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The Importance of Crop Rotation

 

The Importance of Crop Rotation

It’s that time of year again! Gardeners are starting to plan out the season. Usually, I spend this month sketching out a rough plan for my garden—taking crop rotation principles into account. I also start some seeds in my basement. This year, though, the pandemic has me changing up my plans. I’m giving my garden a break. I’m still going to grow stuff, but it’ll be less intensive. My focus will be to support pollinators and beneficial bugs by growing food sources like nectar-filled flowers. I’ll also try to build healthy soil by sowing cover crops. I’ll grow a few edibles in containers on my patio, but I think it’s time to give the soil a break this year.

Growing food is an inherently taxing process. It requires a lot from the soil. Over time, if you continue to grow and grow without returning anything back, you’ll end up with depleted, unhealthy soil.

Rotating crops and planting nitrogen-fixing plants like beans can help reduce soil “fatigue.” By introducing crop rotation into your gardening routine, you also:

  • Reduce instances of pests
  • Limit disease
  • Improve the soil’s ability to retain water
  • Recycle nutrients
  • Reduce the need to use store-bought products like fertilizer and pesticides
  • Improve soil condition

What does it mean to rotate crops? By rotating crops, you don’t plant stuff from the same family in the same spot for several years.

You can also let some of your beds rest for a season—which is what I’m doing this year.

It definitely involves a lot of planning, so I recommend using a spreadsheet or notebook to keep notes. I know you think you’ll remember your plan a few years down the road, but it’s unlikely that you’ll remember what you planted in bed ‘A,’ 3 years from now.

Other considerations for successful crop rotation:

  • Test your soil. Test the soil for nutrients and pH every year or so. Never fertilize for no reason. You should know what’s missing before you dump fertilizer willy-nilly.
  • Keep a close eye. Carefully monitor your garden to catch pests and diseases before they become a huge problem. You may need to alter your plans if a specific pest is an issue.
  • Use cover crops. Recycle nutrients into the soil and prevent carbon from getting released into the atmosphere by sowing cover crops or green manure.

Source: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1167375.pdf 

 




4 Advantages of Pruning Plant Roots

 

4 Advantages of Pruning Plant Roots

You’ve heard of pruning branches, but what about pruning plant roots? Roots aren’t something we think about very often. Mainly because they’re buried under the earth. Out of sight. Out of mind. However, paying attention to your plant’s roots can be an essential part of raising healthy houseplants. 

Here’s why you might consider pruning plant roots. Below, you’ll also find a helpful video for guidance on how to prune plant roots.

Improve root growth

Young plants can sometimes fail to produce healthy, abundant root systems. When this happens, pruning the roots before transplanting may help encourage more vigorous growth.

Prevent or reverse root binding

If you’ve ever repotted a plant or left a seedling too long in its pot, you may have noticed that its root system begins to circle the bottom of the container. If this happens, it means the plant has become root-bound. Without anywhere else to expand, the roots become a ragged, dense mess. Trimming the roots can help encourage new root growth and improve the overall health of your plant.

An alternative to trimming is to use breathable fabric pots. Obviously, this isn’t a great option for indoor plants. For outdoor plants, thought, fabric pots allow for air pruning. Because the fabric is breathable, it will enable the roots to breathe, preventing plants from becoming root-bound altogether.

Increases nutrient absorption

By pruning plant roots, you encourage nutrient absorption. The new root fibers help increase a plant’s nutrient uptake from the soil. If you have a root-bound plant, it can’t take up nutrients efficiently because it’s incapable of growing a lot of new, healthy roots.

Slows down growth

Abundant growth is great, but a plant that grows too rapidly will quickly need to be repotted again and again. By pruning roots, you slow down overall growth keeping the plant the right size for its current pot for a little while longer.

Get more plants

You’ll also need to prune roots if you want to divide plants. To divide plants, you’ll need to separate the roots, clip them, and trim them to encourage new growth.

How to prune

The ideal way to prune a plant is to lightly trim part of its root system. Taking off too much can have the opposite effect and potentially damage the plant.




