Gardening Projects to Try at Home

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Well friends, hopefully you all are doing okay right now as we’re all adjusting to our new normal, whatever that may look like. I’ve talked about it a few times on this blog but, one way to ease stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression is to work in a garden. Getting your hands in the soil is surprisingly relaxing. I know when I’m having a rough day emotionally, I love being out in the garden or starting seeds indoors. Fortunately for us, gardening and growing plants isn’t going away any time soon. 

Using the Old Farmer’s Almanac planting calendar, here are some things you can do both indoors and outdoors during this time as the weather is starting to warm up (whether you have kiddos at home or not).

Seeds you can start indoors (between now and April 7):

  1. Peppers

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    a few tomato starts at CHEWS under grow lights

  2. Eggplants
  3. Celery
  4. Tomatoes
  5. Kale
  6. Broccoli
  7. Brussels sprouts
  8. Cauliflower
  9. Cabbage
  10. Lettuce
  11. Swiss chard

Just make sure you have a space where any plants can get plenty of sunshine and warmth!

Seeds you can start outdoors (between April 7 and 14)

  1. Peas
  2. Spinach
  3. Radishes
  4. Carrots

I hope you try to plant a few things this spring if you are able to. Speaking from my own experience, it’s very rewarding watching a tiny seed you planted grow and become food.

Good luck to you all and happy growing!

Preparing for Early Spring Planting!

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Hard to believe we are already here again friends but, it’s almost early spring planting time! In a matter of weeks, CHEWS will start sowing the earliest veggie seeds indoors. Exciting, right? I think so!

Last week, Seniors Together read through seed catalogs and began picking their choices for the vegetables, herbs, and flowers they’d like to have in the garden this year. It’s one of our favorite activities and the catalogs are gorgeous to look at. (The sites for the catalogs will be linked at the end of the blog.) So far, they’ve picked a variety of plants ranging from squash to beets to watermelon.

A few of these plants can be sown indoors as early as next month!

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar and the frost dates in Conneaut, between March 10 and 24, certain vegetables can be planted in pots indoors. These plants are:

  • Bell Peppers: Bell peppers should be started indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost date. They require a lot of warmth for germination and the soil should be at least 70°F.
  • Celery: Celery requires quite a long growing season (roughly 130 to 140 days). Unlike bell peppers, celery cannot tolerate high heat. The seeds should be started 10 to 12 weeks before last frost date and soaked overnight before planting. bell-peppers-assorted-crop
  • Eggplant: Similar to bell peppers, eggplants prefer warmth. Seeds should be started 8-9 weeks before the last frost date and will germinate quickly in temperatures between 70 to 90°F.
  • Leeks: Start leeks indoors 12 weeks before last frost date and transfer them as soon as the soil can be worked.

CHEWS will be growing each of these from seed, except leeks as we already have starts, this spring. The last frost date for the Conneaut area this year is May 19. Happy planting, friends!

Sources + Additional Links:

  1. https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar/oh/Ashtabula
  2. https://www.rareseeds.com/
  3. https://www.seedsavers.org/
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images
  5. https://www.almanac.com/plant/bell-peppers
  6. https://www.almanac.com/plant/celery
  7. https://www.almanac.com/plant/eggplants
  8. https://www.almanac.com/content/crying-onions

Growing Herbs Indoors with Right Track

 

Lemon_Balm_Foliage

In the last blog, I discussed working in the garden with kids and some of the projects CHEWS has collaborated on with Right Track in the past. This winter, Right Track and CHEWS are going to be working together again on a new project!

After the holidays, the students will be growing their own herbs indoors from seed using grow lights. In a lesson plan from KidsGardening, we will be growing herbs to make our own herbal tea as a fun way to have the students grow their own herbs and take it with them for home use with their families.

This activity will take 6 to 8 weeks while the herbs grow under the lights. We will be using potting soil, pots, and plant markers. The herbs we will be growing, using extra seeds saved from the community garden are lemon balm, mint, basil, and fennel. The good thing about these herbs is that they can grow indoors and won’t need to be transplanted outdoors.

The students will learn how to plant seeds in the pots, planting them deep enough and far enough apart. They will also learn how to properly water the herbs and decide how much light and heat they need for the best growth.

This is going to be a fun project and we’re looking forward to getting started!

Sources:

  1. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  2. https://kidsgardening.org/lesson-plans-grow-your-own-herbal-tea/

 

The Importance of Gardening with Youth

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Over the years at CHEWS, we’ve worked on many projects with youth in Conneaut. 72527796_1964079733694836_597279541118894080_nStudents from Right Track, the One Step Center, and the Environmental Club from Conneaut High School have planted garlic, started a pollinator garden, and started early spring plants for the community garden.

Their young minds are always interested in learning about different plants and veggies and how to grow them. I enjoy seeing their interest and passion. They also love getting to go outside, but who doesn’t?

It’s important for kids to become familiar with gardening for a number of reasons.

Gardening teaches responsibility. Learning how to maintain plants from seed to harvest teaches kids to see something through from start to finish, a very important skill we use throughout our lives.

The scientific part of gardening is great for young minds. As plants are growing, it will lead them to use the scientific process by forming a hypothesis about the next steps and figuring out how much water and sunlight is necessary for plant growth. It’s definitely a process I use throughout the planting season as gardening feels like a constant science experiment!

Did you know that working in the dirt boosts your immune system? Early exposure to microbes and the beneficial bacteria that is found in soil helps your body fight off infections more easily. There is also some evidence that working in the soil can help prevent autoimmune diseases and certain allergies.

57284453_1661760420593437_2597118847890751488_nOne of the biggest takeaways is that gardening encourages healthy eating. If a child sees how a plant grows and becomes familiar with it while they’re maintaining it, they’ll be more inclined to eat what they’re growing. I’ve seen it a few times with our Right Track students when we plant garlic together.

Gardening encourages a positive mental attitude — no matter what age, really. Being in nature has a positive affect on your mental health. But, for kids, if something like failing at gardening happens, it’ll teach them how to cope with problems all throughout their lives and how to deal with stress and negative outcomes.

Working in the garden eases symptoms of depression. Gardening has many opportunities to practice mindfulness and being present without judgement. It requires some mild exercise in activities like weeding and raking which is beneficial for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Finally, working in the soil releases “happy hormones”, like serotonin and dopamine and decreases cortisol, a hormone related to stress. Gardening gets rid of excess stressful energy and allows us to relax and let go leading to feeling renewed inside and sleeping better at night.

Encourage your kiddos to volunteer with CHEWS next spring, gardening is super fun and a great outlet for them to find something to do!

Sources:

  1. https://eaglebaypavers.com/blog/garden-of-youth-the-benefits-of-gardening-with-your-kids/
  2. https://national.macaronikid.com/articles/584ee953599b572c01fd11a3/10-benefits-of-gardening-with-kids-from-creativity-for-kids
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120322142157.htm
  4. https://www.anxiety.org/gardening-helps-reduce-symptoms-of-anxiety-and-depression
  5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/worry-and-panic/201505/petal-power-why-is-gardening-so-good-our-mental-health

What to Cover Your Garden Beds With

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As the growing season comes to an end here in Northeast Ohio, it’s time to start preparing the beds for winter. There is no wrong way to cover up your garden because the purpose of prepping for the next year is covering it with something that will keep the soil healthy.

There is quite a selection of plants and mulch that you can use to cover your beds with and some are even right in your backyard this time of year!

Cover crop

Cover crop is typically grown for the benefit of the soil. They’re used to suppress weeds, manage erosion, provide nutrients to the soil, and reduce fungal and bacterial diseases in the soil. There different a few different types of cover crop:

  • Rye: good for loosening soil and suppressing weeds.
  • Buckwheat: prevents erosion and suppresses weeds.
  • Clover: fixes nitrogen in the soil and adds fertility.
  • Hairy vetch: adds nitrogen to the soil (really good in for winter in northern climates).

You can find cover crop at most garden centers and seed selling websites.

Straw

Using straw as mulch to cover your beds is great because straw holds in moisture in the soil while also keeping weeds down and composting into nutrients that benefit the soil. This is what CHEWS uses to cover our beds every year and I’ve noticed that it does do a great job keeping weeds down.

You can find straw at places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and your area’s local farmers. 6066537_origWhen buying from bigger companies be weary of straw that has herbicides in it if, like CHEWS, you like to keep your garden free of harsh chemicals.

Leaves and Newspaper

Like cover crop, leaves have organic matter in them that breaks down and provides nutrients to the soil, then in the following spring you can plant right into the soil.

This year, we’re trying something new at CHEWS. We’re going to collect newspapers and leaves to use to cover our beds. With the help of the fourth and fifth grade students from Right Track, we will be laying down newspaper and then covering that with leaves we’re collecting. (Stay tuned for updates on that, it’s going to be fun!)

