Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maximize the Germination of your Vegetable Seeds

Nothing is more frustrating then when you can not seem to get your vegetable seeds to germinate. You get excited for gardening season to roll around, have your vegetable seeds ready to go, plant them in some soil, wait, and nothing happens. There could be a number of factors as to why this could be. Here are some suggestions to help with maximizing the germination of your Vegetable Seeds.

It all starts with the soil. Well, actually it starts with the seed but we already know that . While I like to use soil from my own garden to start my seeds (more on that in a moment), there is nothing wrong with using a good quality seed starting soil. This type of soil, which can be found at any home or garden center for just a few bucks, is specially formulated to give your seeds everything they need to grow. If you are big on organic growing techniques there are plenty of organic seed starting soils as well and those expanding seed pods work great also.

As I noted earlier I like to use the soil from my own garden to start my seeds. Here is why. For starters, my plants will eventually end up there anyway, and I believe, although I have not conducted any official scientific testing, that the young plants will acclimate much better if they are already growing in the soil in which they will spend their entire growing season. Next, I work hard at making sure my soil gets a good supply of nutrients through various composting techniques. I would hate to do all that work and not be able to use it on day one. Finally, when I do use my own garden soil, since I start most of my seeds indoors, I like to have my soil be inside for a couple of days to warm up. It does the seeds a world of good.

For most seed varieties you will want to start them indoors. This gives you a head start in the colder months so that when it does eventually warm up outside you can move grown plants outdoors. This becomes especially helpful to those with shorter growing seasons. While I would not classify New Jersey as having a short growing season, it is nice to put ten to twelve inch tomato plants in the ground on May first. The only types of seeds I do not start indoors are root crops, i.e. radish, carrots, turnips etc.

Now that we have our soil and are starting our seeds indoors, we need to create an environment that is suitable for growth. There are two challenges. The first is light and the second is heat. Both of which can be handled very easily.

Let’s start with light. For me it is fairly easy. By the time February rolls around we receive plenty of sunlight. This makes it easy to simply put my newly planted seeds in front of a window that receives sunlight first thing in the morning. If you can get 6 to 8 hours that should be plenty. If not, consider supplementing with a grow light. You can pick them up at pet stores in the fish isle. They sell them to help aquatic plant life grow and can cost anywhere from a couple of dollars to nearly a hundred dollars, depending on how fancy you want to get. You can also find them at garden centers and of course online. Make sure you select the lights that are U/V and rated for plant growth.

Next, heat. You could invest in growing heat pads and plant heaters if you live in very cold climates but for most of us, simply covering your seedlings with a propagation dome, a constant temperate condition will be created which is optimal for your seeds. Your propagation dome can be purchased in a store, or you can simply make one out of any clear plastic container such as a used 2 liter soda bottle. A propagation dome is nothing more than a small version of a greenhouse. When the enclosed space heats up the heat is absorbed by the soil which helps the seed and at night when the enclosed space starts to cool, the heat from the soil is released. This process helps keep a constant temperature.

Of course none of the above will do you any good if the seeds you buy, suck. Buy your seeds from reputable companies. Reputable companies will ensure that the seeds you receive are all within a year of age and have been tested for germination rates exceeding 95%. Meaning 95 out of every 100 seeds germinated in their testing conditions.

Now go out and get some seeds and start growing some of your own food!

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us, the moderator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook and creator of the Seeds Club.

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

5 Home Grown Vegetables for Thanksgiving

The holiday season is upon us which for our family kicks off with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is that one day out of the year where we recognize how lucky we are to have our health, family and friends around our dinner table and of course the gratefulness that even in these tough economic times we can still put a nice meal on the table to enjoy the day.

One thing I am personally thankful for is for the day my dad taught me how to vegetable garden, how you can grow your own food and that it is easier then you think. It is a skill that I can pass along to my two sons and hopefully they pass along to their children one day.

Being able to grow our own food not only puts healthy, fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs on our table but we are able to donate a lot of food to local food pantries and needy families, so my family is very thankful that we can do that as well.

What I wanted to do is give you a list of the fresh items that I will be serving on my Thanksgiving table this year.

Green Beans
A fellow vegetable gardening member on our Facebook page recently sent me a message about the green beans he grew this past season. To make sure he grew enough he had ten Kentucky Wonder pole bean plants growing up on a home made trellis. Of course if you know anything about pole beans in general you immediately say to yourself, “Good Lord, 10!” That is because they produce and produce and produce and keep going. They make the energizer bunny look inferior once they start growing. He even said, “my neighbors stopped answering their doors because they didn’t want anymore.” That is how many ten plants will yield. Beyond that, for my family, the Thanksgiving dinner table would be incomplete without the green bean casserole. With home grown green beans the casserole tastes so much better (at least it does to me).

