Category Archives: Do-It-Yourself Projects

Planting a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden

In May of 2014, I planted a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden along the back of our yard. Here are the details of what was planted!

Background

Sheet mulch and compost started the garden in the back of the yard.

Sheet mulch and compost started the garden in the back of the yard.

I hadn’t originally intended for the garden to look as it does now. In May of 2014, I wanted to buy some shrubs to plant along the back lot line of our yard. I prepared a site with sheet mulch, compost, and mulch, but just needed some plants to fill in the area. I also wanted some fruiting shrubs for other parts of the yard, so I went to the Friends of the Arboretum Native Plant Sale to see what I could find. However, not having ordered the plants ahead of time, I realized when I got there that the shrubs that I wanted were not available. I was not too disappointed though after I saw another option, the Butterfly and Hummingbird Prairie Mix.

About the Plant Mix

The Butterfly and Hummingbird Prairie Mix was a large flat filled with a variety of different native plants to create a habitat for butterflies, birds, and native pollinators. The description said, “The butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and pollinators will thank you for your efforts in planting this mix. These native plants may attract three times as many pollinators as non-native species.” A volunteer at the sale advised me to water weekly for the first 1-2 years to help the plants get established. With 38 plants at $98, this mix would not be easy to plant or cheap to invest in, but I thought I would give it a try.

Design and Planting

When I got home, I looked through the documentation on the plants and felt a bit overwhelmed. Some of the plants like wet sites and some like dry sites. Some can be 1 feet tall and some can be up to 5 feet tall. Some of the plants are perennials and some are supposed to reseed themselves. There were all different colors, sun requirements, and soil preferences. The plants were to be spaced with 1 square foot per plant. I sat down and planned out a design of where the plants could go, knowing that the design might not be perfect. Then I went out and started setting the plants on the ground to see if the design would look good.

It wasn’t easy planting 38 plants in one sitting, but I wanted to get all the plants safely in the ground before the work week started. After the plants were watered, voila! Our backyard featured a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden!

Butterfly Garden 1

Plant Details

Here are the 12 types of plants that were included in this mix.

Planting with a Plan in the Vegetable Garden (2014)

Rather than dropping seeds and seedlings in random locations, this year’s vegetable garden was planned out over the wintertime. Companion planting, crop rotation, and consideration for plant heights was incorporated to maximize plants and minimize pests. When it came time to start seeds, purchase seedlings, and plan for frosts, this turned out to be a great help to guide the timing, quantity, and locations of vegetable plants.

Here is my garden design for this year in our main Vegetable Garden:
Garden Plans 2014 - draft

Main Vegetable Garden on May 27th, 2014

Main Vegetable Garden on May 27th, 2014

As you can see from this diagram, there are four Neighborhoods in the Vegetable Garden. This makes it easy to group plant families and rotate crops each year so that pests have a harder time finding the plants they like.

Neighborhood A - Brassicas & Friends

Neighborhood A – Brassicas & Friends

Neighborhood B - Squash, Tomatoes, & Friends

Neighborhood B – Squash, Tomatoes, & Friends

Neighborhood C - Roots & Friends

Neighborhood C – Roots & Friends

Neighborhood D - Legumes & Friends

Neighborhood D – Legumes & Friends

How the Plan was Made

If you’re interested in putting together a design for your garden, I would recommend the following steps. You will likely need to do some reading and searching the Internet to gather the information you need.

1. Determine how many garden beds you have or how you can equally separate your garden into sections. This will be helpful for doing crop rotation.
2. List the vegetable plants that you want to grow and then group them into broad families. I divided plants into four “neighborhoods” (brassicas, squash and tomatoes, roots, and legumes) based on plant family, and will rotate crops within four sections of our main vegetable garden. Some vegetables might not fit into the neighborhood perfectly (lettuce in the pea bed?), but as long as families are grouped, crop rotation will make it harder for pests to find plants in subsequent years.
3. Consider companion planting to make sure that combinations of plants won’t harm each other. And add herbs and flowers that would help deter pests from your plants. The book “Great Garden Companions” by Sally Jean Cunningham was a good read.

In addition to having a design, I’ve kept better records this year. I kept notes on seed starting and planting. Without too many dry details, here are some of the plants that I’ve started and planted in this year’s garden. As noted, some plants are located in other places (patio, pot, or sector garden).

Seed Starting Indoors

The kohlrabi stems are bulging out. One kohlrabi mysteriously broke in half, but others are doing well.

The kohlrabi stems are bulging out. One kohlrabi mysteriously broke in half, but others are doing well.

* King Pepper (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Hungarian Sweet Pepper (Seeds saved from Greenway Station Farmer’s Market) – sector garden
* Sheboygan Tomato (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Cherry Tomato (Seed Saver’s Exchange)
* Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Seed Savers Exchange) – sector garden
* Pineapple Ground Cherry (Seeds from Madison Area Permaculture Guild Seed Exchange) – sector garden and pot
* Fiesta Mix Nasturtium (Seeds from Madison Area Permaculture Guild Seed Exchange)
* Calendula Mix (Seed Savers Exchange)
The wispy little onions are finally getting stronger.

The wispy little onions are finally getting stronger.

* White Vienna Kohlrabi (Livingston Seed Co.)
* Calabrese Broccoli (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Yellow of Parma Onion (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Royalty Mix Petunias (Burpee) – sector garden
* Marigolds (Seeds saved from our church’s Food Pantry Garden)
* Sunflowers (Seeds from Kids’ Garden Party)

Plants Seeded Outdoors

* Elephant Garlic (cloves from the Farmer’s Market planted last fall)

I'm surprise how well the elephant garlic is doing. Last year I didn't have success with garlic, but this year it looks strong.

I’m surprise how well the elephant garlic is doing. Last year I didn’t have luck with garlic, but this year it’s strong.

* Early Scarlet Globe Radish (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Early Blood Turnip Beets (Seed Savers Exchange)
* St. Valery Carrots (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Cilantro (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Bouquet Dill (Botanical Interests)
* Amish Snap Pea (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Heirloom Pineapple Alpine Strawberries (Renee’s Garden) – pot
* Heirloom Mignonette Alpine Strawberries (Renee’s Garden) – pot
* Sugar Snap Peas (NK Lawn & Garden)
* Calliope Blend Carrots (Botanical Interests)
* Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Sweet Basil (Burpee Fordhook Collection Organic)
This is my first year trying to grow beets. They look pretty scrawny so far.

This is my first year trying to grow beets. They look pretty scrawny so far.

* Thumbelina Zinnia (Botanical Interests)
* Tiny Tim (white) Sweet Alyssum (Botanical Interests)
* Oriental Nights (purple) Sweet Alyssum (Botanical Interests)
* Sweet REBA Acorn Squash (Botanical Interests)
* Black Beauty Zucchini (Botanical Interests)
* Native American Squash (Gete-okosomin, seeds from archaeological dig in Green Bay, WI)
* Rosemary (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Hidatsa Red Beans (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Early Fortune Cucumbers (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Little Gem Lettuce (Burpee Organics)

Seedlings Purchased and Planted

The purchased dill plant is getting quite tall.

The purchased dill plant is getting quite tall.

* Kale (The Bruce Co. variety pack)
* Brussels Sprouts (The Bruce Co.)
* Allstar June-Bearing Strawberries (The Bruce Co. & Papa Joe’s) – patio
* Ozark Beauty Everbearing Strawberries (The Bruce Co. & Papa Joe’s) – patio
* Dill (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Purple Sage (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Chocolate Mint (Olbrich Plant Sale) – patio
* Corsican Mint (Olbrich Plant Sale) – pot
* Doone Valley Thyme (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Genovese Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Red Rubin Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Thai Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Lemon Balm (West Star Farm Organics, Melissa Officinalis) – patio
* Anise Hyssop Agastache (West Star Farm Organics) – patio
* Sage (Leftover from our church’s Food Pantry Garden) – patio
* Pesto Perpetual Basil (West Star Farm Organics) – patio
* Oregano (Leftover from our church’s Food Pantry Garden) – patio

Sector Garden

Before you think that I have everything planned out, remember that I do have another small garden with more random plantings. Last year, I called this garden the “Nightshade Garden,” but this year, I’ll refer to it as the “Sector Garden” on behalf of its pie shape and plant diversity. This additional spaces gives our kids easy access to ground cherries, tomatoes, sugar-snap peas, and some experimental pepper plants. My daughter also requested some petunias, which we made sure to include.

Sector Garden on May 27th, 2014

Sector Garden on May 27th, 2014

Pots

Pots on May 27th, 2014

Pots on May 27th, 2014

I find that having pots around is a good place to put extra plants or experimental plantings that might need some extra attention. My kids have a large pot where they planted colorful Calliope Carrots. I tried planting Alpine Strawberry seeds in two pots (something is starting to come up… but are they strawberry plants?). And an extra Pineapple Ground Cherry and Nasturtium plant got new homes.

Much luck with your garden this year!

Hanging a Tree Swing

One of the principles of permaculture is “care for people.” As a parent, I need to help my kids get outside to play, connect with the world around them, and keep busy while I’m in the garden. We have a stretch of grass in the backyard that is a play area for throwing a ball or running with our dog, but we tend to stay near the garage where the toys are. To pull the kids into the backyard near the trees, sticks, and grass, a backyard toy would be needed.

Our tree swing last year was fun, but rubbed off some bark from the branch.

Our tree swing last year was fun, but rubbed off some bark from the branch.

Play sets these days can easily cost thousands of dollars, but can also take up a lot of space and be outgrown within a matter of years. Why not put up a simple tree swing for much less cost?

Last year, we purchased a swing at Menard’s for about $20 on sale. We also purchased some rope and carabiners. We threw the rope over our backyard Honey Locust tree, tied a loop on one end, slipped the other end through the loop, and pulled the loop up to the branch to secure it. The tree swing was great. The kids would run straight to the swing when we went outside and it could go pretty high. However, having a rope around the tree branch wasn’t the best for the tree. The rope started to tear where it was rubbing against the branch and some bark was rubbed off the branch. We read that if you remove the bark from around a branch (girdling), it really hurts the tree.

Close-up of the bolts attached to the branch.

Close-up of the bolts attached to the branch. Above the branch are a washer and two nuts to keep it secure. We’ll be able to leave the bolts up through the winter-time and just move the swing indoors.

So, this year, we decided to put bolts through the tree branch to prevent rubbing off the bark. It sounds more harmful to the tree, but by concentrating the force at one point and protecting the bark around the branch, I believe the tree will quickly forget about the drilling.

We went to the hardware store and purchased a few supplies:
Long Drill Bit (1/2″ wide, 16″ long, spade bit) – $6.89
4 Hex Nuts (1/2″-13) – $4.76
2 Zinc-plated Fender Washers (1/2″ x 2″) – $0.78
2 Eyebolts (1/2″ x 10″) – $5.58

Close-up of the ropes attached to the swing's chain.

Close-up of the ropes attached to the swing’s chain.

My husband got up on a tall ladder and drilled vertical holes through the branch about 20 inches apart (a good width for our swing). Drilling was slow, perhaps because the drill bit wasn’t the perfect choice or because the wood had knots. Then the bolt was inserted, ring down, and a washer and nuts were placed tightly on top the bolt just above the branch.

Next, the rope was tied on to the bolts and the swing was connected to the rope. To attach the swing (which comes with short chains), I tied carabiners to the ends of the rope. This allows the swing height to be easily adjustable. When I was outside, I made up a knot that looked secure to me. Now that I’m on the internet, I see that the knot I did is similar to what would be called a “half hitch” knot (except I wound the rope around twice and also made a loose tie over the top). The knots have been very secure, and given how it tightens over time, I trust it will stay in place well. Remember to hang the swing higher than you want it, since the rope will stretch when the swing is used.

The finished tree swing

The finished tree swing

Two minor challenges came up later on. When the weather warmed up, we had some sap dripping from the holes by the bolts onto the swing, but it came off easily with a little vinegar and water. Also, the ground underneath the swing has taken a beating. First, the grass died and then the soil started to erode a little. I’m going to experiment with placing a thick, rubber doormat under the swing to help the kids remember not to drag their feet.

So far, so good. And lots of fun!

Building Raised Beds

This year, we added raised beds to our vegetable garden. This is not an activity that can be done in a day (particularly when you have kids), nor is it cheap. I’m sure some people find creative ways to make easy/cheap raised beds, but they would need to have a rare mix of resourcefulness and energy. However, despite the labor and costs required, we managed to put together some beds which will hopefully last a good number of years.

Why Raised Beds?

Last year, we had our vegetable garden right in the ground. It worked, but there were some frustrations which we thought raised beds could overcome.

The benefits of raised bed gardens are that:

Finished Raised Beds(1) The area is more set apart so people remember not to trample the garden and compact the soil. It can be difficult to remember where the edges of the garden beds were. I put some string between the garden beds and aisles, within the 14×16-feet fenced garden area, but the string didn’t last long. It was difficult to bring my kids over the rabbit fence because they didn’t remember where not to step. I don’t blame them, the weeds didn’t know where they belonged either.

(2) Good gardening soil can be added on top of existing poor soil providing a nice deep growing medium. I had been trying to improve the soil by working in manure and leaves, but since I didn’t know the history of our yard or what the soil composition was, adding good soil on top would make the garden deeper and more nutrient-rich.

(3) Square foot gardening can be implemented so that plants are grown close together and block out sun from weeds. Last year, I assigned plants homes in the garden almost randomly. It was hard to know how close together to plant them or to keep track of which locations seeds had been planted in. But when you look at a raised bed garden foot-by-foot, it makes it easier to plan ahead what to plant where, to maximize how many vegetables are grown in the space, and to fill in areas of soil where weeds would hope to grow.

Materials

The first thing we did for our raised bed project was to gather the materials we would need. We watched for a sale, and then went to buy the most expensive part: the cedar boards (cedar is a good wood as it is slow to rot). We wanted to enclose two garden beds, each 4×16-feet, with a brace in the center. Although I wanted the beds to be as deep as possible, we settled on 8-inches to keep the cost down. We decided that we needed to rent a truck to bring the wood home, since our car wasn’t long enough to transport 16-foot boards. We also needed deck screws to put the boards together and a new drill bit.

Cost of Raised Beds:
===================================
Cedar Board 2x8x16′ (4 @ $38.87 each, less 11% rebate, with tax): $145.99
Cedar Board 2x8x8′ (2 @ $19.44 each, each cut in half, less 11% rebate, with tax, ): $36.51
Cedar Board 2x2x8′ (1 @ $4.44, cut in half, less 11% rebate, with tax): $5.21
Rental Pickup (to deliver the boards home): $23.68
Deck Screws (Triple Coated 3.5″ #9, 55-count): $7.08
Countersink Drill Bit (#10, 1/8″ pilot, less 11% rebate, with tax): $4.19
===================================
Total: $222.66

The other component of the materials was to fill the beds. The Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew recommends to fill a raised bed with 1/3 compost (5 different kinds), 1/3 agricultural-grade vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss. We didn’t do that exactly, but we got it filled.

We had Terry Benjamin deliver Purple Cow Compost (3 yards) and Mulch. We used 1 yard of the compost for the raised beds and the rest was for another project.

Terry Benjamin delivered Purple Cow Compost. We used about 1 yard for the raised beds (remaining materials were for another project).

Cost of Growing Medium:
===================================
Layer of Leaves: free
Layer of Homemade Compost: free
Purple Cow Classic Organic Compost (~1 cubic yard, with tax): $68.58
Compost Delivery Fee (with tax): $31.65
Vermiculite (1.5 cubic feet, 2 @ $13.99 at Menard’s, less 11% rebate, with tax): $26.27
Vermiculite (4 cubic feet from The Bruce Company, with tax): $34.80
Peat Moss (2.2 cubic feet compressed, 4 @ $7.49, less 11% rebate, with tax): $28.13
===================================
Total: $189.43

Adding in the cost of the rabbit fence, it becomes clear that a garden is not cheap. However, if you consider that it costs about the same as 1-2 months of grocery shopping and will produce healthy food for years, it doesn’t sound unreasonable. When my kids ask for a snack and I’m able to pick fresh vegetables from our backyard to give them, you might even say that’s priceless.

Assembling the Beds

If you’ve done a lot of woodwork, you probably could figure out how to put the frame together. However, if you’re new to DIY wood work projects like we are, here’s an explanation of how we made it work for us.

The raised beds after being screwed together and placed within the rabbit fenced area.

The raised beds after being screwed together and placed within the rabbit fenced area.

To put the beds together, we made a template on a piece of paper with holes so that we could mark each piece of wood without a ruler (an 8-inch board is more like 7 3/8-inches wide, so measuring holes over and over isn’t fun). My husband inserted 3 screws at each corner, except for two corners where there were knots: there we skipped doing a hole in the middle. We put the 2×2 brace at the halfway point of the frame using one screw on each side. The countersink drill bit allowed us to insert the screws to be flush with the wood. Assembly was done in our garage on a tarp, so that we knew we had a clean level surface.

On March 30, we assembled the first raised bed. On April 5, we assembled the second raised bed. We then carried and placed the beds within the rabbit fence (it was a tight fit). We measured to make sure they were spaced evenly with the aisles.

Leveling the Beds

Just when you think that the raised beds are finished, you realize that your garden is by no means level. You never know that you have a hill in your backyard until you set the raised beds down and find that they look crooked. I wanted the beds to appear orderly and prevent water from running downhill, so the beds would need to be level.

There are two options I observed for leveling a raised bed. You can either lower one of the sides by removing soil, or raise the other side by adding some kind of support (soil, brick, rock, piece of wood). If you lower the frame, there will be less empty space inside (since the existing soil will rise). If you raise the frame, there will be more space inside to fill. We did a little of both, constantly pulling out a level to check our progress and standing back to see how it looked as a whole. We spent a couple weeks tweaking how level the beds were in relation to each other and the slope of the land.

Filling the Beds

Next, we needed to fill the garden beds. This was no small task either. After we purchased the materials, they had to be hauled to the garden beds. Our rabbit fence around the garden does not have a gate, since at 30-inches we can step over it easily enough. But when we need to add about 85 cubic feet (3.15 cubic yards) of materials, then you start to wish you could just push a wheelbarrow right up to the beds.

Spring planting is underway in our new raised beds.

Spring planting is underway in our new raised beds.

The bed had been a mix of top soil, manure, compost, and leaves from last year. Over the winter, many leaves were added on top for insulation. Some of these new leaves were moved to the aisles and some were mixed into the soil. We also mixed in some mostly finished compost from our compost bin. Next, we added the peat moss (16.4 cubic yards when uncompressed) and agricultural vermiculite (7 cubic yards). Finally, we filled the rest of the bed’s volume with Purple Cow Classic Organic Compost (about 1 cubic yard). We were pleased with the compost. Last year we had purchased some compost from the Bruce Company, and comparing the two, the Purple Cow compost has a finer consistency (no large chunks except wood chips). Both compost orders had some garbage in them (plastic bits, banana stickers). The finer consistency of Purple Cow would prove helpful for planting time.

Spring is Here!

And so, we managed to finish the garden beds in time to start early spring planting. Despite the costs and labor involved, I know it will all be worth it when we are picking fresh vegetables. Time will tell if we decide to add more raised beds in the future. We’ll see how the garden does this year.

Getting Started with Seed Starting

For the last few years, I’ve been growing seedlings indoors each spring. I find it very enjoyable. Nothing beats those seasonal blues like the sign of green life in the face of a grey winter. I also enjoy bringing out my nurturing side to care for little plants that, hopefully, will produce fruit for my labor. Indoor seed starting has been a journey for me, with new lessons each year.

Indoor Seedlings

Past Experiences

The first few times I tried growing seeds indoors was when I lived in a condo. Even though I didn’t have any land of my own, I was lucky to have tall ceilings, lots of windows, and a balcony. I started the seeds on a window ledge with some success and then moved them outside to pots. I assumed that a little bit of seed, soil, sun, and water would equal a healthy plant. I learned it wasn’t that simple. The type of soil, directness of light, growing space, and amount of water make a difference.

Early attempts to grow plants, with only a sunny living room and a balcony, taught me more about plant requirements.

Early attempts to grow plants, with only a sunny living room and a balcony, taught me more about plant requirements.

After moving out of the condo and living temporarily with relatives, I tried starting seedlings using peat pots, again indoors. Then I moved them outside into the ground. That year, I also purchased some seedlings from a garden store. I observed that my seedlings didn’t do as well as the purchased ones. I asked myself: why didn’t my seedlings thrive, why did they become leggy, and why didn’t some tolerate being transplanted? With lots of questions, I read gardening books with more understanding.

Two years ago, I moved into our current house, which does not get much sunlight through the windows. The house came with a shop light in the basement, so I decided to grow seedlings under the florescent lights. Last year I set up a seed tray under the lights and had only a little success. Some seedlings I overwatered and lost. Others became leggy, discolored, or didn’t thrive when moved outdoors. I realized that the light bulbs were probably too old and didn’t give off enough light, I considered that more light bulbs were needed, and I realized the seedlings needed light for a longer time period. I acknowledged that the seedlings needed larger pots as they grew and that transplanting really was an important step. I questioned how many seedlings I should start indoors.

Getting Serious

This year, I improved my system. I purchased three additional light fixtures, eight all new florescent bulbs, a seedling heat mat, and larger shelves, applying some new knowledge on what the plants needed. After getting the seeds to germinate with the heat mat, I set them on the shelves with each flat having two light fixtures over it. I set the light to be on for 16 hours and off for 8 hours. I set the heat mat to be on for 8 hours at night and off for 16 hours a day to promote stocky growth, per advice from from Mark of Voss Organics (told to the 2013 Permaculture Design Certificate class). When I also happen to be growing bean sprouts indoors, I water the seedlings with the water drained off from the sprouts to add some growth hormones. I’ve been watering the seedlings every morning with a small water bottle (a peri-bottle actually, if you know what that is), which works great to give each seedling a small amount of water. I transplanted the seedlings to larger pots when they were about two weeks old. My seedlings are doing better than previous years.

Lights placed at an angle to account for plant height.

Lights placed at an angle to account for plant height.

However, I’m still learning. One challenge is how to keep all the seedlings close to the light. Some of the seedlings are short (peppers) and some seedlings are getting huge (nasturtium). I’ve been placing the tall seedlings on the right and the shorter ones on the left and angling the light fixtures. When seedlings are different heights, I need to be careful pulling out the flats to water them and then readjusting some of the leaves within the light fixtures so they’re not caught by the lights.

Another challenge is how to best label the seedlings. I want to keep track of the plant type, seed source, how old the plant is, and when it was transplanted and hardened off. Then I can see which care factors (light, temperature, water, growing medium, hardening off schedule) lead to the best seedlings. A piece of masking tape and a laundry marker are a start, but figuring out how to succinctly write down key information to identify the plant and track the plant’s milestones is an art. I’ve been labeling the plants with their plant type and a batch number and then tracking the plants on a spreadsheet.

A third challenge is doing a cost-benefit analysis of seed starting indoors. It’s one thing if I am doing the seed starting purely for enjoyment (where that would be the primary benefit), but if I had other things I preferred to do with my money and time, then would it be better to just purchase the seedlings that I wanted? I considered whether or not I would be saving money by starting my own seeds. My new setup was an investment in equipment and a commitment to the time it would take to raise the seedlings. After adding up the costs, I concluded that with a five year outlook, I would probably save about $100 per year by growing my own seedlings. To me, keeping costs down is an important secondary benefit.

The Journey Continues

Starting your own seeds is great fun. If you feel discouraged with limited resources, have hope that each year gets better with more trial and error. Sometimes I get to thinking that all the answers are in a book and that I can become good at something right away, but I always have to remind myself that experience teaches us a great deal. I’m sure I will have more challenges and successes to share as my journey continues.

“For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands: Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.”
~ Psalm 128:2 (ASV)

Growing Bean Sprouts

Thai Fried Rice featuring Mung Bean Sprouts made in a jar at home

Thai Fried Rice with Bean Sprouts made in a jar at home

This past winter, I decided to try growing my own bean sprouts. I read that they are packed full of vitamins, protein, enzymes, minerals, and fiber, as well as easy to digest and low in calories. The bean sprouts in the grocery stores never look very fresh, but luckily, they are easy to grow right at home without fancy equipment.

I purchased seeds from a local garden store called The Bruce Company. The brand is Botanical Interests and they are listed as Mung Bean Sprouts, Vigna radiate (Phaseolus aureus), for $3.49. Other seed companies such as Burpee appear to offer these as well. You can also find other types of sprout seeds, such as a Sandwich Mix containing alfalfa, red clover, and radish.

Here are the steps that I took to grow my own bean sprouts. I wanted to provide this illustration so that others can get a sense of the general process. However, please consult your seed packet for more details on the process, as I am not an expert and modifying any of the steps could affect the results.

Step 1: Disinfect the seeds.
a.Place 1 1/2 Tablespoons of bean sprout seeds into a measuring cup, removing any broken or bad-looking seeds. Add 1 cup of hot tap water and then 1 teaspoon of bleach. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Step 1a

Step 1a

b. Rinse the bleach off the seeds well.
Step 1b

Step 1b

Step 2: Soak the seeds.
Place the seeds in a quart jar with about 2-3 times more water than seeds. Let sit for 8 hours out of direct sunlight. After the soaking time, rinse the seeds (see step 3 below).
Step 2

Step 2

Step 3: Rinse the seeds every 8 to 12 hours with cool water. Twice a day (e.g. 7 am and 7 pm) works fine for me. After rinsing, drain out the water. You can hold a strainer or fasten cheesecloth to the jar while draining to keep the seeds in the jar. Prop the quart jar up at an angle with a towel so additional water can drain out. Make sure there isn’t water sitting in the jar. Then cover with a cloth to keep the seeds out of light.
Step 3

Step 3

Step 4: When the sprouts are an inch long (around day 5), they are ready to be harvested. Pour into a bowl of water and swish to allow some of the green seed coatings to loosen and come off. Pull out the seed coverings that come off (it’s ok if they don’t come off, you can eat them) and drain off the water.
Step 4

Step 4

You can store the sprouts in a container in the refrigerator, however they do not last long. When refrigerating, make sure they are not too wet. Rinse and drain them once a day to help keep them fresh a little longer.

I try to make a recipe right when I’m harvesting them so they are at their freshest. Here is one of my favorite recipes (ingredient amounts are approximate so adjust as needed).


Thai Fried Rice

2 eggs
2 Tblsp. safflower oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 c. leftover cooked brown rice
1 c. grated carrots
1 c. bean sprouts
1 Tblsp. fish sauce
1 Tblsp. soy sauce
1 c. fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 c. fresh cilantro, torn into small pieces

1. In a large skillet, scramble eggs and cook through, breaking in small pieces. Set prepared eggs aside.
2. In the same skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add garlic and rice and toss to coat.
3. Add prepared eggs, carrots, and bean sprouts and toss together for a few minutes.
4. Add fish sauce and soy sauce and toss together for a few minutes.
5. Remove from heat. Mix in basil and cilantro.


If you enjoy making sprouts, there are sprouting devices which will help the sprouts grow larger or may make the process easier. However, given their short storage time, making a small batch in a jar for a recipe works just fine.

Setting up a Soaker Hose

Looking back, one of the challenges of the summer was how to best keep the garden watered. Here was that story.

As the July weather heated up and the soil dried out, I realized that all the rain we had gotten in the spring wasn’t coming back. At least, not in the timeframe or quantity that my vegetable plants were calling for. To keep the soil around the plants moist, I considered a couple options: a sprinkler, mulch, and a soaker hose.

Last summer, I set up a sprinkler to water our new garden. That was sufficient for the cover crops.

Last summer, I set up a sprinkler to water our new garden. That was sufficient for the cover crops.

Last summer I had set up a sprinkler to water the vegetable garden. That was easy to do, however, it wasn’t very efficient. Drops of water soaring through the air tended to blow off course, evaporate, or wind up on the plants’ leaves instead of the soil. It also wasn’t ideal since the city water raised our water bill and contains chlorine.

Mulch was another consideration. I had heard from a few other gardeners that they didn’t need to water since their gardens had a thick layer of mulch. This option conserves water, however it means having to purchase a significant amount of mulch. This mulch would have to be purchased and delivered every year, and during droughts, I still might need to water. I added some straw as mulch, but was disappointed to see grass sprouting there later on. Unsure about the best logistics for this, I tabled this idea until I might be able to find a quality (seed free), cheap source of mulch.

I decided to try out a soaker hose. I wasn’t really sure how a soaker hose worked, which was the most appealing thing about this option. I wanted to see what it did and how well it worked. Essentially, a soaker hose is like a sprinkler, but it should be more efficient as it waters at the soil level and can be set-up wherever you want to put it. It also is cheap, except that it would still be calling on chlorinated city water. I found a Yardworks 50-foot soaker hose at Menard’s for $10.

The soaker hose package sounds impressive on the outside. Disappointing warnings are found inside.

The soaker hose package sounds impressive on the outside. Disappointing warnings are found inside.

The exterior packaging for the soaker hose sounded impressive. Here are some of the claims:
* 70% water savings (prevents water lost to evaporation and run-off)
* Steady, even soaking (perfect for gardens or shrubs and around walkways)
* Removeable coupler cap (for adding additional lengths of hose)
* 3-year limited guarantee

However, I was disappointed when I opened the package. Here are some of the interior warnings:
* Before using hose, place washer firmly into coupling at faucet end to ensure a watertight seal. This will help prevent leaking.
[I need to buy washers too? Or otherwise it will be leaking?]
* Do not leave hose under pressure while unattended or for extended periods of time.
[I need to babysit the hose while it’s on? Not much of a time savings.]
* Drain hose in the summer when not in use and keep it shaded as much as possible. Water left in hose in the sun will expand, damaging the hose.
[Wait a minute, shade the hose? My vegetable garden is in the sun! And how do you drain the hose without moving it? Having to move the hose defeats the convenience of having an irrigation system set up where you want it.]
* Drain hose completely before winter storage as water left in a hose can freeze, damaging the hose.
[Hmmmm, I sense an impending accident when I get busy in the fall and forget to bring the hose in before the first frost.]

Products these days are usually a disappointment. Why did I expect that a cheap soaker hose would be helpful time-saver, able to water my garden for years to come? It sounded more like it would leak all over and only last one summer. Yet, wanting to find out how it worked, I proceeded to pull the hose out of the packaging and set it up in the garden.

The first thing I noticed was that the hose was hesitant to straighten out. Being wound up in the package, it kept curling and didn’t want to stay in the assigned location. This was frustrating since the hose weighs enough that it can easily knock over delicate stems and take out a few plants. Looking back, I should have straightened the hose out on the grass first and perhaps used some U-shaped landscaping stakes to hold it in place as I went along.

When the soaker hose is being used, droplets of water are released all over the hose.

When the soaker hose is being used, droplets of water are released all over the hose.

The second thing that I noticed was that when I turned it on, small droplets of water came out of all sides of the hose. I hadn’t been sure how the water would come out, so watching the hose drip was interesting. As the water fell, it only watered the soil directly beneath the hose. Soil a foot away from the hose was still dry. It would have been nice if the water had traveled a little farther from the hose so that more of the plants roots would be able to access the water.

Overall, it worked fine. It was a convenient way to water the soil around the plants while still taking care of my kids. I expect I will use it again next year.

Now with the garden winding down, I put away the soaker hose for the winter. I will need to remind myself to set it up early next year so I’m prepared for dry spells and so the plants can grow around it.