July growing tasks (Southeast – zone 7B)

July is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the fall garden if you can believe it! Here in the SE, we are blessed to have two growing seasons if the timing is planned right.

THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU WILL PLANT FOR YOUR FALL CROP AND WHEN TO PLANT IT:
All it takes to maximize your growing season is to know when your frost dates are for spring and fall. You’ll want to google what your last frost or freeze date is for your area. There is the traditional Farmer’s Almanac you can use, or I like Dave’s Garden’s resource as it gives a range of dates based on statistical data of when the first and last frost date has occurred. You’ll want to check this date each season prior to planning when to start your seed. I tend to lean on the 30-40% dates as my target date to plan off of and watch as the time gets closer. For our purposes, we will be looking at a freeze possibly happening between Oct 16-Oct 20, so I’ll split the difference and use Oct 18th as my first frost date and count back from this date based on the number of days (found on seed packet) for the plant will reach maturity and add in a 20 days for the plant to produce and bring a harvest in before a cold snap hits.

FINAL PLANTING OPPORTUNITY OF WARM SEASON PLANTS:
If you are growing in the southeast (we are in Atlanta in planting zone 7B), plant the following vegetables no later than July 20th to allow time to mature before frost: tomatoes, okra, corn, pole beans, lima beans, cucumbers, squash and snap beans. If you have a sucker growing on one of your existing tomato plants, now is the time to start a new tomato plant which will continue to grow and fruit until hit with a freeze. Toward’s the end of July, start your final crop of snap beans as these can be planted by August 15 as seedlings into the garden for fall harvest.

Now is the time to also plant Zinnia seed. These heat loving annuals sprout in six days and bloom in a few weeks in the heat of the summer. Plant more Caladiums and Coleus as they’ll look better in the fall than the plants often started in May.

You can also plant another crop of Gladiolus for another flush of blooms for summer and into fall. Now is also a good time to divide Daffodils using caution not to cut into the bulbs as you dig into the ground.

https://erincastillo.towergarden.com

AN EASY TASK TO LIMIT PESTS AND DISEASES:
As you are harvesting your crops and cleaning off any dead leaves or removing leaves that have been attacked possibly by insect pressure, be sure to place these leaves in a 5 gallon tote to toss at the end of the day. You don’t want to leave dead leaves on the ground next to your growing plants as they will attract insects and promote disease which can transfer to your healthy growing plants. Keeping the ground around your plants tidy is a simple way to keep your plants thriving through the growing season.

CONTINUE TO FERTILIZE:
For annuals, you’ll want to continue to fertilize at two-to-six-week intervals. When using granular products, make sure to water afterwards to encourage the nutrients to filter down to the root zone of your plants. For soil, you can use “organic” fertilizers like manure (cattle or chicken), blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. Dr. Tim Smalley, horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, has shown that composted hen litter continues to release food for four years after a 2-inch layer is worked into flower beds. Patio tomatoes (in a container) need to be fed consistently because constant watering rinses fertilizer out of the soil.

WATERING PLANTS:
Be sure to keep tabs on watering soil-based plants. If you have had a good heavy rain, your watering tasks are probably eased for the day, but if it hasn’t rained, you’ll want to make sure you water deeply as needed to prevent drought stress. You can prevent root rot by watering deeply once per week and mixing plenty of organic amendments into the soil before planting and adding mulch to the soil surface beneath growing plants.

For plants growing in a hydroponic or aeroponic vertical gardening Tower Garden system, be sure to check your reservoirs at least twice a week as things warm up outside. If you’re growing tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, squash, kale, or beans, you’ll want to check your reservoir daily (or every other day) and top off the reservoir and add nutrients as these are “heavy feeders” meaning they take up a lot of nutrients when they are producing fruit, veggies, or legumes. Even though you are adding water to your system, it will be substantially less than the soil-based garden as hydroponic growing trials have been shown by NASA that these growing methods grow plants three times faster and produce 30% greater yields on average while using only 10% of the water a traditional soil-based garden would use to grow the same food. 

INCREASE PLANT PRODUCTION:
As your bush beans are growing, be sure to pick each day to encourage growth and plant output. Same is true with tomatoes… as they begin to ripen, pick often to encourage further fruit set.

PUMPKIN PLANTING TIME:
Plant that big pumpkin for Halloween this month and give it plenty of room to sprawl. If you have a fisherman in your family, save a fish head and toss in to the hole before planting your pumpkin seedling into the ground.

JULY PLANTING CALENDAR:
And finally, here is a quick cheat sheet you can print off and reference for what you can plant each week through either direct sowing (DS) into the ground or sowing indoors (SI).

Garden Poetry | “The Seven Of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy

The Seven Of Pentacles

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us 
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

Marge Piercy

Never miss a facebook live video again with our learning library of archived videos

Grow Your Health Gardening Facebook Live Video Library Archive

Now you can find all our Facebook Live Videos on one page for easy reference and learning.

To view visit https://growyourhealthgardening.com/facebook-live-table-of-contents-learning-library/

If you have a specific question that you would like to ask, feel free to add in the comments below and we will be sure to answer them in the next Facebook Live Wednesday Walk Through Event mark your calendar for Wednesday, June 24 at 7 am Eastern (Atlanta, GA).

Here is the direct link if you want to add it to your Facebook Event reminders: https://www.facebook.com/events/588882825369499/
And be sure to visit our Facebook Page on that day and time to view the Facebook Live Video! Be sure to like and share with friends who are interested in growing their own food to grow their health!

Thanks y’all!

— Erin

DIY Aquaponics Review: Two Years Later

So, I almost hate to show this because it is such a hot mess, but I finally decided to make a quick walk-through of this DIY Aquaponics system we purchased a couple of years ago.

When I was first learning about hydroponics and aquaponics, I remembered seeing these type of systems on You Tube and considered building them. A few years into my growing, my husband found this read-to-go DIY system. All we had to do was break it down and move it home.

