Sunday, March 08, 2009

February 2009 Garden Girl Ezine

The Urban Farm Magazine
In this issue of Urban Sustainable Living with Patti Moreno
The Sustainable Home Front By Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl
INCUBATION.......the beginning By Frederick J. Dunn
All About Cilantro By Dana Wright
City girl to Country Gal, a transformation in progress By Josephine Howland
New Craft Project Videos By Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl
Ron Plans Ahead! by Ron Smith
The Last Word: WINTER SOIL by Mark Highland
Sustainable Home FrontFrom the Sustainable Home Front
by Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl

I have been super busy. Fresh back from a television trade show, and then straight into a Garden trade show with maybe twenty four hours between the trips. I presented my products to the New England Garden Center industry at the New England Grows show where I was awarded the Best Retail Product award! That means I am two for two, the Garden Girl products also won the same award at the Independent Garden Center Show back in August.

This month I will be atNorth Haven Garden Center in Dallas Texas, signing DVD's and creating general gardening mischief so if you are up for it and can get there, come out and play! Click the link for details. Hope to see you there.
SkyscrapperIn my never ending desire to create a truly modern web magazine, I think that this issue is getting closer to being a new way of sharing forward thinking and good old common sense. This issue features more integrated video, from poultry expert and photographer Fred Dunn, and this month, I am pleased to introduce you to alternative energy pioneer Dan Rojas and his fantastic Youtube channel Green Power Science. Also the wit and spice of the Dirt Diva and her friends at Organic Bouquet, so as you are thinking about flowers for Valentine's Day, think organic and help protect our soil heritage. Don't forget to check out this month's Square Foot Gardening Tips with me and Mel and a companion article by Richard Davies.

You all know by now that I love to spin and I have a new 3 part video on spinning wool and making a scarf. This is a great project for beginners and I had a lot of fun making it!
Remember to please help support the efforts of our great video contributors by rating, commenting, favoriting, and subscribing to our video channels.


If you'd like to contribute to the magazine, write me
HERE. Please forward this email around to everyone you know and share a little green living inspiration with others.

Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl

Win Free Gardening Gloves from Pallina

The Ultimate High Tech Garden Glove. A $30 value!

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We are giving away MULTIPLE PAIRS of these gloves this month only!

You will get your gloves directly from the manufacturer sized perfectly for you.
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To Enter the Contest you must do one of the following:

1. Forward this email to At Least Ten other people recommending they subscribe and cc me at

2. Install a Urban Sustainable Living Widget in your blog, myspace, facebook or website

Urban Sustainable Living Ezine widget:

3. Post at least two links to my website on a message board or blog that legitimately would benefit from our content.


Send me an Email HERE with the links to find your posts. Write 'glove contest' in the subject line and you are entered in the contest!!
LIMIT OF TWO ENTRIES PER PERSON. The winners will be chosen at random and will be notified by March 1st.

By Annie Spiegelman

Wouldn't it be nice to receive a bouquet of flowers knowing that not one iota of nasty, knarly pesticide, fungicide, herbicide or chemical fertilizer was used in growing them? Fresh, fragrant organic bouquets could score some of you guys nice points with the ladies! For the rest of you guys I'm afraid it's too little too late . . .
You may be asking yourself why we need organic flowers if we're not going to be eating them. Choosing organic flowers encourages the use of farm practices that build healthy soil without the use of toxic pesticides or fertilizers and protects the workers in the fields and greenhouses from exposure to these harmful pesticides and fertilizers. The world's first online organic florist, Organic Bouquet, is headquartered in Northern California and is committed to the highest environmental and social standards. "Organic flowers are not about us. They are about the health of workers and the planet itself, "says Gerald Prolman, the company's visionary founder.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, seventy percent of all flowers sold in the United States are grown in Colombia and Ecuador. On average, each rose grower in Ecuador uses three poisons to kill worms, four to kill insects and six to control fungi. Many of these chemicals are tightly restricted in the United States because of their threat to human health. Nearly 60 percent of the floral workers surveyed experienced symptoms of chemical poisoning such as headaches, dizziness, hand-trembling and blurred vision. (Environmental Health Perspectives 2002) Many of the workers are exposed to these chemicals while working in greenhouses where over 100 different chemicals are regularly used in enclosed spaces.
More and more concerned citizens worldwide are becoming increasingly interested in the working conditions of farmers, and farming practices that preserve the environment for future generations.

