’ll realize that you can get off the revolving seed ordering ride and start saving your own instead! Just make sure they are good and dry before storing them. Generally speaking, the flowers that will grow seed pods dry out and you just have to shake the pod into a bowl to get the seeds. See? Incredibly easy!

Do you harvest seeds to plant the next year? Share below, including tips and tricks – you may just inspire someone (or save them a headache!). 




Tips For Gardening With Kids

Gardening with kids is something I don’t have much experience with. I have plans on getting my 5 year old nephew playing in the dirt with me this year but beyond that, it’s not something I’ve been able to experience. Many people ask me for tips on the subject and while I can make suggestions, I don’t know if any of it would really work. I turned to Ann from SumoGardener.com to help shed some light on the subject.


Kids are always curious to learn new things and love playing in the dirt. One of the best activities to feed a child’s curiosity is gardening. It gives children an opportunity to learn some of the most important skills in life: getting food! It also increases awareness of nature, the environment, and weather: all while having fun!

If this is your first time gardening with kids, the tips below will surely help you and your children to make gardening fun and exciting!

Gardening Lessons

The first thing that you need to do is to provide some lessons to the children about gardening, age appropriate of course. Encourage questions to help keep their interest. A great idea, if you have space, is to make a patch that is just for them. Letting them keep a journal to write down the things they’ve planted and the progress of them over time. Not all kids will enjoy gardening but they will enjoy spending time with you!

Kid Based Gardening

After explaining what gardening is, now is the time to show them! Explaining as you are planting the first few seeds helps them see how it’s done, but always make sure to not do everything for them! Let the kids provide ideas and help them with constructing the plan and planting the seeds. Let them learn how to be responsible when it comes to caring for the plants in their garden patch. 

Avoid Chemicals

Since you will be gardening with your kids, it is advisable not to use anything that is based on chemicals. Make gardening fun for kids and safer by not incorporating any products that have harsh or man-made chemicals in them. It would also be ideal to assess the soil for any lead and contaminants before letting the kids start their gardening activities in there. Getting bagged soil lets you skip this step.

Edible Plants

For people who don’t know, kids are more willing to eat vegetables and fruits that they have planted themselves. Most kids today don’t like to eat vegetables and fresh fruit and letting them plant these foods will make the kids want to try and eat them. You also need to make sure that the kids will be the one to harvest the plants.

Gardening Kits and Tools for Kids

There is gardening equipment that is perfect to be used by kids. Normally sized garden tools are too heavy for little arms! You can, of course, assist them but if possible, get some garden tools made for kids that will fit their hands better and keep things fun!

Not everyone has the space or time to be able to have a garden patch dedicated to their child to learn with. That doesn’t mean you have to be left out!! There are several tabletop options, too! There are garden kits specifically for kids to learn with and they can choose either food or flowers to grow.

Let Kids Experience Wildlife

Teach the kids the importance of adding bird feeders and maybe a birdbath in the garden. Animals will visit your garden no matter what! Tell them that these animals are not good to be near your plants, which is why adding feeders may help.

You can also create a small fishpond for kids to get to know how the fish and plants work together to make a little ecosystem!

Decorating the Garden

Lastly, let the kids help you when it comes to decorating the garden. There are a lot of ways to decorate your garden, and the best way is to choose something where their creative skills will be enhanced. Of course, guiding them along and supervising is a good idea! Decorating the garden can help them learn the skill of thinking ahead – if your decorations inhibit plant growth, you are being counterproductive!


 

I’m Ann. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening. This is a subject I enjoy the most. I have been a fan of flowers and plants ever since I was a kid. My blog: http://sumogardener.com




Reclaim Food Control With Suburban Micro Farming

To me, living in the suburbs seems like a cookie cutter way to live. Every house looking the same: same lawns, same colors, same…everything! While the lawns and manicured look is appealing for the aesthetics, it’s hard for me to see much beyond lost potential. Every single one of those lawns could be a micro farming gold mine!

reclaim-food-control-with-suburban-micro-farming

Of course, it’s easy to sit and dream about it and quite another to actually do the work. There are all sorts of challenges that many people would have to overcome before they even break ground on a new garden! Home Owner’s Associations (HOAs) tend to have very strict rules against anything that would show individualism on the block, let alone changing your manicured lawn into something that produces food. Most of them even have bans on clotheslines for drying clothes in the sunshine! Once you’ve overcome the logistics of that though….it’s game on!!

