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How to Measure How Much Sunlight Your Garden Space Gets

Watch the video below and learn how to observe key temperatures in your area and map the sunlight and shadows in your garden space for success!

All plants have ideal growing temperatures. Outside those optimum temperature ranges, plants become less productive, and growth grinds to a halt. Too far outside the zone, plants die. It’s crucial to know what temperatures your plants need and when those temperatures happen in your area! 

 

Your vegetable plants need 6-8 hours of sunlight minimum to thrive. Measuring hours of sunlight and mapping your shadows BEFORE you dig or build your garden beds will ensure your plants’ success.

Download our complimentary shadow mapping template

Once you understand your climate, you can let Mother Nature do the work. She’ll even let you take the credit! 

Share what shadow mapping has taught you about your garden space!

How One Ugly Carrot Started the Grow Your Own Vegetables Movement

One ugly carrot changed Stacey Murphy’s life forever. Watch the video or read Stacey’s story below to learn how the seed for Grow Your Own Vegetables first sprouted! 

Stacey’s Story:

Years ago, I was working overtime as an architect in New York City. I was working on exciting projects like churches, libraries, and community centers. I had worked my whole life to get where I was, and you would think that I would be ecstatic. 

But every day, I was feeling a little bit more disconnected from everything. I felt like a tourist in my own life, like I didn’t belong. And I especially felt disconnected from my food and my body. 

I was trying to stay as healthy as I could. But to be honest, I was a little depressed and low energy. Maybe you can relate. 

I was grabbing quick, convenient food all the time and rushing right back to my busy day. It was “healthy” food, but it was still convenience food, and I was just grabbing and going without thinking.

On the weekends, I would go to the farmer’s market. I would load up on organic, fresh food. It would keep me happy for a day or two…until I went back to work and forgot about it again. 

Then on a crisp day in October, 2008, I bought carrots from one of the local farmers. The carrots were in a bag, and they were covered with a bunch of soil. Who does that? Who sells your food mixed in with a bunch of dirt? It’s so weird, right? Well, this farmer did. He told me that the carrots would stay fresh in the fridge longer and that they would taste sweeter.

The crazy thing is, he was totally right

These ugly, dirty carrots were a miracle in my mouth. And at that moment, I had a flashback to growing up in my mom’s garden. I was so lucky. She had a gorgeous garden, and I remember discovering carrots underground, digging them up, and pulling them out. Just, “Wow, look at this,” and I ate the carrots before they were even washed. They had little flecks of crunchy soil on them. 

How sweet and delicious those carrots from the garden were! As I sampled these carrots in this bag covered in dirt, I remembered my mom’s garden, and I knew that I had to get my hands dirty and start growing some food again.

To this day, I have to tell you, my mom says her memories of her garden are much different than my memories of her garden. She says that my memories are better. She still has this sort of garden shame around what it all looked like, and she was busy being tormented by tomato hornworm caterpillars.

But I saw something different. In my experience as a little kid, her garden was my own private science discovery show. It was full of mysteries to solve. It was where I learned to appreciate the finer things in life. I discovered the exact moment to pick peas for maximum sweetness. I chased butterflies, and I watched new seeds magically emerge from the ground into full-blown plants dripping with fruit. I watched and learned intently, and I asked lots of questions, like all curious kids do. 

Years later, there I was, holding this bag of soil and carrots. And I had so many questions for this farmer. I felt so much curiosity about these beautiful-tasting carrots. It was a delightful rediscovery of the feeling of digging up your own carrots.

Suddenly, I felt connected, I felt healthy, and I felt whole again in ways that I hadn’t a long time. And that’s when I knew I was going to grow my own vegetables and herbs. My whole lens on life shifted, and I could never go back to the way life used to be because I had this big realization.

What I realized in that moment is that a garden, it’s not a thing. It’s a lifestyle. But even more than your garden being a lifestyle, it’s a feeling. 

It’s not about what you’re actually growing. It’s not about your yield. It’s about who you’re becoming. And that day with the carrots, I suddenly remembered that I was this wild child and a part of nature. I loved the thrill of discovery in the garden. I remembered how great it felt to run barefoot. I wanted that feeling back. I wanted my own private science discovery channel again. I wanted to play in the dirt. I wanted to learn from my favorite teachers: the sun, the soil, the plants, and the insects. Simply making the decision to grow my own food, I already felt connected to the feelings of health, vitality, and most of all, peace.

