Friday Free For All: Free Gardening Books

free gardening booksIn today’s post, we are going to look at a couple of awesome online resources for free gardening books. As the copyright for books expires, several websites take the time to scan the books into the public domain. Many of these books are quite old; some are several hundred years old and others are more recent. And it’s not just free gardening books. You can find entire volumes of works by authors like Martin Luther and William Shakespeare. There are literally thousands of books available at the click of a mouse. Two fantastic resources are:

Project Gutenberg – here you can find titles such as:

  1. Organic Gardener’s Composting by Steve Solomon
  2. Making a Rock Garden by H.S. Adams
  3. Wildflowers Worth Knowing by Neltje Blanchan
  4. Gardening Indoors and Under Glass by F.F. Rockwell
  5. Botanical Magazine, Volume 3 by William Curtis
  6. Wood and Garden by Gertrude Jekyll


The other resource, Soil and Health Library, is dedicated more to sustainable agriculture and holistic health. Some of the books available here include:

  1. Soil Fertility and Animal Health by William Albrecht
  2. Biodynamics Journal
  3. The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy by M. Fukuoka
  4. The Organic Front by J. Rodale
  5. Grass Tetany by Andre Voisin
  6. Sustainable Soil Management: Soil System Guide by Preston Sullivan


It is so exciting to me that all of this knowledge is just waiting at our fingertips. I love the internet and all of the information that it has to offer but there is something special about books that were written before synthetic fertilizers and harmful chemicals were introduced to the world. Many of these authors worked the land when soil was the most important element of gardening. I hope that we can glean some of their wisdom and realize that humanity existed for thousands of years without the addition of Miracle-Gro and Roundup.

So, what will you download first? For me, I downloaded Soil Fertility and Animal Health. I’ve started reading it but keep getting pulled away by life’s demands. Let me know what free gardening book you’ll start with. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Have a wonderful and blessed Easter weekend! Happy gardening!


Reader Question: Shade Perennials

Today’s Reader Question comes from Monica in Bethesda, MD:

I recently read your article about shrubs for shady gardens and it made me wonder if you have suggestions for shade perennials. I have hosta and pachysandra but I’d like to expand my area for shade perennials.

Monica, there are so many wonderful choices when it comes to shade perennials. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Ferns – there are ferns that can fit just about condition that you can throw at them. There are short ones like rainbow moss fern that spread like a groundcover, tall majestic evergreen creatures like autumn fern and delicate ones with apple green foliage like lady fern.
  2. Coral Bells – the latin name for these is Heuchera and you can find them in all sorts of foliage colors. The foliage can range from green to chartreuse to purple to marbled. Coral bells are generally grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage but some of them, like ‘Autumn Bride’, provide a nice display of flowers too.

    shade perennials

    Coral bells are often grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage

  3. Astilbe – also known as False Spiraea, these perennials can vary in size from dwarf (like Hennie Graafland) to quite tall (like ‘Bridal Veil’). They come in a variety of colors that can be worked into virtually any shady garden.
  4. Bleeding Hearts – also known as Dicentra spectabilis, these ephemeral beauties begin blooming in April and all but disappear by midsummer. Their gorgeous blooms can either be pink or white and will provide a beautiful show of color.
  5. Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is a favorite in my own personal garden. I love perennials that are no fuss and take care of themselves once established. Solomon’s Seal will form a small colony over the years and is easily propagated to use in other shady areas or to share with your friends.
  6. Dwarf Crested Iris – Iris cristata is a delightful little spring bloomer that is attractive even when it’s not in bloom. The straight species’ blooms are blue but it is also available in white. This is another shade perennial that will colonize over the years and it is not invasive.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas of shady perennials that will be great performers in your garden. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ is another great choice and you can use it to fill in the bare spots that are left in the winter by hostas.

I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers about their favorite shady perennials. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Seed Starting 101 – Part 5: An Update

Happy Monday everyone! Today I thought that we would take a picture tour of what’s going on with the seedlings that we started earlier in Seed Starting 101 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. They’ve grown up quite a bit and most of them have been planted in the ground. The pictures that are in this post are from a couple of weeks ago. Let’s have a looksie…

seed starting 101

The four rows at the bottom are two types of onions: Granex and Yellow Spanish. The row above the onions is the eggplant and the rows at the top are members of the brassica family: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

seed starting 101

Here are some asparagus babies. I know that most people buy crowns but it’s more fun to start them from seed. In the next picture, you can see what last year’s asparagus seedlings look like.

seed starting 101

Aren’t they cute? Sure they’re not big enough to eat but perhaps next year we’ll be able to harvest a few.

Let’s look at the brassicas that I started: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

seed starting 101

In this picture, I wanted to point out a few things. First of all, look at how many plants are growing in the one peat pellet: 3. Of course, that’s too many and they need to be thinned. I prefer to thin the seedlings when I am planting…that way, if the stems get broken on the way to the garden, I have a backup. Pinch off the seedlings that you don’t want…don’t pull them or you run the risk of disturbing the roots of the seedling that you want to keep. Also, look at how flimsy my plants look when compared to the broccoli in the 4-pack in the background. I’m not worried a bit about the flimsiness; if the stem decides to bend back towards the ground when it’s planted, it’s OK…the broccoli will taste the same in the end and the plant will be none the wiser.

I also wanted to point out that gardening is not about perfection…it’s about experimenting and learning what works. Who cares that your broccoli lean to one side or that your cucumbers curl instead of growing straight? Find wonder in the plants that you can grow that the plant tags say you can’t because your climate is too cold. Or too hot. Or they need full sun. Or they need full shade. I dare you to push the envelope this year…plant something in your garden that you’ve always wanted but haven’t tried because a magazine said that it won’t work in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Perhaps you don’t want to start with a $150 tree but try a $8 perennial. The joy that you’ll receive from it, even if it only lasts one season, will be worth it in the end.

So, what have you started from seed this year? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at And don’t forget about our contest to celebrate our 100th post. Subscribe to the website for e-mail updates and share one of our links on Facebook. Once you meet both of those requirements, I’ll throw your name in a cyber hat for a drawing. Let me know if you have any questions about the giveaway. Happy gardening!


Friday Free For All – Gardening is the Gateway Drug to Prepping


Gardening is the gateway drug to prepping. Yes, I stole this phrase from Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast. But isn’t it true? You always hear that marijuana is the gateway drug for other drugs like cocaine and heroin. It seems so innocent at first but, according to the experts, it often leads to harder drugs. I’m not going to debate whether or not that’s true. My point here is that gardening is the gateway drug for prepping. Before we discuss this point further, I want to explain what I mean by prepping.

gardening is the gateway drug to prepping

Here are some of the veggies that I dehydrated last year

Thanks to shows like Doomsday Preppers and what is put forth by mainstream media, prepping is looked upon as something that only freaks do. People who live in remote areas and live the life of a recluse. But in reality, prepping is preparing for everyday disasters. Those disasters can include your car breaking down, your spouse losing their job or a natural disaster. There is a much greater chance of these scenarios happening to you than there is a nuke being launched to wipe us all off the face of the Earth. To me, prepping is putting away food that you already eat so that you have backups. This used to be the norm in America…it’s still the norm in most other areas of the world. Why am I looked at as old-fashioned or backwards for making sure that my family has food to eat? My kids often go to “the store” to get food that we have run out of…that store is located in another room of our house. Prepping makes life so much easier too; it is a rare occasion that I have to run to the grocery store to make a meal. By having the most often used items in our “store” ready and waiting, there is little that I don’t have on hand. So how does this all relate back to gardening?

When you start a garden, chances are that you’ll have more produce ready at one time than you and your family can consume. What do you do with the extras? Sure, you give some to friends, family and co-workers but after awhile, they have taken all of the handouts that they can consume. What’s left can be preserved. By preserving the extras, you are ensuring that you have delicious, healthy vegetables available throughout the year. There are lots of ways to preserve food. Let’s take a quick look at some of the ways.

  1. Canning – this is probably what most people think of when they consider preserving food. I LOVE canning…it makes me feel like I am back in the olden days when canning was something that everyone did. And hearing the jars ping when the seal is successful…that’s music to my ears! Canning isn’t difficult to do but there are some guidelines that need to be followed. I can’t recommend the Ball Blue Book of Canning enough.
  2. Freezing – many people freeze their produce in convenient to use packages. If you can use the produce within a few months of freezing it, it is a viable option. You need to be certain that you have a means of backup power in case there is a power outage…otherwise your hard work will be ruined. One of my favorite things to freeze is shredded zucchini. If you freeze it in 2 cup portions, you can have delicious zucchini bread anytime you wish.
  3. Dehydrating – I first heard about the Excalibur dehydrator on The Survival Podcast. Jack and his listeners raved about how awesome they were. But with a price tag upwards of $200, I decided to use my brother’s dehydrator. After a failed attempt at dehydrating bananas, I decided to splurge on the Excalibur. What a difference! My dehydrator has nine racks that you can use and the fan is in the back of the unit instead of the bottom. I have dehydrated all sorts of things from the garden. I’ve also dehydrated frozen veggies from the grocer’s freezer…they take up a fraction of the space and I don’t have to worry if the power goes out. The best resource that I’ve found on dehydrating is Dehydrate2Store.


gardening is the gateway drug to prepping

Here is a picture of my 9 tray Excalibur Dehydrator

There are certainly other ways to preserve your harvest but these are the three that I use the most. It is such a gratifying feeling knowing that I have food put away for my family. No, it’s not enough to sustain us for an extended period of time but it is enough to allow me to rest easy. There have been times when the all of the vehicles break at once and our grocery money has to go to car bills. “The store” has helped us bridge the gap until we can get over that bump in the road. So my question to you is, do you think that gardening is the gateway drug to prepping? How has your garden helped you to be more prepared for the many bumps on the road of life? Who knew that a tiny seed planted in the ground could lead to a more sustainable lifestyle? It’s pretty fascinating if you ask me. Let me know what you think and if you have any tips for other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

March 23, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Plant Profile: Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes


With the first day of spring behind us, I thought that we would look at tomatoes. In Zone 7 we are less than a month away from planting our warm season veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, etc. A tomato is a tomato right? Wrong! There are two very distinct types of tomatoes: determinate vs. indeterminate.