Other than local restrictions, many people never take the plunge because it can be overwhelming. They have no idea how to start or it may seem cost prohibitive (it’s not!) or any other number of reasons not to. Don’t toss in the rake yet! There’s hope for you, dear Suburbanite!

Enter Amy Stross, author of the very informative (and fun to read) “The Suburban Micro Farm.” In her funny and uplifting writing style that matches her personality, Amy has put together a book that can help you realize your micro farm dreams! You could be harvesting from your own, truly organic and fresh produce aisle – all of a few feet from your table. From the author:

“The suburbs are ripe with food-growing potential. The Suburban Micro-Farm will show you how to grow healthy food for your table in only 15 minutes a day, proving that you can have a garden even on a limited schedule. With tips for creating an edible and ecologically friendly landscape, learn how to garden while maintaining aesthetics. You’ll find simple tricks for growing food even in the worst yards. Worried about follow-through? This book is a gold mine of life hacks, guides, and tools to help you reap a harvest as well as a sense of accomplishment for your efforts.”

They are right! Think, for just a moment, how much money would be saved if people converted even half their lawn into a vegetable growing machine!? What about the improved health, better tasting food? Don’t forget a reconnection with neighbors as you plan out what you will grow and trade at harvest time! It’s amazing what can happen with some seeds – I am proof of that myself! This site would NOT be here if I hadn’t decided to start a garden.

This book truly gives you the knowledge you need to transform your lawn into something more beautiful and productive than just growing grass and weeds~you make your own produce section!

I have read this book, cover to cover. Then I went back and re-read several sections: Chapter 2 – Managing Expectations (very important) and Chapter 11 – Permaculture and Micro-Farming. I really want to have some permaculture in my garden! I dream of chives and other herbs growing year after year with little maintenance from me. Truthfully, once you get the garden set up, there isn’t much to it. A few minutes a day or a little longer every other day should cover the needs your garden has. Of course, once it’s harvest time, you’ll be busy again.

Harvesting never really seemed like work to me – it was so much fun to reap the rewards of my efforts (and eat them, too)! I highly recommend this book to newbies and veteran gardeners alike! Reclaim some control over your food source, save money on truly organic veggies, regain control from Big Agra, and beautify your space more than a plain old lawn ever could!

Click here to get your copy of The Suburban Micro-Farm!




3 Things That Cause New Homesteaders to Fail

New homesteaders are usually wide-eyed, passionate people who are gung-ho about getting their homestead up and running as fast as they possibly can. While there are good reasons to rush – weather, finances, family needs – there are many more reasons why it’s important to slow down. Way down. Almost to a stop. Now, look around and start thinking.

3 Things That Cause New Homesteaders to Fail

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but, on the same token, I don’t want anyone to bring their own rainstorm, either. You have to clear the stars from your eyes to clearly see the incredible amount of planning and work you have ahead of you. It can be overwhelming and challenging, I know! We are right in the middle of trying to get our plans ironed out so we can move forward to being ready to move to a homestead when the time comes. There are three things that are sure to make you fail as a homesteader and it doesn’t have anything to do with being able to slaughter your own meat animals. Failure will come from a lack of planning in three areas:

  • Failure to define. You want a homestead, that’s great! What kind of homestead? What do you want to get out of it? What is the purpose, other than living the ‘simple life?’ What kind of buildings will you need to make it all work together? Will you have livestock? CAN you have livestock in the place you want to live? Is it legal to hang dry your clothes? You need to know what you want, at least at first, before you start making the plan.
  • Failure to have Plan B and C. There are those who’ve spent literally every penny to get their homestead and stuff moved to it but fail to have any sort of backup whatsoever. They are essentially flying by the seat of their pants and hoping nothing explodes in their face. This is the wrong way to go about things. You need to have contingency plans in place as best as you can. A place to go if things go awry, extra resources you can draw from in an emergency, help when you need it. No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong. That’s life!
  • Failure to Prep. This ties in with having a Plan B and C in place. Things will go wrong, or at least not in the way you expected them to go. You have to be flexible and roll with the punches that comes into everyone’s lives, no matter what lifestyle they have. You also need to be realistic about your timeline. It’s highly unlikely that you will grow enough food your first year to actually carry you and your family through the entire winter. What about money (because you matter what, you will need some) for essentials you can’t produce yourself? Do you have some kind of income or savings that can handle the unforeseen emergencies and buy more fuel for the generator?

You have to be stubborn as a mule, flexible as a sapling, and strong as silk…

There is so much that goes into having a homestead and when you’re trying to set one up from scratch, it is overwhelming. You would be perfectly normal to have more than one time when you ask yourself, “Is this worth it? Do I really want to live like this?”

The small list above isn’t intended to be the ‘definitive list’ of why homesteads fail but I bet you can ask anyone who has gone through it and pinpoint one of the three that as the reason. Sure, Mother Nature may have been ‘responsible’ for the damage done to your home but it’s you who Failed to Have a Plan B. And don’t even get me started on the skills you need!

Even more important than all of the above is your attitude. You have to be stubborn as a mule, flexible as a sapling, and strong as silk to be able to have a solid chance at making it through the learning curve and growing pains of having a homestead. You absolutely must be flexible. You have to want it more than the challenges you will face. You have to be passionate and self driven! It isn’t always a glamorous life, but it’s an honest and fulfilling one!




Women Farmers aka Soil Sisters

There is a food movement gaining ground, literally, going on across the country. It’s not controversial, or ‘shocking’ enough to warrant media coverage, and most people are just fine with that. They quietly work in soil to nurture and grow their food and contribute to the ecosystem. Sure, there’s always been some ‘movement’ like this going on but this one is different. It’s women, these soil sisters, who are paving the way!

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Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers,” is the latest book by author Lisa Kivirist that directly speaks to those who are part of this return to the soil. It’s for those who want to start or have already begun taking control over your food and sustainability back from the corporate world. Now, before you go thinking this is one of those ‘radical or extreme’ gardening books, let me explain why I give this particular book very high praise! One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much was because it didn’t read like I expected it to: hoity toity, all about how women are just as good as anyone, etc. I kind of expected a little feminism to be in there. There is no hint of any ‘holier than thou’ attitude and I was pleasantly surprised.

This book is a collaboration of over fifty soil sister farmers and is written in an easy-to-read, straightforward manner while still retaining the warmth of talking to a person. Truly well written, it follows along like a manual and yet entertains with quips and notes of interest. There are four main parts:

  • Understanding Our Roots
  • Gleaning Knowledge
  • Plowing Ahead
  • Cultivating Quality of Life

With actionable steps and lots of food for thought, each part goes into deeper detail, down into the root of it all: pun intended. The book helps you to get a grasp on a world and mindset you may have little to no experience with. The only thing some newbies have is a passion to grow good food and preserve it for their family. They may not have any idea about soil composition, let alone how important networking is when you choose to be a farmer (no matter what level you’re at)! Thanks to this book aimed at including the women farmer into the mix, a strong passion and willingness to work, it can be enough to get you started quickly. You don’t have to wade your way through a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really apply to this special niche.

It goes beyond the soil and growing food, too! There are bits about different homesteading skills, tips, and tricks sprinkled throughout the whole book. Whether you’re wanting to reclaim control over the source of your food, save money by growing and preserving it yourself, or sell to the public, this book covers it all! This is one of the rare books that would be good to have in both paperback and Kindle!




Understanding Your Garden’s Soil Cycle

Everyone who has ever tried to grow anything knows that it all starts with the soil. Most people never really think about the soil cycle that happens yearly, let alone things you can do at certain times to help improve it. Adding fertilizer alone is just not enough! In this article, we will look at the different stages of your soil and things you can do during each stage so you can reap the rewards at harvest time!

