You Reap What You Sow…Indoors

Tired of the cold?  Longing for warmer temperatures?  You can actually allow yourself to “think spring.”  It’s time to vegetable-indoorabegin planning your outdoor summer garden…indoors!

If you want to get a jump on the growing season, there are a number of garden vegetables that you can sow indoors, undercover, beginning in mid-March.  At the appropriate time, the vegetables can then be transplanted into your outdoor garden.   By starting vegetables indoors, you usually gain 4 to 6 weeks over crops started by seed in the ground.  Another benefit – it’s less expensive to grow your own plants than it is to buy more established seedlings at planting time.

The best plants for an early start are those which tolerate root disturbance including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, and tomatoes.   Seeds are typically easier to start indoors than outdoors, as you have more control of the growing conditions.

For some suggestions and advice on growing indoors, check out this website:

Ah Spring…

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

[Meditations Divine and Moral]”
― Anne Bradstreet, The Works of Anne Bradstreet

Soil Amendments

In an ideal world, every garden plot naturally would have deep, rich soil. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. When establishing a new garden, or revitalizing an old one, you are pretty likely to run into sub-par soil (see our previous blog on soil testing to learn how to check up on the health of your soil).

If you’re not happy with your soil, what are the options? Short of scraping the top foot off your garden and replacing your entire plot’s soil, the best option is to add amendments to your existing soil. If you’ve had your soil tested, you will have a pretty good idea where to start.

As a general rule, in clay-rich soil, amendments break up the dense clay, add porosity and water permeability (which also improves drainage), and allows greater rooting depth. On the other side of the coin, if your soil is sandy, soil amendments increase its ability to hold nutrients and retain water.

Soil amendments fall into two broad categories, organic and inorganic. Organic amendments include peat moss, Sweet Peet, wood chips (often available free from your municipality, along with humus), compost, lawn clippings, straw, wood ash, and anything else that comes from something that was once alive. Inorganic amendments include gravel, sand, recycled rubber chunks, vermiculite, and perlite.

Not all amendments are recommended for all applications. For example, if your soil pH is already high, wood ash will only contribute to a high  pH. Similarly, adding sand to soil with high clay content will essentially produce cement.

When using organic materials, it’s generally best to ensure they are composted first, with the exception of peat products. Uncomposted wood, for example, takes far longer to break down than other organic matter, ties up nitrogen as it decomposes, and can interfere with water movement. Similarly, uncomposted manure can carry dangerous pathogens.

Inorganic amendments should be applied sparingly, as once you mix them into your soil, they are there permanently. Organic materials will eventually decompose, but putting in too much gravel or sand into your soil is not something that will go away with time.

If you need help deciding what amendment will work best for your soil, talk to the experts at Three-Z. We’ll also help you determine how much ammendment your soil needs. In general, healthy soil should be about 5% organic material, and contain the correct inorganic materials to ensure easy movement of water and roots.

Unfortunately, adding amendments takes a bit of work. They must be thoroughly mixed into the soil to work properly. In existing beds with plants, this means breaking the soil up 3-4 inches deep around the plants with a garden fork or rake. Add your amendment, then rake it completely into the soil, raking first in one direction then in the other. An empty bed is a little easier, as it can be rototilled both to break up the soil and to blend in the amendments after you have spread them.  In boh cases, you must thoroughly water the bed once you’re done.

Investing a bit of work into adding amendments can have a big payoff in a more lush garden, and improved soil for years to come. As always, if you have any questions, or need any help, come talk to the experts at Three-Z Supply.

Community Gardens

There has been an explosion of community gardens in America, popping up behind churches, schools, in parks, next to city halls, and even on corporate campuses. As the name suggests, these are gardens that are shared by many users. Most often, the garden is a plot of land that is broken up into multiple gardens, each of which is maintained by an individual. In the United states, gardens are generally between 10’x10’ and 20’x20’.

There is a strong tradition of community gardens in urban areas, often involving vacant lots that have been cleared and turned into gardens. Many times, these are developed without official permission, and can be in danger of being removed if the land is sold or otherwise reclaimed. More and more, we are seeing these gardens in suburban areas, where public or private landowners offer unused land for gardens. Cities will often turn part of a park or the grounds of a city building (a school, for example) into a community garden. Likewise, companies with large campuses offer gardens to employees and the surrounding community. The community benefits from the gardens, while the owner benefits by no longer having to maintain the land.

The organization of community gardens varies widely, from anarchy to strict rules. Some gardens are impromptu and open to all on a first-come, first-served model with no leadership. Others have locked gates and years-long waiting lists for plots, especially in more affluent urban areas where land is at a premium. Most gardens are somewhere in-between, with formal (though almost always volunteer) leadership, and a sign-up process for plots. Many are run by churches or other non-profits who oversee the gardens and will charge a small fee for shared expenses, such as water, fencing, and administration, each year.

