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Friday
Mar082019

Healthy Fundraising with Seeds for Schools

Raise money for your school, and encourage healthy living in your community? How could anyone say no to that?! Especially when Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Seeds for Schools program makes it so easy to do both. Every time you sell one of their fun, easy to grow organic seed collections, your school keeps 50% of the price.

Just imagine the educational impact of earning money for school while integrating relevant class topics like agriculture, business, and sustainability. Plus, every buyer receives a beginner-friendly gardening guide - so even brand new growers can taste success in the garden. And Southern Exposure has also partnered with online fundraising platform, FarmRaiser, which has simple tools for accurate orders, excellent customer service, and offers several options for sales and receiving payments. Think your school would enjoy raising money by selling seeds? click here to learn more!

Tuesday
Mar052019

How To Detect and Correct Soil Nutrient Deficiencies

If only your plants could tell you what they needed. A droopy jalapeño pepper plant might shout, “Hola Amigo, how about a little agua over here? Mucho Gracias!” 

Or An overcrowded row of shelling pea plants might politely request, “ A bit more room, if you please. Ah, that’s much better. Splendid, tip top, right-O! 

An hungry eggplant might break in with, “Hey wise guy, when are you gonna come through with that blood meal you owe me? I’m starving over here!”

Plants can’t speak, but they can still tell us when their soil is nutrient deficient.. Once we understand some basic plant sign language, an off colored leaf or sagging stem might as well be a clear call for help through a loudspeaker, or an interstate billboard.

 

Nitrogen Deficiency
Feeble growth and yellowing of leaves - especially in older growth. 

Nitrogen is the soil nutrient in highest demand and, and levels must be maintained continuously for healthy plant growth. As the major component of chlorophyll, Nitrogen what gives plants their green color. Add blood or fish meal, along with compost to the soil, to increase nitrogen levels.

 

 

Phosphorous Deficiency
Stunted growth, purple tinted plant tissue. Frail, brittle leaves and stems.

Phosphorous is the second most important soil nutrient. It is released by organic matter and mineral particles when the soil is warm, moist, and well aerated. Add bone meal or soft rock phosphate to the soil to increase phosphorous levels.

 

 

Potassium Deficiency 
Yellow veins between leaves, brown scorching and curling of leaf tips and edges, purple spots on undersides of leaves.

The third most important soil nutrient, potassium usually occurs naturally. Potassium, or Potash, is essential for plant cell functioning. Add wood ashes or green sand to the soil to increase potassium levels.

 

 

Calcium Deficiency
Stunted or dying plants, hooked appearance of new growth. Blossom end rot in fruiting vegetables, tip burn in brassica family plants, interior browning in celery and rosette types.

Calcium helps plant rootlets absorb soil nutrients, and also raises soil pH. Even when adequate levels are present in the soil, Calcium uptake is often poor in heavy, soggy soil. Always take steps to ensure good soil drainage, and add Dolomitic lime and gypsum to increase calcium levels in your soil.

 

 

Magnesium Deficiency
Leaves display green veins with yellowing in between. Yellowing begins in younger leaves, followed by older growth.

With a good cation exchange ratio, even low magnesium levels are sufficient to grow healthy plants. Add dolomitic limestone or epsom salts to increase magnesium levels. 

 

 

Sulfur Deficiency
Yellowing of younger leaves, while older leaves stay green

The leaching action of rain sometimes depletes sulfur levels in deep, sandy soils. Add elemental sulfur or gypsum to the soil to increase sulfur - but use caution as it also lowers soil pH.

 

Friday
Mar012019

A Slender, Sunny, Sliver ; The Russells' Organic Garden

Sometimes an gardener’s zeal for growing organic produce at home is shadowed by the leafy canopy overhead. The shade from mature oak and maple trees certainly do make outdoor living spaces more comfortable, and tame summer cooling bills, but many popular edible plant varieties need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. Attempting to grow tomatoes or peppers in anything less will probably lead to garden let-down. For the Russell family, that left just one small, sunny, sliver on the left side of the couple’s Myers Park bungalow.  And while the site may be slender, it has several advantages that make it a suitable site for an organic garden. Most importantly, it receives a nearly a full day of sun exposure, from mid spring through late fall. The garden area lies alongside a brick pathway, just outside the back door, sidestepping the long hike and muddy boots many gardeners live with. A bank of windows conveniently looks right out onto the garden, and a nearby spigot makes hand watering fast and easy.

By request, we built the Russells’ two 3’x8’ Kitchen Garden raised beds 21” tall - a little taller than the Kitchen Garden’s standard 18” height. The raised beds are made with untreated Eastern Red Cedar, which is famously resistant to insects and decay. The Kitchen Garden design’s height and seating cap make working in the garden way more comfortable for gardeners, and nearly impossible for rabbits to get into. 

We fill our raised beds with an OMRI approved organic soil blend that contains no native soil. This soilless mix of pine bark fines, mushroom compost and slate pebbles stays light and loamy, maintaining excellent drainage and soil aeration season after season.  

And to free up a little more family time and help ensure consistent watering - even when the family is away on vacation - we installed a Netafim 1/2” drip irrigation system in the garden beds. The drip system is connected it to the property’s main irrigation system, which allows the Russells to adjust and automate their organic garden’s watering schedule from the main irrigation control panel.

With plenty of sunlight, premium organic soil, and automated watering, the Russells' are well on their way to a prize winning organic garden. Is your property too shaded for an organic garden? Have another look - you just may find a nice little nook with everything you need.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan302019

5 Reasons Gardening is Good for Your Health

As if all that tasty home-grown produce weren’t reason enough, scientific studies have shown that the very process of gardening itself can lead to better health and happiness. So go ahead and lace up your boots and reach for a rake, in the knowledge that you just might add health and happiness to your reputation for the freshest tasting organic produce in the neighborhood.

 

Reduces Stress

Being outside, around plants can help minimize feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, and organic gardening achieves this in an inspiring way. A study in the Netherlands indicated that a group who gardened after completing a stressful task  showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than a second group who read indoors, after completing the same task. Gardening helps reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and can even reduce your risk of having a stroke. Plus, direct contact with sunlight increases vitamin D and calcium levels, which builds stronger bones and immune system, and has also been shown to improve mood. In one study, patients recovering from gall bladder surgery in a room with a view of nature recovered faster than those whose window looked out a brick wall.

 

 

Aerobic Exercise

When you bend, stretch, and lift to amend soil, turn over your compost, or plant new seedlings, your cardiovascular system is worked and major muscle groups are strengthened. Gardening also helps ease chronic pain and joint stiffness, and improves range of motion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just one hour of light gardening can burn up to 330 calories - more than lifting weights for the same amount of time. The National Institute of health suggests 30-45 minutes of gardening, 3-5 times a week as part of a good exercise strategy.

 

Increases Patience and Compassion

Scientific research suggests that those who spend time around plants have more compassion for other people. This means they’re more likely to try to help others, and often have more positive, meaningful relationships. Simply being outside in a green space, increases your compassion for nature which in turn builds empathy for others who share that with you. Caring for plants is the ultimate lesson in patience - an often slow process, contingent on factors beyond our control like sunlight and temperature. Gardening develops a deeper sense of timing and rhythm as you learn to work with the seasons and outdoor environment, instead of attempting to overpower them through human technology.

 

 

Lowers Risk of Dementia

Two different studies have shown that the exercise tied to gardening can help decrease the risk of developing dementia. In one study, a group of older adults who gardened during the 16 year period of the study, showed as much as 47% lower risk of dementia than a control group of peers that didn’t garden.

