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Home Beekeeping

Few gardening-related hobbies are as fascinating and satisfying as raising honey bees. Contribute to the health of your area's honey bee population. Buy this guide to learning bee culture and start your own bee hives.

Garden Chickens

Raise adoring pets that pay you back with delicious and nutritious fresh eggs. This offer provides all the information you need to get started with your own backyard chickens. Click here today to get started in this rewarding hobby.

Kitchen Garden Store

Learn to preserve the produce you grow in your home kitchen garden. This home canning starter kit includes everything you need to can your first batch using the boiling water bath method for high-acid foods. Find it and other canning supplies at the Home Kitchen Garden Store.

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How did a high school student use lemons to research gardening-related issues?

I recently attended a high school science fair that featured student’s experiments in biology. I was pleased to find many exhibits of interest to anyone who grows a home kitchen garden. Here are some things I learned:

The Best Miracle Grow Potting Mix

One exhibit described an experiment involving flowering cabbage growing in three types of Miracle Grow potting mix. Of the three, Miracle Grow Organic Choice produced the tallest seedlings, while Miracle Grow Potting Mix and Miracle Grow With Moisture Control produced shorter seedlings.

It was clear that the seedlings had received too little light during the experiment, but the difference in growth was obvious. If you’re shopping Miracle Grow, go with their Organic Choice product.

Soil Treatments

An exhibit showed the results of sprouting peas in soil that had undergone various treatments. Starting with one type of soil, the experimenter had baked some soil, amended some with soot and ash, amended other soil with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and amended still other soil with activated coal.

Peas grew best in the soil with added activated coal and worst in the baked soil. Soil amended with soot and ash or with nitrogen-fixing bacteria supported the peas adequately. But were I mixing soil based on the experiment’s results, I’d add activated coal to my potting mix.

The Best Fertilizer for Young Garden Beans

One exhibit described garden beans having been fed with various mixes of fertilizers. Apparently, there were five sets of seeds or young seedlings. Each set received its own fertilizer mix ranging from no additional fertilizer to a 30-10-10 mix, a 12-55-6 mix, a 10-10-10 mix, and an 11-35-15 mix. The experimenter’s conclusion? Fertilizer hinders the growth of a plant.

Save the Lemon Juice for Cooking

To simulate acid rain, one experimenter mixed lemon juice with the water given to bean plants. Some plants received water with a ph of 2, some received water with a ph of 3-to-4, some received water with a ph of 4-to-5, and some received water with a ph of 6. After 10 days of these treatments, the low-ph plants actually shrank while the plants receiving water of neutral ph grew well. What would I conclude? If I use lemon juice on my vegetables, I’ll wait till I’m cooking them.

From a high school science experiment, it’s not clear which artificial lights are best for beans… but whatever type of bulb you use, it’s hard to provide enough.

Artificial Light

In one experiment, some beans grew under halogen lights, others under black light, others under grow lights, and still others under fluorescent lights. Actually, the beans under black light and grow lights didn’t grow; the ones under halogen lights grew very well. But from reading the researcher’s comments, I wouldn’t make decisions about lighting from these results. The plants and their respective lighting were in rooms all over the house—temperature differences may have been a greater factor than lighting differences. Also, apparently there was no control over watering; some plants might simply have dried out while others received adequate water. It’s helpful that the researchers described their methods and highlighted possible flaws.

An Engaging Hour

I spent an hour reviewing the science experiment displays and would have been happy spending more time. I learned about compost, about the effects of filtering light on plant growth, about soil nutrients, about germination rates, about soil types, and about insects (including honey bees).

My favorite exhibit featured a question in bold characters across the display: How do you make flowers last? The experiment had to do with prolonging the health of cut flowers, but I couldn’t help answering that leading question in my own twisted way: If you want to make flowers last, make everything else first.

 

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There are not yet blossoms on my apple trees… and if there were there’d be no bees to pollinate them. This year, my bees will miss the apple blossoms, but next season, they’ll be first in line.

Some weeks ago I started this discussion about getting beehives for your home kitchen garden. Then, I posted a video that describes a starter beekeeping kit and I promised more videos that show fine points about assembling parts of a beehive, and that show how to install a mail-order package of bees in a hive.

