The basics of Starting Seedlings – 3 things you need

The basics of starting seedlings are pretty easy to grasp.  Really all you need is a container, some soil and a light! (This post originally appeared as a guest post on Bakerette.com)

Starting Seedlings

Every gardener at some point decides to start growing their own seedlings.  It was the same for us.  As the years went on and we got better and better at gardening our aspirations got bigger.  We wanted our flower beds to look nicer and we had varieties of tomatoes and other veggies that we wanted to try.  Those new veggie varieties were not available at the local nurseries so we had to grow them ourselves.  That’s when we began starting seedlings indoors.

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It also started to become a financial need.  If you go through the list of veggies and flowers that we plant in our garden every year from seedlings the list gets pretty long.  For our little ¼ acre lot this year we will need right around 450 flower and veggie starts.  That can get pretty pricey, in fact there is no way we would shell out all that money so it’s a good thing I learned the basics of starting seedlings.

The 3 Things you need for starting seedlings

There are a lot of complicated methods for starting seedlings.  Really all the different methods come down to just 3 simple things (besides seeds of course).  You need a container, some soil and a light!  That’s it really, all the other things like heat mats, timers, soil blocks, peat pots, etc can help but all you really need is a container, soil and light.

Containers

The most important thing to remember when choosing a container for starting seedlings, is that it needs to have the ability to get rid of excess water.  So basically it needs some holes in it.  Seedlings don’t like to be sitting in soaking wet soil.  So when you water you seedlings any extra water needs to be able to drain off.

I love using the little 4 and 6 cell plastic packs that you can buy at most garden supply stores.  Or even better ask all your neighbors to save the ones they get when they buy nursery plants.  These little cell packs are about the perfect size for nearly every seedling I grow, from flowers to veggies.  I do like to plant my tomatoes in a slightly larger 3 inch pot but everything else goes in these beauties!

Starting Seedlings 3

But having said that I’m by no means implying that my method is the only one!  In the past I have used yogurt cups, cottage cheese containers, peat pellets, peat pots, clay pots and even tin cans all with success.  The important part is that they have a way to drain off any excess water that doesn’t soak into the soil.

Soil

The easiest way to get started growing your own seedlings is to just buy a good quality seedling mix from your local garden store.  I prefer to grow all my veggie plants in a nice store bought organic mix (I’m a little less fussy about an organic mix when I’m growing ornamental flowers but I usually use the organic mix anyway).  Look for a mix that is mostly peat moss with just a little compost and some perlite or vermiculite.   I also try to use a mix that is sterile because those mixes tend to prevent the fungal infection “dampening off”.

Starting Seedlings 2

If you are feeling adventurous (and you have the space) you can make your own seedling mix.  A simple recipe for a homemade mix is :

4 parts peat moss

2 parts compost

1 part vermiculite

½ part perlite

Just mix the amount you need together in a big tub and away you go.

For other recipes for homemade seedling mixes jump over to this post!

Whether you are using a store bought mix or a homemade mix be sure to dampen it before you get started filling containers and planting seeds.

Lights

In order to be successful at starting seedlings I think you need a nice 2 bulb florescent light.   Some people start their seedlings in a sunny window, but I’ve always been disappointed with the results of window started seedlings.  Instead run to your local home improvement store and buy a simple 2 bulb “shop light”.  They usually cost around $25 including bulbs.  Don’t bother buying expensive grow light bulbs.  Instead just get a couple of cool white florescent bulbs and you will be good.

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The more lights you have the more seedlings you can grow.  So if you have space to hang 2 shop lights side by side you can get more seedlings going.  Or if you are crazy like me and grow a million starts a year then you can have 4 or more lights.

The important part of lighting is that you need to have the ability to get the lights very close (within an inch) to you seedlings.  And then you need to be able to adjust those lights up and down.  Keep the light about 1 inch from the tops of the seedlings as they grow.  So find a spot where you can hang the light with an adjustable chain or rope.

Putting it all together

Now fill your container with moist soil, plant your seeds and get them right under the lights.  Be sure to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet.  I usually use a spray bottle full of water to keep the surface of the soil moist until the seedlings get up and established.  It can also be very helpful to put a little plastic wrap over top of the soil until the seedlings germinate.  Then water the plants about every 2 or 3 days as they grow.  Keep that light about 1 inch from the tops of the plants.  In 6 to 8 weeks your seedlings will be ready for the garden!   These rules apply to most veggies and flowers.  Take a look at your seed packages before planting to be sure your seeds don’t need any special treatment.