See, sometimes it's not all about ME . . . but about "other people". And you thought the Dirt Diva was just a transparent, self-absorbed flower Queen. If you scratch the surface there is some substa
nce. I swear.
Whenever I find another successful socially responsible company, I have a brief glimmer of hope for the world. In that moment of optimism, I decided to purchase some flowers for my home. I didn't really need them, but I knew I could write a far superior article if I had an actual organic floral bouquet sitting beside me on my desk. I ordered a bouquet of roses online from the "charitable bouquets" section. The cost was competitive-a dozen roses sells for $39.95. The Crown Majesty roses were a creamy, royal pink, looked great for over a week and a percent of my purchase was donated to Heifer International, a humanitarian organization working to end hunger worldwide. Organic Bouquet donates proceeds to many charitable organizations including Project Hope, Care, Working Assets and Amnesty International.

"This is an excellent example of how the private sector can promote economic development within the carrying capacity of ecosystems by reducing resource degradation, pollution and waste," says Brennan Van Dyke, Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. "It is this sort of inspiration and leadership that will hopefully allow mankind to meet the immense environmental challenges of the coming century."

Go to to order or call .1-877-899-2468

SkyscrapperFree Heirloom Seeds for your garden!

That's right, free seeds for everyone that has a website or a blog and installs one of Urban Sustainable Living Ezine's RSS widgets on their site. To get your free seeds simply cut and paste one of these codes below into your site or blog:

Urban Sustainable Living Ezine widget:


Then send me an EMAIL by replying to this email with the URL link where the widget or link appears and your mailing address. Three weeks or so later you will get a free packet of one of the following Heirloom Seeds from my collection: Giant of Italy Parsley, Genovese Basil, Yellow Pear Tomatoes, Rainbow selection of Carrots, and many more. Share our great sustainable living content with the world, install your widget today!

By Richard Davies

Spring is in the air, even if there's still snow on the ground. Either that, or you're just getting the gardening itch, possibly with spring months off for you. Seed retailers know this is a common occurrence in winter, so they send out catalogs galore right before New Years. Such pretty pictures and tantalizing descriptions. I know I was tempted to buy countless varieties. Like most, I came to my senses and chose only the varieties that grow best in my area, from companies that have test farms in my climate. That way I know they'll do well here.

As Mel stated, you can save money by buying seeds rather than seedlings, so much so that you can buy 50 seeds for the cost of a single seedling in some cases. Last year, I went the seed route on everything, except my tomatoes. I just wasn't comfortable growing tomatoes from seed my first year gardening. This year, I'm taking the plunge.

So, assuming you went the seed route, whether or not you bought them from a rack, online or a catalog, you now have to plant them. Depending on your climate, you may start them indoors to get a jump on the season so you can transplant them outside closer to your Last Spring Frost. I know mine is much later than some gardening buddies in the South, and I'm not certain Southern California even gets frost in the winter.

The way I see it, you have tons of options on how to plant. You can plant indoors under lights, or a sunlit window, or you can go outdoors in cold climates with winter sowing or wait and direct sow. Confusing you yet?
The beauty is there are options to meet anyone's needs and some techniques work better than others for different plants. For me, I'm going to go with a simple light system for my tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and maybe some greens. Once I decided to plant indoors, I had to decide where to plant them. Should I go with the popular peat pellets/pots, Dixie Cups, or a cool soil block maker. The answer is, whatever works for you and your budget. Once your seedlings are ready to be transplanted, make sure you ease them into the garden gently. Hardening off is a simple, time-consuming, yet necessary step to acclimate the plants to the wind and the cool spring temperatures.