What are some items you use to cover your garden beds at the end of the growing season? Please share with us!

Sources:

  1. https://www.thespruce.com/definition-of-cover-crop-3016953
  2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  3. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/vgen/straw-mulch-for-vegetables.htm
  4. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/put-fall-leaves-to-work/5402.html

Planting Ozark Beauty Strawberries

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This week, I was given ozark beauty strawberry runners by a generous person who wanted to donate them to the garden. I’ve never planted strawberries before so I wasn’t sure if they could be planted this late in the season but, the good news is you can.

If you plant them this time of year, the runners will go dormant in the winter months and grow back in early spring, sprouting fruit. They have to be covered with mulch or straw for protection because even though they will be dormant, strawberries are still sensitive to the cold. 1280px-Strawberries

The plants have to be planted 8 to 10 inches apart and about a half inch deep, covering the roots. Be careful to not bury the crown too deep in the soil because there is risk of rotting.

Common pests that go after strawberries are slugs and birds. Slugs will come around if the soil has too much moisture.

To keep birds away, use bird netting. This summer, birds were a big problem in the garden as they liked to snack on the baby cabbage plants Thankfully, I had plastic net bags handy to guard the plants and it worked wonders.

The runners are going to be planted one of the raised beds and covered for winter. I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out next spring.

Happy growing!

Sources:

  1. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  2. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/strawberry/growing-ozark-beauty-strawberries.htm
  3. https://bonnieplants.com/product/ozark-beauty-strawberry/

 

The Best Way to Store Potatoes

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This week, with the help of my trusty garden volunteers, we dug up all of the potatoes in the garden as they have finally died back. Before storing them for winter, they have to dry for a few days. Then, I sort through them in case I missed any that were damaged while digging them up, have soft spots, or have sun damage. Then, I choose which ones I will replant the following spring to keep stored for winter.

In past years, I learned that potatoes cannot be stored in the refrigerator over the winter because they will not keep well and often turn moldy. Potatoes do best in a cool, dry, dark place between 45 and 55 degrees, which is difficult to find here in the building at the Conneaut Human Resources Center. They must also be in a container that is well ventilated to allow extra moisture to evaporate.

I’ve heard that it’s common to store potatoes with onions but, they have to be kept far away from each other. Onions emit ethylene gas, which can cause potatoes to rot or ripen quickly.

Many people store potatoes in their basement, which is a great spot because most basements are cool and dark. But if, like CHEWS, you don’t have an accessible basement for storage, a garden shed works. I will be storing our potatoes in a few cardboard boxes that have holes in them in our cooler this winter.

Let me know how some of you store your potatoes for the winter!

Sources:

  1. https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-store-potatoes-1389145
  2. https://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/techniques/where-how-to-store-potatoes
  3. https://saramoulton.com/2012/08/potatoes-what-is-the-best-way-to-store-potatoes/
  4. https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-store-potatoes-and-onions/

All About Heirloom Tomatoes

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Often, I am asked what the difference between an heirloom tomato and a regular tomato is. The seeds are what separates heirlooms from regular tomatoes. Heirloom seeds are cultivated from season to season and generation to generation among farmers. The seeds are picked by which tomatoes had the best fruit. It allows farmers to choose based on the best traits from the fruit. The taste of heirlooms are different too – typically, they are sweeter because they’re not the bright red color. They come in various shapes and sizes.

There are a few different types of heirlooms:

  • Commercial heirlooms – Open pollinated varieties that have circulated for more than 50 years.
  • Family heirlooms – Seeds that have been passed down through family for several generations.
  • Created heirlooms – Crossing either two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for how ever many years/generations it takes to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and stabilize the desired characteristics1280px-Capay_heirloom_tomatoes_at_Slow_Food_Nation
  • Mystery heirlooms – Varieties of heirlooms that have naturally cross-pollinated

The term heirloom for tomatoes wasn’t widely used until 1981 when Kent Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange used it for a speech with permission from John Withee. Withee used it in reference to bean seeds he received from friends dating back to the 1940s.

