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Mason Bees: 5 reasons you want them in your garden!

Garden Friends

You’ve heard about the bee… but have you heard about the mason bee? There are approximately 20,000 known species of bee on this planet, and 139 of those species are mason bees. If you’ve never heard of them, let me fill you in a bit because these little critters are amazing! I think they are amazing… can you tell? Lol!  I get excited about animals sometimes.  Let me share a little and then let’s see if you are a little excited too 😉

Here are some of the reasons I love mason bees:

1. Mason Bees are a solitary species, meaning they don’t live in a hive. Most people think of a hive when they think of a bee, but that’s because the honeybee lives in a hive. The honeybee is the most well known, but it is definitely not the only bee.  Mason bees are beneficial to us as gardeners because we don’t need to become beekeepers to enlist their help in our garden. 

2. Mason Bees are non-aggressive and don’t sting. Whaaat? A bee that doesn’t sting?  Yep, that’s correct. They can sting, but it’s incredibly rare. Honeybees have a queen and a hive to protect, and they will give their life to do so. Did you know that when a bee stings you they die? It’s true.. And sad! If they feel threatened, they will sting to protect their hive. Mason bees, however, don’t have a queen and a hive to protect… so they are nice and carefree. They are the safest bee around pets and children for this reason.

3. Solitary bees make up a little over 90% of the total bee populations. It’s true! The poor solitary bees… they don’t get any credit, yet they make up almost all the bees on the planet. Those honeybees get all the attention! You’ve almost certainly seen a mason bee and didn’t even know it.  

4. Mason Bees get their name because of their use of mud, like a mason. This is so cool!  Since they don’t have a hive to lay their eggs in, the females find natural holes or cracks in trees, logs, or any man-made structure they can. After they breed, the female starts laying her eggs in the back of the hole or crack.  Then she packs in pollen and nectar for food and puts a layer of mud to section off that egg.  Once the hole or crack is full, she then seals it with more mud to keep the eggs safe.

5. Mason bees have a 95% pollination rate vs. the honeybee’s 5%. Mason bees are the superheroes of the bee world. Honeybees collect pollen and nectar for their hive. Everything the honeybee gathers is literally for the hive. The mason bee, however, doesn’t have a hive to give the pollen and nectar to.  For this reason, the mason bee carries more pollen on its body when it is traveling from flower to flower. Also, the mason bee is a very furry bee, meaning that it has more hair that the pollen sticks to. The combination of having a furry body and not needing to give the pollen to a hive sends their pollination rate through the roof! 

OK… I’m checking in with you?…. Are you at least a little excited about these critters? They are kinda cool, right?

There are so many amazing animals on this planet. I truly believe that we can do a better job of living in balance with nature. The first step is learning about them! YAY! If you are reading this, it means you now know a little about the mason bees. The next step is to adjust what you are doing to help them thrive. It doesn’t always take huge effort to help many of the animals that live around us. Encouraging the mason bees to live in your yard and garden is a perfect example of that. To learn more about how to encourage mason bees to live in your garden, keep an eye out for our Friends In Your Garden micro-course coming soon.

Carrie Sylvester
Wildlife and Eco Educator

Carrie has lived and worked with animals her entire life. She is driven by a passion to help the animals and planet through her teaching. She began her professional career as aRegistered Veterinary Technician. After spending a total of 10 years in veterinary hospitals, she returned to school to study Animal Training, Zoo Keeping, and Wildlife Education. In these three categories, she has had the privilege of working at the Los Angeles Zoo with the California Condors, training dogs and many exotic animals (including a Wolf and Mountain Lion), and providing hands-on live animal education programs to thousands of children. Following her dream of providing impactful education, she has been the director of a Zoo Day Camp for children and founded a non-profit organization. This passion has now met the world of gardening as she fulfills another dream… having a big, healthy, organic garden!

Holiday Garden Wishlist Staff Picks 2022

Enjoying Your Harvest

Finding the right holiday gift for a gardener isn’t easy. Gifts that often appear helpful aren’t. And sometimes the ones that seem mundane can be fantastic. It can take years for growers to find gadgets and supplies they love. So how can friends and family find the perfect garden gifts this holiday season? We’ve got you covered! Here’s the top ten most useful and exciting products on the market for your holiday gift list.

Want the complete Garden Gift Guide? Download it for free here!