When we first put it in, it did pretty well. We got two small Koi and they seemed to produce enough waste to feed the plants we placed in there (mainly herbs). I did purchase two aloe vera plants and they surprisingly thrived in the system even when the pH was way off. These are hardy plants let me tell ya!

About a year ago, the pH just became too difficult to manage. You could see mineralization built up on the hydroton and the PVC housing. I just kept putting it off and putting it off because I knew cleaning it would be a BIG UGLY TIME-SUCKING job.

I’m an inch-away from just ditching the entire system, but we are giving it one more chance. As we work in the yard pruning and planting, we chip away at boiling hydroton for about 4 hours and then straining off into a clean bucket which we will place back into the cleaned system.

There’s a light that hangs above this system which cost a pretty penny. For the amount I bought this used plus the cost of the light, I could have purchased a Tower Garden. (Sigh) But at the time we made the decision to get this system we were learning about various hydroponic and aquaponic systems and well, we homeschool, so everything becomes a learning opportunity. 😉

The light that typically hangs over this system I’m currently using the light over my seedlings and that’s working fantastic, so I am planning to move this system outdoors. It will go in the shade to help keep the fish cool and I’m going to stick with growing herbs in it because that seems to work right now.

However, we’re going to make a few adjustments before firing it up again:

  • First off, we need to put a guard around the siphons so help keep the hydroton back and out of the way.
  • Second, we are going to see what can be done to balance each side so that it siphons properly and continuously. Right now, it siphons for awhile and then putters out. The siphon drain helps to disperse the water and it aerates the water for the fish. It is supposed to draw the fish water up from the bottom and then fill the tanks and then when the water reaches a certain point, the siphon kicks in and drains the entire tub which aerates the plant root system. (Roots need to breathe!)
  • Third, we will probably relocate these Koi to a larger pond my boys are planning to build and we will put smaller Koi into this system as replacements. Koi are great because they can tolerate warm and cold temperatures compared to other types of fish.

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I wouldn’t say this is a terrible design. It’s definitely great to grow herbs in and you can see that my aloe vera plants did just fine.  But be forewarned that this system takes some serious work to clean. It’s probably best to just relocate the hydroton into another use and buy brand spankin’ new hydroton. Cleaning the hydroton is time-consuming and tedious work. We’ve been working on cleaning it for over a week and we are only half-way.

Learn How to Grow Food the Easy Way

And know that the pH can be difficult to manage. If you add pH adjustment, the hydroton absorbs the efforts you make bit by bit. Plan on cleaning out this system yearly if you go this route. And use the system outdoors if possible because a light to go over something of this size isn’t cheap. And if outside, you have to think about the seasons in your region and how the temperatures will affect your Koi, so placement matters.

Hope that helps for those who like to do DIY. My take-away is a lesson learned that just because it seems cheaper at the time, when you add everything up it isn’t always cheaper. And all systems have pros and cons. For me, cleaning needs to be manageable to make a system worthwhile and this one is just a BEAST to clean, so I won’t be building any more of these.

Happy Growing!

—Erin

Growing Lettuce Hydroponically

Whether it’s on a sandwich or in a salad, the refreshing crunch of lettuce is unmistakable. And there’s nothing quite like walking over to your Tower Garden and harvesting a crisp leaf to munch on.

Lettuce is a great starter plant for those new to gardening because it’s:

  • Fast-growing, and can be ready to harvest in as little as 3 weeks.
  • One of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, offering vitamins A, K and other nutrients.
  • Easy to grow—a perfect choice for new gardeners.

But first, before we dive in… it’s important to know WHY we need to grow our own lettuce. So many consumers blindly are trusting the food system and don’t realize that our current mass-produced lettuce is picked before it’s prime, often travels many food miles to the consumer, and the lettuce food system has had 46 outbreaks nationally between the years of 2006-2019 (and most of those cases have happened in recent years!)

Dangers of Store-Bought Lettuce

Let’s first look at if organic lettuce can really be trusted… According to Consumer Reports, 72 percent of Americans try to avoid GMOs when they shop. And more than half seek out the “organic” label. But is organic lettuce really pesticide-free? Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s pesticide free… Despite being natural, spinosad, pyrethrin, azadirachtin, and other approved ingredients can still be harmful. (They are toxic pesticides, after all.) And in some cases, farmers must spray greater volumes of natural solutions because they aren’t as effective as their non-organic counterparts. In fact, up to 20 percent of organic lettuce may contain pesticide residue. And as though that weren’t enough, one study found that organic produce is more likely to play host to pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella. This is likely because it’s grown with organic fertilizers (e.g., manure and compost).

And that doesn’t even account for what is used as irrigation to grow the lettuce. Recent outbreaks were said to occur because of feed lots up stream tainting the irrigation supply. Hmmm….

Did you know that from 2006 to 2019, leafy greens like Romaine, Spinach and bags of Spring Mix from Salinas, CA and Phoenix, AZ accounted for at least 46 national outbreaks of E. coli. Check out this article and news report. (You may be more at risk of you’re purchasing a salad kit? The last outbreak sickened 11 people in Washington State. As of December 2019, there were two simutaneous outbreaks. “The FDA is investigating two other E. coli outbreaks, each caused by strains that are different from each other and different from the larger outbreak.” See report here.)

“Fresh-picked salad greens can have a higher nutritional value than store-bought greens. The flavor of homegrown salad greens is also noticeably better, as most kitchen gardeners will affirm. This is due to the extreme freshness of your salad, when you can use the instant “pick and plate” approach to preparation. Once you taste salad greens straight from the garden, you’ll be spoiled for life.