That’s how to get going on starting seedlings.  Now there can be a lot more to it if you really want to have fun with it.  You can use tons of different specialized containers, heat mats, timers, homemade mixes and more.  If you would like to learn more about seed starting I would like to invite you to take my seed starting video course.  The course is a little more than 2 hours worth of information on seed starting broken into nice bite size segments.

As a special offer to Stoney Acres readers.  You can now get my Seed Starting Simplified course for only $15.  Just follow the link below to the Online Gardening School to learn more!

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What seedlings can you start in January?

What seedlings can you start in January? This post is focused primary on those who live in Zones 5,6,7.

What Seedlings Can you Start in January

Let’s face it, there really isn’t much that most of us can be starting in January. But with a little creativity (and maybe a cold frame) There are a few garden plants that you can get started in January. Even if you live in zones 5 to 7.

What seedlings can you start in January indoors under lights?
Onions

What seedlings can you start in January 1

If you live in zones 5-7 the end of January is your time to start onion seedlings. There are of course several different and fairly simple ways to grow onions without growing the seedlings yourself .  But if you are itching to get something started early, onions are one of those plants! Onion seedlings need a solid 8 weeks or more to get to transplanting size. Decide on your outside planting date and then count back 8-10 weeks. This is when you want to get those seeds started indoors. If you live in zones 5-7 that date is likely to fall in January.

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Herbs

Many of the longer growing herbs need 8 to 10 weeks to get established and ready for transplant outdoors. So January can be a good time to get a few early plants started. These may be plants that will be going into containers. If that is your plan, January is the time to start, because once they are in their final pot, you can always bring them inside on frosty nights.

What seedlings can you start in January 2

Herbs you can plant in late January include, basil, oregano, thyme, chives and parsley. I have found both chives and parsley to be particularly cold hardy making late January the perfect time to get them started indoors.

Lettuce

January 15th is my target date for the first indoor plantings of lettuce. These seedlings will go out in the garden in mid March. For us in zone 5/6 March plantings of lettuce still has to go in a cold frame or a hoop house for protection and warmth. But a mid January planting indoors means we will have fresh lettuce in the garden by early April.

What seedlings can you start in January 3

Be sure you have your lettuce seedlings in larger pots. They will be inside for at least 8 weeks (depending on you March weather) so a standard 2 inch pot won’t cut it that long. Either plant them in a 3 to 4 inch pots, or plan on transplanting them out after 4 or so weeks, into a lager pot.

Spinach

Spinach is one of the more hardy spring plants. It will grow unprotected in our garden starting in March. So a Late January planting indoors is perfect for us.

Keep in mind that spinach is one of those plants that doesn’t transplant really well. They have a deep central tap root that doesn’t like being disturbed. So use larger 3 or 4 inch containers so that when transplant time comes there is plenty of soil around that root ball!

Swiss Chard

Another very hardly plant on my “what seedlings can you start in January, list” for your early spring garden is Swiss Chard. You can get a few seedlings started in late January to put out in March under the protection of a hoop house, or even just some fabric row cover.

Remember that a few Swiss chard plants can go a long way. Unless you absolutely love this green, 4 or so plants will probably be enough. These early plantings of chard will last well into the summer, giving you tons of leaves and crunchy celery like stalks.

Kale

Kale is not everyone’s favorite veggie.  I think that is because so many of us grow it at the wrong time of year. Garden kale taste much better when it is grown in very cool to cold temps. In fact, frost enhances the flavor of kale.

What seedlings can you start in January 4

Kale grown in the early spring will be much sweeter than what you are normally use to. So get a few plans started indoors in mid January for transplant to the garden in mid March.

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Early spring flowers

Many flower seedlings take between 8 to 12 weeks to reach transplant size. Late January may be the time to get many of the hardier flowers started.

What seedlings can you start in January 5

Flowers like pansies, will need to be ready to plant out in early to mid April so late January is the time to get them started.