Ease the holiday frenzy so you can relax and have more time with your loved ones with the Grow Your Own Vegetables 2021 Holiday Garden Gift Guide.

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Give The Gift of Time

Even when a garden is optimized, growers typically spend 40% of their time harvesting. That’s almost half our total time in the garden! That’s why this tool can make all the difference. Check out these 5 Blade Scissors!

Garden Like A Superhero

Okay, this tool isn’t going to make you more powerful than a locomotive, but you will be able to prune with 3 times the cutting power with the Fiskars 32-Inch PowerGear Bypass Lopper. Made with reinforced fiberglass composite, these loppers are lighter than the competitors.

It also sports a unique gear technology giving you more power without straining to cut. You can easily cut branches up to 2” (5cm) in diameter with this puppy.

PLUS, the corrosion-resistant, non-stick, fully hardened blade means it will last a lifetime. In fact, they stand behind their product with a lifetime warranty and their claim to pruning fame: “This superior- grade tool is lighter, stronger, and more powerful than anything you’ve ever used.”

The Small But Mighty Gift

For  smaller pruning tasks, check out our favorite hand pruner, the Bypass Pruner by Corona. Because no two hands are alike and this pruner was designed with that in mind. The flex dial allows you to set the pruners to match YOUR hand size and to adjust to the size branches you’re cutting, reducing hand fatigue.

Combined with the full steel core handles and ComfortGEL grips for superior comfort it’s no wonder these pruners were a 2017 finalist in the International Design Excellence Awards.

Garden Smarter, Not Harder with these INSTANT Raised Beds

Garden set ups are often extremely costly both in time and money. And if you’re just starting out, on a tight budget, or renting your home, you don’t want to spend a bunch of money and time on your garden set up. That’s why GYOV staff members consider these the best thing since sliced bread:

100 Gallon Raised Bed Grow Bags

These grow bags are just over 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter and 12″ (30cm) deep. They have reinforced handles for transport and are reusable lasting three years in normal gardening conditions. And the best part? They are only $29.99 each. That’s only $10 per year for a whole raised bed.

While these raised bed grow bags are great for anyone who wants to grow, they are perfect for gardeners just setting up and those on the go. They’re also great for gardeners with physical limitations since they eliminate heavy lifting of infrastructure material hauling. Best of all, they are ZERO labor. Buy, open, fill with soil media, and start growing!

Built to last, even commercial growers use them. With superior aeration and drainage to raised beds with solid sides. In fact, the only products that Bootstrap Farmer sells are ones they use on their farm. So if you’re looking for the perfect raised bed for your gardener, this 100 Gallon Grow Bag is where it’s at.

Want to get more than one? Get 3 for $69.99. AND. they’re sustainable and made of food safe recycled plastic and felt. Need something bigger? Check out the 200 gal bags.
 Need something smaller? They’ve got grow bags in 4, 5, 7, 10, 25 gallon sizes too.

The Micro-Dream Tray

Recommended by GYOV staff member and commercial microgreen grower, these trays are one of a kind! So many of the trays on the market are downright junk and you’ll be lucky if you get two plantings from them. Not these trays! Meet the most amazing microgreen tray on the market.

These extra strength 5×5 trays (AKA 801 inserts) are made of heavy duty, recycled, food grade, polypropylene plastic and guaranteed not to warp or break. We were skeptical, so we personally put them to the test! The result? We can’t imagine growing our micros without them ever again.

These trays are great for anyone wanting variety! Fitting eight 5×5 trays to one 1020 flat, these trays reduce environmental waste, AND save you money. The design provides better drainage than competing trays, saving you even more with reduced crop loss. As an added bonus, we ran them through the dishwasher with no problem. Say goodbye to flimsy non-sustainable trays for good with Bootstrap Farmers’ superior quality 5×5 Microgreen Trays.

The ULTIMATE Container Garden: The Garden Tower® 2

Grow up to 50 plants and vegetables in 4 sq. feet (1.2 sq meters) with this Garden Tower! We were blown away by how much thought went into the materials and design of this indoor / outdoor growing container.

The Materials
The Garden Tower® 2 is made of 100% food grade HDPE (non-toxic, BPA & PVC free plastic), FDA-approved dye and UV-protection for health, durability, and it’s recyclable! 💪🏽

The Unique Design
Supporting up to 1,000 lbs, the feet allow the tower to be anchored securely to any platform while still being able to rotate 360° for optimized sun exposure and growing in tight spaces

Planting pockets allow for easy planting and fast harvesting.