But arguably the greatest benefit is that of human health. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the percentage of foodborne illnesses related to produce, and greens have been one of the biggest culprits. This is mainly due to the soft leaves of the greens, which retain any germs they come in contact with. The CDC estimates that roughly 22 percent of all foodborne illness is caused by leafy greens. This has grown from less than one percent 40 years ago. This may be the best reason to grow your own leafy greens: while store-bought produce must be thoroughly washed to reduce the risk of illness, you can be sure that greens grown at home are much safer.” — Fix.com

The seriousness of these E. coli outbreaks have not only health impacts, but financial ones as well. According to Marler Clark, a law firm reprenting 28 victims from just one ecoli incident, said “Illness typically lasts from 1 to 12 days; however, E. coli patients who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection, can remain hospitalized for months. They often require kidney dialysis and extensive supportive care. The cost of hospitalization for an E. coli case can range from several hundred dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Foodborne Illness | Growing Your Own Salad Greens
Source: Fix.com Blog

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Store Bought Lettuce Food Miles and Nutritional Value

The other factor to consider is how far your lettuce has had to travel to get to your plate. Food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user. The term, “food miles” was originally penned from a study in Iowa that focused on how far food had to travel.In 2011, lettuce was grown on 206,000 acres in California (most coming from Salinas, CA), which represented 73% of the total U.S. acreage (Source: Lettuce_Production_CA). If trucks were to drive a straight line (which in reality they don’t — they make pit-stops at processing centers and go to distribution centers before traveling to our local grocery store), lettuce harvested in Salinas, CA must travel a minimum of 3,000 miles to Atlanta, GA and is at least 4-5 days old by the time it reaches our grocery store. It’s estimated that it take an average of 10 days to go from farm to our plate! Are you even getting any nutritional value from eating it at this point? We’ll explore that in a minute…

One thing to note, since the 2019 E Coli outbreaks, the lettuce industry has incorporated a standard of placing labels on packages of romaine to indicate where the lettuce originated from so that the CDC can better track down the source of contamination. (Yes, I’m trying to shake you out of denial — it’s really that bad.)

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The other factor at play with store-bought lettuce is the depletion of nutrients from the time the lettuce is harvested to the time it reaches our plate. Like mentioned earlier, it takes upwards of 10 days from farm to plate in our traditional food system. Did you know that the nutritional value found in the plant actually starts to deteriorate within the first day or two of harvesting? University of California studies show that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C, for instance, within a week. And some spinach, for example, can lose 90 percent within the first 24 hours after harvest!

Here are our tips for growing lettuce with the hydroponic Tower Garden system.

Best Growing Conditions for Lettuce

Of the many varieties of leaf and head lettuce, most prefer full sun and temperatures between 45–80˚, making lettuce a good cool season crop. Lettuce can withstand light frosts. But in hot weather, it will easily bolt (i.e., quickly grow vertically, flower and produce seeds)—and this process typically makes lettuce bitter. So if you grow lettuce in warmer conditions, plant it in partial shade or grow heat-tolerant varieties, like these:

Heat Tolerant Lettuce | Growing Your Own Salad Greens
Source: Fix.com

There are five distinct types of lettuce: Loose-Leaf (45-60 days), 
Cos or Romaine (~70 days), Crisphead (75+ days), French (50-75 days), 
and Butterhead (55-75 days). With a variety of colors, shapes and flavors available, plant several types of lettuce for tasty and interesting salads. Keep in mind, all varieties of lettuce grow very well indoors with grow lights.

Here is a good starting point of specific seeds to get if you are just starting out:
Click here to view seed recommendations for a hydroponic Tower Garden

How much will I need to grow?

If you want fresh lettuce every day for salads or other dishes, we suggest growing approximately 2-3 heads of lettuce per person. The cool thing about the Tower Garden system is you can grow in up to 28 ports (base Tower Garden with one extension) in less than a 2.5′ x 2.5′ space. That means in the corner of your kitchen or dining room or on your back deck, you can have instant access to your greens any time and harvest Tower to table within a matter if minutes — not hours — not days — MINUTES! This means you and your family will get optimal nutritional value from each plant because it is being harvested at it’s peak and consumed right away.

Tower Tip:
To learn when you should grow lettuce in your area, try
this planting scheduler.

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Starting Lettuce Seeds

For leaf lettuces, plant 2–4 seeds per rock wool cube. And for head lettuces, plant only 1 seed per cube. Lettuce seeds need light to germinate and usually germinate within 1–2 weeks.
       
Keep under bright lights and use a warming pad (we like this one). Can’t stress enough how much a warming pad and a good full-spectrum LED grow light will help your success rate.

Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden 10–14 days after sprouting, or whenever they have at least 2–3 leaves and a visible root structure. When transplanting, keep in mind that lettuce is a good crop to plant near the top of your Tower Garden.

Lettuce Seed Starting Guide

Once you’ve transplanted lettuce into your Tower Garden, keep the pH between 5.6-6.2 as this will help the plant uptake available nutrients in your water promoting growth. Using the Tower Garden Nutrient Solution, keep the PPM range between 560-840 or an EC of 0.8-1.2 for ideal continuous growth. Ten to twelve hours of light will be sufficient.  Check the back of your seed packet for maturation as it varies by lettuce type and variety (typically between 30-85 days).  Also, some lettuces can be cut and come again meaning if you cut about 2″ from the base of the plant, it will regrow new leaves and thereby extending your harvest.

Hydroponic Lettuce Growing Guide

Download our lettuce cheat sheet that can be sliced down and put into a standard ziplock sandwich bag and used for seed storage and/or as a growing journal for what happened with your crop (we put ours on a clipboard. | download PDF |

Front view of seed storage ideaBack view of .jpeg

Tower Tip: For step-by-step instructions on starting seeds and transplanting seedlings, reference page 7 of the Tower Garden Growing Guide (PDF).

