Tag Archives: Vegetables

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Books

Vegetable Garden Planting Guide

We love curating helpful reading material for country living enthusiasts!

If you are looking for a variety of useful books on everything from starting a farming enterprise to planting crops to drawing horses, we highly recommend the Homestead Bookshelf as the place to find what you’re looking for. We have collected public domain classics, modern paperbacks, free extension service PDFs, and even a few books published by Homestead on the Range to help you learn important facts and skills.

New to our site? Allow us to recommend some of the books our readers purchase or download after visiting.

Continue reading Top 10 Reader-Favorite Books

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 1: 25 Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 1If you love country living, you probably enjoy reading websites and magazines that regularly feed your interest and give you new ideas of things to try out. After all, there are always new skills to be learned, and you never know what will become your next favorite project, hobby, or venture!

While your homesteading bucket list can (and should) be unique, you may find that the following suggestions spark an interest that you didn’t even know you had. You’ll also find helpful resources for jumping into many of the projects. The projects are roughly organized with the idea that the skills will complement and build upon one another.

We will feature 25 projects this week and 25 more next week for an even 50.

Have fun!

1. Start a Country Living Library

The perfect starting point! Reading broadly is the key to knowledgeable country living, and therefore the key to success. Want to get the most bang for your book-buying buck? Start with a few classics with philosophies that appeal to you—those that provide inspiration and a broad feel of what you are aiming for in your country living adventure, whether that is a slower lifestyle, a farm that pays the bills, or just a source of healthier food. Also pick up a few beginner-friendly how-to books on projects that you intend to pursue in the near future, such as gardening, cooking, or chicken-keeping.

Helpful Resources

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
This list includes titles on gardening, field crops, livestock, food preservation, starting a farm business, and more.

The Homestead Bookshelf
Our steadily growing selection of the best books on country living out there!

2. Learn About Five Alternative Agriculture Concepts, Practices, or Systems

Once you have a library, you’ll be ready to explore the many options available for those looking to farm a little differently. You will likely want to mix and match to adapt to your unique circumstances. However, each of the different systems has much to offer. Topics you might research include:

3. Create a Budget

Living within your means is a huge part of country living. Take some time to plan how you will pay off any and all debt, and then start saving!

4. Start a Vegetable Garden

No matter how little land you have, you almost certainly have enough room for a vegetable garden, even if it consists solely of a few pots on a porch. This is probably the most rewarding country living project you can tackle.

Helpful Resources

Starting a Garden or Orchard
This series walks you through the basics of water, workload, location, logistics, and plant selection.

How to Plan a Garden
A step-by-step guide to mapping out a successful first garden.

5. Plant an Herb Garden

And while you are working on your vegetable garden, be sure to make room for a few herbs! Your herb garden does not have to be a separate feature of your property. Many herbs can protect your vegetables from insect pests if grown as companion plants.

6. Plant an Apple Tree

A dwarf apple tree is fairly easy to care for compared to other fruits, and it will reward you for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Planning Your Fruit Garden
Just the basics from K-State.

7. Build a Small Shed, Coop, or Other Shelter for Livestock

Livestock require shelter, and many country handymen enjoy building their own. What you build will obviously depend on what you intend to raise. Just keep in mind that simple is often best.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
Includes many basic projects that will come in handy on your new homestead! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
These structures tend to be larger and more involved, but there is still plenty of useful material here.

8. Start a Flock of Laying Hens

What homestead would be complete without laying hens? This rewarding project is truly a must—homegrown eggs are infinitely superior to commercial in appearance and peace of mind, not to mention nutritional value.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Tried-and-true tips for selecting breeds that will meet your needs.

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks
A step-by-step procedure for getting your baby chicks off to a good start.

Storey's Guide to Raising ChickensStorey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
An essential book for the beginning chicken-keeper! Read our full review.

9. Build a Birdhouse

A backyard full of birds is a place of beauty. Furthermore, these delightful creatures will do their part in keeping insect pests under control. Have a little extra time on your hands? Make a few more birdhouses than you need and give them away as Christmas gifts to those nature lovers on your list!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Book of Birdhouse ConstructionComplete Book of Birdhouse Construction
Very concise illustrated guide with detailed plans for homes for house finches, great crested flycatchers, purple martins, phoebes, downy woodpeckers, wood ducks, and bluebirds, as well as specifications for many more. Read our full review.

10. Use Native Plants for Landscaping

Native plants have a tremendous advantage when it comes to landscaping—they are exceptionally well adapted to your area! When setting about beautifying your place in the country, consider some of the hardy plants that are native to your soil and climate.

11. Make Compost

Composting is not as difficult or mysterious as many books would lead you to believe. While there are many advantages to a precisely controlled hot compost pile, cold composting is a forgiving method that can have you looking like a pro in no time!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Compost Gardening GuideThe Complete Compost Gardening Guide
This friendly book makes composting easy! Read our full review.

12. Raise Earthworms

Earthworms are a gardener’s best friend! If you just want to introduce the children to these fun and fascinating animals, keep it simple and house some worms from your backyard in a clear jar with some garden soil and kitchen scraps for a while. Serious about raising earthworms? Try vermicomposting!

13. Identify the Plants in Your Pasture

What’s the best pasture grass to start with? Often it’s whatever is already occupying the place! Learn what plants, useful and toxic, are on your land, and use that information to find out how to manage your native pastures to advantage.

Helpful Resource

Grasses of Kansas
Our own guide to Kansas grasses, their characteristics, life cycles, ecology, uses, and hazards.

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
A very useful website with concise information and photos galore!

14. Press Flowers

While you’re in the pasture, collect some plants to press and store in a nature journal. Not only is this a fun craft, it will help you master plant identification over time.

15. Dry Herbs

Many gardeners believe that the flavor of homegrown herbs dried in small batches and stored for short periods of time is far superior to that of dried herbs that have sat on the grocery store shelf for a while. Fortunately, the skill of drying herbs is not a difficult one to acquire, and these days there are many methods, ranging from hanging up bundles of herbs in an airy place to using sophisticated solar dehydrators.

16. Save Heirloom Seeds

The practice of saving seeds to plant and to share is a time-honored one. Some old vegetable varieties are only around today because one dedicated gardener thought they were worth preserving. Make sure your favorite heirloom plants are still around for future generations by saving the seeds!

