Gardening Basics #6: Advantages of Growing In Raised Beds

Raised beds make it easier to plant and harvest crops and can be attractive. They also give you control over the composition of the soil. Your home’s previous owners might have contaminated the soil without you knowing it. Adding new soil to a raised bed assures you of its safety.

Growing in raised beds makes projects seem more manageable, since tackling your weeding or other chores one bed at a time feels doable and satisfying. There is less back strain and better air circulation, because you don’t walk on the soil and compact it. Also, that loose, fluffy soil is easier to weed. Raised beds have also been shown to increase crop yields.

Raised beds can be constructed from brick, stones, or even hay bales, which are the perfect height. If you use wood, make sure it is redwood, cedar, or some other hardwood that has not been dipped in chemical wood preservatives. Pressure treated wood is full of heavy metals and painted wood will eventually decompose and contaminate the soil. Cheap plastic materials will also work but are not very esthetically pleasing.

Gardening Basics is a nine part series outlining how you can get a healthy and beautiful garden the organic and natural way

Gardening Basics #7: Container Gardening

Perhaps you live in an apartment, have limited space in your yard, or just don’t want to have a full-scale garden. By growing in containers, you can have an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs just steps from the kitchen. These plants can be attractive and will enhance your patio, deck, or balcony. Nothing tastes better or is more nutritious or flavorful than fruits, vegetables, or herbs harvested minutes before eating. Paying attention to a few important rules and investing only a little time will assure you of a container garden that will be easy to set up and maintain and one that will offer a bountiful harvest. Here are the aspects you must consider:

Sunlight is the most important factor. Track the sun and shade patterns in your immediate area to get a good sense of the space where you intend to garden and what plants will do well there.

Fruit trees and vegetables that set flowers (such as oranges, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, or squash) need a lot of sunlight. Photosynthesis produces sugars that directly feed flowers and help grow fruits of appealing size, taste, and nutritional value. A good local nursery staff member can tell you how much sun is needed in your area for any plants you want to grow.

Container size is the second most important variable for container gardening. The more soil volume your plants have, the more extensive the root system to draw on a larger pool of nutrients and water. Available container space directly influences the nutritional value, size and quality of the fruits, vegetables and herbs you will harvest. More is definitely better. For example, tomatoes require a minimum of 15 gallons of soil in order to develop into full size plants that will produce tomatoes with rewarding taste and nutrition. Other vegetable crops can survive in smaller containers with less soil volume but would benefit from more.

Terracotta, redwood, or cedar containers give the best results because they “breathe” and their temperature doesn’t fluctuate as quickly as other material. They also retain water better. Plastic containers can work well if you mulch to retain moisture and be sure to water more frequently. It is a good idea to mulch all container plants.

Potting medium matters. The quality of the soil has a major impact on plant health and crop quality. In bagged potting soils, watch out for chemicals, such as synthetic plant nutrients. For peace of mind, choose Dr. Earth® bagged soils, knowing they are made from only the best natural ingredients and are never contaminated. We know how to formulate the most well-balanced mixture, one that drains quickly but also retains moisture to support a healthy transfer of nutrients to the roots.

You can use some of your own compost from kitchen and yard waste, mixing at the rate of about 1/3 compost to 2/3 potting soil. In the limited space of a container, a plant has access only to what you provide, so invest in the best soil available – Dr. Earth®.

Fertilizer feeds the living soil that feeds your plants’ root systems. Chemically fertilized soils lack organic matter and are more vulnerable to drought and extreme temperature changes. Organic gardening is based on soil health and the natural relationship between soil microbes and roots.
Fruit trees, tomatoes and most other vegetables, especially in containers, need a lot of fertilizer to reach full potential. Feed
the roots in your container plants slowly with the best, Dr. Earth® organic fertilizer for maximum nutrition from your plants. Sea-based organic fertilizers are superior and contain the most multi-minerals, from which you will benefit when you consume them. Feed container plants often throughout the year.

Trellising Support provides form and structure for better plant health. Exposing as many leaves to sunlight as possible helps to increase your harvest. Not all vegetables will require support, but cucumbers, tomatoes and other vine plants do. Trellises also create air space between plants to minimize fungal diseases and make flowers more accessible to insects that help to pollinate.