Common Lettuce Pests and Disease

Growing lettuce with Tower Garden decreases the chance of pests and plant diseases. But just in case, here are some potential problems:

  • Aphids are small insects that typically feed on young plant growth, causing it to appear puckered or deformed.
  • Cabbage loopers are green caterpillars that feed on the underside of lower leaves and in the center of the head of lettuce.
  • Cucumber beetles are yellow-orange beetles with black markings that sometimes feed on lettuce seedlings. Take care not to confuse these with ladybugs.
  • Botrytis, a gray-brown fuzzy growth, thrives in cool environments and can appear on plant debris that has fallen from the plant.
  • Downy mildew looks like fine white cotton or frosting and often infects lower plant leaves first. It can spread rapidly and kill plants in cool conditions.
  • Powdery mildew forms a white-gray powdery growth, usually on the upper surfaces of leaves. You’re most likely to see this common disease in late summer.

Tower Tip: Lettuce doesn’t typically suffer with aphids, especially if you’re interplanting basil at the same time (it is a deterrent to aphids.) Learn how you can naturally beat bad bugs and prevent plant diseases.

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How to Harvest Lettuce

Since they grow so quickly, lettuces will be ready to harvest within a few weeks after planting. You can harvest lettuce in 2 ways:

Whole head. Remove the entire plant and net pot from your Tower Garden, or cut all the leaves off at the base of the plant. If you choose this method, be sure to have replacement seedlings ready.

Individual leaf. This technique keeps the plant alive and encourages continued production. When there are plenty of mature leaves present:

  • Harvest only a few leaves at a time, from the bottom of the plant upward.
  • Allow 2–3 leaves to remain so the plant may keep growing.
  • Repeat every 2–3 days until the plant bolts, or begins flowering.
  • After bolting, replace the plant with a fresh seedling.

For more help with harvesting, watch this instructional video:

You’ll want to eat lettuce within a few days of harvesting. Need ideas for how to use it?
Browse recipes shared by other Tower Gardeners »

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More Tips for Growing Lettuce

If you’re hungry for more lettuce growing advice, we have a comprehensive guide available in the Resource Center.

Download lettuce growing guide »

We also have a handy resource that you can print off and cut down and slide into any sandwich-size Ziplock bag and use to store your seeds (limits oxygen and moisture which can be harmful to seed saving.  We also print an extra sheet for our garden journal to keep records of how our crop performed so we can learn and remember what worked for the following year.

Seed Organizer – Lettuce »

Front view of seed storage idea

Happy Growing!

Erin

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This dandy should be in your salad…

dandelion-flowers

My father loved a well-manicured lawn (and still does) and we had an acre of it. (I jokingly called it a golf-course.) The dandelion was a weed to him and it was engrained in me from a young age that dandelion that had gone to seed were not to be blown for wishes. In my father’s defense, if we are to look at what a weed is, the definition states that “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.” So, in his situation, it wasn’t wanted in that space for his intended purpose. But if you grow it intentionally to use medicinally and for improving your health, we’ll then it wouldn’t be a weed, would it! In fact, I think the dandelion should return to it’s rightful status to be known as an herb — not a weed — and grown intentionally. Here’s why…

DANDELION GREENS ARE CHOCK-FULL OF NUTRIENTS
My mother shared with me recently that as she was growing up on the farm, my grandmother would go out in early spring and collect dandelion leaves to eat when fresh greens were scarce and the garden wasn’t producing yet. My grandmother was an expert in preparedness having lived through the Great Depression as a child and every year canned hundreds of fruits and veggies to use throughout the winter. The dandelion in spring was a source of vitamins A, C, K, and E, for her along with folate and small amounts of other B vitamins. The leaves also have a substantial amount of minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Picking them in early spring as she did also meant the leaves would be smaller and less bitter.

DANDELION GREENS ARE RICH IN THE PREBIOTIC INULIN
Dandelion greens are also rich in a particular prebiotic fiber called inulin. David Perlmutter, M.D. who is an expert in the human microbiome, a board-certified neurologist, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, America’s brain-health expert and #1 New York Times best-selling author has this to say about dandelions:

“Inulin, also found in foods like chicory root,  Mexican yam, and Jerusalem artichoke, enhances the gut’s production of friendly bacteria like the bifidobacteria group. Boosting bifidobacteria has a number of benefits including helping to reduce the population of potentially damaging bacteria, enhancing bowel movements, and actually helping boost immune function. And new research demonstrates that higher levels of bifidobacteria may reduce colonic enzymes that may be involved in enhancing the carcinogenic effect of certain chemicals.” —David Perlmutter, M.D.

dandelion-field

The dandelion belongs to one of the largest plant families — the sunflower. There are more than 20,000 species within this plant family, including daisies and thistles. Botanists consider dandelions to be herbs and typically use the leaves, stem, flower, and root of the dandelion for medicinal purposes.

bontanical-dandelion

Flückiger and Hanbury in Pharmacographia, say that the name was conferred by Wilhelm, a surgeon, who was so much impressed by the virtues of the plant that he likened it to Dens leonis. In the Ortus Sanitatis, 1485, under ‘Dens Leonis,’ there is a monograph of half a page (unaccompanied by any illustration) which concludes:
‘The Herb was much employed by Master Wilhelmus, a surgeon, who on account of its virtues, likened it to “eynem lewen zan, genannt zu latin Dens leonis” (a lion’s tooth, called in Latin Dens leonis).’ Botanical.com


A DIURETIC FOR DEALING WITH EDEMA

The root of the dandelion can be dried and chopped up to make Dandelion Tea. It acts as a diuretic, helping those with edema. Diuretic, tonic and slightly aperient. It is a general stimulant to the system, but especially to the urinary organs, and is chiefly used in kidney and liver disorders. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, participants showed a significant increase in frequency of urination after the first two doses of Dandelion tea. Water weight, and subsequent bloating went down. Cautionary Note: “Before you begin to use dandelion tea medicinally, you may want to discuss it with your doctor – especially if you’re pregnant or have an irritable bowel,” warns Dr. Manglani.

