Category Archives: Gardening

How to Build a Light Stand for seedlings

When I started growing my own transplants, the setup was pretty rickety. After a cat-related disaster one day, I realised that I had to have something better. Commercial light stands at $500+ were out of my budget, so I built my own – and so can you. Here are instructions and drawings: if you want, you can download a printable version.

Light stand for growing seedlings
Light stand for growing seedlings

Materials List
Legs: 4 wood 1×2, 60” long ($10)
Rails: 6 wood 1×2, 54” long ($13.50)
Braces: 2 wood 1×2, 56” long ($4.50)
Top shelf: 14-16” wide, 46-48” long ($4)
Lower shelf: 24” wide, 46-48” long ($5)
2 hinges, 1” x 2” (loose pin if you want to be able to separate the stand into
two halves) ($3)
4 screw-in hooks ($2)
4’ light chain approx (for leg restraints: can use cord or rope) ($2)
12’ light chain approx (for hanging lights: can use cord or rope) ($6)
S-hooks as required (can be made from wire) ($2)
32 1¼” #8 screws ($3)
12 ¾” screws to fit hinges ($2)
3 double-tube fluorescent 4ft shop lights with tubes (mix warm white and
cool white, no need for full spectrum to grow seedlings) ($45-$63)
Timer and power bar as required ($14-$20)
Total cost: All new $140. Scavenged/Recycled: as low as $0

Instructions

  1. Cut parts to size
  2. Lay out legs, rails and braces for one side of the stand as shown in the drawing, making sure rails are parallel and the same distance from the bottom of each leg
  3. Drill clearance holes at ends of rails in diagonally-spaced pairs to take screws (see drawing)
  4. Drill clearance holes at only one end of diagonal brace
  5. Drill pilot holes in legs to match
  6. Install one screw of each pair, screwing rails to legs
  7. Square up the whole thing
  8. Drill clearance and pilot holes at the other end of the diagonal brace and install screws
  9. Install remaining screws
  10. Repeat for the other side
  11. Hinge together at the top of each leg pair in A-frame style
  12. Place shelves on rails and adjust legs to an appropriate distance apart
  13. Install screw hooks near the bottom of each leg, and attach chain or cord between to stop legs sliding apart
  14. Hang lights from rails over shelves using S-hooks and chain or cord, and hook up to power bar and timer.

Click on the images below for larger diagrams.

Light Stand end

 

Light Stand side

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Vegetable Gardening Resources for Gardeners

Man, there’s a lot of gardening info out there! Online, (including Kindle and other eBooks), there’s a lot of junk thrown up by those looking to make a quick buck from ads or product sales, but there’s also a lot of solid info. Here are my picks:

Vegetable Garden Design and Planning

Designing a Vegetable Garden

Vegetable gardening is easy, but creating the initial vegetable garden takes some work. Be sure to put some thought into designing your vegetable garden before you start digging.

How much veg to plant | Grow Organic Food

This summarises how much to grow to feed a family of two adults and three children. Each of the rows is 4.5M (15ft) Long. Also included is advice on how much to harvest for each meal.

West Coast Seeds planting chart

Planting dates for vegetable crops in British Columbia.

 

GrowGuide – Weekend Gardener

GrowGuide helps you plan a vegetable garden by informing you what you can sow, harden off, or transplant, week by week, based on your frost dates, in just four easy steps.

Starting Vegetables from Seed

How to Grow Vegetables: Direct Seeding Outside
Direct seeding outside has many advantages for most kinds of vegetables, though it’s not the best solution for all of them.
Starting tomato seed
Starting tomatoes from seed is really quite easy to do. Some good light, a sterile, well drained soil mix, some warmth and good seed is all that is needed.You can start your tomatoes begining 6-8 weeks before you want to set them out…
Vegetable Seeds – The Official Seed-Starting Home Page
The Official Seed Starting Home Page assists you in all your seed starting needs. Get fast facts on starting vegetable, herb, and flower seeds for your garden. One page of facts is devoted to each seed.
Seed Starting – How to Successfully Start Plants from Seed
Starting plants from seed isn’t rocket science, but there are several seed starting tips that will help your success rate with seed germination and give your seedlings a healthy start. Here’s how to start seeds indoors and the seed starting supplies you’ll need to grow plants from seed.
Seed Starting (Fine Gardening Magazine)
How a practiced propagator gets seedlings off to a healthy start

Buying and Growing Vegetable Transplants

Buying Transplants for Your Food Garden
Planting already-started plants (called transplants, starts, or seedlings, depending on where you are) is a great way to get a head-start on the season, but you need to know what to look for when you buy, in order to get healthy transplants that will grow well.
Growing Transplants – Taste of Gardening – University of Illinois Extension
Growing Transplants – Starting Plants at Home – Get a head start on your garden
Growing Vegetable Transplants for Home Gardens (PDF)
Straightforward instructions on raising transplants from the Agricultural Extension Service at the University of Tennessee

Soil and Bed Preparation for Vegetables

Preparing a New Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
There are a number of different ways to make a new raised bed vegetable garden. Some work better on a larger scale, some depend on having soil present to start with, others take more or less physical effort.
No-dig vegetable garden – TipThePlanet
A no dig garden, or raised garden bed, consists of layering organic materials on top of the soil to create a nutrient rich environment for your plants, in this case, vegetables. The garden literally composts the materials…
Master Gardener Manual: Soil Preparation
Master Gardener Manual: Home Vegetable Garden – SOIL PREPARATION
Arizona Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona.

Keeping Down Weeds in the Vegetable Garden

Cultivating and Weeding the Garden Without Chemicals | Garden Guides
Cultivating and Weeding the Garden Without Chemicals. Learn the basics of weeding and cultivating – pesticide free!…
Controlling weeds in your lawn and garden
A guide to controlling and eliminating perennial and annual weeds in your lawn and garden without the use of chemicals
Weeds and Your Garden
Contains: The dreaded weed … Prepare garden beds carefully… Watch out for weed sources… Block weeds with plants and mulch… Pulling weeds… etc
Weeding Aids
Weeding Aids – tools for keeping down the weeds.

Pests and Diseases of Vegetables

Insect Pests of Vegetables
North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service fact sheet
Vegetable Diseases Cornell Home Page
Detailed information on prevention and treatment of pests and diseases. Allows you to search by crop or other factors, and includes photos.

Watering and Irrigating Vegetable Gardens

Vegetable Garden Irrigation (Tips.Net)
A variety of methods can be used to irrigate your vegetable garden, ranging from very simple to complex. The easiest solution is to hand water the plants with a garden hose or a watering bucket. More complex systems use sprinklers, and the most complex systems use drip irrigation.<
Watering – Vegetable Gardening
Vegetable gardens usually need about one inch of water (630 gallons per 1,000 square feet) per week in the form of rain or irrigation during the growing season.
Gardening Without Irrigation (or without much, anyway)
Full text of Steve Solomon’s book “Water-wise vegetables”. Especially useful to maritime gardeners in areas like Cascadia, but has much to say to all gardeners.

Feeding and Fertilizing Your Vegetable Garden

How to Fertilize Vegetables Organically | eHow.com
How to Fertilize Vegetables Organically. Use organic fertilizers for the constant supply of slow-release nutrients your vegetable plants need to thrive. Provide your plants with the right food and they’ll feed you well in turn.
Fertilizing Vegetable Garden Soils, HYG-1601-92
Ohio University Fact Sheet covering the basics of fertilizing with chemical or organic fertilizers.
Nutrient Deficiency Problem Solver
Plant Nutrition Problem Solver – how to tell when your plants are short of a nutrient.

Growing Vegetables in Winter

Fall and Winter Vegetable Planting Guide
Fall and Winter gardening, although an old practice, is an excellent solution for keeping the tilth and fertility of your garden’s soil at its peak levels. At the same time it yields crops of delicious vegetables throughout the fall and winter.
Winter Vegetable Gardening
Winter Gardening – what to grow, when and where. From Organic Gardening Magazine.
Winter Planting Guide
When to plant winter vegetables in BC – from West Coast Seeds

Veggie Gardening Magazines

Organic Gardening Magazine (US/Canada)
Organic Gardening magazine is an indispensable tool for the avid gardener with daily tips, regional gardening calendars, product reviews, forums, blogs, videos and more
Vegetable Gardener / Grow! (Taunton Press: USA/Canada)
Learn how to start and care for a vegetable, herb, or kitchen garden, from selecting the best heirloom and hybrid varieties to growing, harvesting, cooking with, and preserving your vegetables, herbs, fruits, and berries.
Kitchen Garden (UK)
UK’s No.1 magazine for growing your own fruit and veg

Veggie Gardening Forums

Vegetable Gardening
Looking for info about Vegetable Gardening? Visit the Helpful Gardener Forum, a friendly place for home gardeners.
Allotment and Vegetable Gardening – Index – Allotment and Vegetable Gardening
Allotment Gardening Forums, Growing Vegetables, Fruit and Herbs plus general gardening advice and help from other friendly gardeners and growers who like chatting on the plot about their garden<
Vegetable Gardening Discussion Forum
The Vegetable Gardening discussion forum at Dave’s Garden. Vegetables feed and nourish our bodies, while their beauty is a feast for the eyes. Here’s the place to discuss your favorite veggies…
Fruit & Vegetable Gardening – Canadian Gardening Forums
Interested in growing a vegetable garden or a fruit garden? Whether you’re gardening indoors or outdoors, planting an edible garden can be easy and fun.

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Choosing Vegetable Varieties: Onions and Leeks

With onions being staples of the kitchen, and leeks being a reliable winter vegetable for us here in Powell River, lots of people grow them. With all the different varieties out there, how do you choose?

Onions

First let’s get the long-day / short-day thing out of the way. Areas in the southern US need onions which bulb when days are short, and you’ll come across these if you’re using a US seed catalog which sells to these areas (like Park Seeds). Here, we need “long day onions”, and if you are using a Canadian seed catalog, you’ll get this kind without worrying about it. You’ll also see onions described as “day neutral” which means they don’t care about day length – those are fine to use here, as well.

There are a number of different things to consider when picking varieties. The most important two are flavor (sweet, strong, mild, etc) and storage life. What you pick depends on your own preferences for flavour, and the purpose you have in mind for storage life. The two things almost always run together so that stronger-flavoured onions have a longer storage life, and sweeter onions don’t store as long.

Long-storage, strong flavoured onions are seeded in the spring and mature in the fall. if we get a wet fall, it’s hard to get them to mature properly and that affects their storage life, so the earlier in spring they are started, the better. Varieties I use include

  • Copra F1 – reliable and consistent in size, but you can’t save seed
  • Sturon OP – grows nice onions, don’t know about storage length since we eat thme before they have a chance to demonstrate it!
  • Calibra OP – new for me this year, similar to Copra but OP so you can save seed.

Red storage onions are also available, though they tend not to store quite as well as the yellow ones. I haven’t grown these, but West Coast Seeds has an OP called “Rossa di Milano” as well as some F1s.

Sweet, mild-flavoured onions are often overwintering types that are seeded in July or August and harvested the following year. They don’t store well but are great while you have them. The classic variety is Walla Walla. There are also huge sweet onions which are grown like storage onions but don’t store well, like Ailsa Craig.

What about sets? They seem easier to grow than seeded onions, but in my experience you don’t get the consistency (many go to seed the first year, or split into several bulbs) and often the actual variety isn’t stated so you don’t really know what you’re getting apart from a broad category. If you miss the planting window for seeds, and can’t get seedlings, they will give you a chance at a crop, though.

Leeks

liz-leekLeeks are split into two broad categories, summer and winter. Summer leeks are fast growing and will give you a decent sized (though not huge) leek by fall, before the winter weather sets in. They are often not very frost hardy so can’t be left in the garden over winter. Winter leeks grow more slowly but are much hardier, and will continue to grow through the winter during mild spells to large sizes – sometimes huge. You can harvest them right through to April if you don’t eat them all first!

My current summer leek is Varna, which is a really fast grower, useful in my cool garden. For winter leeks I currently use Bandit and Siegfried Frost, and in the past I’ve had good results with Durabel, which is not so easy to find now. All those leek varieties are OP: you can find F1 leeks but they haven’t yet overrun the catalogs.

If you have trouble growing or storing storage onions, leeks are a very good alternative in our area. I’ve never had ours eaten by deer, even in winter.