If you’re in hardiness zone 6 or below (farther North), plan to start bees in May. Unless there’s a local retailer who sells hives, you should order gear now so you have time to assemble it in April before your bees arrive.

I’ve browsed dozens of videos on YouTube in search of some to help explain beekeeping and show how easy it is to do. There are plenty, each with its own quirks. The two I’ve embedded here show typical steps to starting hives. I’ll be starting at least one hive in May, and will share my experiences as they unfold. But this blog isn’t about beekeeping, so, as the growing season approaches, I’ll present other topics of use to all home kitchen gardeners.

Whether you’re starting bees in May along with me, or visiting to learn more about growing, eating, and preserving your own produce, please visit often, leave comments and questions to move the discussion along, subscribe to my RSS feed, and bookmark to show your support. I’m looking forward to a productive season in my home kitchen garden as I hope you are in yours. In the meantime, please enjoy these videos about beekeeping.

A Frame and Foundation

This video shows a man assembling a frame and installing foundation on it. You’ll see such assembled frames in the next video as the beekeeper there fills a hive body with them.

Low-Impact Installation

I like the installation technique in the following video. Traditional beekeepers often bang the bees around severely and shake them into the hive. This video shows a gentle aternative: putting the shipping container into the hive box and letting the bees emerge from it in their own time. If you use this approach, you’ll need to go in in a week or two, remove the shipping box, and insert frames to fill the space.

If you don’t like to get stung by bees, WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR! There’s no shame in it, despite the daring beekeepers who work without gloves and bonnets. I’ll be dressed heavily when I work my bees!

 

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Bees become active in the spring even as the very earliest flowers blossom. However, in zones 5b and colder, it’s best to wait until May to start new hives. A young colony will grow quickly when there’s plenty of food to gather nearby.

At then end of 2008, I vowed that Your Home Kitchen Garden would become an advocate for honey bees. In a recent post titled Home Kitchen Garden Beekeepers, I shared some of my childhood to encourage gardeners to become beekeepers. Since then, I had a conversation with my dad in which he agreed I could acquire some of his beehives and beekeeping gear.

I want to start a bee colony or two in my home kitchen garden in May. This means acquiring his gear, inspecting it and cleaning whatever is still usable, upgrading some parts to take advantage of improvement in bee culture over the past 30 years, and ordering bees so they arrive in early-to-mid May.

Bee Emboldened

Before my dad decided to raise honey bees, he knew almost nothing about them. He picked up a book or two and read… as did my brother and I, and he got his hands on a catalog from a company called Dadant & Sons. During maple sugar season, he assembled hive bodies and frames from mail-ordered kits, following the directions that came with them. My dad wasn’t a professional carpenter, but he made the assembly look easy.

Nearly all of our beekeeping knowledge came from those books, and from asking questions of neighbors and friends (one of my dad’s work associates was a beekeeper). You have far greater advantages. There are far more books about beekeeping available today, there are more manufacturers and suppliers than ever, and the Internet provides ready access to dozens of useful sources—including enthusiastic beekeepers who are happy to answer questions.

Did you know that an apple will form even from an unpollenated blossom? Unpollenated apples are much smaller than pollinated apples. Interestingly, sometimes a bee pollinates only part of an apple. When that happens, the pollinated lobes grow large while the unpollinated lobes remain small; you get a rather strange-looking apple as a result. If you raise bees, chances are that food-producing plants in your neighborhood will produce better.

Beekeeping References

In my youth, the standout books about beekeeping were The Hive and the Honey Bee written by L.L. Langstroth, and The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture by AI Root and ER Root. Both books have been around long enough to become seriously out of date. However, recent updates make The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture completely relevant (revision 41). For kicks, an old copy of The Hive and the Honey Bee (most recent revision was in 1992) is still a good read, but I’d look to more modern publications for serious guidance.

When you commit to beekeeping, get The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture and consult it often. But to get started, choose a book specifically written for beginners. I’ve added a section on beekeeping to Your Home Kitchen Garden store where you’ll find several appropriate books to help you get started. Also, biggerbooks.com has a decent selection of books about beekeeping.