A reminder that this list of “what seedlings can you start in January”,  is mainly intended for those living in Zones 5,6,7. If you live in the warmer zones then you have probably already started your seedlings. If you live in a colder zone then you should wait. A good rule of thumb is to start seedlings 6-8 weeks before you intend to plant them out in the garden. In the case of all these January plantings you should also have a hoop house or cold frame to plant these seedlings in when they go out to the garden.

**Note:  I’ve had some requests for a link to a Zone Map so you can look up your zone where you live.  Here’s the link:
http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/**

 

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Join the Online Gardening School


I am excited to announce the launch of The Online Gardening School.

Online Gardening School

2 years ago I launched my first online gardening video course on Udemy.com.  Since that time I have filmed and published 5 more courses.  Udemy is a great online education platform but I have always wanted to host my courses on my own site.  Now I’m excited that it is finally a reality.  The Online Gardening School is live and accepting new students!!  Just go to www.onlinegardeningschool.com

We have a total of 6 video courses on The Online Gardening School:

Year Round Gardening

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Seed Starting Simplified

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The Beginners Guide to Vegetable Gardening

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PVC Drip Irrigation

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Growing Tomato Heaven

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5 crops to grow for your Food Storage

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You will love this new site!  This will be the perfect place to learn and also to establish a community of gardening students!

Hosting my courses on my own site allows me to do several new things:

  1.  I have a long list of shorter courses I would like to film.  These courses will cover one topic, for example: Growing Potatoes.  These courses will be around 1 hour long and I feel like $10 is a good price for a course like that.  But Udemy wont let me charge that little.  So now a whole world of new topics opens up to us.  Students will even be able to request topics!
  2. Master courses – I will also now be able to film much longer “master courses”.  These will be longer more valuable courses.
  3. Community – Students on The Online Gardening School will be able to join our Facebook group where they can ask questions, share successes and all become better gardeners!
  4. Package deals – I can now offer more specials and group courses together and sell them as packages!

 

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about this change!

Grand Opening Specials

To celebrate the launch of the new school I’m offering 2 ways to join!

First – Buy any of my courses for 50% off.  Follow these links to get that price:

Year Round Gardening – $20

Seed Starting Simplified – $15

Vegetable Gardening Basics – $15

Growing Tomato Heaven – $10

PVC Drip Irrigation – $10

Second – Buy all my courses in one giant bundle and save $100 today!

Course Bundle $60

I’m offering a fantastic bundle deal for you.  Buy all 6 of my courses (Regular combined price $160) for the one time Grand Opening price of only $60.  That is a $100 savings for you.  You get all 6 courses, almost 15 hours of content, for only $60!

Because this is such a great deal I do have to limit this to the first 30 people to sign up.

 

What does this mean to those of you that already own some of my courses on Udemy?  Nothing!  There will be no change to the courses on Udemy, you will continue to watch your courses there and have full access.  Any updates I make to the courses will be made on both sites.  I will also continue to add many courses to both sites, but there will be a few of the courses that will only be available at The Online Gardening School.  Should you decide you would like to move your ownership of your Udemy courses to The Online Gardening School, contact me at rick@ourstoneyacres.com and we can take care of it for a very small transfer fee ($1 per course).

 

Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule

A Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule can start as early as January with lettuce & other greens. March & April are the months for starting most of your crops!

Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule

Today’s post is by request!  A Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule.  One of my readers who lives fairly close by in our “neck of the woods” as she put it, asked for a breakdown of when I get seeds started indoors.

Please keep a couple of things in mind:

First, this schedule would be for someone who lives in a warm zone 5 or zone 6 (we live in zone 6 but because we are so close to the river and the lowest part of the valley we are really more zone 5).

Second, we have cold frames and hoop houses to offer protection to some of our earliest spring and latest fall plantings so if you don’t have a way to protect  your seedlings you will want to skip the really early plantings of lettuce.

Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule 2

A couple of other guidelines for this Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule.  I try to time all my seedlings so that they spend no more than 6 or 7 weeks indoors.  Usually 6 weeks under the lights and another week outdoors hardening off, any more time than that and you will stunt the plants because they will be all root bound in the pots.  We love lettuce for our salads.  Every year I set out with a plan to plant about 8 lettuce plants every 3 weeks.  That’s always the plan, not always the reality.  When we do hit that goal it gives us a couple of heads of lettuce to eat per week.  If you don’t like lettuce that much adjust your plan accordingly.