Understanding Your Garden's Soil Cycle

The first thing to remember is that soil is a living thing that’s made by the death and decay of other things. Mother Nature is efficient and nothing goes to waste! This article is written with the newbie gardener in mind and I encourage comments from other veteran food gardeners out there in the comment section below!

Fresh Garden. It’s spring and you’ve worked all winter long to plan and build your garden. You’ve got fresh soil, bursting with nutrients, to plant your seeds and sprouts in. Everything is set and ready for your gardening dreams to become a reality and you dream of fresh veggies from your own private ‘Produce Section.’ You’ve got your things planted in pretty little rows and now work on tending them as they grow. Since the soil is fresh, there is no need to amend much of anything – unless you’re growing something with special nutrient needs.

While there are no beneficial bugs in purchased soil, it’s still packed full of nutrients that are slow releasing to help those fragile plants get a good start! It’s important to not add anything to new soil, fertilizer-wise. Too much nitrogen can ‘burn’ and kill off plants before they really get started. Things like sand or perlite for drainage is perfectly fine.

During the Grow Season. Your soil has started to get depleted of nutrients and organic material. Though it’s still healthy, good soil, the plants have been gobbling up all that nutrition. Depending on your garden set up, bugs and worms have found their way into your soil and are doing their jobs. Worms help break organic material down and aerate the soil. They leave behind their waste that adds nutrients back into the soil, too. Your garden is lush from the good soil and plants smile drunkenly up at the sun while you walk through and enjoy seeing your hard work starting to pay off.

The plants will give you signals that they aren’t getting what they need such as yellowing, being over or under watered, dropping, etc. If you have fresh soil that year (and know it has the proper nutrients via a soil test or because you bought it bagged from the nursery), it’s unlikely you’ll have to do much of anything other than weed and water it but, if you feel the need to fertilize, consider one of these non-manure fertilizers that won’t overdo it. One example is used coffee grounds – another is egg shells! Trust me, it’s heart breaking to lose an entire bed of vegetables because you put too much fertilizer in there and burned all the plants!

After the Harvest. This is just about the ‘lowest’ point of the soil cycle, at least nutrition wise! The bounty you hopefully pulled and preserved out of your garden leaves behind depleted soil. There may still be some good organic material in there that still needs to break down but unless you plan on speeding that process up, you will need to help your soil along.

“The first thing to remember is that soil is a living thing…”

I cannot stress to you the absolute necessity of adding organic material back into your garden every year. If you compost, you’re on your way because compost is full of nothing but broken down organic material! Mix some of that into the soil either in Fall or Spring. This is what most people end up doing. For myself, I prefer to add organic material in both seasons.

In Fall, before planting the next year’s garlic, I will go to the beach and gather up garbage bagfuls of seaweed. I’ve seen several different ways people use seaweed in their gardens. Some people will put it into a food processor and essentially liquify it before adding it to the soil. I lay down a thick layer of seaweed down and then work it all into the soil. Over the winter, the seaweed (which is mostly water) will break down and add in all sorts of good nutrients and minerals. There is not enough salt in them to harm the soil or leave large deposits. Then, I plant my garlic and let everything settle and rest all winter long.

In Spring, I mix in compost and sometimes another bag of store bought dirt. Since soil is constantly breaking down or being absorbed into the plants, you’ll notice that the levels in the beds drop. It’s not jus the water packing it down, it’s being used and needs to be replenished!

Summary. This is a very quick view into a complex system of death, decay, life, and growth. Death and decay leaves behind nutrients for new life to take hold, blossom, and then give itself back to the soil for the next round. You have to care for it, feed it, and make sure there is a good balance. Doing so helps decrease the possibility of soil borne problems and increases your success rates for a bountiful harvest!


Feel free to add to the discussion below in the comments section! By working together, we can ALL have better soil.




10 Myths About Gardening That Just Aren’t True

Some of the things people believe are true can be pretty funny: Like thinking you can’t be a homesteader unless you own a lot of land, or that if you want to live a more self sufficient life, you must be a hermit and hate people. Myths about gardening can get just as convoluted and ‘out there’ as any other and I wanted to dispel or better explain the truth about some of the more common ones I’ve heard out there.