For mobile growing, you can get the Premium Caster Kit.

With a patented GT2 vermicomposting tube right down the center, you can compost directly into the tower where plant roots can access nutrients and oxygen from the perforated holes.

Compost release gate allows for seasonal removal of finished compost not used by the plants & provides for aeration from below.

Removable compost/nutrient tea drawer can collect up to two gallons of nutrient enriched water for another pass by plant roots.

The Garden Tower®2 is perfect for growing lettuces, herbs, kale, chard, smaller varieties of peppers and other plants with smaller root systems. To top it all off, it comes with a whopping 5-year manufacturer warranty. This container can last up to twelve years in the harshest of climates!

With all the thought that went into this special grow container, it’s no wonder it was recently named the “Worlds Most Advanced Container Garden.”

The only question we have for the company is, ‘Is there anything you didn’t think of!?’ Order this unique container at their website here.

Want the complete Garden Gift Guide? Download it for free here!

Ease the holiday frenzy so you can relax and have more time with your loved ones with the Grow Your Own Vegetables 2021 Holiday Garden Gift Guide.

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NOTE:  This article contains affiliate links and Grow Your Own Vegetables, LLC may be compensated when you click and purchase through the links above. By purchasing through these links, you’re supporting our mission to help green the planet and create food stable communities across the globe. We only recommend products we LOVE and that help growers on their quest for a fresh food lifestyle.

Small Scale Vermicomposting You Can Do Anywhere

Garden Tips

Rob Herring Headshot

 

Guest Garden Expert, Rob Herring

Highlights from Rob’s presentation: 2020 Superfood Garden Summit 

32 million tons of food are thrown out every year just in the US. 

97% of the food waste ends up in landfills.

Waste rots releasing greenhouse gases like methane into the air.

Composting this food waste would turn this waste into new soil that holds water, carbon and vital nutrients, reduce the waste in landfills and eliminate the use of chemical synthetic fertilizers.

Rob is new to vermicomposting and is here to share his top tips, from his learning curve, for making it through the first stages of vermicomposting when you’re just getting started.

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to break down food.

→ Regular composting can take anywhere from three months to two years. In vermicomposting, you can see compost breakdown within 8-12 weeks.

→ Composting is really difficult when you live in a small space or urban environment. But urban environments contain the most people so that means lots of food waste. Creating ways for urban dwellers to be able to compost their food waste is vital for the health and regeneration of our planet. Vermicomposting makes composting accessible for those who live in urban environments or small spaces.

→ Food is #3 on the list of climate change contributors. This is without calculating the methane released by landfills (methane is 84 times more powerful in heating up the atmosphere than CO2), because there is no tool to help us measure the amount emitting from landfills. If we were able to include the emissions, food waste would by far be by far the #1 contributing factor to our environmental issues.

→ Current calculations estimate that about 40% of our food is wasted. That’s 40% of the total mass, but it’s also 40% of the total water used to grow that food, 40% of all the pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, synthetic fertilizers, human labor, carbon, distribution costs, etc… so it’s 40% of the food and all of the energy and resources that went into growing that food wasted, for no reason.

This is PROFOUND. It not only highlights the problem, but illuminates the opportunities we have that we can all participate in… It means that solutions are accessible to everyone.

For all your Worm Composting Needs,
check out:
The Urban Worm Company and Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.

Benefit of Vermicomposting Recap

1. Reduces food waste in landfills and the resources it takes to ship the waste to the landfill by 40%.

2. Reduce chemicals sprayed and waste of resources that go into making and distributing food by 40%.

3. Planet Regeneration: Increase the water holding capacity, sequestered carbon, and minerals and nutrients in soil.

4. Preserves topsoil to reduce run off, leaching, and extreme temperature swings.

5. Faster breakdown of food waste to compost (versus using traditional composting).

Rob’s Tips:

Tip 1: Creating a Successful Environment

• Regardless of which bin or method you use, you’re going to want to create the conditions for moms to be happy. That starts with their bedding.

Coconut Coir: A substrate that can feel very similar to the soil if using the correct brand.

• Shredded newspaper, pumice stones, minerals, etc. There are many different types of materials you can use for worm bedding.

