If you're a gardener looking to expand and improve your existing garden spaces, then you'll want to keep reading. Christine is a homesteader in Northern Michigan who is looking for gardening advice as she and her husband expand their garden, add structures like high tunnels and trellises, and learn how to protect their garden from common diseases and pests.
In today's episode of the Pioneering Today Podcast (episode #302), I'm talking to Christine, a member of the Pioneering Today Academy who needs some help troubleshooting her garden. She's dealt with diseased plants, irritating pests, and even seed starts that suddenly died.
She and her husband live on a 30-acre farm in Northern Michigan and are working toward a self-sufficient lifestyle. Her family, like many people, took a good hard look at their priorities when the pandemic hit in 2020. They decided it was a smart time to start bringing their food supply, resources and other needs closer to home.
Christine struggled with her garden last year, dealing with diseased plants and not really knowing what to do to fix it. She feels like she’s starting from scratch. Not only that, but in order to increase their garden yield, they're expanding their garden and adding a large hoop house and high tunnel.
In today's episode, we're discussing all their plans, I'm answering some of her top questions, and we're figuring out how to move forward together.
Pioneering Today Academy – If you're interested in becoming a member of the Pioneering Today Academy to have all the resources Christine and I were talking about in today's episode, then head on over and sign up to the waitlist. We're adding a summer open enrollment this year on June 9th! I'll see ya there!
In this episode:
- Know which plants grow successfully in your climate (sweet potatoes and okra are no good for us northern climates) to know what NOT to plant.
- Knowing your average last frost date.
- Troubleshooting starting seeds indoors.
- How and when to transplant or pot up tomatoes.
- Deciding what to plant, or planting priorities – what do you eat on a regular basis, what do you want to preserve for your family, and start deciding what to plant from there. (Grab the free charts to know how much to plant for a year’s worth of food.)
- Knowing what produce you can buy locally that you may not have time or space to grow (like sweet corn, in my case).
- How trellising certain crops can help with disease prevention.
- Hoop house and high tunnel definitions vs. a true greenhouse.
- Amending soil vs. crop rotation – which is better?
- Row covers to help protect crops from early spring low temps (or these row covers to help protect against pests).
- How to reuse potting soil (and if you should).
- What dampening off means for starts.
- Homemade hard lotion bars recipe for those dry gardening hands! Or buy the BeeSilk hard lotion bars from MadeOn.
- Verse of the Week: Luke 23:34
Melissa Norris: Hey, Pioneers. Welcome to episode number 302 of the Pioneering Today Podcast. Today's episode is all about helping you set planting priorities and get a clear planting plan of veggies and herbs that you want to be growing in your garden. Today's episode is one of the newer features that we have been doing on the podcast that we started this year. And that is the consult type episodes, where members of the Pioneering Today Academy, which is my membership, get the opportunity to come on to the podcast and ask me questions in a one-on-one consult.
Melissa Norris: And you get the benefit of also listening in. These upon your guy's feedback. You really, really enjoy these episodes, and I plan on coming out with more of them after the summer. Now, this episode was recorded a few weeks back, but it is still very applicable as many of us are still planning our garden, getting some cool weather crops in, depending upon where you live. Some of us are able to get in those warm weather crops at the time of this recording of this intro part. I'm not quite able to put all of my warm weather crops up. I've got a few more weeks.
Melissa Norris: But this will serve you well, for both this year and the coming years. And even as you look ahead to your fall gardening, which I know if you're listening to this at the time that it releases, which is going to be the very end of April. You're like, "Oh my goodness, thinking about fall gardening already." But the tips that I share within this consult episode will serve you well, no matter where you're at in your garden planning. And I hope that many of you are growing more than just a summer garden. That you are doing a fall garden.
Melissa Norris: And that planting time, which we can link to some of the episodes where we talk a little bit more about that, and some YouTube videos that I have on that because the planning for your fall garden, and the implementation really begins for a lot of people in the middle of summer or the end of summer, depending upon your gardening climate. So, I'm really excited to share this consult that I did with Christine with you today.
Melissa Norris: And if you are interested in becoming a member of the Pioneering Today Academy, we originally... I wasn't sure if we were going to open up for new members and general enrollment until the fall. But I decided that we are going to do a summer enrollment. So, you can go to melissaknorris.com/pta, for Pioneering Today Academy. And you can put your name and email in there to get on the waitlist. And then, I will notify you as soon as we open up for enrollment at that date.
Melissa Norris: So, you can mark your calendars but also get the notify list. So, you actually get the email with the link, is going to be June 9th. June 9th is when we will be opening again for general enrollment to the academy. Right now, you're not able to get in there. So, I thought that it was great that I shared this episode with you now, so that you can still use it for your garden planning and even into the summer garden planning.
Melissa Norris: But also, to let you know when that upcoming date is because many of you have been sending me messages and emailing me, and saying, "I want to get into the academy. When are you opening again?" And so, we decided that we would do a summer enrollment. And that date has just been set for June 9. As I'm going through this consult, and we talk about anything, you'll be able to as always hit the blog post which is melissaknorris.com/302, because this is episode number 302, to find links to any of the things that I am talking about and, or recommending.
Melissa Norris: So, without further ado, let's get straight into this week's consult. Christine, welcome to a Pioneering Today Podcast. I'm really excited for our session today.
Christine Stoltenberg: Thank you for having me on. I am so excited about this. I've been looking forward to it and taking furious notes of questions to ask. So, yes.