10 Myths About Gardening That Just Aren't True

Some things we call myth today was, once upon a time, factual and valid at the time. Some myths are only partially true and then again only under certain circumstances. How many of the following myths about gardening have you heard? These are in no particular order:

  • Clay Pots Are Better Than Plastic. Perhaps once upon a time, this was true. The idea is that by planting in plastic, especially food, you will have chemical leeching into your soil (and therefore your food, too). There is no evidence that plants grow better or worse in plastic vs clay pots, nor is there any evidence of chemicals from the plastic getting into the soil.
  • Add Gravel in the Bottom of Pots for Drainage. Honestly people, this one really needs to go away. The belief is that if there is gravel or rocks in the bottom, the drainage will be better and there is less of a chance of root rot. The truth is a few thumb sized rocks (a few) can help improve drainage but gravel will eventually have the crevices filled with potting soil and trap water – actually increasing the chance of root rot and plants getting sick.
  • Your Garden Will Fail Unless You Plant with the Moon. This one is an old wives tale but still sticks around. Sure, there is the Old Farmer’s Almanac that points people to plant certain things at certain times of the moon cycle that many people follow. While there is nothing wrong with it, to believe that unless you follow the moon phase or risk failing in the garden is a wee bit over the top. If it was true, there would be far fewer gardens out there!
  • Manure is Manure! This myth is both true and false. While manure is great fertilizer, there are certain kinds that must be composted before put into the garden soil. Chicken manure is the first that comes to mind. On the other hand, rabbit manure is perfectly fine to mix in straight. The difference is nitrogen content. Chicken manure has so much that, if used straight, will ‘burn’ and kill off your plants. It’s just too much! Of course, there are non manure fertilizer options, too.
  • Adding Plant Food and Fertilizer is All You Need. There are some out there who insist that all you need to do is add plant food and fertilizer to the soil before planting, maybe fertilizing during the growing season, and that is it. While this would grow some plants, it wouldn’t be as good as it can be and eventually, the food and fertilizer will not be enough. Soil needs fresh organic material to break down and replenish nutrients. Adding fertilizer alone isn’t enough.
  • Perfect Soil for Each Plant. There are some out there who swear by making sure the soil for each type of crop or flower is suited for that specific plant. Sure, you can do this but you don’t need to in order to be successful. That is just a lot of extra work that is unnecessary! Work smarter, not harder. A good, all around soil should be used for the garden. A good food garden has crop rotation. It is easier to do minor amendments during the growing season itself instead.
  • Old Seeds Won’t Sprout. This is 100% false and thank goodness for it. Older seeds have a lower germination rate, that is certainly true, but there is no magical date that will render them all ‘dead’ seeds. The dates that are stamped on the seed packets show when they were packaged, not an expiration date or indication of when they will ‘go bad.’ Seed companies make their money on the perception that you have to get fresh seeds every year and the ones leftover are no good anymore. I planted carrots from the same seed packet for three seasons and each year, they did just fine!
  • Mother Nature Doesn’t Weed. Ah, the purists (bless their little hearts). You’re right, Mother Nature doesn’t weed her garden because it is all her garden. In your food garden however, those weeds steal nutrients and growing space both above and below ground. They are in direct competition with the food you are trying to grow. Get rid of them! If you really hate weeding, try growing in cold frames instead!
  • New Soil Every Year. This one really blows me away. I know of a lady who will dig out the ‘old dirt’ from the garden, opening new bags of soil she bought and pouring them into the holes before planting. I have spoken to her repeatedly about the cycle of soil and how nature’s way is much less expensive but she insists that it has to be new soil. I suggested she start making it (composting) instead of buying it, too. She was having none of it, convinced that her way was the best way possible.
  • Organic Pesticides Are Not As Harmful. Just because something is organic (or labeled that way), doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Snake venom is organic but can still ruin your weekend or worse, kill you. Pesticide is pesticide. Yes, some are less harmful than others and organic generally has less chemicals but it is assuredly not harm-less.

There are so many more gardening myths out there that this could easily be a “50 Myths About Gardening” post! Instead of me listing them all, how about you comment down below and tell everyone some of the garden myth doozies you’ve heard! I know there are some really great ones out there!