Top Ten Gardening Tools
Top Ten Gardening Tools
Whether you are a seasoned gardener, or just getting started, you will need a few tools to help you along the way. These tools make our life as gardeners easier. Here is my top 10 list of necessary items.
America’s Best Polycarbonate Greenhouse
If any of you are surprised by this I don’t know why. I absolutely love greenhouses. Now, this may not be in the budget for some, and actually it may not even be an absolute necessity. But, a greenhouse is valuable in a couple of different ways. You can start your vegetable seeds for your garden in a small greenhouse. But, if this is not viable for your circumstances you can start your seeds indoors. If you have a large enough greenhouse you can grow your own vegetables all year long if it is set up properly.
2)A mini cultivator or small roto tiller:
You may need to rent or borrow a large tiller for the first time through your garden. I highly recommend a rear tine tiller for this job. It is smoother to run and just seems to get the job done better and faster than a front tine tiller. But, once you get your garden established I find that a mini tiller will do the job for you. They will aerate your soil and remove weeds at the same time. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver. Also, these are great to use working in raised garden beds. You can get them turned in a tight space.
This is pretty self explanatory. If you are going to “dig in the dirt” you just have to have a shovel. Try to get one that fits you best. I am only 5′ tall and find that many of the shovels have handles that are just too long for me to handle easily. I would recommend going to a local garden center and trying them on for size!
You absolutely must have your ground leveled before you plant your garden. Once you have done your digging or tilling level it out with a rake. This also helps to remove any stones or debris that you may have missed. I recommend this Bully Tools rake. It has a fiberglass handle and steel tines. Besides that, these are Made in America. Talk about a win/win.
5) A set of hand tools:
These should include a cultivator, a weed fork, a transplanter, and a trowel. The cultivator will break up the surface of the garden bed. This will aerate, help in the conservation of moisture and will help control weeds. The weed fork will help by loosening, lifting and turning over the soil in your garden. The transplanter will help you find the correct depth for planting. Garden trowels are used for digging holes for bulbs, small plants, etc. They can also be used in weeding.
Of course you will need something to transport all of your lovely vegetables once your garden is growing. This trug does double duty as a carrier and as a colander to rinse off your veggies.
7)Frost Free Hydrant:
You will need a water source close to your garden. We use frost free hydrants for all of our outdoor watering needs. These are buried to a level below your local frost line. No need to worry about faucets freezing and breaking. Of course you will want to disconnect any hoses in freezing weather. A sprinkling can is a nice tool to have as well.
This is the perfect way to preserve many of your crops. We have owned our 9 shelf dehydrator for about 20 years now. We have tried many different things, some successes, some failures. One thing that I love to dehydrate is strawberries. I cut them in slices (too thin according to my husband). Once they are dehydrated I eat them like candy. And just think how much healthier that is than grabbing a chocolate bar. We have dehydrated bananas (bought on sale, not grown), carrots, parsnips and tomatoes with huge success. We actually take our dehydrated principe borghese (Italian heirloom) tomatoes and grind them in a coffee grinder.
We then put the powder in our tomato sauce to thicken it. Actually for our tomato sauce we just put our tomatoes in our Vitamix and pulse. Failures in dehydrating were eggplant (it just kind of dissolves when you reuse) and zuchinni (it doesn’t really have any taste although we tried salting them and eating them like chips which wasn’t too bad).
9)Gloves, Nail Brush and Lotion:
Ladies, you will probably appreciate this more than the men. I have a tendency not to wear gloves to garden. They just seem to impede me. So, my new best friend is my nail brush. I have come out of the garden too many times with dirt under my nails and gotten some really weird looks. Yeah, I wash my hands, this is honest dirt. Anyway, I find that non gardeners just don’t understand, so to my nail brush I go. Also, nothing will smooth out your hands like Bag Balm. I found this by mistake when I was raising Nubian Goats. I loved my girls and guys. This was an essential for the new mommas. But, as I was smoothing it on them, I found that my dry hands felt really great. They even have it in tubes now. I haven’t tried them yet, but I am going to get some and try it. I have always used the product in the tin.
10)A Garden Cart:
I love working in my garden just as much as the next person. But, there are times when you just need to sit down for a minute. These rolling tractor seats are perfect with their under the seat storage. They are good for picking, planting, weeding or just contemplating life in the garden.
These are my top ten. Of course everyone will find that their own top ten is probably a little bit different. A lot of what you need depends on how you garden. Raised garden beds will have different set of tools than a standard garden bed. Just experiment with different tools until you find the one that works the best for you. The most important thing is to get out there and get digging in the dirt and have fun!
Planning Your Garden
Planning Your Garden. You can’t start too early.
That’s me and my Dad. I doubt if we were doing much planning at that point. Looks like we were just trying to get our shovels in the dirt. Dad is gone, my hair is gray, but he has instilled a lifelong love of gardening in my soul. I have pretty much always had a garden, even at houses where I rented. I had great landlords. I think we should all go out and motivate a child to get started gardening…..today. Yep, let’s do this today. It will be the best gift we could give them. All of that being said, let’s get into the subject of planning a garden.
1) Keep it simple.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Don’t burn yourself out with too large of a space. Or, plants that need special care. Stay with the standard veggies that you see in your small hometown grocery store…lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs etc. If you go too big at first and get too many plants with special needs, you are heading for failure. If you are experimenting with new veggies, try a few plants at first. There is no sense having a bumper crop of tomatillos to find out that you don’t like tomatillos. Then what do you do? Throw them out? Give them to your neighbors? Just try one or two plants of new vegetables.
2) Learn Your Zone
This should really be first. It is THE most important piece of knowledge in gardening. This dictates what you can grow and when you should grow it. If you are a first time gardener you will have to learn that carrots and tomatoes grow at different times of year. Learn your zone, learn when to plant. Here is a link to the USDA zones chart.
3) Figure out how many plants you need. If you are going to start your own tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, etc start them about 6 – 8 weeks before you will plant them in the ground. If you are new to gardening, it is probably a good idea to buy your plants at least the first year. No sense adding an extra layer of stress. This is a neat little tool I found online. Use the how much to plant calulator. It tells you how many plants of each crop you need for whatever size your family is.
4) Pick your perfect garden spot. This should be an area that has at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you only have a shady spot you will probably not be able to grow some of the crops you want. Make sure that you have enough space to plant the plants that you have calculated that you need.
5) Decide on what type of garden you are going to plant. Are you going with raised beds? Maybe a lasagne garden, maybe vertical gardening, or maybe just a good old fashion dig in the dirt standard garden bed. Maybe you are in a limited space and will need to start with container gardening. They will all work. Just figure out what is best for you.
6) Gather your tools. If you are doing a standard gardening, or even raised garden beds, you will probably need a tiller. We have been using a rear tine tiller for years. They are a lot easier to operate that a front tine tiller. Or, you may have a space small enough that you can dig it up with a good shovel. You will want a rake, a trowel, a hose or irrigation system, a timer for your irrigation, garden trellises or support for your climbing plants. Make sure that you have a water source nearby. You don’t want to be carrying buckets of water to your garden. And, nobody likes to drag water hoses hundreds of feet, especially me. (That is a pet peeve in case you didn’t notice. I can’t stand dragging a water hose behind me.Grrr)
7) Work your soil. You need to work your soil when it is moist, not wet. You want it to be dry enough that it will crumble easily when you squeeze it. Turn it over at least 12″ deep. Add 2 – 3 inches of compost and turn it into your bed. Cover it with a thick layer of natural mulch, or with plastic garden mulch if that is the way you are going to garden. Be sure to put your irrigation system down first if you are using plastic garden mulch. You may want to have your soil tested. To do this you can go to your local extension office and get a container. You then take a sample and return it to them. They will give you a report with recommendations on what amendments you need to add to your soil.
8) Figure out how you are going to use your vegetables. Are you going to only eat fresh? Or, are you going to preserve some vegetables for the winter? We do a lot of preserving, so our garden is way bigger than necessary for 2 people. We can, we dehydrate, we freeze. We keep and use our veggies all year long. I will discuss how we do this in later posts. Or, if you want fresh veggies all of the season you may want to do succession planting. This is waiting a couple of weeks and planting the same crop in a different spot in the garden. Once the first crop gives out you will be harvesting from the new plants. Be sure to allow room for this if you are going to grow this way.
9) Network. Go to the garden shows. See if you can find the booths manned by the Master Gardeners. They will be able to answer all kinds of questions for you. Go to your local extension office. They may have fliers and information for free that you will find useful.
