Category Archives: Gardening

In late February – early March it is time to start my seeds indoors. There are certain vegetables that if you want to plant by seed they must be started indoors. Varieties such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, perennials and some annual flowers benefit from an early start indoors.

Insufficient light is the biggest problem with starting seeds indoors. Long, tall, skinny seedlings which eventually fall over and die are the result of not enough light. Use fluorescent lights, preferable a 4-tube ballast. Tubes must be placed 1” to 2” above the seedlings. Ballasts can be hung on chains and hooked into ceiling hooks for easy adjustment as the seedlings grow. Seedlings must receive 14-16 hours of light, and 8 hours of darkness per day. My husband built me a grow table out of scrap lumber. I have two sets of grow lights which I use over my seedlings. I found a great plan online for building a grow light stand out of PVC pipe. Very clever. Click here for the directions.

Make your own seed starting mixture or purchase high quality seed starting mix that holds the moisture yet has good drainage. Seedlings must be kept moist but not soggy. If they completely dry out just once, seedlings will die. If soggy, fungal problems can occur.

seed starting, gardening, prudent living

Various containers I use for seed starting.

Almost any container can be used to start seeds including old milk containers or egg cartons. Seed starting trays and larger pots for transplanting seedlings are available. To retain soil moisture until seed germinates, cover your container with a clear lid or wrap in clear plastic wrap. Remove the cover immediately when you see the first seedling. I save the clear containers that salad mixes or spinach come in as my growing container.

seed starting, gardening

Empty lettuce containers I save each year.

If your containers are very small and it’s not quite time to plant your seedlings outside, you may need to transfer them to larger containers to allow for proper growth. Chose a container twice the size of the original one, fill it part way with moistened soil, and carefully transplant the seedling handling only the root ball or the leaves, not the stems. Add soil to fill, and water gently.

Before moving the seeds outside you will need to ‘harden the seedlings off’ for about a week. Take the containers outside and place in a filtered sun/shade location away from harsh winds during the day, and bring them back in before evening. Gradually increase the time the seeding’s are outside until they are ready to be planted in your garden. You can also use a cold frame to transition your seedlings. I will post more about cold frames in a later post.

How do you know when to start your seeds inside? All the seeds packets indicate the optimum sowing time based on the average last spring frost date. Generally, tomatoes are sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last frost, peppers 8-10 weeks, onions 8-12 weeks. Flower seeds sowing time can vary from 4-12 weeks before the average last frost depending on the variety. For specific variety information, check the back of your seed packet. You also can check the new Plant Hardiness Zone Map  from the USDA which will give you an idea of what plants will thrive in your area.

Seed viability is another thing to think about before starting your seeds. If you are using seeds left over from a previous year it is a good idea to check the viability of the seeds. An easy way to do this is to take 10 seeds and place them on a dampened paper towel. Moisten the paper towel and lay it over the seeds.Place the covered seeds in a zip lock plastic bag and store in a warm, dark place such as a cupboard. Check it occasionally to make sure it is still moist. After a week check the seeds to see if any have sprouted. By using ten seeds you can convert the viability to a percentage. If all 10 seeds have sprouted you have a 100% viability. If only 6 sprouted the percentage drops to 60%. If the viability is low you may just have to plant more seeds or get a new packet of seeds.

Check my video on the seed viability test I did on some pepper and tomato seeds.

I will be starting my seeds in another week. In the meantime I thought I’d review an interesting book for you – The “Have-More” Plan by Ed and Carolyn Robinson. This book was originally published in the 40’s. Since then it has been reprinted 22 times and is available from Amazon for a very reasonable price.frugal living, prudent living, book review

Here is what Amazon has to say about the book:

It has been Ed Robinson and wife Carolyn’s dream that every family can own a home and a little land. Their classic book, The “Have-More” Plan, was written in the 1940’s. The book has been kept in print unchanged because it is still, after 70 years, a useful reference for the home gardener. Over 500,000 people have now discovered how to do things in ways that work simply and well. Ed said, “…poultry, goats, lettuce, and home canning haven’t changed much in the generation since The “Have-More” Plan was first published. Today home gardening seems on the verge of a giant step forward: We can now get more produce on small plots by using plastic cover-ups over raised beds to extend growing seasons. This ushers in a new era for home production.”

This book is full of valuable information especially for those of us who are pursuing the prudent way of life. There is information on landscaping your property, making space for your garden, and details on any livestock you might want to raise. Ed and Carolyn firmly believe in raising at least part of your food and have extensive information on getting your soil in shape, which vegetables are suitable for your area and harvesting your crops. They have a large vegetable planting chart which will help you decide how far apart to plant certain vegetables, how deep to plant the seeds and common pest problems.

vegetable planning, chart, gardening

Vegetable Planning Chart

Although some of the information in the book may be outdated, such as the pesticides they recommend, overall it is a wonderful little book full of valuable information for anyone who wants to live a more self-reliant lifestyle… it’s well worth the cost!

The days are getting longer and soon it will be time to start my seeds inside. However it is still a little too soon to start anything, even the seeds that take a while. I’ve ordered my seeds and they should arrive any day. While we’re waiting feel free to check out the latest issue of Prudent Living Magazine. It’s full of all sorts of information including a wonderful article on maple sugaring. Once you’ve had the real stuff you’ll never go back! If you’d like to read about gardening, read my article on Establishing Your Vegetable Garden. If you live locally be sure to mark your calendars for the 34th Annual Homelife Show, March 16, 17 & 18 in Hanover, NH. Come visit and enter our drawing for your chance to win a 32GB iPod touch, or a WonderMill – the world’s cleanest, quietest, easy to use grain mill. Hope to see you there! prudent living, online magazine

As I mentioned last week there are many benefits of composting, the most important is the benefit to your garden. Composting doesn’t have to be hard or labor intensive. You can keep it simple with a small compost bucket next to your sink for vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grinds, anything that’s not cooked. Once your bucket is filled you can take it outside and dump it into a larger container. In the spring empty your larger container into the garden and till it in.

There are other ways to set up composting systems. Methods range from mulched paths that are replenished every other year, to piles that are maintained weekly. Many compost systems can be built with scavenged materials. Pallets can be used for example. You want to figure out the most appropriate composting system for your unique circumstance.

Wire mesh bins are the quickest and least expensive bins to construct. They can be used as holding and turning bins, or in combination with one of the larger bins as temporary storage. You simply add yard wastes such as leaves, occasionally add moisture and turn the compost and it will be ready in 6 months to 2 years.

composting, home gardening, prudent living

Wire compost Bin

You can also make a portable bin using scrap lumber or pallets. This type of bin provides moderate volumes of compost with very minimal effort. The location can be changed from time to time as well.

Composting, gardening, prudent living

Pallet Compost Bin

The bin I am planning to build this year is a stationary 3-bin system. This system is used to compost large amounts of yard and kitchen wastes in a short period of time. Compost piles are made and turned on a regular basis. This system may also be used for slow composting of yard wastes without kitchen scraps. A pile made with a balance of fresh greens and woody materials and turned weekly can be ready in three weeks.

composting, gardening, prudent living

Three Bin Compost System

Hopefully you will find room for a compost pile on your property. Compost can be used to enrich your flower and vegetable gardens, to improve the soil around trees and shrubs and as a soil amendment for house plants and planter boxes, and when screened, as a part of a seed-starting mix or lawn top dressing. The best time to dig compost into a garden bed is when preparing the bed for planting. By using compost, organic mater is returned to the soil in a usable form. Start now and save money by making your own free fertilizer at home!



Did you know that by composting you could save money by using less fertilizer and watering less? Did you know that your plants in the garden would grow healthier and be stronger? These are just two of the benefits of composting. In the wild composting occurs when the leaves fall of the trees and decompose providing nutrients for the plants and trees growing in the woods. Perhaps you’ve heard that composting is good for your garden but you don’t know where to start.

First of all composting is easy. Think about how often you put something in the trash, a few minutes here and there. That’s how simple composting can be. It’s basically lifting a lid up and putting something in a container, that easy! You need a small investment for a container to put your household scraps into another spot outside where you can empty your composting pail. I keep a small composting pail right next to my sink; into it I put all the vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds, anything that’s not cooked and no meat scraps. When the bucket is full I take it outside and empty it into a larger compost bin. I continue to compost even in the winter, although I realize it is too cold for anything to be decomposing outside, here in Vermont.

composting, kitchen scraps, gardening

Outside compost bin.

composting, prudent living

Compost pail next to the sink.










I also have a large compost pile outside not far from our chicken coop. It’s not very organized and basically it’s a spot where we dump garden refuse and chicken shavings. This spring we will be building a much larger three-bin system outside. I want to create an effective compost pile that is actively decomposing.  Having a larger composting area will allow me to compost all sorts of material: grass clippings, yard wastes, such as weeds, old plants and spent flowers. We had a large load of wood chips delivered last year when the men were working on the power lines. They were happy to deliver to our house which was just up the street from where they were working. It saved them from having to drive elsewhere and get rid of the load. These wood chips will have been sitting for months by the time we get our compost system set up and will be starting to decay. It will be a good addition to the pile.

When building your compost pile you want to have a good ratio of “browns’ to “greens”. What do I meant by that? Greens are such things as food scraps, grass clippings and rotted manure. “Browns” are cornstalks, leaves, straw, paper, sawdust and wood chips. The “greens” provide the nitrogen and the “browns” provide the carbon.  A pile that is too high in carbon will stay cool and sit a long time without breaking down. A pile that is too high in nitrogen will give off the smell of ammonia gas. It’s also likely to get slimy and have a foul odor. Eventually it will all decompose but your goal is to have an effective compost pile that heats up and decomposes so you can use it in your garden. A hot pile is useful for composting food and yard wastes together without pest problems, killing soil diseases, weed seeds and produces compost in a short period of time.

As you start planning your garden this year think of a spot where you can set up a compost pile. Next week I will talk about the different kinds of piles from very simple to more complex. Lets have healthier gardens this year and start composting!


Starting your own seeds is one way to save money in your gardening costs. Another way is to make your own seed starting mixture. A variety of materials may be used to germinate seeds and root cuttings. These mixtures must be sterile and must meet certain other criteria.

They must be firm and dense enough to hold cuttings or seeds in place during rooting or germination. They must be of a consistency that will not alter drastically either dry or wet, since this would cause root damage. They must be porous enough to drain properly yet retain enough moisture so that frequent watering will not be necessary.

When starting seeds you can purchase large bags of pre-mixed soil designed especially for seed germination. I have begun to mix my own when I just wasn’t happy with the results of the store bought mixture.  The mixture I have been using is easy to make and does a great job. As you experiment with various components you will discover what works best for you.

Top soil, Peat moss, gardening

Ingredients to make your own seed starting mixture.

This is the combination I use:

top soil, loam, gardening

Top soil or garden loam.

1 part sterilized garden loam or top soil
1 part coarse sand or perlite
1 part peat moss

Pearlite is used to increase aeration in a mixture. It is derived from a type of volcanic rock and is processed into light, porous, sterile particles that hold many times their own weight in water.

Perlite, soil mixture, gardening


Sand is used to add body and drainage to a soil medium, and is also excellent when used alone for root cuttings.

Peat moss is used in heavy mixtures to lighten and increaser porosity; it is derived from partly decomposed aquatic plants.

Peat moss, soil mixtures, gardening

Peat Moss

Now that we have mixed up our soil we are ready to start planting seeds! Hopefully next week I will start with my leek and onion seeds. They need time to grow and establish themselves before I can plant them directly into the garden. I enjoy starting seeds inside as it is a sure sign that spring is coming even when it doesn’t look or feel like it outside!

seed starting mixture, gardening

Homemade seed starting mixture.



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