Helpful Resource

Vegetables
Our guide to growing vegetables includes step-by-step instructions for saving seeds.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables
Information on ensuring a healthy gene pool when saving heirloom plants, for the truly dedicated seed-saver.

17. Start an Indoor Container Garden

Even if you have space for a large outdoor garden, there are still advantages to growing a few plants in pots indoors. Herbs are often more convenient when placed within arm’s reach of the cook. Indoor container gardening can be a simple way to extend the growing season. Also, container gardening makes growing some plants, such as citrus trees, possible regardless of your climate.

18. Make Your Own Mulch

There are many types of mulch that can easily be made at home. Shredding discarded newspapers and collecting lawn clippings are two options within reach of nearly every homesteader. With the right equipment, you may also be able to cut your own straw or chip your own wood mulch.

Helpful Resource

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden Mulches
Learn about the pros, cons, and best applications of over a dozen mulches, some of which are easy to make yourself.

19. Build a Cold Frame

There’s a reason homesteaders love cold frames—they are easy to build and highly effective at extending the growing season. Don’t neglect this valuable addition to your country lifestyle!

Helpful Resource

HomeMade
Includes plans for a cold frame. Read our full review.

20. Put Up a Bird Feeder

Bring some cheer to your place during those cold winter months (and enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good deed while you’re at it!). Bird feeders can be surprisingly easy to make.

Helpful Resource

The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleThe Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible
This fun and friendly book includes numerous do-it-yourself bird feeder projects, and it will even tell you what your favorite birds prefer to eat! Read our full review.

21. Cut and Use Firewood from Your Own Property

Many find cutting firewood to be a very satisfying way to heat their own homes. Keep in mind that not all firewoods are created equal. Hardwoods are much more efficient than softwoods, and seasoned wood is highly recommended for a nice, clean burn.

22. Mend a Garment

Clothing mishaps are inevitable on a small farm, so it’s best to be prepared. Learning these simple skills can extend the life of your clothes considerably:

  • Sewing on a button.
  • Stitching a tear in fabric.
  • Patching blue jeans.
  • Darning socks.

23. Make a Piece of Furniture

Here’s a winter project that can quickly make you very popular with your relatives! Furthermore, making your own furniture can provide you with the satisfaction of owning one-of-a-kind pieces that fit perfectly into your home.

24. Learn to Tie Basic Knots

Knot-tying is a very useful skill for those who spend time working outdoors. Even if gardening is your only country living project, you would be amazed at how useful a good knot can be.

25. Prune Cane Fruits

To maximize the health and productivity of your cane fruits, such as blackberries and raspberries, regular pruning is recommended. Fortunately, it is also quite an easy skill to learn.

Helpful Resource

How to Prune Blackberries
Step-by-step instructions for both winter and post-harvest pruning.

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden Mulches

A Brief Guide to 13 Common MulchesYou don’t have to read many gardening books or websites to catch on that mulch is highly recommended for all gardens. But knowing that you ought to mulch your garden and deciding what to mulch it with are two different things.

First off, it is important to recognize that everyone’s circumstances are unique. Factors that will affect your choice of a mulch include:

  • Your purpose for mulching.
  • The types of plants you will mulch.
  • The materials available in your area.
  • The cost of the different local materials.

Therefore, it is a good idea to know going in exactly what you are trying to accomplish, whether that is weed control or soil improvement.

Once you have a clear objective for mulching, then it’s time to choose the material, or perhaps several materials for different beds and purposes.

You are ready to weigh the pros and cons of the most common mulch materials.

Straw

Straw and hay are not the same. Straw is simply crop stubble, while hay is the entire grass plant, including seed heads. Straw is an effective weed barrier, while hay is primarily a simple mechanism for introducing a host of new weeds to your garden. Make sure you mulch with straw, not hay.

Pros:

  • Readily available.
  • Generally cheap.
  • Generally attractive.
  • Controls weeds well if applied thick enough.
  • Protects plants from frost.
  • Cools the soil in hot weather.
  • Improves soil texture.
  • Retains soil moisture extremely well.
  • Prevents soil erosion.
  • Decomposes slowly.

Cons:

  • Attracts rodents.
  • May attract slugs in cool, wet climates.
  • May contain weed seeds.
  • May contain mold.

Best Application: General-purpose vegetable garden mulching, summer through winter.

Lawn Clippings

Lawn clippings should be used with care. They should be applied only when dry and preferably in conjunction with coarser materials to avoid forming a heavy, moldy, anaerobic mat. Also, if accepting bagged lawn clippings from other people, always check to make sure that they do not use herbicides, as accidental contamination can spell speedy death to your flowers and vegetables.

Pros:

  • Readily available for free.
  • Adds nitrogen to the soil.
  • Controls weeds well provided it does not contain weed seed.
  • Conserves soil moisture.

Cons:

  • May be contaminated with herbicides and other chemicals.
  • May contain weed seed.
  • Molds readily if applied too thickly or when damp.
  • May produce odor if applied too thickly or when damp.
  • Forms a water-repellent mat if applied when damp.
  • Decomposes extremely quickly.

Best Application: Mulching summer vegetables with high nitrogen requirements.

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden MulchesLeaves

Leaves can improve your soil texture and nutrient profile in an amazingly short amount of time. Unfortunately, they can also be difficult to manage in the garden, as they blow away when dry and form heavy, waterproof mats when wet. Want to avoid some of the problems associated with using leaves as mulch? Shred or partially compost the leaves before applying them. As a final word of warning—do not use walnut leaves, as they are toxic to many plants.

Pros:

  • Readily available for free.
  • Protects plants from frost.
  • Cools the soil in summer.
  • Retains soil moisture very well.
  • Improves soil texture.
  • Adds many nutrients to the soil.
  • Promotes earthworm health.

Cons:

  • Tends to blow away.
  • May contain plant diseases, depending on the source.
  • May form a water-repellent mat after rainfall.
  • May deplete soil nitrogen in the short term unless partially composted.

Best Application: Protecting and enriching vegetable garden soil over the winter.

Pine Straw/Needles

Pine straw is just pine needles used for mulch.

Pros:

  • Free or cheap.
  • Attractive.
  • Controls weeds effectively.
  • Improves soil texture and drainage.
  • Prevents soil erosion.
  • Permits water penetration.
  • Decomposes slowly.

Cons:

  • Painful to handle—wear gloves.
  • Makes soil too acidic for many plants.
  • Inhibits earthworm activity.

Best Application: Mulching acid-loving plants such as blueberries, hydrangeas, or rhododendrons.

Wood Chips or Bark

There are many varieties of wood mulch to choose from, all with their own unique benefits. Cedar even provides a certain level of protection from insects. Just watch out for toxins—if you purchase your wood mulch, stay away from mulches containing dyes. Also, never use black walnut, as it contains toxins lethal to many garden plants.

Pros:

  • Readily available, sometimes for free.
  • Attractive.
  • Controls weeds effectively.
  • Retains soil moisture fairly well.
  • Adds nutrients to the soil in the long term.
  • Decomposes very slowly.

Cons:

  • Sometimes contains dyes.
  • May float away during heavy rainfalls.
  • Depletes soil nitrogen in the short term.

Best Application: Ground cover for perennial beds.

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden MulchesCompost

Don’t have your own compost pile? You can purchase bagged compost at garden centers, but commercial compost is typically made with only a couple of ingredients and is thus less balanced than homemade compost.

Pros:

  • Can be made at home for free.
  • Improves soil texture considerably.
  • Provides valuable soil nutrients.
  • Builds the soil microbe community.

Cons:

  • May contain plant diseases unless produced using the hot composting method.
  • Provides only partial weed control.
  • Breaks down quickly.

Best Application: Feeding garden plants of all types under another mulch material.

Peat/Sphagnum Moss

Peat moss is harvested from peat bogs. It has some unusual characteristics that can be either good or bad depending on your requirements. For one thing, it can absorb water like a sponge, which improves boggy soil considerably but may allow plants to dry out in hot, droughty weather. For another thing, it makes the soil more acidic, although typically not enough to present a problem.

Pros:

  • Readily available.
  • Improves soil texture and drainage considerably.
  • Decomposes very slowly.

Cons:

  • Prone to blowing away if dry.
  • Provides no soil nutrients.
  • May hinder water penetration if applied too thickly.

Best Application: Improving heavy soils that drain poorly.

Sawdust

If you do plenty of woodworking, sawdust is definitely a mulch you should consider. Just be careful about what sawdust you use—dust from treated lumber can add toxins to your soil.

Pros:

  • Can be obtained for free.
  • Controls weeds well if applied thickly enough.

Cons:

  • Forms a water-repellent crust after a rain.
  • May make the soil too acidic for some plants.
  • May deplete soil nitrogen levels.
  • Breaks down quickly.

Best Application: Mulching acid-loving plants for cheap.

Cardboard

Cardboard is the go-to mulch if you have a serious weed problem—nothing can penetrate it! Keep in mind, though, that cardboard can be a pain to deal with. You will want large sheets to cover as much surface area as possible without leaving cracks for weeds to grow through, and you will want to cover it with straw to keep it in place but out of sight.

Pros:

  • Readily available, often for free.
  • Controls weeds extremely effectively.

Cons:

  • Extremely unattractive unless completely covered by another mulch material.
  • Makes it impossible to add new plants without removing the mulch.
  • May cause boron toxicity due to glue; soak in water before using, then discard water (or use it as a fertilizer for strawberries).

Best Application: Putting the brakes on heavy weed infestations in perennial beds when used in combination with another mulch material.

Newspaper

While many gardeners avoid mulching with newspaper for fear of lead contamination, newspapers phased out lead-based inks long ago. Black-and-white newsprint is perfectly safe for the garden these days; colored inks may still contain some heavy metals. Note that newspaper is prone to blowing around. Cover it with another mulch, such as straw or wood chips, to avoid inadvertently trashing the neighborhood.

Pros:

  • Readily available.
  • Cools the soil in summer.
  • Controls weeds effectively.

Cons:

  • Hard to keep in place.
  • Very unattractive unless thoroughly covered.
  • May contain heavy metals if colored ink was used.

Best Application: Preventing weed growth between rows in a vegetable garden when combined with straw or another mulch material.

Pea Gravel and Crushed Rock

A rock mulch is about as permanent as it gets, and it can be very attractive in landscaping. Keep in mind, however, that rock works best with heat-loving plants. It is a popular choice of mulch in cactus gardens.

Pros:

  • Fairly cheap.
  • Attractive if done well.
  • Allows water penetration.
  • Lasts a very long time.

Cons:

  • Will scatter unless contained with edging.
  • Provides no nutrients to the soil.
  • Makes improving the soil underneath impossible.
  • Provides only partial weed control.
  • Makes pulling weeds that penetrate the mulch more difficult.
  • Cooks shallow-rooted plants in hot weather.

Best Application: Around woody perennials or in desert landscaping.

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden MulchesPlastic

Plastic mulches come in several different colors. Black plastic is effective at warming the soil. Clear plastic warms the soil even faster, but has the disadvantage of permitting weed growth. Red plastic reflects certain wavelengths of sunlight onto the plants, enhancing the yields of tomatoes and other summer vegetables. Whatever type of plastic you use, remember that rain cannot penetrate to the soil, so you will need to combine the plastic with soaker hoses or a similar form of irrigation.

Pros:

  • Readily available.
  • Warms the soil by 5 to 20 degrees, depending on the color.
  • Makes an effective weed barrier, depending on the color.
  • Retains moisture extremely well.
  • Increases the yield of heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers.

Cons:

  • Will blow away unless weighted down.
  • Provides no nutrients to the soil.
  • Makes improving the soil underneath difficult.
  • Prevents water penetration.
  • Overheats the soil in hot weather.
  • Creates an anaerobic environment toxic to plants.
  • Becomes brittle when exposed to sunlight unless covered with another mulch material.

Best Application: Warming the soil in the spring, particularly around warm-season vegetables.

Landscape Fabric (Geotextile)

Landscape fabric should be covered with another mulch material for both looks and longevity. Keep in mind that some weeds can grow through the fabric.

Pros:

  • Permits air and water to enter the soil.
  • Suppresses most (but not all) weeds.
  • Lasts many years if protected with rocks or wood chips.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Makes adding new plants to the landscape more difficult.
  • Makes pulling weeds that penetrate the fabric more difficult.
  • Inhibits earthworm activity.

Best Application: Around landscaping perennials.

Top 10 Plants for Beginning Kitchen Gardeners

Top 10 Plants for Beginning Kitchen Gardeners
Egyptian walking onions

Growing your very first kitchen garden this year? Congratulations!

You are probably already aware that it’s best to start small. But if you are starting small, one of the questions you may have is what to grow in that limited space. The first and most important rule of thumb is to grow things that you enjoy eating. Once you have a list of favorites, however, you may decide to pare it back still further this first year based on what is easiest to grow.

While the easy-to-grow list will depend largely on your climate, soil, and local pest population, there are some staples that belong in every garden. There are also a few plants that are particularly adapted to the vagaries of the Kansas climate, and still others that recommend themselves everywhere due to their minimal maintenance requirements.

Here are 10 favorites that may be worth a try in your first year’s garden, along with a few tips for success.

10. Asparagus

Asparagus may seem daunting to beginners at first, since it is a perennial, is frequently started from crowns rather than seeds, and cannot be harvested the first year.

But even with these limitations, asparagus is still an excellent plant for beginners—once it is established it requires relatively little care. Weeding, watering, and cutting down the old tops annually are all that is required. As an extra bonus, asparagus will be one of the first things you will get to harvest each spring!

9. Carrots

Carrots are not as difficult to grow as many gardening guides would leave you to think. The two main keys to growing long, straight carrots are loosening the soil before planting and using a generous layer of mulch to keep soil moisture levels even. The rest is purely patience.

As a final note, for best flavor, select a variety bred for fresh eating rather than storage.

8. Tomatoes

No garden would be complete without tomatoes, and with hundreds of varieties to choose from there is definitely a variety bound to grow well in your area. One choice you will have to make is between determinate (bush) and indeterminate (vine) varieties, depending on whether you want to support the plants with a cage or a trellis. Another decision you will need to make is whether to grow only slicing tomatoes or to plant a few of the extremely easy-to-grow saucing varieties for homemade salsa and the like.

Three tips for successful tomato growing—strictly observe the recommended indoor planting and transplanting dates for your area (see our vegetable guide), use plenty of mulch, and water the plants deeply in hot weather.

Top 10 Plants for Beginning Kitchen Gardeners7. Radishes

Radishes are famous for being easy to grow. Furthermore, they are ready to harvest quickly—you should be able to grow multiple crops of radishes every spring and a few more in the fall!

There is very little to say about the minimal maintenance requirements of the radish. About all it needs is regular watering.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes grow more or less like weeds once they are established. The easiest way to get started with sweet potatoes is to buy slips, or young plants. If you keep them watered well during the first few critical weeks, they will require relatively little attention thereafter.

One final tip for harvesting sweet potatoes successfully—dig away from the base of the plant to avoid hitting the delicious sweet potatoes. If you damage the potatoes with a fork or shovel, they will not keep.

5. Arugula

Arugula is actually much hardier than lettuce, and the fact that it is a gourmet specialty green makes it particularly appealing. Arugula is a guaranteed confidence-booster for the novice gardener!

This plant is quite cold-hardy, but it will tend to become bitter as the growing season progresses. Err on the side of planting it a little too early rather than too late.

Top 10 Plants for Beginnign Kitchen Gardeners4. Jalapeños

Jalapeños are arguably the easiest of the peppers to grow. They love hot summers and are tolerant of neglect.

No major growing recommendations are in order here. Just be careful when working with the peppers and their spicy oils in the kitchen. Wear clean plastic gloves when cutting jalapeños, and do not touch your face when handling them!

3. Lima Beans

Lima beans are known for thriving in all but the coldest, wettest climates. They are also more versatile than they are typically given credit for. If you don’t enjoy old-fashioned butter beans, try letting the pods mature and harvesting the seeds to use as dry beans. They cook much quicker than black, kidney, or pinto beans.

There really isn’t much to say when it comes to lima bean maintenance. Bear in mind that watering too much is far more harmful to lima beans than watering too little.

2. Garlic

Garlic really belongs in every garden, as it is so easy to grow and so essential in cooking. There almost isn’t a way to mess up garlic. You can plant it in the spring and pull it during onion harvest, or you can plant it in the fall and let it overwinter in the garden for nice big bulbs in the spring. If you do decide to overwinter it, you can grow it in a cold frame or polytunnel for an earlier harvest. But this is not necessary for success—garlic will grow just fine out in the ground under a layer of straw mulch.

The easiest way to start growing garlic is just to buy a generous-sized, healthy-looking bulb at the grocery store and plant the individual cloves. After harvest, save one or two of your best homegrown bulbs for future planting.

As for watering, err on the side of drier soil. Garlic will rot if overwatered, while the worst effect of underwatering is usually just smaller cloves. Always give the surface of the soil time to dry out between waterings.

1. Egyptian Walking Onions

This plant can make the worst gardener look like a seasoned green thumb! It propagates itself, it requires almost no attention, and it tastes delicious. It will satisfy your green onion needs without all the hassle of dealing with seeds or sets. And, with a healthy, generous patch, you should be able to harvest onions in all but the hottest summer and coldest winter weather.

The main requirement of Egyptian onions is a periodic hand weeding. An occasional watering will encourage growth. Harvest is simple—just snip off a few branches with scissors, or pinch between your thumb and index finger. Always leave each plant a couple of healthy branches to promote vigor and propagation.

While Egyptian onions do a fine job of spreading all on their own, you can expand your patch even more quickly by collecting the mature bulbs from the tops of dry plants and planting them yourself.

Helpful Resource

VegetablesVegetables
More information on growing popular garden vegetables, including planting, care, and harvesting instructions.

A Rainbow of Natural Dyes

A Rainbow of Natural DyesCraftsy folks frequently share a do-it-yourself ethic. While it’s always easier just to buy cheap, pretty yarn at the craft store, some (particularly homesteaders) prefer to create their own dyes. In fact, if you own sheep or other fiber animals, this may be a logical next step to adding value to your products.

You can even take the dye-it-yourself project a step further by harvesting the materials for your own homemade dye! Many dye materials can be grown in the garden or collected on a nature walk.

Looking for a specific color? Here’s where to find it. You will notice that some colors are altered by the mordant used. A mordant is a substance used to fix a dye onto a fabric.

