Getting Seedy

IMG_0737Happy Earth Day- which is every day for me, but it always good to remember where you came from, your mother earth!

Today I got a handful of texts and calls asking me the exact same question…

Me….”Hello, growing home hotline”

Friends….”Help! I planted my seeds over a week ago and nothing seems to be happening, is something wrong?”

My first thought was, ‘a watched pot never boils’… are we in our gardens a little too much that are seeds are getting shy? I doubt it.  Maybe something is in the stars…but after the new moon sap with rise again so things should start to sprout right out, but seeds need time, consistent moisture and appropriate temperatures to sprout.

IMG_1028Moisture– Don’t water by habit, water by feel.  You don’t need to water every day but you do need to visit your seedlings everyday.  Touch the soil, get up close.   If the soil is moist to the touch (moist as a rung out sponge) you don’t need to water.  Seeds are only in the first inch of soil so this is the area that needs to be moist.  If when you touch the soil your fingers aren’t moistened, water.  I water daily, but on a cloudy day if the soil isn’t drying out, I leave it.  Outside I use row cover over my seeds, like a blanket.  I sow the seeds, water and them put row cover over them, then water the row cover.  I peek every day or so to check the moisture and water if need be.  When I see sprouts, I remove the row cover and place mini hoops over the bed, then I put the row cover over the hoops so the seedlings don’t get squashed, but still are protected against wind, birds, cats, children, etc… I do fold the row cover back to water with a sprinkler until I have my irrigation up and running.  26D45477-CB87-46F8-84E0-7FCA88C6B3A6***Note- I always water with a watering can or sprinkler with a very fine spray.  Seeds are fragile and can be blasted out of place by a hose or heavy flow from a can.*** Just like this little gardener!IMG_6665

82894CD0-5BEF-4205-81B1-1531A6C74479Temperature

Soil temperature matters more to a seed that air temperature for germination.  If you are starting seeds these days indoors, your seeds should be plenty warm to sprout.  Most vegetable need 70-80 degree temps to germinate, but keep in mind this is the soil temperature which is different than air temperature.  Optimal germination temperatures vary according to the crop, but indoors is plenty warm for all vegetables.  Outside, the soil may still be too cold to activate germination, but right now you should only be sowing cool season crops like peas, lettuce, arugula, kale, chard, broccoli, cilantro, etc….  which all like cool temps to germinate… 2029CBC8-5524-4EFC-A0C2-D2FBA353F6C4I plant peas in the snow and it works every time!  Many people are planting carrot now, which is fine, but it is still chilly out there and they do take a while!  You can do a few things heat up the soil faster like row cover, plastic covers, or mulch, and indoors heating mats work really well for peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, especially in January!… but the soil will warm up soon enough, wait for it!

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Time– Most vegetable seeds need at least 7-10 days to germinate.   If it has been over 2 weeks, your seed may not be viable, but chances are if they are new they are just needing more moisture or warmth to go for it.

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Seed Viability-If your seed is brand new it should have at least 90% germination rate because companies actually test for that.  If you have had your seeds for a while, or  if you are questioning the viability of your seed because it is old or been stored questionably (maybe got too hot or wet?)  you can do a seed viability test.  Basically take ten seeds, place them spaced an inch apart on a moist paper towel.  Slide the towel into a zip lock bag, label it with the date and put it on your fridge… Keep a spray bottle handy because the towel needs to stay moist, but chances are if the zip lock is truly sealed the moisture level will be fine.  Depending on the type of seeds you’re testing, they should begin to germinate anywhere from 2-14 days. (Seeds like peas and beans will sprout faster, while seeds like carrots or parsnips will take much longer).

Once the seeds being to sprout, give them a day or two, and then take note as to how many sprouted vs. how many did not sprout. This will give you a germination rate.

How to test seeds for viability and germination

Out of 10 Tested Seeds

  • 1 seed sprouts = 10% germination rate
  • 5 seeds sprout = 50% germination rate
  • 10 seeds sprout = 100% germination rate

Obviously, the higher the germination rate, the better. Anything over 50% is decent. Anything lower than 50% still might be usable, but you may need to sow more thickly.

Eva GArden 2017Mulch-Mulching is wonderful and necessary to retain moisture, create soil biology and protect your plants, but if a seed bed is over mulched before the seedlings are 3 inches tall it can suppress plants from coming up through it.  I usually apply wet straw mulch around my seedlings, after they are 3 inches tall.  If you do mulch with straw over a seed bed, make sure it is light and lose so the seedlings can push up through it.  Like I mentioned above- Outside I like to use row cover to retain moisture till I get good germination.