Some plants may need a stake in the center of the container, while a tomato wants a sturdy cage, and a cucumber needs a grid-like trellis. You can build many of these support systems from scraps around the house.

Gardening Basics is a nine part series outlining how you can get a healthy and beautiful garden the organic and natural way

Gardening Basics #8: Watering

Most plants are 90 percent water, 60 percent of which is delivered from the soil to the plant through plant root hairs. To keep your plants healthy and thriving you must have a good soil with plenty of organic matter to act like a sponge and allow the almost microscopic roots to travel through porous, well-draining soil.

The best way to tell when and how much water your plant needs (whether in the ground or a container) is to feel the soil. Probe your finger about an inch or two and feel if it is dry or moist to the touch.

The soil type makes a huge difference. Also, the more organic material in a soil, the less you have to water. The hotter the day and the shallower the root system, the more you have to water. Gardeners should pay attention to soil, weather, dryness and humidity.

Your sprinkler system timers will likely need to be adjusted once a month, depending on weather conditions. Plants do best when they receive just the amount of water they need, right when they need it. Inspect your soil. Look at it and feel it. If it looks and feels dry, you may need to alter your watering schedule. Likewise, you could be overwatering and wasting water.

Watering in the morning gives your plants the entire day to draw the water from the soil as needed, especially on hot days. Water slowly, to insure proper absorption. Water deeply, so that it does not run off the surface, never making it down into the root zone. Shady spots need less water, while the sunny areas dry out more quickly and need more water.

Gardening Basics is an nine part series outlining how you can get a healthy and beautiful garden the organic and natural way

Gardening Basics #9: Making A Plan

Before a contractor can build a home, the architect must provide a plan, a blueprint that clearly shows how the house looks and functions. The same is true when creating and designing a garden of any size. You must know how to put it together.
Some questions to consider are:

    • Will you start from seeds or transplants?
    • In-ground or raised beds?
    • Sprinkler system or hand irrigation?
    • Fruits, vegetables, or both?
    • How will the elements of your garden work together?
    • What are the sun requirements for your plants?
    • Where will the same plant go next year?
      (Rotate crops each year to avoid plant diseases.)
    • What plants are you going to grow in summer, winter or fall?
    • What is the best soil mixture for you?
    • When will the transplants go in the ground?
    • How hardy are the plants you want to grow?
    • When should you start them?
    • What is the nutrient value of a desired plant?

Remember, you are growing a nutrition garden. You will have a health food store right in your backyard. Make sure to invest time in a solid plan that brings you that much closer to your dream garden. There are thousands of books on planning your garden. Pick one up and get more ideas. You can never have too much knowledge about your garden and your health.

Gardening Basics is an nine part series outlining how you can get a healthy and beautiful garden the organic and natural way

Pet Safe Garden

 

Animal health begins in the soil, healthy soil provides nutrients to grow healthy plants, and healthy plants are then consumed by animals. Your garden is the center of nourishment for your entire family, including your pets. When growing your fruits and vegetables keep in mind that much of the harvest should be designated for your pets. You should grow enough produce to feed both your family and your pets.

Many gardeners design a garden with pet safety in mind. Your garden can have many purposes, to provide you with nutrients, and a natural environment to enjoy for both you and your pets. If your intention is to grow healthy fruits and vegetables for your family, you might as well grow enough to feed your pets as well. We all love and trust our own food; I know your our pets will benefit equally. Not all vegetables and fruits would be considered healthy for your pets, as a general rule of thumb, it is best to learn what plants may be toxic for dogs and cats, I really trust a good quality independent garden nursery for a detailed list of those plants that can be grown in your region. Many pets are rushed to the veterinarian every year due to an accidental consumption of harmful plants. However, this is a rare occurrence, as most of the time when pets are rushed to the emergency room from something related to the garden, it’s typically caused by the consumption of a chemical fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide.

Most fruit and vegetable plants do not pose any toxicity problems with the exception of a few, I will list a few common varieties throughout this article that may be found at your local nursery, conversely, many are very healthy and great for human consumption, but may pose some health risks for your pets. Onions, chives and garlic, which a lot of pets do like, contain compounds that, if ingested, can cause anemia. The leafy part of the potato plant, and the green part of potato skins contain compounds that are toxic if eaten in sufficient quantities. Fruits also contain toxic chemicals in their seeds or pits. Apple, plum, cherry, apricot and peach seeds & pits contain cyanide, which can cause fatal seizures.