Red

  • Avocado skin and seed: Light pink.
  • Roses: Brilliant pink with mint and lemon juice to activate alkaloids.
  • Lavender: Brilliant pink with mint and lemon juice to activate alkaloids.
  • Pink or red camellia blooms: Strong pink to magenta with salt and lemon.
  • Fresh dandelions: Magenta.
  • Sumac fruit: Light red.
  • Pokeweed fruit: Rust with chrome as a mordant.
  • Bamboo: Turkey red.
  • Madder root: Garnet red with chrome as a mordant.
  • Beets: Deep red.

Orange

  • Giant coreopsis: Bright orange.
  • Yellow onion skin: Bright orange with tin as a mordant; burnt orange with alum.
  • Butternut bark or seed husks: Light yellow-orange.
  • Lilac twigs and bark: Yellowish orange.
  • Shredded carrots: Rich orange.
  • Red onion skin: Reddish orange with alum as a mordant.

Yellow

  • White mulberry bark: Cream with with alum as a mordant.
  • Osage orange wood: Pale yellow.
  • St. John’s wort tops: Bright yellow with chrome as a mordant.
  • Goldenrod flowers: Bright yellow with tin as a mordant.
  • Tumeric: Very bright, vibrant yellow.
  • Dandelion flowers: Soft yellow with alum as a mordant.
  • Elderberry leaves: Soft yellow with alum as a mordant; deep yellow with chrome as a mordant.
  • Plantain: Dull yellow with alum as a mordant.
  • Fennel flowers and leaves: Mustard yellow with alum as a mordant.
  • Coneflower leaves and stems: Gold.
  • Red clover: Gold with alum as a mordant.
  • Marigold flowers: Gold with chrome as a mordant.
  • Red onion skins: Gold with chrome as a mordant.
  • Sage tops: Deep yellow with chrome as a mordant.
  • Dock roots: Deep yellow with alum as a mordant.

Green

  • Foxglove flowers: Apple green.
  • Peony flowers: Pale lime green.
  • Queen Anne’s lace: Pale green.
  • Hydrangea flowers: Celery green with alum as a mordant plus copper.
  • Fresh sage tops: Green-gray with iron as a mordant.
  • Fresh yarrow: Olive green with iron as a mordant.
  • Marjoram tops: Olive green with chrome as a mordant.
  • Coneflower blooms: Brownish green.
  • Peppermint: Dark khaki green.
  • Sorrel roots: Dark green.
  • Bayberry plant: Dark green with iron as a mordant.
  • Fresh dock leaves: Dark green with iron as a mordant.

Blue

  • Geranium: Blue-gray.
  • Fresh elderberries: Blue-gray with tin as a mordant.
  • Dogwood fruit: Greenish blue.
  • Indigo: Deep true blue.

Purple

  • Basil: Purplish gray.
  • Huckleberries: Lavender.
  • Elderberries: Lavender.
  • Red or black mulberries: Royal purple.
  • Red cabbage leaves: Rich purple.
  • Dark red or purple hibiscus flowers: Reddish purple.
  • Pokeweed berries: Deep reddish purple.
  • Very dark purple iris blooms: Dark bluish purple with alum as a mordant.
  • Blackberries: Strong purple.

Brown, Gray, and Black

  • Tea: Ecru.
  • Dried fennel seeds: Very pale brown.
  • Birch bark: Light brown to buff.
  • Tea bags: Light brown or tan.
  • Weeping willow wood and bark: Peachy brown.
  • Plantain: Camel with chrome as a mordant.
  • Pine tree bark: Medium-light brown.
  • Dandelion roots: Warm brown.
  • Broom sedge: Golden brown.
  • Fennel leaves: Golden brown with chrome as a mordant.
  • Yellow onion skins: Brass with chrome as a mordant.
  • Yellow coneflower head: Brass to greenish brass with chrome as a mordant.
  • Wild plum root: Rusty brown.
  • Red onion skins: Dark tan with chrome as a mordant.
  • Goldenrod shoots: Deep brown.
  • Beets: Deep brown with ferrous sulfate as a mordant.
  • Butternut bark: Dark brown when thoroughly boiled down.
  • Dried oregano stalks: Deep brown to black.
  • Black walnut hulls: Deep brown to black.
  • Carob pods: Dark gray.
  • Iris roots: Black.
  • Sumac leaves: Black.
  • Oak galls: Strong black.

Conclusion

This is a very small sampling of the natural dyes that exist, but it is sufficient to demonstrate that the plant kingdom offers an entire rainbow of colors just waiting for harvest. If you are willing to dye your own fiber, you will never run out of new options for achieving your favorite colors.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom VegetablesThe world of heirloom vegetables is a fascinating one, full of unique colors and traditional flavors.

While saving seeds from heirloom plants can be as simple as collecting whatever is available, best results will be obtained from attention to good breeding practices. Proper selection of breeding stock will ensure generations of vigorous seeds that produce delicious harvests.

 

What’s Your Goal?

There are two main purposes for breeding heirloom vegetables:

  • To preserve a rare or historic plant variety.
  • To raise plants adapted to your unique situation.

It is important to determine your purpose right at the beginning, because each objective requires a different focus when selecting the plants that will produce the next generation of seed. Preserving a variety requires a conservative approach, taking steps to avoid altering the gene pool in any way. Raising adapted vegetable genetics requires a progressive approach, actively shaping the gene pool to meet your needs.

 

Preserving a Variety

If variety conservation is your goal, then your breeding philosophy must be to avoid altering the historic gene pool in any way. This can be surprisingly challenging, as there are many ways to inadvertently shift the genetics. The tendency of this shift will be toward plants that are adapted to your specific gardening conditions in the specific year that the parent plants were grown. While this adaptation process has advantages, it also has disadvantages—you may need different genetics in a different year, or you may wish to share seeds with gardeners with different growing conditions. Either way, a broad gene pool with a great deal of variation is desired for conservation purposes.

To maintain a broad genetic base, you must start by choosing a variety already well adapted to your conditions. A variety not suited to your environment or gardening practices will likely have a high mortality rate. The surviving plants will only be those with adapted genetics, thus altering the gene pool.

