DIY Backyard Farm Recommended Gardening Blogs – January 2015 Edition

In the coming months our readers will see posts like this one to help get all of us edible gardeners through winter. Fear not, there are some great gardening activities to do now. Augment those cold weather gardening duties with some inspiration from some of these great websites and/or blogs!

* Not all of these blogs focus solely on edible gardening.

Kitchen Gardeners International – I find this site to be a real ray of sunlight. Lots of learning resources complimented by stories about the powers of growing your own, helping communities and more. Check it out!

GRIT – GRIT is a great print magazine with the tagline, “rural American know-how”. Their website is chock full of interesting articles, ideas, and tips. They even have a reader’s blog section for people like me who love to share information! Find the DIY Backyard Farm GRIT blog here. Not all of their articles are related to edible gardening, but the site is still a treasure trove of helpful reading.

Back To My Garden – Read along or listen to the podcasts. Dave is a gentleman gardener indeed. His style is very welcoming and Dave always seems to “dig up” great information.

Shortcut Your Way to Gardening Greatness

Those of you who read this blog or have read my book know I constantly pound the drum to plan your garden and keep things simple. Those two rules are the main keys to my edible gardening success. As such, I am a huge fan of shortcuts that save time without sacrificing results. In an effort to create and/or share valuable information for my readers, I had been thinking about coming up with a list of gardening shortcuts to post on this site. Magically such a list popped into my email inbox last night!

A greater gardening mind than mine was thinking the very same thing. Dave Ledoux from Back To My Garden sent me a link to his 99 Remarkably Clever Gardening Shortcuts. What timing!

Dave’s list is the product of 30 hours of research and writing. Nice work Dave!

We get to enjoy the “fruits” of Dave’s labor with little more than some time invested reading. I suggest bookmarking his list for future reference. Not all of the tips are edible gardening related. However, there are enough interesting ideas to satisfy many types of gardeners.

I already plan to use shortcut #88 because we have a root bound citrus tree of our own that needs a new home to lay down some roots. Shortcut #1 will be critical to my edible garden planning right now. We are growing potatoes in 2015, but I refuse to give up too much space to them. #1 may be the answer to my potato space-saving challenge!

Why are you still reading my post? Get clicking over to Dave’s 99 Remarkably Clever Gardening Shortcuts! Share it with your gardening friends too!

Plan your garden, garden your plan…

What You Can Do Now to Satisfy Your Gardening “Bug”

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I have been spending a lot of time thinking (and blogging) about ways to keep my gardening interests alive in this cold, “Arctic” winter. It is kind of like watering the dormant fig tree I keep in the garage during the winter. The picture above is a sure sign desperation has set in. I bought tomatoes from the store! Yes, they were from sunny Florida. No, they did not taste anything like what we grow here on the DIY Backyard Farm.

I took this as a warning sign that I needed to do something garden related ASAP. As a result, I broke out my SeedKeeper and did a seed inventory. The family is close to having our 2015 seed needs finalized, but I want to avoid ordering seeds we already have. I am amazed how quickly I forgot what seeds we had left!

The Seed Keeper,Seeds

My next step was to pot some additonal herb plants for the indoors. A small task, but it feels good to see living green things clamoring for the thin rays of sunlight that penetrate our cold winter air like hot knives through freshly churned butter.

herbs

Ah, I am feeling a bit better now. Seeds are organized, herbs are ready for culinary action and the last of those store bought tomatoes are now gone.

What are you doing to stay “garden sane” this winter?

Gardening Activities to Do With Your Children in Winter

Kale,tent

Kale Tent

It’s January and in much of the county it is cold. Too cold to grow most fruits, vegetables and herbs. The next 2-3 months can be really dull and difficult for many edible gardeners. Having young children at home can make wintertime cabin fever more difficult. What can one do to inspire their inner edible gardener while keeping the kids entertained? Easy, plan next season’s edible garden! Just be sure to include the kids.

Recently I posted about fighting back against winter’s dreary grip. It contains a recommendation to browse seed catalogs as one way to brighten up otherwise dull, grey days. Why not invite the kids along to thumb through the seed catalogs with you? After all, seed catalogs are usually filled with wonderfully colorful images of amszing produce!

Winter months are some really tough times for parents, especially those with younger children. The holidays are over and parents have exhausted all the usual options. It just so happens these are the months when seed catalogs arrive in the mail. I call them colorful messengers of joy! Plus, seed catalogs remind us all that spring will in fact come again one day. So, break out the seed catalogs and start dreaming about the growing season to come!

Over the past couple of years we have made seed selecting and edible garden planning family activities. It is so much fun and very interesting to watch the children’s’ eyes light up as they see images of beautiful and often unique fruits, vegetables and herbs. Selecting seeds and garden planning do not have to be quick activities either. It usually takes us a few sit downs before we get our seed orders and edible garden plans just right.

Here is how to do it:

1) Have a bunch of small pieces of paper and some tape handy to allow each person to bookmark their seed pages of interest and write down their thoughts on particular seeds.

2) Place all your seed catalogs around a table and let each person take one. Some catalogs are more visual than others. Be sure the kids get the most visual ones. If they are old enough to read then encourage them to learn about the seeds. Take time to read to them if the reading is too advanced. You will likely learn something as well!

3) Begin to develop a garden plan once most of the seeds have been selected. This step is best done at a different seating. It is nice to sleep on seed buying decisions before investing time to plan a garden or order seeds. Plus, the kids will not want to do marathon garden planning sessions!

4) Sketch out edible garden beds on graph paper or use the garden planning worksheets in the back of my edible garden planning guide book. Does your seed selection make sense now that it is on paper? Remember, less is often more when it comes to edible gardening. Also be sure the edible plant selections will grow well in your location (consider variables like climate, sun exposure, watering needs and companion planting).

Let kids get creative (example in the picture below) by allowing them to use colored pencils or crayons to draw the edible plants they want to grow. I bet they surprise you with how well they can draw carrots, strawberries and other tasty produce. Be sure to help them understand how many of each plant can grow in a specified area. If you do not have this information then check the plant descriptions in seed catalogs.

5) Once you are satisfied with your seed selection and checked that plants will do well in your garden it is time to order or buy seeds from your local garden center. I buy some seeds from local garden centers, swap seeds with gardening friends and order from a few catalog retailers. Click here for a list of mail order seed suppliers.

When the seeds arrive you can keep the kids engaged by reviewing each seed packet with them. Remember to keep it simple and do not try to become expert on too many plant types at once. You and your children will benefit more from growing a few plants and knowing a lot about each one.

I find the process of seed selection and garden planning is helpful for getting through the winter. Before long it will be time to start seeds under grow lights or plant the first seeds of the season in your garden soils!

Fight Back Against Winter’s Dreary Grip

seed saver exchange catalog, 2014, seeds

2014 Seed Savers Exchange Catalog Cover

The seed catalogs are coming! Thumbing through the pages of these vibrant catalogs of cheer is a great way to push back against the cold, grey clutches of Old Man Winter.

Don’t forget our very own Edible Garden Planning Guide to help get your garden planning off on the right path. It includes garden planning worksheets for sketching out garden planting diagrams. Plan your garden, garden your plan!

book cover

Book Front Cover

What are you planning to grow in 2015?

Stay tuned for The DIY Backyard Farm’s top seed picks for gardening with kids.

raspberries

part of the daily golden raspberry harvest

Can you “beet” this?

I often write about ways to engage children with healthy, fresh foods. More specifically, I like to help parents get their kids to eat their veggies!

Here on the DIY Backyard Farm we believe in hands on learning. Plus, not all of our gardening “chores” are a bore. Remember, it may be zen-like for adults to weed or water. However, kids need shorter term and immediately rewarding tasks to keep them interested.

Interested in seeing what I am talking about? Grab your flashlights and come along for a two-minute video starring our youngest backyard farmer and I. We will take you night hunting for fall beets. After all, they are the “Candy of the Garden”!

Great Ways to Get Through Winter

cold,plants,protection

Burr it’s getting cold outside!

For me winter is more than a season. I do not even follow the official start and end dates of the winter season. When it gets cold I call it winter!

Most winters in the Northeastern US are lifeless, cold months filled with a few fun holiday events. The short days, winter jackets and lack of warm sun drive me to the edge each year. This backyard farmer would hibernate like a chipmunk if I could. Since long winter naps are out of the question I needed to find something else. I looked to my edible gardens for the answer.

Sure there is not much going on in the garden these days, except for some kale, broccoli and hearty carrots. However, our edible gardens have more to offer than meets the eye.

There are memories in the forms of photos, dried herbs and preserved foods. There is also future planning!
So, I have come up with a scheme to keep myself away from the winter blues. Here is what helps me:

1) Regularly viewing photos from seasons past.

edible garden collage

Photos can be “harvested” year round

 

2) Making sure each month has something gardening related for me to do. Seed ordering is the highlight of my winter. My family and I spend most of December and part of January planning our upcoming gardening season and ordering the seeds.

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Garden Planning Worksheet from my book

3) Enjoying foods from the previous season. It is amazing how sentimental a few frozen pesto cubes can make me!

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Left are frozen basil leaves and right are pesto basil ice cubes

4) Sharing or gifting the herbs we carefully dried during the previous season. We like to get creative as a family and package up our dried herbs for holiday gifts, housewarming items or just because someone else deserves our organic recipe helpers.

sage leaves,gifts

picking and packing dried sage leaves for gifts

5) Plan a vacation to someplace warm! There is nothing better than a trip to one of the warmer parts of California or Southern Florida to thaw out my Mediterranean soul. The minute I get off the plane I begin to feel better. Then the sights, sounds and smells of lush, green nature take over. I feel good again!

Big Sur,California,Sunny

Big Sur, California. Sunny and upper 80’s!!!

 

I hope some or all of these tips can help others make it through the cold. How do you shake off the wintertime blues?

When Mother Nature Throws A Curve

cold,plants,protection

My quick & dirty approach to dealing with a cold weather snap

I was part in denial and part in disbelief that we were going to get into the “teens” on the thermometer. I had every intention of finally building some DIY cold frames, but just did not get around to it.

A cold snap like this will kill the fall veggies and herbs before I am ready to say good-bye! What is a DIY Backyard Farmer to do? Improvise!

For me, improvising is all about rustling through our home to find things I can re-purpose for the task at hand. My wife locked up all our sheets and blankets. She must have been expecting my linen closet raid. “Honey, I really need a bunch of sheets and blankets to protect our veggies and herbs! I promise they won’t get too dirty!” No response…

My wife was not buying it for a minute. I was forced to pull together a couple of old sheets, a few plastic table cloths and some large buckets and pots. Anything to protect the plants from the wicked wind chills. Off into the early, but dark evening I went. A plant protecting I will go, armed with warm cloths and a headlamp.

The next day revealed plants that were still alive and not frozen!

The next day revealed plants that were still alive and not frozen!

As one can see from the photos, my efforts paid off. The makeshift protection was just enough to keep the plants alive. Even better news, warmer weather is on the way! Hang in there little veggies! Daddy will protect you!