Simple Hoop House Construction on a raised bed garden

A simple hoop house is a great addition to any garden. They are particularly easy to build on existing raised beds.

Simple Hoop House FB

One of the handiest year round gardening projects you can do in your garden is to build a simple hoop house. A simple hoop house can add at least 6 weeks to each end of your gardening season. Yep, that means you can be planting 6 weeks earlier in the spring and growing 6 weeks later in the fall. In fact depending on where you live and what crops you choose to grow a simple hoop house may be all you need to extend your growing season to 365 days a year.

A simple hoop house is a must if you plan on growing large plants like kale, broccoli or Brussels sprouts either extra early in the spring or late into the fall and winter. As much as I love growing in cold frames, they just don’t have the head room for big kale plants like a hoop house does!

In this post I am going to focus on showing you how to build a simple hoop house over the top of any existing raised bed. I love having a simple hoop house on a raised bed. The great thing about a hoop house on a raised bed is that the bed itself helps to provide structure and strength to the hoop house. A simple hoop house added to the top of a raised bed will be much less complicated and much more secure (against the wind and weather) than a hoop house built directly in the garden.

Those of you that have read my blog for a while will know that I like to do things around the garden as inexpensively as I can. I’m not exactly what you would call “cheap”. But I do love structures and materials that are low priced but still last a long time. This simple hoop house is no exception. You can easily build this simple hoop house for under $20.00

Simple Hoop House – Materials needed

For this project you will need to purchase or locate the following materials

4 – 10 foot pieces of 1/2 inch PVC pipe
1 – 10 foot by 16 foot piece of 3 mil painters plastic
2 – 2 x 4 x 8 piece of lumber (ripped into 4 pieces)
OR
3 – 2 x 2 x 8 pieces of lumber

OR

What ever scrap lumber you have laying around
1 packet of small clamps (at least 8)
A handful of 2 inch and 1 inch screws

Tools Needed

Electric Drill with a screw driver & a 1/8 inch bit
Knife or scissors to cut the plastic
A table saw if you choose to buy a 2 x 4 and rip it yourself.

Simple Hoop house assembly
Step 1 Add the hoops

This is simple to do. Just take your 4 Pieces of PVC pipe put one end in the ground inside your garden bed. Press it as deep as it will go. Then bend the pipe into a hoop and press the other end into the soil. This is a bit of a trick the first year as there will be some tension in the PVC pipe. But after a few months the pipe will actually settle into it’s new shape and when you take it out of the ground next year it will retain the hoop shape.

Step 2 – Secure the PVC to the raised bed.

simple hoop house 2

This step is necessary if you want your simple hoop house to hold up against the wind. All I do is pre-drill a 1/8 inch hole through the PVC pipe.

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Then secure the pipe to the side of the bed with a 2 inch screw. Do this for both sides of all 4 pipes.

Step 3 – Cut Your Lumber

If you have a table saw rip your 2 x 4’s in half. This will give you 4 pieces of roughly 1.75 x 1.75 inch boards. If you decided to just buy 2×2 boards then you can skip this step. I prefer to used 2 x 4’s cut in half because the pieces turn out to be better quality boards than most 2 x 2’s you can get at home improvements stores. Most of this wood will be covered by plastic so I just buy inexpensive pine.

Step 4 – Install your ridge pole

simple hoop house 4

To give structure to your hoops and to make the whole hoop house stronger I suggest adding a wooden ridge pole. I like to put mine under the PVC pipe as shown here. This keeps the wood from protruding and causing tears in the plastic. Simply attached with 4 1-1/2 inched screws, screwed down from the top of the PVC and into the wood. Pre-Drill the holes in the PVC.

Notice how simple and cheap this can be.  We had a snow storm on the way and I needed to get this hoop house up fast and I didn’t have a way to go buy lumber.  So I just used 2 shorter pieces of scrap lumber.  the point is to add some rigidity to the structure how ever you can!

Step 5 – Add the plastic

I prefer to access my hoop houses from the short ends. So I secure both long ends of the plastic to the sides of the raised beds using 2 of the other 8 foot pieces of lumber. Simply put the plastic over the hoops and then put the piece of lumber over the plastic and secure with 4 2 inch screws. I suggest pre-drilling the screw holes first to prevent the lumber from splitting.

simple hoop house 5

Make sure you center the plastic on the hoops. Leave enough on each end to be able to secure the short ends of the hoop down to the bed. (see step 6 below)

simple hoop house 4

This is the simplest way to secure your plastic covering to the hoop house. I have messed around with this over the years and just gone with this simple method. If you would like to see one of the other methods I used, that allowed me to access the beds from the long sides, you can see that in this old post here.