Of course, not all seeds lend themselves well to indoor sowing, or winter sowing for that matter. Carrots are a great example. For those, my kids like to pick them from my hand and put a single seed into each hole they have poked with their finger. Tiny fingers easily pick up single carrot and lettuce seeds. That's my way of confirming that little kids love to help mommy or daddy in the garden. I'm even going to give them little gardens of their own this year to plant with whatever they want. I know my eldest will plant carrots, he's a fiend.

So, you've got the gardening itch and all those colorful catalogs only made it worse. Go out and do something about it, and involve your family. Someday your kids will take their youngsters out to their garden. Then we will have truly become what is needed going forward... a self-sufficient, sustainable culture.

Here is a gift that will warm up your Valentine for days in the future, delicous tea!

Click on the picture and get a great gift and help support our mission! From My Cup of Tea, buy now!

the beginning
By Frederick J. Dunn

When it comes to chicken ownership, most new comers purchase their birds from local hatcheries, receive them from friends, or buy in as day olds from mail order companies such as Murray McMurray, Stromberg's game birds, or any number of long standing respected names in the business.For the chicken, duck,
guinea or other poultry enthusiast, once you own your birds and they are mature, you have other options to perpetuate your flock, or increase its number. If your birds are healthy, of pure stock and not too far from the APA Standard of Perfection (assuming your breed is in the standard), you may consider hatching your own. Selective breeding is how we preserve the traits we find most desirable. The flock owner has a responsibility not to breed from young, or stock demonstrating disqualifying/undesirable traits. A flock is strengthened or weakened by this informed selective breeding process.

Many of those reading this article, have some early memory of watching a chick hatch, possibly in pre-school, or elementary school. It's a memora
ble event, and for me, one that is as fresh as yesterday... watching that chick break from its seemingly lifeless encasement. A chick hatches and each time, it seems a miracle to those who've seen it. I hatch every week during the hatching season, here at Fred's Fine Fowl and it never gets old. Few things are more fascinating than witnessing the emergence of new life. I love handling warm bright eyed baby chicks!

YOU, can do it... there are two methods for hatching fertile eggs, one is to make use of a broody hen, the other and topic of this article, is artificial incubation. My Grandfather in Vermont, used a gas heated incubator and brooder, this gave way to something called the Electric Hen and now, more popular units like the Little Giant, Brower Top Hatch or Lyons incubators. Hobby incubators are widely available and very affordable, averaging from $45.00 for a still air unit, $75.00 for a forced air unit and extras like automatic turners may be added, bringing a fully outfitted forced air, automatic turning incubator, for $110.00 (prices are approximate).

What incubator is right for you? Well, budget is probably your primary concern... a table top incubator like the Lyons may run over $600.00 and not necessary for the hobbyist, styrofoam units may provide years of service, if properly cared for.
When looking at incubators, you may be baffled by some of the terms, so I will review the basics. A still air incubator will be the least expensive... still air, simply means that the air within the incubator is not moved by a fan, but by convection, heated air rising and fresh air coming through small vent holes. This is the least complicated and least stable incubator. Normally incubating at 102 deg. F. Air is stratified, with variances in temperature, depending on the level within the incubator. The top of an egg may be at 103, while the bottom of the same egg may be at 98 or 99 deg. F.

Next up is the forced air incubator; forced air units have internal fans, which re-circulate the heated air, maintaining even temperatures at every level in the incubator. The source of heat may be a light bulb, or heating element with solid state controls. These units are operated at 99.5 deg. F in general and utilize more electricity than the still air units.

Incubating eggs requires that the eggs be turned circa 180 degrees several times each day. If this is a hatching unit at school, someone will have to come in several times a day during weekends and days where there is no school in session. At times, there is a custodian available? Or, you can purchase a unit with an automatic turner, automatic turners turn your eggs by rolling, or tilting them generally once each hour 24/7 and is the most dependable method for preventing the embryo from sticking to the side of the egg interior.
For complete and detailed guidance regarding incubation, I refer you to the DVD Regarding Chickens. Click the link to purchase.

