Category Archives: Gardening

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.



Before I get into making my own seed starting mixture there are a few things I have to do regarding my houseplants! When I can’t work outside in the garden I tend to focus on my houseplants and take care of them. I’ve already transplanted my orchids and my aloe but one plant still to take care of is my peace lily.

spathuphyllum tango, houseplants, repotting

My peace lily before repotting.

Many people have a peace lily (spathuphyllum tango) in their home; it is very easy to care for and produces wonderful flowers. They thrive in indirect bright light. They like heavy watering but also like to dry out in between watering. Do keep pets and children away from this plant, as it is one of the many poisonous houseplants. Although they prefer a more compact root ball every other year or so I divide the plant, which seems to keep it pretty happy. When the active growth slows down or the leaves become smaller it is time to repot. My plant is flowering less and less and it is extremely crowded so I know it’s time to re-pot.

Repotting is rather easy. You can divide the plant into a number of new plants; perhaps you have a friend you would like to share with?

First fill a slightly larger pot that has drainage holes halfway with potting soil. Choose a pot only slightly larger because the plants grow well in crowded conditions. Make a small space in the middle of the soil for the divided peace lily plant.

houseplants, repotting, potting soil

I have a new pot ready, filled with potting soil.

Loosen the dirt around the roots of the peace lily. Use a gardening spade to loosen the soil, and then carefully lift the plant out of the container. You can also tilt the container on its side and squeeze on it to loosen the soil from the container. I gently pull the plant out of the pot over some newspaper, usually in the garage.  Today it was too cold for such a project in the garage so I made a huge mess over a sheet on my kitchen floor. When you start pulling the plant apart you will realize it is made up of many plants. You could actually put each plant in it’s own pot! After separating the plant I set aside the ones that will get re-potted. Rinse the dirt off the roots and run the roots of the plant under cool water.

repotting houseplants, plants

You can see the many baby plants.

houseplants, root bound, repotting

My peace lily is really root bound.










houseplants, repotting, prudent living

Separating the plants I want to repot.

washing roots, repotting

Selected plants ready for a root washing.









Place the peace lily in the new container. Fill it with potting soil, and pack it down around the roots. Water the peace lily to keep the soil moist. I usually give the leaves a wipe with a damp cloth as well. I now have two plants and a pile of discarded plants for my compost pile!

repotted peace lily, houseplants

In a few weeks this plant will start to fill out again.

repotted peace lily

Repotted peace lily.


Once my peace lily is re-potted I can now focus on our spring vegetable garden. I have placed my seed order and as soon as my seeds come in I will be starting certain varieties inside. I look forward to having my kitchen filled with baby seedlings, a sure sign that spring is coming!

As I mentioned last week, this is the time of year when seed catalogs start to arrive in your mailbox, full of bright glossy pictures of various vegetables and flowers that you can grow in your garden. Perhaps you’ve never had a garden before or have only purchased plants from a garden center but his year you want to plant your own seeds. How do you decide what to order?

seeds, ordering seeds, vegetable gardening, prudent living

So many choices!

The first thing you have to decide is whether or not you want to start your seeds inside or just plant your seeds directly into your garden. There are certain seeds, which must be started early, there is just not enough growing season to directly sow these seeds into your garden. Such plants as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants must all be started inside.

tomato seeds, vegetables, gardening

Tomato seeds must be started inside.

There are other seeds such as lettuce, which can be either started early inside or directly planted into your garden. Beans and corn can be directly planted outside in your garden once the soil has warmed up and the danger of frost has passed.

bean seeds, vegetable seeds, gardening

Some seeds are sowed directly into the garden.

I have been starting seeds indoors for years. It’s an enjoyable winter project and a relatively inexpensive way to grow a wide variety of plants. The first thing I do is to check the seed packet for the number of days before harvest, I want to make sure my plants will have enough time to produce before our first frost! Several years ago I found a wonderful link online for a booklet that helps you determine when to start seeds. Little House in the Suburbs offers a free download for their Spring Garden Planner. You print it out and put together a little booklet where you can easily see the dates of what needs to be planted when. The only thing you have to figure out is your frost date, when the last frost can be expected in the spring. It’s a great tool for keeping your seed-starting adventure organized!

Another important factor to consider is the size of your garden. If this is your first garden start small! Pick a few vegetables you enjoy and you know your family will like. Plant a few tomato plants, some cucumber, lettuce and beans. You will have an enjoyable time picking the fruits of your labor and knowing that your family is eating fresh, organic vegetables.

Spend some time reading a seed catalog, read the descriptions and have fun planning your garden! Once your have your garden planned and have decided to start some seeds indoors, I will tell you how to make your own seed starting mixture!

flower seeds, vegetable seeds, gardening, prudent living

I have quite a collection of various seeds!


Late December is not a time to be working in the garden in Vermont but it is a time to be planning next years garden. One of my favorite occupations in the winter is to sit by the woodstove and read through the new garden catalogs! Some of them have the best copywriters and can convince me to try many new varieties of vegetables.

Johnny's Seeds, Fedco Seeds, gardening, vegetables

My two favorite seed catalogs.

I usually order the majority of my seeds through the Fedco catalog. Not only do they have excellent prices but also since I order through our local coop I get an additional discount. You really can’t beat it! Fedco is not a fancy catalog, it is printed on what feels like newsprint, and is back and white, so no beautiful glossy photos to look at. They do have very good descriptions of their seeds and clearly explain whether or not a seed packet is heirloom or organic.

Fedco, seeds, vegetable gardening

Fedco catalog has great descriptions and illustrations.

Usually I have another catalog that does have the beautiful pictures to look up products if I’m not sure I want to order them or not. My other favorite catalog is Johnny’s Seeds, which is based in Maine.

Johnny's seeds, vegetable gardening, home gardening

Johnny's Seeds is another wonderful catalog.

I start most of my vegetable plants from seed and by the end of February I usually have quite a little garden going in our kitchen. In addition to a couple of grow lights I have lots of windows in the kitchen so I can give my plants a good start.

For now I just have to decide what I want to plant this year in addition to the regular vegetables! Starting your own seeds is a worthwhile investment. You have a much better selection of plants to choose from and you can also grown some wonderful heirloom plants that are hard to find in the local nurseries!

Do you plan to have a vegetable garden this year? If so, will you be starting your own seeds or picking up plants at the local garden center?

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