• The number one most important thing to remember is to keep the moisture level at the optimum level for your worms.

• So much about feeding/overfeeding, the carbon to nitrogen to carbon/ brown to greens, the dead to more alive materials has a lot to do with maintaining optimum moisture-rich levels.

• The bedding you provide for your worms is not a bedding in the traditional way we think of bedding for animals. Instead, it’s simply a slower breakdown type of food for the worms. It’s the carbon bedding you’re starting with.

Tip 2: Not Heated

• You want to keep your worm compost bin in normal human temperature ranges 55°F to no more than 90°F (12-32°C). This makes the indoor climate control that most humans live in perfect for worms as well. When it gets too hot, it will start losing moisture through evaporation and the worms will be uncomfortable.

Tip 3: Spreading out Your Organic Matter

• Cutting up and dispersing the organic matter over the worm bin is better than clumping it all together or giving them large chunks.

Tip 4: Outdoors Vermicomposting

• If you’re vermicomposting outdoors, make sure you are protecting it from the elements and that your bin is never in direct sunlight.

Tip 5: Size Your Worm Bin to Fit Directly in Your Kitchen

• By finding a place to tuck your worm bin into somewhere in your kitchen, you’re making it easy to access from where you generate food waste to begin with. Slide it under a ventilated cabinet, tuck it in a corner or under the table. If you build your bin right, people can walk right by and never know there are creepy crawlies right in your kitchen.

Tip 6: Activate Your Compost

• It helps to think about composting like a large digestive process. It’s the breakdown of materials in order for those materials to be used (in this case for plants). For any healthy digestion to occur, there needs to be healthy bacteria (like probiotics in our digestive tract). So you need to inoculate your compost bin to provide healthy bacteria for the worms.

• This may be in the form of a handful of compost or maybe you use a handful of healthy soil. Even putting a small amount of food scraps a few days before your worms arrive can help attract the beneficial bacteria to the bin to give your worms the right head start. Some people start this a few weeks before the worms arrive, I waited three days. There’s no exact science to the timing.

Tip 7: The Worms

• Red Wigglers are the worms you’ll want to use for vermicomposting. There is another worm called the European Night Crawler that isn’t technically a night crawler that some people use. I don’t know enough about them and there may be others but the red wiggler is what most people use in vermicomposting.

• When you get your worms, you just put them in the bin and let them get accustomed to their new environment.

worms
spraying worm bin

Tip 8: Water

• Have a spray bottle on hand so you’re not having to constantly run back and forth to the kitchen sink, figuring out how to get water in the container and disperse it. Have the spray bottle on hand next to the bin. 

• I use reverse osmosis water because it takes all the harsh chemicals out. Use the cleanest water you have.

• Just spritz the worm bin as your worm bin needs. It’s not an exact science. You’re going to need to observe and learn when the moisture level is optimal as you go.

• Some people use the squeeze test: Take a handful of soil, squeeze it in your hand, you should have one drop of water come out. Just be careful not to squeeze a worm!

• Keep in mind your food scraps are about 80-90% moisture. And you want to maintain a 70% moisture level in your worm bin. So you might want to add some browns as you go.

Tip 9: Light

• Have a light shining on the worm bin. Worms avoid light so the light helps keep them in their home where it’s moist and safe for them. The light isn’t for heat, it’s just for light.

• Don’t worry, you aren’t going to find worms all over the house or in your bed. Sometimes, they will find their way out of the bin if they are uncomfortable. They can’t get far because it’s too dry outside the bin. 

Tip 10: Food

• Chop up your food scraps into really small pieces. Just like we chew our food into smaller pieces to make digestion easier, our worm bin will produce better if we chop up the scraps. This increases the surface area available to the worms, providing easier access to food. This is especially helpful in the beginning while we are building the healthy microbes in the bin.

• Some people even blend their food scraps in the beginning.

• Start with a cup of food and see how it goes. Everyone has a different recommendation of how much food to feed the bins. But every bin is going to be a little different. The best way to determine the food amount is to check the bin every day to see if the food is starting to break down and if they might be ready for more or if they need a little more time.

Zucchini Scraps

• If the bin stinks, there is probably too much food and that’s when you’ll start to attract fruit flies and other insects. I’ve only seen one or two flies in the several months I’ve been keeping my bin because I started with less and slowly increased the food amount to the optimum level. 