According to Seed Savers, the most popular varieties of heirlooms are:

  1. Italian Heirloom – heart shaped, red
  2. Amish Paste – plum shaped, deep red
  3. Cherry Roma – tiny plum shaped, bright red
  4. Black Krim – beefsteak, purple and green 0662-black-krim-tomato
  5. Brandywine – classic round shaped, bright red
  6. Kanner Hoell – beefsteak, red
  7. Cherokee Purple – beefsteak, dusty rose brown
  8. Black Cherry – cherry shaped, dark red
  9. Gold Medal – large and flat, bi-colored yellow and red
  10. Blondkopfchen – cherry shaped, yellow

When planning for planting every year, CHEWS gets heirloom tomato seeds from Baker Creek and Seed Savers Exchange. Check them out! There are also some local places in Conneaut that sell heirloom tomatoes. Stop by the Conneaut Farmers Market and see!

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_tomato
  2. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/what-are-heirloom-tomatoes
  3. https://www.tomatofest.com/what_is_heirloom_tomato_s/112.htm
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  5. http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/top-ten-heirloom-tomato-varieties

How to Braid Garlic

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At this point in growing season, it’s around the time where garlic is ready to be harvested and hung to dry. In the past, I’ve made bundles of garlic and tied them with a slip knot to hang in the garden shed. But, something cool I’ve seen is that people braid and weave garlic together.

Braiding garlic not only looks nice, but there’s less mess from the stems, and it lasts longer in storage. Here’s how to do it.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Clean the bulbs.
  2. Trim the garlic by 1/4 inch.
  3. Soak the stems to make them more flexible.
  4. Select the three largest bulbs and criss-cross them. Tie with twine
  5. Add fourth bulb over bundle to match with middle bulb. Add two more to match  800px-Allium_sativum._Restra_de_allos_de_Oroso-_Galizawith side bulbs and begin braiding.

The pattern to follow goes like this:

  1. Start with the trio of bulbs tied together as your base.
  2. Add bulb to middle.
  3. Cross right stalks over middle stalks.
  4. Add bulb to right side (stalk of new bulb goes in middle section).
  5. Cross left stalks over middle stalks.
  6. Add bulb to left side (stalk of new bulb goes in middle section.)
  7. Cross right stalks over middle stalks.
  8. Add bulb to middle (stalk of new bulb goes in middle section.)
  9. Cross left stalks over middle stalks.
  10. Repeat.

It is easier to do with with soft-neck garlic than hard-neck garlic. I made an attempt to braid the garlic growing in the community garden and nearly broke a few stems in the process.

I’ve seen that people soak the stems before braiding or use needle-nosed pliers to weaken the neck before braiding.

Sources:

  1. https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/09/braid-garlic.html
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJpxpsH-rQM
  3. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

A Few Ways to Preserve and Process Tomatoes

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A new thing I’m doing this year is looking to try different things with tomatoes. The biggest being finding ways to preserve them. Since they’re in season, now is the perfect time to start. Here are few ways to preserve tomatoes and make them last longer than the summer.

  1. CanningMany people can tomatoes, whether they’re diced, crushed, or whole and use them later for sauces, pastes, and other cooking methods. Canning can be tricky, however. If you’ve never canned before, keep in mind that it can be dangerous if you’re not sure what you’re doing. The mason jars that you will use have to be
    Dehydrated-tomatoes-GettyImages-102070454-599257689abed50010b6f395

    Dehydrated tomato slices

    heated in water and if you’re not careful, glass can explode in heat. So find someone to teach you how to do this. It’s worth it because then you can make tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa and more.

  2. Freezing: Freezing is probably the easiest way to preserve tomatoes. There’s no prep that goes into freezing them. You don’t have to peel them. Just stick them in a freezer bag and place them where you want them in your freezer. They will keep for up to 3 months.
  3. Dehydrating: If you have access to a dehydrator, this is really fun. You can dehydrate whole cherry tomatoes and cut larger tomatoes into slices. All you have to do is place them on the racks in a dehydrator and let it run until they’re done.

Some other ways you can preserve and process tomatoes are making sauces and pastes, which are a little bit more challenging and require boiling jars in hot water like canning does.

Something else you can do to process them is make a summer salsa, here’s a recipe to try at home. This is something my family has made every summer and it’s delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons canned green chilies 1273190
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  • Combine tomatoes, red onion, yellow onion, green chilies, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, cumin, and salt in a food processor.
  • Pulse processor until mixture is combined, yet remains chunky.
  • Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Sources:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMUFIkg39oM
  2. https://www.freshpreserving.com/crushed-tomatoes-%7C-canning-tomatoes—ball-fresh-preserving-br1149.html
  3. https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-preserve-tomatoes-2217665
  4. https://simpleveganblog.com/how-to-dehydrate-tomatoes/
  5. https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-tomato-paste-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-206853