Do you have a favorite vegetable story? Share with us below!

One Crop Rotation Rule to Prevent Diseases in Your Garden

Plan your plants to prevent disease in your garden!

When you’re thinking about what to plant where this year, you should be thinking bigger picture…what crop rotations each year will help you prevent the kinds of diseases that wipe out all your hard work and your harvest.

To help you create a plant plan that works for you, Stacey created this video about how to use crop rotation to prevent 3 of the most common “big nasty diseases” you might see pop up in your garden:

If you would like more in-depth instruction on planning your garden for success, check out our Crop Planning course. It’s a sure fire way to feel more in control of your garden every time you plant.

What crops do you like to rotate? Let us know below!

What’s eating my garden greens? (5 common garden pests)

An ounce of prevention is worth dozens of pounds of fresh herbs and vegetables.

You’re planting lots of food in your garden, specifically greens… and all of a sudden there’s someone else eating all your food before you have a chance to harvest it… ARG!

Everyone has some pests that show up in the garden. But before you can kick them out of your garden, you need to figure out WHO has invaded! Typically, there are 5 (actually 6!) common pests that give gardeners the most trouble. Watch this video to help identify these unwelcome guests:

Once you identify which pests, diseases, or weeds have come into your garden, you can start showing them the door! 

What are favorite, or not so favorite, visitors to your garden?

3 Mistakes Beginners Make Saving Seeds (And What to Do Instead)

Saving seeds is rewarding on so many levels. It’s not just about the end result of getting viable seed. It’s not even just the harvest you get from that seed next season. In fact, it’s not about any one thing. 

Saving your own seeds  is about the entire journey–from the moment you hold that tiny fleck of life on the tip of your finger, all the way through that plant’s life, to that special moment when you are holding the next generation of seeds in your palm. This experience gives seed savers a special relationship to plants and the food they provide us.

But when you’re first starting out on your seed saving journey, it doesn’t often feel this magical. If you’re making these three mistakes, you’ll end up disappointed, like someone just took your birthday cake:

Saving Seeds Mistake #1: Trying to Save & Breed Hybrid Seeds

Hybrid seeds are the result of two open pollinated varieties of the same species mixing. When this happens, the seed is either as sterile as a mule or a weird mutant plant that makes you feel like your life took a turn into a sci-fi alien movie.

Seed savers avoid hybrids because they do not produce relatively stable outcomes (a true-to-type variety). Now, a hybrid can be stabilized over time and become a true-to-type variety, but this process takes many years of growing, selecting, and saving seed. And there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get what you’re aiming for.

Saving Seeds Mistake #2: Planting Different Varieties From the Same Species Too Close Together

Plants grown from open pollinated seed can still cross-pollinate with other varieties. When this happens, you’ll get the same weird and unpredictable results as you will when you try to save the seed of hybrids that happen to be fertile: you never know what you’re going to get. Basically, these are naturally bred hybrid seeds.

To save seed and get the same variety next year with relatively stable traits, you want to plant only one variety of each species within the space that variety pollinates. This is called the “isolation distance,” and all crops are different. 

For example, lettuce only pollinates at a distance of around 20 feet. This makes it easier for most home growers with medium-sized gardens to save seeds.

However, the species Brassica oleracea (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.) is another story. Members of this species can cross pollinate if they’re within half a mile of each other. So you only want to grow one of these if you’re planning to save the seeds. You’ll also want to find out if anyone else within a half mile radius is growing anything from this species!

But if you’re a home gardener and still want a variety of food and to save your seed, there are other options besides buying a piece of land miles wide. Connect with your community of seed savers and growers and exchange food and seed. You grow the brussels sprouts, and let your friends grow the others. This way, you can maximize your garden space, get a variety of food in your diet, and still save your seed.

Saving Seeds Mistake #3: Not Planting Enough of the Same Variety

If you don’t plant enough plants of a variety when you’re saving seeds, the result is gene bottlenecking and a deterioration in the genetic stability of the traits of that variety. The most common way to recognize this phenomenon is if you notice that your next generation of seeds just aren’t producing as vigorously as previous generations.