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Here’s our zone 5/6 seed starting schedule
Plant Date Plant Type Plant Outside
1/15 Lettuce (for Cold Frame) 2/26
2/5 Lettuce (for Cold Frame) 3/19
2/5 Pac Choy, Swiss Chard 3/19
2/5 Flowers – Pansies 4/5
2/19 Broccoli, Cabbage, Kohl Rabi, Kale 4/2
2/19 Tomatoes, Early Girl & Sunsugar (for Wall-o-Waters) 4/2 to 4/16
2/19 Lettuce (No Cold Frame needed) 4/2
3/12 Lettuce (No Cold Frame needed), Celery 4/23
3/17 Flowers – Petunia, Snap Dragons, Impatiens 5/17 to 6/1
3/26 Peppers, Celery, Tomatoes, Herbs 5/15
4/2 Lettuce (Switch to summer crisp varieties) 5/14
4/5 Flowers – Marigold 5/17
4/17 Flowers – Zinnia, Morning Glory 5/17
4/23 **Melons, Pumpkins, Squash, Cucumbers 5/15
4/23 Lettuce (Switch to summer crisp varieties) 6/4
5/14 Lettuce (Switch to summer crisp varieties) 6/25
6/4 Lettuce (Switch to summer crisp varieties) 7/16
6/18 Kale, Swiss Chard, Kohl Rabi, Broccoli, Cabbage 7/30
6/25 Lettuce (Switch to summer crisp varieties) 8/6
7/16 Lettuce (Switch to summer crisp varieties) 8/27
8/1 Lettuce (back to cool weather types) 9/15
8/1 Chinese Cabbages (Totsoi, Pak Choy, etc.) 9/15
8/21 Lettuce (back to cool weather types) 10/7
** This is optional, based on the space I have.
All these plants can be direct seeded later as well

 

So there it is.  Of course this is based off my experience and what has worked best for our garden, I’m sure some of my gardening friends may have different dates.  I’ve been growing my own vegetable seedlings for years, my flower experience is much more limited so I won’t swear by those dates (yet).  This year we really want to add a lot of color to our yard so we will be growing a lot more of our own flower seedlings, so I should have a lot more experience next year!!

Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule 3

A few other comments

1. If you don’t have a cold frame or hoop house (why don’t you!!) then you really wouldn’t need to worry about getting anything started until mid February.

2. I don’t always get melons, cucumbers and squash planted indoors.  If you do try them you should only plant them about 3 weeks early. You want your seedlings to be very small with only 3 or 4 true leaves, anything larger won’t transplant well.  But in our area all of those plants do well when seeded directly in mid May so it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get seedlings.

3. Lots of people question why I start all my lettuce indoors when lettuce does so well when sown directly.  It’s really just my preference, I get a much better “finished product” when I start them indoors.  Also starting them indoors allows me 6 more weeks of growing something else outside in the garden while the lettuce is getting started indoors.

Zone 5/6 Seed Starting Schedule

As you can see from this zone 5/6 seed starting schedule, our seed starting operation is pretty busy from January until October, but growing my own seedlings saves us a ton of money and time.  I hope this helps!!

Seed Starting Simplified

Would you like to learn more about seed starting?  Well why not take our online video course.  Follow this link to learn more about the course!

 

**Note:  I’ve had some requests for a link to a Zone Map so you can look up your zone where you live.  Here’s the link:
http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/**

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Growing Lettuce Indoors in the Winter

Growing lettuce indoors is a project I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time. We have a nice south facing window in our kitchen, it’s perfect for growing plants.

Growing Lettuce Indoors

This post on growing lettuce indoors will be a little different than most of my posts. Usually I’m writing about things I know a lot about or projects we have already tackled and proven successful.

But growing lettuce indoors in the winter is new to us. In fact this post is about our experiment at growing lettuce indoors. This is our first time tying it, so I am going to lay out for you what we are doing and then as our experience grows I will update this post with new advice.

Also I’d really like to ask for your comments and suggestions. If you have experience growing lettuce indoors and would like to add your advice PLEASE feel free!

