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Harvest Garden Design Ideas

There are few greater pleasures than feeding friends, family and even your community from your own harvest. Laying the right groundwork can make light work of what might otherwise be a long, hard grind through seasons spent fighting the elements. Using time-honored traditions that harness nature’s habits can make your garden thrive. Here are a few harvest garden design ideas that will make your landscape both beautiful and fruitful.

greens garden
Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

Plant a Food Forest

Since a forest thrives without tilling, irrigation, weeding, or fertilization, you can use this ancient gardening technique to help your garden succeed. Plant a seven-layered system: Canopy trees (Pecans, Walnuts, Chestnuts) at the northern end of your garden, flanked by fruit trees to the south. Next, come your shade-tolerant fruiting shrubs (gooseberries, guava, elderberry), followed by vines ( kiwi, grapes, passionfruit) which can climb fences, arbors, or trees that are tall enough not to get smothered. Put herbaceous plants (aromatic herbs, artichokes, asparagus) alongside groundcovers (strawberries, nasturtiums.) Many of the edible herbs will also repel destructive insects. Finally, the rhizosphere or root-crops (sweet-potato, yacon) add the finishing touches to your forest. Each successive layer is planted south of the taller layer before it.

Picking plants that are appropriate to your climate is key to your food forest’s success. Do your planting in the winter when trees and vines are available as bare-root, dormant plants. While this type of garden is built on perennial plants, annual vegetable crops can be planted around the edge of your food forest as well. This is a garden that will take years to fully mature but will give you much joy and bounty along the way.

Maximize Space with a Keyhole Garden

A keyhole garden is a round, raised bed approximately two feet high and seven feet in diameter. One side features an entry point that gives access to a round, caged-off center: the exact shape of an old-fashioned keyhole. Traditionally used to combat poor soils and searing temperatures in Africa, this garden is an excellent fit for states in the southwest, where similar conditions exist.  Additionally, keyhole gardens protect plants from being whacked by weed eaters or lawn mowers.  This is a type of wicking bed, but with one huge modification: you can compost as you grow in this garden.

The caged area is constructed first on a mound built up with sticks, rocks, or other material, so it forms a high point in the garden. The walls of the raised bed can be constructed with stacked stones, cinder blocks, vertical cedar trunks–your imagination is the limit. Once the bed is built, fill with soil and start planting.

Begin your caged compost with an appropriate ratio of leaves and grass clippings or green food waste, and continue to fill it and water it whenever you water your garden. This source of moisture and nutrients will continuously feed your plants, while the unique shape of the bed gives you access to all of its planting surfaces. A helpful tip: plant your root crops and large single-harvest veggies (i.e. cabbage) toward the center, and vining plants like squash or tomatoes around the edges for access.

Construct an Herb Spiral

A truly stocked herb garden can take up a lot of sunny space, which some gardeners don’t have. An herb spiral is a perfect way to get all the variety you crave in a small footprint. You can build a spiral-shaped bed with stones, blocks, or any material that lets you step it up from flat ground to a peak of about four feet high. If you want irrigation, a small sprayer at the very top and center is perfect–run the line before you fill the bed with soil.

Plant your herbs in the spiral according to mature plant size and water requirements. Your thirstiest, largest plants should be close to the base, while your smaller, more drought-tolerant can be planted higher up. As your herbs grow, water as needed and prune them to ensure they’re not crowding each other out. Done well, this handsome addition to the yard can give you savory, fresh herbs for years to come.

Join the countless other Americans who are making 2019 a record year in gardening and find your way to the harvest garden of your fantasies.

Starting Seedlings Indoors Now for Spring Gardening

Winter is the perfect time to get a head start on spring planting. Of course, you can purchase starts from garden centers, but seasoned gardeners know the really spectacular varieties simply cannot be found anywhere but in seed catalogs and must be grown indoors for some weeks. Starting your own seedlings offers more range and is less expensive, and watching your garden grow from seed is priceless. Here are a few tips to germinate and grow like a pro.

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Keep Your Seeds Fresh

While market-gardeners might use entire seed packets in a season, most home-gardeners never come close. Store your leftover seed packets inside an airtight jar in the refrigerator, preferably with a cheesecloth-wrapped bit of powdered milk in the bottom to absorb moisture. Flower seeds usually stay viable for one to three years; vegetables can last two to four. Replace your seeds within those windows to ensure high germination rates.

Start Your Seeds at Just the Right Time

Remember, it’s best to start seedlings indoors to get a jump on plant development in regions with short growing periods, but no need to start too early. In fact, planting too early can backfire. Wait until six weeks before your last frost date to start most seeds. If you aren’t sure, use a planting calendar tool to help.

Use a Seed-Starting Mix

The best seedling mix is one you make yourself: combine equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. If you need a smaller volume, pre-formed seed starters can be quite useful. Don’t re-use potting soil- especially if you’re planting herbs. It may be too coarse for your seedlings’ delicate roots, and it may be contaminated with fungal spores or other unwanted nasties.

Use Clean Containers

Any clean container with drainage is acceptable, but products designed specifically for starting seedlings are better suited to your needs. If you prefer not to use plastic, you can buy biodegradable pots that are planted directly in the garden without disrupting your seedlings’ delicate roots. Make sure your containers are set in a tray a few inches deep.

Get Temperature, Moisture, and Monitoring Right

Pre-moisten your mix evenly, so it’s moist but not wet before sowing seeds. Follow the instructions on seed packets to ensure you plant at the right depth, and use something like a chopstick to push seeds into the starting mix. Many people choose to cover their seed trays loosely with plastic or a cover to retain moisture but make sure there is still some air circulating.

When the soil is ten degrees warmer than the air temperature plants stand a better chance of germinating. You can buy special electric mats to place under your seedling trays or place seedling trays on the top of your refrigerator to take advantage of the appliance’s heat.

Check on your seed starts often, and as soon as they begin to sprout, remove the cover so that they can breathe. Water your trays so that the pots are watered from the bottom to establish strong root growth, and don’t overwater.

Potting up and Hardening Off

If you’ve started your seeds in seedling flats with small cells, you’ll want to transplant once the plants get their second set of leaves. If you began with multiple seeds in single biodegradable pots, you should select the strongest and pinch out the others. If you keep your seedlings in a window, make sure you rotate them every other day for even growth.

Once the risk of frost has passed and it’s almost time to transfer your seedlings to the garden, you must prepare your babies for the harsh realities of outdoor living. Water less often the week before moving them and don’t fertilize. A week or so before they’re scheduled to go in the ground, place them outside in a protected area out of direct sunlight. Keep their soil moist during this adjustment period, and transplant them into the garden early in the morning or on an overcast day to help minimize shock.

The magic of watching tiny seeds grow into a glorious garden can be rewarding. If you’re a first-time planter, this guide should give you the push you need to dig in.


Carrie Shaker is a landscape architect and mother who enjoys working on outdoor DIY projects with her children.

4 Mistakes To Avoid When Planning Your Garden

Most of us are still stuck in snow or freezing temperatures, but that doesn't mean we can't get our planning hats on for the garden this year. In fact, proper planning can drastically increase your success in the garden. And more success means more enthusiasm, more learning, and incredible harvests for you and your family.

However, there are a few extremely common mistakes I see many newer gardeners make when planning out their growing season. Avoid these and you'll save yourself a world of hurt once you actually start to grow.

small pot and scoop with loose soil
Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplash

1. You Don't Pay Attention to Mother Nature

It might sound extreme, but paying attention to your unique growing environment is absolutely crucial to having a successful year in the garden. For example, look at how the sun passes over your property. Then, plan where you're going to plant individual plants based on that information.

I've seen gardeners plant a large vining plant in front of shorter leafy greens and completely block them from getting light, even though the garden is in full sun the whole day. Once those plants are established, there's not much you can do besides rip them out, admit your mistake, and try again. But by that point you've lost precious growing time.

2. You Plant Everything at the Same Time

Proper garden planning includes considering time. In fact, I'd say it's the most important element to consider, but also the most challenging for new gardeners.

It's difficult because you have to plan backwards most of the time. For instance, if you want to harvest carrots throughout their growing season, you have to plant them on roughly 21-day intervals. On top of that, you have to know when to start planting them in the first place

One of the biggest mistakes I see gardeners make is planting everything at the exact same time and then seeing where they chips fall. Don't get me wrong, you'll still get a bunch of delicious food, but you won't get as much as you would if you took an hour or two to map out when everything you're planting will come to harvest.

3. You Grow What You THINK You Should Grow, Not What You Actually Eat

This is a funny one to me, because I used to do this all of the time! I would look up lists of "good plants to grow" and then grow those, completely ignoring the fact that I didn't enjoy eating them!

If you know for a fact you hate radishes...don't grow radishes. Even though they're easy to grow and can slot into empty gaps in the garden.

4. You Don't Take Into Account Planting Density

Don't get me wrong — I'm a big fan of high-intensity planting. But it can be taken too far. Understanding how far apart to space your seeds in your beds is crucial if they're going to get the light, water, and nutrients they need to mature properly.

You can get away with a denser planting than most seed packets recommend, but don't go overboard. Try the Square Foot Gardening system for plant spacing if you need a tried-and-true system for squeezing the most yield out of small growing spaces.

Go Forth and Plan!

A proper plan is one of the best things you can do for your garden in the winter months. It's a bit tedious to do, but spend a few hours upfront and you'll have a thriving garden come spring and summer.

What Will Indoor Gardening Look Like in the Future?

There are a lot of things that make indoor gardening attractive: Year-round production of herbs and food plants, protection from natural disasters and weather changes, and a more efficient use of space are only a few. This trend toward indoor gardening is being fueled by a number of factors including climate change and the desire for self-sufficiency.

So what will indoor gardening look like in the future? There are a number of interesting changes happening, and these innovations will guide the indoor gardens of tomorrow.

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Technology and Gardening Methods

Of course, technology makes growing plants easier in the field, in the garden, and indoors. Two fascinating methods have emerged though — methods that make growing indoors even more intriguing. They are hydroponics and aquaponics. What’s the difference, and how do they work?

Hydroponics is the science of growing plants in water rather than soil. You simply add nutrients to your tank, and you’re ready to go. However, the drawback is that these nutrients must be monitored and replaced often, and “root rot” is often a concern. Still, the system is usually sterile, and other than root rot, disease is not a problem.

Aquaponics is the practice of raising fish at the same time that you grow plants in the water they live in. The idea is to develop an ecosystem that is balanced and self-sustaining. The plants take nutrients from the water and, at the same time, filter it for the fish. Both take up quite a bit of room, and the right temperature is of utmost importance. Smart temperature controls and sensors that feed data to smartphones make it possible for this to be regulated remotely, at least to an extent.

Most indoor gardens of the future will contain one of these two growing methods, and this is expected to be a $1.98 billion industry by 2022.

Getting the Power

As you can imagine, managing an indoor growing operation takes a bit of power for grow lights, temperature controls, and environmental sensors. However, what matters most is where that power comes from, and many growers are using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

With the evolution of this sustainable approach, growers are reducing their impact on the environment in huge ways. Renewable energy also comes with other perks as well: Solar is a great source of heat for climate control in colder weather, and wind often generates enough power to share with the rest of the house too.

Looking at the indoor garden of the future, renewable energy will certainly be a part of the equation.

Sustainability and Climate Change

There is no denying that climate change impacts our health every single day, and indoor gardening can have a negative or positive impact. The smart use of water and energy is just one of the ways gardening is moving toward sustainability and having a positive impact on the environment.

This includes the fertilizers and nutrients used, especially those that are organically sourced; releasing the oxygen these plants create into the surrounding area; recycling water; collecting rain; and using other means to reduce pollutants.

The garden of the future will be one that takes climate change and sustainability into account.

Whether you are looking to grow plants indoors over winter or year-round indoor gardening, technology will impact how your garden looks and works. From using water instead of soil, using new technology, drawing on renewable energy for power, and taking other steps for sustainable gardening and to prevent climate change, the indoor garden of tomorrow will not only be a source of food, but a positive impact on the community around it as well.

Everything You Need to Know About Lasagna Gardening

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It doesn’t come from an Italian background, there’s no pasta involved, and it isn’t Garfield’s favorite entree. Lasagna gardens gain their name from the layering technique used to build up a gardening site with a plant’s favorite nutrients. Moving soil isn’t easy, and for gardeners who are fed up with tilling, a lasagna garden is the solution.

For lasagna gardening, raised garden bed kits are popular due to the control they gives gardeners over the soil, watering, and spacing as well as the ease of its set-up and care. Instead of digging into packed, mysterious earth, gardeners can assemble a raised bed and fill it with soil in minutes. This method coupled with lasagna gardening could possibly be the simplest gardening method WITHOUT losing any garden quality. Maximum garden for minimum effort (our favorite combo!)

What You Need

  • Raised Garden Bed
  • Newspaper/Cardboard
  • Compost/Soil
  • Straw
  • Veggie scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds
  • Lawn Clippings

Placement and Size of Your Lasagna Garden

The most important aspect of garden placement is the availability of sun. Ensure that the garden will receive roughly 6+ hours of sun daily. The good news? Lasagna gardens aren’t inhibited by size. So you can build your garden as large as you want. Important Note: Your lasagna garden needs to be at least 16 inches deep. It’s the price we have to pay for ease, but most raised beds can be stacked to create deeper beds.

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16" Tall Stacked Raised Garden Bed - Img source: GardenInMinutes.com

How to Build up Your Lasagna Garden

Honestly, just pile the layers until it crests over the sides of your raised garden. Having said that, there are popular build patterns that ensure your lasagna garden breaks down properly and provides maximum nutrients to the plants:

  1. Lay a thick layer of newspaper and/or cardboard down. The first layer protects against weeds and provides a solid base for the rest of your lasagna garden. Water this layer.
  2. The next layer is compost. If you haven’t made compost because it can take a while and you didn’t realize you’d be creating a lasagna garden, just use soil/compost from your local gardening center. Water this layer.
  3. Add an inch or so of straw. Do not use hay. The difference may seem negligible, but hay has a higher propensity to carry weed seeds. As the straw breaks down it will add nitrogen to the garden, which plants crave. Water this layer.
  4. If you didn’t know how to make compost, then step 4 is dually helpful. Veggie scraps, coffee grounds, and other plant based organic waste from our daily lives can be used to create compost as they break down. For the fourth layer, we want to add these elements so they may break down within the lasagna garden itself - adding yet more nutrients. Water this layer.
  5. More straw and water.
  6. More organic waste (or pre-compost components) and water.
  7. Finish off with a good layer of compost (or soil). If it isn’t 16 inches deep at this point, then repeat steps 5, 6, and 7 until you’ve reached that mark. Water.

You may have noticed we water after each step is complete. This helps weigh down the layers and press them together. Lasagna gardens are meant to settle, but instead of tilling them back up, you just add more layers!

Your lasagna garden is now ready for planting! The following are some veggies that thrive in lasagna gardens, enjoy!

  • Asparagus - Springtime
  • Beans - Springtime and needs supports
  • Cucumbers - Springtime
  • Garlic - Fall/Early Winter
  • Lettuce - Spring and Fall planting
  • Potatoes - Early to mid-springtime

How to Have Your Houseplants Water Themselves When You’re Away

I was recently asked what I do with my 20+ indoor plants when I go on annual leave. Since most of them are from the tropical type and require constant moisture, long periods without water can be an issue.  When I come back from holidays, how heart-breaking it is to see several casualties in my plant gang! Brown leaves, sometimes dead plants, the fragile specimens being impacted first. Since then, I've put together a list of tricks and tips to ensure that all plants will be alive when I come back home. Follow the guide!