IMG_9684Other Factors

Soil Medium– Is there enough drainage in your soil mix?  Some seeds get too much water and the soil isn’t draining properly.  If you just scratch one up you may find they are actually rotting under the soil… it has happened to me!

Depth– Did you plant your seeds too deep?  What about too shallow? Most things need soil contact to germinate ( expect many tiny flower seeds which actually need light to germinate).  My rule of thumb is plant a seed twice as deep as it is wide… some say three times it’s size, but if you are buying seeds every pack will have very specific instructions to follow.

Pests– Did the mice, birds, cats come eat or dig up your seeds in the night?  It’s happened to me!

Compaction– If your soil is too hard or compacted seeds may be struggling to germinate, and even if they do germinate they may not be able to wiggle those tiny roots down into the soil.  Seeds need fluffy soil to take root.

Pre-soak– Many seeds like to be pre-soaked, especially really ones with really hard seed coats like Nasturtiums and Peas.  Could help go things moving, give it a try.

Go here to read more on Seed Starting Indoors

Everything I know I learned by doing… and by reading my favorite seedy book.  Which is where I got those cool charts pictured above.

I hope that helps, have faith , we reap what we sow!

“We are planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We have to be patient.”
Michelle Obama, Becoming

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How low can they go?

IMG_6363May is lovely- but can be wild too.  As we have seen this weekend in Santa Fe- a foot of snow!!IMG_6364

It is such a transitional time, the last burst of winter before it finally passes.  I looked back on my calendars and it does usually snow every year in the first week of May, so though odd, it is actually to be expected.

IMG_6360But the good news is no harm done over here.  All the little cool season greens and seeds were tucked under row cover and only seemed to perk up from crisp air all the moisture gifted to them.  If you are wondering how cold CAN your cold season crops get…wellIMG_6383

How low can they go?

IMG_6377The hardiest of the winter vegetables are Kale, Collards, Peas and Spinach which can take Temps as low as low 20’s and in the high teens.

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Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Parsley, Radish, Parsnip, Turnip can all take temps 28-25 degrees.

All of these can survive under thick row cover all winter, though they may not show many signs of growth, they will start to spring new leaves in February.

Other semi-hardy vegetables are Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rutabega, Salsify, Bok Choy, Tatsoi and Swiss Chard, tolerant of Temps from 32-29degrees.  These can usually be harvested till Christmas under heavy row cover, but will need to be replanted in the spring under row cover as well. (with the exception of Swiss Chard, this patch was almost invisible all winter under no row cover… but is coming back just fine!)

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So not to worry, the storm has passed, we have gathered the moisture and now we prepare for hardening off and the planting out process… More on that to come.

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The Extended Garden Tour

What an honor to have our little 1/5acre of paradise featured on Soule Mama’s Blog this weekend.  I was shocked at how many visitors this little blog of mine got and since a few of you asked to see more, I am so happy to share.  You may have noticed I love taking pictures of my garden just about as much as I love taking pictures of my kids, so I have a lot of images to share.  I put together an extended garden tour from photos I have taken over the past 5 years when I started this blog of mine, so it was also a good reflection for me to see how far we have come in seven years… so with no further ado, Welcome to our humble abode…

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My husband is kind of a twisty wood collector, before we got married I think he thought he would retire early and set up a twisty wood furniture company… well, no early retirement for this papa of three, and now our gardens are all hemmed in with twisty wood creations…lucky me! He also built that ladder out of a single black locust log up to a tree nook in the box elder where he wove the branches together so it feels super cozy for the little birds who hang out up there.

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When you enter you will inevitably be greeted by a curious small person.  This very small person helped my weave these low garden fences out of willow we gathered together and hauled up the lane from the river.  They keep the babies out of the garden and the constant layers of leaf mulch in. ( mulch is a must in a desert garden)

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As you can see, I never remove weeds from the yard, I simply pull and lay them down in place.  In the desert they dry up in a day or two and act as mulch, skips the step of buying mulch. My husband has been working for years, slowly surrounding the growing spaces with bricks he finds on craigslist.  They are great water catchment, thermal mass and of course great for playing with trucks, riding bikes and learning to walk on.

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Another masterpiece built brick by brick by my husband. Every nook ans cranny is utilized, horno under the shed roof, cradle on the freezer, etc… we use every inch we can!

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Shade is key in the desert, now we have grapes vines that are almost covering it, but those grass mat fencing things work great for shade in the summer.   In the winter we remove them and have a super sunny spot to warm ourselves on cold days.

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Our first dinner party in the outdoor kitchen….followed by many many more!!

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The boys built our Horno a couple of summers back which we now spark up every May for our annual boy birthday pizza party and every November for the Thanksgiving Turkey.

 

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The garden studio craft shack was actually built for food storage, but I quickly took it over with all my crafting supplies, a girl needs a place to put all her yarn right?!

 

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It was built out of old shipping pallets and mud and straw…there is a whole blog post about the shed here, check it out, it is awesome!

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Another genius of my husband!! He said he had that antique O’Keeffe Merritt stove under a tarp for almost ten years before I came along.  Now I got that baby canning and baking all summer long, I barely even turn on the oven inside for months!

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Our washing station where of course the water runs right out to the peach tree behind the sink. And yes that is a very large salad spinner that was worth every penny!  I haven’t had a turn yet, the kids always want to do the spinning!!

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Step through another twisty garden gate and follow the red brick path….to your right vertical growing on the south side of the greenhouse is usually covered with tomatoes.  To your left is a vegetative hedge of Currants, Nanking Cherries, Wild Plums, Wild Roses,  and Hops all that started as twigs from the national forest service that help buffer between us and our neighbors and feed the wildlife.

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The grandma tree beckons you back to discover more around the bend, my husband always says it was this tree that sold him on the house.  When he moved in 15 years ago the lot was completely barren and the house in a state of disarray.

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A sharp turn to the north and you will find hundreds of gallons of rainwater being collected for dry days ahead.  And yes that is a Chicago fig gifted to me from my friends mom, but it dies back every year and only produces a few figs, but it’s cool so we keep it around, who knows, maybe someday the climate will change so much it will thrive year round ( the bright side right?)

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Peek over the garden gate and the prize vegetable await!

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Yep, another twisty wood gate!

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And here it is from the other side- twisty wood arches everywhere, I told you!! We decided to fence in the garden last year so that I could let the chickens free in the rest of the yard.  They are too messy to come into my tidy happy place!

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My desert maiden Amanda enjoying the Japanese knot weed ‘lawn’ while the kids enjoy her gift, “The Imaginarium“! What a great Aunty!!

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Kid, chicken, bunny zone

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Someday I would like to see a nice blue grama grass lawn here, someday!

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The little garden that could all hemmed in.

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Along the north side of the house is the drive way and a 4ft wide strip of dirt that once was the vegetable zone but now home to 20 espalier apple trees.  They act as a living fence and this is the first year they gave fruit and they are pretty as a picture!

 

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The north strip garden is now home to a ton of plants gone wild.. tomatoes parnips, amaranth, arugula zinnias and whatever else has naturalize and perrenialized itself there.

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Our hops monster eating the porch

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And back to the beginning, the front garden is mostly flowers, herbs and medicinals that are cycling through at different times of the year, mostly a spring garden but it gets lots of action all through the year with the sand box right in it.

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AHHH the  Greenhouse in the high season, But I will save that for another day… next time I will invite you inside for tea and a look around!

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Five years ago

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Us today, my how we have grow!!

Thanks again Soule Mama for encouraging me to share and thanks to all of you who know small is beautiful and there is no place like home!

Cucumbers on the clothesline

Just as simple as that … Out trellising cucumbers this evening and I was looking for what I had in the yard to get them up off the ground.  I found an old plastic coated wire clothesline lying around and of course, clothespins.  It turned out to be the perfect materials for cucumbers to latch onto and climb.  IMG_2540

I hate to buy stuff I really can’t use for a million different things and re-use a million times, so there is no guilt when I buy even more clothesline and clothes pins to finish the job.  I mean really can you have too many clothes pins? Never!IMG_2538So there is my clever garden invention for the day and with the evening backlight on my little cucs, I couldn’t help but share!

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So up and away the garden grows!!

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Garden Transitions- The Fall Flip

I plan my garden very strategically so that there isn’t much work to do in June and July… For many reasons… Maybe first because I was a garden teacher for so many years that I planned spring and fall gardens with very little summer maintenance.  Even though I am not running a school garden this year, I now have a tiny baby and can’t really garden much at all…so it is convenient that I don’t have much to do but harvest in the high heat.  It is also convenient for leaving town during the hottest, driest time of year which we all want to do.