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Garden Planning part 2: What Type and Size of Vegetable Garden?

What size of garden you build depends on how much space you have, and how much time and energy for maintenance. Even if you have unlimited space, you are better off starting with a small space that you can keep up with (and expanding later), than taking on too much at the start and having it end up a disappointing jungle of weeds.

Pots and Planters
No soil, or horrible soil? Then you can grow a wide variety of food in pots and containers, anything from black plastic nursery pots to large wooden planters. I spent 13 years in a townhouse with 2 concrete patios where the built-in planters were already full of shrubs and small trees. I grew food every year in an eclectic container mix varying from pots bought at a nursery, to wooden planters built from old shipping pallets, to some 24″ diameter ceramic pots found in a dumpster! Pots are very convenient as you can move them from time to time to bring plants into and out of the sun, and take them with you when you move. When I moved into that townhouse it was September and I brought a dozen tomato plants in 5 gal buckets with me from my old place. The neighbors immediately christened me the “mad gardener”! My movers thought I was nuts too…

Edible landscaping
You don’t need to confine your food plants to dedicated beds or containers. Mix them in with your ornamental plants: lettuce and parsley as edgings, eggplants and tomatoes as annual “shrubs”, grapes or kiwifruit as permanent vines, peas and beans as annual fence-and-trellis coverers.

Small Plots
If you do have some soil, but your space is small so whatever you do is going to be on display, then small raised beds are a good choice for you. The borders round the beds make them seem more “intentional” and decorative, and the extra depth means that you can improve on whatever soil you already have. More details below on building raised beds!

Larger gardens
If you have more room, there are several ways to go.

One is the traditional vegetable garden with long rows of plants, often tilled each spring using a power tiller.

Another is to take your plot and split it into permanent beds about 3-4 ft wide, divided by paths, so that you never walk on the cultivated beds. This is currently a very popular way to lay out a vegetable garden, and it’s the way my own garden is designed. Permanent beds help with crop rotation (changing positions of plant families every year so that pests and diseases don’t build up) and allow you to build up really good soil in the beds – you apply all the good stuff only to the beds, not to the paths. Because of the good soil you can often plant closer and pack more plants into each bed. If the beds are raised, drainage will be better and the soil will warm faster in the spring.

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Peat vs Coir vs Leaf Mould

Many people feel that using peat in the garden  is environmentally irresponsible, and are looking for alternatives. This article describes coir and leaf mould as alternatives to peat.

Coir is now widely available locally. It comes from coconut husks (a by-product of coconut processing for food)  and you can get it in various textures ranging from coarse chunks to quite fine fibres. It soaks up and holds water well. One big advantage over peat when used in potting soil is that it doesn’t shrink and pull away from the side of the pot if it dries out. The biggest downside to coir for us in Canada is that it has to be transported long distances from its source in India, Sri Lanka and the Pacific.

Leaf mould is not something you buy, it’s something you make in your own garden from local leaves. As such, it’s free in terms of dollars, but it takes time – a little of your time to gather the leaves and store them in a way that will allow them to transform themselves, and several years for the transformation to happen. It’s a long term project but one which can become part of your garden schedule.

Leaf mould contains a range of micronutrients for plants, and is normally about pH neutral. It holds water very well. You make it by stacking leaves in a big pile and leaving it to rot, or by filling plastic garbage bags with leaves and letting them rot. Because leaves are decomposed mostly by fungi, oxygen isn’t needed as much as with a compost pile, but moisture definitely is. Some kind of enclosure is useful to keep the leaves from blowing away. Shredding them before storing will speed up decomposition, but unshredded leaves will work fine, just take longer. A mix of leaves will rot better  than all one kind, and adding a bit of compost or soil to the pile will get things started more quickly.

 

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Vegetable Garden Planning, part 1: Where to place your vegetable garden

Plants need sun, water, air and nutrients, and where you choose to place your garden will have a big effect on all of those. While you can bring water and nutrients to the garden, you need to pick the best spot for sun and air from the start.

While some vegetables will manage with less than full sun, most of the ones we value the most in our home gardens (tomatoes, anyone?) need plenty of sun. Your climate affects this, though: if you are in a hot and sunny climate your garden may need afternoon shade, whereas if you are in the cloudy Pacific Northwest like me, you need all the sun you can get! So, choose a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun but does not get overheated if your climate is hot.

“Air” really has several aspects: ventilation to prevent disease, wind protection, and pooling of cold air.

Many plant diseases are fungal in nature and good ventilation and air circulation can help to prevent them. For most gardens this won’t be a problem, but if you are tucked into a corner you might have some issues. Trade off ventilation against warmth, depending on your climate. If it’s cool and breezy in your location, choose warmth. If your climate tends towards warm and humid, choose better ventilation.

Wind can flatten young and even established plants, and blow away dry soil. If your area is windy and you can choose a more protected area, do so. Otherwise, there are many ways to provide windbreaks.

Cold air flows downhill, but can pool and cause more frost that normal if something like a wall or thick hedge blocks the flow. Ideally your garden area will allow cold air to flow away downhill, rather than trap it.

One more thing to think about when you are choosing where to place your garden is the slope of the ground. A slight slope won’t cause erosion problems, but the more sloped your ground is, the more likely your soil is to wash away when it’s not covered with vegetation. You may need to terrace your slope, or put borders along the lower edges of beds. Look out for places where water flows into your garden area from uphill, too, and make sure you can divert and make use of the water so it doesn’t damage the garden. Look into the use of “swales”, shallow ditches which slow down water flow and allow it to soak into the ground rather than causing erosion.

The slope direction also counts: a slope towards the sun can mean that your soil warms earlier in the spring and cools later in the fall. A slope away from the sun means a cooler garden. If the slope away-from-the-sun is slight you can work around it by sloping individual beds towards the sun, but if it’s a substantial slope it will make a real difference to how early you can get a harvest.

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New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

I’m not big on making resolutions for the New Year, but maybe I should be! There are a few things I could do that would make gardening more productive, and maybe even more fun…

  • Keep better records. I do keep some, especially to do with seeding and transplanting dates, but I rely on (fallible) memory for a lot of other things. It would be especially interesting to have a record of harvest amounts and dates, something I did when I was market gardening and selling my produce, but not since.
  • Rebuild the hoophouse! The poor thing has been sitting there uncovered for 18 months now, and it’s not doing us any good that way. Plus, it looks messy.
  • Make a place to relax in the garden, and then relax in it. Without getting up to “just pull a few weeds over there…”
  • Build surrounds around some of our heaped-up raised beds. We’ve got the wood, and it needs doing… I just get overtaken by the need to Plant Something In That Bed and before you know it, building a surround round  the planted bed would cause too much disturbance.

I could keep going, there are so many plans and ideas that would be great to turn into reality, but there’s only so much time and energy in one year!

What are your gardening resolutions this year?

 

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Winter Sowing – easy way to start lots of plants for your garden

Winter sown milk jugs
Winter sown milk jugs

Starting seeds indoors can take up a lot of space. Outdoors, things take a long time and can get destroyed by weather and animals.

Winter Sowing is a method which lets you sow your seeds indoors, then set them outdoors but protected, so they get started sooner and are less likely to be damaged. And no, you don’t need a greenhouse!

One of the best parts is that you get to play in the dirt in the winter – I usually start in December. All that pent-up gardening energy from reading the seed catalogs can be put to good use right away!

Here are a couple of links to get you started:

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/wtrsow/

http://www.wintersown.org/

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Different kinds of Lime for the Garden

Most people in our area lime their gardens because of the acid soil we have. The most common kind to find locally is dolomite lime, which contains magnesium carbonate as well as the calcium carbonate which forms regular, or “Agricultural” lime.

Magnesium is a soil nutrient that is needed along with the usual NPK macro nutrients we pay attention to, but if you add it every year in the form of dolomite lime you may end up adding too much, unbalancing the Calcium/Magnesium ratio in your soil. In clay soils particularly, this can “tighten up” the soil and make it hard to dig and hard to form a good “tilth”.

How do you know if your soil has too much magnesium? You’d need to get a soil test from a lab to be sure. Personally I’ll be alternating aglime and dolomite lime in the garden from now on, while I get a soil test done.

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