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SOIL BLOCK: The Pot-less Way of Seeding

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What could be better and easier than starting your seedling in soil blocks? It’s a very efficient method of starting seedlings. In Europe, a volume of research where made about soil blocks and has shown superior transplanting results than those in containers.
Soil blocks a basically blocks of soil made using a tool called soil blocker. Unlike seedling containers, soil blocks are delicate at first but becomes sturdy once the plant roots has established itself in the block.
Why grow seedlings in soil blocks? Primarily, the idea is to reduce the shock that seedling plants experience during transplanting. It helps grow strong, healthy transplants for a great start in the garden. It’s less expensive, you do not need to buy plastic containers for individual transplants which usually end up in landfills. The process is much faster. You save time during seeding as the blocks come ready with depression for the seed. Transplanting becomes easier and fun because there’s no pots to be removed.
Your plants will not suffer root shock as most transplants experienced grown in plastic and rough peat containers. In soil blocks, the roots grow to the outer part of the block and turn back inward to avoid the air surface of the soil blocks. In this way plants can gradually adapt to the garden environment with very minimal shock. And since the blocks were pre-wetted, you don’t have to water them for several days.
There is one disadvantage I find with soil blocks though, they lose their moisture quite rapidly because most of the parts are exposed to air. The solution…. Daily watering! And the trick here is to water from the bottom instead from the top. Fill the tray lightly with water, it will move around and up the block without disturbing the plants.
Here’s some simple steps to make your soil blocks. The first thing you need to do is find a good quality soil blocker and if possible in different sizes. (Let Google help you!) The initial cost may be a bit high, but you get your savings in the long run. Next is to make a soil mix recipe. Mix and wet the soil thoroughly until you have the right consistency and the best way of doing it is with your hands, and with gloves of course. Compressed the soil well in the blocker to make sure that they will hold properly and don’t fall apart when you dislodge them from blocker. Line them up in a flat pan or germination tray and start placing the seeds. When the seedlings are ready to transplant, just take the block and placed it in your garden! Really easy, there’s no shaking and cutting out the pots, but more importantly, there’s no transplant shock, and plants are able to adapt more easily to its new surroundings. Try using soil blocks on your next seeding project.
Have fun gardening!

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PLANT DISEASE- Limiting the Risk in Your Garden

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Bacteria, fungi and numerous microscopic creatures are just below the soil where your plants’ roots feed and grow. Although most are helpful and even essential to keeping your plant healthy, there are also some that attack the plants’ root keeping them from taking in water and nutrients, hindering their growth and eventually killing them.
Plant disease usually starts as spores in the soil and at some time in the stems of undeveloped plants and they wait for the right condition to incubate and develop into an organism that will cause havoc to your crops. And once this fungal disease establishes itself, only a few options are left for you to counter it, resort to using fungicide or destroy the whole infected crop.
Regardless of how much time and effort you spend on your garden pruning, you simply cannot protect them against plant diseases. But there is a way to keep bacteria and fungi from assaulting your garden. Not all hope is gone. By studying and being able to recognize the symptoms, knowing what causes them and by practicing some preventive measures, you will be able to avoid the damage it can cause to your garden.

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Growing Bamboo in Your Garden