Community gardens offer many benefits, with a few drawbacks. For apartment-dwellers and those without room for gardens on their property, the advantages are obvious, but some choose a community garden even when they have room for one in their backyard. There is a sense of camaraderie in a community garden, and the expertise of other gardeners can be invaluable, especially to those just learning. A community garden can be an excellent way to get into gardening, since the plots are almost always well-established and are unlikely to require extensive conditioning for a successful growing season. Gardeners often share their tools, especially specialty tools that are rarely used, a benefit for beginners and veterans alike. It’s also a lot easier to trade some of an over-abundant zucchini crop for some of another gardener’s tomatoes when you’re gardening side-by-side.

This does not mean there are no disadvantages. Your plot will likely be open to the public and will not be under your direct control. This can lead to a “tragedy of the commons” where visitors or fellow gardeners do not respect your property, although this is a rare thing. It can also be a pain to have to haul all of your gardening supplies to the community garden, instead of just pulling them out of your garage or shed. Some less-established gardens will lack water, making gardeners dependent on rain or whatever water they can haul to the site or catch in a rain barrel. Most of these are minor concerns when compared to the benefits, and are generally easily overcome.

If you’re interested in participating in a community garden, odds are there’s one near you. The American Community Gardening Association ( is an excellent resource and even has a community garden finder on its website (, which lists 200 community gardens in Ohio.

Testing Soil Helps Your Garden Grow

A lot of you spend the winter planning out your gardens, carefully plotting what you’ll plant in the spring, but odds are you haven’t give enough consideration to the soil you’re planting in. Unlike a blank canvas, soil is not a neutral medium for you to work with. If you have bad soil, almost no amount of effort will make your garden as lush as you may want.

Soil testing is an inexpensive, easy way to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of your soil, so you know exactly what your garden or lawn needs to be its best, and now is the best time to get it tested. You can have your soil tested for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, organic matter, acidity, and many different micronutrients, as well as the presence of any heavy metals.

Testing your soil will save you money by helping you choose exactly how much fertilizer your garden or lawn may need. It will also encourage proper plant nutrition by providing the appropriate fertilizer and lime recommendations. Testing also promotes environmental stewardship by preventing over-fertilization, which can lead to environmental problems such as algae blooms.

Testing generally costs around $25 with  results in 2-4 weeks. Most labs will mail you a sample kit and detailed instructions once you contact them.

The process for soil testing is fairly simple. Once you’ve determined the area you want to sample (flower garden, vegetable garden, lawn, etc), you can use a soil probe, garden trowel, or shovel to collect samples. Samples should be taken from four to six inches deep, and should avoid areas where fertilizer has recently been applied, as this can contaminate the test results. Also, if you are sending multiple areas to get tested, each area’s samples should be kept separate.

Once you’ve collected your samples, make sure each area’s sample is thoroughly mixed. If your samples are damp, they should be air dried before they are mailed in to ensure that they are inert while being mailed and waiting for testing.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a list of labs that will perform soil tests here:

Natural Vs Fertilizer

Every gardener desires healthy, flourishing plants, and the first step to achieving this goal is to attain good, rich soil.  The soil texture needs to have the right amounts of sand, silt, clay, and organic material.  And of course, the soil should be teeming with nutrients.

So, how does one acquire such a coveted, fertile piece of earth?  Do you simply add compost?  Is a man-made fertilizer necessary?  What is the difference between those two remedies?  Let’s take a look at what is necessary in order to prepare the best possible garden soil for your crops.

The best way to detect what your soil needs is to perform a soil test.  A garden soil test will determine the nutrient levels, pH rating, and organic content, giving you a clear picture of what your soil needs.

Nutrient Levels:  As you are aware, the nutrient levels are a key factor in achieving the very best soil.  We want our soil to be full of nutrients.  A soil test will show whether or not certain elements are low.  If this is the case, it would be a good idea to incorporate a fertilizer that will replace the lacking elements.

pH Reading: The pH reading will reveal the acidity of your soil.  Plants need a proper pH level in order to absorb nutrients.  pH is measured on a scare of 0-14.  If the pH reading is less than 7.0, the soil is considered acidic, and if the pH reading is more than 7.0, the soil is considered alkaline.  The most fertile soil is slightly acidic.  Depending on the level of your pH, your soil may need to be treated to increase or decrease the acidity, as extremely acidic or extremely alkaline soil can become infertile.

Organic Matter Levels:   The levels of organic matter will indicate whether or not compost needs to be added.  Compost can be purchased, or you can make it on your own using organic matter.  Good organic matter includes vegetable peelings, sawdust, old lawn clippings, ground-up twigs, straw, paper, old leaves, and aged livestock manure.

What it all comes down to is discovering the needs of your particular soil.  From there, you can determine what elements are necessary to achieving luscious, bountiful growth!