Smart Plant Selection

Pick robust plants, which can survive longer without water. Plants with thin leaves are more fragile and their tolerance to long periods of drought is low. Choose cacti, succulents, pothos (Epipremnum aureum), rubber plant, Monstera deliciosa, and dumb cane, among other species, for their resilience towards dry soil or dry periods.

How to Water Your Plants

collection of houseplants
Photo courtesy InvincibleHousePlants.com

1. Gather all your indoor plants in the same room. Plants, like humans, are stronger when they are together, because they can “share” resources, which in our case is humidity. Plants release excess humidity from their leaves which then can be captured by neighboring plants. Humidity recycling!

2. To do this, place a bucket or large bowl filled with water in the center of the room.

3. Group your plants around it, the tropical type first. Place them as close as possible but the leaves should not touch.

self-watering plant solutions
Photo courtesy InvincibleHousePlants.com

4. Fill a tray or the plant’s saucer with pebbles and top with water. Then place your plants on top. Direct contact between soil and water is to be avoided because this will create root rot and drown the plant.

twine creating capillary effect watering
Photo courtesy InvincibleHousePlants.com

5. Useful trick: you can make use of garden twine to connect a water-reservoir to the plants' soil. The water will be absorbed by the soil over time by an effect called the capillary effect.

6. Water before you go, but don't water more than usual or you risk drowning the plants.

If you read my blog you are already aware that I’m a big fan of self-watering pots, and for a reason, they are SO helpful! I recommend using them for specimens which require a weekly watering and prefer moist soil, such as golden pothos, satin pothos, Calathea or Maranta.

Adding Compost to Your Yard Before Winter

Caring for your lawn before winter arrives is an essential and necessary way to support the future of your lawn growth. Lawns need to be nourished well to last through the dormant winter season. Compost is a great option that provides natural benefits as well as plenty of energy to better support the lawn through the winter. Learn more about how to add compost to your yard before winter arrives.

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What Is Compost?

Simply put, compost is decomposed organic matter. Leaves and plant scraps comprise a compost base that has broken down to become a rich soil-like consistency. Compost is frequently referred to as “Black Gold” as the dark color and nutrient levels provide an abundant energy source for other plants. Compost also includes the presence of beneficial life forms, like bacteria, that have helped break down the sources into usable energy. These little additions help aid the natural growth levels of other plants as well.

Common Compost Sources

Many gardeners choose to create their compost in the backyard. Compost piles are simple to maintain but can take a long time to build the creamy consistency to use in the yard. Compost piles are usually made up of grass clippings, dead leaves, and fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Add in a healthy dose of worms, hot temperatures, and a little bit of luck to create rich compost for the garden.

Compost can also be purchased from local garden centers in large bags. Make sure to check the label of the bags to ensure that you are buying compost that includes items that you prefer.

How Is Compost Different from Fertilizer?

While both compost and fertilizer provide energy, they both give power to different parts of the yard. Compost adds strength to the soil while fertilizer adds energy to the grassroots. It also acts a beneficial additive to certain soil types that have trouble retaining moisture, including sand-based soil. Making sure that your yard has both energy sources for the entire yard environment is essential in providing a healthy lawn come spring. Organic fertilizers are a good choice in working with compost to treat the yard as a whole.

Compost Usage

Most gardeners choose to apply one-half inch of compost to their yards to provide energy to the soil. Measure your yard to figure out how much space you have as well as how much compost you will need. Mulch calculators online will help in figuring out how many bags of compost you will need to purchase or how many scoops of compost to use from your pile.

Spread the compost before the first frost arrives in your area. Make sure to mow the lawn to a height of 1 inch to provide enough space for the compost to reach the soil. Shovel your compost on to the lawn or pour a line of bagged compost across the yard. Use a rake to spread the fertilizer into an even layer to provide the same amount of energy to the lawn overall.

Choosing to add compost to your yard before winter arrives is an eco-friendly lawn care solution that helps to build up the energy of the soil. Not only will adding compost support the soil of the lawn but it will also become a breeding ground for essential microorganisms that help support the grass as well. Adding compost to your yard before winter is a critical part in creating a strong and healthy lawn.







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