Beekeeping Really is Easy

I’ve spent several hours in the past few weeks reviewing videos that give a clear understanding of basic beekeeping activities—and that reveal how simple beekeeping really is. I wanted a video that reviews the components of a modern beehive, that explains how to assemble the pieces, and that shows how to install a new package of bees. I couldn’t find one I like.

I did find several videos that, taken together, cover most of these topics reasonably well. The first, embedded here, is more of an advertisement for a beekeeping supply store than it is a robust do-it-yourself tutorial. Still, it shows a beehive unassembled so you have some idea of the parts you’ll need to nail together if you buy a kit through the mail.

Please have a look, and check back soon. In my next post, I’ll include a video showing the finer points of assembling components of a hive, and video in which a beekeeper installs a new shipment of bees into a fully-assembled hive.

 

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I accidentally sprouted roots on a basil sprig, then planted it in a flower pot where it has grown very slowly this winter on a south-facing windowsill.

I’ve reported several times this winter about my answer to cold and snow: I have a small indoor home kitchen garden. That garden consists of two flower pots on a south-facing windowsill, and an occasional canning jar with fresh, young sprouts for salads and breads (I wrote about the sprouts in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).

In my last post, I reported that I found box elder bugs wintering over in my indoor herb pots. This morning, when I went to water my herbs, I made another unexpected discovery: My basil is in bloom!

Three blossoms have emerged on my basil plant, and it looks as though more are on the way.

Accidental Basil

In October I had put some sprigs of basil in water to hold them after the first killing frost. Those sprigs happened to put out roots. I planted one of the rooted sprigs in a flower pot.

The basil has grown poorly. It got too little light, and the soil was too cool on the windowsill. Oh, and when I took vacation one week, the basil got miserably overwatered, resulting in a massive setback for the plant. Still, this morning I found three tiny basil flowers.

It was a great reminder of the coming springtime. I’m so jonesing to plant vegetables.

 

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I planted cilantro in a pot and set it in a south-facing window. I added a grow light, but did nothing to push back the cold from the window. Outdoors in summer, these plants would be at least shin high. The cold windowsill has slowed their growth; they aren’t even ankle-high.

My home kitchen garden just emerged from the ice pack that has covered it for more than a month. Even with the snow gone, the soil is frozen nearly rock-hard. That’s good, because February shouldn’t be a gardening month in central Pennsylvania… unless you grow things indoors.

In the doldrums of early winter, I grow a few things indoors. This winter, I planted a flower pot with cilantro seeds, and a healthy but small crop of the herb is growing on my basement windowsill. I also planted a sprig of basil that had rooted when I set a bouquet of it in water on my dining room table just before the first frost of autumn (I wrote about it in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).

My Indoor Home Kitchen Garden is Pathetic

The bottom line: I’ve been a lousy gardener this winter. I put my meager plantings on a south-facing windowsill, which, I’ve explained in other posts (in Your in-Home Kitchen Garden, for example), is a lousy place for plants in the winter—unless you’ve provided extra light and heat. The winter sun isn’t enough for most vegetable plants, and 65 degrees Fahrenheit makes for slow growth; a central Pennsylvania windowsill in winter tends to run much lower than 65 degrees.

I did put a plant light over the herb pots, but the plants must think it’s early spring; they haven’t grown quickly in the cool air on the windowsill. Were I to harvest cilantro now, I’m afraid I’d kill the plants. That’s OK because I know they’ll grow faster as the days warm. In the meantime, my in-home herb garden has taken on new life: several box elder bugs lurk among its leaves.

At Least They’re Not Roaches

Box elder bugs were news to me when I moved to rural Pennsylvania; growing up in upstate New York, I’d never seen nor heard of these critters. However, during my first autumn in Lewisburg, I’d see hundreds of box elder bugs gather on the front of my house where the sun hit in the late afternoon. A few of them got inside each time we opened the door.

The box elder bugs that decided to winter over in my house have found their ways to my cilantro pot. It feels more like a home kitchen garden now that it has bugs.

Living in apartment buildings in Boston, I found cockroaches amazingly unpleasant. However, I quickly became indifferent toward box elder bugs. The few that winter over in my house ignore my food stores, they don’t reproduce in the house, and they don’t scurry into dark spaces whenever I turn on a light. In fact, I rarely see them—and I never see traces of them, though occasionally one flies by or crawls down a lampshade.

I guess the box elder bugs in my house are as fed up with winter as I am. I’m impressed that they’ve found the few food plants I’m growing, and I’m letting them stay. My indoor herb garden feels more like a seasonal outdoor garden now that it has insect critters scurrying about in its leaves.

Please enjoy these other articles about growing herbs:

 

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When a beehive gets crowded, the queen departs with several tens of thousands of workers. We spotted this swarm clumped on the trunk of a young spruce tree and installed it into one of our working hives.

In a recent guest post on the Northwest Garden Show blog, I suggested that if you have a Home Kitchen Garden, perhaps you should take up beekeeping. With our honeybee population beleaguered by Colony Collapse Disorder, foul brood, wax moths, and mites, every gardener should be concerned.

Please at least employ gardening practices that encourage pollinators and that protect them from harm. This means eliminating chemicals from your gardening activity, or learning to apply them so they present the least possible danger to pollinators. It means growing a variety of plants that produce flowers in all seasons. It means going easy on weeds that provide pollen and nectar to bees. It means letting your herbs and vegetables flower even when you’re done with them. It means providing places in your garden that provide shelter from wind and rain. And it means leaving dead spent vegetable plants to die, dry, and winter over in your garden. (I’ll expand on these suggestions in a later post.)

Best of all, Become a Beekeeper

That’s my dad to your left, and me to your right. Yes, those are 1970s-era bell-bottom denim pants. It’s a pain to stuff bell bottoms into your socks. The white box to my dad’s right is a bee hive, probably newly-started with mail-order bees only a few weeks earlier.

Becoming a beekeeper is the most outrageous suggestion I made in that guest post. Honestly, it’s not all that outrageous a suggestion. Preparing for a honeybee colony requires a bit of do-it-yourself savvy, but an active bee hive requires far less attention than a housedog. And, while your bees won’t be nearly as cuddly as a dog, learning about how bees behave and getting to know their idiosyncrasies is both entertaining and satisfying. What’s more, with surprisingly little effort, even one bee hive can return many quarts of honey in a season.

Been There, Done That

When I was in my teens, my brother convinced my dad it would be a good idea to raise bees—though I think we called it raising honey. Being mildly allergic to bee stings, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, and I was kind of detached as my dad received beekeeping equipment via mail-order (close to 20 years before the Internet happened), and assembled bee hives in our living room.

When I learned that bees would arrive in the mail, and somehow end up in the boxes my dad built, I started to take notice. Once his beekeeping operation was in full-swing, I was hooked: those critters were fascinating. I enjoyed working the bees, and I enjoyed reading about bee culture.

We Captured a Honeybee Swarm

In coming months we’ll explore the honey-raising experience. I’ll share some memories, and we’ll look at modern beekeeping methods. Right now I want to tell you about capturing a swarm. The story touches on several details of bee culture that we’ll explore in-depth in upcoming posts.

Once the queen bee finds her way into the bees’ new home, some worker bees face the entrance and jut their rear ends into the air. The swarm flows like liquid into the hive’s entrance. The entrance here is in the middle of the bees, and you see some order in the bees’ alignment.

Bees swarm when their hive gets crowded: they manufacture some new queen bees, and the existing queen leaves the hive along with a whole bunch of worker bees. Oddly, it seems the bees leave the hive before they’ve decided where to go.

This swarm lands somewhere—often not far from the original hive—while various scouts search for a new home. The attentive beekeeper can capture the resting swarm and install it in an empty hive box. Amazingly, you can also install a swarm into a hive that already holds an active colony; the bees will get along (don’t just dump a swarm into an active hive; there are steps to take to ensure a hive’s workers accepts the new bees); the photos in this post are of a swarm that we added to an established hive.