Determinate means that most of the tomatoes ripen at the same time…their timing is determined if you will. These types of tomatoes are excellent for canning as you can have a large bounty at the same time. But you can also easily become overwhelmed if you aren’t prepared to deal with the onslaught of tomatoes. Determinate types are generally shorter and bushier and don’t require the amount of staking that the indeterminate types do. Some examples of heirloom determinate tomatoes include:

  • Costuloto Genovese
  • Heinz 1350 VF
  • Hungarian Italian Paste
  • Principe Borghese
  • Roma VF
  • Rutgers Improved
  • Sophie’s Choice



determinate vs indeterminate tomatoesIndeterminate means that the tomatoes will ripen over an extended period of time. Once the tomatoes begin to ripen, they will continue to produce throughout the summer, often up until the first hard frost in the fall. If you enjoy using tomatoes in a more laid back way such as salads, sandwiches or for cooking, indeterminate tomatoes will be the way to go. Be prepared ahead of time to stake your tomatoes. There are several ways that this can be successfully accomplished including tomato cages made from concrete wire (my favorite way), tying them to single poles or even the Florida tomato weave. Most of the tomatoes that you buy from garden centers will be indeterminate types including the infamous Better Boy and Early Girl. Here is a list of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes:

  • Amish Paste
  • Arkansas Traveler
  • Black Krim
  • Brandywine
  • Cherry tomatoes (virtually all of them are indeterminate)
  • Druzba
  • German Johnson
  • Green Zebra
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Stone


Of course these lists of determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes are by no means exhaustive. What are your favorite types of tomatoes to plant? I’ll be growing around 12 different types this year and I hope to be able to give you a play-by-play regarding their performance. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Did You Know? Free Mulch


In today’s post, I thought we would take a look at sources of free mulch. I hope to be able to offer you some ideas for sources that perhaps you haven’t thought of. Whether it’s wood chips, leaves, straw or other materials, any of it will help to control weeds, improve soil fertility, regulate soil temperature and conserve moisture. Let’s get started!


Free mulchToday, I received an e-mail from in Atlanta, Georgia regarding free mulch. They offer free mulch to folks in the Atlanta area even if they aren’t removing a tree from their yard. If you are close to the route they are on, they will drop the mulch at no cost. This benefits the homeowner if they don’t want the mulch, the company since they don’t have to dispose of it and the person receiving the chips. It’s a win-win-win! Have you contacted any of the tree services in your area to see if they’ll drop off chips for you? I’m certain that more than a few tree contractors would be delighted to drop a dump truck’s worth for you at no cost. One word of caution: be certain that the wood that was chipped wasn’t walnut. While most of the allelopathic toxin is in the roots, it’s also in the branches of the walnut.

Another possible source is your municipal landfill. Often times, they have areas where citizens are allowed to dump brush and debris. This plant debris is then ground up and most localities will give it away for free…some make you load it yourself and others will even load it for you. With Hurricane Irene that swept up the Eastern Seaboard last September, many localities are overrun with mulch. Contact your local county or city and see if there is free mulch for the taking.


free mulchEvery year, millions of leaves fall from the trees that we work so hard to cultivate. And every year, gardeners rake up all of this free mulch and send it to the landfill. AHHHHHH! What are we thinking? Instead of sending this future black gold to the landfill, we should be coveting this free source of mulch. If it’s in your own garden and you insist on a tidy landscape, run the lawnmower over the leaves, chop them up, and then use it around your plants. Or compost it. If you are unfortunate and don’t have large volumes of leaves to contend with, go around your neighborhood in the fall and ask for bagged leaves. The leaves are in nice little neat trashbags that you can store until you need them. No more going to Home Depot for bagged compost or mulch…you’ll have your own.


free mulchStraw is probably best used in your vegetable garden instead of around your landscape plants. It tends to blow away and scatter in heavy winds, but your veggies will be none the wiser. If you are fortunate to live in a rural area, or at least close to one, contact farmers. They often have spoiled straw available that you can purchase for little or nothing. If you’ve never broken open a bale of straw, you may be surprised at the volume of straw that is in that compact little rectangle. If you can get your hands on a round bale of straw, you’ve hit the motherlode! Just make sure it’s straw and not hay. Hay contains the seeds of the plants that were harvested and you don’t want to seed your garden with that! Remember the point is to keep the weeds out.


free mulchIf you really want to make sure that the weeds are kept at bay in your garden, consider putting down cardboard first and then mulching over top. Sources of cardboard are everywhere…instead of recycling all of the cardboard that enters your house, save it for the garden. