Our First Gardening Q&A

Our First Gardening Q&A

By Michael Jenkins

We’ve been writing this blog for a while, and we’re grateful to everyone who reads it! We hope we’ve given you some good ideas for your own garden and helped ignite your interest in gardening. We know you’re reading, as we get a good number of responses to our posts, including some questions about gardens, gardening, and related topics. So, we’re rolling out a new kind of blog! From here on out we’ll be doing a periodic Q&A so that we can answer your gardening questions a bit more directly. Let’s take a look at our first round of questions—there are some good ones!

  • How long can I store seeds for?

This is a good question, and one that many gardeners ask over the course of their gardening lives. While we’ve written before about saving and storing seeds—and that advice does optimize seed lifespan—the fact is that while most seeds will last for at least several years, like all things they do expire eventually. There’s a lot of science behind this, but in general there are some good basic guidelines to follow.  Smaller seeds with thinner outer layers, such as many annual flowering plants, parsnips, most allium plants (garlic and onions) and many herbs tend to dry out and lose viability within a year, and thus don’t store well. Many common garden veggies, however, will last for two to five years when stored under good conditions. When in doubt, test your seeds well ahead of time by trying to sprout them on a wet paper towel stored inside a resealable plastic bag. Simply wet the paper towel, place a few seeds on it, fold it over and place it in the bag. Keep in a warm place and see if they sprout!

  • Beyond compost, is there a way to make fertilizers? Are DIY fertilizers effective?

Understanding fertilizers and how they work is a vital part of gardening success, and while store-bought fertilizers are safe, effective, and convenient, you can in fact make your own fertilizer if you’d like! DIY fertilizers can be an interesting garden experiment (and a likely topic for a future blog!) If you’re composting, you’re already making your own fertilizer in a sense, and you can enhance that by making a compost tea. Compost tea is jut what it sounds like—a liquid form of compost made by steeping compost in water. Simply fill a bucket or other watertight container halfway with compost, and then fill the rest with water. Give the mixture a good stir with a stick or garden tool and let it sit for anywhere between a few days and a week, making sure to stir it several times a day to add oxygen to the mix. The nutrients in your compost will absorb into the water, and then you can apply the mixture to your garden as part of your normal watering process!

(Protip: use untreated water or rainwater because chemicals in tap-water can harm the helpful microbes in your compost. If you must use tap-water, let it sit out in an open container overnight so those chemicals can evaporate and everything will be fine.)

It may not look pretty, but compost tea is great for plants

  • I live in a hot, sunny climate—should I use shade cloths with my plants?

As we move into warmer weather, many gardeners are concerned about another record-setting hot summer. If heat is a worry for you, shade cloths can be a great idea in the garden, and fairly easy to implement using materials you may already own. The key is to ensure that shade still allows some sun through—plants need sun, after all!—and ensure airflow so the plants don’t overheat. If you have row covers, you can use those with any lightweight, UV-stabilized, breathable garden fabric.  If you have bean poles, garden posts, or other vertical garden supports, you can use those with the same type of fabric over the top like an awning. Extra mulch and watering can also help plants cope with heat, and their beneficial effects will be enhanced by some shade during the hottest part of the day.

(Protip: if you’re using upright supports rather than row covers, make sure to anchor them in case of high winds. Seeing your garden shade flying away like an errant balloon is exciting, and not in a good way!)

  • Should I do successive planting of vegetable plants in order to extend my harvest?

The short answer is “yes”, and the long answer is “yes, for some kinds of plants. Successive plantings—starting new seedlings throughout your growing season and using them to replace established plants—can work very well. As one crop finishes, you put in new plants and start over, repeating this process and your harvest until the end of the growing season. This works well with reasonably fast-growing plants like bush beans, early potatoes, carrots, radishes, onions and garlic, and salad greens. Slower-growing plants like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are best treated like a season-long investment—though you can propagate by cuttings when they get large enough.

  • Can I let my chickens run around my garden? What are the pros and cons of gardening with chickens?

If you have the space and time, chickens can be a wonderful addition to a backyard garden. They’re lively, fun to watch, and relatively easy to care for. They eat bugs, weeds, food scraps, and many garden clippings. Their manure, properly aged, is a great nitrogen-rich fertilizer. However, there are some things to be aware of if you’ve got chickens in your garden. Chickens like to scratch, digging up the soil in search of food. While this is great for the birds, it’s less good for you garden—scratching chickens can wreck havoc in a garden bed! Likewise, chickens enjoy many of the same foods we do, and may peck away at your vegetable plants before you can harvest them. So if you have chickens around your garden, make sure that you have some way to keep them from getting into your beds or around your landscaping. Other than that, have fun and enjoy your new pets and your fresh eggs!

That’s all for now, but we’ll be doing another Q&A soon enough. If you have questions for us or any advice to share, get in touch and you may appear in our next question and answer article!

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