Step 6 – Secure the ends with a few clamps.

Now you just need to secure the big flaps at the end down to the hoop and the raised bed using a few clamps. I’ve found 4 or 5 on each end to be enough.

simple hoop house 6

You will need to play with this one a bit. One may end up cutting some of the plastic to allow easier access to the bed. You also need to anticipate being able to open one or both ends on a warm day to “vent” your hoop house.  That way you don’t cook the plants inside on a late warm fall day or early spring day. The clamps will also come in handy for holding the plastic open when you are trying to vent. If you do end up needing to cut the plastic, I would suggest reinforcing the end of the cut with some clear packing tape or even duct tape.

And that’s it!! A simple hoop house to add to your existing raised garden bed.  This new hoop got its first real test the night after I put it up, we had a cold snow storm come through with extremely high winds.  Despite being “cobbled” together a bit it held strong against some pretty tough winds.  The key to making it strong is adding that ridge poll and screwing those PVC hoops to the side of the bed.

simple hoop house 7

If you would like to learn more about using hoop houses to extend your gardening season then I would suggest you pick up a copy of my Online Year Round Gardening video course.

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Trench Composting – The lazy mans composting method

Trench composting fits perfectly into my crazy gardening life. It’s much simpler than trying to constantly have a pile of cooking compost.

Trench Composting

As much as I love gardening there is one aspect that I have always struggled with. And that is composting.

Yes I know I should be doing it! I should be returning as much into my soil every year as I have taken out right!

I also know that composting keeps a bunch of green material out of my local land fill! Again this is great for the environment and something I feel strongly about!

The problem is, I just never seem to get around to it. I’ve had nice compost bins at all of our other places (this is our 3rd home) but I just haven’t been able to settle on a spot here at our new house. And even when we had a compost bin I just never seemed to get it right, how much green material, how much brown, when to turn it, do I need to water the pile, it is “hot” enough. Urrghh!!

Now don’t get me wrong, I know the value of a compost pile. I know I should be doing one and I’m sure I will get back to it someday soon. But right now building a new compost bin is just not on the radar!!

So what do I do with all the excess, lawn clippings, leaves and food scraps coming out of our garden? I simply take care of them by trench composting.

What is Trench Composting?

Trench Composting is a simple and quick method to return all the excess organic material in your yard and garden, back into the garden! And it REALLY is simple!

Just dig a trench (hence the name trench composting) in and open spot in your garden. The trench needs to be about 10 to 12 inches deep. You fill the bottom 4 to 6 inches of the trench with your organic material and then fill the trench back in! Over the next few months all that organic material you put in the trench will slowly decompose and leave a nice layer of organic material in the perfect spot (right in the root zone) of your garden beds. The roots of your growing plants will stretch down to that zone and find all kinds of yummy goodness to snack on!!

If you don’t have a spot big enough for a trench, then just dig a hole! Fill it with compost-able materials cover it up and away you go!!

What sort of things can I put in my Trench Composting?

Vegetable Scraps

This method is a perfect way to get rid of vegetable scraps that are coming from your kitchen or from your canning and food preservation efforts. You will be surprised to see how quickly you can fill up a trench if you are eating a lot of fruits and veggies.

Trench Composting 2

This year in only 45 days (during August & September) we filled 2 trenches like you see above that were 25 feet long in this garden bed.

Coffee grounds and eggshells are also perfect additions to your trench composting.

Grass Clippings

If you have a small grass lawn this can also be a way to get rid of many if not all of your grass clippings. That is a bit harder to do in the middle of the summer when your garden is in full swing and you really don’t have beds to put the grass clippings in, but any time I have open space in the garden I try to dig a trench and fill it with grass and other organics.

Fall Leaves

Fall leaves can also go in your trench compost system, but be cautious. Leaves are considered a “brown” when composting and if not balanced with a lot of greens (like grass clippings) you can damage your soil fertility in the short term as all the nitrogen in your soil will be taken up by the soil bacteria to help decompose those leaves. You can add some leaves to your trench composting in the fall but be sure to cover those leaves with other high nitrogen items like grass clippings and food scraps.

Trench Composting 3

Fall is a perfect time to practice trench composting. After your garden has been mostly pulled up for the year it can be easy to dig trenches, holes or even large pits and fill them with your leaves, veggie scraps and grass clippings. Just be sure you are finished and have your trenches filled in before the ground freezes. Then all that organic material you left in the ground will have all winter and early spring to decompose and improve the soil.

A few things to watch out for when Trench Composting

As with any composting there are a few things you shouldn’t be including in your trench composting efforts.