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Bamboo in your garden?… Why not? Create a Zen-like haven in your backyard where you can relax with bamboos rustling gracefully, making you feel very close to nature. Or you can use it as a screen if you want privacy from your neighbors.
Bamboo has a reputation of being invasive, that it’s hard to control because of its ability to spread rapidly. This is why some people are intimidated in growing them in their garden. It is therefore best to know more about bamboo, what they are and how to plant, grow and care for them. Once you know them, I’m, sure you will easily fall in love with this amazing plant.
To begin with, bamboo belongs to a subfamily of grass called Bambusoideae. Yes, it’s a grass, a supersize grass which can reach from a height of 2 feet to more than 100 feet. They are native to Asia with over 1,400 species. Bamboo is both perennial and annual and grows in colonies.
There are some few things you should know before planting bamboo. They are classified into two types, runners and clumpers. Runners are the hardy, aggressive and downright invasive type. And this is not the type you want in your garden. The clumper on the other hand, is a tender, slow growing and less invasive which make this the ideal type to grow.
You can plant the clumper type without worrying about them spreading like crazy. Their underground root system or rhizome, forms a tight U shaped cluster from a rather small root mass which spreads from 2 to 12 inches per year in a circular formation. Their canopy growth is also slow, usually a couple of feet per year. Mature height reaches to about 10 to 20 feet. Clumper bamboo comes in different colors and sizes. Some of my favorite clumpers are the Fargesia ‘Juizhaigou’; Fargesia ‘Rufa’and the Fargesia ‘Namping. They are very ideal for garden and they can be grown indoors in containers.
Growing clumping bamboo. Like all types of bamboo, they thrive well in neutral soil and can be planted at any time of the year. Those planted in colder climates needs to be harden off and protected with heavy mulch of organic compost. Normally, they prefer partially shaded environment and needs regular watering to keep them in good shape. Others that grow from 25 feet up need a lot of sunlight. Smaller bamboo does not need to be staked as the rootball will grow big enough to support the plant.
Bamboo requires very little maintenance. And your only main concern is to control them from spreading. This can be done by putting a natural barrier or by pruning the rhizome. You can fertilize them twice a year, preferably using organic compost. Signs that you should watch out, if the leaves are rolled up, that means the plant is dehydrated. Either from too much sun or needs watering. If they are falling off with no replacements, it’s standing in water.
I hope this article offers you a new outlook on garden-scaping possibilities of bamboos. Start some be amazed.
Have fun gardening!

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Avoiding Usual Garden Fail

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In gardening, we are all bound to make some mistakes, even seasoned gardeners have made their shares of recklessness. But making mistakes is not a bad thing, it is part of the learning process. Not learning from those mistakes, now, that is bad.
Growing crops in your garden is not as difficult as it seems, you just need to know some practical measures, some hard work and a little bit of luck. For some beginners, it can really be so frustrating when things go wrong, especially when you have no idea what and how things went wrong.
Some of the common mistakes that we make in the garden could have been avoided if a little planning was done in the first place. Oftentimes, we fail on one of the basic things to consider before starting and that is the amount of time we can spare or dedicate for gardening. Maintaining a vegetable garden requires time, effort and most importantly, patience!
We become very excited and try to take on something too much to handle, particularly beginners who are starting their very first garden project. So, they start out with a big garden which often comes with a big problem. As a beginner, your skill also needs time to grow and if you’re working alone in your garden, it’s better to start with a manageable size.
Another mistake is not giving attention to the type of soil in the garden which can spell disaster for your crops. Soil is where your plants will be getting the nutrients they need to grow. You therefore need to have it tested before you start planting. Testing your soil will tell you what nutrients it holds including its pH level. Then you can make the necessary adjustment to correct the soil’s present condition and help you decide on what appropriate crops to plant. And if the type of soil you have is not good for planting, you may consider building raised beds and create your own soil for the type of crops you want to plant.
Location, location, location! There are bad garden locations. To have a productive garden, it must receive good amount of sunlight throughout the day. Knowing your plants and their needs is just as important. Remember, not all plants are to be treated the same. There are plants that enjoy a lot of sunshine and can grow in just about any soil while other, requires rich soil and prefers to be in shady places. Do some observation on how much sunlight each part of your garden receives during the day so you will know the spot where you are going to put the plant. Planting too far from your water source is really, really bad, unless you don’t mind bucketing water back and forth twice a day. And over-watering is just as damaging as under-watering. Be sure to consider your water source.
Gardening can be fun, healthy and a very effective de-stressing activity when you are able to dedicate your time and energy to ensuring that your crops grow beautifully. And when it’s harvest time, that’s when the rewards come.
Have fun gardening!

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Making Compost Tea For Your Garden