• It really is slow and steady wins the race. Worms will optimize and adjust their population based on their food supply and living area. So they will reproduce as needed. Once the system gets going you can add more and more food to encourage reproduction. Then over time, you can add larger chunks of food and add more, etc. But start small and slow.

• Keep an airtight Tupperware container of extra food in the fridge or freezer as a backup in case your worms need food when you don’t have scraps available… maybe you cooked less that week, etc.

Tip 11: Bedding Tips

• Along with your spray bottle, you’ll want to have your carbon (bedding) nearby. I keep a bag of shredded newspaper next to my worm bin. You don’t want to be scrambling looking around for cardboard, paper, etc. trying to find bedding when you need it. This way, it’s ready to go.

• If you want to do indoor vermicomposting I highly recommend getting a paper shredder. All your junk mail and all the stuff that would otherwise be trash or go in the recycle bin can now be used for your bedding.

• Don’t just use paper all the time, have variety, but it is a good go to to have next to your bin.

• Moisten the carbon before you add it to the bin.

• Add carbon when you need it. Some people say to add carbon every time you add food. Some people don’t. Again, get to know your system.

• Familiarize yourself with what the bin looks like at any given point and how the worms are responding, then adjust as you need. If there is a ton of paper in the bin not breaking up? Is it too dry? Maybe it’s too hot or maybe you might have too much carbon.

Tip 12: On The Move

• Worms are going to move up over time. So maybe you use the stackable bins, like the Worm Factory, etc. They want to live in the top two inches of soil. As they move up, you’ll know that the bottom layers are ready for harvesting. This normally happens in about 12 weeks or so, but don’t rush. If you give it extra time, there will be less and less worms in the bottom layers because they want to move up where the food is.

• Composting worms are not going to be ideal for your garden, so by not rushing to harvest the bottom layers, you’re helping ensure they won’t be in the soil where you grow your food.

• Not rushing also makes harvesting a lot easier and less time consuming.

Worm castings have been shown to increase plant yields and resistance to pests and diseases by increasing your soil’s water retention, aeration, structure, and microbial activity. Studies are showing that soils with worm castings also attract more beneficials and pollinators, which makes sense seeing as how the healthier the plant, the higher quality of pollen and nectar it will produce.

Some people are weirded out by worms. If you are, you gotta get over it. It can be a little weird at first, but once you collaborate with them, you realize how truly magnificent they are. Worms literally create earth and play such a vital role in our ecosystem! Once you realize this, you’ll become a total vermi-nerd!

Join Rob and 15 other gardening experts for the 2021 Superfood Garden Summit

https://superfoodgardensummit.com/

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Grow Your Own Immune Boosting Garlic For Improved Health & Vitality

Enjoying Your Harvest

Summary:

Store bought garlic is bred for shelf life, not flavor or nutrient density. Luckily, growing nutrient dense garlic varieties takes very little time and effort. You can grow enough garlic for a whole year in just a 4’x 6’ (1.2 x 1.8 m) garden bed. Discover how to grow your own garlic, bursting with flavor and nutrients for your health and vitality. Plus, get the pro tips on how to maximize your garlic nutrition.

Garlic is an ancient remedy

Garlic is one of the world’s oldest cultivated agricultural crops and has been used for centuries to treat a vast number of diseases and ailments. From malaria and meningitis to tuberculosis and typhoid fever, garlic has been recognized as a powerful healer throughout time in cultures across the globe.

There was a time when people hoped to cure misunderstood ‘evils’ with garlic and other alliums. Today, scientific studies are confirming many of these ancient medicinal remedies. More on the allium family and some of their benefits here.

Of all the alliums, garlic single handedly wards off more ‘evils’ than any other vegetable or herb. It’s no wonder it was revered to have magical properties.

Why Grow Garlic When You Can Buy?

Flavors You Can’t Find at the Store: Grocery store garlic is bred for one thing: shelf life. While this is helpful for food being transported hundreds and thousands of miles, the cost of breeding for shelf life is a loss in flavor. In addition, there’s not a lot of variety at the grocery store. They carry one of three typical varieties. However, when you grow your own garlic, you can choose from over one hundred different varieties and flavors.

Health and Disease Prevention You Can’t Buy: Studies show a direct correlation between flavor and the presence of nutrients for many foods. That great garlic flavor is an indicator of more nutrients and therefore more health for you. Allicin is just one of the many active compounds in garlic that supports your health. You can read the amazing benefits of allicin here.

You don’t need to settle for less. Enjoy superior flavor and health when you grow your own garlic. Plus, it’s easier than you might think!

How To Grow Flavorful and Nutrient Dense Garlic

When inviting plants into your life, it’s important to remember that plants want to thrive. They do whatever it takes to grow strong and turn to seed for the next generation of plants. Your role as a caretaker is to provide the best conditions for your plants to flourish. Here are the eight considerations when growing garlic.

1. Growing Garlic: A Great Choice for Busy Growers

Unlike other annual garden veggies and herbs, most garlic grows from fall, through winter and all the way to summer. Growing garlic takes very little maintenance so it’s great for busy people. Once garlic is in the ground, the only thing you may need to do is mulch before temperatures freeze. Then curl up with a cup of hot tea and take the entire winter off. That’s right, nothing left to do but wait until harvest in late spring, early summer!

2. Choosing the Right Garlic for Your Climate 

Hardneck and softneck varieties can be grown in colder climates, but if you live in a warmer climate, you’ll want to choose a softeneck variety. For more on choosing the right variety, grab your complimentary printable Garlic Growing Guide here.

Sow garlic at the beginning of your cool season. Hardnecks need the first four to six weeks of growing to be between 32-55°F (0-12°C). Softneck and warmer tolerant garlic varieties can be planted in warmer temps, but need to be below 80°F (23°C) for the duration of their growth. 

Garlic sprouts should be at least 6-8” (15-20cm) tall before temperatures drop below freezing. When sprouts are at least 6” tall, mulch the garlic bed with a light material, like organic straw to protect it through the winter. You can also use mulch to keep the soil cooler in warmer climates.

3. Your Garlic Plants Want 6-8 Hours of Sunlight  

Without proper sunlight, your garlic plants cannot photosynthesize properly. Because sunlight hours change through seasons, you’ll want to make sure that wherever you plant your garlic it is getting 6-8 hours of full sun from fall through summer and up until harvest time. 

4. Quality Soil Means Nutrient-Rich Food 

Health starts underground. If growing in a container, choose a high quality, organic potting mix. If growing in soil, ensure it is well draining with plenty of fertility. Keep your fertility levels up by adding a 2” layer minimum of organic compost on the top of your potting mix or soil each growing season.

5. How Many Garlic Plants in How Much Space? 

You don’t need a lot of growing space for garlic. You can grow enough garlic to savor year round in one 4’ x 6’ (1.2 x 1.8 m) garden bed. And that one garden bed can give you much more of that cherished garlic flavor beyond the bulbs. 

Before your garlic head fully matures, grab an early harvest with hardneck varieties. Hardnecks produce edible shoots on the top of the plant called ‘scapes.’ Simply cut the scapes when they are between 6-10” (15-20cm) long and enjoy them raw or cooked. They make a delectable addition to sautees!

PRO TIP: in the early spring, plant lettuce between the rows of garlic. Your garlic and lettuce will be ready to harvest at the same time, so you get two crops out of the same space. Plus your planting bed will be clear to plant summer crops.

6. Watering for Perfect Garlic Harvests

When you first plant your garlic, water 1” (3cm) per week until leaves emerge. Then, reduce watering. No need to water once temperatures go below freezing.

When the ground thaws, water 1” per week in temperatures of 60-70°F (15-21°C) and 2” per week in temperatures of 70-80°F (21-26°C). 

PRO TIP: Watering less often and more thoroughly is best. 

7. Harvesting and The Secret to Getting Superior Garlic Harvests

Harvesting garlic is easy! Your garlic is ready for harvest when lower leaves turn brown and papery. Using a digging fork, gently insert the digging fork into the soil and lift the garlic heads from soil. 

But you don’t have to wait until the garlic is mature to start harvesting. Aside from the scapes of hardneck varieties, you can enjoy delicious fresh spring garlic by harvesting before maturity and cooking immediately.

Important Tip When Growing Garlic: The secret to getting superior garlic harvests is to save the largest, healthiest bulbs for planting next year.