I will be the first to admit that celery is not the easiest item to grow. The seeds are so tiny that they are nearly impossible to work with. Most of the time when I start my celery seeds I end up planting a lot per each starter cup, which I then I have to trim back. However, once you are able to get the celery going, fresh celery mixed in with the stuffing is fantastic. Also, I have inherited a family recipe from my mom called stuffed celery. Not sure if she got it from somewhere or made it up herself, but it’s nothing more than cream cheese mixed with chopped up gerkin pickles and green olives. Take that mix and fill the celery. Something about the crunch of the celery with that mix is such a great taste.

Salad Greens
This is my generalized category for all items such as lettuce and spinach that would be included in my salad. I will be literally having the freshest salad come Thanksgiving day. That is because greens such as lettuce and spinach will grow well into the cooler months of November and with a well built cold frame you can easily get fresh greens all winter long. Imagine being able to pick your Thanksgiving day salad 10 to 20 minutes before you serve it.

Pumpkin Pie
Ok we aren’t actually growing pumpkin pies here, but we can grow the main ingredient in a pumpkin pie recipe and that is the pulp to be used. Everyone has their favorite pumpkin and/or squash they grow for this purpose and I am no different. I like the Blue Hubbard Squash. The pulp inside, once cooked and pureed, makes for a nice sweet addition to any pumpkin pie recipe. Sugar Pie Pumpkin is another good one as well.

What would be Thanksgiving day dinner without the different varieties of potatoes that will be served. From sweet to my wife’s garlic mashed red recipe, home grown potatoes are an excellent way of bringing what you grow at home to your dinner table. I would not consider potatoes a difficult crop to grow in my area, and they can be left in the ground until you plan on harvesting them for consumption (in many cases).

I can list a lot of other items that I have served in the past as well as I am sure you and your family have your favorites as well. Enjoy your home grown Thanksgiving!

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us, the moderator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook and creator of the Seeds Club.

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vegetable Gardeners, Black Friday is for You Too

Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC Confirms a 70% off Black Friday Sale

Burlington, NJ: Continuing their commitment to making vegetable gardening, fun and affordable for all through their Seeds of the Month Club (averagepersongardening.com), Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC has announced they will issue a referral code that will give new Seeds Club members 70% off any club membership of 1 year or longer on Black Friday, 11/25/2011.

“With the economy still lagging, and more people looking to save money, we wanted to extend a Black Friday offer that will help consumers during these tough times,” said Mike the Gardener owner Michael C. Podlesny.

With the referral code that will be released on their blog at 5am EST 11/25/2011, seeds club members receive 8 packs of vegetable, fruit and/or herb seeds their first month and then 4 packs every month thereafter for 70% off the retail price. The seeds club has been featured on ABC, NBC and Fox as a great way for consumers to save money on the food they buy.

In addition to the special referral code, that can be used starting at 5:00AM EST on Black Friday, Podlesny says staff members will be on hand to answer customer questions about the club and vegetable gardening in general.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Four Easy Vegetables to Start from Seed

I love to start all of my fruits, vegetables and herbs from seeds, and although I do very well, I can sit here and honestly say that all of my efforts are not successful. In fact, this past season my cantaloupe did not fair as well as I had hoped, but my eggplant on the other hand were the best crop I have had in my life. That’s just the nature of vegetable gardening. Just when you think you have one crop mastered, you have a bad season with it. Maybe that is par for the course.

Regardless of the ups and downs of different crops I seem to do extremely well with the same crops every year when I start them from seeds.

One of the fastest growing vegetables that I start from seeds, radishes will yield two crops in the late-winter to early spring and again late-summer to early winter. Many varieties produce in as little as 45 days, and make a great addition to a salad. I do not start radishes indoors as I don’t see the need since they produce so quickly.

What would a list be without tomatoes on it, especially when I am from the garden state and all the bragging we do here about Jersey tomatoes. I will say that some years I do great and less often I do just ok, but I have never had a season where I did not get an ample crop of tomatoes. I always start my seeds indoors around the beginning of March, then will move them to the outdoor greenhouse in bigger pots until the weather warms up enough at night so that I eventually put them in their final spot in the garden. Top advice? Pick a spot in your yard that receives direct sunlight from morning until night time for best results. That’s what works well for me.

