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AVANT-GARDENING: CREATIVE ORGANIC GARDENING

Welcome !  " You Can Grow "

"We may have to learn again the mystery of the garden: how its external characteristics
model the heart itself, and how the soul is a garden enclosed, our
own perpetual paradise where we can be refreshed and restored."

Thomas Moore

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one of our garden beds
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THE IMPORTANCE OF ORGANIC and HEIRLOOM SEED

Members of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Alliance (OSGATA) have signed onto a code of ethics and are engaged in preserving the integrity of seed above and beyond profit-market interest. OSGATA develops, protects and promotes the organic seed trade and its growers, and assures that the organic community has access to certified organic seed, free of contaminants and GMO'S.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the result of laboratory processes which artificially insert foreign genes into the DNA of food crops or animals. Those genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. GMOs are not safe, but have been in the food supply since 1996. Most Americans say they would not eat GMOs if labeled, but the U.S. does not require labeling.
Read about why you should avoid Genetically modified food.
and
SHOPPING GUIDE: How to avoid buying foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Not only is it important to grow in organic soil, but also to plant organic seed. Certified organic growers are not allowed to have GMOs in their seeds.
Read about why you should only buy organic seeds for your garden

A plant is considered to be an heirloom (not a hybrid nor modified with GMO's) if it is an open-pollinated (able to reproduce true to variety under natural conditions) plant that with its original genetic material and unique reproductive and immune information intact. A hybridized plant is the result of a cross between 2 varieties of a plant, and when seeds are taken from a cross-pollinated plant, these seeds can not reproduce the parent plant and will revert back to one of the parents genetics.

If we keep using commercial genetically modified hybridized seeds and lose the geneitcs of the originals, one day we may be faced with seeds that will not be able to reproduce a healthy plant. This is happening now with GMO seeds. We are losing our heritage seeds and they are becoming extinct. We are seeing a worldwide disappearance of traditional plant varieties. If we cannot plant a seed and a healthy plant, we will not survive. Common food plants available today represent only 3% of those that were available in 1900. 75% of native crop varieties in the Western Hemisphere have disappeared because modern agribusiness hybridizes seed for commercial advantage without consideration of the value of heritage seed. Organic heritage seed is the only seed that will promote a sustainable food chain. Here are a few suppliers of organic and heirloom seeds - Organic Seed

WHY START SEEDS INDOORS?

Starting seeds indoors or inside a greenhouse will not only extend your growing season, it will allow you to replace plants as you harvest them. It insures better germination, saves time and money spent replanting rows of seeds that did not germinate, and it eliminates the need to spend time thinning plants.


We start most of our seed in 72-cell seed trays on a heating mat because we can control the environment and give each seed optimum conditions for germination. This increases production, saves time, nutrients, seed, space, and water, and when you set out a plant, you know that it will grow faster and mature sooner if it were just directly seeded into garden soil outside.


All during the summer, as we harvest one lettuce plant, we are able to transplant another lettuce plant in its place, one that has already been growing for four weeks. If you plan it right, and start lettuce and other salad greens every two weeks, you will have a continuous supply of greens.


Transplants may be planted in the garden by just moving the mulch and setting in the plant. There is no need to make rows and wait for germination. You have used your garden space efficiently as possible. There will be no weeds to compete with your new transplant, if you have a good layer of mulch over a nicely tilled bed of rich garden soil. For more information on improving soil visit our "Soil Building" webpage.


Some plants do best with only three or four weeks of indoor growing, others need six to eight weeks. Generally, a sunny window will work for most seeds, but we also use a heating mat (which provides a consistent temperature resulting in almost a 100% germination rate within a few days) an organic seed starting mix, and 72-cell seed trays to start seeds indoors, or in a greenhouse. After the seedlings emerge, a small rotating fan blowing gently over the seedlings will provide exercize encouraging strong stem growth.


HOW TO START SEEDS FOR TRANSPLANTING OR FOR GROWING INDOORS

Fill a 72-cell insert with an organic soil seed starting mixture. Do not pack it down - rub your hand over the top to even out the soil. Make a little dent in the center of each one, the depth about two times the size of the seed you are planting. Cover it by slightly tapping the tray after all the plugs are filled with seeds. Add water to the bottom tray until it is about 3/4 full. Gently set the plug container into the tray of water until the soil is moist. Leave about 1/4 inch of water in the water tray at all times, especially if it is setting on a heat mat, and check it daily. We have found that it is better not to cover the tray with the plastic lid provided, as it tends to create too much humidity for good germination.

If you want to grow your plants indoors until maturity, you will need to have an external light source. Using grow lights for your indoor gardening is a great choice, especially that you get to enjoy the benefits of high quality lighting at a great price! We have found that starting seedlings under grow lights produces the best plants. The lights should be about 8 inches from the seed trays, and raised as the plants grow.

If you aren't able to use an external light source when the seedlings have emerged, you can take your trays outside during the day and set them on the porch in the sun. Any breeze eliminates the need for a fan. If you elect to keep them inside until transplanting or will be growing them inside to maturity, be sure to use a rotating fan to keep them from reaching toward the light and to develop strong stems. If you put them outside, bring them back inside at night because they will need consistent warmth until they are ready to transplant out into the garden. Most seeds will germinate at 80 degeees in a few days. We have found that using a thermostat with the heat mat keeps the temperatures constant. As soon as your seedlings have emerged and have good roots, you can remove them from the heating mat, transplant them, and start another tray of seeds.


All seeds may be started up to 12 weeks before you set them out, but they will need to be transplanted, as they grow, in to larger pots. Seedlings need consistent moisture, light, a breeze or a fan, and a lot of room for root growth. When you buy big plants in a four-inch pot from a nursery, notice that when you take them out of the pot that their roots are usually bound up into a solid block of roots that you cannot separate.


Plants with tightly bound compacted roots will never grow as well as they could because they did not have consistent moisture and nutrients. Seedlings grow best in a nitrogen rich organic potting soil, which provides them with optimum nutrients so they can grow into a strong, healthy plant with good roots that will transplant and grow well when moved outside into the garden.


pink cauliflower ready to pick for farmers market
HOW TO TRANSPLANT SEEDLINGS

All plants need room to expand their roots freely, grow at their optimum rate, and develop a large stem until they are put into a very large container outside, or planted directly into the ground. To check to see if the seedlings are ready for transplanting, lift up the whole plug tray and examine the bottom to see if any roots are coming out of the bottom. When you see roots coming out of the bottom, they are ready to transplant.

Transplant your seedlings by using a flat-head screwdriver to remove them one at a time from the plug tray. Insert the screwdriver along the edge of the plug cell to the bottom of the container and gently lift out the seedling and place it either into a larger pot or directly into the garden soil.

If you are transplanting them into the garden, it is best to harden off the plants first by leaving them outside and at night setting them under a covered porch for a few days, and then transplanting them into the garden in the late afternoon. Set them into the soil at the same stem depth, and press down a tiny bit to make sure they are secure. Push the mulch up to the plant, leaving about 1/2 around the stem to allow water to easily get right to the plant. Water well, and by morning, they will be ready to start growing with a minimun of transplant shock.


If you are transplanting seedlings into larger pots, it is better to gradually increase the size of the pots instead of just planting into too large a pot. When the roots begin to come out of the bottom of the two-inch pot, they are ready for a four-inch pot, and so on. This method will give you the strongest plants for transplanting.


Cool crop plants, like broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower need to be planted outside a month or so before your last frost, while tender plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, and tender annual flowers, need to be planted outside after the last frost date.


To determine the optimum planting times for your location, check your planting zone on our webpage "Hardiness Zone Map", and keep a garden journal with a record of your first and last frost dates, and count backward four weeks to eight weeks for the time to start your seeds. If you go to your local nursery, you can get a Min-Max Thermometer which displays high and low temperatures and can be reset easily.


WHEN TO START YOUR SEEDS

The following plants may be started four to twelve weeks
before planting them outside two weeks after the last frost:
Culinary herbs, artichokes, chives, tomatoes, chiles, peppers, eggplant,
cantaloupe, watermelon, celery, kohlrabi, pumpkins, annual and perennial flowers,
tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash, cucumbers, gourds, broccoli,
pac choi, radicchio, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale.

Plants started eight to twelve weeks before planting outside will need to be transplanted into
larger pots (two-inch pots, then four-inch pots, or larger) as the roots begin to come out of the bottom of the pots.


The following plants cold tolerant plants can to be started in 72 inch seed trays
and directly planted into the garden two to four weeks before the last frost.
Onions, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, chinese cabbage, endive, Italian dandelion, Pac Choi, kale,
radicchio, Brussels sprouts, sorrel, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, salad greens, pansies, arugula,
Mizuna, endive, mesclun blends, mustards, and perennial flowers.


evergreen bunching onions that overwintered, setting their seed pods

DIRECT SEEDING OUTSIDE

Some of the cold hardy greens can be planted in contaners next to the south side of your house up to 12 weeks before the last frost.

The following seeds can to be planted directly into the garden
four to six weeks before the last frost:
Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, green onions, bunching onions, sweet onions,
storage onions, shallots, sweet peas, dill, cilantro, edible pod peas, leaks, kohlrabi, lettuce,
salad greens, European greens, radishes, and sweet peas.


The following seeds may be planted directly into the ground
two or three weeks before the last frost
Bush and pole beans, corn, sunflowers, potatoes, cilantro, shelling and sweet peas, annual herbs and flowers,
rhubarb roots, aspapagus roots, trees, and cold tolerent shrubs and vines. Garlic should be planted in the fall.


For frost protection down to 24-26 degrees, plants can be covered with a frost blanket, burlap,
or one-gallon cans can be placed over the plants in the evening and be removed in the early morning.


PLANTING A RAISED BED OR GREENZBOX

If you are planting in a shade-cloth-covered raised bed, like our GreenzBox, seedlings may be set out a bit earlier, because the shade cloth will also give frost protection.
You can expect your lettuces and salad greens not only to be larger, and grow faster, but they will be more tender. Spinach will not bolt three weeks after planting. We were able, in the high desert of New Mexico, to keep the same spinach plant producing all season without replanting until the late summer for the fall crop.

See our "GreenzBox" page for instructions for how to build and plant one.


Resources
FoxFarm Super start for seeds and seedlings - Ocean Forest Potting Soil for seed starting
Planet Natural Seed Starting Kit - heat mat, humidity dome, watertight base tray, 72-cell seedling insert
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply - Seedling Heating Mats
Min-Max Thermometer
Frost Blanket


"When we touch this domain, we are filled with the cosmic force of life itself, we sink our roots deep into the black soil and draw power and being up into ourselves. We know the energy of the Numen, and are saturated with power and being. We feel grounded, centered, in touch with the ancient and eternal rhythms of life. Power and passion well up like an artesian spring and creativity dances in celebration of life."

David N. Elkins


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Home Page    About Us    Mossy Knoll Garden/San Juan Island    Botany Basics    "You Can Grow!" Workshops    Composting    Soil Building
Hardiness Zone Map   WebRings    "You Can Grow" CD's   "Tid-Bytes" Insights   Garden Pests & Organic Controls
Biodiversity and Genetic Engineering    New Mexico    Companion & Intensive Planting     Permaculture    Labyrinths
Seed Starting Guide    Creative Garden Design    The Greenzbox    Culinary Herb Gardens    Xeriscape
"Growing with the Seasons"    Photo Tour I    Photo Tour II    Photo Tour III    Photo Tour IV    Photo Tour V
Organic Products    Gardening Books   Gardening Supplies     Recommend This Site    Resources




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