To preserve genetic diversity in that variety, you have to do one of two things:

1. Grow enough plants to preserve genetic diversity long term. 

How many plants is enough? Well, that depends on the variety. 

For some varieties, it’s only a few plants. Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) only require 20 plants minimum for long term genetic preservation. And they get planted between 2-6” apart depending on the variety. 



But for corn, you need more than 200 plants! Each corn plant needs a lot of space to grow, so unless you’re a farmer, it’s a little unrealistic. 

If saving a seed is out of reach for you because that crop needs too many plants per season to preserve the genetics, then go for option number two below.


2. Reintroduce new genetic material every so often. 

If you’re growing Glass Gem heirloom corn and you can’t plant 200 plants, plant what you can, and save those seeds. Then every so often, buy a packet of Glass Gem heirloom corn from Rareseeds.com, or get some from the local free seed exchange, and plant them in with the saved seed you have. This can help preserve the genetics of that variety.

When you’re first starting out on your seed saving journey, it’s best to start out with self-pollinating plants. These plants generally don’t need a ton of plants to preserve long term diversity, and they usually have shorter pollination distances (like the lettuce in Mistake #2).

When it comes to saving seed, you’re going to have much more success if you plant enough plants, follow proper pollination distances, avoid mules and aliens, and stick to those open pollinated seed varieties.

Crystal Meserole
GYOV Instructor and Harvest Club Support

Crystal owns and operates a one-woman wholesale commercial living microgreen operation in the mountains of western North Carolina. After working and managing local restaurants for over a decade, she saw the need for chefs to have access to more affordable, organic food for the delicious creations they craft for our communities.

Crystal hopes to stand as a clear message to anyone who thinks they can’t grow: You can. Anyone can. With the right system, mindsets, and mentor, everything becomes possible.  

Have seed saving tips? Share them in the comment section below!

Your 7 Step Food Preservation System

Turn your garden harvests into meals!

GYOV founder Stacey Murphy developed our Harvest-into-Meals food preservation system that gives you strategies for eating fresh year-round, whether it’s out of your garden or from the farmer’s market.

Having a food preservation system helps you:

  • • Manage the harvest you have coming in without overwhelm or waste

  • • Enjoy garden-fresh nutrition year round

  • • Take the guesswork out of meal planning

  • • Plan to preserve your favorite staple foods

  • • Open up time and energy to enjoy other activities

Like any new skill, learning to manage harvest takes time and energy upfront. But as you incorporate a food preservation system into your routine, it becomes second nature with time.

>>> Want to learn about your food preservation options? Check out our “5 Methods to Preserve Vegetables at Home” blog post.

Step 1: Set food preservation goals

The first step in creating a food preservation system that works for you is setting goals. Goals that work for you and your lifestyle are all about…YOU! So put away those “shoulds” and focus on what you actually want.

The best kind of goals create habits, especially if it’s a daily habit or a weekly habit. Habits make accomplishing your goals automatic, just like brushing your teeth.

Be realistic about your time and energy

Whatever kind of garden space, time, and energy levels you’re working with, be realistic about what kind of food preservation system will work for your lifestyle. If you have a busy life with lots of priorities, your plan should be enjoyable and easy to execute in the time you have. If your time is flexible and you’re looking to take on a new project, be realistic about how much you can take on at once without burning out.

Set a variety of goals

  • • Set some small goals that you know you can accomplish (ex: I want to learn how to lacto-ferment vegetables). Easy wins create momentum!

  • • Set some stretch goals so that if you manage the small goals, you have something to stretch for (ex: I want to lacto-ferment 20 quarts of sauerkraut from my own cabbage).

  • • Differentiate between rate-based goals (ex: I want to can two quarts of tomatoes per week) and overall goals (ex: I want to can all of the pasta sauce I need for a year).

Set Questions for reflection

How many hours per week can you commit to preparing and preserving food?

  • • Do you have friends or family who can help with prep work?

  • • What materials or supplies do you need to get started?

  • • What kind of preserved food excites you?

  • • In your garden, do you want to grow food specifically for preservation? Or do you want to grow easy foods you enjoy and figure out how to preserve them later?

