Beginner’s Guide To Seed Saving

Everything you need to know to get a repeat performance of your favorite edibles next year without ever buying new seeds again.

If left to them their own devices, fleshy fruits naturally fall to the earth, where some of their seeds sprout when spring arrives again. Saving seeds from these plants mimics nature’s way—and it’s not at all difficult to do. But remember that only seeds from open-pollinated, not hybrid, plants will produce the same crop next year. (The packet that the original seeds arrived in will tell you whether the variety is open-pollinated or hybrid.)

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How To Have a Weed-Free Garden With No Work!

How To Have a Weed-Free Garden With No Work!

Thank you to:

Have you ever thought of a weed free garden and thought to yourself,  “impossible!“. Well think those thoughts no more. Hundreds of thousands of gardens go left and neglected because gardeners get discouraged by weeds. What I am going to explain in this blog post just two HIGHLY effective ways to not only grow MORE food in LESS SPACE, but also prevent weeds without lifting a finger! (warning: Some initial finger lifting may be needed.)  If you want a garden like the picture below, and are tired of weeds once and for all, then scroll down and keep reading. You won’t be forced to buy anything, and I promise you will like how simple and easy it is. Not to mention Organic! mominthegarden

  1. Mulch. Mulching your plants is one of the most effective ways to not only build the soil over time, but help to retain moisture and suppress weeds. The key is all in the kind of mulch. A mulch that is too thick and heavy won’t break down, and it is a pain in the butt to work with. A mulch that is too thin does not suppress weeds and can easily be smashed down compressing it into almost nothing. “So what is the right type of mulch to use in the garden?” CHIPPED WOOD. Chipped wood is not put through a shredder, but is instead put through a chipper. There is a big difference in the quality as you can see.chipped_woodchunkedwood

The difference as you can hopefully see between shredded wood or what many call “wood chips” (left) and chipped wood (right) is the texture and size. This is why the right mulch will make your life SO MUCH EASIER! The smaller particles will sift down through the mulch and begin to decompose faster, the thicker larger pieces will stay up and protect the soil from sun and evaporation. The larger shredded stuff  just has too much air, is too thick, and will never break down. Not to mention it hurts your feet to walk on! Ouch! Splinters! It also is a habitat for slugs and other nasty garden pests! “Where do you get chipped wood?” Chipped wood can be found for FREE from most tree companies. Believe it or not, when they haul out trees, they actually pay someone to grab it! So if they are in your local area, they would be happy to drop off as much as you want! Just ask around, because some use chippers and others use shredders. JUST REMEMBER – Chippers make chips, shredders make shreds.

2. High intensity gardening. High intensity gardening sounds more like a combination of the latest workout routine and applying it to gardening, however it is very much something totally different. The act of high intensity gardening is to take normal “traditional” spacing and throw it out the window with total disregard. High intensity gardening is what I have found to be hands down the most effective way to stop weeds in their path. The secret is in why weeds have become so strong. Weeds are plants, and they need 4 things to grow very well and so do your vegetables, the only thing different is that your weeds do a much better job at getting these 4 necessities than your vegetables do. They are: food (nutrients), Water, Sun, and Root space. Remember the story about Achilles heel? Your weeds are Achilles. However instead of just having a heel as their weak point, any of the 4 necessities are their week point! Take out one weak point and the whole plant is doomed.

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Can You Plant Garlic Cloves If Papery Cover is off?

Here’s a good question:

“What do you do about the cloves where the paper skin comes off as you are separating them? This can easily happen when pulling apart a head of garlic. Part or most of the paper wrapper will separate from the clove. Can you still plant these?

The short answer is no. Garlic bulbs naturally shrink as they cure, and then shrink more in storage. This is the natural course of things, because dormancy lasts only so long, and the cloves must get busy changing into new plants. This natural shrinkage makes garlic cloves easier to peel, but naked cloves are not what you want in your garden. The wrapper/skins contain chemical compounds that do various things – inhibit the emergence of a sprout until roots have formed, deter invasive microbes, and probably leach “come hither” signals to appropriate strains of garlic-friendly bacteria.

Cloves that enter the world of soil need to be wearing their full armor. If you have more naked cloves than you can use, dry them and make small batches of delicious garlic powder, or slice and pickle them just like other quick pickles.

To prepare garlic powder, follow these simple steps:

First, peel the garlic cloves. Then cut them into thin slices and put in a dry pan. Place the pan in a 150-degree oven to dry the garlic, turning the slices often. Grind the dried slices in a blender, (a friend of mine uses a coffee grinder) then sift the material through a strainer to separate the chunks from the finer powder. (The chunks taste great on pizza!)

Use your homemade garlic powder on any food that can benefit from a concentrated shot of garlic flavor. Store the chunks or garlic powder in airtight jars kept in a cool place, or freeze for long-term storage.

Gateway Beds Down for the Winter

What a team! Irene Moore and Viera Oszlak.

What a team! Irene Moore and Viera Oszlak.

Great autumn weather made last Saturday’s garden clean-up a pleasant afternoon for all. Teams of gardeners removed dead flower stalks from the Lowndes Ave. front garden. Others, like me, pulled out the last of their vegetable plants–but I got an unexpected bonus: Swiss chard and a pound of carrots that I planted late in the season, and some more green tomatoes!

I covered my bed with straw, including some spinach that just sprouted recently. I’m hoping that next Spring I’ll pull back the straw and find enough spinach for our first salads.

Thank you to all the gardeners who turned out to keep Gateway beautiful!

Garlic: So Easy, So Rewarding

Garlic photoIT WAS HARD for me to believe how easy it is to grow garlic! And ever since I saw and tasted how much better it is than store-bought–oily and aromatic, I keep planting more every year. It requires so little tending, that anyone can do it. All you need is a sunny spot.


STEP 1: Get a head of organic garlic to use as seed either in a store or farmers’ market. Non-organic may work but if from China, it could have been sprayed with a chemical to retard growth; there’s no way to know for sure.

STEP 2: Find a sunny spot where water doesn’t pool and dig the earth so it’s loose (of course, every bed at Gateway Community Garden fits that description!).

STEP 3: Separate the head of garlic into the individual cloves (leave the papery cover intact). Each clove becomes a whole head of garlic! Plant the clove with the pointy side up and the flat side down.

STEP 4: Plant each clove 2 to 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart from the others. Fill in the hole and pat it down. Mark the spot so you don’t forget where they are. Cover it with wood chips, straw or other mulch to keep the weeds down.

STEP 5: Water it. Go inside and dream about the garlic you will harvest NEXT JULY!

That’s right! Leave it through the winter. If late fall is warm, you may see green tips come up. Not to worry. In spring the leaves will really grow. Water it regularly like your other plants.

STEP 6: In June, the leaves will be tall and straight, but a curly “scape,” a flower stalk, will grow. Cut that off and chop it for use in eggs, stews, stir fries, to add a garlicky flavor. It freezes well. Stores charge as much as $1/scape!

STEP 7: When the leaves start turning brown, stop watering .

STEP 8: When most of the leaves are brown, it’s time to HARVEST! Don’t pull! Use a small shovel or fork to lift them out of the ground. Brush off the dirt, leave the roots and tops. Lay them in a single layer in a shaded, ventilated place for 2-3 weeks until they feel dry. Cut off the tops and store where air can circulate, eg., a mesh bag.

STEP 9: Eat and enjoy!

Use Straw To Cover Gardens for Winter

The chill in the air says it’s almost time to put our gardens to bed. One of the best ways to do that is to use straw. I recommend straw because it’s inexpensive, easy to use and move around, and reusable at least for one year.

A half bale will cover the typical bed at Gateway Garden (5×20′) several inches deep. After removing dead plant material, you just layer on the straw and walk away until Spring. The soil underneath will stay soft and protected from splashing by heavy rain, and, if you have left a cool weather vegetable like spinach sprouting in the bed, it will have protection from the worst cold and is more likely to survive the winter. Just like that, spinach green and growing when you uncover your bed!

Until you do uncover the soil, however, no weeds will sprout. Weeds, like vegetables, need light, moisture, and the correct temperature to germinate. . The straw eliminates the light needed for germination.

So, push the straw aside to make space, or easily pick it up and store it somewhere temporarily. Plant as you would usually, not on top of the straw.  Immediately surround seedlings with straw, and your sprouted seeds as soon as possible. The straw will keep the soil from drying out so quickly, so less watering needed, and will stop most weeds from germinating during the growing season.

That means you can cut your weeding time dramatically and avoid spreading weed seeds all over the rest of your garden.

Barbara Wildfeir, Cornell Cooperate Master Gardener







STRAW: The Best Winter Blanket for your Garden

From Barbara Wildfeir, Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener

The chilly nights are telling us it’s almost time to put our gardens to bed. And, if we’re smart and use straw, we can leave them clear and neat and ready to plant in the Spring.

Here’s why I recommend straw:

It’s cheap: a half bale is enough to cover the 5×20 garden beds at Gateway with several inches. All seeds—and that includes weed seeds–need light, moisture, and the correct temperature to germinate. As with vegetables, there are cool weather (eg., chickweed) and warm weather (eg.,crabgrass) weeds. The straw eliminates the light needed for germination.

It’s easy: straw is light in weight, and you can pick it up and move it around as needed.

It’s reusable: come spring when you plant, you can push it aside or store it somewhere temporarily. Then you can put it around your seedlings as they grow to keep the soil moist and cooler than the air,  and stop most weeds from germinating all summer!

That means you can cut your weeding time dramatically and avoid spreading weed seeds everywhere.

Remember, it’s straw you want, not hay, which contains lots of weed seeds.




Vertical Growing, French Marigolds, and Solutions to Ant Hills

Below is a list of the various types of netting and clips demonstrated in the Vertical Growing Workshop.  Be creative and don’t be afraid to try something new to get those crops up off the ground.  Home depot has a variety of up posts that will suit your particular needs.
Johnny’s Tomato Clips
100 for $9.15
Trellinet (substitute for HortaNova Net)
6.5 feet x 30 feet
Trellis Plus
5 Feet x 60 Feet
HortaNova Net
79 inches X 250 feet
Here’s a link to info on French Marigolds, whose role in companion planting is said to repel the dreaded Mexican Bean Beetle.
Ants in your Garden Bed?
Been doing some reading and ants (unless they are fire ants ) are generally beneficials.  Ants like warm dry places, so giving your soil a good soak should relocate them elsewhere without harming them.  Mint leaves crumbled over the soil also might work.
Some more reading material can be found here.
 Regina Dlugokencky

How To Grow Vegetables In Containers

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Many people have neither the time nor the space for a vegetable garden. But nearly everyone has at least a sunny windowsill, indoor or outdoor spot where you can grow something fresh and delicious. In fact, Gateway Gardens and groups like Long Island Food Not Bombs share the mission of encouraging everyone to grow some food for themselves. In the case of Food Not Bombs, volunteers grow seedlings to give away to people at weekly food-sharing events in Hempstead, Huntington and Farmingville.

That’s a great idea, but while you can grow some lettuce or spinach in a half-gallon milk carton, you need a 10-gallon container like a garbage can for a zucchini.  So it’s important to understand what size different vegetables need; otherwise, the seedling will go to waste.

But bear in mind that the containers can be absolutely anything. In fact, you can cut an X in the plastic bag containing a commercial potting mix and plant your seedling right in the bag!

Vegetables for Small & Medium Containers
The vegetables that can make it in the smallest containers, besides lettuce and spinach, include radishes (which grow really fast) and green onions. A dwarf tomato plant needs about a two-gallon container, and that could be a plastic bucket or even a dishpan.

Five to 8 gallon buckets, garbage cans or flowerpots can hold larger quantities of the smaller vegetables and be used for carrots, beets and eggplant as well.

Important: Remember to put drainage holes in all containers and some bark or stones or something similar in the bottom to keep the soil from staying too wet.

Vegetables For Large Containers
For vegetables that grow on vines, like squashes, and others such as cabbage, full-size tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts, you need a 10-20 gallon container. Consider laundry baskets, old Styrofoam coolers, garbage cans, etc. You can get more than one kind of vegetable from a large container. For example, you could plant lettuce or spinach all around a couple of zucchini or a full-size tomato. When the weather gets warm and the tomato starts to get big, you’ll already have harvested the cool-weather loving lettuce.

Soil: A Long-Term Investment
The seedlings, of course, need soil to grown in, and you should regard the soil as a long-term investment. Don’t try to use soil you dig up from outside. Use a commercial potting mix either with topsoil and compost already in it, or purchase sterile topsoil and sterile compost to add to the potting mix. You can reuse your soil for years by just adding some compost to it next year and for years after.

More Information
Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County has lots more expert information about container farming. Follow this link to find it.