Early in our beekeeping days, we found a swarm on the trunk of a small tree near our hive boxes. Capturing the swarm was simple: we cut the tree off near the ground (we had to run the saw through the ball of bees, but they obligingly moved out of the way), shook the bees off onto the top of an open hive box, and watched the bees move into the box. It was that easy… and watching them was very cool; I saw this phenomenon many times during our beekeeping years. It goes like this:

Honeybee Verse

The farmer who plowed my mom’s home kitchen garden each spring recited a rhyme that expressed the importance of timing for starting bee hives:

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,

A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.

So, use the next month to read up on beekeeping and order your first hive. You’ll want it assembled and waiting when your bees arrive for installation in May. Follow this link for a how-to manual that will prepare you for this fascinating adventure, and visit this blog as it evolves for encouragement.

For a few minutes, there’s a blob of bees writhing around on—or in front of—the hive box. (Sometimes we’d stretch a bed sheet in front of the hive and dump the bees on the sheet. The bees found their ways into the front of the hive box.) Naturally, some bees wander into the box. Scan the swarm carefully and you might spot the queen bee; her attendants will eventually usher her inside.

Bees who know where the queen is, stand in place pointing in her direction. Other bees fall into line also pointing toward the queen. (To point, the bees face the Queen and extend their butts upward.)  Soon, the bulk of the swarm is streaming into the hive past several dozen or hundred pointing bees. Finally, even the pointer bees head into the hive.

Seeing a swarm communicate so rapidly and effectively gave me a lot of respect for them. These and other bee behaviors were truly awe-inspiring, and I never got tired of seeing bees in action.

I’ll continue to encourage you to raise bees, and I’m looking forward to the day when I establish hives in my own home kitchen garden. I hope you’ll come back here to share your experiences as you get started with your own hives.

 

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Home Kitchen Garden Chickens

I’m starting to succumb to the backyard chicken movement. Do you have chickens in your garden? I may soon.

When I started blogging about your home kitchen garden, it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be an enthusiastic gardening community well-established on-line. Moreover, chickens were not in my thinking.

Chickens? As I’ve become familiar with on-line gardening resources, I’ve “met” gardeners of nearly every stripe. Some garden primarily to produce food. Others garden to surround themselves with flowers and ornamental plants. I’ve met people whose gardens are metaphors for their lives, some who relate to gardening spiritually, and others who dig in their gardens simply to escape the grind of corporate jobs or the occasional chaff of family life. I’ve also met gardeners who raise chickens.

Chickens in a Home Kitchen Garden

One of my new chicken-loving friends, Robin Wedewer, writes Bumblebee Blog and contributes to www.examiner.com where she recently published an article presenting the benefits of raising chickens. Please check it out; it may start you down a new garden path.

I actually got introduced to the backyard chicken movement a few years ago when a poker buddy built a moveable chicken coop and started several birds in his garage. The coop’s design let him move it into the yard where chicken droppings would fall directly onto the lawn. After several days, he could move the coop and fertilize a different patch of grass. Of course, when I met the chickens, I figured my friend had blown a gasket and I got on with my life.

The on-line garden chicken community is changing my thinking. Because of their enthusiasm, I recently visited with hundreds of chickens at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. There, I came to appreciate the charm of these useful animals. They aren’t as cuddly as dogs, but they certainly develop attachments and genuinely seem to enjoy interactions with their human caretakers. Oh, and they lay eggs you can eat.

Your Garden Chickens

There are many sources of information about backyard chickens. Of course, check out Robin’s articles, and when you decide to set up your own garden chicken operation, go here: Chicken Coop Plan.

In the meantime, I’ve prepared a video in appreciation of all of my on-line chicken gardening enthusiasts. It’s a collection of intimate portraits of chickens at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It runs just under three and a half minutes, and I call it Sixty Chickens:

 

If you get a chance, check out the site Life in the Lost World for some terrific chicken-related humor and further discussion about backyard chickens. Here are a few other articles to help inform you about backyard chickens:

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Having trouble deciding what to get for a home kitchen gardener in your life? Here are a few ideas to help you along. I selected these items with people in mind who manage large-scale kitchen gardens, though some are appropriate also for people who buy produce in bulk and preserve it for later use.

If you know someone who has committed a big chunk of yard space to vegetable gardening, or whose ornamental trees are actually an orchard, or who shops at farmers’ markets and buys fruit by the bushel, you’ll find something here to please them. I’ve selected items from Amazon.com that have only the highest customer reviews.

Reduce a Home Kitchen Gardener’s Back Trouble

In a traditional farm-style home kitchen garden, a farmer uses a tractor or a horse to drag a plow through the garden plot and prepare it for planting. But some gardeners turn soil by hand. For a large garden patch, the prospect of hand-turning so much soil might end a project… and it might dissuade an avid gardener from expanding a garden; a sad outcome, indeed. Help protect your gardener’s health by giving a gas-driven auto tiller. These bad boys can cut new planting beds into a lawn, can turn over a bed’s soil—and mix in compost, and can rip out weeds during the growing season. This one is highly-rated by Amazon.com customers.

Click here to order.

A Home Kitchen Garden Garden Cart

When you tend a large home kitchen garden, you move a lot of stuff around: you move tools from storage to the garden and back, you move plant seedlings from your car or your sprouting room to your garden, you move weeds away from the garden, you move compost and fertilizer to the garden, and you move produce from the garden to your house. You might also move cold frames, fencing, row covers, and trellises about through the season. A good garden cart is essential, and this one fits the bill. My parents had a similar garden cart, and it handled every job we gave it—including hauling manure from the barn and firewood from the forest. Short of a lawn tractor with a pull-behind cart, there’s nothing better for hauling stuff around your yard and garden.

Click here to order.

A Canner for Fruits and Pickles from a Home Kitchen Garden

All kitchen gardeners are potential canners (unless they’re already canners). People who grow fruit trees are especially likely to take up canning; when a tree produces more fruit than you can eat in season, it’s very hard to watch it go to waste; canning preserves it for use till the next year’s harvest. Most people don’t can their own food because they haven’t tried. Once they see how easy it is, they’re usually hooked. Get the gardener in your life started with this highly-rated canning pot (and the starter kit below) for boiling water bath canning. (A boiling water bath can preserve fruits—including tomatoes—and pickles, but is not appropriate for canning vegetables.)

Click here to order.

Accessories for Home Canning

It’s possible to take up home canning with utensils most people already have in their kitchens. However, canning suppliers have developed several tools that make the whole canning process easier. This accessory kit includes a canning funnel, a magnetic lid lifter, a bottle lifter, and a small canning rack that might fit in a stock pot your gardening acquaintance already owns. It’s a very popular set and makes a great compliment to the canning pot described above—or to the pressure canner described below.

Click here to order.

A Pressure Canner for Vegetables from a Home Kitchen Garden

When a garden overproduces vegetables, you can freeze them, can them, dehydrate them, give them away, or toss them in the compost barrel. Canning is a very satisfying solution, but it requires equipment most kitchens lack: a pressure canner. A pressure canner heats canning jars to a very high temperature, killing any bacteria that might be in the food being canned. A pressure canner can preserve meats and prepared dishes such as soups and stews, and it can double as a pressure cooker: a stovetop cook pot that can cook foods more rapidly than a microwave oven and with better results.

Click here to order.

A Home Kitchen Garden Dehydrator

You don’t need to have a home kitchen garden to enjoy a food dehydrator. A gardener might use one to preserve home grown vegetables and fruit. But anyone can use a dehydrator to make fruit rollups and meat jerky. When you consider the cost of commercially-available dried apricots, dried apples, and dried tomatoes, a food dehydrator can pay for itself in one or two uses. The Nesco Gardenmaster is one of the highest-rated dehydrators available, and will preserve fruits, vegetables, and meats for many years.

Click here to order.

A Dehydrator for a Modest Budget

If you’re excited about giving your gardening acquaintance a dehydrator, but you have a limited budget, give the Nesco FD-75PR. This is one of the most popular items sold in Amazon.com’s Kitchen and Dining category… and in their Home & Garden category! A terrific product at a great price.

Click here to order.

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If you want to attract a bunch of gardeners to a seminar, promise to send each of them home with a free rain barrel.

Every home kitchen garden with room enough should have a rain barrel. Minimally, a rain barrel catches water as it falls from the sky. More typically, a rain barrel sits under a downspout from your house’s rain gutter system, and runoff from your house fills the barrel.