Why An Organic Garden Is Safer Even For Pets
As a general rule, organic gardening techniques pose minimal health risks for your pets. Since the use of organic fertilizers and composts and even insecticides are usually plant or animal-based, thus, minimal health risks posed. Many of us want to garden and harvest the maximum amount of produce possible, temptation; to completely control all insects becomes great when we see any devastation to our crops by any kind of pests. This is the time, to really stop and think about your actions. Is it worth harvesting 100% of your crop, while simultaneously, running the risk of potentially poisoning your pets? I think not, I would much rather allow mother nature to take a certain percentage of my harvest to ensure the safety of my pets, besides that, simply the peace of mind in knowing that everything I apply to my garden will not harm my pets or my family in any way. I remember what Gary Poznick, a biologist friend of mine told me over 27 years ago, “grow more than you plan on harvesting if you want to do it naturally, remember that all living things need to eat too…if you want 100% of your harvest, then grow 120%”. I never forgot that lesson as a young gardener; this goes back to the fundamental foundation of organic gardening, bio-diversity and getting the balance right.

When you have to apply an insect control and many of us eventually will, choose the least toxic and environmentally friendly option. We make a complete line of safe killer sprays called Dr. Earth® Final Stop®. Most independently owned nurseries with high ethical standards will provide you with several good options. I have been witnessing a national trend in the last several years, many nurseries and pet stores offer very effective alternatives to controlling nasty insects and pests in your garden that are completely people and pet safe. This gives me great joy, as I know there is a mass movement of consumers who are demanding higher standards from manufactures to provide effective, yet safe, long-lasting treatments to support the growth of organic crops with pet health in mind.

For example, diatomaceous earth or botanical sprays are excellent for controlling fleas and tick’s in the garden and are very effective with minimal side effects, I would consider these the least toxic. Botanical sprays are incredibly effective as well as biological controls. Diatomaceous earth is highly effective for those infested areas around the garden, usually dog runs, or the perimeter of the garden were cats and dogs love to play, do not confuse the diatomaceous earth that is used in swimming pools, which is completely different from the diatomaceous earth you will need to control insects in your garden. Also remember, never over apply, even safe alternatives are broad-spectrum killers, and will kill beneficial insects as well, remember, biodiversity is the most important factor in growing a healthy garden.

Make Sure Your Plants Are Pet Safe
As I mentioned above, some plants might be toxic to your pets, for example baby’s breath which is common in many flower arrangements can be quite toxic. I really like the ASPCA and the hard work they do, they provide a complete list of plants available for all animal lovers, both the plants that are considered toxic, and those that are considered completely safe. I highly urge you to visit ASPCA website to learn more about the specific varieties of plants that you could grow in your garden. There are numerous facts and myths surrounding which plants can actually be harmful to small animals. Just remember this when dealing with toxic plants; many plants can be problematic if the animal ingests an inappropriate or large amount. Besides visiting ASPCA, your local independently owned plant nursery will know which plants could pose a threat.

Most of the garden variety plants will not pose any life threatening health threats to your pets, but it can’t hurt to do a little research just to be sure. Always remember this, any time an animal consumes anything that is not a part of its usual diet in high quantities, a mild to moderate GI imbalance may result. Most garden variety plants you grow and animals are attracted to such as squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons are safe. The majority of herbs are safe and most fruits are as well. All outdoor pets have access to fallen fruits that have seeds such as apple and cherry seeds and are often thought to be poisonous. Although they do contain cyanide, the amount is minute. In addition, most pets do not chew the fruits thoroughly, which means that the seeds are not usually broken open when ingested. It is more likely that the seed will cause some kind of foreign object obstruction in its digestive system than it will cause a toxicosis from cyanide. Nobody loves growing tomatoes more than I do, I have grown thousands over the years and have never had my dog or cat ever consume any, but you should know that green tomatoes could cause a toxic reaction if consumed, rarely, but possible, also dogs are attracted to eating grapes which are not good for them, be careful if you grow avocados as some pets love them and have had toxic reactions, plants such as rhubarb, garlic and onions consumed in large quantities could cause an adverse reaction as well.