Step 2: Quantify your goals

After you’ve set realistic goals for your food preservation system that align with your values and lifestyle, it’s time to do the math. If you plan to grow vegetables in your garden specifically for preservation, this step is crucial for your crop plan.

For example, if your overall goal is to grow and preserve all of your own tomatoes for pasta sauce for a year, you need to figure out:

  • • How much pasta sauce you eat in a year (in quart jars)

  • • How many tomatoes it will take to make that much pasta sauce

  • • How many tomato plants you need to grow that many tomatoes (tip: overestimate here to account for loss)

It’s okay to estimate in the beginning! You’ll use what you learn this year to create a more specific plan next year.

Step 3: Track your garden harvests

The third step of your Harvest-into-Meals food preservation system is to create or adjust your crop plan for the next growing season so that you’re growing for preservation. To do that effectively, you’ll need to create a harvest log.

Keep a harvest log

A harvest log is a list of crops you’re growng. Every time you harvest, you note the amount of each crop by weight or by bunch. This empirical data comes straight from your garden and gives you a clear picture of how much harvest you can expect from your plants and your space. Start simple with one or two of your staple crops.

Harvest once a week & batch tasks

Make it a weekly event: harvest your produce, log your harvest, and plan what to do with it. You can see everything that’s available for the week (see Step 4) and create your meal plan (see Step 5) in just a couple of hours.

A note for the farmer’s market

Even if you don’t have your own garden, you can note when different crops become available at the farmer’s market. And look for sales. For example, at the end of a tomato season, farmers may have discounted boxes of tomatoes perfect for preservation.

Step 4: Divide up your harvest

You want to use or preserve all of your harvest each week. Naturally, some may end up in the compost bin, but dividing up your harvest will help you reduce waste.

What you preserve:

First, separate out all of the best-looking produce. That’s what you’re going to preserve! When you preserve food, it has to be blemish-free. Blemishes increase nutrient loss and can introduce bad bacteria.

What you eat:

Those tomatoes with blemishes? Those are what you’re going to cook or eat raw this week! Just cut away bad sections and incorporate the good bits into your meal plan for the week.

What you compost:

If anything is blemished and damaged beyond edibility, or if it has mold growing on it, that goes into the compost. When you compost, yucky vegetables go back into your garden as nutrients.

Don’t have a compost bin yet? Toss food scraps outside instead of putting them in the trash. Food scraps don’t biodegrade in landfills–but they do contribute to methane emissions and climate change.

Using scraps:

You might want to keep certain food scraps and do something with them. You can make apple cider vinegar out of apple cores and peels. As long as they look good and aren’t moldy, you can also cook vegetable scraps into stock for soups.

Step 5: Plan meals for the week

Could you commit two hours to meal prep each week? This little bit of structure could lead to lots of creativity. Plus, strategically planning your meals ahead saves you time and energy in the long run.

If you can successfully plan one week of meals at a time, you can conquer the whole year.
-Stacey Murphy

Questions for reflection:

  • • What does a well rounded meal look like for you?

  • • What do you eat when you are in a hurry?

  • • How many meals are you eating on the run?

  • • How can your loved ones help?

Step 6: Preserve according to your goals

Step six is the preservation step, so you’re going to spend some time here. This is where you take all the planning that you’ve done and you actually do each process.

>>> Need some ideas? Check out…

Step 7: Create a preservation log

Then the seventh step in your preservation system is to create a preservation log. A good preservation log is going to tell you:

  • • What you preserved and when

  • • How much you have on hand vs what you already ate

  • • Progress on your rate-based goals

The most important goal of your preservation system is to make everything visible. Things disappear quickly in the back of your refrigerator or shelves, and you forget about them.

Ideas for keeping your preserved items visible

  • • Keep a dry erase board on your fridge for reminders

  • • We read left to right, so orient your “eat by” food dates left to right

  • • Add drawers and label lids

  • • Tiered shelving

Your log might be your pantry itself, where you just have everything labeled very clearly. Or you might want to create a paper log or a digital log. However you track so that you can follow along. You can improve your system for next year so that you can reset your goals.

Let’s do this!

Learning to preserve your own food can be a big project or just a few simple steps–it all depends on your lifestyle! Either way, having a food preservation system in place will simplify your process and turn new skills into lifelong habits.

Share your biggest take-a-ways from your preservation log!