5 Factors That Affect Plant Growth

 

5 Factors That Affect Plant Growth

Many factors affect plant growth. Plants have a few basic needs. Having these needs unmet will cause them to perish. There are also factors outside of a gardener’s control that can impact how well a plant grows. While some variables are out of your control, there are things that you can influence.

What affects plant growth?

Plants need several things to stay happy. If you have the ability to control these variables, doing so can help your plants thrive.

Sunlight

Sunlight is the lifeblood of a plant. Without it, plants die. Sunlight enables photosynthesis, which is the process that allows plants to process nutrients. Without sunlight, they can’t properly take up nutrients. Some plants need more sunlight than others and providing your plants with the right amount of sunlight is key. Giving plants like lettuce too much sun can cause them to wilt, bolt prematurely, and wither. Not giving enough sun to plants, like eggplant, can stunt their growth and diminish overall yields.

Water

Honestly, this is probably the most confusing task for gardeners to get right. Even the most experienced gardeners sometimes over or under water their plants. It’s one of the important factors that affect plant growth. When you’re gardening outside, Mother Nature does some of the work for you. Indoors, it’s all you, baby. Either way, watering is a bit of an art. Without water, plants will eventually die—even the most drought tolerant. Outside, mulch is a helpful way to retain moisture. Irrigation systems can also help you water deeply and consistently—and waste less. Inside, I highly recommend getting an app that reminds you to water on a schedule or creating a makeshift calendar of your own. Watering plants that have different moisture needs on the same schedule is a recipe for disaster.

Air

Plants are a lot like people. They don’t like being squeezed together like sardines. Pack them too close, and you can encounter problems like stunted growth, pests, and disease. Space plants accordingly to prevent overcrowding. Keeping them spaced apart helps improve air circulation, which will reduce instances of disease. It’ll also give your plants plenty of room to grow. If you’re a patient person, you can try an experiment. Plant squash close together instead of following seed packet spacing guidelines and plant them in another area where they have plenty of room to breathe. You’ll see a noticeable difference in how they grow.

Temperature

Out of all the factors that affect plant growth, this one can be tricky to control—especially outdoors. The weather can be unpredictable. Sometimes, even the most diligent gardeners end up with dead or sickly plants on their hands because an unexpected frost occurs. You can use crop protection and other tricks to play around with temperature, but when it gets really cold, there’s nothing you can do to stop the freeze. When starting seeds, getting the temperature right is key. Tomato and pepper seeds, for instance, won’t even germinate if the soil is too cold.

Nutrients 

Plants need food to survive. Often, good quality soil that’s amended yearly contains plenty of nutrients to get you through a vegetable gardening season. However, that’s not always the case. Poor nutrient uptake can happen for several reasons, including inadequate pH and environmental conditions. Without the right nutrients, plants can become diseased and stunted and provide a diminished or non-existent yield.




Container Gardening: Fabric Pots vs. Plastic Pots

fabric pots

I love to plant crops in containers, especially finicky plants like eggplant and peppers. I use a variety of containers in my garden, including fabric pots. If it gets too cold, it’s simple enough to haul them inside. Containers are also great for those living in rental properties or those with limited space. It’s easy to shuffle them around a deck or balcony and you can manage to plant quite a bit in multiple containers. I’ve collected many plastic pots from the garden center over the years. I re-use them to plant herbs, tomatoes, and whatever doesn’t fit in the rest of my garden. But plastic pots have their pros and cons, and they aren’t the only option for your gardening needs.

The Trouble With Plastic

Black plastic pots are great for heat-loving plants because the dark material is a heat-magnet. What’s not so great about plastic? Unless you’ve purchased self-watering containers, plastic pots require careful monitoring so that plants are evenly watered. Without proper drainage, plants may become root-bound or drown if over-watered (always make sure there are drainage holes underneath). Plastic doesn’t breathe very well, either. Imagine wrapping yourself in a sheet of plastic instead of breathable clothing. You’d end up a sweaty, suffocated mess.

That doesn’t mean plastic pots aren’t useful. They’re typically very inexpensive, easy to find, and they’re available in all shapes and sizes. But there’s already SO much plastic in the world. If there’s a worthy alternative, why not try it? By choosing a different type of plant pot, you can reduce your ecological footprint and stop creating unecessary plastic waste.

An Alternative: Fabric Pots

You could use any pot for planting, but fabric pots offer a few distinct advantages:

  • They’re relatively cheap. Often sold in packs, fabric containers are a suitable option for frugal gardeners.
  • They last a long time. Cracked plastic and broken ceramic pots begone! Fabric pots are made of sturdy materials that won’t rip, even when filled with wet soil. Re-use them year after year.
  • They’re breathable. The fabric allows for optimal airflow.
  • No water-logging. You won’t have to contend with rotted roots using fabric pots, the material allows for proper drainage.
  • Easy to handle. Handles make it easy to drag fabric pots around the garden.
  • Foldable sides. Fabric pots are ideal for growing potatoes since the edges can be rolled down.

If you’re looking for a good beginners guide to growing in pots, I highly recommend the Vegetable Gardener’s Container Garden. It’s a book that I still refer back to!

I also recommend checking out this handy YouTube video on how to grow potatoes in containers:

What’s your favorite vegetable to grow in fabric pots? Leave us a comment to let us know!




4 Cost-Effective Organic Garden Fertilizers

 

4 Cost-Effective Organic Garden Fertilizers

Regardless of what you’re growing, your plants need nutrients. Without fertilizer, your plants will fail to thrive and grow big and strong. In the case of edibles, a lack of nutrients can limit your crop and lead to poor production. Unfortunately, many fertilizers on the market are expensive. Thankfully there are cost-effective organic fertilizers you can use to boost your garden’s productivity.

A word of caution

Before I jump into a list of cost-effective organic fertilizer suggestions, I want to talk a bit about fertilizing in general. Piling on fertilizer will NOT automatically make your garden more lush and productive. Fertilizing without testing your soil first can lead to a host of problems down the road. With fertilizer, more is not always better.

Always test your soil first to find out whether your garden is lacking nutrients. Read up about plant nutrient needs to ensure you’re applying the right fertilizer.

While organic fertilizer is a lot less harmful to the environment than synthetic fertilizer, too much of it can still pose problems, so be cautious! If you think your plants are hungry for nutrients, double check first. They may be stressed or ailing for a different reason.

Organic fertilizers are an excellent alternative to synthetic ones because they help build soil quality over time and improve the soil’s ability to retain nutrients and water. They’re a lot less concentrated, which helps prevent overfertilization—though, it’s still possible with certain commercial options.

Cost-Effective Organic Fertilizers

Fertilizers can be expensive. Organic options are even more so! So what are the options available for a frugal gardener? Here are a few cost-effective organic fertilizers to choose from:

Worm castings. Set up a worm farm or attract worms using a bucket system and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Castings is a nice way of saying poop, but this excrement is mighty powerful! Worm poop is high in nitrogen and full of beneficial microbes and bacteria.

Coco coir. Coconut husks are an inexpensive, earth-friendly alternative to peat moss. While coir doesn’t contain nutrients, it helps condition the soil and improves water and nutrient retention.  It’s also a great mulch option.

Homemade compost. It’s easy to make your own compost at home! You’ll need a balanced mix of kitchen scraps and other materials like dead leaves and grass clippings to get some rotting action going. Over time, the materials break down into a powerhouse of nutrients for your garden.

Seaweed. Sea kelp fertilizer is pricey, but if you live near a shoreline, you can collect your own smelly seaweed, let it rot for a bit, and make a seaweed fertilizer tea. It’s not ideal for people who are sensitive to pungent smells, but it’s a great totally free source of nutrients!




How to Reuse Grow Bags

 

How to Reuse Grow Bags

Grow bags are an excellent container option for the frugal gardener. They’re extremely versatile and work for a variety of plants. Did you know that you can reuse them from year to year, too? Here’s how to reuse grow bags and save money down the line.

What is a grow bag?

A grow bag is a flexible container for growing plants. It’s usually made out of a breathable fabric. The breathable material lets air and water through but keeps all your earth neatly contained.

Benefits of using grow bags

Grow bags have a ton of wonderful advantages and are especially useful for frugal gardeners. They are great for:

People on a budget. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on fancy containers, grow bags are an excellent choice. They’re fairly durable, so you can reuse them for several years.

People without a lot of room. If you have a small space or are gardening on a patio or balcony, grow bags are an excellent option. They’re available in multiple sizes, and when they’re empty, they fold down flat. You can also drag them around in spaces where the light moves around quite a bit, which can help you keep your plants happy.

Temporary gardening spaces. Not sure if you’ll be gardening in the same location next year? Use grow bags! When you’re done, they can come with you. They’re easy to store and transport when empty.

Certain plants. Grow bags are great for growing certain kinds of plants. I’m particularly fond of growing potatoes inside large grow bags. It keeps the potato plants contained, and at the end of the season, I just dump out the earth making it easier to spot ready-to-eat tubers.

Beginner gardeners. If you’re new to gardening, building raised beds or creating an in-ground plot can seem like daunting tasks. Grow bags are easy and convenient growing vessels that require not an ounce of physical labor.

How to reuse grow bags

You’ll get more life out of your grow bags if you empty them and store them in a dry place over the winter. Dump out the earth in your compost bin (or in a raised garden bed, if available) and then rinse, dry, and store your bags for the season.

You can also leave them full of dirt and reuse them next year. You’ll need to mix in fresh compost next season.

However, if any of your plants were diseased or experienced severe pest infestations, you’re better off safe than sorry. Toss out all the dirt and start fresh.

Some grow bags are also safe to toss in the washing machine, which is great if you need to sterilize them once the growing season is done. Never put grow bags in the dryer, though. The heat can cause shrinkage or weaken the fabric.

By reusing your grow bags, you can save money and avoid waste.

If your grow bags rip, don’t throw them away! You can use the pieces as a weed barrier in pots or raised beds.




Is Double Digging Worth It? Let’s Find Out!

is double digging worth it

Double digging is often touted as a cost-free way to improve the condition of your soil. But is double-digging worth it? While it doesn’t require any monetary investment, this garden practice necessitates plenty of manual effort. Not every gardener has the strength to put into double digging. Is it double digging worth it? Should you invest a ton of energy into this method? Let’s find out.

The advantages of double digging

Double digging, also sometimes described as tilling, has quite a few vehement opposers. This gardening method, however, does have a few clear advantages, including:

It loosens the soil. Loosening the soil has its benefits and drawbacks. Compacted soil is undesirable, after all. Amending and digging the topsoil helps to aerate the earth and increase nutrient content within that first layer.

It’s an excellent method for starting a garden. Often, double digging is the primary method used when establishing a new garden plot. It’s an effective way to turn a swath of grass lawn into a productive garden.

It’s quick. It’s a quick way to achieve results as opposed to no-till gardening, which requires patience to improve soil quality. That said, quick solutions don’t necessarily lead to positive outcomes in the long-term.

Here are some of Amazon’s Choice for the best double digging tools.


 

The disadvantages of double digging

While tilling is often used interchangeably with the term double digging, some advocates for double dig gardening argue that the two are not quite the same. While tilling involves disrupting deep layers of soil and overall soil structure, double digging typically only affects the top-most layer of soil. Still, many gardeners prefer a no-dig approach to gardening, which helps maintain soil health. There are a few other notable disadvantages to digging up a bed in this way:

It brings up weeds. Double digging causes weed seeds that were too deep to germinate to come up to the surface.

It disrupts soil structure. Deep digging can, quite literally, turn soil structure upside down. This, in turn, leads to further issues with compaction down the road. Healthy soil is less likely to become compacted and is more capable of retaining moisture.

How to avoid soil compaction

Compacted soil is one of the top reasons gardeners till and double dig the soil. Doing so loosens up the earth and creates (albeit often temporary) improved soil conditions for planting. Here’s how to avoid compaction in the first place:

Never step or walk on garden soil. Create paths around your garden beds to ensure easy access that doesn’t require trampling all over the earth.

Don’t till when the soil is wet. This further damages the structure of the soil and encourages further compaction.

Limit tilling and double digging. Excess tilling and digging might temporarily loosen up your soil, but over time it’s likely to have the opposite effect.

An alternative: no-dig gardening

If you’re interested in trying out a no-till gardening method, check out this YouTube video explainer on lasagna gardening, which is a low-cost alternative to the double dig method.