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Yeah for harvest help from our good friends from Ampersand, love you guys!!

And probably the biggest reason I plan so much for spring and fall gardening is that is when gardening in the high desert is at it’s best!  There is cool air, cooler soils and real water falling from the sky!  I start things outside as early as February (my pea crop was started then and yielded my best crop yet!)  and am eating out of the garden till Christmas eve.  Summer is for being lazy anyways right!?

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So though I am still being very lazy, I am starting to think about the transitions about to happen out there, the good old ‘fall flip’.  This is when I pull out all the lettuce and peas that have stopped yielding and bolted into pure bitterness that may still remain and I plant a whole new slew of cool season crops.  IMG_0273

Because it is only the 9th  of  July I can still plant a nice beet & carrot crop.  Later in the month I will plant more lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and whatever other cool season greens I wish.  I also have started planting big beautiful marigolds this time of year to have for autumn garlands.  IMG_9387

High summer I hear a lot of people say, ‘oh I am too late to have a garden this year’…but you are not!  Autumn harvest is within reach.  Plant now and you will abundance you will reap!!

Hardening off & planting out

I am sure many of you spent Mother’s Day weekend filling shopping baskets with new baby plants to bring home and fill your garden with, it is a Mother’s Day tradition,  (and it may be the only day of the year you can get the whole family to help you in the garden without complaint).  I received the wonderful gift of my son and mother planting a brand new climbing rose for me while I took a nap!! Heaven!!

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However around these parts Mother’s Day week and weekend is also famous for snow storms, which is why the last frost date is in fact May 15th- not May 5th!  Transitioning things outside and toughening them up enough to go from lush nursery conditions to exposed windy high desert gardens is an important step to protecting your investments.

IMG_3382Here is a post from years back that talks about the hardening off process and why it is important.

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IMG_1946And lastly one about transplanting tomatoes, which is what I will be doing this weekend… and for many days to come until these babies are tucked cozy in the ground!  If you are planting according to the Bio-dynamic Calendar, Friday and Saturday are not only fruit days but (specially good!!) So hope you are hardened off and ready to go!

 

 

Spring Greens

IMG_1658What a spring we have had! Erratic whether, moisture, crisp cool air, and really spring greens like nothing better!  I have begun harvesting multiple pounds of Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Chard and Chinese Cabbage every week and just wish I had more garden space to plant more.

IMG_1666If you are doing succession planting in your garden planning, timing and leaving space for the future is everything!!  You have to think about how long it will take for a head of lettuce to produce,(about 60 days in the spring) and then plan what you will pop in its place once harvested.  In these pictures above and below you can see I planted Cabbage babies among the cut and come again Lettuce, so that by the time the Lettuce is bitter the Cabbage will take over.

IMG_1799I usually plant a lot of cut and come again varieties of Lettuce, Spinach and Kale and Chard so I don’t have to keep planting…but this year I knew I could sneak in a bunch of head Lettuce before the warm season crops needed the square footage, so now the garden is full of butterhead and romaine varieties so I can remove the whole plant and put in warm season crops the same day…..lots of salad ahead for Mama’s Mini Farm CSA!

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The next three days are leaf days, so in go the last of my greenhouse Romaine starts and I will be sowing directly more Cilantro, Spinach, Arugula and Lettuce.  Possibly for the last time till mid July, as once my attention and garden space goes towards the warm season crops I simply don’t have enough room or time for greens…not to mention when the weather heats up many of these spring babies go bitter or bolt quickly.  Luckily my Chard and Kale keep pumping through the heat and I may not even need to replant them if I care for them right…

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Which is to say I have found that if you shade cool season greens in the high summer they really like it and last longer.  As you already know I am a huge fan of row cover for a long list of reasons… but when it gets too hot and plants don’t get enough fresh air they can get very flimsy and over succulent.  So much so that they couldn’t survive one day in full exposure and they will just turn to mush before your eyes, so I try to gradually remove the row covers for more and more hours at a time to toughen them up to the real world.

IMG_1810I often raise the row cover so wind and beneficial insects can find their way in on the ends, because another set back of having your crops under constant cover is pests, namely good old aphids can take over while you aren’t watching.

