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Why it is worth going the extra mile to get heirloom seeds for your garden

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Sowing heritage seeds can result in better flavour, a true connection with nature and hope for the future, expert Ellen Ecker Ogden explains. Hannah Stephenson reports.

By Hannah Stephenson
Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 4:45 pm
Source: Yorkshire Post
Feature Photo Source: Unsplash, Markus Spiske

When we can buy so many vegetable and flower seeds designed to give us great harvests, why would we want to search harder, and possibly spend more, for heirloom varieties?

Conservation of edibles that may have been grown by your grandparents, feeling more connected to nature and being aware that the seed you are sowing hasn’t been tampered with, is all part of it, says garden lecturer Ellen Ecker Ogden, author of The New Heirloom Garden, a guide to having a beautiful and self-sufficient garden, in which she shares the secrets of heritage vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

“Many of the best tasting fruits and vegetables are heirloom varieties because often the breeding companies have been breeding for a bigger, better, taller, stronger, disease-resistant plant, and have not been paying attention to what cooks really want in terms of flavour,” says Ecker Ogden, who is a keen cook herself.

As the need for responsible, ethical growing continues to nip at the consciences of gardeners, some are moving towards a more organic approach by selecting seeds that haven’t been genetically modified to make the harvest more uniform and disease-resistant.

F1 hybrid seeds, the ones so many of us buy, are produced through the manual cross-pollination of two related parent plants that offer particular growing traits. For instance, one parent may taste great while the other might produce large fruits and from that, breeders can produce a seed which, when grown, will possess both traits. However, in future years, saved seeds from hybrid plants may produce different results in either taste or appearance, so it may not be worth saving the seed.

“It may be inconsistent,” says Ecker Ogden. “It may not germinate at all and it can cross pollinate so easily.”

Heirloom seeds are open pollinated, meaning they’ve been pollinated naturally by insects, birds and the wind. They cross pollinate randomly, so you may have a different result in subsequent years, but you are letting nature take its course. Also, they may develop a natural tolerance for regional conditions, she notes.

The work that goes into hybridisation to cross-match beneficial traits of two parent plants is time-consuming and costly. So unless the heritage seed is extremely rare, you shouldn’t be paying more for it, notes Ecker Ogden. And you can cut your seed bill year on year by saving seeds from your heritage plants, she observes.Ecker Ogden says they generally taste better.

“Carrots, for example, used to be sweeter than they are now. Today, they are bred to have really strong tops so they can be mechanically harvested, and a lot of the flavour from the roots has been taken away in order to increase the productivity,” says Ecker Ogden. “Tomatoes are the biggest example. Most people who grow tomatoes in my region will grow some heirlooms which aren’t necessarily as disease-resistant as some of the hybrids, but better flavour comes from ‘Brandywine’, ‘Big Rainbow’ and ‘Green Zebra’.”

Keeping history alive is all part of it as we grow vegetables enjoyed by previous generations, Ecker Ogden adds.

“A lot of these heirloom seeds have been handed down and they get stories around them and you can research the heritage. It creates a curiosity of wanting to know the story behind the seed, creating a sense of longevity,” she says.

“It’s about the cycle of life. When you have a seed you’ve put in the ground, seen it grow and then save the seed for the following year, you are creating that connection with your garden that takes it to a higher level.”

What will you be planting this season? Why are heirloom seeds so important? What would you like to know about the types of seeds available?

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Looking toward spring: how to start seeds

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook
  • BY Alena Steen
  • Feb 12, 2021 Updated Feb 12, 2021
  •  Source: Coastal View

Starting seeds directly in garden soil is the simplest way to get a spring garden started. Make sure to label what and where you’ve planted to avoid surprises.

  • Joel Patterson

These large purple and black podded scarlet runner beans are delicious both fresh and dry, and one of the most beautiful seeds around. Beans are very easy to start from seed once the weather warms: Wait until mid to late May to plant out on the coast. Beans are also very easy to save for seed for next year’s crop. Simply allow beans to dry in their pods in the fall until they rattle, then remove the beans and store in a sealed glass jar or paper bag for next spring.

  • Alena Steen

Seeds come in all shapes, sizes and colors, from the tiniest specks of white sand which are chamomile and lettuce seeds to thick and robust pumpkin seeds and corn kernels. All seeds, no matter how tiny, contain a combination of genetic material from two parent plants. For as long as plants and humans have co-existed, humans have worked with the variability and diversity of plants’ genetic inheritances to create different varieties (or cultivars) of a plant, such as a more vibrant or fragrant flower, tastier pepper or cold-tolerant tomato.

Seeds contain genetic memory in the form of a plant embryo encased in a tough seed coat. Many seed coats are designed to facilitate one of several methods of mechanical dispersal away from the parent plant to reduce competition and increase the plant’s range. Depending on their structure, seeds can be wind-borne, snagged and carried along in an animal’s fur coat, dispersed and buried by foraging birds, awakened by wildfire or carried along in river or ocean currents to distant shores. Many of our tastiest fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, tomatoes, melons, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants evolved to tempt passing birds and mammals to eat their sweet fruit and deposit seeds in the ground as scat. 

Starting plants from seed is the simplest way to garden. You don’t need any special equipment other than a packet of seeds and some loose dirt rich in organic material. My method for direct seeding is to loosen compacted soil with a spading fork or shovel before layering about an inch and a half of homemade compost on top of the soil. I plant directly into the compost, which creates a weed-free seed bed full of fertility where seeds are quick to germinate. 

If you are planting a larger area, it’s easiest to dig a shallow furrow to plants seeds and then gently cover them with soil to the appropriate depth. In a smaller space, you can also simply tuck each individual seed into the soil. The general rule of thumb is to plant seeds twice as deep as they are large, though seed packets typically have a more precise suggestion. There are also several types of seed which should not be buried, since they rely on direct sunlight for germination. This is true mostly of certain types of cut flowers, and those directions should be clear on the seed packet.

Once you’ve dug your furrows or tucked seeds into the ground, it’s important to press the ground firmly to slightly compact the surface. Firm seed to soil contact is an important trigger for germination. As you wait for seeds to germinate, ensure the soil remains moist so that a thick crust does not form to inhibit germination. I gently water the soil surface every two to three days depending on temperature and cloud coverage. 

Once seeds have germinated (most veggies should take no more than a week, while certain cut flowers may take up to three weeks), it’s important to reduce watering to prevent soil-borne diseases and moisture-loving insect pests. Veggies and herbs that do well sown directly into garden soil this time of year include kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula, cilantro, dill, parsley, radishes, carrots, beets and turnips.

Many of our annual native flowers, as well as several cut flowers, germinate easily when broadcast on bare dirt just before rain for an effortless pollinator garden come spring. Flowers such as California poppy, phacelia, ornamental breadseed poppies, Queen Anne’s lace, love-in-a-mist and larkspur are all tough plants which grow quickly in cooler temperatures with some rainfall or supplemental hand watering. 

Another option is to start seeds indoors. This is a good choice if you have a lot of bird or insect pressure in your garden or are eager to increase the speed of veggie production, since seedlings often grow faster in a more controlled climate. The same techniques of seed depth, soil compaction and moisture retention apply. Make sure to choose a high-quality potting soil with enough fertility to ensure your seedlings a healthy life. My top choice is E.B. Stone Recipe 420 potting soil, which is certified organic and readily available at garden stores.

Some of my favorite sources for vegetable seeds with excellent germination rates and detailed growing instructions are Johnny’s Seeds, Siskiyou Seeds, Uprising Organics, Wild Garden Seeds and Plant Good Seed (based in Ojai). These are small to medium-scale growers saving and selecting seed on their farms and working toward a more diverse, sustainable and food-secure future. If you are curious to learn more about spring garden tasks such as building soil, preparing seeds beds and planting seeds or transplants, be sure to tune into the Garden’s upcoming Spring Gardening 101 Zoom class on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 10 a.m.

Alena Steen is coordinator of the Carpinteria Garden Park, an organic community garden located at 4855 5th St., developed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Community members rent a plot to grow their own fresh produce. For more information, visit carpinteriaca.gov/parks-and-recreation.

How will you start your seeds: in or outdoors? Last year the majority of our seeds began indoors. Select your space whether in or outdoors carefully. Where will your space be that you begin planting your seeds? Why did you choose that space?

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Biden’s climate change strategy looks to pay farmers to curb carbon footprint

PUBLISHED FRI, FEB 12 202111:47 AM EST
UPDATED FRI, FEB 12 20214:07 PM EST
Emma Newburger@EMMA_NEWBURGER
Source: CNBC

  • The Biden administration is looking to steer farm aid from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to encourage carbon emissions reductions on farms.
  • By adapting more “regenerative practices,” experts estimate that American farmers can sequester a large enough portion of emissions to avert a climate catastrophe.
  •  “If the government supports the farmers who are getting good results, everyone else will follow,” said a fourth generation cattle rancher.
Fourth generation cattle rancher Loren Poncia has made Stemple Creek Ranch carbon positive. He's implemented rotational cattle grazing systems that allow soil and grass to recover, applied compost on pastures and planted chicory that aerate the soil.
Source: CNBC
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Fourth generation cattle rancher Loren Poncia has made Stemple Creek Ranch carbon positive. He’s implemented rotational cattle grazing systems that allow soil and grass to recover, applied compost on pastures and planted chicory that aerate the soil.Courtesy of Paige Green

President Joe Biden has called on U.S. farmers to lead the way in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions to battle climate change — a goal fourth generation cattle rancher Loren Poncia set out to achieve over a decade ago.

Despite working in the beef sector, a big contributor to global warming, Poncia has transformed his Northern California ranch into one of the few carbon-positive livestock operations in the country.

“It’s a win-win — for the environment and for our pocketbook,” said Poncia, who adopted carbon farming practices through a partnership with the Marin Carbon Project.

Experts estimate that farmers across the world can sequester a large enough portion of carbon through regenerative agriculture practices to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Research suggests removing carbon already in the atmosphere and replenishing soil worldwide could result in a 10% carbon drawdown. The United Nations has warned that efforts to curb global emissions will fall short without drastic changes in global land use and agriculture.

Poncia’s ranch sequesters more carbon than it emits through practices like rotational cattle grazing systems that allow soil and grass to recover, applying compost instead of chemical fertilizers to pastures to avoid tilling, building worm farms and planting chicory to aerate the soil. Such climate-friendly projects have allowed Poncia to grow more grass and produce more beef.

“If we as a world are going to reverse the damage that’s been done, it’ll be through agriculture and food sustainability,” Poncia said. “We’re excited and positive about the future.”

While some farmers, ranchers and foresters have already embraced sustainable practices that capture existing carbon and store it in soil, others are wary of upfront costs and uncertain returns that could vary across states and farming operations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently said it would incentivize farmers to implement such sustainable practices. And more researchers and companies have started to better quantify and manage carbon that’s stored in the soil.

USDA push towards carbon farming

Battling climate change has become a matter of survival for American farmers, who have endured major losses from floods and droughts that have grown more frequent and destructive across the country.

In 2019, farmers lost tens of thousands of acres during historic flooding. And NASA scientists report that rising temperatures have driven the U.S. West into the worst decades-long drought ever seen in the past millennium.

In the U.S. alone, agriculture accounts for more than 10.5% of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, according to the estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

As a result, the Biden administration now wants to steer $30 billion in farm aid money from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to pay farmers to implement sustainable practices and capture carbon in their soil.

This Monday, March 18, 2019 file photo shows flooding and storage bins under water on a farm along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb.
Source: CNBC
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

This Monday, March 18, 2019 file photo shows flooding and storage bins under water on a farm along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb.AP Photo | Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Biden’s USDA Secretary of Agriculture nominee, Tom Vilsack, who has vowed to help meet Biden’s broader plan to reach a net-zero economy by 2050, said the money could go toward creating new markets that incentivize producers to sequester carbon in the soil.

Former President Donald Trump previously tapped those funds to bail out farmers harmed by his trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada that sent down commodity prices.

Using the CCC money to create a carbon bank might not require congressional approval, and agriculture lobbying groups are expected to persuade Congress to expand the fund.

“It is a great tool for us to create the kind of structure that will inform future farm bills about what will encourage carbon sequestration, what will encourage precision agriculture, what will encourage soil health and regenerative agricultural practices,” Vilsack said at his Senate confirmation hearing this month.

Vilsack, who spent eight years as President Barack Obama’s Agriculture secretary, has also asked Congress to have an advisory group of farmers to help build a carbon market and ensure that farmers receive the benefits.

The administration’s push to encourage carbon capture on farms could bolster an emerging market of on-farm emissions reductions and the technological advances that are helping growers improve soil health and participate in carbon trading markets.

An emerging market

Some farmers have started partnerships with nonprofit environmental and policy groups to work on environmental sustainability. The movement has seen increasing support from private companies, too.

Indigo Ag, a start-up that advocates for regenerative farming practices, said corporations like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Shopify have committed to purchasing agricultural carbon credits that help growers with transition costs.

Chris Harbourt, global head of carbon at Indigo Ag, said the company is working with growers to address financial barriers during the transition and provide education on implementing regenerative agriculture practices, like planting off-season cover crops or switching to no-till farming.

“Growers who adopt regenerative practices see benefits well beyond financial,” Harbourt said. “The soil is healthier and more resilient, which creates more opportunities for profitable years even when weather conditions are challenging.”

Erik Fyrwald, CEO of Syngenta, a Switzerland-based seed and crop protection company, said government policies need to provide proper incentives to farmers to accelerate the transition to regenerative agriculture.

“The incentives must be sufficient and reliable enough to give farmers the confidence to make the necessary investments to implement these practices on their farm,” Fyrwald said.

Poncia, who has received state funding twice from California’s Healthy Soils Program to implement sustainable practices on his ranch, said he hopes the administration can provide enough support for agricultural so other people can achieve similar results.

“The agriculture community wants to support this movement, but they need help, education and an ability to decrease risk,” Poncia said. “If the government supports the farmers who are getting good results, everyone else will follow.”

How can you support farmers? What information would you like to see on your food labels? How do you identify food from sustainable and nutritious sources? Foods purpose is to support the body and its functions: the give nutrition to the body.

Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

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The Basics of a Vegan Diet

By Alyssa Pike, RDFEBRUARY 7, 2019
Source: Food Insight

Source: Food Insight
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Highlights

– Vegan diets only include plant-based foods.

– Research has shown that vegan or vegetarian diets rich in plant-based foods are associated with lower LDL cholesterol, improved blood glucose and improved blood pressure.

– There are a few nutrients that individuals following a vegan diet should be mindful to get enough of, including vitamin B12, calcium, iron and certain omega-3 fatty acids.

The Basics

Vegan and vegetarian diets appear to be among the top food trends, but there is evidence that some people have been eating a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diet for centuries. However, it wasn’t until 1944 that the term “vegan” was coined. Essentially, individuals who follow a vegan diet have opted to remove all animal-based foods from their diet. Many choose vegan clothing, household items and personal care items as well. Most individuals who adopt a vegan diet are doing so for the perceived health benefits or to advocate for animal rights.

What Foods Make Up a Vegan Diet?

Vegan diets are made up of only plant-based foods. This type of diet includes fruits, vegetables, soy, legumes, nuts and nut butters, plant-based dairy alternatives, sprouted or fermented plant foods and whole grains. Vegan diets don’t include animal foods like eggs, dairy, meat, poultry or seafood. They also are devoid of animal byproducts such as honey (made by bees) and lesser-known animal-based ingredients like whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, carmine, shellac, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.

Veganism and Health

The foods emphasized in a vegan diet are rich in many nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and K, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Vegan diets have been studied for their impact on human health. Below are some highlights.

Research

One randomized controlled trial (RCT) examined the impact of a vegan, no-added-fat diet on cardiovascular risk in obese children with hypercholesterolemia and their parents. The results found that children and parents who had adopted this diet had lower total cholesterol, blood pressure and BMI compared to baseline. Another RCT found that vegan diets were associated with improved glycemic control compared to a conventional diabetes diet in individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Lastly, a 74-week RCT – albeit with a small sample size – found a low-fat vegan diet appeared to improve glycemia and plasma lipids more than a conventional diabetes diet. Larger and long-term follow up studies are needed to support these findings.

Health benefits of vegan diets have also been noted in observational studies. One systematic review of cross-sectional and prospective cohort studies reported lower body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol) and blood glucose levels in individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets compared to omnivores. The results of the studies specific to people on a vegan diet indicated that this eating pattern reduced the overall cancer risk by 15 percent. Although cross-sectional and cohort studies cannot prove cause and effect (as in, a vegan diet causes health benefits), these findings support the results of RCTs, which are considered to be the gold standard of research and are designed to demonstrate that an intervention (following a vegan diet) leads to an effect (health benefits).

Most of this research has garnered positive results. Still, understanding the specific effects of vegan diets on health remains challenging because research on this eating pattern is often grouped together with vegetarian or plant-based diets, both of which may include animal products.

Nutrients of Concern

While the vegan diet can be very nutrient-rich, there are a few nutrients to be particularly aware of when adopting this style of eating: most notably vitamin B12, calcium, certain omega-3 fatty acids and iron.

Vitamin B12 is important for metabolism, heart, nerve and muscle health and it’s mostly found in animal products. Those following a vegan diet should opt for foods fortified with B12. Moreover, individuals following a vegan diet should communicate with a health care provider about monitoring their levels of B12 and their potential need for a supplement, keeping in mind that a deficiency in B12 could take years to manifest on a blood test.

Calcium is essential for dental, nerve, bone and muscle health and it is best absorbed with vitamin D. This nutrient is found predominantly in dairy foods and in lesser amounts in leafy greens like kale and broccoli. It is also found in fortified foods, such as tofu, bread and plant-based dairy alternatives. A systematic review found that individuals following a vegan or vegetarian diet had lower bone mineral density and higher fracture rates. Because calcium and vitamin D are key to bone health, those on a vegan diet are advised to talk to their healthcare provider to determine whether a supplement may be necessary.

Iron is a vital component of metabolism and heart health. It is found mostly in animal foods. Although fortified whole grains, beans, lentils, spinach and other plant-based foods provide iron, it’s in the form of non-heme iron, which is not as bioavailable as the heme iron found in animal foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat shown to support cardiovascular health. The three most common types we eat are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in plant sources like flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, but EPA and DHA are found mainly in animal foods with the exception of some marine plant sources. ALA is converted by our bodies into EPA and DHA, but only in small quantities. Vegan options for EPA and DHA are microalgae and seaweed food products or supplements.

Interested in learning the basics of other food, nutrition and health topics? Check out our “What Is” series.

This article includes contributions by Kris Sollid, RD and Ali Webster, PhD, RD

Are you vegan? Have you considered becoming a vegan? Which cultures are traditionally and predominantly vegan?

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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOIL AND DIRT

Posted under Home Gardening by Nan Fischer on 
Source: Natures Path

Why do we garden in soil, yet when we wash it off our hands or out of our clothes, it is annoying dirt? How can one item have two definitions, one positive and one negative? Soil provides food, trees, shrubs, and flowers, but dirt is a nuisance remove. Yet they are the same thing!

The Soil Science Society of America defines dirt as ‘displaced soil’, which covers the scenario above, when you clean up after working in the garden. On a larger scale, think of how much soil gets displaced from a landslide and suddenly becomes dirt!

SOIL IS LIVING

Soil is alive with living organisms such as worms, fungi, insects, bacteria, and organic matter. It supports life with its naturally occurring nutrients and minerals, making it a perfect planting medium. It is a complete and self-sustaining ecosystem.

Sand, silt, clay, and organic matter make up soil. The different sized particles create texture and structure, which aid in aeration and drainage. Soil color shows its mineral content. Different soil types are described by their properties.

When this magnificent living thing called soil leaves the garden on your hands or clothes, it gets displaced and is now defined as dirt.

Source: Natures Path
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

DIRT IS DEAD

Dirt is made up of sand, silt, and clay, and it may be rocky. It has none of the minerals, nutrients, or living organisms found in soil. It is not an organized ecosystem. There is no topsoil or humus, no worms or fungi. Lacking texture and structure, dirt does not compact when wet, unlike a handful of soil. The result is run-off and erosion. An old dirt road comes to mind with this definition.

Dirt is dead and does not support life. You cannot plant a productive garden in dirt.

SOIL FORMATION

All soil began as dirt. Natural soil formation takes thousands or millions of years, as rocks erode into sand and organic matter decays and accumulates. To archaeologists, the resulting layers of soil represent time, each telling how and when it was created. To them, dirt has no history.

Think of that landslide again. Ancient layers of healthy soil wash away to a new location with no topsoil, no layers, no organization, and no history. Now it’s a pile of dirt, and the process of soil building must begin again.

There are five factors that affect soil formation:

  • Climate
  • Organisms
  • Relief (landscape)
  • Parent material
  • Time

These factors are known to soil scientists as CLORPT, which work together to create the earth’s crust.

There’s no need to wait a million years to transform dirt to soil in your yard, though. Soil is made by mixing dirt with the living organisms that make soil soil.

Source: Natures Path
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Build a compost pile, and add it to your dirt. Organic matter such as leaves, kitchen scraps, and grass clippings attract the beneficial organisms necessary to break it down into beautiful and productive soil. Worms, fungi, microbes, and bacteria are the natural result of good composting practices. Through this video, Dr Elaine Ingham, a renowned soil biologist, speaks in detail about soil microbiology and the importance of compost.

You don’t have to be a soil scientist to see that the difference between soil and dirt is compost. Healthy living soil is all you need to have a beautiful yard and abundant vegetable garden, so there is no need for synthetic, toxic pesticides and fertilizers.

Next time you go inside to clean up after gardening, maybe leave some soil in the garden to cut down on dirt in the house!

NAN FISCHER

What will you be growing this year? Consider this as you amend or develop your soil. Where will your garden be located? Why?

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Know Your Garden Soil: How to Make the Most of Your Soil Type

JUNE 6, 2013 WRITTEN BY RUTH BARTON
Source: Earth Easy

If you’re planning to get serious about gardening it’s crucial you get to know your soil type. No matter how much work you do in your yard and garden, all that careful sowing, weeding and tending could be in vain if the quality of your soil is not up to scratch.

The soil provides your plants with the vital nutrients, water and air that they require for healthy growth and development. But each plot of ground has its own blend of minerals, organic and inorganic matter which largely determines what crops, shrubs or trees can be grown successfully.

Ideal soil conditions for specific crops can be created in contained plots such as raised beds or planters, but for larger gardens and landscapes it helps to understand the characteristics of the soil you have to work with.

The Six Types of Soil

There are six main soil groups: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky and loamy. They each have different properties and it is important to know these to make the best choices and get the most from your garden.

1. Clay Soil

Clay soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Clay soil feels lumpy and is sticky when wet and rock hard when dry. Clay soil is poor at draining and has few air spaces. The soil will warm up slowly in spring and it is heavy to cultivate. If the drainage for the soil is enhanced, then plants will develop and grow well as clay soil can be rich in nutrients.

Great for: Perennials and shrubs such as Helen’s Flower, Aster, Bergamot, Flowering quince. Early vegetable crops and soft berry crops can be difficult to grow in clay soil because of its cool, compact nature. Summer crop vegetables, however, can be high yielding vigorous plants. Fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs thrive on clay soils.

2. Sandy Soil

Sandy soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Sandy soil feels gritty. It drains easily, dries out fast and is easy to cultivate. Sandy soil warms up fast in spring and tends to hold fewer nutrients as these are often washed away during wetter spells. Sandy soil requires organic amendments such as glacial rock dustgreensandkelp meal, or other organic fertilizer blends. It also benefits from mulching to help retain moisture.

Great for: Shrubs and bulbs such as Tulips, Tree mallow, Sun roses, Hibiscus. Vegetable root crops like carrots, parsnips and potatoes favour sandy soils. Lettuce, strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens and tomatoes are grown commercially in sandy soils.

3. Silty Soil

Silty soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook


Silty soil feels soft and soapy, it holds moisture, is usually very rich in nutrients. The soil is easily cultivated and can be compacted with little effort. This is a great soil for your garden if drainage is provided and managed. Mixing in composted organic matter is usually needed to improve drainage and structure while adding nutrients.

Great for: Shrubs, climbers, grasses and perennials such as Mahonia, New Zealand flax. Moisture-loving trees such as Willow, Birch, Dogwood and Cypress do well in silty soils. Most vegetable and fruit crops thrive in silty soils which have adequate adequate drainage.

4. Peaty Soil

Peaty soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Peaty soil is a darker soil and feels damp and spongy due to its higher levels of peat. It is an acidic soil which slows down decomposition and leads to the soil having fewer nutrients. The soil heats up quickly during spring and can retain a lot of water which usually requires drainage. Drainage channels may need to be dug for soils with high peat content. Peat soil is great for growth when blended with rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity. You can also use soil amendments such as glacial rock dust to raise pH in acidic soils.

Great for: Shrubs such as Heather, Lantern Trees, Witch Hazel, Camellia, Rhododendron. Vegetable crops such as Brassicas, legumes, root crops and salad crops do well in well-drained peaty soils.

5. Chalky Soil

Chalky soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Chalky soil is larger grained and generally stonier compared to other soils. It is free draining and usually overlays chalk or limestone bedrock. The soil is alkaline in nature which sometimes leads to stunted growth and yellowish leaves – this can be resolved by using appropriate fertilizers and balancing the pH. Adding humus is recommended to improve water retention and workability.

Great for: Trees, bulbs and shrubs such as Lilac, Weigela, Madonna lilies, Pinks, Mock Oranges. Vegetables such as spinach, beets, sweet corn, and cabbage do well in chalky soils.

6. Loamy Soil

Loamy soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Loamy soil, a relatively even mix of sand, silt and clay, feels fine-textured and slightly damp. It has ideal characteristics for gardening, lawns and shrubs. Loamy soil has great structure, adequate drainage, is moisture retaining, full of nutrients, easily cultivated and it warms up quickly in spring, but doesn’t dry out quickly in summer. Loamy soils require replenishing with organic matter regularly, and tend to be acidic.

Great for: Climbers. bamboos, perennials, shrubs and tubers such as Wisteria, Dog’s-tooth violets, Black Bamboo, Rubus, Delphinium. Most vegetable crops and berry crops will do well since loamy soil can be the most productive of soil types. However, loamy soil requires careful management to prevent depletion and drying out. Rotating crops, planting green manure crops, using mulches and adding compost and organic nutrients is essential to retain soil vitality.

Simple Tests to Help Determine Your Soil Type

The water test

Pour water onto your soil. If it drains quickly it is likely to be a sandy or gravelly soil, on clay soils the water will take longer to sink in.

Squeeze test

Grab a handful of soil and softly compress it in your fist.

  • If the soil is sticky and slick to the touch and remains intact and in the same shape when you let go it will be clay soil.
  • If the soil feels spongy it’s peaty soil; sandy soil will feel gritty and crumble apart.
  • Loamy and silty soils will feel smooth textured and hold their shape for a short period of time.

Settle test

Add a handful of soil to a transparent container, add water, shake well and then leave to settle for 12 hours.

  • Clay & silty soils will leave cloudy water with a layer of particles at the bottom.
  • Sandy soils will leave the water mostly clear and most of the particles will fall, forming a layer on the base of the container.
  • Peaty soils will see many particles floating on the surface; the water will be slightly cloudy with a thin layer at the bottom.
  • Soils that are chalky will leave a layer of whitish, grit-like fragments on the bottom of the container and the water will be a shade of pale grey.
  • If the water is quite clear with layered particles on the bottom of the container with the finest particle at the top – this soil is likely to be a loamy one.

Acid test

The standard pH for soils usually ranges between 4.0 and 8.5. Plants favor soil which has a pH between 6.5 and 7 because this is the level where nutrients and minerals naturally thrive. You can buy a pH test kit here, or from a local garden center. As a general rule, in areas with soft water you will have acid soil and hard water areas will tend to have alkaline soil.

Soil test kit

Use a soil test kit to assess primary nutrients (N-P-K) as well as pH levels. By testing your soil, you determine its exact condition so you can fertilize more effectively and economically. Soil should be tested periodically throughout the growing season.

How to make the most of your soil, whatever the type

Plants generally prefer neutral soil but it’s worth bearing in mind that some favor slightly acid or alkaline soils. Regardless of the pH of your soil it is possible to adjust the level slightly to make it more hospitable to the type of plants you want to grow. Remember this is only temporary, so it’s advised to make the most from the soil type you have.

Adding ground lime to your soil will make it more alkaline and aluminium sulfate or sulfur will help to make your soil more acidic.

If your soil is low in nutrients (like sandy soil), try supply it with organic matter such as compost and manure to enrich the soil and improve its texture. Use organic mulches such as straw, dried grass clippings and deciduous leaves. These mulches break down and incorporate into the soil, building a new supply of organic nutrients while improving the soil structure.

Clay soil is often not aerated enough and is deficient in good structure which makes it more difficult for successful growing. To get the most out of clay soil it’s best to add large quantities of well-rotted organic matter in the fall and peat a few weeks before planting. Greensand can also be used to loosen heavy clay soils or bind sandy soils.

It is often difficult to cultivate in chalky soil due to its alkaline nature. To help rectify this add bulky organic matter which breaks down over time, adding nutrients and minerals to the soil.

Make sure your soil is healthy.

It’s a good idea to regard your soil as living as your plants – it too needs food and water. Make sure it contains the three main nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) which are vital to growing plants effectively. Organic matter and fertilizers are rich in these.

After a crop is harvested the soil needs to be renewed before planting a successive crop. Many gardeners plant ‘green manure’ crops such as legumes, buckwheat, vetch and clover which fix nitrogen into the soil while building texture, improving aeration and drainage and adding organic matter. These cover crops are tilled in before they go to seed, and break down quickly so a new harvestable crop can be planted without much delay.

Crop rotation, green manures and cover crops, the use of mulch and the periodic addition of organic materials like compost and fertilizer are standard ways of restoring soil health after crop harvests. Rock phosphate, or rock dust, is also a valued amendment to restore phosphorus levels needed for vigorous plant growth.

If you can, introduce and encourage living organisms to your soil. The fungus Mycorrhize will aid your plants in the absorption of water and nutrients and worms will help speed up the composting process and help spread fertilizer through the soil.

When you first start out this can all seem very complicated but by identifying your soil type it will make the growing and maintaining of a healthy garden a lot easier. Remember, it’s well worth the trouble as your soil type is never going to change!

Garden beds
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

About the Author

Ruth Barton
This article has been written by Ruth Barton on behalf of William Morfoot, soil and land drainage experts with over fifty years’ experience in creating and maintaining healthy soils.

What type of soil do you have? How has this article helped you determine your soil type and how to amend it? What will you grow this year and how does your soil influence that?

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Planning a Garden

By: Joseph Masabni
Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Photos & Table Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

A good plan is the first step in establishing a flourishing home vegetable garden. Planning includes selecting the garden location; deciding on the size of the garden; determining the types and varieties of vegetables to plant; and planning where, when, and how much of each vegetable to plant in the garden.

Site selection

  • Choose a place where the soil is loose, rich, level, and well-drained.
  • Do not choose low areas where water stands or the soil stays wet. Vegetables will not grow in poorly drained areas.
  • Do not plant where weeds do not grow; vegetables will not grow well there either.
  • Vegetables need sunlight to grow well. Do not plant where buildings, trees or shrubs will shade the garden. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.
  • Do not plant vegetables under the branches of large trees or near shrubs because they rob vegetables of food and water.
  • Plant the garden near a water supply if possible. In many areas a garden can grow without watering, but it is more likely to be successful if it is irrigated. Water is needed especially during long dry periods or when planting seeds.
  • Few people have the perfect garden location, so look for the best spot possible. 

Figure 1. A successful garden begins with a good design.

Garden size

Making the garden too large is one of the most common mistakes of enthusiastic, first-time gardeners. A garden that is too large will be too much work. When determining the size of your garden, consider these factors:

  • Available room. For apartment dwellers, the garden may be a planter box. In a suburban or rural area, however, there may be plenty of ground space for a garden.
  • Available time. If the only time you have for gardening is after work or school, or on weekends, there may not be enough time to care for a large garden.
  • Family size. If gardening is a family activity, a large space can be cared for. A larger family also can use more vegetables.
  • Reason for gardening. If the garden is purely a recreational activity, a container or flower bed garden may be big enough. If you want to grow vegetables for canning or freezing, a bigger area is needed.
  • Types of vegetables to be grown. Some vegetables take a lot of room. Most need at least 3 feet of space between rows. If you want to plant ten rows of vegetables, the garden must be 30 feet wide.

Deciding what to grow

What to grow in the garden is as big a decision as where to locate it. Consider the following points in selecting vegetables:

Space available. Do not plant watermelons in a small garden. They take up too much room. Other vine crops such as cucumbers and cantaloupes can be grown in small gardens by trellising them on a fence some other structure.

Expected production from the crop. The smaller the garden, the more important it is to get high production from each row. Small, fast-maturing crops such as radishes, turnips and beets yield quickly and do not require much space. Tomatoes, bush beans, squash and peppers require more space but produce over a long season.

Cost of vegetables if purchased. Plant vegetables that are expensive to buy at the grocery store. Broccoli is usually one of the more expensive vegetables that can be grown in most home gardens.

Food value of vegetables. All vegetables are good, but some are more nutritious than others. Grow different kinds of vegetables to put more variety in your diet.

Personal preference. This is especially important if the garden is purely for recreation or personal enjoyment. Grow vegetables your family likes to eat.

vegetable choice

Location of vegetables in the garden

Arrange vegetables in a way that makes the most efficient use of space and light. Group tall vegetables such as okra, corn and tomatoes together on the north side of the garden where they won’t shade shorter vegetables such as bush beans. Also, group vegetables according to maturity. This makes it easier to replant after removing an early crop such as lettuce or beets (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Plant tall vegetables where they won’t shade shorter plants.

Plant small, fast-maturing vegetables between larger ones. Plant vine crops near a fence or trellis if possible.

Make a drawing on paper to show the location and spacing of vegetables in the garden (Fig. 3.)

Figure 3. A garden planting guide.

Timing of planting

Vegetables are divided into two general groups—warm season and cool season. Cool-season crops can stand lower temperatures; plant them before the soil warms in the spring. They also can be planted in late summer to harvest after the first frost in the fall.

Warm-season crops cannot tolerate frost and will not grow when the soil temperature is cool. Plant them after the last frost in the spring and early enough to mature before frost in the fall.

Temperature classification of some vegetables

season guide

How much to plant

Some vegetables produce more than others so fewer plants will be needed. The amount to plant depends on family size, expected production, and whether or not you plan to do any freezing or canning. Do not plant too much. Over-planting is wasteful and takes too much work.

Amount to Plant Per Person

amount per person

Where will you be growing your garden this year (State & City)? What will you be growing in your garden this year and why?

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How To Care for a Spider Plant Like a Pro

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Spider Plant

These easy-care plants are just what your home needs right now
Source: Country Living

Arricca Elin Sansone
Country Living

BY ARRICCA ELIN SANSONE
JAN 10, 2021
Feature Photo Source: Unsplash, Lucian Alexe

The spider plant has been popular for decades as a low-maintenance houseplant with plenty of personality. With its strappy arching leaves, it looks equally pretty on a tabletop or in a hanging basket where its draping form is highlighted. They’re forgiving houseplants that can live for many years with the right conditions, and they also generate cute baby plants, called plantlets, that dangle from long stems. “It’s an endearing plant, it’s easy to find, and it’s inexpensive, so it’s a great addition to any home,” says Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, author of Houseplant Party and thehouseplantguru.com. “There are many different varieties available as well.”

Here’s everything you need to know to care for the spider plant.

How much light does my spider plant need?

Spider plants do best in medium to bright light. They’ll take low light but won’t look great because they tend to get leggy and floppy in time, says Steinkopf. They’re happiest in east-or west-facing windows, and they’ll do fine in south-facing windows. But don’t put them in direct sunlight, which will cause burns. If your house is too dark, get an inexpensive LED grow light to give them what they need.

How often should I water my spider plant?