You will need to grow many plants in each generation to ensure a broad genetic base and avoid inbreeding problems. You may only need five plants for a healthy generation of self-pollinating species such as peppers, while tricky species prone to inbreeding like corn may require you to grow over 100 plants. Each plant must be nurtured to maturity and allowed to produce a crop of seeds if at all possible.

Culling must be kept to a bare minimum. Only cull the following plants:

  • Those that are clearly diseased and thus will likely spread infection to other plants.
  • Those that are not true to type and thus not representative examples of the variety.

To avoid inadvertently giving preference to some plants, equal amounts of seed should be saved from each individual plant.

 

Raising Adapted Plant Genetics

Heirloom vegetable varieties can easily be selected for better performance in your garden with no need for hybridizing. All you have to do is create your own strain within the variety.

A good way to start when developing a locally adapted strain is by making a list of characteristics that you want to see in your plants (for best results, start with only two or three traits max). Such characteristics might include:

  • Drought tolerance.
  • Pest or disease resistance.
  • Resistance to bolting.
  • High yields.
  • Uniform fruits.
  • Excellent flavor.

When choosing the parent plants, cull those that do not display the characteristics that you desire. Deliberately expose your plants to climatic vagaries to allow nature to sort out the best low-maintenance plant genetics (just be sure to allow them to recover in time to produce a healthy seed crop). Mark the most adapted plants with pieces of ribbon so that you can identify them when it is time to collect the seed. Favor exceptional plants when saving seeds—well-adapted plants will typically produce the most seed anyway.

However, be careful not to narrow your vegetable gene pool too quickly, or the plants may start to lose vigor due to inbreeding. If you select too aggressively, you may accidentally make your plants less adapted to years with unusual climatic conditions. There are several easy ways to keep the gene pool broad and healthy without sacrificing your objectives:

  • Start with a variety that has a great deal of genetic variation to begin with.
  • Raise numerous parent plants in each generation.
  • Include a few seeds from the original strain in every planting.

 

A Few Final Hints

To keep your motivation levels high, start simple and give yourself some leeway to learn about plant selection and seed saving. Begin with only one or two varieties, and choose those from species that are easy to work with. Plants that mostly self-pollinate are ideal. Some good plants to practice with include:

Keep good records. Mark your rows and label your bags and envelopes of seeds. This is particularly important if you grow more than one variety of the same species.

Most importantly, only grow plants that you enjoy. If you don’t like eating beets, don’t grow beets. If indeterminate tomatoes and pole beans are just too much hassle for you, it won’t matter that they have superior flavor. Trade them in for determinate tomatoes and bush beans—there are still plenty of tasty varieties of those plants out there!

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu Tips

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu TipsHaving fun eating your reds, oranges, and greens? On to blues and whites!

 

Blue and Purple

Blue and purple colors in produce are created by the pigment anthocyanin. The darker the color, the greater the amount of pigment present.

Nutrients found in the blue/purple group include:

  • Fiber.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Vitamin C.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are serious soldiers on the front lines of your body’s defense systems. They keep the immune system in peak condition, actively fighting carcinogens and combating inflammation throughout the body. The blues and purples improve the absorption of calcium and other minerals, keep the blood pressure balanced, and keep the digestive system running smoothly. They may also promote circulatory health by preventing clotting. To top it off, the anthocyanins concentrated in these fruits and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eager to tap into the powers of the blues and purples? Try some of the purple varieties of this produce:

  • Asparagus.
  • Blackberries.
  • Blueberries.
  • Cabbage.
  • Eggplants.
  • Figs.
  • Grapes (and raisins).
  • Plums.
  • Peppers.
  • Pomegranates.
  • Potatoes.

 

White

Can white fruits and vegetables offer any nutritional value? Yes! They receive their unique color from anthoxanthins—pale pigments with antioxidant effects.

Check out some of these nutrients:

  • Allicin (a natural chemical that promotes heart health).
  • Beta glucans (necessary for white blood cell health).
  • Potassium.

The whites have surprising amounts of immune-boosting ability. Furthermore, they offer nutrients critical to maintaining a proper balance of hormones throughout the body.

What fruits and vegetables have white varieties? Try some of these:

  • Bananas.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Corn.
  • Dates.
  • Garlic.
  • Ginger.
  • Kohlrabi.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Pears (brown-skinned varieties).
  • Potatoes.
  • Shallots.
  • Turnips.

 

Suggestions for Eating Your Colors

Take a look at the color of your current diet. Could it best be described as beige? That probably means you are eating too much processed and packaged food (e.g., crackers). Time to incorporate the rainbow into your diet!

There is no specific formula to follow here. The key word is variety. The idea is to regularly incorporate a mix of colors into your diet, and this can be incredibly simple. One recommendation dieticians sometimes make is to check your grocery cart and make sure you’re buying several categories of produce—if you only have one color represented, swap a few items out with produce of other colors before you make your purchase. Gardeners, notice that each category includes both cool-season and warm-season plants; if you aim for variety in your planting schedule you should be able to harvest a rainbow throughout the season.

Note that to gain the maximum benefit from most of these fruits and vegetables, you should eat the skin whenever possible, as that is where many of the pigments and nutrients are stored. We recommend using this natural veggie wash to remove wax, dirt, and other contaminants first.

What about winter? Never fear! Frozen fruits and vegetables retain much of their color and nutritional value, making frozen produce a viable and very healthy option for those times when you just can’t get it fresh.

Cooking up a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals can be simple! Just enjoy a mix of colors on your plate on a daily basis.

 

Helpful Resources

Vegetables
Our own guide to growing, storing, and preparing produce simply.

Cookbooks
Need more tips for making the most of fruits and vegetables? Try out some of these real-food-focused cookbooks.

What is Permaculture?

What is Permaculture?As you enter the field of sustainable agriculture, one term you will come into frequent contact with is permaculture. Permaculture is a very complex, systems-oriented topic and is thus difficult to summarize without leaving out any pertinent information. This discussion is intended to be merely an introduction.

In short, permaculture seeks to imitate natural systems and take a holistic approach to sustainable living and growing food. This emphasis on natural design results in a system that can be modified and applied anywhere around the globe (thus its appeal to urban gardeners). No design element is emphasized more than another because the key lies in the interaction of elements. In other words, the whole is larger than the sum of the parts.