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AIDS IN DIGESTION & HELPS TO COMBAT UTI’S (UNIARY TRACT INFECTIONS)
It can also aid stomach irritation and aid in digestion. “Dandelion tea can have many positive effects on your digestive system. It improves appetite and soothes digestive ailments,” says Dr. Ritika Samaddar, Head of Dietetics at the Max Super Speciality Hospital. “According to various studies, dandelions aid our digestive system by maintaining the proper flow of bile. Dandelion tea helps with mineral absorption and soothes the stomach lining,” says Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja, Fortis Hospitals.

LOWERS BLOOD SUGAR
Various studies have shown that dandelion tea lowers levels of blood sugar and can in turn treat diabetes. It removes excess sugar that is stored in the body due to its diuretic properties and helps in stimulating the production of insulin from the pancreas. It is a great way to fight diabetes naturally,” adds Dr. Manglani.

CANCER-FIGHTING PROPERTIES
And lastly on the topic of dandelion tea… according to Dr. Sharma, dandelion tea contains anti-cancerous properties. A study conducted in 2011 by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Windsor in Canada found that dandelion root tea was effective in killing different types of cancer as a result of its free radical-fighting abilities.

If you are growing your own dandelions for harvesting (recommended vs. risking a plant that may have been sprayed or encounter animal feces — I know, ewwwe), make sure your plant is two years old and the roots about 1/2″ thick. You’ll want to harvest around February/March when the the Inulin (a sort of sugar which replaces starch in many of the Dandelion family, Compositae) contains about 25 per cent insoluble Inulin. If growing for root production, I recommend planting in a loose soil rich in compost. Be sure to keep heads of dandelions trimmed so they don’t propagate and frustrate your neighbor’s lawn efforts.

Plate of greens with dandelion

SUPPORTS LIVER HEALTH & MAY HELP WOMEN WITH PCOS
A study from 2010 showed that dandelion had a favorable affect choleretic (choleretics are substances that increase the volume of secretion of bile from the liver as well as the amount of solids secreted), anti rheumatic (agents used in the therapy of inflammatory arthritis, predominantly rheumatoid arthritis, but also idiopathic juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and others) and diuretin (increased urination as a diarrhetic) properties. They examined the effects of dandelion consumption in rabbits and found that dandelion root and leaf could help lower cholesterol in animals on a high-cholesterol diet. Another study in mice found that dandelion consumption reduced total cholesterol and levels of fat in the liver. Mice that were on a high-fat-diet supplemented by dandelion leaf extract dramatically reduced hepatic lipid accumulation compared to mice only receiving a high-fat-diet alone.The researchers concluded that dandelion might one day help treat obesity-related nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affecting 15 percent to 55 percent of women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

dandelion-seed-perspective

My hope is that this gives a little bit broader insight into the dandelion and I hope that you consider growing it as a green to add to your salads when the leaves are small and if you have the ability to keep up on the bloom cycles, grow it for two years and harvest the roots to make your own dandelion tea. There are also several brands that carry Dandelion Tea — check your local health food store. I like to fix mine with a little slice of ginger and a dash of local honey. I am getting to the point where I actually prefer it over coffee (gasp)!

Let me know what you think if you try growing it or try dandelion tea in the comments below!

Happy Growing!

Erin


DANDELION SEED

50EA4702-CE8A-4946-9403-AA43AEDE233E

  • Taraxacum officinalis. Perennial.
  • This strain forms lush heads of leaves that will rival your favorite lettuce. The leaves are tender, fleshy and dark green.
  • The plants spread up to 2 ft and the vitamin rich leaves can be eaten raw, boiled, stir fried and used in soup.
  • The roots can be eaten raw, cooked or roasted and made into a coffee substitute.
  • The flowers can be used to make fritters, tea and dandelion wine.

Sampler pack of 100 Seeds $0.99
1,000 seeds $4.99
| Order Seeds |

 

 

Grow What You Know: Planning your upcoming Tower Garden

New to growing your own food in a Tower Garden? First off, kudos on your decision to take control of your own health and it all starts at the foundational level of the food we put into our body.  It actually can go even deeper than that… it all starts with the parent plant that made the seed that we collect and then grow and then harvest to put into our body.  But I digress…

When considering what to put into your Tower Garden, there are certain vegetables and herbs that grow well together. I have grouped these plants based on shared PPM (parts per million) values. You will need a PPM meter to measure what your water’s PPM is with the nutrient solution added.

When determining our list below, we look for areas where PPM levels share common ground (see blue vertical bars to highlight overlapping plant PPMs)… Note: this PPM reference chart is available in full for all our Tower Garden and hydroponic clients, but here’s a little snippet:

PPM Chart for Hydroponics Tower Garden

Note that some plants can tolerate higher levels of nutrients than mentioned here as these are ideal ranges for growth. You’ll know when a plant is getting too high a level when the edges of the leaves get a brown tint (called tip burn). Otherwise, know that these plant groupings are going to grow together fairly well at certain PPMs and that you can push some of the plants that are below the PPM level to the next level up in some cases…

  • based on the PPM of 775 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Arugula, Artichoke, Basil, Calendula (petals of flower are edible), Cilantro/Coriander, Dandelion (leaves edible & root used in tea), Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Nasturtiums (leaves & flower are edible + plant deters some insects)Oregano, Pansies (flower petals are edible), Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Violas (petals of flower are edible)Watercress.
  • based on the PPM of 1000 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B
    Artichoke, Basil, Chives, Fennel, Kale, Leek, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Watercress
    (Lettuce/Romaine may grow in this range as well, just watch for tip burn on the leaves — some varieties may tolerate the PPM level)
  • based on the PPM of 1265 and a pH of 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Artichoke, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Carnation (2′ tall, but petals of flower are edible), Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Leek, Marjoram, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Parsley, Peas, Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries and Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Water Cress, Watermelon, ZucchiniTower Garden Beginner Plants
  • based on the PPM of 1490 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Beans, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Celery, Eggplant, Endive/Chicory, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Melon, Mint, Okra, Hot Peppers or Sweet Bell Peppers (Note: Planting both near each other may result in cross-pollination if outdoors and open-pollinated by bees and your sweet peppers can get a bit of heat in the flavor department. If growing indoors and hand pollinating blooms, you should be fine.), Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries, Swiss Chard, Tomatillo, Tomato, Turnip Greens, Watermelon, Zucchini