At some point when cool spring breezy days shift to hot summer days, Often around June 1st.  I take the row cover off all together and replace it with shade screen.  This lets light, water, and beneficials in, but it takes the edge off those sweltering afternoons that will cause a cilantro to bolt in one day!

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I have found in full sun gardens these shades are very helpful for almost all crops even warm season crops, throughout the whole summer. I have learned my lesson with more than one June hail storm destroying my precious babes!  More info on what to use is in  this previous post.

So if you aren’t out there already….get sowing!! You can plant pretty much any cool season crops, flowers and roots right now and in a few short weeks it will be tomato time!! Hooray! IMG_1670

 

 

 

Easter Sprouts

IMG_1081 (1)I have written many times about growing sprouts at home cause it is just so darn easy and rewarding.  I have lots of friends out there who simply can’t start vegetables indoors but sprouts only require attention for 10 days or so and really only need heat and water and a little sunshine.

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You can grow them with kids and they just love it and you could just keep that going and forgo a garden altogether and still get a constant supply of yummy fresh food for your table.

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Field Peas Day 1

Here is last years link on growing sprouts and Micro greens. But seeing as today and tomorrow are leaf days I thought I would remind you to sow some sprouts indoors.

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Field Peas day 7

If you do they may just be ready for Easter salads, and Easter baskets for that matter.  Why not grow peas shoots or sunflower sprouts this year instead of grass and when the thrill of Easter morning has worn off, snip the sprouts into salad and get double your money…

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Field Peas Day 13

Happy Spring everyone and Happy Sprouting!!

 

Time for sun screen!

The sun is up and the cool has gone, welcome but rough transition for some of us in the garden world.  In fact last Friday, I boldly removed my covers from my garden at SFCC, which is highly exposed to sun and wind.  Everyone was delighted to ‘finally see what was hiding under there’, but was nervous.  I was in a rush and just went for it, crossing my fingers the rain would be light & gentle and the gray skies would protect my newly transplanted babies…..Alas no such luck!!  The weather at my house is extremely different than at SFCC and it turned out the ‘rain’ there was actually hail, damaging all my newly exposed plants and even killing some newly planted ones.

 

The ones that had been uncovered weeks ago had a chance to toughen up so they weathered the storm just fine.  IMG_3924

But the ones that had been babied under row cover got deeply scarred by the rough weather.

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So what is a gardener to do?  Because row cover and custom covers are somewhat sensitive to sun and wind, I like to store them in the summer, so I can really use them when I need them in the colder months, and get the most life out of them possible.  However, a totally exposed garden in the high desert sun can really suffer from sun and wind and yes, summer hail storms…. So here is my solution, actually it is not mine, it is my husband’s idea, he is the brains behind most of our operations.IMG_6889

We bought these grass mats at Lowes that are used for fencing out your neighbors view of your yard.  We cut them into 5 ft pieces and laid them over our cattle panel hooped beds last year.  They provide great shade to a very hot part of our garden and made it useable all season.  So this season I did the same at the SFCC garden.

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Since these beds have hoops built-in, I just wired the mats to the middle bar, the sides are just clipped down so I can unclip and roll them back for easy access to harvest.   They work like a charm and look nice too, since hundreds of people walk through this garden every day, that matters!

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At home, I put them over my greens so they last just a little bit longer into the summer.  Crazy shadows make things taste better too!!

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They also work really well to shade things right after transplanting.  After a week or so they can be removed, but transplanting can be quite and shock, so protection really helps those little guys adapt.  So, since I already have had 4 people ask me, “Where do I get those”, here you go……

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This ‘Natural Reed Fencing’ is found in the way back right corner of he Lowe’s garden section with the fencing stuff.  I tried big Joe’s on Siler and they DO NOT carry them, so don’t try there.  These cost me $24.97 each and since I cut them into 3 5ft pieces, that means $8.32 per piece.  They will last me many years if I store them well when I am not using them….so I say totally worth it, especially if one is investing cash into baby plants this year.  You can of course use other things for the same effect, like old window blinds or how about loosely woven coffee sacks?  Anything that let’s rain, wind, bugs and some sun through is good.

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Whatever you choose, do consider a little sun screen for you and your plants this summer, you will all weather the weather better that way.

PS– Just a footnote on a big lesson learned (or reiterated) to me this week:

Trust you instincts

Make transitions slowly and

Don’t be afraid to protect your little ones so they can get well established before toughing up to the bright, windy, wild world.