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There are a lot of good reasons using compost tea in your garden. Aside from putting back organic matters into the soil, it’s an ideal fertilizer to use in your garden plants and especially for seedlings to stimulate growth and prevent diseases. It is natural, low-dilution and effective.
Spraying compost tea directly makes it easy for plants to absorb and distribute nutrients to produce greener leaves and a bigger yield. It wards off pest, fungus and prevents pathogens from infecting your plants. When applied to soil, fast acting nutrients and minerals are quickly absorbed, which improves the biological activity of the soil. A healthy soil will then produce a healthy crop.
Compost tea brewing is basically extracting the goodness in a compost with water to produce a “tea” solution. When brewing compost tea, one very important factor to consider is the use of the right compost. It should be matured with a sweet earthy smell. If it’s not, don’t use it.
To have a good quality compost, you need to have a sustained pile in a 135° to 150° temperature for at least a week or more, turning the file as often as possible. If you are maintaining a compost pile for more than a year, you have a tea ready compost you can use straightaway. It is important to note that E. coli can be present in raw ingredients used in composting and maintaining a hot compost will eliminate or at the least minimize them.
Let me share with you a simple way of making your own compost tea for your garden. You will need a 5 gallon bucket; a good quality, matured compost; an aerator or aquarium pump; compost catalyst (to help encourage the microorganisms in the compost to multiply); and water. If you’re using tap water, it needs to be de-chlorinated by letting it stand for a day before using it. The reason: chlorine will kill beneficial microorganisms. Water from deep well or gathered from rain can be used directly.
You can start with a 5 gallon bucket by filling it up about 1/3 full with matured compost. You then add water to the top of the bucket and let it steep for 5 to 7 days, you may add some molasses to feed and boost up the microorganisms. Stir the mixture regularly. At the end of the process, strain the mixture using a fine plastic screen mesh or cheesecloth to another bucket. You now have your compost tea ready for use. Don’t throw away the remaining compost solids, you can top them on your garden plot or put them back in the compost bin. Nothing is wasted!
That was quite easy… Right? So, start brewing compost tea instead of using chemical based fertilizers in your garden and save some money.
Have fun gardening!

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Knowing Your Garden Soil

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Before working on your garden, knowing the type of soil you have will help you in finding out how well plants will grow and what crops will actually grow well on it. The most important rule in gardening is soil preparation, abide by this rule and you’re on your way to having a successful garden.
Plant roots need air and water in order for it to develop and grow. If the roots have difficulty in extracting the essential nutrients from the soil and transferring it to the plant body, the whole plant is compromised and eventually dies.
There are three basic types of soil which you can tell by their particle size and one way to tell what type you have is to have a feel of it.
Clay:  This type is sticky when it’s wet and smears up when you rub it between your fingers. The soil particles of this type are the smallest, it is compact and does not work well with plants. The soil absorbs much of the water and eventually cause drainage problem. And because it is compact, air will almost be impossible in getting to the roots, thus hindering its development.
Sandy Soil: This one feels gritty and will not hold together because the soil particles are large, it’s the opposite of clay soil.  Since the particles are loose, water and nutrients will simply drain from the plants root zone. This type is not a good storehouse of nutrients.
Silt soil: This type is a medium texture of fine particles. It feels like flour or velvety which can create loamy soil. It holds water like the clay type, but has a better drainage and can hold nutrients. This soil type is best for most plants to grow on.
Each soil type presents their own particular weaknesses. They are measured by a pH number (a scale from 1-14) and the more the extreme the pH scale they are the more difficult they are to garden. The more it becomes extreme the lesser nutrients there is for the plants to absorb.  It is equally important therefore to know the pH level of your soil and it is very easy to find out by using soil testing kits available at most garden stores. Each pH level can be identified by a color, if it turns green, your soil is neutral, if it turns dark blue, it’s alkaline and yellow-orange means it is acidic.  You’re lucky if you have a pH level between 6.5 and 7 because this level is where nutrients and mineral naturally abounds, plants will be very happy here.
What to plant? There are plants that need to be planted on a particular soil type only.  But most plants are comfortable in just about any soil type, be it acidic, neutral or in alkaline condition. Knowing the type and condition of your garden soil will open up an array of plants for you to grow, you will be surprised as to what you can grow.
Have fun gardening!