Spider plants like steady moisture. That doesn’t mean you should drench your plant, but spider plants do like soil that’s evenly moist. If your home is super-dry, especially in winter, place your plant on a tray filled with pebbles. Keep water in the tray to boost the humidity level around the plants. Misting isn’t necessary, but go ahead and do it if it makes you feel better! You also can get a small humidifier to run or group several other plants together, which will increase overall humidity in the area.

Should I fertilize my spider plant?

As long as your plant is getting adequate light, it’s making its own food. But it doesn’t hurt to feed it occasionally, if you like. Remember that like outdoor plants, your plant isn’t growing much in winter, so feed it only from spring to fall. Choose any general all-purpose houseplant fertilizer, and apply it at ¼ to ½ strength the package directions.

Why does my spider plant have brown tips on the leaves?

Don’t worry! It’s very common with spider plants and doesn’t mean you’re a bad plant parent. There are many different reasons these occur, such as inconsistent watering or minerals in your tap water, which can build up in the soil. Trim off the brown bits into a pointed shape, then try watering with distilled water, filtered water, or rain water from now on, suggests Steinkopf. It also may help to flush the pot occasionally by watering until it runs out the drain holes.

You can make new spider plants from the “babies.”

When you see little root nubs on the babies, trim the plantlet off and place in another pot of soil. Use a bent paper clip to keep it in contact with the soil, water as usual, and that’s it! Or you can set a smaller pot next to the big plant, and place the plantlet in the soil of the smaller pot while still attached to the mother plant. That way, it’s getting nutrients until it’s rooted, when you can cut the stem from the original plant. It’s also fine to leave the babies in place if you like the looks of them.

Which plants are your favorite indoor / houseplants? Why? Which plants are you growing in your home this fall and winter? Are they herbs or fruit bearing?

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Marigold & Parsley

Parsley and Marigold Plant Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

When we brought our African Marigold flower and Parsley Plant in for the winter we were not sure how quickly and successfully they would transition from being outside to being inside. We are happy to report that parsley seems to be doing very well. We will be clipping her soon and adding her to a dish.

Marigold on the other hand grew very tall and bent way over as she reached for the sun. The single stalk that carries her bountiful blossom weighed down heavy as we tried to straighten her stem out by rotating her pot. When we rotated her pot she bent back to reach for the sun, as plants do, and bent her stalk. She is still repairing under a straw cut down the center and placed around her stem as a brace. We will let you know how she recovers.

What plants have you brought in for the winter? How are they doing? Where are you located? What is the climate like where you are?

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How to Keep a Christmas Cactus Alive Forever

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Elizabeth Yuko
12/26/20 9:00AM
Source: Life Hacker
Feature Photo Source: Unsplash, Aaron Burden

When you’re going grocery shopping this time of year, it makes sense to want to get in and out as quickly as possible. So if you’ve breezed past the seasonal plants that usually live at the front of the store near the shopping carts and hit the aisles Supermarket Sweep-style, there’s a good chance that you’ve missed the Christmas cacti. (They’re the ones that aren’t poinsettias.)

They may not look very Christmassy—especially since many of them are varying shades of pinks, oranges and yellows—but that’s actually a good thing, because these plants deserve a spot on your windowsill year-round. Actually, there are reports of Christmas cacti living more than 100 years, so there’s a chance that grocery store plant could outlive you. Here are some tips for making that happen (or at least keeping it healthy).Use Chopsticks to Aerate the Soil of Your Houseplants

Whether you’re more of a casual houseplant owner who’s happy if you remember to water it, or are so

How to care for a Christmas cactus

If you picked up or were given a Christmas cactus this year, don’t throw it out at the beginning of the year, as you might a live Christmas tree. It’s basically part of your family now, so it’s time to learn how to take care of it.

In an interview with Tulsa WorldDr. Tom Ingram, a horticulturalist at Oklahoma State University, shared some tips for keeping that colorful cactus alive. (Which probably takes more effort than you think).

First of all, Ingram explains that Christmas cacti are what those in the plant business call “short day plants”—meaning that for them to produce flower buds, they need reduced sunlight and cooler temperatures. This works outdoors in Brazil, where the cacti are native, but not so much indoors in the winter. But there are ways to make it work. Per Ingram:

  • Keep the cactus in a cool, bright indoor location where daytime temps are between 65-70 degrees and evening temps are between 55-65 degrees. (That might mean on a drafty windowsill or somewhere that doesn’t get as much heat as the rest of your place.)
  • If the cactus is kept somewhere that doesn’t get down to around 55 degrees at night, it will need a minimum of 12 hours of darkness each night for about six weeks before they will bloom.
  • Make sure the pot has good drainage. Don’t overwater, but also keep in mind that this type of cactus doesn’t retain water like its succulent colleagues.
  • Re-pot your plant approximately every three years, but not more frequently than that. (They like to set down roots.)

How to Keep an Indoor Plant Alive

Keeping an indoor plant alive means providing it with what it needs on a long-term basis. Keeping…Read moreSubscribe to our newsletter!Type your emailSign me upBy subscribing you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Ingram offers more detailed advice in the article, but if nothing else, these tips will keep you from putting your Christmas cactus on top of the radiator because you assume it wants as much heat as possible and pretend like it is at home in a desert.Elizabeth YukoPostsTwitter

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone & CNN.

How was this article helpful? What works best for you with your house plants? Why? Why not?

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