All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

Pros & Cons of Raised Beds

Raised beds have become a very popular. Some people may use them because they’re attractive but they also have several advantages. However, before you invest in the effort of creating raised beds here are a few pros and cons to help determine if they’re right for your garden.

Pros of Raised Beds

There are many advantages to using raised beds.

They warm up quickly in the spring.

They’ll be ready for planting before traditional garden beds. They’re great for heat loving plants like eggplants and peppers.

They drain well.

Many people find raised beds work well for them in wet climates particularly if they normally deal with heavy, clay soil. If your area experiences heavy spring rains having well-drained raised beds can help you get crops in on time. They’re also well suited for crops like summer squash that don’t thrive with wet feet.

You can put them anywhere.

One of the best things about raised beds is that they can be set up in places you couldn’t normally garden. You can grow on rooftops, old parking lots, or just places with poor soil. Note, if you’re using them to grow somewhere with contaminated soil make sure you seal the base of the bed with something.

They can be more accessible.

For people who have trouble gardening in traditional beds, raised beds can allow them to garden. They can be built on sturdy legs to accomodate folks in wheelchairs or those who have trouble bending over.

They can help prevent weeds.

While raised beds won’t eliminate the need to weed entirely, they can help reduce them.

Raised beds are perfect for root crops.

If you live in an area with heavy clay soils or have heavily compacted soil, growing root vegetables can be a challenge. Filling raised beds with compost and soil can allow you to grow perfect carrots, radishes, beets, and more!

How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden Bed

Cons of Raised Beds

Despite all their advantages there are a few reasons that raised beds aren’t the best choice for everyone.

They dry out quickly.

In hotter, drier climates what seems like an advantage elsewhere can actually become a problem. Raised beds heat up and dry out more quickly. If you live in an area where you need to conserve water, a raised bed may not be the best choice. 

You’ll have to purchase/find materials.

Depending on your circumstances and what you want your beds to look like. You may need to buy materials like lumber, screws, and soil or compost. Alternatively, you could use logs from your own property or weave walls with flexible sticks.

They require maintenance.

Unless you build your beds from stone or brick, your raised beds will most likely require maintenance and repair over the years. Boards and logs will rot and metal will rust. While it may seem like a good idea to use old railroad ties or pressure treated lumber these can leach chemicals into the soil and should be avoided.

Most raised beds cannot what be tilled.

Unless you make very large beds you probably won’t be able to use a tiller in them. You can use a broad-fork or garden fork instead.

Take these features into consideration as you determine whether raised beds are the right choice for your garden.

The Importance of Sustainable Soil Management

Your garden harvest starts with healthy soil. How much produce you get, whether your plants are affected by disease, and even how many pests you have can be affected by how you treat your soil. But how you manage your soil can also affect wildlife and the environment.

Algal Blooms

On this blog, we’ve frequently discussed the importance of mulch and cover crops. They are two simple ways to help prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff. While these effects are obviously bad for your garden they also have more far-reaching consequences. When soil and nutrients erode they contribute to algal blooms in streams, lakes, rivers, and eventually the ocean. 

Algal blooms can be green, red, blue, or brown. They affect both marine and freshwater environments and produce toxins that have a variety of negative effects. The toxins can sicken or kill people and animals, create dead zones in the water, raise treatment costs for drinking water, and hurt industries that depend on clean water. One way we can prevent these algal blooms is to practice good soil management.

Good Soil Practices

Sustainable soil management means using practices that build healthy soil, reduce erosion, and reduce the need for fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. They include:

  • Planting cover crops, especially in the fall to prevent erosion and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
  • Using mulch around plants whenever possible to prevent erosion, suppress weeds, hold moisture, and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.  
  • Rotating crops to disrupt disease and pest life cycles and reduce excess nutrients.
  • Reducing soil compaction which helps fungal and insect life in soil thrive. Whenever possible reduce tilling and using equipment. 
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects like cover crops, mulch, wildflower patches, and insect hotels.

While small gardeners and farmers are not the biggest contributors to this type of pollution every little bit helps. Making these small changes can improve your garden, improve water quality, and help wildlife.

Fall Harvest: 5 Ways to Use Green Tomatoes

Fall is a beautiful time of year but it does bring an end to summertime, heat-loving veggies. If a frost is in the forecast for your area, it’s time to pick any green tomatoes that are still in your garden. While crops like winter squash and pumpkins simply need to be cured for winter storage figuring out what to do with crates of green tomatoes can be a bit tougher. Here are 5 ways you can use them up.

Fried Green Tomatoes

The classic way to serve green tomatoes is battered and fried and for good reason! Fried green tomatoes are delicious. If you’ve never had them, give this simple recipe a try.

Combine 1 egg with 1/2 cup of milk. In a separate dish whisk together 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1 tsp of garlic powder or a couple cloves of fresh minced garlic. You can also add a touch of chili powder or other spices to taste. In another dish, set out 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Slice 2-4 tomatoes into 1/4 – 1/2 inch slices. 

Dunk each slice into the plain flour, then the egg and milk, and then the cornmeal mixture. Preheat a cast iron pan with 1/4 inch of vegetable oil. Drop tomatoes into the hot oil and fry on each side until golden-brown.

Ripen Tomatoes

If you’ve got space to keep them fresh you can also ripen your green tomatoes. All you need to do is lay them out in a single layer, so they’re not touching. Store them at room temperature and check them at least often to use any that are ripening and remove any that are rotting. Any blemished tomatoes should be used immediately because they’ll probably rot before they ripen. 

Some varieties of tomatoes are made to ripen slowly, off the vine to provide fresh winter tomatoes. Learn more about the storage tomatoes we offer here.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

If you love pickles why not try pickled green tomatoes? Pickles are a simple way to preserve the harvest, even for beginning canners. If you’re not into canning you can also make “quick pickles” meaning you just refrigerate them rather than water bath canning them. In a refrigerator, they’ll still keep for a long time. Garden Betty has four awesome recipes.

Green Tomato Relish

Also called chow chow, green tomato relish used to be a common recipe. Green tomato relish was used through the winter to add flavor to all sorts of dishes from meats to sandwiches. Stone Axe Herbals has easy green tomato relish and green tomato salsa recipes that are worth checking out.

Freezing Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes are also quite simple to freeze, perfect for making fried green tomatoes throughout the winter! Select firm, unblemished tomatoes and slice them 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Lay the slices in a container with wax or freezer paper in between layers. 

Eating food from our gardens forces us to slow down and appreciate our food. This fall don’t let any of your harvest go to waste. Try one or two of these ideas to use up your green tomatoes.