Your backyard is your pets kingdom, outside in the in the fresh air with warm spring and summer days were animals love to roll in the dirt, pardon me, “the soil”, safety must be taken into consideration, a little thoughtful planning can create the most productive and enjoyable environment, both for you and your pets. Many varieties of ornamental plants naturally attract your pets to want to consume them; their curiosity often leads them to consume flowers or the foliage of even ornamental plants, which can sometimes produce irritating and even life-threatening toxic effects that will require a visit to the veterinarian. When you finally make those decisions of the different plant varieties for your garden, both edible and ornamental, make sure to choose those that are non-toxic even to the touch, for some plants can be highly irritating even if your pets come into contact with them, again ASPCA will provide you with a list of those plants.

For a complete list of plants to avoid consult with your local independent garden nursery. The plants below are commonly found at most nurseries and should be taken into consideration, most of the time your pets will avoid these, but as added insurance simply avoid them if you have a curious pet, puppy or kitten and are not sure of their behavioral patterns. I would consider these plants to be toxic to your pets yet rarely are they ever consumed by them. ASPCA can provide you with a complete and comprehensive list. Plants like trumpet vine, Japanese Yew, Oleander, castor bean, Jerusalem cherry, lily of the valley, precatory beans, foxglove , azaleas, ferns, hydrangeas, lilies, oleander, rhubarb, sweet peas, green fruit particularly and nightshade (tomatoes, potatoes, sweet pepper and eggplant). My pets have never gone after any of these plants, but if you intend on growing them, you might want to do so in an inaccessible part of the garden, or simply install a fencing structure just to be safe.

Common Sense Pet Safety
We are all aware that using lawn and garden chemicals pose the biggest threat to your pets, so avoid them. Reach for a safe alternative such as our Dr. Earth® Final Stop® organic line of sprays to kill weeds, insects and fungus. Always store all chemicals out of reach of pets and kids, a locked up garage or storage shed is the best. If you must kill or control an insect, reach for safe controls. Try to wash the leaves and vegetables off with a strong blast of water first. If the problem persists, reach for organic methods.

A little, unobvious act like mowing the lawn can pose a threat, I have heard of pebbles or a stick flying in the air as the lawn is being mowed and directly hitting a pet’s eye, this seemingly harmless act could cost your pet great pain and discomfort not to mention an expensive visit to the veterinarian. Always read all product labels for anything you use, this goes way beyond pet safety and garden materials; you should adopt this philosophy with everything you buy. Keep your pets inside when applying any treatments, even organic, to the lawn or garden. Give your cats an outdoor litter box to avoid your garden or kids sand pit being used as one. With a little planning you and your pets can enjoy a safe and beautiful garden. Before you start the garden planning phase, take a trip down to your favorite independent garden nursery and visit the “hard goods” section for all treatments or any potential pet hazards, knowing what you might use and not need will likely save you and your pets much grief. For the most part, an organic garden that is well planned and maintained naturally will bring great nutrition and joy to those furry friends of yours.

Harvesting and Storing

 

Most organic gardeners make excellent resolutions about producing much of the family’s food. We plan extensive canning and freezing sessions to regularly use up the ever-mounting harvests that we intend to take from the garden. But the reality is that we are usually so busy with other things that the resolution falls apart.

Although the arts of canning, making chutney, or even drying foods are mysteries to many of us, once mastered, they provide a surprisingly satisfying and easy way to fill a sizable pantry with the finest quality foods, for use in the winter months. Preparing food for deep freezing takes a little time but is another achievable skill. Vegetable canning does require some expertise, and you will need instructions from someone competent in home canning, or follow a good book on the subject to the letter.
Start by setting aside an area to store food reserves. Everything should be off the floor and on shelves. Check carefully that no rats or mice can enter, and clean the area out thoroughly, finishing with a wipe-over with cider vinegar.

Beans
No matter how you try, the bean harvest will get ahead of you. There are only so many beans you can eat, so leave the remainder of the crop to run and seed. Broad beans are a variety that is equally delicious as a green bean, fresh shelled, or used dry. Bean seed is prone to attack by a small weevil that bores neat holes in the seed, leaving telltale traces of sawdust behind. Place all bags of bean seeds in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator to eliminate this pest.