For seven or so years, I’ve figured to build a large water tank against the side of my house. Of course, each year has passed with no cistern, and every time I’ve run the hose to water the garden I’ve cursed my own sloth. How much water could I save if I collect the runoff from my house?

Happily, I got the answer to that question and more just a few weeks ago when I attended a seminar presented by the local Cooperative Extension office. Newspaper advertisements alerted me to this seminar and promised a take-home rain barrel to the first 25 people to register. The free seminar alone would have been two well-spent hours.

Home Kitchen Garden Bonanza

If you’re new to gardening, or you’re struggling with unsolvable problems, or you simply want some fresh perspectives, find a Cooperative Extension office in your neighborhood. These state-run offices are very much about agriculture… as is a home kitchen garden. Cooperative Extension offices may offer information about lawn care; pest control; vegetable, fruit, nut, flower, and decorative gardening; house plants; and composting. Cooperative Extension offices may sell (or give away) soil-testing services to help solve your growing problems. They may offer free individual consultations. They may offer seminars about useful gardening topics. They may even offer speakers willing to present at your garden club events. Chances are, you can sign up with Cooperative Extension to become a certified master gardener.

Don’t overlook this resource. Every owner of a home kitchen garden can get something useful from Cooperative Extension. Here’s a link to help you locate a Cooperative Extension office in your area.

The Rain Barrel Seminar

I heard some cool stuff at the seminar… but only captured some of it.

  • Of all the water from Pennsylvania that flows into the Chesapeake Bay, 93% of it comes from the Susquehanna river (which runs through Lewisburg, PA where I live).
  • The Susquehanna River delivers 50% of the fresh water that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
  • If a sewage-treatment plant can’t handle the volume of sewage running into the plant, the overflow goes directly into our waterways (a situation that arises during heavy rains—especially where people’s downspouts feed into the sewers).
  • One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot house equals about 600 gallons of water.
  • 40% of the water that people use through the spring, summer, and fall goes into such outdoor applications as washing cars and watering lawns and gardens.

There were many other fascinating statistics, but the ones I’ve mentioned paint the picture so clearly: You can save a lot of money and help preserve your area waterways by installing a rain barrel and using the water it collects to maintain your home kitchen garden.

A downspout adapter sits on top of the rain barrel (left). The overflow port on the side of the barrel (right) accepts a standard garden hose to redirect runoff away from your house. Any of my downspouts would deliver a higher inflow than this overflow port could handle; I’ll need to modify the rain barrel when I install it.

The Attendance Bonus

The typical rain barrel has a few limitations. For example, a barrel might hold 60 to 100 gallons. This means one inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof will produce at least five times more water than a barrel can hold. The typical rain barrel allows for this by including an overflow port near the top of the barrel. If you have space, you can run the overflow into a second rain barrel, and from there to a third, and so on. If you don’t want to manage so many barrels, you run the overflow out to your garden, or well away from your house, or back into the downspout that you redirected into the rain barrel in the first place.

A faucet mounted near the bottom of the rain barrel accepts a standard garden hose. To provide adequate pressure for typical gardening applications, I’ll need to place the barrel on a stand several feet above the ground. Once it’s elevated, I’ll also want to strap it to the side of my house so it doesn’t fall over at an inopportune moment.

The seminar explained how to install a rain barrel, and the presenters assembled a rain barrel so we could see how to make our own. Amazingly, despite having about 90 attendees, the Cooperative Extension speakers had made enough rain barrels for each of us to take one home. A small grant had paid for the materials, and for the Extension-workers’ time.

In future posts, I’ll show how I install my rain barrel (won’t happen until spring), and I’ll explain how you can make your own. If you don’t want to build your own, jump out to the Home Kitchen Garden Store, and order one now so you can reduce your water bills and grow a greener garden in the spring. By all means, get a water barrel and install it.

