Posts filed under ‘DIY growing’

Make it: Free Downloadable Plant Markers

Here’s a new batch of grow indie seed markers, just in time for transplanting!

These are super easy to use—-just download the Word doc template, pick a cool font, add your plant name, print and cut out.  To make the plant “sign” itself, just cut out a few pieces of plastic (like from those salad containers) and tape the plant marker on. You can even laminate them to make them waterproof and last a few seasons.

These nifty plant markers come in two sizes, long or square, so pick what’cha like:

Click here to download the new growindie small plant markers.

And, here’s a link to download the larger version.

They also work really well if you are starting a bunch of plants in one pot, like this group of Peaceful Valley Basil that I started in those compostable salad containers.

I also sometimes like to put little markers in pots around the house, like this catnip (which already doesn’t stand much of a chance with our kitty kats.) And, of course, they add a nice touch of flair if you’re giving a plant away as a gift (which I’m notorious for since I always start too many plants)


May 11, 2010 at 3:15 am 2 comments

Make It: Easy DIY Rain Barrel

By Sara Elliott

Save water, save time, and save money by making your own rain barrel this year.

Even though the practice of harvesting rainwater has been going on for well over 4,000 years at last count, adding a rain barrel may be a novel idea in your neighborhood.  Water shortages, aging water treatment facilities and the growing cost of water across the U.S. are making the humble rain barrel an old idea that’s an enlightened solution for today’s resourceful gardeners.

No need to shell out hundreds for a rain barrel—you can buy all the materials from the hardware store to make one  on the cheap.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 55 plastic gallon barrel with an opening and stable base
  • Downspout extender
  • ¾” faucet
  • Roll of teflon tape
  • Caulk
  • Garden hose

To construct your barrel:

Prep your downspout. Once you’ve decided which downspout you’d like to place your rain barrel near, cut the downspout and add the extender. This will then go directly into your barrel.

Cut a hole in the top of the barrel that is large enough for the downspout extender to fit inside.

Drill a 1″ hole towards the bottom of your barrel with a hole saw or drill bit where you want your spigot, just off the bottom of the container.

Add your spigot. To attach your ¾” faucet, wrap the threads in tape, caulk the taped thread and insert into the drilled hole. Once it’s where you want it, caulk the area inside and outside the spigot well to reduce leakage and let set. If you want to skip this caulking step, get a spigot like this one, that just fits right in the 1″ hole.

Place your new rain barrel under your downspout extender and wait for rain!

That’s really all there is to it.  If you’re an old hand at DIY projects, you can probably make your rain barrel in an afternoon.  Check with your local utility company to see if there are rebates or other incentives that could defray the cost of installing a rain barrel on your property.

This video covers it pretty well:

The Advantages of Rain Water

Rain barrel are a great way to harvest some impressive amounts of clean, neutral water with almost no effort.  After that, the way you use it is up to you.

Collecting rainwater is good for the environment too. Rainwater washing into storm drains is often routed directly into rivers and lakes together with any oil and chemicals it picks up along the way.  Before suburban sprawl took over, rainwater reached aquifers and rivers by moving through the soil, a natural filtering system.  When you divert some of that water into your rain barrel, you help reduce the overflow and keep surrounding ecosystems cleaner.

How Much Water Can You Collect?

Most rain barrel systems capture the water that washes off your roof by redirecting it from your downspout.  In order to do this effectively, the spout is usually shortened and an extension is added to divert the flow into an opening in the barrel.

Let’s do the math.  To harvest about 300 gallons of rainwater (1,135 liters), all you’d need would be a half-inch of rain falling on a typical 1,000 square foot roof (93 square meters).  Even if you have a weighted diverter on the system to bypass the first few minutes of rainfall and allow kinetic energy to scrub particulates out of the air and off your roof before you start collecting, you could easily harvest a 50 gallon barrel full of water in less than fifteen minutes.  With the cost of water rising, and drought conditions in many areas imposing limits on when and how water can be used outdoors, this is very good news.

Types of Rain Barrels

From a functional standpoint, size and convenience are big factors when it comes to rain barrels.  Beyond the diverter mechanism we mentioned above, rain barrel systems are available with elaborate filters, anti-bacterial lights and even pumps to make distributing the water from your catchment system easier.  Any rain barrel you decide to use should be constructed from food grade and rust resistant material, like plastic, especially if you’ll be using the water on edible flowers, vegetables or herbs.  For a long, reliable life it should also be UV protected, especially if it will be situated in direct sunlight for part of the day.