A neighbor once told me, zucchini grows so fast that you literally watch it grow before your eyes. I can not disagree. I have had plants where on one day a new zucchini growth is about an inch long and the next day (ok maybe two) it was ready to be picked. I will start zucchini indoors just like tomatoes. Unless you either have a large family, plan on feeding the neighborhood or donating a lot to local food pantries, just a couple of zucchini plants will suffice. They produce so much so quickly that many, especially new gardeners, put in about 6 plants and then harvesting zucchini becomes a full time job. I always grow 3, which for me, seems to be plenty.

Last season I had the best cucumber crop in my life. I was literally giving away about a dozen to two dozen per week. I had 9 plants going which is more than what I normally do, but in previous years my surplus was around a few every week. Just like my tomatoes and zucchini I start cucumbers indoors. For me personally I always grow vining types such as the straight eight. For best results use a trellis. I built my own out of some left over wood pieces and some netting. It took about 20 minutes to throw it together. This gives the cucumbers a chance to climb and spread out. I start my cucumber seeds indoors, and like tomatoes, won’t move them outdoors until the temperatures at night have warmed up enough.

Every gardener has their favorites, these happen to be the ones I have had the easiest time with and the most success. I’ll cover herbs in a future article. They are very fun and easy to grow as well.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us, the moderator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook and creator of the Seeds Club.

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Compost from the Sky?

As many of you know from reading the various articles on our website and blog as well as the podcasts we conduct, composting is a major part of our vegetable gardening efforts. I am a believer that you really can not have a successful vegetable garden without implementing even a minor effort of composting. I am sure some of our readers will disagree and I would love to hear your thoughts.

However, I am big believer in compost because the benefits far outweigh any amount of work one would have to conduct to “make it happen”. There are various types of composting methods, from piles and vermicompost, to trench composting. One thing struck me as interesting as I was sitting at my kitchen table this morning looking out the window of my garden area.

I had noticed that the leaves of the tree in my neighbor’s yard were beginning to fall and as luck would have it (only a gardener would consider leaves falling in their yard as luck), they were falling directly into my garden. It got me thinking. `How about this? Compost from the sky!`

Leaves and leaf mulch make for great compost to be added to any garden. Many composting purists will say that you should add equal parts green (such as grass) with equal parts brown (such as leaves) to ensure that your compost has all of the nutrients it is supposed to have. I will save that debate for a future article and podcast.

I looked at the leaves falling into my garden from a different angle. That is, less work for me! Let’s face it. Each year I do my best to reduce the amount of “extra” work I have to do in the garden, such as laying down newspaper as a weed barrier, or setting up automatic sprinklers to do the watering for me. I am sure many of you do the same.

Without even trying I found another way to reduce some of my composting work. I am going to simply “leave” the leaves there and in the spring I will turn them into the ground with additional compost from my pile that I currently have on the other side of my shed.

My neighbor is nice enough to give me such a great gift and yet, he probably doesn’t even know it. Hopefully he is not an avid vegetable gardening enthusiast such as me to the point where he comes over and asks for his leaves back :-)

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us and the administrator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook.

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Monday, November 14, 2011

What's Crazy in your Vegetable Garden?

Last Friday we asked our Vegetable Gardening Facebook page members to post the funniest and/or the craziest question or comment they have ever received about their vegetable garden. There were some fantastic responses and we wanted to share them with you.

‎"EWWWW, you eat food from the GROUND??" - little neighbour kids (who were promptly educated about where food comes from)

‎"so, do you like...actually eat it?"

Where's your money tree?

when you companion plant, which herbs and flowers keep rabbits out?

We're looking at the strawberry beds and my friend asks, "are you gonna have strawberries?"

‎"you know Dandelions are weeds"

‎"You are soooo crazy." (from an ADULT on food stamps.)

Why do you have marigolds around your garden? You know that is the "Dead people flower" At Mexican funerals we bury our dead with Marigolds and call them the Dead People Flower...now I think of dead people every time I go to my garden!

you can grow peanuts and popcorn??????

why do you grow it?

‎"Isn't the gardening season over?" (In October in Vermont.) Nope, it's not!

How do I know when I can pick the stuff and what do I do with it afterwards? From a first time gardener. She didn't know what she was planting, why or how to use/cook it. She also didn't know what homegrown Swiss Chard looked like although she purchases it from the grocery store and "loves it".