Melissa Norris: Oh, I love it. You have a student's heart. I love that. I've got notes and I'm prepared. That is very fun. So, for everybody who has not met yours out of the academy and doesn't know you via that community there. Give us a little bit of background on where you're homesteading and your level. And then, we'll jump right into your questions.
Christine Stoltenberg: Sounds good. My name is Christine Stoltenberg. And we have a 30-acre parcel in Northern Michigan. And we just started to expand it into a self-sufficient... we're working towards a self-sufficient homestead last year 2020, when we all had so much time on our hands. And just made us relook priorities and where's our food coming from? And what if our supply was shut off? What were we going to do?
Christine Stoltenberg: So, I don't even remember how God was gracious enough to bring your podcasts and your blogs across my path, but he did. And I am eternally grateful for that. Because without you and your information, and the Academy, I would be totally lost with everything. It has been a true godsend in my life. So, I wanted to say that first and foremost.
Melissa Norris: Oh, you're going to make me get teary eyed. Well, thank you. I'm really glad that I'm able to help you. So, thank you.
Christine Stoltenberg: So, we are very beginners. I always had a little backyard garden. And some years it would do good, and some years it wouldn't. And I was like, "Yeah, I don't know what the deal was." And now, I know how much I didn't know.
Melissa Norris: Yes, that is definitely... I feel like the further we get down any path at anything, you're like, "Oh, yeah. That makes sense." But we don't know what we don't know at the time, right?
Christine Stoltenberg: Yup. We're very beginners. Last year, we started canning. We bought a lot of what we can from a local Amish farmer. We were very comfortable with how it was grown and where everything was coming from. And this year, we wanted to get to the point where we were growing everything for canning ourselves. For the most part, there's obvious some things we can't grow on our climate up here in Northern Michigan.
Christine Stoltenberg: But that's where we want to be in the path. I want to go down is how best to get everything planned out for where we want to be. And to be able to do that successfully in our very short growing season we have here.
Melissa Norris: Okay. Well, I love that. This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. And I'm really glad that you... even last year, like you said, we're just jumping in. I think no matter what level you were as a homesteader or being self-sufficient, or that was your goal. I think last year, everybody had their eyes open a bit. And was really clearly able to see where they did have holes in their preparedness, or just all of that kind of stuff. They're reliant still on other sources.
Melissa Norris: And everybody was like, "Okay. I'm going to plug these holes, and cut it up my game." And so, I'm really happy to hear that, even though you're like, "We didn't have all the produce that we wanted in our garden. We went and got it from someone else. And we still went about preserving it and learning." You didn't let that stand in your way. So, I'm really happy to hear that you guys have been doing a lot then if you just started last year.
Melissa Norris: So, that's very impressive. Kudos to you. So, with your planting priorities, do you feel from last year... did you have anything in the garden, or what crops did you have in the garden, that you were like, "Okay. We did have enough of this to preserve, or close to a year." Or was there really not anything that you felt that you really had enough of that you were preserving to that level?
Christine Stoltenberg: Yeah, there really wasn't anything. My gardening last year was very haphazard. It was like, "Oh, let's plant a little bit of this here and a little bit of this there." And it wasn't really well planned out. Because that wasn't where we initially wanted to be. It was just like we need to get food in the ground. It was very chaotic, as everything was going on and starting. And it was late in the season, because it was like April-ish, when the light bulb finally went off of, "Oh, we need to maybe do some things differently."
Christine Stoltenberg: So, we were little behind the eight ball on getting a lot of things in the garden. And then, I was inappropriately growing things because I didn't know what I needed to do, and how I needed to fix things. And I had more mold and mildew, and spoiled crops, then I could shake a stick out. So, it was very discouraging. So, I spent all winter with my nose in the academy. And I feel like I'm in a very better place now with my education background on at least where to go to get those things. Because I will never, ever in my lifetime remember all of the wonderful things that you teach us, but to have that resources and valuable.
Melissa Norris: Okay. So, this is actually really well though. Because I wanted to know if we had... where our starting point was. And so, it's totally fine if you're like, "No, nothing was really what I would want to replicate from last year." So, we're starting from scratch, so that's good. So, the first thing with the planting priorities is, when is your last average frost date in the spring?
Christine Stoltenberg: May 29.
Melissa Norris: Okay, good. So, you have a long window that we're recording this the end of March, actually. So, you have quite a bit of time before your warm weather crops would go out, and even counting backwards for your cool weather crops. So, this is actually really good. You have a shorter growing season, yes. But at this point in time, this gives us enough window to really get everything done that we need to, and we haven't really missed very many planting dates.
Melissa Norris: Really, the only thing would have been... if you were starting onions from seed, but you can definitely get onion sets. And so, you haven't even really missed that. So, this is good news. So, first, with the planting priorities is really deciding which crops that... like you said, obviously grow in your area. So, if you're a shorter growing season, and depending on how hot your summers get, and you're in a Northern Michigan climate, you probably aren't going to be able to successfully really grow things like okra and sweet potatoes.
Melissa Norris: You have a very similar climate; I think to me in that respect. So, that takes those right away. We can just eliminate that. But you should be able to grow pretty much everything else, both cool weather crops and warm weather crops. Especially if we stagger and get some cool weather crops in earlier before that last average frost date. And then, of course, the warmer ones there. But because you have that shorter growing season seed starting for things like... especially your tomatoes and peppers, are probably going to be something that you're going to have to do.
Melissa Norris: So, have you done any seed starting of the tomatoes and peppers, or are you planning on purchasing those as seedlings from another grower or nursery area?