8. Curing and Storing Your Garlic 

Once you’ve harvested your garlic, gently brush off the excess dirt. Never wash harvested garlic or get the bulbs wet as this can cause your garlic to mold. Hang your garlic or lay on a wire rack out of sunlight for 2-4 weeks in temperatures of at least 80ºF (26ºC). In colder climates, curing can be done indoors. 

Once cured, cut the stems off and peel the very outer layer of skin off the bulbs. Store in a ventilated, dark, dry area at 60ºF (15ºC). When garlic is cured properly, it will store for anywhere between 4-12 months, depending on whether you’re growing the hardneck or softneck variety. 

For everything you need to know about garlic varieties and growing, grab your own complimentary Grow Your Own Garlic Cheat Sheet in printable format here.

How to protect your garden during a wildfire

Garden Tips

Right now, deadly fires rage across the drylands, destroying everything in its path. As ash debris scatters into the air before floating down to blanket the earth, the effects of these fires span miles beyond the fire zones. As a grower, you can not only protect your vegetable and herb gardens from the effects of these wildfires, but you can also help protect your home and neighborhood from fires. 

Protect Your Community from Wildfires

As a grower, you can help protect your community from wildfire devastation using a few simple but effective preventative techniques:

Replace anything made with wood. Since anything made of wood is a contributor that fuels fire, eliminate any structures you can that is made of this material. Replace wooden benches and fences with metal ones, remove any dead branches and dry materials you see on your property. You don’t have to put these branches and dry organic materials in the trash. Put them in your compost pile and be diligent about keeping it moist with the brown to green ratios. 

Automate your irrigation. One of the most powerful tools growers have at their disposal is automated drip line irrigation. This ensures your property gets the proper moisture it needs, reducing dry matter that easily catches fire. Drip line irrigation is also easy to install, saves growers a lot of time spent watering, conserves water, reduces plant pathogens spread through water molecules in the air, and helps prevent water runoff and nutrient leaching.

If the fires get too close and you have to evacuate, you can increase watering times to make sure the ground stays nice and saturated, and help slow the fire down should the fire reach the property. It won’t stop the fire but can give firefighters an edge. Every extra second counts.

Choose alternative building materials. If you’re thinking about building a shed or other structure on your property, consider using natural building materials like rock or cob (a natural building material made from straw, clay, and sand). Cob houses can be insulated with slip straw (a straw soaked in a liquid cob material) that is extremely fire-resistant when properly made.

Let nature help you. Nature is intelligent. Native plants in desert regions are drought tolerant. They require a very low amount of water so they won’t dry out the soil the way plants that need a lot of water will do to desert soils. Many of these desert plants (like succulents) hold large amounts of water in their leaves. 

Replace your water-loving grass lawns and landscape plants with drought-tolerant, native plants. These beautiful and diverse plants can not only create an aesthetic landscape but together, act as a natural water tank against fire.

Ultimately, the goal for prevention is to eliminate anything you can that could fuel the fire. And while one person making these changes won’t save a whole community from burning down, spreading this information to others in your community and encouraging them to implement these strategies can create a fire resistant landscape. 

Protect Your Garden and Harvest from Wildfires

While the ash from trees can actually improve gardens, that’s not the only ash you’re getting in a wildfire. Ash from buildings made with conventional construction materials are laden with chemicals you don’t want in your food. While the construction ash is diluted with the forest ash, you’ll still want to take every precaution you can to reduce chemical contamination.

Cover your garden. If you can, cover your garden with clear or translucent plastic. If you have season extension low tunnels or cold frames over your garden beds, use this to cover the top and reduce ash debris. It won’t eliminate the ash you’ll get from wind drift, but it will help. 

If you don’t have season extension, even covering your garden area with a waterproof tent can reduce chemical ash exposure. Enclose the tent on all four sides but leave the side covers a foot or so off the ground to allow enough air to get in and circulate. Adding a small fan inside the tent will help your plants get the air circulation they need.

Not everyone can cover their whole garden. If this is the case for your situation, you can vastly reduce the amount of ash your soil absorbs by laying plastic weed barriers down on the soil.

Dust wildfire ash off your garden plants. If you notice large amounts of dust on your plant leaves, you’ll want to remove that to make sure the plants can transpire as needed. Dust will block the pores of the leaf (called the stomata) and prevent the plant from cooling. It will also affect the plants ability to absorb sunlight. Gently dust plants with a mildly damp cloth.