Herbs
Progressively harvest all culinary herbs. Most can be hung to dry and then rubbed down and stored in sealed, labeled bottles. Other herbs lose their delicate flavor easily. Parsley can be chopped and frozen in ice cubes or in zip lock bags in the freezer. Tarragon dries relatively poorly (it is freeze-dried commercially, as is parsley,) but readily converts its flavor to vinegar, and can be stored as tarragon vinegar, or it can be deep frozen in the same manner as parsley. Chives are also best stored deep-frozen.

Fruits
Many fruits are readily stored by deep freezing or by canning, or they can be used to make preserves, chutneys, sauces, or jellies.

This is nowhere near what could be achieved, but with a little effort you will have canned and/or frozen vegetables and fruits for winter use, a huge array of dried herbs for teas and flavorings, dried beans for winter dishes, and more chutneys, sauces, preserves, and jellies than you are ever likely to need. Finally, as the bounty from your garden grows; you can always swap your excess harvest for different organic produce from other organic growers and friends living in other areas and climates. Be healthy year round and know exactly what you are consuming.

Multiplying Your Plants

 

Plants grown from seed, cuttings, or division are a good way of inexpensively increasing the number or plants in your garden. I have done this for years and saved a lot of money, a few tricks will help you too!

Growing From Seeds
This is much less expensive and can be more fun than buying cuttings or mature plants. Annuals like poppies and nasturtiums can be raised easily from seed and will often self-seed once established. Just make sure you get them from a good source. I trust my local independent nursery for guidance and directions.

The simplest method is to sow seeds straight into the spot in the garden where you want the plants to grow. This is especially effective if you want to achieve a mass planting of one particular variety, if the seeds are tiny (like radish seed,) or if the seedlings are from plants that don’t like to be moved once established.

To prepare the ground, rake the area clean, lightly cultivate the soil, and remove all weeds. Add Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer at half strength. Scatter the seeds over the soil surface, and then rake again gently to distribute them. It would be beneficial to add a thin layer of planting mix or compost to help keep the seeds moist. Be sure to keep the seeds moist and thin out the seedlings as they develop.

If you are sowing seed in pots or trays, use Dr. Earth® Potting Soil rather than garden soil. Fill the container with moist potting soil and lightly firm it. Then scatter or space the seeds evenly. After sowing, add a little more potting soil to maintain even moisture. Keep moist and provide even light and temperature until sprouts appear. Once the seedlings have developed a set of leaves, you can gently separate them out and transfer them to individual containers. They can be transplanted to the garden when they are approximately three to four inches tall.

Growing From Cuttings
Small segments of stem or leaf sections can be removed from one plant to generate a completely new one that is genetically identical to its parent. Fleshy-stemmed plants like begonias, nasturtiums, and pelargoniums can be grown easily from cuttings. Remove a new shoot, cutting just below the third set of leaves from the tip. Trim off the lowest set of leaves and make a fresh cut at the base of the stem. Insert the cutting into a pot of potting soil. Cover the plant with a plastic bag or the top half of a plastic bottle to conserve moisture, keep it in a light airy place until a root system develops. The plants can then be transplanted to a large pot and gradually moved outside.

In mild climates, cuttings can be taken at almost any time of year, although rose cuttings are usually taken in very early spring. Cuttings taken from shrubs can be placed straight into fine soil and kept outside in a sheltered spot. Several cuttings can be packed tightly into one pot; the survivors could be potted when there are signs of good root and leaf growth.

Cuttings, seedlings, and small immature plants grow best in even temperatures and in light, but not in bright sun. Keep moisture levels fairly constant and provide shelter. Some air circulation is essential.

Division
This is a quick and easy method of propagating clump-forming perennials such as anemones and campanulas. Use a fork to loosen and lift the entire plant, then gently cut or pull apart the roots so that the plant is divided neatly into sections. To survive, each section must have both roots and above-ground shoots. Replant the divided sections as you would any new plant. The best time to divide plants is when they are dormant.

Tuberous-rooted plants, like begonias, can also be propagated by division. Lift the tubers, choosing one with at least three shoots, and use a sharp knife to cut the tuber into sections. Each section must have a shoot. The sections can then be replanted.

Once bulbous plants, like daffodils and lilies have been established for a few years you can divide them by removing the young “bulb-lets” that form on the main bulb. Dig up the bulbs when dormant, gently remove the small” bulb-lets” from the parent bulb, and replant. They may take a few years to flower again.

African violets and succulents can be propagated from a single leaf or leaf segment. Remove a leaf with its stalk, or a segment from a succulent, and place the cutting in a pot of fine propagating soil. Provide even temperatures and moister levels until the cutting takes root. As soon as the plants develop a root system, give it a light dose of Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution Fertilizer and Dr. Earth® Seaweed Extract.

Nicholas Shammas
Architect/Builder and Milo’s older brother

Kids’ Secret Gardens

 

To kids, young and old, a garden is a big world filled with possibilities. Even the simplest garden can be a place of mystery and excitement, but gardens can offer so much more. The best ones are filled with special places—sunny spots, trellises dripping with sweet raspberries and crisp sugary peas, pumpkin vines rampaging on fences, clumps of milky corn on the cob to be gathered and nibbled, each small kernel popping creamy sweetness, vast pools of nasturtiums with nectar to be sucked, snapdragons to be snapped, ants to watch for hours, clouds to see strange worlds in, jungles of summer leaves to hide in, teepees of sweet peas to read beneath.

Fortunately, in the Dr. Earth® organic world—provided that no poisonous plants are grown—children can play freely. Ponds, however, present a danger even if they are shallow, and should not be accessible until children are old enough.

Children love to imitate what we adults do. Allocate a small area of a good piece of land, one that has been well cultivated and composted. First results with gardening have a way of staying with us. Poor soil in a shady corner is a recipe for early disillusionment with gardening.

Large-seeded plants are easiest for young fingers to manage. Corn is a good choice. Make sure that many seeds are planted. Draw a circle on the soil and encourage your child to plant it evenly with seed. Sunflowers are an easy crop. So too are zucchini, tomatoes, nasturtiums, marigolds, beans, peas and strawberries.

Include children in planning garden plantings for the season. Vegetables become special when you own them or have helped care for them. Make harvesting a privilege and supply a personalized basket to make the job special. Create projects that you can do together, such as planting a flower carpet. Design it together, choosing the pattern and the colors, selecting the right dwarf plants, buying or raising seedlings together, drawing the pattern on the soil and filling it in. The living picture is glowing color in midsummer will be a memory to treasure. Use a simple motif such as a white duck against blue water with a yellow sun, or a pattern of squares.

Creating a thyme lawn, a planter pot filled with strawberries or a hanging basket full of flowers, or constructing a teepee for climbing beans are all simple projects that will bring the magic of gardening into young lives, as well as older ones. Don’t forget the simplest of pleasures, making it a family event. A few fairytales, myths, and magic can complete a perfect summer memory.

Teaching Kids to Garden

MY PERSONAL STORY
My mother was my gardening teacher from the time I was five years old. She would build my enthusiasm before she took me out to the garden to help dig a hole or help with a little weeding. My mom knew that I was kid with a short attention span, so she would only push me as hard as she knew I would enjoy. She put me in charge—or at least, I thought I was in charge—of amending the soil. I remember she would have soil bags next to the vegetable plot every year. It was my job to help spread the soil and add a little fertilizer. I loved that part and I still do! Maybe that’s why I became Dr. Earth®!

I remember learning in elementary school about the pilgrims and how the Indians taught them to amend the soil with fish and other natural materials. This really stuck in my mind. My father and I would go fishing in the spring and summer just about every Sunday in Santa Monica, Malibu, and Paradise Cove, California. When I was seven, I came up with the clever idea to bring home all the fish by-products I could from the fishing boat my father approved.

With my mother’s guidance, I buried fish bones, fish heads, intestines, and basically all the waste products (fish scraps) that would be thrown back into the ocean, in an area of the garden approximately three feet by three feet. We waited a few weeks to let things decompose a little and then we planted some vegetables. I remember we planted a couple of tomato plants and a few cucumber plants. This was my first success in the garden. It really made a huge impact on me and my love for gardening. My fish fertilized plot outperformed all other plants in the garden, and my mother made sure she relayed that to every family member and friend that visited us. Wow! What great feelings of pride and joy that gave me! My mom told me that I was a great gardener.