Christine Stoltenberg: I started my Amish paste tomato seeds a couple of weeks ago. I'm in tomato overload right now. I send them out, and God bless them all, they all took. So, we've got 50 Amish paste tomato plants coming up. I've repotted them once. And that was one of my questions that I had. How far up does that stem... should that stem grow before I repot them to cover it up more with soil?
Melissa Norris: Oh, that's a great question. So, for tomatoes... really only tomatoes. So, for someone listening and if you're not sure when you're doing seeds starting, tomatoes, and planting are one of the few plants that if you bury the tomato stem, it will actually grow more roots from the stem. Now if you do that with almost any other start, it won't actually grow more roots. So, that's important to make the distinction there that we're talking specifically about tomatoes and their unique characteristics, so to speak with that.
Melissa Norris: So, usually what I do, is if they are getting... every time I go to report them, I will bury their stem lower in the container. Add more dirt up around there. So, I only do it when I'm reporting and usually if it's just starting... they're really outgrowing the path that they're in. So, both, if I can see roots starting to come out the drain holes from the bottom, or if they've been in there... like a small pot for more than about four weeks. I even use red solo cups.
Melissa Norris: Sometimes I run out of have enough size pot. So, if they've been in a container, if you have a tomato plant that's about four weeks, three to four weeks old. And if you put it in approximately the size of like a red solo cup, some of those smaller containers. Once they've been in there for about four weeks, so that would be about a six- to eight-week-old tomato plant. That's when I usually find. If I'm not ready, whether timing to start hardening them off to be able to plant them outdoors in the ground.
Melissa Norris: Then, that's when I usually need to pot up to a larger container. And so, of course, when I put it into that larger container, then I have more depth so I can add more soil around the stem. And with tomatoes, you actually can go... so for the first potting, I would remove what the first leaves that aren't the true leaf. So, there's those little leaves that they're not... like a tomato leaf is usually a little bit jagged. And you can tell by looking at the leaf like, "This is a tomato leaf."
Melissa Norris: But the first leaves, when they first germinate, they don't look like that. So, they're not really the true leaves. So, I will remove those if they haven't fallen off yet by the time I'm reporting them. I'll remove them and go right up to that first leaf level. And then, as the plant continues to grow, the next time I'm either planting it outdoors or repotting up to a larger.... let's say a gallon sized pot, for example, or half gallon size.
Melissa Norris: Then, I'll do the same thing when I pot it, I'll usually just remove those first set of leaves only, as long as it has enough green leafy vegetation on top to feed it. If it only has like four leaves, then I wouldn't remove any of those leaves yet. But if it's got a lot of leaves, and it's getting really, really tall, and really big, then I'll go ahead and remove those bottom leaves, and then bring the soil upright to where I removed that first set of leaves on the bottom. Does that make sense?
Christine Stoltenberg: It does. Thank you very much for that.
Melissa Norris: Yeah, no problem. So, back to the planting priorities, which I'm very happy to hear that you have your tomato seeds already started. I look at what it is we're eating on a really consistent basis, and what I want to be preserving for us to eat. And then, what will grow in our climate. So, for example, I said like tomatoes and okra, those are... excuse me, sweet potatoes and okra aren't going to grow here. And to grow tomatoes and peppers, I have to see it to start them, or buy seedlings.
Melissa Norris: But we eat a lot of tomato-based products from salsa to tomato sauce, to pizza sauce, to spaghetti sauce, and that. So, for me tomatoes is one of my biggest planting priority crops. And so, I always make sure that I have enough tomato plants, that it's going to be able that I can make all of those things. And have enough for fresh eating, that I want. And so, I know because you're in the academy, you have access to how much to plant per person, for a year's worth of food chart, where it gives you an average per plant.
Melissa Norris: On average, you'll get this amount of yield. For those of you who are listening into the podcast, if you haven't grabbed those charts yet, you can get them at familygardenplan.com. And I'll have a link in the show notes. It's actually a worksheet, that's from a book, The Family Garden Plan. When you're in the academy, you get all of my worksheets and handouts as well in different charts. But you can actually grab that... if you're listening in for free, I have that worksheet and chart accessible for everybody.
Melissa Norris: So, I go through and make sure, 'Okay. I've gotten enough tomatoes to meet my family of four. And how much we're eating on average of these different products." And that's one of my very first priorities. And then, I just go down the list of what we're eating, and I can grow. So, for us, I go down then to green beans. So, I know so many of you know this story and hear this but my family's been seed saving and growing our own strain of our lane, tarheel green pole.
Melissa Norris: In incidents, the only type of green beans that my children and myself like. And so, I always make sure that we are growing enough green beans to one I can. And that's our green being eating throughout the entire year both as a side dish. And then, using the green beans when making vegetable soup or stews, to be able to add it into there, as well as that green bean casserole, which we tend to have just more around holiday times.
Melissa Norris: And of course, fresh eating for about the two months that we have that harvest window, July through August that they're growing. And then, I make sure if you're seed saving, you want to make sure that you have enough planted as well for you to be able to leave some on the vine to fully mature, and then seed safe route, which is the case for me especially with our green beans. So, I just start to go down a list.
Melissa Norris: And I make notes like, "This is what we eat often. And how much of my family." And then, that's when I go by that chart and I'm like, "Okay, this is how many I know we're going to need to put in." Which of course, after you've been gardening and doing this, you'll become to know what your numbers are. And you won't have to rely on the chart as much. You'll know, "Oh, I need 30 tomato plants, or paste tomato plants, or I need 50." Or whatever that number will be.