There are also two video shorts posted for your convenience:

The Little Giant

The Brower Top Hatch

My collection of rare heirloom seeds has been hand selected for maximum authentic taste and tested to ensure successful growth in the city and suburban areas. When you use fresh home grown ingredients, your meals are always delicious. Each collection contains open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds! Fresh From my Garden to Yours! The collection contains 6 different seeds and planting instructions. The entire collection is featured in season 2 of Urban Sustainable Living.
Retail Price: $12.99

Available Now at North Haven Gardens in Dallas, TX, Gardener's Supply in Burlington, VT, Thayer Nurseries in Milton, MA, Van Atta's Flower Shop in Haslett, MI.
All About Cilantro by Dana Wright

Cilantro, the leaves and stems of Coriandrum sativum, and Coriander, the seeds of the same plant, is native to Southwestern Asia and North Africa. Reaching 12 to 24 inches tall, this plant has long been used for a variety of medicinal and culinary purposes. The leaves, stems, seeds and roots are edible and each have their own uses. Used as an appetite stimulant, aiding in the secretion of gastric juices, and a topical remedy for rheumatism and join pain, Cilantro has seen its share of medicine cabinets.

Cilantro has been cultivated all over the world for thousands of years in countries such as Egypt, India and China. It was introduced to Mexico and Peru by the Spanish and is now a major part of the cuisine in those areas. It has been mentioned in Sanskrit texts and also the Bible. It is further mentioned in a The Tales of Arabian Nights as an aphrodisiac.

Cilantro isn't grown as widely in the home garden .as other culinary herbs. Perhaps this is because some think that it is too difficult to grow, but that is not necessarily the case. Coriander is the seed for the plant and it is made up of two seeds. The husk is very hard and it needs to be prepared before the seed can be planted to increase the chance of germination. Soak the seeds in water for 24 to 48 hours and then allow them to dry. After this, they can be planted indoors or sown outdoors. Cover with about ¼' of soil and allow to grow to about two inches high. Thin to 4 inches apart. This may seem a little crowded, but you want them to grow close together so that the roots are shaded sufficiently. This
will help keep the plant from bolting in hot weather.

This plant doesn't like hot weather, when the soil reaches 75F it will bolt. This is a cool and sunny kind of plant so you want to let it get morning and afternoon sun, but you want it shielded for the hottest part of the day. Growing it in containers is probably best as it can be moved around as needed. I grow it in my kitchen window in a strawberry pot overflowing with herbs with no problems what so ever. This is an annual so make sure to save those seeds! Wait for the seeds to brown before harvesting and then store in an air tight container.

Although Cilantro and Coriander come from the same plant, they have two very different flavors and cannot be substituted for each other. Cilantro leaves look a lot like parsley and in fact, is akin to parsley, both being part of the carrot family. It has a very pungent odor and has a nice mix of parsley and citrus flavors to add into Mexican, Caribbean and Asian cuisine.
Choose unwilted leaves when gathering this herb to use in cooking. It stores well in a plastic bag for about a week in the refrigerator. Wash and pat dry before cooking with the fresh herb as the leaves tend to attract sand. Bruise the leaves with a mortar and pestle before adding into the dish to help the aroma and flavors come out.

Cilantro can be added to salsas and bean dips. It can be crushed into sour cream to give an added kick to tacos, burritos and chili. Sprinkle into Asian dishes to add a beautiful emerald green color and a wonderful flavor. It can also be added to dressings for salads. Add in slaw for an unusual kick.

The herb matches chicken, shellfish, lamb, pork and fish. It pairs well with avocado and tomatoes. Add it into sauces such as guacamole, tomato sauce and marinara. Pair with mayonnaise to give sandwiches a gourmet touch. Use it to spice up simple dishes like plain rice and yogurt.

Try this recipe from for a vegetable dip, tortillas, toasted flat bread or even for cold shrimp.

Cilantro Lime Yogurt Dip
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon sliced green onion tops
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Stir together ingredients and chill for at least an hour before use

Garden Girl's New DVD is available at garden centers NOW!

4 hours of video on 2 DVDs features how to build your own 500sqft garden and join the sustainable living revolution. Purchase a copy at North Haven Garden Center in Dallas, Texas, and Gardener's Supply in Burlington, VT, Thayer Nurseries in Milton, Mass, and Van Atta's Flower Shop in Haslett, MI
Retail Price: $19.99
I get asked several times a week about "DIY make your own solar panels". Many people see websites offering this information and assume it is a "from scratch process". The question is actually a bit deceiving and similar to "building your own computer". Making "solar cells" is a complex process using a form of silicon and can best be equated to "making an Intel Processor", not a likely DIY in your garage or backyard task. On the other hand, making a "solar panel" is more like "building a computer" where a pre-manufactured processor is combined with a custom ready to install hard drive etc.

To "build your own solar panels", you can buy pre-manufactured solar cells off the internet, buy the ribbon to hook them together, add a blocking diode, seal them behind glass and maybe save 20 cents a watt. While some people have been very happy with the results, in my opinion making your own panels has little advantage over factory sealed panels, so the "DYI Solar" term focuses on the installing process.

The "Harbor Freight Model", a 45 watt system with everything you need to get started is about $200 and well worth the expense for getting your feet wet. This kit is designed to charge 12 volt batteries and comes with a charging controller, two 12 volt compact florescent bulbs and a stand for your roof or yard. All the basic wiring is included. I like this kit because it is durable and produces enough power to charge batteries at a reasonable rate and direct power medium sized DC motors for demonstrations. These kits are also expandable.

So how do you get the power to your house? Your house runs on Alternating Current or AC power so an inverter that converts DC to AC is required. The process is pretty simple. Solar panels hook to the controller and the controller hooks to a deep cycle marine battery. You now have 12 volt DC ready to go. Next, you take the inverter and hook it to your battery. For simple installations you use an extension cord no more than 50 feet in length. This setup is usually good for applications requiring 200-500 watts or less. There are 12 volt inverters that can produce over 3000 watts but these at a full load will drain a single battery in less than an hour. The 45 watt Harbor Freight model charges a drained mid-range deep cycle battery to near full capacity in about 12 hours. So for more power, you need more panels, and for a longer charge, you need more batteries.

Installing solar directly into your house's electrical circuit breaker requires advanced professional electrical advice and installation. I have consulted a few electricians on the basics and they used their expertise to complete the project offering a solar only single outlet, by combining two of the 45 watt Harbor Freight Models. Remember, this type of installation requires a skilled electrician.

Even if you are using a simple extension cord for a small power application, keep in mind you are dealing with electricity and the risk of getting shocked or a fire hazard exists if done improperly. Read all the instructions that come with the kit you purchase and seek professional advice if you are in doubt. This system offers a low cost entry level solar alternative that produces usable power without draining your wallet.

Dan Rojas

This easy system is affordable and there is no need to take out a 2nd mortgage:-)
Urban Sustainable Living
Buy One Now!

Garden Girl T-shirts are made out of Organic Cotton, Bamboo and Hemp featuring inspirational garden quotes. Spread the message of sustainable living everywhere you go.

Suggested Retail Price:

For Sale at North Haven Garden Center in Dallas, Texas, and Gardener's Supply in Burlington, VT, Thayer Nurseries in Milton, Mass, and Van Atta's Flower Shop in Haslett, MI
Goat City girl to Country Gal, a transformation in progress

By Josephine Howland

I've been a city girl most of my life. I grew up just south of Boston, went to college in Boston, and spent seven years in NYC before moving back to Boston in 1987. Since I was very young, I dreamed about "living off the land" in NH. As a child we spent summer vacations in Randolph NH. There, we hiked the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, swam in the frigid rivers and I loved it!