I teach school & grow pumpkins for my students to paint each Halloween. I had an abundance and let them paint again for Thanksgiving. From a 7th grade student, "You should let us paint again for Christmas!" Me, "I don't have any more pumpkins." Student, "Can't you grow some more?" Me, "Pumpkins don't grow in the winter with all this snow." Student (totally bewildered), "They don't?"

My Contribution
when I was standing next to my corn and someone came up and asked...so are you growing corn?


‎"Wouldn't it be easier to just go to the grocery store?"

I asked my 7 year old grandson what he had learned about gardening after a month with me this summer "helping" in the garden. he said he learned that if you throw the rotten tomatoes under a tree an animal might eat them.

While removing caterpillars from my plants one day, a neighbor asked me, "You're growing bugs, too? How do you do that?"...and she was serious. :)

I asked my daughter and her friend to go out and get some carrots from the garden. Her friend came in a few minutes later and said, " I couldn't find them, but [daughter] found them under these green things!" Haha! She did not know that they grew in the ground. You should have seen her face when we collected eggs from the hen-house!

how do ya smoke that stuff?

I won't go in there after dark!

"so let me get this straight you put poop in there to "fertilizes" it and then you really eat the vegetable????" me- "yes!" them- "that us soooo gross you eating food grown in animal poop. Don't they make a chemical fertilizer?.... That would not be as disgusting! "

Is your garden on steroids?

Are you really going to eat that?

A coworker, on comparing rhe sizes of our tomato plants in the worker's garden: "You must feed your tomatoes crack."

One of my great-grandkids watched me put vegetable scraps from the kitchen, leaves and grass clippings in my compost tumbler and asked me - "After you put that stuff in there, does it get less stinky?"

I wish my garden looked that good. But my reply will always be "yes it can be".

when we were selling our California property, a prospective buyer looked up at my 12 foot tall cornstalks and asked what I had used. When I said "compost and water" she, well, was pretty speechless.

I've been asked a few times "Did you grow these"? Well lets see... they are in my yard, in my veggie patch, and I always talk about gardening. Chances are I did.

You growin vegetables?

Standing beside my blueberry plants (she and I) eating the berries -- she said, "Are you sure you grew these?" I didn't even answer-- I just looked at her.

‎"what r u goin to do with all your fruit ?" a neighbor asked, " it's easier to buy them on the store. My thought was "it's none of your business "

‎"Who do you have buried under there?"

So what is something that you heard that you can add to this great list?

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vermicomposting for Better Soil

Vermicompost is merely nothing more than worm castings after you have fed them a diet of organic material. It is one of the best forms of fertilizer you can add to your garden. So good that many home vegetable gardeners have created worm farms and vermicompost bins in their own back yards, sheds, garages and basements. It is easy to do and fairly inexpensive. As with anything, the more work you put into it the less it will cost.

To get a better understanding of vermicomposting and what it could mean for your home vegetable garden I turned to Justen Garrity, the President of Veteran Compost. Justen operates a commercial worm composting facility in Maryland with over a half million worms.

Just like with other forms of composting, vermicompost is an easy, environmentally friendly, and in many cases, a fun way to create much needed nutrients for your soil. Justen says, “Instead of sending your fruit/vegetable scraps, shredded paper and newspapers to landfills, you can use worms to recycle that material into worm castings.” Worm castings are a great way to help reduce the affect of diseases on plants, rejuvenates the soil by adding nutrients and assists with plant growth.

Worm Species
If you were to look into a science book specifically on worms, you will see that there are literally thousands to choose from, although many are more than likely, not available in your area. “The best worms are the red wigglers,” says Justen. “ They have evolved over millions of years to become nature’s best worm for eating organic waste.”

So how much does it cost to run a worm farm at home? Depends really on how much you want to spend. “Expect to pay about $20 to $30 for a pound of worms,” Says Justen. As for housing you can spend $80 for the Worm Factory DS3GT 3-Tray Worm Composter or build your own for under $15 with nothing more than a plastic bin, a drill and some time.

Worm Population
If you feed your worms a nice healthy diet of organic material, i.e. your food leftovers, leaves, grass etc., you can expect your worm population to double about every 90 days. So what do you do with all of those worms? “Red Wigglers will self-regulate their population based on the size of the bin, the amount of food, the moisture level and temperature,” says Justen. “You don’t have to worry about a rapidly growing population taking over your house.” However, if you do feel like you have too many worms, Justen recommends that you simply remove them and share with some friends, other gardeners and fisherman.

Happy Vermicomposting!

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us and the administrator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook.