Melissa Norris: And so, each year you'll get it dialed in a little bit more, and a little bit more for your growing season and what your family's actually using in production and all of that. So, it does get easier. It feels like a lot of work upfront. But I promise it does get easier the further you get into it, and are doing it. But that's how I walk through and I prioritize and I look at the plants too, and the crops. For example, we still plant lettuce of course, and spinach.
Melissa Norris: And you can freeze spinach easier than you can lettuce, and still use it in casseroles or dishes, and different things like that. But lettuce, really doesn't have a preserving way. You could dehydrate if you wanted, to add it to a green powder. But nutritional wise, I would do something else that was a different green vegetable before I would do that with lettuce. I still plant lettuce but it has a lower priority for me if I'm coming up short on space, or time.
Melissa Norris: Because I want to make sure that the crops that we're putting in are the crops that I also can preserve, to take us through when there isn't fresh eating from the garden during those winter and early spring months usually. So, I just start to go through and make up a big list. And then, start to weed it down. Like I said, lettuce, we'll plant some, but it's not a huge priority for me. I definitely making sure I have all my tomatoes in, my pepper plants in, my green beans in, so on and so forth.
Melissa Norris: And then, list them in order of priority. If you can't plant them all, or you don't have the space to plant them all. These ones are the absolute most important for me. And I also will look and be like, "Okay. Well, I know locally like you did with the tomatoes last year." For us, I'm like, "Okay, I know locally, I can get some really good sweet corn." And maybe I don't have garden space for it this year. I was late in planting, but I know I can get sweet corn from an outside source.
Melissa Norris: And I can still preserve it for us to have. But don't know if get it local when it's fresh and all of that. And so, sometimes I'll make a decision not to grow something based upon the fact that I can get it locally from a place that... like you said, I felt comfortable with their growing practices, and it's a really good price.
Christine Stoltenberg: Awesome.
Melissa Norris: If you have any more questions regarding that aspect, let me know.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay. Not specifically on that. I do have a couple other questions, though.
Melissa Norris: Yes. Okay, fire away.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay. We decided this past week cleared a 110 by 50 area, to expand our garden. And what we are going to put in that is going to be a 10 by 20 hoop house. Specifically, for the tomatoes and peppers. And then, we're going to do some high tunnels for our beans and peas. Now, my question for that is with crop rotation. Since we don't want to relocate those, every year, is it okay to just test and amend those soils, and keep those crops in the same place?
Melissa Norris: This is a great question. First, I do want to ask, with the high tunnel for the beans and the peas, what is the reason for planting those in a high tunnel, or hoop house?
Christine Stoltenberg: Maybe I have the wrong terminology. It's cattle fencing, 4 by 16 cattle fencing that we're just going to put the four foot in and stretch it over. So, make it more of a trellis.
Melissa Norris: You're doing a trellis? Yes, okay.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay. There we go.
Melissa Norris: No. I'm so glad I asked. Yes. So, the difference is, a trellis is a beautiful way to grow your beans and your peas, highly recommend it. It will help cut down if you did have any type of fungal issues just because of... it supports them so well. But it leaves a lot of area for airflow. So, it's fabulous. But a trellis versus a hoop house, or a high tunnel. So, a high tunnel and, or hoop house is an unheated greenhouse.
Melissa Norris: And so, it's still covered with plastic, but you're not introducing any type of heat source to it. It's just going to be able to trap some of the heat, you naturally have from the sun coming out, and the ground being warm, and it traps it in that environment. And so, it keeps it warmer. And so, usually, that's what people... that's what I technically use for my tomatoes and peppers because they don't heat it. So, it's technically called a high tunnel.
Melissa Norris: But a lot of times the terminology is used with green house and high tunnel back and forth. But technically your greenhouses heated. If it's not heated, then it is actually a high tunnel, even if the structure may look more like a greenhouse with a pitched roof et cetera. Not necessarily a rounded top construction to it. So, good, because of beans and peas will be just fine. Especially your peas, peas are a weather cropping, and will handle frost, where most beans will be killed by frost.
Melissa Norris: They're not as hardy as peas. But unless you live... where you had to really start them earlier, or had even a shorter growing season than you do, which you should be fine. You wouldn't want to actually grow them in an environment like a high tunnel that was actually covered with plastic, and helping to trap the heat in. Because beans and peas, if they get too hot during the summer months, then they're blossoms, they don't actually set the peas in the bean.
Melissa Norris: So, a lot of times people will see it sip in the middle of summer, especially a lot warmer summer climates. And they'll be like, "My beans and my peas are flowering. But I'm not getting any type of vegetable on them. What's going on?" And it's just that they're too warm. And then, once that warm spell has passed or get further into the season. Once it starts to cool back down a little bit, then they'll start to set again and actually produce the vegetable, or the fruit, the bean, the et cetera.
Melissa Norris: So, that was the reason for my question. Because I didn't want you to grow your beans and peas in a high tunnel that would raise the temperature, and possibly make you not get a harvest. So, I'm glad that we got that. So, yay, okay. So, back to your question, how are they... on crop rotation, which is a great way. So, for me personally, if I am growing, which I do, my tomatoes and peppers in a high tunnel and, or greenhouse, or unheated greenhouse, it really would be the same for any type of structure like that.