Animal Products

Meat (cooked or uncooked), bones, and feces from meat eating animals (cats, dogs, people) should be avoided.

Diseased Plant Material

You should also avoid any plant material that you suspect has any type of disease. Putting disease plant material back into your soil will just spread the problem.  With trench composting there is very little heat (unlike pile composting) to destroy pathogens.

Weeds with Seeds

I also try to avoid any weeds that have gone to seed (no sense putting weeds back in the garden) or any weeds that can grow back from the root or stems.

Veggie Seeds

Another thing I try to avoid are seeds! I’m not perfect with this, but I try not to include any seeds from my veggie scraps. I’m particularly careful with tomato scraps. I don’t want those seeds working their way back to the surface and sprouting for the next few years.

Wood

Anything wooden should not be added to your trench composting. Sticks, branches and wood chips all take way too long to decompose (years in fact). And while those wooden items are decomposing they will rob your soil of nitrogen.

I also try to avoid really heavy thick stemmed plants like corn stalks and sunflowers. Again these will take some time to decompose and will rob nitrogen from the soil in the mean time.

Well there you have it! My lazy man’s way of composting. I hope you think about ways you can incorporate trench composting into your garden.

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Winter Crop Planting Dates – Year Round Gardening Series #5

Knowing the correct winter crop planting dates for your area will insure you have a great harvest from your year round garden!

 Winter Crop Planting Dates 1
The Persephone Months

The Greek goddess Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Demeter.  Hades fell in love with her and in true Greek God form he kidnapped her, took her to the underworld and forced her to marry him.  Demeter begged Zeus to intervene and save her daughter which he did.  Unfortunately I guess there’s a rule about getting out of the underworld (keep this one in mind so you don’t make the same mistake), if you eat anything while you are there then you can’t get out.

Persephone must have gotten a little peckish and had a snack and doomed herself.  Zeus was able to make a deal with Hades, Persephone was able to leave the underworld for 9 months of the year but had to return to her husband for 3 months.  During the time Persephone is in the underworld, Demeter sorrows.   As the Goddess of the harvest and growth, while she sorrows nothing on the earth grows.

This, according to the ancient Greeks is why we have winter.

Winter Gardening is really just winter harvesting

Everything you are eating in December, January and February is really grown from August to October and just put in cold storage in your cold frame or hoop house.  Most crops require 10 hours or more of sun light to show any real growth.  For many of us in the higher latitudes the 10 hour days go away right around the 5th of November and don’t return until early February.  During those months nothing except Mache and Claytonia do any growing.  Elliot Coleman refers to this time as the Persephone months.

Winter Crop Planting Dates

August planted carrots in the mini hoop house

In order to be able to have crops to harvest in the winter you must get them well under way in the fall.  In our zone 5b garden the targeted planting date for most winter crops is August 1st.  There is some wiggle room on this date, we have planted as late as August 15th and still been fine but that is when most gardeners should start planting winter crops.  I have found Mache and claytonia to be the exceptions to this.  I usually don’t get those seeds in the ground until September and they still do well.  But lettuce, spinach, carrots, and other winter greens need to get started the first part of August.

Finding your winter crop planting dates

August 1st is my planting date, what about your garden??  I have found that for most areas you should start planting your fall crops around 8 weeks before your first frost.  You can go as close as 6 weeks.  So use that as your target date.  Find your average first frost and then count back 8 weeks, that is your planting date for many fall and winter crops.

Starting Seeds Indoors
Winter Crop Planting Dates

Winter Greens started indoors

Some of my beds aren’t ready for new seeds by my winter crop planting dates, most of my summer crops are still maturing.  I deal with this by starting seeds indoors under my growing lights around that same August 1st time frame.  With some care these plants are in really good shape by early September and I can then set them out in their winter beds.  Not everyone has the set up to start seeds indoors, so your only other choice is to look at a local nursery for your starts.  Good luck, I’ve only found starts one time in the last 4 years so that is why I decided to make the move to an indoor seed starter. (learn more about starting your own seedlings by taking my Seed Starting Simplified course)

Winter Crop Planting Dates

Start plants indoors in July and August for early fall planting

Here is the winter crop planting dates I try to keep every year, if you live in a warmer climate you can adjust these dates, if your climate is colder you better get going sooner.  Johnny Seeds has a great planting date calculator that you can use as well:

  • Broccoli- Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before your first frost
  • Cabbage – Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before your first frost
  • Kohlrabi – Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before your first frost
  • Lettuce – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
  • Spinach – 3 to 8 weeks before your first frost
  • Swiss Chard – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
  • Carrots –  6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
  • Kale  – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
  • Other greens – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
  • Mache & Claytonia – 2 to 4 weeks before your first frost

If you hit these winter crop planting dates, you should have a great crop ready to start eating in November.

Up next in the winter garden series is cold frame design and construction.

Learn more about year round gardening by taking our 5 hour video course! Click the image below to start learning!!

Year Round Garden Video Course

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Using a Soil Block Maker to start your seedlings

Using a Soil Block Maker for growing your own seedlings is a quick, low environmental impact method for starting your own seedlings.

Using a Soil Block Maker
I’ve been growing my own seedlings for about 10 years now. I’m pretty set in my ways and the methods I use. So set in fact that I even made a video course on my method (Learn more here).

I use the plastic 4 cell packs to start my seeds. I just like it. But I have several gardening friends that I made while in the master gardener program that are using a soil block maker to start their seedlings. I’ve always been curious about how they work and this year I had a chance to borrow a soil block maker from a friend and I used it a few times to start some seedlings.

Using a soil block maker 2

So I thought I’d give you a little review and let you know how they worked out. Please note, this is NOT a sponsored post, no company asked me to do this review. Included in this post are a few affiliate links, if you are interested in buying a soil block maker you can.  I didn’t choose one particular company so you should have a good variety to choose from.

Using a Soil Block Maker

Using a soil block maker 3

So the idea behind a soil block maker is you use this little gadget to compress a big chunk of seed starting mix into a block.

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You then plant your seeds in the top of the block and the roots grow down into the block of soil.

Yes you could probably come up with a way to do this yourself, but these things are pretty convenient.

Using a soil block maker 4

Once you have packed the soil into the block maker it has a handle that you press down on that pushes the blocks out of the maker.

Using a soil block maker 5

The handle also makes a handy little depression on the top of the soil block where you plant the seed.

Advantages of Using a Soil Block Maker

No Plastic Waste

I think the biggest advantage of using a soil block maker is you’re not using a container and then there isn’t any plastic waste. Even though I reuse my plastic cell packs for several years, I still end up throwing them out after 5 or so seasons. With a soil block there is no waste and you also don’t have any worries about BDP or other chemicals getting into your seedlings.

Seed Starting Banner $15 450x375 copy

Better Root Growth

Because there is no container you have fewer issues with plants becoming root bound in the container. This is a problem I often have, especially if we have bad weather and I end up putting off transplanting. Root bound plants do not transplant as well and can be set back weeks in their progress when they are out in the garden.

The roots will also be healthier because you are less likely to have too much moisture around the roots like you would if they were in a poorly drained container. Too much moisture around the roots can cause a bunch of different problems with your seedlings.

Lots of size options

Soil block makers come in 3 or 4 different sizes, giving you lots of options for different plant sizes. Using larger blocks will allow you to keep your seedlings growing indoors longer, giving you strong, larger healthy starts.

Forces bottom watering

When you are using a soil block maker you have to water the blocks from the bottom! You put the blocks in a tray and then fill the bottom of the tray with water when needed. I’m a huge fan of bottom watering of seedlings. Seedlings seem to do much better when you water them from the bottom, this forces the roots to go deep in the soil to look for water, instead of staying closer to the surface like they would if you watered from the top.

Disadvantages of using a soil block maker

The soil Dries out quicker

You do have to watch soil blocks a little closer in the water department. Because there is not a container around them the soil can dry out quicker.

Harder to move around

Your soil blocks have to stay in a big tray. That makes things a little harder to deal with during the growing process. If you have some plants in the tray doing better than others they might need to be moved to a different lighting station. That’s pretty hard to do when they are all packed together in one tray.

I also used the larger blocks to grow some lettuce. The roots of the lettuce plants never really filled the whole block.  When transplanting time came, getting those plants out of the tray was a little awkward.

They are a little pricey

At around $30 each using a soil block maker to start your seedlings can be a little pricey up front. Over the long run they will pay for themselves. But there is a pretty larger up front commitment.

My Overall Feelings

Overall I was pretty happy with my first time using a soil block maker.  They were very easy to use and they grew good, strong, healthy starts. I’m sure a few of the issues I had with them would have been resolved had I had a smaller soil block makers. The one I used was the second largest. I think one size smaller would have been better for the small plants I grew.  It also would have saved seedling mix.

Using a soil block maker 6

These guys will be going on my Christmas list this year. I look forward to including them as part of my seed starting program. I think they will be particularly handy for large numbers of flower starts. They will also be great for things like lettuce where.  With lettuce I like to have a bunch of smaller starts to set our after only 4 weeks. I don’t think I would use them for larger starts like tomatoes, peppers or broccoli, where the plants are in the containers longer and grow much larger.

Here’s a list of several different soil block makers for you to check out. (be aware that these are affiliate links so I will earn a small Amazon commission if you buy):

Genuine Ladbrooke Mini 4 Soil Blocker

5-PC. “BASIC GROWER” SOIL BLOCKING SET: Ladbrook

Micro 20 Soil Block Maker

Ladbrooke Mini 5 Soil Blocker

Anyway, these links will give you a few ideas on where to find this great gardening tool!

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How To Avoid Corn Cross Pollination

I often get questions about planting corn and corn cross pollination.  I’d always been taught that you had to be careful with corn, but for years I didn’t really know the “why”.

Corn Cross Pollination

First let’s talk about what corn cross pollination is and why it is such a worry.  Cross pollination is the natural process where pollen from one variety of a plant pollinates the flower of another.

Cross pollination usually only effects plants within the same family (to learn more about plant families read this post).  So for example a zucchini can cross pollinate with a pumpkin, but the results of the cross pollination will not show up until the next generation.  So it will be the off spring of the cross pollination that will be a new plant.  You will NOT get a pumkinzini this year.

Anyone that says their (x) crossed with (X) and I got this weird funky fruit is mistaken.  In those cases what really happened is they started out with bad seed or there was some environmental factor that made this years fruit “funky”.  Strange fruit in this year, is not the result of cross pollination this year.  I repeat, cross pollination affects the next generations fruit, not this years fruit in almost all families of veggies that can cross pollinate.

BUT, corn cross pollination in an exception to that rule.  The corn that you get this year, can and will be affected by cross pollination.  So you have to be careful what types of corn you plant in your garden.

It all has to do with Dominant Genes.

Field corn and Popcorn are always dominate to sweet corn.

Also regular old sweet corn (or even heirloom sweet corn) may be dominate to many of the “super sweet” varieties of corn out there on the market.

So what does this mean to the home gardener?

Corn is wind pollinated, which means the pollen is spread almost exclusively by the wind (No Insects Involved).

Corn Cross Pollination 2

Corn plants are pollinate when they “tassel”.  Tasseling is when you see the tall feather like shoots at the top of your corn plant and the tassels contains the pollen (this is the male part of the plant).  Lower on the plant is the female flower which we call silt’s.

Corn Cross Pollination 3

These are the bunches of fine silk like material that eventually will be at the top of your corn cobs.  The pollen from the tassels is blown by the wind to the silts, where the seeds are then pollinated and eventually become each of the individual pieces of corn on the cob.

This is why it is so necessary for you to plant corn close together in blocks or multiple rows.  So the pollen from one corn plant can spread to another.

This also explains why it is so easy for different varieties of corn to cross pollinate.

So let’s use sweet corn and popcorn as an example.  If you plant sweet corn and popcorn together, popcorn is the dominate gene. So if (and when) pollen from your popcorn is gets on the silt’s of your sweet corn, cross pollination will occur and the dominate gene’s in the popcorn will ruin your sweet corn, giving your “funky” stranger tasting corn.

So how do you prevent this corn cross pollination?

There are 3 methods.

1.  Only plant one variety of corn per year.

If you want sweet corn, then choose one variety of sweet corn that year so there is no risk of corn cross pollination.  And make sure if your neighbors garden (anyone within 100 feet of your garden) that they also plant the same or a similar variety of sweet corn.  Yes fences or large buildings between your garden and your neighbors will help, but they are no guarantee.

2.  Distance

Distance between varieties can prevent corn cross pollination.  100 feet is usually considered enough distance to prevent any significant cross pollination.  A house between (or some other large structure) may also help.  But if you want 100% pure seed (for example if you are planning on saving an heirloom seed for next year). Then really 1000 feet is the max safety zone!

3.  Time

The other method for preventing corn cross pollination is timing.  The way this works is you separate the time different varieties are pollinating by planting those varieties at very different times.  Say at least 3 or 4 weeks apart.  This means that one variety is done pollinating before the other starts setting tassels.

Separation by time can also be accomplished by planting varieties with vastly different tasseling times.  Try planting an early maturing sweet corn with a late maturing popcorn.  This one requires you don’t some homework and may also mean a little trial and error for a few years.

Corn Cross Pollination 4

I understand this corn cross pollination is a bit complicated, and it can also be a bit of a pain in the neck.  Do your research before you plant different varieties of sweet corn together to be sure they wont cross.  And remember that you can never plant popcorn or field corn (Including those fancy colored decorative corns) together with sweet corn.

Questions???  Ask away in the comment section!

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7 November Garden Tasks you still need to do!

Here’s a list of November Garden tasks that those of us living in the north should be completing before it gets too cold.

7 November Garden Tasks

As the gardening year winds down for most of us in the north there are still a few garden tasks you should be competing during the month of November. As always this advice is meant for those of us living in Zones 4 to 7 and even those a bit colder if your ground isn’t frozen. Those of you in the warmer zones can put these tasks off for a bit longer.

Plant Garlic

The first of our November garden tasks is planting garlic.  If you haven’t already done so NOW is the time to get some garlic planted. Fall planted garlic will do 100% better than spring planted. And as long as your ground hasn’t frozen there is still time to get some garlic in. It may be getting harder to find seed this time of year, but ask around, many of your gardening friends may have a few cloves they can give you. Of if all else fails you can always plant some from the grocery store.

November Garden tasks 2

The point is that even this late in the year you are better off to plant garlic now than waiting for the spring. Don’t forget to give your garlic bed a layer of protective mulch. Something like straw, leaves or grass clippings. You can learn more about planting garlic from this post.

Put out cold frames & hoop houses

For those of you adventurous enough to garden year round the next November garden tasks is be sure your cold frames and hoop houses are out and covering your winter crops. Get these handy crop protectors out and ready for use. Really cold nights are coming soon and you don’t want to be rushing out to get them set up in the snow!

November Garden tasks 3

Also keep in mind that November is a transition month for most of us, weather wise. You can have one day in the 60’s and the next in the 30’s. So you need to keep a close eye on the temperature inside your cold frames and hoop houses. Temperatures inside a cold frame on a 65 degree day can reach into the high 90’s. That is way to hot for tender winter greens and they will cook for sure. So watch that temperature and vent your cold frames and hoop houses in order to keep the temperature in the 60’s!

Also remember to give your winter crops a couple of good waterings this month. Despite all the cooler weather and moisture this time of year it is still a good idea to water those plants a few times before the ground freezes. (Learn more about building cold frames here)

Dig & Prep beds for spring

I love getting my garden beds ready for spring planting now, in the late fall. Fall is a great time to dig and prep your beds for spring planting. If you take care of all those major tasks now then all the beds will need in the spring is a quick raking with a heavy rake to break up the top surface of the soil. Then you are ready extra early to get your spring plants in.

November Garden tasks 6

If you use a tiller, fall is a great time to get out and till your beds. Have you been thinking about double digging your beds? Again fall is a great time. If you trench compost in your garden, November is a great time to dig a trench and fill it with compost-able materials that can then rot all winter.

One thing to keep in mind, many of us have a lot of rain in November. If you soil is wet then DON”T work it. Digging, tilling or even heavy raking of wet soil can destroy your soil composition and ruin your soil for years to come!

Add compost

Another of the important November garden tasks is adding compost to your soil. Almost any type of soil will benefit from the addition of compost. But sometimes the addition of compost to your garden soil can temporarily rob nitrogen from the soil as the compost finishes breaking down. This can really effect the growth of plants, especially newly planted seedlings.

November Garden tasks 4

I have found it is much better to add your compost in the fall, when there are no plants in your garden. This will give the soil organisms as much as 6 moths to work on whatever final break down of the compost needs to be done. If you add that compost in the fall then all those nutrients will be ready for your plants in the spring!

Remove all dead plants and debris

It’s been a long and productive summer in your garden. I get it, you worked hard all summer and the next of the November garden tasks can be tempting to put off. But you need to get out and do a final clean up of your garden. Pull out all the dead vegetables, rake up the leaves and clean up those perennial beds.

Leaving your garden full of debris and dead plants can be really problematic.

I hear people all the time say they leave their dead plants in the garden as habitat for birds and other critters in the winter. But there is a problem with that. Along with the birds, garden debris is also great cover for many garden pests, slugs, snails, grasshoppers and even aphids will take cover for the winter in the debris scattered around your garden. When spring arrives they will emerge, hungry and ready to reproduce!

It’s a far better practice to keep your garden clean and junk free over the winter months. If you are concerned about the birds then build a few bird houses and feeders for your yard.

Prune and Trim Berry Plants and other trees

November is a great time to prune many of your perennial berry bushes. Remove this years producing canes from plants like Blackberries and Raspberries. In fact depending on the variety of raspberry you may be able to cut the plants completely down.

Also go through your strawberry patch and remove weak and spent plants, clean up debris and then cover your strawberry beds with either a heavy fabric row cover or with some type of organic mulch (like straw or leaves). This November garden tasks will make for a much quicker start to your patch in the spring along with a much higher survival rate for the plants over the winter.

And don’t forget your ornamental trees and shrubs. Fall is NOT the right time to prune them heavily. But you should go around your yard and look for weak or damaged branches that may be torn off the tree by heavy winter snows. It is better for you to cut then off now than to have them break and tear off over the winter. Also look for branches that may rub against your house or roof during those long winter storms. You would be amazed at the damage a small branch, rubbing all winter against your roof can do!

Another of the November garden tasks related to both ornamental and fruit trees is to prevent winter sun scald. If you have trees that are susceptible to winter trunk damage then you should wrap those trunks in November with a white tree wrap to protect them.

Bring in all your tools

The last November garden tasks is to take a tour of your yard and garden looking for miss-placed tools and other garden supplies. 4 or 5 months of sever winter weather can really destroy garden tools.

We all do it, leave a shovel behind a tree or set a rake against a fence somewhere. Take a quick tour of your yard and just make sure you got every thing back inside your shed. That way you wont find rusted garden tools all over the yard next spring!

Finish up these last 7 November garden tasks early and then settle in for a long winters break! It’s time to find a few good gardening books to read. Even better how about a few gardening video courses to watch and learn from over the winter. The entire list of my gardening video courses are below along with some special winter discounts! Enjoy your winter!!

Year Round Gardening – $25
Vegetable Gardening Basics – $20
Seed Starting Simplified – $20
Growing tomato heaven – $10
PVC Drip Irrigation – $10

 

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Growing Pumpkins in your home garden

Growing Pumpkins in your home garden is a fun and easy crop to grow.  But watch out, it takes a lot of space!

Growing Pumpkins

Growing Pumpkins has always been one of my favorites. Part of that appeal might come from the fact that pumpkins were one of the first real successes I had as a gardener. It was the first year we had an “official” garden, we had just moved into our new home and I took our two youngest out and had them help me plant the pumpkin seeds. They were tucked into a back corner of the garden and most of the vines grew out into our neighbors horse pasture. That one little hill of pumpkins gave us 7 carving sized fruits. The kids were thrilled and so was I!!

Ever since, the kids and I have tramped out together to the garden and planted a few hills of pumpkins. It has been a fun tradition that I will miss now that they are all nearly grown! (the kids not the pumpkins).

For a home gardener pumpkins are fairly easy to grow and relatively pest free. But be warned growing pumpkins requires a lot of space! So you will need to learn to be creative!!

How to get started growing pumpkins

Location

Keep in mind that pumpkins are a vining plant and require A LOT of space. One pumpkin vine will grow up to 20 feet and for a decent crop you need at least a couple of plants. So you need to plan carefully where you are going to grow your pumpkins!

They will need a sunny spot with lots of room to sprawl. It is possible to train the vines to stay in one area, but that area should be at least 10 foot square. Pumpkins can also be grown on a trellis to help save space, but larger fruits may need some support as they mature.

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You can prune pumpkin vines. Wait until the vine has produced at least one male flower and one female flower (I will explain flowers in a bit). Then prune the vine just past the first female flower. This will encourage other “side shoot” vines which can also be pruned. Pruning will encourage the plant to grow several smaller fruit instead of just one or two larger ones.

Pumpkins like fertile soil so amending the soil with at least 2 inches of quality compost or well rotted manure before planting (or even the fall before) is a good idea.

I have seen folks that have used longer flower beds to plant pumpkins. Pumpkin vine will fill up the bed (with a little training) and make an attractive green plant!

Planting

Pumpkins are planted like any other winter squash, in the late spring. They are a warm season crop and should be planted after any danger of frost has past. If you plant sooner be prepared for cold nights and cover the plants with some type of row cover or clotch. You need to wait to plant pumpkins until the soil temperature has warmed to 65 degrees. I love my handy soil thermometer to help me know when it’s time to plant. You can warm the soil earlier using some plastic (Read more about this technique here)

I like to plant pumpkins in “Hills”. Technically speaking a hill is just a grouping of plants, It doesn’t actually have to be a HILL. But I like to mound up a hill about 18 inches wide and 4 to 6 inches high. This gives me a good spot to plant my seeds or transplants and I’ve found hills with a little depression on top are easier to water.

Leave at least 5 feet between hills.

Plant your seeds 1 inch deep.

Plant each hill with 4 or 5 seeds spaced evenly around the hill. Once the seeds have germinated and are up and growing I remove all but the two healthiest plants.

Most pumpkin varieties take between 90 to 120 days from planting to mature. So if you have a shorter growing season you can get a bit of a head start by starting your seeds indoors 2 to 3 weeks before you intend to plant them out. Once the seedlings are ready you should put 2 seedlings in each hill. Keep in mind that all types of squash plants don’t really transplant all that well. So it is important to only give them 2 or 3 weeks indoors, you want small new plants with only a few leaves. Older plants that have already started vining will not do nearly as well. (learn more about seed starting by taking my Seed Starting Simplified course)

Care while growing pumpkins

The only care pumpkins really require while growing is weeding and plenty of water. They prefer moist soil, so be sure they are planted in an area where you can keep them watered.

