Saturday, January 28, 2006

Book review: Companion Planting

The wetter the weather, the more armchair gardening I do, so I've read yet another gardening book. This one is a volume in Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening series, entitled Companion Planting. The first two thirds of the book introduces various topics related to companion planting - Companion Planting Basics, Companion Planting for Pest Control, Interplanting, Creating a Planting Plan, Planting Companions, and Caring for Companions. These last two cover gardening basics like soil preparation, plant spacing, watering, fertilizing, etc. The last third of the book is the most valuable - a plant by plant guide that lists companions, enemies, and growing guidelines for a wide range of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Unlike many of the Rodale gardening books I've read, this one has big glossy pages and lots of beautiful, full color photographs. But it's also very useful, especially for gardeners like me who are new to companion planting. Now if only the rain would stop, so I could put some of the information I learned into practice!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Growing Profits: How to Start and Operate a Backyard Nursery

About a year ago, I started thinking about how I could make some extra money gardening. Why not get paid to do what I love? So when I stumbled across Michael and Linda Harlan's book, Growing Profits, I decided to give it a read. I'm very glad I did!

In about 200 pages, the authors cover how to get started, including resources needed, determining what to grow, where to get supplies, and the basic tasks required to nurture plants for sale. Then they go through the various stages of plant growing, from initial propagation through growing on to larger and larger sizes. The last two chapters cover producing a quality plant and marketing your products.

The book is full of practical tips that aren't obvious to the average gardener, e.g. buying and reselling wholesale stock and the relationship between growing time and price. I especially liked their creative suggestions, like how to find used nursery cans and how to profit through buying and reselling loss leaders and end-of-season clearance items at retail outlets. But the chapter on marketing was, for me, the most valuable part of the book. The authors cover a wide range of possibilities, from selling stock to retail nurseries, other wholesalers, and landscapers through selling from your home, farmer's markets, and flea markets. They include information on how to approach nurseries, wholesalers, and landscapers to convince them to try your plants. An appendix lists contact information for state associations of nurserymen.

If you've ever thought of earning money through gardening, this book is for you. Now I just have to find a place to store all the plants I want to grow and sell!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Heirlooms versus Hybrids—A Common-sense Approach

From the Brooklyn Botanic Garden comes a balanced article comparing heirloom with hybrid seed: Heirlooms versus Hybrids—A Common-sense Approach.

The gist of the article is captured in this quote:
As in most areas of life, gardeners should celebrate diversity. Plant the best hybrids as well as exceptional heirlooms.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Heirloom Melons and Squash: Eye Candy for Gardeners

I've spent the last few dark, rainy Portland evenings ogling heirloom squash and melons, courtesy of two gorgeous books by Amy Goldman: Melons for the Passionate Grower (2002) and The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds (2004). Both books provide a bit of general growing information, but most of the content is pictures -- full-color still life photos that show off the beauty of these sometimes-strange-looking fruits. Both books include brief growing information for each variety and a list of sources for seed. All are open-pollinated, and the author includes some information on the how and why of seed saving to preserve these endangered varieties.

Such beautiful books are the perfect antidote to dark winter days! In the depths of winter, it seems possible to have a perfect patch of heirloom melons in Portland. Never mind that attempting to grow melons in Portland is a bit like Samuel Johnson's description of second marriages: the triumph of hope over experience. But hope springs eternal, so I'll be sending off for some heirloom melon seeds.

Here are links to the books at Amazon:

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Can't wait for spring? Try winter sowing!

Here in Portland, it's definitely time for some rainy day gardening! My back yard is a swamp! So what's a bored gardener with the winter blues to do? Plant some seeds! It's called winter sowing. To get started, read the FAQ for the winter sowing forum on Gardenweb: In addition to helping overcome the winter garden blues, winter sowing lets you start more seeds, because you don't have to start them during the busy spring gardening season. I started a few things last year using this technique, and I plan to do even more this year. Now if I could just find room for a potting bench in the house...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sources of Heirloom Seeds

Now that the holidays are over, I'm in full-blown rainy day gardening mode. My yard is a swamp, so I'm doing lots of armchair gardening. This year I'm going to try growing heirloom winter squash, so I've been looking for sources of heirloom seed online. Here are some of the best sites I found:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds,
Veggies, herbs, and flowers

Heirloom Seeds,
Veggies, herb, and flower seeds

Rich Farm Garden Supply,
Veggies, herbs, flowers, fruits; seeds and plants

Sand Hill Preservation,
Heirloom seeds and plants, as well as poultry

Seed Savers Exchange,
Veggies, herbs, flowers, potatoes, garlic

Seeds Trust,
Heirloom seeds, booklets on seed saving

Victory Seed Company,
Veggies, herbs, and flowers

If none of these meet your needs, check, a directory of organic and/or heirloom seed suppliers. Most of the suppliers listed are in the US and Canada, but a few overseas sources are included as well.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lasagna Gardening, a/k/a sheet mulching

I am a lazy gardener. There. I said it. I hate tilling, hoeing, weeding, and watering. I'd much rather plant seeds and plants, propagate, harvest, and sit on a bench in the sun admiring the results of my not-so-hard labor. Yet the clay forms an impenetrable slab, the weeds grow, and the summer sun dries my poor plants out every day. What's a lazy gardener to do?

Well, a couple of years ago I picked up a book by Ruth Stout called How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back. It's a wonderful book, in which the author describes how she was able to have a huge garden with minimal work by sheet mulching or sheet composting, piling organic matter around her plants rather than digging in finished organic ingredients. That year I snatched up bags of leaves and other yard debris from unsuspecting neighbors and layered it over a part of my vegetable garden in the fall. Come spring, I didn't have to weed or till! Not bad.

Earlier this year, I found a newer book that describes similar techniques in lots more detail: Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza. It's a great book for beginning gardeners. Lanza spends about a chapter describing lasagna gardening in loving detail, but then she spends the rest of the book actually telling you how to grow stuff. She covers edibles -- vegetables, herbs, and berries -- and flowers, with lots of practical tips and helpful drawings. A few years later she published Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces, which is even better because of the wonderful recipes she includes.

I have become a lasagna gardening convert. I've layered newspaper and leaves on my tomato patch and front yard flower garden, and I'm planning to make more garden lasagna as soon as the weather warms up a bit this year. I have better soil and fewer weeds -- even the horsetail struggled to come up last year through my 8" layers of mulch.

To purchase any of the books mentioned in this post, just click a link below: