How to Know When to Sow a Seed or a Plant in Your Garden

which vegetables to direct seed

It’s amazing that a tiny seed will swell and sprout and eventually grow into an earthy orange carrot, a towering tomato plant, or a sprawling cucumber vine. We can’t have a garden without seeds and plants; they’re what make our gardens literally spring to life.

But, not every vegetable is planted the same way. Some vegetables are commonly planted by seeds and to grow others you’ll need to have a plant instead of a seed.

When you’re planning your garden and ordering and gathering supplies for the season, one of the most important things to know is whether you need seeds or plants for each vegetable you want to grow.

In this article, you’ll learn which vegetables require direct seeding and which vegetables are transplanted. At the end, you’ll have a completed shopping list and know exactly what you need for the upcoming season.

How to make easy raised beds for your vegetable garden

raised garden for vegetables

After almost 20 years of growing my own food and designing gardens, I passionately believe that growing vegetables in raised garden beds is the best route for most gardeners.

In this style of gardening, you work to establish permanent beds and paths in your garden. This is in contrast to the flat or farm style of gardening, in which you till up a large square or rectangle in your yard and start planting.

When you design your garden to include raised garden beds and established paths, you’ll find that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Let’s explore the pros and cons a bit more.

The Best Unique Garden Gifts For Passionate Gardeners

tomatoes from garden

The easiest people to have on your gift-buying list are those who have a clear obsession passion. You know who I’m talking about, those friends and relatives who are totally in love with a particular hobby, theme, or pastime. Zealous coffee drinkers, fervent cat people, adventurous world travelers, and… (my personal favorite) impassioned gardeners. You know what they care deeply about in this world, and you love them dearly for it. 

We gardeners can be a little intense about our gardens. As soon as the garden season is over we’re already curled up in our cozy reading chairs salivating over the seed catalogs and counting down the days until spring.

That’s why gardeners are one of the easiest groups of people to buy gifts for! We love anything and everything that reminds us of our favorite pastime – vegetables, flowers, nature, insects, chickens, bees, butterflies. 

Recently, I looked around my house at all of the amazing garden-themed items I’ve bought myself over the years and realized that many of them would make unique garden gifts for other gardeners as well. So, if you have a dear friend in your life who’d adore an unusual garden gift, here are my absolute favorites.

Reflections and Inspiration for Taking a Sabbatical Year

photo from a hike while taking a year off

Gorgeous view from a hike in Chile.

When you decide to take a chance and go on a big life adventure, it can be scary to veer off the safe route you’ve been traveling.  For the last several months since we declared our intention to take a sabbatical year, I’ve been experiencing the whole range of human emotions – anxiety, excitement, nervousness, anticipation, impatience, elation, doubt, fear, and confidence. It’s been a wild ride and we haven’t even left yet!

One thing that’s helped me navigate this confusing time is to seek out the voices, stories, and experiences of other people who have taken the leap and gone before me on their own adventures. Listening to their interviews, reading their memoirs, and exploring their blogs has helped me feel less alone during this transition time of life and has encouraged me to carve out time to cultivate excitement and anticipation for our upcoming year of travel.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of taking your own sabbatical or just love to hear about people who have adventurous spirits, I’m highlighting some of the resources I’ve been using to help me in preparing for my own journey.

In the second part of this post, I’ll share some of my own personal reflections on what it feels like to prepare for our sabbatical year.

15 Incredibly Useful Garden Tools You Need Right Now

gardener using best tools to harvest peppers

Simple and elegant garden solutions.

This phrase is featured on one of my workshop slides when I teach classes to passionate gardeners all around the US. It helps me introduce the philosophy behind The Creative Vegetable Gardener and how I personally approach gardening.

I’m a minimalist with most things in my life, and especially with gardening. I always try the easiest thing first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the next easiest thing.

I always strive to keep things simple in the garden.

I don’t like complicated systems or impractical garden supplies. In fact, I don’t think there are many things you actually “need” to start growing your own food.

When I was hired to start a vegetable garden installation business for a non-profit 10 years ago I went to the home improvement store with a short list of tools and supplies to purchase.

As a garden educator, I’ve been sent many different tools and supplies to try out over the years. A few of them have become indispensable, but many of them have been given away.

This past fall we cleaned out our garage and a lot of items got put on the curb. I trimmed the fat and streamlined things so I’m only keeping what I use on a daily or weekly basis.

In this post, I thought I’d share what I think are the best garden tools every gardener should have in her shed or garage. None of these companies are sponsoring this post. I’m sharing these tools because they’re what I personally use in my own garden.

My Top Recommended Books of the Year

good books to read from library

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Some of my fondest memories from growing up revolve around books. My mom has always loved to read and we started making weekly trips to the library when I was very young. In fact, we not only went to our local library in Northeast Philadelphia, but we also traveled to nearby neighborhoods to visit their libraries.

I can still close my eyes and conjure up the details of at least four different library buildings that were in our rotation.

My mom always had a stack of books in the dining room she was working her way through, and she read out loud to us every night. We had a big old wooden barrel in the living room that was filled with kids books and we could pick out anything we wanted for my mom to read to us. We were always surrounded by books!

As I got older I developed my own relationship with books and reading. I have a very vivid memory of standing in front of the library stacks in the young adult section of the library and thinking to myself in despair, “I’ve already read all of these books.” (Which wasn’t really true!)

When I was particularly engrossed in a book during middle and high school I would set myself up in a cozy chair in our front room and read in the almost dark house until way past the time everyone else went to bed. I’ve always had trouble putting down a good book!

If you walked into my living room today you might immediately notice my coffee table. It’s currently covered in stacks of books. A few of them are my own, but the majority of the books I read come from my neighborhood library. I make a visit there at least once or twice a week to pick up my holds. Luckily, it’s within a five-minute stroll from my house.

The fact that I can walk into a public building and check out any book I want, for free, never ceases to amaze me. What a gift it is to live in this ridiculously rich country of ours.

All of this means I read a lot of books! It’s the way I relax and unwind, seek inspiration and new ideas, visit other worlds, and learn about the innumerable ways people exist in this world.

As we head into winter, the season of more reading hours (yay!), I thought I’d share some of my top recommended books that have passed through my hands this past year in the hopes of introducing you to something you might want to put on your reading list!

5 No-Fail Fermented Food Recipes for Beginners

fermented foods for beginners

At first glance, fermentation may seem complicated and mysterious. How do you turn fresh vegetables into delectable fermented foods without magic? Well, I’m here to reassure you that no special powers are needed to understand and master the art of fermentation.

In fact, once you’re familiar with the process and try a recipe or two you’ll be shocked at how easy and foolproof it can be. I was a newbie about 18 months ago and now I’m obsessed with all things fermentation. For proof, come over and take a look at my kitchen counter right now, which has no less than five jars of vegetables in various stages of fermentation. Yum!

Once you start looking around the internet it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of recipes out there. How do you choose? Luckily, I have a few shortcuts for you!

How to Start Fermenting Vegetables from Your Garden

fermented vegetables

Fermented foods are all the rage these days. You can find them everywhere – farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurant menus, and even on your friend’s kitchen countertop (that is if you’re friends with me!).

If you eat and drink wine, beer, sauerkraut, vinegar, or miso I have news for you — you’re already eating fermented vegetables (and fruits).

The good news is that fermented foods are extremely healthy for you, but the bad news is some of the specialty fermented foods can be pretty pricey at the store. Luckily, even though fermentation might sound like a fancy and difficult process, it’s actually incredibly simple to make your own fermented vegetables at home.

In fact, I’ve found it to be more straightforward and quicker than canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

Let’s talk about the easy process of fermentation and then learn how to make fermented vegetables at home.

Warning: These Vegetables Will Not Survive a Frost

frost hardy spinach from the garden

When you know and understand the concept of frost tolerant vegetables you can save yourself from the very traumatic experience of going out to your garden to find a bed full of dead plants.

First, let’s define frost so we’re all on the same page. A freeze or frost is when the nighttime temperature is between 28-32 degrees F.

There’s also what’s known as a hard or killing frost which is more severe. That’s when the temperature at night drops below 28 degrees F.

Plants cells are filled with water, so as the temperature hovers around freezing the water turns to ice and bursts the cell walls. This is why plants will often look wilted on the morning after a frost.

Why is this important?

Well, there are two big categories of vegetable plants – the ones that can survive a frost in the garden (frost tolerant vegetables) and the ones that will get killed by frost (non-frost tolerant vegetables).

You need to be very familiar with which vegetables fall into each category so you can make sure you’re planting the right vegetable at the right time in the season for it to grow and thrive (and not die!).

If you plant a tomato seedling, which is not frost tolerant, too early in spring and then your garden gets hits by a frost one night, your plant will likely be killed or severely damaged.

Is it Possible to Live a Plastic Free Life?

woman with bag of plastic for plastic free living

In today’s modern world, plastic is everywhere. It’s in the clothes we wear, around the food products we buy from the grocery store, and it packages the items that show up in our mailbox when we order online.

Even for those of us who try to be conscious of our plastic use, it’s difficult to live a plastic-free life.

When I heard about the concept of Plastic Free July from some eco-conscious travel bloggers I follow, I was intrigued. The idea was hatched in Australia in 2011 in an attempt to challenge people to be more aware of their plastic use with the aim of encouraging changes in habit and behavior.

Participants commit to a 30-day period during the month of July during which they try to use as little plastic as possible. The campaign focuses specifically on single-use plastic like straws, water bottles, and takeout containers, but also encourages you to try to do without plastic for the entire month.

In the past few years, I’ve followed several different 30-day eating challenges (elmination diets, Whole30, Clean Diet) in order to look more closely at what I was eating and how it was affecting my body. I’ve found that focusing a limited amount of time on a very specific area of my life has been a really fun and successful way to break habits, take pauses, and form new behaviors.

I can’t help it, I love a challenge, and my husband was willing to play along, so we were in!

How to use organic garden fertilizer for better plants

organic fertilizer for healthy vegetables

Me with a bumper harvest from my front yard garden!

When you’re out and about working in your garden, do you start wondering about any of the following questions?

How can I grow more healthy vegetable plants?

Should I use organic garden fertilizer when planting?

How often should I fertilize my garden and what should I use?

There’s a lot of confusion in the vegetable gardening world about fertilizing. It’s one of the most common questions other gardeners ask me when I’m traveling around speaking and teaching each season.

Most gardeners are wondering what they should be doing, if anything, and if the actions they’re already taking to build their soil fertility are the right ones.

I’m guessing you’re probably unclear about this topic, too. (Don’t worry, so was I, until a few years ago.)

In this post, we’re going to clear up any questions and doubts you have about fertilizing your garden and learn about which products you should be using to build healthy soil and grow lots of delicious and nutritious produce in your garden.

How to Grow More Food with a Custom Planting Schedule

In Wisconsin zone 5 where I garden, my average last frost is around the second week in May. It’s very common for me to hear other gardeners say, “I just go out and plant my whole garden at the end of May.”

This is not the way I recommend you approach your garden – planting everything at once. If you do, you’re going to grow a lot less food than you could with a better plan.

Why? Because there are actually four seasons in the garden if you live in a colder weather climate like me – early spring, late spring, summer, and fall.

If you want to get the most possible food from your garden you need to plant in as many of those seasons as possible.

If you wait until after your average last frost to starting planting then you’re most likely missing out on the early spring season, which is when many plants thrive!

The technique of planting everything at once in your garden is representative of two big mistakes a lot of gardeners make.
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