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While they are growing keep those vines trained and contained in the area designated for them. Out of control pumpkin vines can shade the rest of the plants in your garden. So keep them under control.

Fruit Development and Flower Gender

Like all other members of the Squash Family, pumpkins develop flowers of both genders. It is easy to tell the difference. Male flowers just have a long flower stalk behind the flower, female flowers will have a small baby pumpkin behind the flower. Pumpkins are insect pollinated so be sure to avoid any pesticide use in your garden that might kill bees or other pollinators.

If you feel like your female flowers are not getting pollinated you can do it by hand. The easiest method is to carefully remove all of the flower petals from a male flower. Then gently rub the remaining flower parts all around the inside of a female flower. I have also seen folks hand pollinate using a small soft paint brush, taking pollen from the male flower and transferring it to the female flower. But ultimately bees do a better job, so do all you can to protect your local bee population!!

You will always see a rush of male flowers first. Often the only flowers you will see to begin with will be male. But never fear the female flowers will come. That rush of male flowers is natures way of attracting the bees!

Harvesting your pumpkins

Growing Pumpkins will start out green and late in the season they will slowly take on their traditional orange color. Color is not an indication of ripeness. You should try to leave your pumpkins on the vine as long as possible. It is best to leave them until the first frost kills your vines.

Growing Pumpkins

Once the pumpkins are ready to harvest cut the growing pumpkins from the vine with a pair of garden shears or a very sharp knife. Leave at least 2 inches of vine attached to the pumpkin.

Leave the pumpkins on a sunny porch for at least a week. This helps the skins to harden and cure and will give you a longer storage time. But be sure to protect them from frost on cold nights.

Growing Pumpkins #2

If cold weather forces you to bring in your pumpkins before they have completely ripened, never fear.  Just bring them inside and place them in a warm sunny window for a few weeks and they will ripen!

Storage

Most varieties of pumpkins will last in storage for 3 to 4 months. Keep them in a cool spot (50 to 60 degrees) for the longest storage.

Varieties to grow

There are 4 main types of pumpkins

Carving

These are the traditional jack-o-lantern pumpkins used for Halloween carving! The flesh of these types of pumpkins is eatable but they are really not the best type to grow if you are looking to eat your pumpkins. The flesh on these carving pumpkins is stringier and less flavorful. But the seeds from carving pumpkins are delicious roasted and are VERY nutritious.

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Pie Pumpkins

These are smaller, sweeter pumpkins that have flesh that is more tender and tasty. These pumpkins are traditionally used for pies and other baked goodies. They have much thicker flesh and a smaller seed cavity. The seeds on these pumpkins are also eatable. If you are looking to replace the flavor and texture of store bought canned pumpkin, you could also consider growing Butter cup squash. Believe it or not most of the canned pumpkin you buy at the store actually isn’t pumpkin at all, but instead Butter Cup or other squashes.

Giant Pumpkins

These are the huge 300 pound giants you see grown for all the contests every fall. They are very specialized to grow and take a lot of time and experience. But if you are looking for bragging rights in your neighborhood these are the plants you want to grow.

Novelty pumpkins

Technically many of the funny shaped and colored pumpkins you see are squashes. But they are grown the same way and can give you some fun variety to your fall decorations. Most of these varieties are also eatable and you may even like them better.

If you like pumpkin seeds there are also varieties you can grow that have “hull-less seeds” they are nice for eating but I have found them a little difficult to grow.

Common Pests & Problems

Pumpkins are troubled by cucumber beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borer and also powdery mildews. There are also some viral and bacterial wilt diseases that can affect pumpkins but these are less common.

There are some conventional non organic treatments for powder mildew, but I have found that early planting and good crop rotation usually keeps that problem at bay in my garden long enough to get a harvest.

Dealing with the pests is usually just a matter of vigilance. You need to keep an eye on your plants, inspecting the leaves often looking for both damage and egg clusters. The photo above is a shot of an egg cluster for squash bugs. Look for these and remove and destroy that section of the leaf. Adult bugs can be sprayed, but they are pretty tough and usually traps (or paying the neighborhood kids to catch and squash them) is just as effective.

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I hope this article encourages you to start growing pumpkins. I love having them in our garden and grow at least one hill each year, even now that we don’t have little kids around. There is just something satisfying about seeing those large leaves and sprawling plants in my garden. And it’s fun to peak beneath the canopy of leaves and find those growing pumpkins all around the garden!

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