 

Here are more articles about rain barrels. Please enjoy:

  • Use a Rain Barrel for Easy Greywater Diversion Systems « People … – Oh and…remember if you live up north, your rain barrel parts could freeze (just like hoses) in winter so that is something to consider when designing your greywater system. Southern climates…well lucky you! …

  • Rainy Review of Rain Barrels at Jackie Koerner – You can also build your own rain barrel with instructions from the Maryland Environmental Design Program’s website. Some municipalities sell rain barrels at a discount to assist with the reduction of rain water runoff. …

  • Time to Winterize Your Rain Barrel – Move your rain barrel into a garage or storage shed if you have one. If you do not have the storage space, turn the barrel upside down to prevent water from entering. Cover the spigot opening to prevent water from collecting there as …

  • Head Spring Farm Blogs » Blog Archive » Reclaimed Whiskey Rain … – The rain barrel concept has been around for a very long time and I recall we had a cistern at the farm house where I grew up. Rain water stored in a barrel or cistern is not quite ready for drinking water unless treated, …

  • Back Porch Rain Barrel – This summer we finally constructed a rain barrel. We’ve had a 55-gallon drum sitting in our yard for several years. We finally made the commitment to convert it into a rain collection barrel. It was so simple, I wish we would have done …

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In various seasons, I’ve gathered peas, beans, tomato seeds, dill seeds, and corriander to plant in the succeeding season. This can be a mistake: Often, a commercial variety of vegetable produces seeds whose resulting plants are nothing like the originals… and usually not nearly as appealing.

In my last post, I shared some videos of a home kitchen gardener who used a six foot space along the windows in her sun room to grow salad greens and herbs during the winter. If you’re in a temperate hardiness zone 8, 7, 6, 5, or 4 and you have a sun room to spare, you can have at least a modest kitchen garden all year.

But if you have garden space in your yard, don’t squander all your indoor growing space to produce off-season salad greens. Do some planning now, order up some unusual seeds, and jumpstart next spring’s home kitchen garden inside.

Seeds and Flats

If you’re a novice gardener, your life will be easiest if you take the obvious path: shop locally for seeds and flats (sets of young plants started for you at a nursery) as they become available in the spring. Why flats? Once reason: some seeds are a bit finicky and a nursery might have more luck starting them than you will… by the time they’re on sale in flats, you know they’ve sprout and are healthy.

But there’s another reason that may be more compelling: starting seeds indoors and transplanting them to your home kitchen garden in the spring stretches out your growing season. Plant lettuce seeds in late March, and you may be eating lettuce by early May. But if you plant baby lettuce plants in March, you could have a robust lettuce garden in April.

If you plan to grow cillantro, buy enough seeds to plant every three or four weeks through the season. Unless you’re addicted, only a half dozen plants will supply plenty of seasoning. Seeds you plant in the spring can mature and re-seed themselves by mid-season, and plants that haven’t gone to seed might winter over, depending on how low the temperature goes.

There are plants that might require more than a hundred days to produce their first fruits, but would continue fruiting for another hundred if given the opportunity. At the same time, some plants mature very quickly, and if given a head start they can feed you well and then get out of the way for a second, and even a third planting.

Variety in a Home Kitchen Garden

So, if you buy locally and plant according to directions on the seed packets and the information tabs sticking in the soil of your flats, you should do fine. In fact, if you follow this path for all your years of gardening, you’ll enjoy a lot of great fresh produce with little hassle.

Here’s the rub: most gardening stores and nurseries have somewhat limited offerings. At my local garden store, for example, I find several beefsteak varieties of tomatoes, an Italian plum tomato, a few early varieties, and two or three off-color varieties. When I tour gardening-related web sites, I see dozens of varieties of tomatoes I’d never have guessed existed.

You can do this too. Get your hands on a seed catalogue or two or three and visit some on-line seed suppliers. It’s amazing how desperate you can become to grow something different from the local offerings.

If you’re going to diversify your home kitchen garden, you will quite likely need to start seeds indoors before the growing season begins. The three videos I’ve included with this post provide encouragement and insights that can help you develop a plant nursery in your home. In most cases, you start seeds from three to six weeks before you’ll be able to plant them outside. So, if you live in zones 5 and 6, you need to be ready to plant indoors by late February and into March. You may not be able to order seeds yet—or you might not see them until later if you do order—but if you need to move furniture and build shelves before you can plant indoors, get a little head start in the cold winter months.

Please enjoy the videos:

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