Why we want to grow lettuce indoors in the winter

Many of you know we do a lot of winter growing, we have 3 cold frames and a hoop house this year bursting with winter produce (to learn more about our year round gardening start here). But lettuce is not the most hardy of the winter plants. We can usually only keep it growing until about the first of December in our cold frames. But we love having lettuce around to add with our other winter greens for salads.

When we moved into our new house 3 years ago, I immediately started checking out this beautiful south facing window in our kitchen. For the last 3 winters we have talked about growing some lettuce in this sunny spot. But because it is on our kitchen, Valerie wanted it to look nice (we do a lot of entertaining here). So we bounced around several ideas and finally this year we landed on clay pots!

This window also has an east facing partner so this entire spot really gets a lot of sunshine every day. More than any other windows in our house.

Our steps for Growing Lettuce Indoors

So here’s how we are trying to grow lettuce indoors this year

Start your Lettuce under lights

We grow all of our own seedlings each year using our seed starting set up. This time of the year it sits unused as its a bit too early for spring plantings. So I figured I should put the seed starter to good use and get the lettuce seedlings off to an extra good start by first growing them under the lights.

Growing Lettuce Indoors 2

We started these lettuce seeds in early October and they have been under the lights since. You can see they have sized up very well and are ready to be transplanted. I think these big beautiful starts will give us our best chance at successfully growing lettuce indoors. My one worry is that these starts are use to 14 hours of light per day. Once they are in the window they will only be receiving 10 hours or less of sunlight during the winter. We will see how they react to this change. Lettuce is a plant that can grow with less light, so I’m hoping this bright window will be enough!

Transplant your seedlings into the pots

We bought eight 4 inch clay pots with saucers. In a hope of save some potting soil we filled the bottom of the pots with some gravel. Again we are experimenting a bit here. 4 inch pots are really not all that big so filling a third of them with gravel may turn out to be a mistake as it might limit root growth. But we’ll see. I can always take the gravel out for the next round.

Growing Lettuce Indoors 3

I then covered the gravel with soil and transplanted the seedlings into the pot and filled up the remaining space. Then we watered them well.

Growing Lettuce Indoors 4

We had about 16 total starts, I picked the 8 strongest and we used the rest in a salad.

I also choose the starts based on color. Again this is in a very public part of our house so we wanted it to look good. You will see, it really does look pretty cool!

Put your seedlings in a sunny window

Max out the sun as much as possible. These windows face our back yard so we don’t need to worry too much about privacy. We will keep the blinds on this window up and out of the way for this whole experiment.

Growing Lettuce Indoors 5

Only 6 of the pots fit in the south facing window so I put the other 2 in the east facing window.

Water, care and fertilizer

The plants are right over the sink so watering should be simple. Clay pots dry out fairly quickly so I figure we will need to water every 3 days.

Rotating the plants will be super important. If we want to avoid tall leggy plants that are leaning to the sun we will need to rotate the pots a 1/4 turn every couple of days. Again having them right over the sink will help us to remember to do this!

Fertilizer will be important. For this first test run the seedlings are planted in an organic seed starting mix. This mix does have a little compost but not much, so we will need to give them a supplemental feeding of an organic fertilizer. For now we will be using our liquid fish emulsion diluted to 1/2 strength. We will fertilize them once a week. I”m a little concerned about the smell of the fish emulsion. If that smell doesn’t go way within an hour or so then I think we will head down to our local nursery. They sell a granular organic fertilizer that we can try instead.

Growing Lettuce Indoors 6

As you can see from the pictures, they look pretty cool!! If nothing else I will enjoy having some green in the house! We used 3 different types of lettuce this time. Our favorite red leaf lettuce, Tom Thumb which are the paler green (this is a mini butter crunch) and then our favorite full size butter crunch. I think ultimately we will stick with leaf lettuces or the mini butter crunch. We want the quickest growing types we can find. We planted these on Saturday (December 10). I’m hoping they are large enough to start harvesting leaves in 2 or 3 weeks (around Christmas). I’ve already started the next batch under the lights of the seed starter. If this project works out, we have several other south facing windows that we may try this in!

So . . . here’s your chance. What advice do you have for me? Have any of you tried this before? What made it successful for you? What varieties did you grow? How soon were they ready for harvest? Leave your comments below! Thanks Guys!

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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.

simple hoop house 3

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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