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How to Thin Seedlings

Planting your garden with rooted seedlings is ideal because the plants are rooted and strong, and it’s easy to allow for just the right amount of space between plants. 

But some varieties like carrots, beets, radishes and turnips, don’t transplant well, and grow best when they’re sown directly into the garden. And since some of the seeds won’t germinate, most direct seeding methods allow for some amount of over seeding. But most of the seeds usually do pop up, which means you’ll have way more little sprouts than you actually need, and will need to ‘thin’ them to allow the healthiest individual plants to thrive and grow to full size.

It’s especially hard for new gardeners to rip out clumps of adorable little sprouts by the handful, but without the essential step of thinning, the inevitable result will be disappointment that ‘the carrots sprouted, but never got big’. 

Timing is key with thinning ; the goal of which is to allow the seedlings to grow large enough to withstand attacks from insect pests, but not so big that they become stunted as they compete for nutrients, and sunlight.To best achieve this balance, and wind up with enough healthy seedlings after some loss to insect damage and weather, most growers thin seedlings in three successive rounds - usually about two weeks apart. 

Perform your first thinning when the seedlings are visibly crowded, and have their first true set of leaves. Make the second thinning, when the remaining seedlings have their second set of true leaves. The third and final thinning should allow for the proper amount of space between each seedling, and performed when there are three of four true sets of leaves. After the final thinning, it’s helpful to gently add mulch - like a small layer of finished compost - around any seedlings that appear stretched. This covers and helps support their fragile stems, and helps ensure that root varieties develop properly. Seedlings can also be carefully transplanted to fill gaps in the rows, where there was no germination.

Consider that thinning is essentially the process of identifying and saving the healthiest, most vigorous plants, and discarding the rest - without damaging the ones you want to keep. When 95% of an over-seeded row of carrots comes up, this can be a tricky test of patience. The standard method of thinning - simply pulling out clumps of unwanted sprouts by the roots - is fast and easy, but can damage the roots of the seedlings that you want to keep. A safer, but slower method is to carefully snip off the unwanted sprouts with scissors, just below the surface of the soil. This method is gentler on the seedlings that stay in the garden, and it yields a neat harvest of tasty, young sprouts.



Horne Family's Garden Coop

For the first few months, the Horne family’s six baby chicks looked so cute in the snug little coop that they found online.

But a year later, when it was time to close up the coop for the night, their fully grown backyard flock looked like circus clowns squeezed inside a Volkswagen Super Beetle. The small run that was added later, was built too low to the ground, and never really achieved the spacious coop environment that the family wanted to create for their hens. 


The Garden Coop design was the answer. The roomy coop is large enough for up to eight hens, and makes an even more comfortable coop for the Horne’s flock of six.

The extra space is especially helpful in giving their younger birds plenty of space apart from the sometimes moody, older hens. The outer dimensions of the Garden Coop measure about 6’x10’, and the walk-in design has excellent ventilation, and features a human entry door on the front side of the coop. 


We framed the Horne Family’s Garden Coop with Eastern Red Cedar, which is naturally resistant to weather, and decay, and the roost box was also sided with red cedar. The walls of the coop were carefully  wrapped with 1/2” galvanized hardware cloth, which is buried about 12” deep around the entire perimeter of the coop, and is sturdy enough to keep out common predators like hawks and raccoons, as well as larger ones like coyotes and dogs. 


One of the best things about the Garden Coop is the fully covered run that’s built into the design. Tinted polycarbonate panels placed with a generous amount of overhang, all the way around the coop, will help keep the family’s flock cool on hot summer days, and dry and comfortable, on cold, wet, days in winter.


Horne Family's Cedar Garden Coop from Microfarm Organic Gardens on Vimeo.

Chickens love roosting on live branches, and we found the perfect hardwood branch for the outer roost that’s around 4” in diameter ;  thick enough for the hens to perch comfortably, without cramping their feet. The branch inside the roost box is slightly smaller, but placed so that all six hens can perch together inside, on cold nights. We even made the rungs on the ladder with small sections of branch, which are easier to grip, and just more fun than milled lumber or dowels. 

To make it a little easier to collect eggs, Susan requested that the egg door - which is usually placed on the front of the roost box - be placed on the left side of the coop, where it’s easy to reach without going inside the fenced area where the coop sits. And while even larger groups hens will often all use the same nest box, for the Horne Family’s backyard flock of six, we still included a partitioned double nesting box, where both sides can be reached from the single egg door.



Organic Remedies for Three Common Garden Diseases

Even the healthiest organic garden or greenhouse will eventually find itself under attack from common diseases like tomato late blight, blossom end rot, damping off disease, and powdery mildew. But if you take just a little time to understand these diseases, and the range of powerful, OMRI listed products available to control them, and you can put annoying garden diseases safely in the rearview mirror.


Blossom End Rot

This common syndrome affects tomato and squash plants - usually early in the season -  and is caused by a calcium deficiency that weakens fruit tissue. It can be prevented by enriching your soil with plenty of absorbable calcium, by adding dolomitic lime, and compost before planting.

A regular watering schedule helps ensure that the calcium is available to the plants. To reign in the problem, remove fruits that show signs of end rot - sunken, brown areas - and toss them in the garbage, not in your compost pile.

Powdery Mildew

Easy to spot as a white powder that forms on the leaves of squash and cucumbers, powdery mildew thrives in the humid climate of the Southeast.

You can minimize  the problem, by planting varieties that are mildew resistant, and control outbreaks of powdery mildew with a range of products, from a simple solution of baking soda, applied in the morning, to stronger OMRI listed products like Regalia, Mildew Cure, and GreenCure, and MilStop.

To fully correct the problem, remove any fruits, leaves, or even entire plants that are heavily affected, and throw them in the garbage.


Damping Off Disease

This condition thrives in cold damp areas, and is especially common in greenhouse environments. Damping Off Disease kills sprouting seeds, and also attacks the stems of small seedlings, choking off their supply of water and nutrients.

Damping off targets crushed stem tissue - often the result of rough handling of stems, when transplanting seedlings - so remember to gently handle transplants by carefully holding the leaves or root ball. You can also help eradicate Damping Off Disease, by adjusting the temperature in your grow environment, allowing seeded trays to dry a little more between waterings, and by routinely sterilizing trays and other seed starting equipment.


Scibelli Family's Organic Garden

Frank Scibelli opens hot new restaurant concepts like the rest of us change our socks, and his  customers are more than happy to sip drinks at the bar until a table opens up at Mama Ricottas, Midwood Smokehouse, or Bad Daddy’s.

Customers love Yafo, his newest concept, because the menu board is crowded with healthy choices, and the food is ready before you can say ‘falafel’.

So why would a busy man, who would need a jetpack to visit all of his restaurants in a single day, want to have an organic garden at home?


Fresh produce. The freshest there is. Sunshine, family time, and the tiny miracles that only gardeners get to witness.


And really really tasty Roma tomatoes, zucchini ,eggplant, and sweet Italian peppers. 


So for the garden site, we chose a tidy nook at the back corner of the house, where recent tree work had added several hours of additional sunlight each day. The family liked the simple elegance of our L-Shaped Kitchen Garden raised bed design, which fit perfectly in the area, allowing plenty of room to walk within and around the garden. To make gardening more comfortable, and help keep out rabbits, we make the Kitchen garden design about 18” tall, and add a 6” seating cap along the top edge. The Scibelli’s are a busy family, and to ensure consistent watering, we included a 1/2” drip irrigation system, that’s operated on an individual zone, at the property’s main irrigation control panel.


Our Kitchen Garden raised beds are made with untreated red cedar, and filled with an OMRI listed blend of pine bark fines, mushroom compost, and Stalite PermaTill. This soilless blend provides outstanding drainage, and contains no native topsoil, which will quickly harden and compact.

Once the garden was filled with soil and amended, our team planted an assortment of open pollinated varieties of slicing, paste, and cherry tomatoes, along with zucchini, slicing cucumber, sweet and hot peppers, basil thyme and eggplant.

So happy gardening, Frank. It’s nice to know that if you every find yourself with one too many eggplant or zucchini on hand, there’s a good chance they’ll find a home on a happy customer’s plate.


Greenhouse Maintenance

So you’re the kind of person who stays on top of things. Your mechanic can count on seeing your car for an oil change every three thousand miles, and at the first sign of a flake of paint on your home’s siding, there’ll be a crew with ladders and paintbrushes pulling into the driveway. You’re so fit, that In the gym, people confuse you with your personal trainer.

And you LOVE your greenhouse, but when was the last time you gave it that kind of attention, to make sure it works at its best? Not to worry, because, with these simple steps, your greenhouse will deliver optimum performance just like your other important assets.


Inspect and Clean the Greenhouse Glazing

The cleaner your greenhouse glazing is, the more sunlight will reach your plants. This is especially important during winter months, when the days are already short, and every minute of daylight counts. Remember that some glazing materials, like polycarbonate, often have a protective coating on the exterior to help prevent discoloration and damage from exposure to UV light.

The best way to clean the exterior, and minimize risk of damage to the material, is to gently scrub away dirt with a wet mop, then hose off the exterior. The inside of your greenhouse glazing may actually require more cleaning, as the warm, humid environment encourages the growth of green algae, insects, and dirt buildup. While you’re cleaning, keep an eye out for cracks, chips, or scratches, which can indicate a more serious structural problem, like a frame that racks in high winds.


Examine the Greenhouse Frame

On wood framed greenhouses, look carefully for signs of decay, especially soft spots, and areas that seem to stay wet. Rotten wood should be replaced immediately, and corroded or rusted areas on a metal framed greenhouse, should be sandblasted, and painted with a marine grade exterior primer, before applying a final topcoat. Any decayed, or corroded greenhouse benches and shelving should also be repaired. 


Inspect the Greenhouse Lighting, Heating and Ventilation Systems

Test fans, vents, windows, and doors to see that they are clean, lubricated, and all function properly. Maximize the efficiency of your heating system, by cleaning any built up soot, or debris, and wiping down heating elements. Check out motors, filters, burners, pipes, thermostats and heater ignition systems, and clean as needed, and repair any leaks in the flue.

summer is a great time to evaluate your greenhouse’s heating system, because it gives you plenty of time to order parts, and make repairs well before you’ll need to depend on the heater. Clean the filters on an evaporative cooling system, and carefully examine it for leaks. Inspect supplemental lighting for corrosion on terminals, clean lighting reflectors, and replace any florescent bulbs that show signs of discoloration at the ends.