Melissa Norris: As long as there has not been any disease present in that soil or on the tomatoes as they were growing, I knew that there wasn't any blight. There was no type of fungal or bacterial disease that was presenting itself on the plants, then I do grow my tomatoes and my peppers back inside that same high tunnel, a.k.a. unheated greenhouse. And it is soil in the ground, so I don't have braise, beds or containers in there. I'm planting them directly in the ground.
Melissa Norris: But there's no overhead watering done. So, I don't set a sprinkler inside there. I use a drip hose. And of course, the rain falling from the sky, it's not hitting them because they're completely covered by plastic, which is eliminating... for me, it has eliminated all blight and fungal disease issues with my tomatoes and my peppers. So, I want to make really clear that distinction for anybody listening. I would never do this if it was just an in ground open to the air type environment with tomato and pepper plants, because of the high likelihood of them getting blight.
Melissa Norris: And then, it's in the soil and it would infect them if I use the same spot again. So, I just amend that soil really well, every time that we're planting back in it. And so, tomatoes, if your tomato leaves start to show purple on the underneath side, that's usually a sign that they are low on phosphorus. And then, I always am introducing some nitrogen back in. It's usually composted chicken manure with compost that I put back down in the spring, when we're planting again or early summer.
Melissa Norris: And then, I usually will do an introduction of some Epsom salt, which is for magnesium. It's not actually salt. Epsom salt is magnesium source. And then, I usually will do some ground up dried eggshells. But you want to grind them up into a really fine powder. If you just crushed them or have them large, they're not going to actually break down in time to deliver any calcium to the soil. So, I will amend usually yearly with that.
Melissa Norris: Sometimes, I'll go every other year with the calcium. Because when I'm using a lot of the different composted manure, it will have some calcium in there. And of course, a soil test would let you know exactly if you needed to do any of those items or not. But honestly, I don't soil test every year. So, I do just amend that soil based upon what I know tomatoes and peppers usually need. As far as supplements or macro micronutrients on them.
Melissa Norris: And then, if there's any visible signs, like I said, If I see a lot of purple on the leaves, then I know, "Okay, my phosphorus level is low, I need to get some more of that into the soil, et cetera." So, I do plant in the same spots because I am not going to move 10 by 20 structure every single year. I'm not going to be rotating that baby around.
Christine Stoltenberg: Yeah, that was my husband's question. I said, "Is there anything you want me to ask?" He said, "Just ask about that high tunnel." He said, "Because I do not want to move that again next year, if we don't have to."
Melissa Norris: Yup, I am right there with him. So, yup, as long as there hasn't been any disease in that soil. And like I said, you're covered and you don't exhibit any signs of disease. Now, if I were... I've been raising my... I'm trying to think how many years we've had our high tunnel now. I've been raising our tomatoes and peppers like that in the high tunnel. I think I have going on, it's seven or eight years that we've had it. And in that time, I've never had any sign of disease.
Melissa Norris: But if I did develop some sign of disease, then we would move it and rotate it for the next year. I wouldn't put it back down in there, but we have it, which I'm very grateful. Because we are a very damp, wet climate here during this environment. And then, with the vertical part... because we know when you're putting the hog panels or the cattle panels up there, we buy 16-foot ones, and then we bend them over and there are about six feet apart.
Melissa Norris: So, you have this really good structure. I can walk underneath it still. Because you figure 16 divided by half, eight. Even though, we've got it stretched out there. And so, they're easy to put in and out but I still don't want to have to be pounding in. We use a six-foot metal T post on one on each side. I still don't want to have to unhook it from that and pull up the T post. And then, read do it all the time. I like to say I'm an efficient gardener with my time and labor.
Melissa Norris: But some of them, if I don't have to move it, I'm going to be lazy. And I have not given myself any extra amount of work. So, I have rotated my crops around that. So, for example, the first year, you would be planting your beans and your peas on it, which are both... help to fix nitrogen in the soil. They're part of the legume family. And so, next year, then I would put on there something like, say pickling cucumbers, or you could do any really summer squash that you want to, anything that's going to vine and climb up it.
Melissa Norris: So, I would put anything within that family. I know a lot of people, even when they say they're sturdy enough that they've grown pumpkins on them, like jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, I've only done the cucumbers or a zucchini. I haven't tested them personally with a weight of a really large winter squash per se. So, I don't know how well they would go. And you can also use them. We had extra tomatoes last year because as I said, with all the stuff that was going on, I'm like, "I'm making sure we have even more than we did last year."
Melissa Norris: And so, I put about six tomato plants under three on each side, on those, and on the inside of it. And then, tied them up as they grew to the size of the hog panel. And did that on the inside, and then actually stretched plastic over it, and created a mini high tail. It didn't actually make them any warmer, but it did keep any overhead rain off of them. Even though, the sides weren't enclosed. It was just over the top of them. It did help to keep any of the rain off of them.
Melissa Norris: And I didn't have any disease on those ones either. But I realized I didn't need those extra tomatoes. So, I'm scaling back the tomatoes to what we normally do, from what I put in last year. But you can do several of those and put them in and grow. And then, that way, you've got them all in at once. And then, you can rotate the crops that will grow well on that trellis system, every year and just alternate between them, but you're not actually having to move that structure.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay. Now, can you do peas and beans on one side, and pickling cucumbers on the other side, and just switch sides, or are they too close together to do that?
Melissa Norris: Oh, no. You absolutely could do it. Yeah, they're six feet apart. So, that's totally fine. And they would be fine. Yeah, either wouldn't be any issue with doing that. So, absolutely.
Christine Stoltenberg: Awesome. And then, we have a small little, unheated structure that I play in with my plants. And that's where I would like to take my next step of moving my tomatoes into, to get them out of my dining room. What ambient temperature does that need to be at on a consistent basis? So, when I wake up in the morning, it's that temperature before I make that move for them?
Melissa Norris: Yeah. That's a great question. Now, tomatoes are pickier on their temperature. They're definitely even more warm, warm temperature loving than... say like winter squash and some of your cooler weather plants, broccoli, cauliflower, et cetera. So, with the tomatoes, they really do not like to be in the 50-degree Fahrenheit mark, especially the lower end of 50-degree Fahrenheit, very often or for very long. Now, they will survive. They're not going to die.
Melissa Norris: If they get 50 degrees... even like 45 degrees Fahrenheit is not going to kill them. But that would only be... you wouldn't want them to be at that temperature for very long because it is going to stunt their growth. And they're not happy at that temperature. But say, you had an overnight load that was 45 degrees on a really cold night. It was 45 degrees Fahrenheit in there. But then, during the day, they're coming back up into the 60-degree Fahrenheit mark. That's going to be okay.
Melissa Norris: But if you're consistently having overnight lows and the temperature in that area is in the 40s, they aren't going to be very happy. And so, you're going to have a lot slower growth rate and I would wait until those overnight low temperatures out there aren't quite so low. So, really, they like to be in the 60-degree Fahrenheit area all the time, if possible. And even warmer during the day is completely fine. They're very happy in the 70s and even the 80s.
Melissa Norris: So, really, it's just measuring that overnight low. What I have found... and it's going to depend on how tight and what your daytime temps are getting to be et cetera. I found with our high tunnel that it usually will provide me about... on the safe side, five degrees warmer from whatever the overnight low temperature is. Sometimes 10 degrees, but if we have a frost, say it's 29 degrees outside. And then, I go into the high tunnel provided, I've buttoned everything up really good the night before not left anything opened.
Melissa Norris: Then, it'll usually be about 34, 35 degrees Fahrenheit. And then, as soon as daylight actually hits, and you have some sun coming out, it'll quickly, quickly warm up in there. But I would definitely take an outside thermometer, especially if you have the kind where you... I'll put a thermometer out in there, but then you can read what it is inside. And just track over a week or so, especially if you have any type of fluctuating weather like, one day it's cloudy, one day it's sunny, or open clear skies, which for us clear skies usually mean a cooler nighttime temp and freezing.
Melissa Norris: And just really track what the average temps are in there from the early morning. The coldest one really is what you're after and see what then what the average daytime temps are. So that, it is warm enough. Because the one thing you wouldn't want to do is put them out there and have a sneaky frost come in. And then, if they get down to 32, 33 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if they're younger starts, it will kill them.
Christine Stoltenberg: Yeah, that's what I was concerned about. I mean, in end of April, we can still have some pretty cold. And even in the middle of May, we can get some pretty cold weather come in. And it's a crapshoot. So, the standing joke around here is don't plant anything in the ground till at least middle of June. You're liable to lose it or you're going to have to go cover everything, and hope it's good.
Melissa Norris: And it was good, yeah. One of the things that I did last year, because I did so many more tomatoes than I normally did. And I'm like you, I buy starts right around the corner of our living room. So, it's not my dining room, but it is my living room. And so, I know what you mean, it's like, "Oh, man, I would love to be able to have these in a different area, that houses they get bigger." So, I was able to put them out about two to three weeks earlier than I would have been able to in the high tunnel still.
Melissa Norris: And that was in... of course they're smaller plants. So, it's easier to do this in the springtime, when you're trying to get them out faster than it is in the fall and keeping them prolonged longer. I like double covered them. So, I purchased one of those really small, they're like, oh, maybe a foot and a half tall, really small, super-fast to put up, little plastic, frost cover basically. But it was with the plastic because that's going to hold the heat in the best.
Melissa Norris: I think it was a 15 or 20 foot or maybe a... yeah. I was about close to 20 feet long. So, I could do a whole... lengthwise row inside the high tunnel over that. And then, if I knew I'm like, "Oh, it's clear. And I think we're going to get a frost." I would go out in the late afternoon while it was still pretty warm and pop that overtop of them inside the high tunnel. And then, close the high tunnel up for the night, and that would buy me about an extra 10 degrees protection.
Melissa Norris: Because it was really close to the ground. And it was basically double insulating it. And that was really easy to do, and really fast. I mean, it really only took a couple of minutes because those little row cover. Oh, I can send you a link and I can also put them in the show notes. And I do have a link inside the academy for those of you who are listening, who are also Academy members in the gardening series under doing the cold frames, and that type of protecting your crops from the cool weather.
Melissa Norris: There is a link to those exact ones and you'll see them that I use. And on the resource page as well. But I'll also put a link in today's blog post for this podcast episode, if anybody's curious to see what they look like. I bought them off Amazon and I have several and I have used them... oh my goodness, the same ones for I think three or four years now. And so, you can just reuse them over, and over, and over again, which is really nice. But they're really super-fast to put out and on, which is key for me because if it's going to take a long time, I just will not do it, usually.
Christine Stoltenberg: Yup, that's me. I'm like, "Ah, I'll just take my chances tonight."
Melissa Norris: Yeah. I need it to be fast and easy. And to go out there and do it, and they weren't. They did add another five degrees protection. So, they were already inside your high tunnel, it would give you about a 10 degrees buffer. And that's from that coldest, right in the morning, right before the sun really comes up, which is always the coldest part for the plants. So, that would probably work really well and would be able... for you to be able to get them in the ground and out of the dining room sooner. But are tomatoes the only seeds that you have started, that you have growing outdoors, or do you have any other ones too?
Christine Stoltenberg: No. I've got 60 onion seeds that I started about six weeks ago. And I've got an asparagus that's coming up. That's actually getting really big right now. And then, I've got lavender, bergamot, and yarrow. That lavender is just starting... to those seeds are just starting to pop. The bergamot and yarrow are doing really well.
Melissa Norris: Okay. So, especially with the onion seeds, I was looking to hear if you had any cool weather plants. So, the onion seeds and the asparagus, those would be able to go out into the high tunnel because they can experience cooler temps, even day temps. Now, when they're still baby tender seedlings, if they're established size, they'll go through a frost just fine, not when they're tender baby seedlings, they won't. I forgot to say this, I still harden off when I'm moving any of my plants into a high tunnel from the house.
Melissa Norris: You still want to do a hardening off period. So, two hours the first day, put them in the high tunnel, then bring it back in the house. And then, the next day, just extend that by a couple of hours each day over a week before you put them into the high tunnel. Because it is a different environment, and you don't want to shock them. So, I still practice hardening off even if I'm moving them from the house into the high tunnel, even though it's not technically fully outdoors exposed. I still do a hardening off period.
Melissa Norris: But you could definitely start to move out some of the onions and the asparagus crowns, and the lavender, and the yarrow, those are all perennials. And so, they'll come back, obviously the asparagus is too, but they are still tender. So, I would still make sure... I wouldn't want them to freeze. So, if you have freezing temps, you'll want to cover them out there. But they will continue to grow better for you, even if the daytime temps in the high tunnel aren't up into the 60s and 70s. Say it's the high 50s or that type of a thing.
Melissa Norris: They're going to survive much better out there earlier than the tomato plants would. So, you might just want to flip that. And you could take and start at least transitioning some of those out there.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay. Do I have to cut down the asparagus like I do the onions and keep them at... because they're really long. They're like eight inches tall.
Melissa Norris: I have not grown asparagus from seed. So, I don't know on the asparagus actually, on that one. I've got asparagus crowns. But of course, I've put them out. And with them, you don't cut them back the first couple of years, you let them grow and you let them burn out. And so, then those ferns will feed back to the crown. But I don't know if you do the same practice when they're in seedling form like you have.
Melissa Norris: So, that one, I would definitely do a Google search or look at where you bought the seeds from, see if they have any blog posts on the website. Oftentimes seed companies will have similar company information on that. But I don't know on the asparagus from seed.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay. All righty. And then, I did have one more question on the.... my seedlings that didn't make it, is it okay to reuse that soil, or do I have to dispose of that soil?
Melissa Norris: That's a good question. Do you know why they didn't make it?
Christine Stoltenberg: A couple of them, I think I drowned them. I probably should have still been spray bottle watering them, and I didn't. I watered them and I think it just drowned them out.
Melissa Norris: Okay. So, the reason I'm asking is because if it was dampening off disease, then you wouldn't want to reuse that soil unless you sterilized it. So, you could spread it out on a sheet and oven and you could sterilize it. You want to get it to... oh gosh, I'm trying to remember off the top my head. I want to say 185 degrees, don't quote me on that. We'll need to look it up to make sure. But you can sterilize it in the oven, just in case there was any type of fungal or bacteria, usually fungal related.
Melissa Norris: Especially, if it was dampening off, if you're just unsure. That would put it on the safe side just to make sure that it wasn't contaminated or it wasn't something like that. And then, you could reuse it without any type of worry.
Christine Stoltenberg: And what is dampening off disease?
Melissa Norris: It's a fungal disease and usually what happens is with young seedlings, and if people have used garden soil or have used a soil that obviously had the fungal in there. So, if you're buying bagged soil, like potting soil, seed starting mix, container-
Christine Stoltenberg: That's what I use.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. Then, usually they have sterilized it and that's one of the reasons we usually purchase that type of soil. But there's always the chance that it could be in the air. But usually, what happens is the seedlings start growing. They've all germinated. They look great. And then, you come in the next day, and they're all just over dead. They just all wilted and just completely died. Oftentimes, it's dampening off disease, which is a fungal disease that infects them and just kills them.
Melissa Norris: But if you purchased the bag, so it's unlikely that that's what that was, but we can't be 100% sure. So, I wouldn't want you to use it, and then them all die again. Like I said, you can just sterilize it by getting it up to this specific temp for tickets like 10 or 20 minutes in the oven. Then, I know it sounds weird, like I'm going to put dirt in my oven, but you would just spread it out shallow auto rimmed baking sheet.
Melissa Norris: And you could even line the baking sheet with aluminum foil if it was weird, but I would just put it on a rim baking sheet personally and put it in there. Get it up to temp. Obviously, let it cool back down. And then, you could use it again. Especially, if the seedlings were really small and tiny when they died. Because they wouldn't have really drawn much of the nutrients from the soil yet. Now, if they were larger seedlings, I would say, well, they probably already took most of the nutrients from that soil. And so, I would just dispose of that.
Melissa Norris: And if we're not sure if it's disease, I wouldn't put it in my compost pile either just in case it was some type of fungal disease that did it.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay, perfect.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for coming on. This was fun. I can't wait to hear all about your garden this year. And I wanted to tell you, congratulations from starting lavender from seed. Lavender is one of the hardest plants to grow from seed. So, you're doing really well there.