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Animal Manure For Your Garden

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Back in the days when families had farm animals, manure was the main fertilizer being used in the garden. No doubt, animal manure is the best fertilizer there is, back then and now. Manure add organic matter to the soil and help it retain moisture and balances the extremes in soil pH level. It also help maintain a good soil structure to keep nutrients from leaching away as well as avoiding serious and unnecessary soil erosion that causes poor crop production.
Soil, just like humans and animals need to eat in order to live. It needs to be fed with organic matters to decompose into humus which in turn makes the soil healthy and moisture retaining, producing rich nutrients for the plants.
Before you decide to use manure in your garden, you need to have some basic knowledge about animal manure. Fresh manure of any animals reacts differently in the soil unlike well aged manures or composts. Fresh manures are too strong, containing a lot of soluble nitrogen in ammonium form including bacteria that comes direct from animal’s digestive tracts, and they can burn or dehydrate the plants. This is not the type of manure we want in our garden.
In order for the soil to maximize the correct balance of its microbial activities and the availability of nutrients for the plants, it needs equal blend of green and brown organic materials. Some of the best animal manure (green) to use in composting are:
Cow manure, considered as the most useful soil builder with a very low salt and weed content. Its low nutrient numbers makes it very safe to use even in large quantities. Perfect for soil topping.
Chicken manure, has a very high nutrient level (N-P-K) making it a hot enough to burn plants. It needs to be composted before using as fertilizer.
Horse Manure, like chicken manure, it is also considered hot. It is rich in nitrogen and often contain large amount of weed seeds which you do not want in your garden. This manure has to undergo hot composting to get rid of the seeds and other form of bad bacteria.
Sheep Manure, another hot manure. Rich but a little bit dry. It becomes more potent if comes from sheep fed with hay and grains.
Rabbit manure, very high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Ideal for fruit and flower formation.
Manure from meat eater like dogs and cats should never be used due to the risk of parasites that can be transmitted to humans.
Well aged manures (at least 6 months) are the best type to use in gardening, it will not burn or kill plants. Mixed with high carbon materials, you can have a nutritious, very safe compost.
There you have it. Start composting animal manure and start saving some bucks.
Have fun gardening!

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Know and Control Garden Pests

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In any garden, harmful pest is ever present and can be found chewing on plants even in the healthiest garden. To come up with an effective control, we need to identify these pests and some of top garden pest you should know are:
Aphids. These are tiny pear shaped pest with long antennae and tubes projecting rearward from the abdomen. Although small they are very visible as they congregate underneath the leaves of the plant they are infecting. They come in a variety of sizes, colors and shape. They are not choosey and will attack fruit crops, roses, ornamentals and different sorts of vegetables. All aphids are female born with babies already inside their body. That is how they multiply overnight. One way to control them is by washing the infected leaves with strong spray of water or spray them with neem solution.
Scales. The adult female looks like a bump on leaves, stems or fruit and the male flies around. There are two types of scales, the armored scales with hard outer shell that targets fruit trees like citrus and the soft scales with soft bodies. They don’t usually kill the host plants. Scales feed by sucking plant juices. To get rid of scales the natural way, introduce beneficial predators like lady bugs and lacewings or you may spray them with insecticidal soap.
Whiteflies. They are tiny flying insects and swarms up in clouds when their host plant is disturbed. Whiteflies are related to aphids and feed the same way by sucking plant juices. Their target plants are tomato, sweet potato, citrus and ornamental plants. Whiteflies on their immature stage is the best time to spray them with insecticidal soap which are on the underside of leaves. Easy on the spray as it can burn the leaves and make sure that there are no friendly bugs around. Another way is to pull take away infected leaves and burn them. Treat whiteflies early to prevent them from spreading.
Japanese Beetles. Adult beetles have a metallic blue-green color and are about an inch long. They have long legs with large claws. The beetle larvae are fat with C shaped grubs and with brown heads. Very damaging plant pest and can be very hard to control. They attack just about any plant, both edible and ornamental. You can control the adult beetle by hand-picking them in the morning and drowning them in soapy water. As for the larvae, you may spray them with insecticidal soap.
Grasshoppers. These are incredible insects that can catapult themselves using their hind legs to a distance 20 times the length of their body. Grasshoppers come in shades of green and brown. They are herbivorous and have very effective chewing jaws. These insects are not picky and will eat weeds, ornamental plants. During drought seasons, they will target garden plants. To control them, inviting their natural enemies can do the job, but the best way is to control them on their nymph stage.
Pest such as these can cause serious damage to your garden, but by being vigilant and smart, you can put them on check. Most garden plants are tough and can tolerate pest damage to some degree and spraying insecticide is not really the only way to get rid of them, there is always a natural way.
Happy gardening!