My family always had a large vegetable garden. We learned young about compost piles and to treasure each issue of Organic Gardening. My mother, a dressmaker by trade, made our clothes and also canned a variety of produce that came from the garden. Whether it was a patio tomato in NYC or a small 2 x 5 plot inside Boston City limits a garden always made me feel at home.

Now, at 51 I'm getting closer to my dream. I live on 13.3 of mostlyforested acreage in NH dubbed Moose Hollow Farm. I have 23 chickens, 2 Nigerian dwarf goats, 3 cats and of course the more than occasional Moose wandering through the yard. I have grown vegetables and herbs each year since I've been here and hope to expand my garden this spring.

My pantry is stocked with jelly and jam made from the wild berries gathered on my property, relish my 81 year old Mom and I canned, even home canned local pears. The freezer is full from our chickens, local produce, and meat from local farmers, and wild game. If I wish to bake a pie I can go to the freezer and choose, pumpkin or maybe apple's all there, all homegrown or local. My windowsill has fresh herbs to cut, and the chickens give me fresh eggs every day.

I am working towards being as self-sufficient as possible, including raising as much of our own food and working from the farm. There is a bucket of homemade laundry detergent near the washer. I am also in mid process of converting an old camp on my property into my sewing shop offering alterations and custom sewing and gift items I create.

I feel strongly that wherever you live, having control of where your food comes from will help you to save money, eat healthier, and avoid unwanted additives. Whether you choose to eat meat or not is up to you, but if you do eat meat, and are able to raise your own, or buy locally raised meat it truly is healthier for you, your community, and the planet. Here, no food goes to waste, as we pre-compost most kitchen scraps by feeding it to the goats or chicken, then use their waste in the garden.

I also enjoy giving new life to what others think of as trash. I built a goat shelter out of pallets; the chickens live in an old bob (ice fishing) house. I often transform castoff clothing items into usable items, or give new life to a piece of furniture by recovering it. Reduce, reuse, recycle, is about more than saving empty soda cans. Its amazing how proud of yourself you will be when you rewire that old lamp, or make a pillow out of an old skirt. Why spend hard earned money on poorly made plastic when you can repurpose something you already have, get at a yard sale or thrift store and end up with something so much better, with your own personal stamp? If you can't do it yourself, try to find someone who can. You'll still be repurposing the item, and helping the local economy and reducing waste while you're at it. Now, I think this nearly self-sufficient woman will go make a quiche with some of those fresh eggs I just gathered and chives from the windowsill. Won't you join me?

A Great Beginner Spinning Project By Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl

Did you know that you would freeze to death before you starve to death? Well maybe you've never thought about it that way, but people throughout history thought a lot about it. Making clothing took up a large amount of women's time and up until the 50's many people still made their own clothing. Now out clothing comes from China or India. My mom made a lot of her clothing growing up and taught me how to knit and my grand mother taught me how to crochet. I love making quilts, but my favorite hobby is spinning and knitting. It is an essential part of my life. In these videos, I go through the process of making a garter stitch scarf with hand spun yarn. It's a great beginner project. My favorite part of a project like this is spinning the wool in a random pattern.

Enjoy and support your local fiber farm by purchasing your wool and yarn products from them.
Click here to watch the videos!

Ron Plans Ahead! by Ron Smith

One project that is needed is a larger firewood shed. It has become painfully evident this winter that we don't have enough dry wood storage space. That means wood gathering in the dead of winter, not a fun task! Since woodburning is one of the things that has worked out well here for comfort and utility cost reduction, it will be a priority project. The tentative plan now is to build a 16' x 5' shed w/tin roof.

The next project will be doubling the size of our garden. We plan on planting roughly a 250 sq. ft. area. As it stands now we will be planting sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and onions. We have installed two 4'x4' raised beds. One has spices already planted in it and the other will be for onions. We have two compost bins in operation and hope to get some product to use this spring. We also planted a blueberry bush this fall and mulched it with pine needles, a tip Garden Girl had on one of her videos! We put in a shelf in front of a patio door to use as a plant starter area. We have been gathering containers to use for this purpose that would otherwise have went to the trash...another tip learned from a Garden Girl clip.