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to Photograph your Home Vegetable Garden

Not too long ago I invested in a web enabled smart phone. It allows me to send and receive emails, surf the web and has a built in camera. In today’s world of fast pace, have it now, technology, I find that I am guilty of wanting the latest, greatest electronic gizmos. Electronics ranks 3rd in my list of must haves after gardening and woodworking, so it’s up there fairly high.

With smart phone in hand with a built in camera I was in heaven. I could use technology to take instant photos of my home vegetable garden and upload them to the vegetable gardening facebook page. It is a real time snapshot of what I am growing at that moment.

Usually within seconds there are a few “likes” and some comments. Even with the latest technology, one thing I have learned is, I am not Ansel Adams. My photography skills needed some work.

I turned to Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes who is a professional photographer that specializes in landscapes and still-life photography. Perfect. Who else to get advice from than an award winning photography expert.

When is the best time to photograph the garden?

Michelle says the best time is when the sun is overhead. Choosing a soft morning or afternoon light is ideal, before 10 am if possible. The colors in your photos will be richer.

What is the best angle to photograph your garden?
“Don’t be afraid to get dirty,” says Michelle. “Kneeling, even laying down on the same level as your subject for the best detail and most interesting angle.” She continues, “If you’re shooting the entire garden in one frame, stand back and make sure your horizon line is on the one third or bottom one third of the shot.”

Both of these tips will work with any of today’s digital cameras or smart phones that are at least five megapixels. Less than 5 (which is rare today) and the pictures will look too “grainy”. Michelle also recommends that you should always take photos in color. With today’s editing software you can always go back later and make your color photos go black and white. “Black and White landscape shots can really be stunning, especially when there is a lot of contrast between light and dark, such as right after a snowfall,” says Michelle.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us and the administrator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook.

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Start Using Companion Planting in your Home Vegetable Garden

If you are looking to maximize the available room you have in your yard or on your property, while at the same time promoting healthier plants through better soil and other means,companion planting is the way to go.

Companion planting is a great way to combine various plants in a single location all of which work in conjunction with one another as opposed to competing with each other for the same nutrients. The most widely known method for companion planting and the easiest to understand would be the Three Sisters Method.

The three sisters gardening method is a Native American technique where you grow corn, squash and beans together in the same general location. The corn will provide support for the beans, while the beans provide nitrogen for the corn and the squash creates protection for the root systems. This is just one of the many companion planting examples, it just happens to be the most widely known.

Another great example is planting deep rooted crops such as carrots with tomatoes as noted in the widely popular book by Louise Riotte, Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.

“Companion planting is a wonderful way to encourage the best, most bountiful harvest from your gardens - both edible and ornamental,” says Gina Samarotto a Master Gardener and an award winning landscape designer. “An age old practice, this method of pairing certain plants and varieties utilizes the principles of Integrated Pest Management while it makes the most of your soils readily available resources.”

There are literally countless number of combinations a home vegetable gardener can use when it comes to companion planting. Gina recommends that you, “Do your research. If your gardens are plagued by aphids, make room to plant Anise. This herb, fragrant with the scent of licorice, attracts predatory wasps - a natural enemy of aphids. Love tomato salad? Make sure to plant plenty of basil between your young plants. In addition to providing a delightful accompaniment, basil can subtly add to the flavor of tomatoes (particularly container grown) and is helpful in repelling Thrips, Flies and Mosquitoes.”

Is companion planting for everyone? If you are a beginner, your best bet is to continue developing your gardening skills and only move on to companion planting when you feel comfortable enough that you are ready. As you become more knowledgeable on what works and what doesn’t work in your garden, your success with companion planting will go a lot further.

“Everyone should try their green thumb at companion planting. In addition to making the most out of your gardening space, companion planting is a wonderful way to create gorgeous groupings while limiting the levels of pesticides and herbicides your garden needs to thrive. It's a green practice that can enhance your gardening experience overall,” says Gina.

Are there any drawbacks to using companion gardening? Just one. You could plant “like-kind” plants next to each other without knowing it. When this occurs you may use up the soil’s nutrients at a faster rate which in turn will yield less growth. Just be sure to do your research and you should be ok. Just avoid planting vegetables that are in the same family and be sure to mix deep rooted crops with shallow rooted ones (i.e. carrots with tomatoes) as a rule of thumb.

An excellent resource on in depth companion planting is a book by author Brenda Little titled, Secrets of Companion Planting: Plants That Help, Plants That Hurt , which contains some nice lists on good companions and bad companions.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us and the administrator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club: