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Organic Gardening Tips
Terra Viva Organics

Gardening Update
Low Cost Season Extension
Hold Your Water
The Bulbs Are Coming!
Zucchini Whoopie Pies

Gardening Update

With the cool weather near, it's time to start thinking of protecting your plants. We have found an innovative package that allows you to put up a mini greenhouse over your plants without breaking the bank.

Each kit is constructed from 4 Mil. UV protected polyethylene film and 10 gauge galvanized wire ribs. The plastic will protect plants from frost up to temperatures of 28*F (-2*C). Easy to erect with no tools required.

Small greenhouse - stands at approximately 1ft X 4ft when assembled. Perfect for starting seeds and protecting salad crops and young seedlings.
Large greenhouse - stands at approximately 2.5ft X 4ft when assembled. Protects larger plants in your garden or potted plants on your balcony.

Low Cost Season Extension

by Arzeena Hamir
When the days start to shorten and night temperatures dip, do you often look over longingly at your neighbour's greenhouse, wishing you too could keep plants producing into the fall? Investing in a greenhouse, especially a heated one, is an expensive step. For those of us who aren't quite ready to make the leap, there are a number of inexpensive options to protect plants from wintry weather.

Cloches and cold frames can help extend the harvest of summer crops into fall, keep cool season crops growing through the winter, and help plants get a good start in the spring. They can protect plants from moderate frosts, and increase daytime temperatures by 5-20 degrees F.


Originally, cloches were constructed out of glass bell jars and were used to protect individual plants. However, glass is fragile and expensive. You can make similar cloches out of plastic pop bottles or milk jugs. Cut off the bottoms, take the lids off, and place them over individual plants.

If your plants are too large or you have just too many you can adapt this method. A cloche can also be constructed using " PVC pipe and sheets of plastic at least 5 feet wide and about 10 feet long. Cut 4 pieces of pipe into 5-foot lengths (angle the cuts) and bury each end into the soil at least 6 inches so that you have what looks like a series of crochet hoops. Space each pipe about 3 feet apart and then drape the plastic over them. You can secure the plastic by weighing down the ends with bricks or rebar or clip the plastic right to the pipe with large bulldog clips. Alternatively, you can use 10-gauge wire instead of the PVC pipe.

Cold frames

Cold frames are very much like mini greenhouses but with solid sides. They can be constructed using storm or sash windows and a simple wooden box or bricks for the base. No bottom is required which enables you to just lift the cold frame and move it around your garden. One trick to keep in mind is to make sure that the back of the box is about a foot higher than the front so that you can angle the lid and take advantage of as much sunlight during the winter and early spring.

Floating row covers

Floating row covers, often sold as Reemay or Agrofabric, are made of spun-bonded polyester or spun-bonded polypropylene. The fabric allows light, water, and air to move through but enables you to have 2-8 of frost protection. The row covers are available in a variety of weights but for frost protection, 0.5 ounces per square yard is the minimum requirement.

Although the fabric is light enough to "float" over your plants, winter winds can cause abrasion so the cover should be supported with wire hoops or short stakes. To prevent the cover from blowing away, the ends should be weighed down with stones or buried right into the soil. Remember to leave enough slack to allow room for your plants to grow.

The lifespan of the row cover is usually 2 seasons. When the fabric becomes a bit too ratty, use it to help germinate seeds. Placed over bare soil, row cover fabric acts as a mulch, keeping the soil moist and raising the soil temperature slightly. Seeds germinate very well in these conditions.

There are few points to keep in mind before deciding which method of season extension to choose.

  1. Temperature differences - plastic will raise temperatures much higher than row covers. While plastic is great for winter lettuce, cool season crops like cabbage and kale don't need such high temperatures.

  2. Materials - not all plastics are alike. Make sure the material you use is UV treated and at least 3 mil. thick. Non-treated plastic will degrade and crack within just one season.

  3. Moisture - If you use glass or clear plastic over your plants, remember that water doesn't come through and they will need watering from time to time. Floating row covers don't have this problem.

  4. Ventilation - On sunny days in the early fall, it's easy for temperatures within cloches and cold frames to go up more than 20 degrees over ambient temperatures. Ventilation will not only keep temperatures moderate, but it will also help bring down humidity.


    Terra Viva Organics - mini greenhouse kits $12-$25.

    Gardener's Supply Co. - floating row covers, plastics

    Johnny's Selected Seeds - row covers, plastic mulch

    Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and President of Terra Viva Organics. When she's not planting peas or picking zucchini, she answers questions about organic gardening at: You can also read her gardening articles on Vegetable Gardening at

    Hold Your Water

    by Sharon Hanna
    The Ten Commandments of Water Consciousness

    Lately I have been noting with some alarm the frequency with which the preciousness of water is being regarded. Here are some hints to help you conserve water, loosely adapted from the latest American Landscape Nursery newsletter. Use this info for yourselves and don't be afraid to remind your neighbours. They will appreciate it in the long run, and so will the planet.

    1. Place your plants in groups according to the amount of water they need. This way, you won't over- or under-water parts of your lawn or garden. Sloping garden? Place drought tolerant plants at higher elevations, and thirsty ones at lower elevations. The water from the higher areas will trickle down to the water-demanding plants.

    2. Always water in the early morning, before 9 or so. Mid to late afternoon watering loses much to evaporation, and evening watering encourages diseases such as mildew. (You'd be sick too, if you went to bed wearing wet pajamas)

    3. Water slowly and deeply. Wear a walkman, or practice meditation as you water. Use the opportunity to slow down and get up close and personal with your plant material. More and more I find myself forgetting what is out there, and time flies. It is a delight to be surprised by the first indescribably red flowers of Lobelia cardinalis.If you like to water by hand, watering wands are effective, and put the water where you want it to go.

    4. Invest in a new good-quality sprinkler, and throw away your leaky hose. Leaks waste water.

    5. Avoid placing watering devices where they waste water on your driveway, deck or porch.

    6. Keep up with regular mulching, pruning, composting, and taking care of your plants. Strong plants require less water than weaker ones.

    7. Mulching holds in moisture, and reduces evaporation. Use grass from the mower, shredded pea vines, or whatever is handy. Even newspaper makes good mulch.

    8. Avoid babying your plants (except newly-planted ones). Like people, plants need to "work out" to develop strength. It's fine to pamper the newly-planted, as they need time to establish strong roots.

    9. Keep the garden reasonably weed-free, as weeds compete for water. Move container plants to shady areas during particularly hot and sunny spells. This will not only reduce water loss due to evaporation and watering, but keep your plants from blowing out in the heat.

    10. Use a drip watering system. This can save up to 60% of the water used by sprinkler systems.

    11. If you can stand it, practice 'letting go' - let your lawn go dormant. According to some experts, we may not be lucky enough to have a choice one of these days.

    12. Choose an alternative to lawn such as wild flowers or tough ground cover. Most lawn grass will re-appear and green up quickly when (is there any doubt?) the rain returns.

    Sharon Hanna, Horticultural Writer for Terra Viva Organics

    The Bulbs Are Coming!

    by Don Trotter
    Hello Fellow Earthlings, and welcome to one of the most exciting times of the year for gardeners. The Bulbs are Coming! Soon there will be an abundance of new fall bulbs in garden centers, nurseries, and home center garden shops for you to drool over (I always do). This discussion will be on how to prepare a site for those little gas tanks of color before you actually plant them. This way, when you do bring them home, a healthy plot will be waiting for them. But first a little background on bulbs.

    A very large group of plants that store energy in fleshy capsules during their dormant period are referred to as bulbs. Only a few of these plants are true bulbs. Tulips, Lilies, Onions, Amaryllis, and Daffodils are some true bulbs. Gladiolus and Watsonia are classified as corms. Begonias, Ranunculus and Dahlias are classified as tubers. All of these plants store energy in a fleshy gas tank that allows them to live during harsh weather. This storage organ is commonly called a bulb. Enough science, let's actually talk about growing them.

    Different types of bulbs require different methods of care. Some bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, and crocus may actually require that you refrigerate (not freeze) them for several weeks before planting. This is to stimulate a true dormancy response from the plant. Here in Southern California we are forced to perform this yearly ritual of digging and chilling our bulbs if we want to have these types of bulbs in our gardens. This is because the soil does not get cold enough during our mild winters to send the plant into dormancy. Other bulbs like narcissus, some daffodils, freesias, gladiolus, and watsonia will just grow and grow with little or no effort on our part. A little food in the spring and once again in the early summer, and they are totally happy. Other bulbs require that we dig them and store them in a cool, dry, dark place until it is time to set them out to grow. Tuberous begonias are this type of bulb. Bulbs that are actually rhizomes like bearded iris are another plant and forget type. The one thing all of these plants have in common is that they really appreciate it when a gardener takes the time to prepare a healthy bedding area where they are to be planted. I have a tried and true formula for site preparation when considering bulbs in our gardens. It has worked for me for years and is very simple to do. So let's do it!

    First I think about which bulbs I will be putting in the garden and make sure that they will get the best sun exposure I can provide them with my site conditions. I then lightly cultivate the soil in the area where the bulbs will be planted. I then put out a little mixture of minerals and nutrients for them so the soil has a chance to digest these supplements before I actually set out the bulbs. This proactive approach to bulb gardening has been in practice for centuries in Europe and still works today. The last thing I do is apply what?, yup, you got it, MULCH! A three to six inch layer of good organic compost as mulch over the soil and the minerals will loosen the soil. It will also add essential organic matter, and increase the availability of future nutrition to the bulbs by activating a legion of beneficial microorganisms that process these ingredients into plant foods. My favorite thing about this exercise is that when I do bring the bulbs home I'm not wrestling with the soil to dig holes. This bed preparation method really makes the hardest soil easy to work in within just a few weeks. My little mineral mix consists of the following ingredients:

    1 part cottonseed meal
    1 part alfalfa meal
    1 part kelp meal
    1 part Kelzyme
    1 part soft rock phosphate

    I put this mix down at a rate of five to seven pounds per 50 square feet of bulb garden and then add my mulch. By using this mixture you will ensure that your bulbs will be happy and healthy when they emerge in the spring to shower you with color. This mix and the mulch will help your soil quality as well for future plantings. The really great part is that you only need to apply it once a year. I like that.

    Got Questions? Email the Doc at Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Check out Don's books for lots of helpful gardening tips Natural Gardening A-Z, The Complete Natural Gardener, and soon to be released Rose Gardening A-Z, all from Hay House Publishing and available at all bookstores and on-line booksellers.

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