The word permaculture was originally a portmanteau word combining permanent and agriculture. It is now considered a combination of permanent and culture, reflecting an expansion of the system into all aspects of society.

Note that, while permaculture is usually organic in nature, it is much more than simply growing things without chemicals. What is typically regarded as “organic farming” is often a prime example of a focus on one part of the system to the exclusion of all others.

A Little Background

The roots of permaculture go back as far as interest in sustainable farming practices. The term itself, however, originated from the subtitle of a 1929 book by Joseph Russell Smith, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. The concept of forestry agriculture sparked interest among those seeking ways of making farming sustainable.

Besides forestry agriculture, other ideas and systems from the early and mid-1900s that may have influenced the various renditions of permaculture include:

In the late 1960s, Australian scientist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren began their observations of the rise of industrial agriculture and its consequences. A brief examination of the loss of biodiversity, topsoil, and water quality associated with commercial farming convinced them that a more sustainable system needed to be developed. As a wildlife biologist, Mollison was particularly disturbed by the effect farming was having on natural ecosystems. However, he quickly came to the conclusion that he wanted to respond with a positive solution rather than impotent rage. The result was the term permaculture (coined in the mid-1970s by the scientific duo) and the system it represented.

Permaculture has continued to evolve since its creation. One of the earliest changes came in the 1980s, when the focus shifted from farming specifically to society as a whole.

Permaculture is now popular among sustainable farmers across the world. Elements of permaculture design have influenced many more farmers who do not adhere dogmatically to any particular theory (e.g., Joel Salatin).

The Three Core Tenets or Ethics

  1. Earth care. This implies provision for all forms of life. The idea is that a healthier earth will better enable humans to thrive. This first tenet of permaculture trickles down into all aspects of the system. While permaculture recognizes that not everyone is in a position to grow all of their own food, it does require that all choose to make purchases that are compatible with a healthy environment.
  2. People care. This implies that all people should have access to the resources necessary for life. Enjoyable lifestyles free from tedium are also a priority. Permaculture emphasizes that all people have value and should be treated with respect. It also encourages strong community ties, fostered by local trade.
  3. Fair share. This implies that no one should take more than they need from the system and that all should return what they do not need back to the system. Permaculturists tend to view the third tenet as the antithesis of the industrial model.

The 12 Principles of Design

  1. Observe and interact. Food systems truly customized to our unique circumstances cannot be achieved without observing how nature works. This demands that the farmer slow down and take time to think, rather than constantly rush from one to-do to the next.
  2. Catch and store energy. Surplus energy should be harvested and stored for times of need, whatever form it takes. Solar energy can be captured in a cold frame or greenhouse. Water energy running out the downspout can be stored in barrels or cisterns. Nutrient energy in the form of surplus animal manure can be conserved in the form of compost.
  3. Obtain a yield. Work without an adequate return is a waste. Permaculturists fully expect to eat the fruits of their labor. They may even trade or sell the surplus. They also tend to expect a harvest of intangibles, such as satisfaction with their work.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback. No one escapes responsibility for their own actions.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services. Examples of this principle include saving seeds, growing mostly perennial plants, and building a house out of local natural materials.
  6. Produce no waste. Permaculturists are often advocates of recycling and composting everything from paper to dinner scraps to household wastewater. They are also big fans of labor efficiency—the system is typically designed with a view to letting ecosystems sustain themselves with as little effort as possible.
  7. Design from patterns to details. Stepping back and observing patterns and interactions comes first in permaculture. The details can be filled in as necessary.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate. Permitting interactions between different parts of the system promotes sustainability. Permaculture seeks to build “guilds” of symbiotic plants and animals rather than a patchwork of “vegetables here, chickens there, and corn field over yonder.”
  9. Use small and slow solutions. The bigger the design, the more inputs it will require to keep it running. This principle precludes allowing huge multinational corporations to handle the world’s food supply (even the world’s organic food supply).
  10. Use and value diversity. Diverse food systems are less likely to collapse under pressure than monocultures. Furthermore, diversity within the system maximizes efficiency. Diversity is reflected in the emphasis of permaculture on layers of food production. For example, a tree canopy will be supplemented with an understory layer of smaller shade-loving trees followed by a layer of shrubs such as berry bushes. No permaculture system can ever be labeled “cash crop farm,” “poultry farm,” “pig farm,” etc.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal. Permaculture practitioners believe that the transition zone from one ecosystem to another is often the most productive part of either ecosystem. This principle is utilized by maximizing the area devoted to edges and borders. For example, a pond might be constructed with a meandering shoreline to increase the amount of area devoted to the transition zone between land and water.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change. In fact, despite its emphasis on “permanent,” permaculture allows for relatively little permanence, mimicking nature’s pattern of ecological succession. Livestock is rotated, crops are rotated, etc. Even fruit tree plantings are mixed up, with different species and varieties intermingled.

The Benefits

Permaculture advocates often list the following benefits of their system:

  • Innovation.
  • Better quality of life for the farmer due to increased variety and lowered risk of crop failure.
  • Beautiful natural landscapes.
  • Adaptability to any environment, even an urban backyard.
  • Inexpensive production.
  • Reduced labor requirements.

The Challenges

It has been noted that a permaculture system is only as good as the designer. Because permaculture is inexorably founded on ethics and observation, the whole system breaks down in the hands of the unethical and the unobservant. The permaculturist must be willing to continually learn, grow, and plan.

Permaculture and agroforestry are not inherently synonymous (although one might think so reading some descriptions of permaculture systems). Permaculture is, by design, adaptable to any ecosystem. But the heavy emphasis on creating forests may present a challenge to those seeking knowledge on practicing permaculture in native grassland environments. Building a grass-based permaculture system will require particularly close attention to nature and some dedicated research.

And, of course, conventional agriculturalists argue that permaculture cannot match the yields of modern farming methods. But they are not the only ones. Some biologists also note that the natural forests permaculturists seek to mimic are not capable of feeding the world—in fact, that is why humans developed agriculture.

Again, this post is merely an introduction to a complex topic. Permaculture is an involved subject in and of itself; plus it takes on a variety of forms as it is adapted to varying circumstances. Farmers of all stripes and beliefs use permaculture, and the system tends to reflect their different values. If you are interested in permaculture, take the time to search for a presentation that will fit with your values, as well as your natural ecosystem.