    Remember to put larger plants like kale and those that vine like peas, cucumber, and nasturtiums towards the bottom and you’ll need a support next to the Tower Garden where the vines can continue to grow out and fruit. Taller plants go towards the top (like Celery and Rainbow Swiss Chard).Salad Tower Garden Tower Planting SchematicPlanting Schematic for Chef Tower Garden
  • based on the PPM of 1990 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B:
    Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Dill, Hot Peppers, Sweet Bell Peppers, Tomatillo, TomatoKeep in mind that your squashes, watermelons, tomatillos, and tomatoes are going to be heavy “feeders” meaning they will drink up water and nutrients during the hotter summer days.

Kid Friendly Plants to Put in Tower Garden

Okay, so now you have an idea of what plants have similar growing PPM characteristics. Select one PPM group based on vegetables and herbs you like to use every day!

Assorted Green SaladKeep in mind that for most of us, lettuce has to travel quite a ways if you’re purchasing it from a big box store especially. 70%+ of all romaine is grown in Salinas, California. That means that romaine has to travel roughly 3,000 miles to get to my plate here in Atlanta, Georgia. They say on average it takes 10 days for a harvested romaine to get from the farm to our dinner plate! This is unacceptable! Especially since we know from industry studies that due to respiration rates of plants, nutrient availability decreases within the first 24-48 hours! That translates into you losing out nutritionally on the very purpose of eating that salad! So, with that in mind, simply starting by growing greens is a great place to start. I also like greens because of they mature in 4-6 weeks meaning you get to see your success (and enjoy the fruit of your efforts) earlier rather than later.

The other thing to consider regarding a salad is the number of varieties you have probably never tried because the grocery store only carries 3-4 options. I have found that some of my best salads incorporate a variety of greens and textures. Have fun exploring greens you’ve never tried before — you might find you really like them fresh off of your Tower Garden. I had always shy’d away from Bok Choy in the grocery store because it looked limp and lifeless, but when I grew it in the Tower Garden it was super tasty and I learned that I could keep harvesting for 2 months until the plant flowered. Now it’s something I always plan on growing because it can be added to soups, quinoa, and salads.

If doing a greens selection to grow on your Tower Garden, I like to recommend my clients include a nasturtium on the lower part of their Tower Garden because a) you can eat both the leaves and the flower, b) most people have never tasted a nasturtium because they are not found readily in the grocery store and most often found on the fine diner’s plate, c) they are so pretty to look at on your tower and d) they are companion plants meaning they are good to grow next to other plants to help deter certain pests… When planted alongside cucumbers. eggplant, tomatoes, or squash plants, nasturtiums may repel cucumber beetles, whiteflies, aphids and squash bugs. There are other edible flowers in this range that would be fun to explore if you’re willing to be adventurous.

If you decide to do a vining crop with a higher PPM, keep in mind space (tip: put a trellis next to where the plant’s port is and it can grow off to the side. These vining plants are often water hogs and love the sun, so plan accordingly for anything planted above them — those plants will also need to be heat tolerant. I always recommend including a flowering plant as it will attract pollinators and pollinators (aka: bees) will plump up your fruit and leave your flowering plants in a better state than how they found it.

CC03128C-B0D7-4148-BC1E-A8C7B454653DTomatoes are the most popular thing to grow. Ideally, you’ll want to look for varieties that have compact traits, but if you do have room next to your outdoor Tower Garden, make sure you can handle the growth habit on a trellis. My favorite tomato is an heirloom variety, Cherokee Purple, and it’s vining can reach up to 10′ or more if it’s given the nutrients it loves. (And BOY do they taste AMAZING!!!!) Cherry Tomato varieties are going to be prolific, so plan a space to support their growing needs to you have airflow and are able to easily keep pests from moving in on your crop.

Tip: If you are putting large vining plants in the lower ports of your Tower Garden. Plant to the left, right and on the back side leaving the front port open. (You may want to cover that port with a rubber disc like this.) The reason for leaving the front port unplanted is you need access to your water reservoir opening and some vines take over and make it difficult to reach it.

Bowl of Jalapeño Peppers Hydroponically Grown

And my last thing to highlight is the pepper — remember that if you are growing outdoors and have hot peppers and sweet peppers both growing in your Tower Garden, you may get some cross-pollination through open-pollination and your sweet peppers might be hotter than their parent plants. It’s a good idea to just pick either hot peppers or sweet peppers if growing outdoors. Now if you’re growing indoors under lights, you can plant both hot and sweet in the same system in ports on opposite side of the Tower Garden because you will have to self-pollinate your flower buds anyway (turn a fan on to give your tower a light breeze or hand-pollinate with a toothbrush or paintbrush).

This should get your started. If you’re looking for Seed Providers, you can check out our article here.

Happy Planning!

— Erin

PS: If you want a printable version of the information above to print off and to use as a reference in your garden journal, simply click here: Growing by Common PPMs.

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Our Son’s Journey Becoming a Master Gardener

I wanted this space here on Grow Your Health Gardening to be focused on how to grow food for the gardening novice, but today I wanted to pause and just reflect on something (or should I say someone) that is near and dear to my heart.