10) Have fun. This is not a do or die situation. It is a learning curve. Remember, we all have our failures. Even seasoned gardeners. I lost all of my zucchini plants last year after harvesting one or two plants. My neighbor lost his also. We still don’t know why this happened. Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. And don’t forget the bugs that are not on your side. This is just part of gardening. When we run into an obstacle we try to overcome it. Don’t let this be a deterrent to you. Get out in the sun and get a garden planted. Your mind and soul will thank you. Not to mention your body being grateful for real honest to goodness food. Get out there and get growing.
Container Gardening is for Everyone!
Growing Food in Plant Pots
Dreaming of fresh vegetables? Picked right outside your door? Or maybe you would prefer some fresh fruit? You may think that this is not possible where you live, but container gardening may be the answer for you. There are a surprising number of plants that will do well in planters. Maybe you live in an apartment with only a small balcony. Maybe you are renting a house and the landlord won’t let you dig a garden. Or, maybe you just want to be able to walk outside your door and pick your favorite herb while you are cooking. Then container gardening may just be what you need.
What is it?
Container gardening is simply growing plants in buckets, specialty containers, troughs, elevated planters, window boxes, strawberry pots, hydroponic systems, etc. You are really only limited by your imagination on this. Just be sure that there is a hole in the bottom of the plant pots for good drainage. If you let your plants sit in water they will die. Out of room? Grow Vertically!
What do I need?
To get started you will need a few items.
- Containers – these can be just about anything as previously discussed. But, one important factor is the size. Consider the size of the plant when it is in production. It is all but impossible to transplant a grown plant into a larger pot successfully. Are you going to try tomatoes? Make sure to have at least a 24 – 30 inch container. Maybe you are going for radishes and carrots. Make sure your pot is deep enough. Lettuce will grow nicely in a nursery flat or similar container. As I was writing this post I was thinking about a nice strawberry pot I used to have next to my kitchen door. I filled it up with cooking herbs. There is a local nursery that specializes in all sorts of herbs, with lots of variegated varieties. This makes for a beautiful container. Later in the spring I am going to go get some and plant them. I will make a post and a video about this later.
- Soil – It is best not to dig up dirt from your backyard to place in a container. For the beginner I would suggest going to your local nursery to see what they have available. Be sure to tell them you are going to be growing in a container. A lot of places will have a mix by the tractor bucketful, or less if needed. If they don’t recommend their mix for containers they will probably have a bag of soil that they think is good for your purposes. For those of you who are more advanced, you can mix up your own favorite mixture using peat, vericulite, compost, bark, etc.
- Fertilizer – To save time and effort later on, it is OK to use a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote when planting. If you prefer you can water with a dilute fertilizer solution with every other watering.
- Location – Pick the sunniest location that you can. Also, you want to keep in mind if there is a lot of wind in the location. Try to protect your plants from harsh winds. Containers will dry out a lot faster than plants in the ground, especially in heavy winds. Not to mention the damage to your plants, fruits and vegetables. If you have pots that have plants on both sides, such as a strawberry pot, you may want to place the container on some sort of turning mechanism. I find that an old lazy susan works well, as long as it is heavy enough to hold the pot you are using. That way you can rotate the plants to the sun.
- Plants or seeds – You may have started your own seedlings, or you may have purchased plants that are ready to go into your planters. Some vegetables can be started from seeds. I would definitely start the fast growing plants such as lettuce and radishes directly in my container. If you are buying fruit trees, be sure that they are labeled for container growing.
What can I grow?
There are a whole lot more options today than there used to be. As with any planting, make sure you are putting your plants in at the proper time of year. Also, make sure that the variety you are getting can be grown in your zone. Don’t know your zone? That is rule 1 of gardening – know your growing zone. Check it out here if you are not sure.
- Blueberries – These are my favorite.
- Strawberries – although I prefer to grow these in the ground due to the runners.
- Fruit trees – There are many different types of fruit trees for containers.
- Carrots – I prefer the shorter varieties for containers.
- Lettuce – This is so simple to grow, and it produces within 65 days or so. I prefer the loose leaf rather than the head lettuce for this purpose.
- Potatoes – There are special containers for growing these.
- Tomatoes – There are also special containers for growing these.
- Herbs – Basil, Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Parsley, Rosemary, etc, etc
- Green Onions – Sometimes referred to as scallions.
- Garlic – I grew a bumper crop of garlic in window planters last year.
- Radishes – These are typically ready in just over a month. Don’t crowd them.
- Peppers – Be sure to have some support for these plants.
- Squash – Although due to the sprawling nature of these plants I prefer the garden. Make sure to use a larger container.
- Edible Flowers – Calendula and Nasturtiums are 2 that come to mind. Plus you get the added benefit of color from the blooms.
In closing, don’t let your location discourage you from growing your own food. Even the smallest balcony will hold a couple of plants. For those of you with no balcony, we will be discussing growing your veggies inside in a later post. Because we believe you can “grow your own food anywhere”.
Top 10 Reasons to Garden with Raised Beds
10 Raised Garden Benefits
We learned our lesson about raised bed gardening the first year we moved to South Louisiana. It is more of a necessity there, rather than an option. We were so happy. We rented a little house out in the country. We borrowed a tiller. My husband worked the ground. We leveled it, marked our rows and planted our seeds, just like we did it in Ohio. A couple of days later we had a torrential rain. My husband just stood looking out the back door watching all of his hard work being washed out. One of our new neighbors stopped by after the rain ended. He wanted to know when we were going to make our rows. We said here are the stakes and there is the string marking the rows. He was very patient with us. He said “no, your raised rows”. What? We didn’t know anything about that. Instead of just standing there laughing, he went home and got his high wheel cultivator and made the rows (aka hills) for us. We had a bumper crop that year due to his generosity. Of course, even if you live in better drained areas, there are many reasons to choose a raised garden bed over a standard garden space. I have listed just a few of the reasons below.
- Raised Garden Beds typically take less space for the same amount of yield. In other words, you can grow 10 tomato plants in less space in a raised garden bed than they would take being planted in typical garden rows in the ground. Less space used equals less space to maintain.
- Raised garden beds are easier to maintain than a typical garden, due to the smaller space. They are easier to keep weeded. The pathways are easier to maintain.
- You are not walking on your soil, so you are not compacting it. Plants like to be in soil that is light and airy, rather than densely packed soil. Also, you can decorate your walkways in a variety of ways. You can use pavers, ground cover, sand, or a combination of these. You can match your outdoor space by using the same pavers that you have in other areas of your yard.
- I am not a lazy gardener, but I do like to sit on the side of the beds and pick sometimes. It sure makes my back feel better. Plus, I can take a minute and just sit there and enjoy myself.
- You don’t really need a large tiller. We do have a rear tine tiller that we work our soil with occasionally, but we also have a small tiller that is an attachment for our weed eater handle. This is small and makes pretty simple and quick work of tilling a raised bed.
- A raised bed will be easier to fence around if you have rabbits and deer in your yard. I have even seen pictures of small raised bed gardens with fencing over the top of it also. If you have a small dog or puppy, you can raise the bed sides higher to keep them out. Also, if you want to use a cold frame, or season extender over the bed, it is much easier to install and use.
- You can build one on your porch or patio. There are a lot of crops that can be grown in containers, but some of the larger crops just do better in a bed. One I can think of off the top of my head would be a zucchini plant. They sprawl out everywhere.
- Finally, for all of you scavengers out there – this is the perfect place to recycle materials. You may be able to find used lumber, blocks, bricks, etc around your property to build the beds. There is no need to spend a bunch of money on new materials.
- It is easy to install plastic garden mulch over a raised bed. We use a drip irrigation system under the mulch, and we put the irrigation system on a timer. The mulch will help cut down on evaporation. Even in the heat of the summer at 100 degrees we only water for 15 minutes every other day.
- You can garden in a raised bed inside a greenhouse as well as out in nature.
In conclusion, we have been gardening in a raised bed for about 30 years now. We have moved from South Louisiana to North Louisiana. We may be able to get by with a regular garden, but we have just become so used to the raised beds. And, you can see all of the advantages that I have listed above. Even if you decide not to use a raised garden bed, be sure to get something growing in some dirt somewhere.
I admit it. I do not do well during the short, dark, cold days of winter. I so look forward to the spring every year. That’s why seed starting day is a day I relish in. To me it is the first sign that spring is just around the corner. The dark days of winter will soon be gone. Here is the way we start our seeds.
1. Gather your necessary items
Those would include:
Seeds, soil, a shallow tray or bucket to moisten your soil. a tray to place your plants in, a propagation mat, jiffy pots, plant stakes and a permanent marker, vented humidity dome, and a lamp if you are starting indoors.
Seed Starting Kit
Seeds – should be for this year, although I store my seeds in the refrigerator in a baggie, and I have used seeds as old as 10 years and gotten germination (sprouting). Of course the germination rate may not be as high as with fresh seeds, but I don’t like to throw anything away. I just plant extra seeds when planting. You should also make sure that you are planting the proper seeds for the season you are planting.
Soil- I use a good grade of potting soil. The one I have been using for the past couple of years is a natural and organic seed starting mix. You will need a bucket to work the soil with some water before planting. If you don’t do this the water will just sit on the top of the soil and not penetrate it at all.
Tray – You should have some sort of shallow tray to place your seeds in for watering.
Propagation mat – I suppose if one thing on this list would be desirable rather than completely necessary, this would be it. I always use a propagation mat under my seeds. It will warm the soil and assist the germination rate (how many seeds sprout) and also give you healthier seedlings.
Jiffy Pots – These are available at just about any garden center. These are made from compressed peat. They are biodegradable, so you plant the entire pot. I remove the bottom of the pot when planting. I usually just throw it in the hole since it is biodegradable. The great part about these is that you are not disturbing your roots.
Plant Stakes and a Permanent Marker – There is nothing more frustrating than planting a seed, watching it grow, picking your vegetables and saying “What variety of tomato is this? I would really like to plant it again.” Be sure to mark your plants and be sure to use a permanent marker.
Vented Humidity Dome – This also assists in the germination of the seeds. It will help to keep the humidity higher. This can be removed once all of the seeds have germinated.
Lamp or Lighting – We use fluorescent lighting with wide spectrum lamps. They don’t produce any heat, so they can be close to your seedlings without damaging them. As a rule of thumb these should be placed 2 – 6″ above your plants. You can start out as low as an inch. Monitor your plants to make sure they are not getting burned. If you find they are too warm, move your lamps up slightly. This is where a stand with an adjustable height is really nice. Also, as your plants grow, you are going to want to be able to raise your lights to meet the height of the plants.
2. Make sure that all of your items are clean and ready to use. If you are reusing soil, it should be sterilized before use. For the homeowner, most will start with new soil. You will probably be reusing some of the items such as your tray and your bucket. Just make sure that everything is good and clean. This will help to cut down on disease. You may even want to use a really dilute bleach solution to rinse the items before use.
3. Moisten your soil – You should take the amount of soil you think you will need and place it in a clean bucket or container of some type. Mix in water in small amounts until you come up with a crumbly consistency. Place your moistened soil in your jiffy pots up to the rim of the pot.
4. Plant your seeds – I like to place 2 to 3 seeds in each pot. Some recommend only placing one seed per pot. I think that the cost of the seeds is so low that I would rather not take a chance on that being the one seed that will not germinate.
5. Mark your seeds – Do this as you are going, pot by pot. We have not bought any markers for years. We have an old mini blind that we use. We just take the slats apart, clean them good and cut them into marker sizes. There is nothing wrong with recycling here.
6. Place your heat mat in your tray and place your jiffy pots on the heat mat. I use a simple basic heat mat without a thermostat. There are heat mats available with a thermostat if you want to be able to set your heat to a specific temperature. Plug in your mat.
7. Place the humidity dome over the tray. Keep an eye on this. You don’t want to get too damp of conditions. A dome with an adjustable vent is preferred. This will be removed once the seedlings have germinated.
8. Turn on your lights – Now is the time to turn on your lights. I have mine on a timer. I set them to come on at 5 AM and go off at 8PM. Be sure to monitor the height of the lamps as your seedlings grow.
Finally, for the best seedlings you should follow these rules.
1. Plant at the proper time. Plant about 6 weeks before your last frost date. If you are not sure of this you make be able to get a vegetable guide from your local extension office. If you are not sure where your local extension office is just search for extension office, my town.
2. Don’t over or under water your plants. If you are not sure of this, watch your plants. If they start to shrivel, they probably need more water. The soil just be damp to the touch only. I like to water from the bottom. I find that it is gentler on these young plants. I just fill up the bottom of my tray and watch to see that the water is taken up at a reasonable rate. If I see that the water is sitting in the bottom of the tray I will dump it out.
3. Watch your lights. Make sure that you are moving them up with your plants.
4. Harden your seedlings off. Your plants have been inside and not exposed to wind or the harsh sunlight. You will want to take the tray outside for about 7 – 10 days before you plant them. Place them in a well protected, semi shady location at first for a brief period of time. I start with about an hour. Then, gradually move them to a less protected spot for a longer period of time. This will help strengthen them and get them used to being in a wind. Make sure to keep them watered well at this point. Once you are done with the hardening off, you are ready to plant.
We couldn’t agree more!!!