 

 

Strengthens Immune System

Research indicates that children who are exposed to soil in early childhood develop healthier, stronger immune systems compared to children who are kept in a more sterile environment. Besides having more fun outside playing in the dirt, these kids also tend to have a lower rate of asthma, eczema and allergies later in life. Some studies even suggest that inhaling the beneficial, soil dwelling  M. vaccae bacteria, while digging in soil, or even being outdoors, can increase serotonin levels, and reduce anxiety.

 

 

 

Friday
Jan182019

Local Pros Share Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors 

Every grower dreams of watching tiny seeds sprout and grow up to be sturdy, compact seedlings - the kind with that unmistakable vigor, that are eager to brave blustery spring days outside in the garden.

But often starting seeds at home can be, well… iffy, and results often fall short of the robust seedlings your local nursery has for sale. Just follow these tips from local experts, and you’ll be well on your way to starting seeds like a pro.

 

Supplement Sunlight with Llorescent Lighting

Often, a sunny window inside your house will have just enough warmth and light to germinate and sprout seeds, but not enough direct sunlight to grow the kind of compact, robust seedlings. In fact, window sill-seedlings frequently turn out to be anemic looking, spindly sprouts, worn thin from chasing disappearing sunlight. The solution is supplemental florescent lighting.

“Newly sprouted seedlings will benefit from up to 18 hours of direct light,” explains Alan Corder, owner of American Beauty Garden Center. “Most people sow seeds indoors during winter for a spring garden, but the days are still too short.” Broad-spectrum florescent lights are very well suited to starting seeds indoors because they produce a tremendous amount of light lumens compared to the amount of electricity used.

Florescent lights bulbs also emit very little heat compared to other types of artificial lighting, which means you can place the light just a few inches above the surface of the soil or the plastic dome covering the tray, and not scald the seedlings. In fact, placing the light just a few inches above the tiny sprouts as soon as they pop up, is key to achieving compact, stocky growth. Use a plug-in timer to control the grow light, and remember to mount your light on an adjustable chain or pulley system so it can be easily raised as your seedlings grow. 

 

 

Maintain Ideal Soil Temperature

“Remember that seed germination is triggered by temperature, not light,” says Nick Waddell, co-owner of Rountree Plantation Nursery. “That means that, even with supplemental lighting, if your grow area is set up in a greenhouse, garage, or another cold environment, you’ll need to place a heat mat underneath the seedling tray to keep the soil warm.” Between 75-80 degrees works well for germinating most varieties, and seedling heat mats can be controlled with a thermostat. 


 

 

Keep soil evenly moist

“Always start seeds in a light, sterile growing medium designed specifically for seed starting and propagation,” Nick continues. “ Wet the soil before planting, aiming for a consistency that’s moist but not waterlogged - about like the dampness of a wrung out sponge.” Seeds can rot in soggy soil, of simply fail to germinate in soil that’s too dry. Nursery trays with drainage holes are the way to go, and versions with many small individual capsules are ideal for the home gardener because the entire garden can usually be seeded in just one or two trays.

 

 And with supplemental lighting above your seedlings and a heat mat underneath, it’s likely that the soil will begin to dry out before the seeds have sprouted and are ready to transplant. So be sure to check your seedlings daily, wetting the the soil as needed with a spray bottle, to keep it evenly moist. Placing a clear plastic dome over your seedling tray helps retain moisture, but it’s still just as important to check the soil frequently, adding water as needed.

 

 

 

Preparation & Timing

“Some varieties just don’t transplant well, and are best seeded directly into your garden,” adds Nick Waddell. “Root crops like carrots, parsnips, and radishes, for example. Also, take careful note of the germination period of each seed variety you have, and time your sowings accordingly. Sow varieties with a germination time of weeks - like peppers - well ahead of ones that can pop up in as little as a few days, like squash, cucumbers or beans.”

“We’ve found it beneficial to pre-soak seeds in an organic B-1 solution like Thrive Alive, before planting,” adds Alan Corder. “Beans should always be treated with inoculant, and certain seeds will germinate better when gently scored with a knife before sowing.”