April 22, 2010 at 7:00 pm 5 comments

Create your Own Seedling Pots with Newspaper

After your seeds have started, these easy-to-make newspaper pots are perfect for transplanting your new seedlings.

Forget pricey plastic sets and excess pots—-all you need is some extra newspaper and a small cup or mason jar and you are on your way.

Since the newspaper will decompose naturally, you can then plant these right into the garden.

Here’s how to make your own newspaper pots in 6 easy steps:

Step 1.

Cut sheets of black and white newspaper in half or thirds, depending on the size of pot you want to make. Make sure not to use pages with color, since this will be going directly into your garden. (Color newspapers may contain heavy metals that are unsafe).

Step 2.

Align your mason jar or cup with the newspaper so that a few inches of paper are above the opening of the cup. Roll the newspaper so it circles the cup.

Step 3.

Push the sides of the paper that are above the cup opening inside, so they are wrapped around the lip of the cup.

Step 4.

Remove the cup gently, while still keeping the pot’s shape.

Step 5.

Use the bottom of the cup to reinforce the pot’s bottom by inserting it inside the newspaper pot. Tamp down the inverted ends, so it seals the bottom.

Here’s what it should look like after it’s done:

Step 6.

Add soil  and transplant or start your seedlings.

When they reach the size for transplanting outside, they can be placed directly into your garden. This will also alleviate root disruption for healthy, happy seedlings!

March 14, 2010 at 1:48 am 3 comments

Extending the Season

By Alison Thompson

Nothing can revolutionize your vegetable self sufficiency quite as much as a polytunnel.  While the growth and survival of outdoor crops has a strict correlation with the weather, plants grown in a polytunnel or row cover have crucial protection from the elements, and can really help to extend the growing season by several weeks at each end.

A top quality commercially produced polytunnel can cost several hundred dollars, but it doesn’t have to be a budget blowing investment. You can make one on the cheap by building a structure using agribon, timber and sturdy PVC or copper pipe hoops.

Here’s a plan for a simple row cover that can be built in less than an hour, from Willi Galloway of  Digginfood.

Gardening with a polytunnel makes it easy to grow crops that don’t traditionally do well when grown outside in a temperate climate. In the height of the season, they are ideal for many tender plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, salad, eggplant and peppers.  Whereas traditional greenhouses tend to be quite small, a polytunnel or row cover is much more spacious (extra hoops mean extra length), so the easiest way to cultivate is to build raised beds and then rotate crops as you would outdoors, helping to keep pests and disease at bay.

Make sure to close your row cover up tight or iris the cat may jump in!

To take advantage of the spring extension, plant an early variety of new potatoes and some root crops such as carrots and spring onion seeds, which can all be sown in three months before last frost—they’ll be ready to harvest three months later. Similarly, beets can be germinated in a propagator and then the seedlings transplanted into the tunnel in two months before your last frost date, for an extra early crop.

With your polytunnel, salad crops can be grown for both early and late cropping.  Sow seeds for a winter hardy salad in early October, (just in time to let them germinate and gain a little growth for overwintering) and by February and March you will be picking young salad leaves.  Then, later in the summer, plant lettuce, herbs and mustard greens to have great winter salad after frost hits. The four degrees of frost protection you’ll get with the polytunnel goes a long way, and with some careful planning, you’ll be in the green well into winter.

March 12, 2010 at 3:28 am Leave a comment

Growing Your Own Cat Grass

It’s really easy to grow your own cat greens on a sunny windowsill, anytime of year. Not only do they grow super fast, but it’s just  the bit of green you need to brighten up a bleak January. And, it’s so much nicer to grow your own, so you know for certain they are organic and pesticide-free.

Renee’s Garden Seeds makes a seed pack of Mixed Gourmet Greens for Cats, which features a great blend of organic rye, oats, barley and wheat grass that’s perfect for cats (and will prevent them from attacking your houseplants). So, I gave it a go and put them in a nice sunny window. They grew voraciously (i mean, like, Jack-and-the-Bean-Stalk speed once they sprouted) and within weeks I had bright green shoots that were so welcomed with all of our Zone 6 dormancy.