We also plan on trying our hand at water harvesting with a rain barrel next year. We found plans on the internet that seem fairly simple and much cheaper than buying one ready made. Another way to cut a utility bill! We have several alt. energy projects planned and hope to move forward on those. It seems our investment in an alternative energy system is paying off, last night as I was composing this letter we had a power outage and I lost my work! So I turned on my system and was able to have lights and heat from my wood burner until bedtime. Talk about good timing!

My wife thought at first, I had lost it when I started the solar installation in our yard but when situations like last night happen , I am the king of our castle! I have noticed the price of solar panels have dropped from about four dollars per watt down to about $2.58 recently. Another solar panel might just be in this year's plan. Have fun and enjoy! Ron Smith
by: Mark Highland

In the depths of winter when days are short and nights are long, I keep my mind occupied with daydreams of spring moments in the garden. Planting the first rows of carrots, watching crocus bloom, even pulling the first weed of the year holds a special place in time as Mother Nature awakens from winter slumber.

My garden is in West Chester, Pennsylvania. A Zone 6 for all you science types out there. Like many gardeners on the East Coast, my garden is currently covered by a few inches of snow. The garden
was "put to bed" last November after the last summer veggies were removed. My garden soil is currently sleeping under that snow, waiting for spring to emerge and temperatures to rise. In spring, the sun warms the soil and activates the hibernating soil biology; the "good bugs" that live in the soil, help recycle nutrients, and protect plant roots.

Let's talk soil science for a minute. For every ten degree rise in temperature, cellular reactions increase two-fold. This means the warmer the soil, the faster the soil biology will move about, consume and recycle nutrients, and interact with plant roots. This phenomenon is why raised beds are preferred in northern areas with shorter growing seasons. For those of us in the middle or south, raised beds improve drainage and jump start the growing season by a week or two.

The growing season begins after soil temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Plants adapted to thrive in cooler climates begin growing before those adapted to warmer climates. This is why we sow spinach or beets in early spring, but wait until Mother's Day to plant tomato or pepper starts in the garden. The vast majority of plants need soil temperatures above 50 degrees F before roots start growing. The exception to the rule is hardy evergreen plants, adapted to grow all year long. However, in the veggie garden, plant growth grinds to a stop after the first few hard freezes.

Bare soil freezes faster than soil covered with living plants. Cover crops like winter rye or oats make a protective mat on th
e soil surface to slow the rate of soil cooling. Here in PA, I sow seeds underneath fall veggies about 60-45 days before the first frost date. Cover crops are turned over into the garden in spring, adding choice organic matter to feed the soil microbiology. Use your shovel to dig and turn over cover crops about 14 days before planting time to allow the fresh organic matter to decompose into the soil.

So how can you prepare for spring? Continue flipping through seed catalogs, dog-earing pages, dreaming of summer sun and ripe tomatoes. The soil will continue hibernating until we have enough hours of sunlight to wake the soil from winter slumber. My advice to speed things up, besides cover cropping and raised beds, is to wait on applying mulch to garden beds until soil temperatures
reach at least 65 degrees F. Small soil thermometers cost about ten dollars and are found in many greenhouse supply catalogs.

These suggestions for increasing the productivity of your veggie garden require a little work, but beautiful soil is worth every minute of maintenance. You will thank me later when your harvest doubles from building raised beds, sowing cover crops, and mulching at appropriate times. So keep day-dreaming and be ready to kick-start next season when the soil thaws and comes to life!

Don't forget to visit

How to test your garden soil:

How to make compost tea:

Please continue to share my videos and website with everyone. Click here to go to my YouTube Channel where you can see over 90 videos from Garden Girl TV. Don't forget to rate the videos, comment on the videos, and subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you'll know right away when a new video is available for viewing. Thank you all again, from the sustainable home front. And don't forget it all began in a garden...

Urban Sustainable Living

Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl

Urban Sustainable Living

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