Christine Stoltenberg: Oh, yay. Thank you. It was fun. It was real. It's such a delicate little seedling when it comes up. It's just staring me. It was like, "Oh, okay. I'm going to spray you real lightly."
Melissa Norris: Yeah, good job at that. That's phenomenal. So, I'm really excited. I can't wait to hear about everything that you guys do this year. And I hope that you share in the community, pictures once you get your trellis and your high tunnel up. I can't wait to see those.
Christine Stoltenberg: Oh, I sure will. Absolutely.
Melissa Norris: Yay. Well, thank you so much for coming on, Christine.
Christine Stoltenberg: Thank you, Melissa, for having me. And thank you for all that you do for us. You have no idea what a godsend you are to so many people.
Melissa Norris: Oh, well, you guys... one of the beautiful things is, I feel like you guys are gifts to me. So, it's wonderful that we all feel blessed by one another. So, thank you.
Christine Stoltenberg: Absolutely. You have a wonderful day. Thank you for having me on.
Melissa Norris: Thanks, you too.
Christine Stoltenberg: Okay, bye-bye.
Melissa Norris: Bye. I hope you enjoyed that consult as much as I did. And if you're like me, I have been working out in the garden. My seeds have been started and growing in the house. But I've also been able to plant a lot of my cool weather plants. And I cannot garden with gloves on. I don't know what it is. The only thing I use with gloves on is when I'm pruning. But whenever I'm planting, I need my hands to be in the dirt, which means when I'm doing a lot of gardening that my hands get really dried out. And its gardening hands, right?
Melissa Norris: If you're with me and you garden without gloves, you totally know what I'm talking about. We love the feel of the soil, then you get dirt in all of the nooks and crannies of your fingernails, and in the wrinkles of your skin, and then you're scrubbing them out, and you're using soap and water, and your hands just get really dry and chapped. And regular lotion never really does anything for me when my hands are in that state.
Melissa Norris: And I don't like to use regular lotion anyways, because lotion... when it has the introduction of water, has to use a lot of preservatives in order to keep bacteria from growing. So, I started using lotion bars, which is a hard form of lotion years ago. And it is the only thing that I work. And the only thing that works really, really well on by hands. So, I have a recipe, if you want to make your own lotion bars.
Melissa Norris: We'll link to it in the show notes to the blog post that accompanies today's episode, which is melissaknorris.com/302, or you're also able to purchase them from one of my dear friends and favorite affiliate companies, and that is made on lotion. So, [Renée 00:48:45] and her family make all of the lotion bars. And they have the date that they were made on them. And they use all-natural ingredients.
Melissa Norris: No preservatives are needed because there's no introduction of water, which water externally on our skin just dries that out. So, you can go and check out their lotion bars. There bee silk is one of my favorites. If I'm not making them myself, I have the smaller ones anytime I'm traveling or driving. I've got them everywhere. They're in my car. They're in my pockets. I never leave the house without them.
Melissa Norris: And especially if I'm flying, one of the great things is because there's no... it's not liquid, right? So, you could take them and they're totally fine for travel. I highly recommend them. You can check those out at moleskin.com, forward slash hard lotion. And for the verse of the week. This is a verse that many of us have heard many times if you grew up in the church or have read the Bible. And it is from Luke chapter 23, verse 34. And this is at the NIV translation. And it's when Jesus is on the cross being crucified right before he dies.
Melissa Norris: And it says, "Then Jesus said, 'Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'" And they divided up his garments by casting lots. Now, I've heard this verse every Easter and multiple times. This is a very common thing that even if you're not Christian, or not that familiar with the Bible, you've probably heard this. And when I have heard it in the past, I always thought of it in context that he was talking about the soldiers who were dividing up his garments by casting lots, which fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy.
Melissa Norris: But I was going through a devotional and the author said... and this is really struck me, which is why I wanted to share it with you. I found it very profound, and I had to really sit and think about it. And he was saying, "Jesus isn't just saying that to the soldiers that were dividing up his garments by casting lots. He was also saying it and that also covers you, now, when you are sitting. Because Jesus could see past, present and future.
Melissa Norris: God is not bound by time. He sees and knows everything." And when you internalize it or take it personally like that, that he was saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." Anytime you and I have done something, especially unintentionally. I mean, there's oftentimes where I have done something, not realizing the consequence that it would have. Or I did something before I was at a point in my relationship where I didn't realize that it was something that would pain Jesus, and would separate me.
Melissa Norris: It was a sin that would separate me from him. And it just had such profoundness when I thought he was on the cross in agony. And he was praying for me, saying, "God, please forgive Melissa. She doesn't know what she is doing." And that made the cross and the crucifixion very personal. Because sometimes we don't really think of it for us. We know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but most people do... if you're if you're a Christian, you know that, that's a fundamental truth of Christianity.
Melissa Norris: But oftentimes, we know it in our heads, but do we know it in our hearts? So, anyways, I leave you with that thought, because that's one that has been sticking with me since I read that a couple of weeks ago. And it's something that I just keep bringing back up and thinking about. And also, in the beauty of it. It's not meant as something to make you feel guilt and shame over. But to know that Jesus was speaking to you and for you.
Melissa Norris: And he was praying for you and for me, at that time. And it is at a very personal level. So, anyways, I hope that that brings you some food for thoughts, something that you sit and you think about. But also brings you comfort and a greater awareness to go deeper in your relationship with Jesus. Because I feel like that's what it did for me when I thought of it in that context. So, thank you so much for joining me on today's episode. I can't wait to be back here with you next week. Blessings in mason jars for now.
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