Last night, our family attended a beautiful catered banquet through our local County Extension Office Master Gardener Organization where our oldest son, Joshua, received his official Master Gardener Certificate and official name badge. He is the youngest Master Gardener in our county of 164,044 people (at the time of writing this post.) It was definitely a proud moment for me, his Mama, having watched him grow (pun intended) over the years in his passion and skills.

Joshua receiving his Master Gardener Certification

Of my five children, Joshua is the one that noticed me saving a seed every now and then. Soon, I was finding other seeds next to my collection and now he is a better seed saver than I am! He gets it. He understands that within that seed is life and the potential to keep giving life-giving food to others he loves.

I sometimes call him “Farmer Josh” out of love because he loves to play in the dirt and grow things. We come from a long line of wheat farmers. Joshua’s middle name is fitting, because he is actually named after his Great Grandfather who was a dry land wheat farmer. (Growing wheat definitely isn’t Joshua’s future because we learned he was allergic to wheat dust one year while helping out with the harvest.) Every summer, my family would help bring in the wheat harvest. My grandmother had a large garden and instilled in me from a young age the value of a garden. My parents continued to teach me through growing our own family garden for years and then the busyness of life demanded the need for convenience over preparedness and the garden fell to the wayside and eventually our plot of dirt became grass and then a garage was built over the location.

copyright 2020 Erin Castillo
Our boys in the wheat field as 2 year olds during harvest. Joshua is pictured on the left and Jason is pictured on the right.

When my twins were three years old, my husband got a consulting job in the Southeast, and we moved 3,000 miles across country to Atlanta, Georgia. Our soil profile changed from grey-ash-like soil to red dirt full of clay. I would put rich compost down into my garden beds only to find them return to hard clay by fall. My growing mojo had come to a screeching halt. (I would later learn what to do to re-build the soil profile thanks to new friends made in Georgia and other Master Gardeners.)

Feeling discouraged, I kept thinking there had to be a better way. That’s when I stumbled across a video of a guy on YouTube who was growing tomatoes hydroponically in Bato Buckets. I was fascinated by his methodology and soon I was pouring myself into any resource I could find about how to grow food hydroponically. It was also about this time, that my oldest two sons were studying the difference between human cells and plant cell structures. Since we were homeschooling, I decided to dive deeper into teaching them more about plant biology (botany) and together we were going to learn about hydroponics and how to grow food. My husband helped me guide the boys in building a Bato Bucket system like the one I saw on YouTube and I went down to my local nursery and bought 10 different tomato plants and we transplanted them into our new system. The boys would monitor the pH level and nutrient level of the plants and write down observations. It was a lab of sorts for us to learn from and boy did we learn!

The following year, my husband had a heart attack. It was then that I realized we were not doing enough about eating wholesome vegetables. In my research the previous years, I had narrowed my next hydroponic system to two options. But when our need became more urgent, I knew I didn’t want a DIY system — I needed something out of the box that would just work. (My last DIY system cost as much as the one out of the box.)  He agreed to getting three Tower Gardens by JuicePlus+. Here was our first year’s crop (pictured below).

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I was amazed at how easy it was to fit it into my busy lifestyle. No weeding. No effort to build up soil. No nematodes to eat my crop. No irrigation system to monitor or standing there day in and day out to water plants for a half hour while our water bill took a hit. I would just watch the reservoir every week and check pH and nutrients — it was right up my alley. I needed low-maintanence gardening. Joshua dove in with me and helped monitor the growing system as well.

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I also learned of our local Master Gardener program through our Extension Office that shared space with 4H. I took the kids to any free program they had to offer on growing things or even one was on bee keeping. In fact, Joshua won the door prize at one of these meetings and he and my youngest son walked away with some free plants! It was around this time (I think Joshua’s Junior year) that I turned to him and planted the seed-thought of him becoming a Master Gardener. He had the time now to make that happen and then could use the skills he learned for the rest of his life instead of waiting to the end of his life when he retired to enjoy it. He was excited by the thought of that idea and inquired only to find that you had to be 18. He wouldn’t be able to do it as his senior year project. But he didn’t give up on the goal.  He applied for the Master Gardener program that was to begin around the time of his 18th birthday.

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What probably many don’t know is that during this time, our family went through a difficult time. My mother, who lived 3,000 miles away, needed help getting through a situation she found herself in and I had to leave for several weeks to help her. This unfortunately coincided with Joshua starting his Master Gardener training. He took an Uber each day and paid $20 out of his own pocket to get to his classes until other arrangements could be made on his behalf.

One of the great things that I love about the Master Gardener program is the wisdom of those who are involved. I’ve tried to teach my children to reach out to those with grey hair as they are a library of untapped resources. Joshua was blessed to have these amazing individuals come along side him and help him. They loved him because with his youth brought much needed muscles! lol I really wish there could be more young people involved because they are missing out on such a great resource. I want to see what can be done to bring these two groups of people together.

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Joshua juggled working his required 50-hours of volunteer hours around with working a job. I saw him increasingly frustrated when he would miss a Master Gardener meeting (often held during the day) because he had to work. But it showed me what he truly enjoyed. Thankfully, he came to realization himself and asked if he could work for me and help me instead of continue in the electrical program he was pursuing. I really needed his help knowing that my own goals included the possibility of growing our crops to the point where we could take it to the local farmer’s market to sell. So here we are today, working on our upcoming growing season and it is such a joy to work alongside my son. He’s smart and helps things get done when I don’t have the bandwidth to get to it. Currently, he’s helping me clear some land to do an herb garden installation. He is put in charge of his younger siblings who help him clear out ivy that has overrun the space we plan to utilize. He also is good at cleaning out Tower Gardens and sanitizing them (as well as our cutting tools). We hope to also propagate some of the beautiful resources on our property to sell at the upcoming Master Gardener event this spring. And his favorite thing to grow indoors — orchids!