Helpful Resource

You Can FarmYou Can Farm
This book from Joel Salatin is an excellent demonstration of permaculture-influenced agripreneurship. Read our full review.

Eat Your Colors: Red, Orange, and Green

Eat Your ColorsTired of counting calories? Some health experts are now proposing an alternative—counting colors.

The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their varied, luscious hues are associated with nutrients important for peak health. Eating a variety of colors helps ensure that we receive a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals.

Here are some common colors and their associated nutrients.

 

Red

Some red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes and watermelons, derive their color from lycopene, an important antioxidant. Others, such as grapes and strawberries, receive their rosy hue from anthocyanins.

The red family of nutrients includes:

  • Folate.
  • Lycopene.
  • Quercetin (a natural antioxidant and allergy fighter).
  • Vitamin C.

This nutrient group contains important antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and tumors. Fruits and vegetables in the red family are associated with lowered blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels. They appear to have beneficial effects in arthritis patients.

Ready to eat your reds? Try the red varieties of some of these fruits and vegetables:

  • Apples.
  • Cherries.
  • Cranberries.
  • Grapefruit.
  • Grapes.
  • Radicchio.
  • Radishes.
  • Raspberries.
  • Rhubarb.
  • Onions.
  • Peppers (sweet or hot).
  • Potatoes.
  • Strawberries.
  • Tomatoes (including sauce; cooking tomato sauce lowers vitamin C levels but enhances the absorption of lycopene).
  • Watermelon.

 

Orange and Yellow

Nutrients commonly found in this color family include:

  • Folate.
  • Carotenoids, including beta carotene.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Lutein (protects the eye from cataracts and macular degeneration).
  • Lycopene.
  • Potassium.
  • Vitamin C.

This group can be divided into two groups—citrus and everything else. Citrus does not boast the beta carotene levels of vegetables like carrots, but it is much higher in folate and vitamin C.

Not surprisingly, there are many antioxidants and immune boosters in this group. But there are more goodies that you will find here! The orange/yellow group promotes the building of bones and connective tissue, and it helps ensure healthy pH and blood sugar balances in the body. And, of course, the lutein and beta carotene in carrots and other orange produce will keep your eyes healthy by protecting them from cataracts, inflammation, and age-related degeneration.

Try some of the orange and yellow varieties of these plants:

  • Apricots.
  • Cantaloupe.
  • Carrots.
  • Corn.
  • Lemons.
  • Mangoes.
  • Nectarines.
  • Oranges.
  • Peaches.
  • Peppers.
  • Pineapples.
  • Potatoes.
  • Squash (summer and winter).
  • Sweet potatoes.

 

Green and Yellow-Green

That beautiful green color in fruits and vegetables comes from the pigment chlorophyll.

Here are some of the benefits of eating your greens:

  • Beta carotene.
  • Calcium.
  • Fiber.
  • Folic acid.
  • Isothiocyanates (natural compounds that stimulate the liver to flush out carcinogens).
  • Lutein.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin K.

Note that this group can be subdivided into two categories—green crucifers (plants in the mustard family) and yellow-green noncrucifers. The crucifers are rich in isothiocyanates, while the noncrucifers supply an abundance of lutein.

This group boasts superb immune-boosting powers. And the high fiber levels associated with these plants will have a positive effect on your digestive system, as well.

Make sure some of these greens have a place on your plate from time to time:

  • Apples.
  • Artichokes.
  • Arugula.
  • Asparagus.
  • Avocados.
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Celery.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Grapes.
  • Green beans.
  • Green onions.
  • Honeydew.
  • Kiwifruits.
  • Leeks.
  • Lettuce.
  • Limes.
  • Okra.
  • Pears.
  • Peas.
  • Peppers.
  • Pistachios.
  • Spinach.
  • Watercress.
  • Zucchini.

 

Next in series: Blue and white, plus menu tips

6 Tips for Keeping Plants Going Through the Summer

6 Tips for Keeping Plants Going Through the SummerSummer can be a tough time to garden. The heat is challenging to many plants. Coupled with dry weather, it pulls the moisture right out of the ground and wilts leaves and stems. Paired with humidity, high temperatures may stress plants and foster fungal diseases.

But never fear! Gardens can continue to be productive in the hot summer months!

Here’s how to keep your plants in peak health despite the heat:

  1. Water deeply and infrequently, but regularly. It stands to reason that plants will need regular watering in the heat of summer. However, it is important to avoid weakening them by watering shallowly and thus encouraging their roots to grow near the surface. By watering deeply and allowing the surface of the ground to dry out in between waterings, the plants will put down extensive root systems less prone to damage from rapid soil moisture evaporation.
  2. Mulch. Mulch helps the soil retain moisture longer. This will allow to you water less frequently, and will help protect the plants from stress due to water deprivation. In a hot, dry, windy summer, an unmulched garden may literally require watering every day, and even that may not keep it alive.
  3. Protect cool-season plants with shade cloth. Still have broccoli or lettuce persisting through the summer heat? Increase your chances of a successful harvest and give these cool-weather plants a helping hand by shading them from the intense sun. Shade cloth is sold specifically for this purpose.
  4. Avoid excess nitrogen. Heat and humidity promote plant diseases, and so does excess nitrogen. A quick boost of nitrogen will indeed result in large, lush plants, but there are hidden side effects. The new cells grow very quickly, resulting in soft tissue susceptible to the invasion of pathogens. If your plants need nitrogen, apply it in a slow-release form, such as compost or well-rotted manure.
  5. Grow vines vertically for better airflow. Not only do sprawling vines take up space and promote weed growth, they are prone to disease and attract insect pests looking for a hiding place. Growing vertically exposes the entire plant to light and air. While this means that it will require more water (again, a mulch is recommended here), the trade-off is typically beneficial because the plant is healthier overall.
  6. Pull dead and dying plants. Not every plant will be able to keep going through the summer. Leftover cool-season plants will succumb, and even some hot-weather plants, such as bush beans, will eventually reach the end of their productive lives. Trying to keep dying plants going through the summer rarely produces miracles—in fact, it typically just attracts pests. Do the rest of your garden a favor and remove sickly vegetables.

With these tips in mind, your garden can continue to produce bountiful harvests throughout the summer.