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In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden


Organic Gardening: Tips for Transplanting and Choosing Fertilizers

Garden
Let nature provide everything you need to feel satisfied, healthy and energized by growing your own garden. Photo by iStock.

Our health is the result of a diverse list of factors—which begins with what we put into our bodies. Nature provides all we need to stay satisfied, energized and healthy, and we can grow much of it right outside our doors. Whether you live on a farm or in an apartment; grow a few culinary herbs or your own apothecary garden; enjoy a couple of tomato plants or grow food year-round, use the tips in this issue to step up your garden and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with creating our own food, medicine and well-being.

Seedlings
These simple tips will have you transplanting your seedlings with ease. Photo by iStock.

Transplanting Tips

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to save money. Use these tips when it comes time to move baby plants to their outdoor home.

Handle with Care: Always handle seedlings by their leaves to avoid harming plants’ delicate stems, their main lifeline.

Hardening Off: Hardening off gradually introduces seedlings to the conditions in your garden. Bring seedlings outdoors and expose them to a steadily increasing amount of sun, wind and varying temperatures, starting with a couple of hours a day. Do this every day for about two weeks before permanently planting seedlings outdoors.

Prepare your Soil: While your seedlings are hardening off, prepare the planting space by adding a handful of compost to the bottom of each planting hole.

Preparing the soil a week or so in advance of transplanting will ensure the compost is integrated with the surrounding microorganisms in the rhizosphere.

Know When to Plant: If possible, wait to plant until the weather is overcast. The extra moisture in the air and soil will ease the transition into the earth.

Keep them cozy: Plant seedlings in the ground at about the same depth that they were in the container. Planting too deeply could rot the stem. Check that the soil is firm around the plants so that no air pockets dry out the roots. If your seedlings seem delicate, temporarily shield them from wind and cold with upturned flowerpots, cardboard boxes or even buckets. In hot weather, you can use a piece of lightweight cloth as a sun tent.

The Best Free Fertilizers

You will find an array of fertilizers at garden stores, but think twice before you buy: A survey of soil testing labs across the U.S. revealed that garden soils have too much fertilizer more often than too little, and too much can be bad for crops. Opt for natural fertilizers instead. These free fertilizers break down so quickly they can’t be bagged and sold, but they enrich garden soil with nutrients perfect for plants and helpful soil microorganisms.

Grass Clippings: Pesticide-free grass clippings make a great organic fertilizer, and help prevent weeds and conserve garden soil moisture when used as mulch—two things other fertilizers cannot do. Just a half-inch of clippings each spring (about six 5-gallon buckets per 100 square feet) mixed into garden soil, or a 1- to 2-inch layer used as surface mulch, will provide all the nutrients most crops need for a full season of growth.

Compost: Compost releases nutrients very slowly. Adding compost encourages many strains of fungi and bacteria to form partnerships with plant roots, helping them absorb and actually manufacture more nutrients, and keeping the soil moist. Each time a crop is finished, spread a half-inch layer of compost over the soil. (Make your own compost and, if you don’t have enough, contact a municipal compost center for more.)

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