The packet made a lot of greens, so I was brought a few pots around to friends houses to liven up their winter after our last snowy day. My friend Marilyn’s cat Kato (the king of cats), pictured above, loved chowing down on his fresh pot of greens.

Although carnivores by nature, cats crave fresh greens to keep their digestion in check, which is why some tend to go after houseplants. It’s now been about three weeks since our cat greens sprouted and and they are still growing strong (despite a few mowings). It’s amazing how fast they grow.  Kids will love watching it too, since it’s pretty magical in the dead of winter. I like to put mine in fun planters, and put them around the house.Happy planting!

January 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm 2 comments

Harvesting Heirloom Garlic

Check it out----garlic harvest 2009

Check it out----garlic harvest 2009

Of all of the things to grow, garlic is easily my favorite, and probably the simplest thing out there. You just plant a clove in October and pick a head of it in July. And heirloom garlic is a million times better than what you get at the supermarket. Hardneck varieties like Music,  Siberian, and Rocambole are favored by chefs, and also are very easy to grow at home.

Over the past few years, I’ve been buying my garlic seed from Fleur de Lys farm outside of Kutztown, the cutest little farm you’ve ever seen (with heirloom, organic chickens that lay blue eggs!) and this year, it finally paid off.

Fleur-de-Lys Farm

Fleur-de-Lys Farm

Lori even shared a new garlic called Maxatawny, named after a township nearby. She told me a passerby dropped it off last summer to keep the seed going, and I’m happy to see that it worked!

Heirloom Maxatawny Garlic

Heirloom Maxatawny Garlic

How to pick garlic

When the garlic leaves start turning brown in July/August, it’s time to harvest. Stop watering about a week before you plan to harvest, to make it easier to pull. Actually, I say pull, but you really should shovel up the earth a bit, so you don’t break the garlic by the stem (I had a few casualties over the weekend.)

Next, separate your garlic and label it if you want to keep the varieties straight. Tie about 5 to 10 stems together, and then hang somewhere dry for about three or four weeks. This will allow the garlic to dry out, and then you can store it in a dark place for 6 to 10 months, depending on varieties. Softnecks store longer, hardnecks about 6 months. When ready to store, the garlic skin should be crinkly, like paper—simply remove the very outer skin (don’t remove too much, and don’t wash in water) and then cut at the stem and trim the roots if you want. Voilà! Garlic through next winter (if it lasts that long).

July 14, 2009 at 2:33 am Leave a comment

Mulch: Stick it to those Weeds!


Every summer, I envision a garden utopia where all I do is sip Chardonnay and spend my weekends  crafting dinners completely out of vegetables grown in my backyard.  Everything will grow, and be watered and happy. Birds will sing, dinners will be held outside, and I will be empowered knowing that I can skip my trips to the supermarket.

But every year, there I am,  sweating profusely in the 100+ sweltering humidity, weeding three gardens, sunburned and thinking, why did I do this when there’s a farmer’s market down the road selling eggplants, 3 for $1?

Not this year. I am mulching. And I am mulching big time. Weeds, hear this: I am not having it.

Mulching is a key part of gardening, and can really reduce the amount of time spent laboring  (so you have more time for that Chardonnay) And, I’m not talking about that hideous, black plastic that looks like it will be around to survive a few apocolypses. No, there are simple, cheap or free organic mulches you can use that will dramatically make things easier.

mulched_lettuceMy mulch of choice this year is straw. It’s an organic matter that eventually breaks down and can be put back into the soil. It also smothers/compresses weeds, and conserves moisture so your plants won’t get as parched during those summer droughts. And, it looks nice and neat when everything’s under cover.

I buy my straw from the laundrymat in Kutztown (no kidding, they also sell buffalo meat) for 3 bucks a bale, and it covers a lot of garden. If your local laundrymat doesn’t sell mulch (which I highly doubt), you can use grass clippings or try your local farm supply store.

The best way to use mulch is to lay it down around your plants, lightly, without compressing it. I also use straw for all of my paths, and I reuse it until it finally rots down and can be incorporated into the soil in the spring.

My process is to weed fully, and then put the straw mulch down between all of my plants. And, don’t throw those weeds into the compost pile.  I put them right on top of the soil and place the mulch over it (the pulled weeds break down in two weeks, add nitrogen, and there is just something so satisfying about partially mulching your garden with weeds).

June 2, 2009 at 9:22 pm Leave a comment

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