I caught the gardening bug young, and I could not wait until our next project began, even if it was to help weed or cultivate the soil. I must admit though, my favorite part of gardening was harvesting summer vegetables, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, and eating them right off the vine before they ever made it inside the house.

My mom was my best teacher. Because of her guidance and support, my very first class elective in junior high school was botany. When most of my friends were taking wood shop, metal shop or printing shop, I chose botany. That was one of the most important decisions of my life. It gave me the fundamental knowledge about plants that I needed to involve myself in more community gardening projects.
By the time I was in high school, I was a seasoned gardener with many years of experience behind me. I ultimately went to college, studied plant science and went on to become founder and creator of Dr. Earth® Inc., a very successful organic fertilizer, soil, and organic insect spray company that now is nationally renowned. The experiences that my Mom gave me as a child in the garden have helped to shape my entire life. It is amazing what kids will become with a little guidance and enthusiasm. I personally believe the best thing you can ever grow is a gardener.

Giant Pumpkins


 

Giant Pumpkin Secret Growing Instructions and Tips

Selecting a Planting Site
Select a sunny place in your garden. Giant pumpkins thrive best in strong sunshine. The larger the area, the better (500-1000 sq. ft.), but smaller areas have been successfully planted too. An area that receives eight to twelve hours of sunlight per day is ideal.

Preparing the Soil and Mound
1.) The best pumpkins come from the best-prepared soil. Dig a hole, 40”-48” deep, 3′-5′ in diameter, and mix the soil well with 6-8 bags (8-12 cubic feet) of soil amendments such as Dr. Earth® Planting Mix. More is better!
2.) You should have a mound, 3′-5′ in diameter, 16”-18” high at its center.
3.) Allow 15′-25′ between individual mounds if you are planning on more than one vine

Germinating Giant Gumpkin Seeds
1.) Soak seeds overnight in warm water (8-12 hours.) This softens the pumpkins seed’s shell and accelerates germination. Start germinating seeds early May to late May.
2.) Plant seeds in a 4” minimum or larger peat pot, in a seed germinating mix, laid flat, 1”-1.5” deep.
3.) Keep seeds moist and warm, 75-80 degrees F., is ideal.
4.) Under these conditions, seeds should sprout in 5-10 days, sometimes even sooner.
5.) After the seedling has developed 2-3 true leaves, it is ready to be transplanted into the mound.
6.) Allow the seedling to ”harden-off” for 1-2 days, or get used to being outside by placing it outdoors for 6-10 hours each day, prior to transplanting.
7.) Or, you may sow your seeds directly into the mound. Competitive giant pumpkin growers have successfully used both methods.

Transplanting Seedlings
1.) Plant the seedling, peat pot and all, in the center of the mound. Peat pot should be well below the top surface of the mound. Transplanting late afternoon/early evening will help reduce initial sun and wind damage. Water the seedling thoroughly.
2.) Protect the seedling from winds, strong sunlight, insects and other potential damage by placing and open cardboard box around the seedling until it gets fully established, usually, 7-10 days.

Watering, Fertilizing and General Care
1.) Pumpkins are 90% water. Soil should be kept moist. Water once a day, or up to once every 4-5 days, depending on the weather and your soil conditions. Watering times should be consistent. Early mornings, late afternoons, and early evenings, in this order, are the best times to water.
2.) Be sure to use Dr. Earth® Organic 5™ Vegetable Fertilizer at the time of transplanting. Then use Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution™ fertilizer every 10 days for maximum size and production.
3.) Mulch around the main stem with compost, straw, or well-aged manure spread 4”-5” deep. Leave 9”-12” of clearance around the stem. Mulching will help regulate the temperature and retain moisture around the main stem and root system.
4.) Cover the pumpkin with shade cloth once it reaches 24”-36” in diameter to help keep the pumpkin’s skin from hardening and cracking from the hot, late summer/early fall sun.
5.) Place a wooden pallet underneath the pumpkin before it gets difficult to move (25-30 pounds) to keep the pumpkin’s bottom from rotting, and to facilitate lifting and transporting it later.

The most important tip of all: have fun and good luck!

Stuart Shin
Giant Pumpkin Expert