Joshua Master Gardener

So, last night’s award dinner was truly special and I felt so proud of him for pursuing what he loved. And I feel so blessed to be his Mama and thankful that we have something in common to share over the years. I am praying for Joshua and that the Lord will continue to direct his steps as one day he will have his own family to provide for (and possibly me in my old age, Lord willing!)

Thanks for letting me share from my heart. And if I can encourage any of you with children… learn together! You don’t have to have all the answers or be an expert to be qualified to teach a child. It’s through the process of learning together about something that your children will come to understand that anything is possible to learn about if you just pursue it.

Happy Growing —

Erin

PS: If you ever read this post, Joshua, know that I am proud of you and can’t wait to see what you do next! Never stop dreaming and learning! Love you, Mom

 

How to Test Germination Rates in Seeds … Did our six year old lettuce seeds germinate?

Seed germination rate testThis Black Seeded Simpson seed was packaged in 2014 and we just did a germination test. We placed on a wet paper towel under bright light (lettuce needs light to germinate) at 70°F for 24 hours, covered in darkness overnight and found germination! Six-year-old lettuce seed properly stored germinated! It amazes me the life that is contained in one little seed.

Doing a quick germination test like this prior to ordering seed can save you the hassle and money of purchasing new seed. To calculate your germination rate, take the number of seeds that germinated (evident by the radical root emerging from the seed casing) and divide by the total number of seeds you put in your tray — that will give you the germination rate of your seed.

Because I use rockwool for hydroponics, we can use seeds from this germination test and transfer them into wetted rockwool and continue to grow them in ideal seed started conditions (warming mat to 70°F and bright lights). No seed is wasted! This also helps me conserve my rockwool.

Germinated seed awaits going into rockwool

To transfer germinated seeds, I take a tweezer with (the kind with a flat edge) and clean them with rubbing alcohol and finish off with a quick rinse of water. I gently pick up each germinate seed with the tweezer and drop it into the hole of my rockwool making sure to not plant the seed too deep. General rule of thumb whether sowing soil or into another planting medium like rock wool is to plant seed as deep as it is wide. I sometimes use the plastic tip of my nearby plant marker to slide it off of the tweezer tip as we don’t want to crush the seed embryo (still inside seed casing). I also plant two seeds per rockwool cube (in case one doesn’t make it for some reason.) I can always thin out to one plant as the seed grows into a seedling.

If you want tips on how long seeds can last when properly stored, check out our handy guide here.

Happy Growing!
— Erin

 

PS: Food for thought… Jesus said you need only to have faith in Him — even if it’s as small as a mustard seed… Think of how much life is just within a little tiny seed. The giant redwood tree, for example, comes from something that is so tiny… if God can create a magnificent and awe-inspiring tree, how much MORE amazing and beautiful are you who is made in His own image.

Redwood Seeds Scale to a Dime giant-redwoods

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.””
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:31-32‬ ‭NIV‬‬
https://www.bible.com/111/mat.13.31-32.niv

 

When Your Harvest Feeds Your Family

Frozen heirloom tomatoesIt’s on cold wintery days like this that homemade tomato soup hits the spot. These heirloom tomatoes were from our 2019 season. I was short on time the day this bag (and another bag like this) came off the hydroponic Bato Bucket system and so I just threw it in a gallon size freezer bag for the Instapot this winter. Feels great knowing it’s pure unadulterated good food for my family.

I have four sons and a daughter and we like to watch the History Channel television show called Alone. Today we rewatched the last episode of season one. As we paused to thank the Lord for His provisions, my 10-year-old blessed the meal and I had to grin when he referenced the last episode of Alone saying, “…and thank you, Lord, that we didn’t have to struggle to find food or eat any bugs or slugs today.” Indeed. We are so blessed to be able to grow our own food. And every year we do it, we get better at it and more efficient.

Learning to grow food started when I was a little girl, helping my grandma to pick beans and bring in what would be served at supper to the farm hands and our family. I remember snapping peas into threes and dropping them kerplunk-kerplunk-kerplunk into a metal bucket. It was in Grandma’s kitchen standing for hours canning cherries harvested from her pie cherry tree for her yummy homemade pies.

And my parents had a garden for a few years. I can remember planting long rows of strawberries and we would put a fish head in the hole, fill it with water, and then plant the strawberry plant in the middle of the hole gathering the earth around it and gently pressing the earth down. But they got so busy with both working that it was difficult to keep up with the garden. I remember on Saturdays I got stuck with the inside cleaning jobs while my brothers got to go out and weed the garden and mow the lawn. Eventually the garden became grass and the grass got covered when Dad’s garage was built.

In both situations, gardening was disguised as “work” to me as a child, but now, looking back, I see how it was instilling the value of self-reliance, the importance of growing food — at least until our family got caught up with eating out and running from event to event. Beware of the busyness of life…

Fast forward almost 17 years … It wasn’t until my children were being homeschooled that I realized I had taken my experiences and what knowledge I had in gardening for granted and that we all needed to be better at knowing how to grow food. I was curious about hydroponics because I was tired of fighting the Georgia clay, so we dove into learning about hydroponics together as a family while also covering biology of plants / botany. I learned so much about hydroponics that I wanted to keep going even after the kids had moved on to other subjects. And year after year, we continue to learn and grow. (Hence the name “Grow Your Health Gardening”.)  I’m proud that one of my sons has become the youngest Master Gardener in our county. He was my one child that watched me save a seed and began saving his own seeds. I love his passion!

So remember, it may look like work and seem like work, but it’s good work. And when you enjoy a meal eating the very fruit of your effort, well, it’s a great feeling.

Planning a garden does take some time and financial resources to get going, but just start with what you can manage and every year try one new thing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just start with what you already like to eat and

Tomorrow, I’ll post my heirloom line up for 2020 and more on why I chose them for those still planning their tomato 2020 season. 🍴👍

That’s all for tonight –

Erin

Tips for Hydroponic, Aquaponic, and Soil-based Gardening Methods