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Transplant Seedlings In Your Garden

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Why go through the process of growing seedlings for transplanting?
Well, for one, starting your garden by growing transplant seedlings gives you a head start to a better garden. You give your growing plant enough time to prepare and to grow into superb plants that will give you loads of nutritious foods. Besides, it will enable you to include new varieties you have in your garden that may not be available in your local market.
It is best that you do your planning first. Know what you want to grow in your garden and choose the right seeds, organic seeds if possible. Remember that seed from last year may not be as useful unless proper care and storage was observed. Use a healthy soil so you don’t need to use fertilizer. If you’re buying growing mixes make sure that they free from chemicals, pest and diseases. Plant containers that you will be using must be clean or sterilized if they have been used before, like clay pots or reusable plastic containers.
There are certain seeds that cannot tolerate root disturbance and therefore has to be planted in plastic cell packs or newspaper cylinders which can be planted directly in garden plots during transplanting.
With everything on hand, let’s start planting!
Fill up the containers with soil or soil mix. Moist the soil and put 2 to 3 seeds per compartment and water them lightly. Regularly water the plant as they grow.
To germinate, most seedlings should be kept in 60 to 80 degrees. Other seeds like peppers, eggplants and water melons needs 80 to 90 degrees.
Transplanting your seedlings outside at the right time is critical to their proper development. Exposing them early may give them a difficult time to survive the outside environment and they may become pot bound in their container when kept too long.
How will you know that your seedlings are ready to be transplanted out in your garden? The best way to tell if your plant is ready is not to see how tall the plant has grown, but the number of true leaves that has appeared. When the seedling has 3 or more true leaves then it’s ready to be planted outside your garden. Do not confuse yourself with the first leaves that will emerge after you plant the seed, these leaves are called cotyledons. They are not true leaves and they look different, but they play a very important role in the plants’ development. Cotyledons will provide stored food to the seedlings during its growing stage, and only for a short time.
Harden the seedlings when they are big enough by gradually exposing them outside a few hours each day before the transplanting time arrives. This will also let your plant adjust to their new environment.
You may shorten the growing time of your transplant when no favorable growing conditions can be provided and transfer them earlier in the garden.
It’s not really that difficult, right?… The reward comes during harvest time.
Have fun growing your seedlings!

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Why Build Your Own Square Foot Garden?

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For a neophyte gardener, a square foot garden is an ideal way to start. It’s simple and you don’t need to be a carpenter to build one. Working on this type of garden is a great way to learn how to grow and harvest a succession of fresh produce. Even seniors will surely like working on gardens that is not physically demanding. Because it’s square, it is much easier to fertilize and to water by hand. There is also less weeding to do as each square foot is dedicated to crops. Even pest control becomes easier.
Starting on a single box bed is ideal for beginners but working on several boxes or raised beds is more exciting. To have an effective square foot garden you will need to know some basics in building and maintaining one.
Just like in any project, you need to plan out how you like your garden to look. Design a layout that will best suit the area you have chosen. Since most vegetables and herbs, loves the sun, the spot should be getting at least six hours of sunlight daily and near a water source too if possible.
Start constructing your box beds which will hold your soil mix by assembling eight pieces of 4’ lengths of 2 x 6 lumber. Nail them together to form 2 level boxes that is 12 inches deep. If you are making several beds, arrange them at least 3 feet apart to provide walkways so you never have to step on your growing soil while watering or weeding the garden from all sides. Placing gravel in-between each bed will not only make your raised garden look clean, but more importantly, help the plants to grow quickly by reflecting the sunlight and warming the beds.
When you have completed spreading out your boxes, cover the inside of each box of newspapers to suppress the weeds and begin filling up each box with the soil mix you made. Be sure to spread the soil mix evenly by raking them well. The next thing to do is the most important part and that is putting the grid on top of each box. Form a grid of 16 squares. The grid will be your guide when you start planting.
Select the crops that you wish to grow and plant one type in each square. Avoid overcrowding by establishing their spacing requirement. When using seeds, plant 2 to 3 seeds only per hole.
Once planting is done, regularly hand water your garden using warm water (best if you have sun-warmed water) which promote growth of young plants by warming the soil. After harvesting a square foot, add compost and plant again with a different crop.
If you’re switching to a healthy lifestyle, this is your best source of garden fresh food.
Have fun building one!