Use your best judgment when harvesting in the ash zone of a wildfire. Any amount of construction ash can still be harmful. Covering your garden will help, but you’ll still want to take precautions when harvesting.

Luckily fruiting crops like tomatoes don’t absorb through the skins of the fruit. Still, wash fruits three times to ensure you’ve removed all the ash debris. Use a soft brush on the more porous fruiting crops (like beans) while washing. As an extra precaution, peel fruiting crops that can be peeled and dispose of the peel. 

For root crops, so long as a large amount of ash doesn’t fall on the garden and get absorbed into the soil, you can safely harvest roots and give them an extra rinse or two. However, cut and dispose of any root tops exposed above ground.

For herbs and leafy crops, you’ll want to take the most precaution. Leaves are more absorbent and porous so there is more potential for contamination. Leaves that are soft and fuzzy (like sage and comfrey) should not be eaten. If you’re farther away from the fire and the ash is light and you’ve been dusting the leaves, you’ll still want to wash your shiny leafy greens multiple times. 

The closer you are to the fire, the less you should harvest. Pay close attention to the health of your plant and consider how much ash your plant is being exposed to. If there’s a thick heavy layer of ash or you’re downwind from a construction zone burn, don’t harvest. It’s better to be safe. 

The good news is, that doesn’t mean you have to start all over and lose your plants! Instead, take note of where the ash is, dust leaves and remove as much ash from the soil as you can. Once the fire is out and the air has cleared, remove as many leaves as you can. For crops like kale and chard, remove all but the 3-5 inner most leaves. For lettuce, cut the whole head off about 3” above the soil line (most lettuces will grow back again if not cut too short). For herbs, prune them as deeply as you can. Once the new growth has appeared, you can begin harvesting again.

Gardening in Wildfire Country: It’s Not All Bad News

While wildfires require gardeners take extra steps to protect their vegetable and herb harvests, it’s not all bad news. There are some side benefits our gardens get from wildfires too. Knowing the benefits, you can capitalize on them, bringing the most benefit to your garden possible.

In desert drylands where fires are most prevalent, the sunlight is very intense. This high-intensity heat can cause plant burn and heat stress that lower plant immunity and make them more susceptible to pests and disease. It also dries out any exposed soil, rendering it barren. Barren soils have less insulative properties than fertile soils resulting in more extreme temperature swings that accelerate climate change.

The debris from wildfires diffuses sunlight. The soil and plants receive relief from the intense heat and light. And the diffused light also allows the vegetation to absorb light in areas that normally don’t receive it, reaching even the lowest leaves of plants. This increases plant vigor, producing healthier, happier plants. To get the most gain out of this, leave as many leaves on the plant that you can and keep your plants dusted. This will increase the chances the plant survives and thrives through the wildfire ash zones.

Wildfires also release a high amount of carbon dioxide into the air. While this isn’t a good thing, if your plants are dusted, they can get a super dose of this and increase their ability to thrive through an ash zone.

Fires also break down nutrients and minerals at rapid speed, paving way for super healthy growth. This new growth is nutrient-dense, providing a higher quality of pollen and nectar for our precious beneficials and pollinators. This brings growers an opportunity to increase their beneficial population. Take advantage of the post-fire opportunity by increasing the native plants that provide habitats for our precious beneficials.

Important Note from the GYOV Team

With thousands forced to evacuate and many more thousands dealing with poor air quality and other consequences caused by the wildfires, our thoughts are with you. Our hearts go out to those experiencing loss and we send our blessings to all of you. We hope the information in this article will help you harvest confidently during this challenging time, reduce future devastation to our communities, and rebuild stronger, thriving ecosystems. 

 

First Step for a Superfood Garden that thrives

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Tackling garden projects is always easier when you’re inheriting best practices and lessons learned from people with experience. ​​​And I would love that for you. Superfood gardening… without all the hard work. Because let’s face it… we are better together. And this community of fresh food lovers is awesome! 💚 The Superfood Garden Summit is starting soon, and once the LIVE Summit begins, it is going to fly by! ​​Here’s that link: https://superfoodgardensummit.com

​​​So let’s get started with your first step here. ​​​​​​Lots of gardeners get this backwards and skip this step… and that’s what creates a lot of extra effort. Yuck! ​​​​​​​Watch the video and download your guide here: https://superfoodgardensummit.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Stacey-Murphy-Superfood-Gardenin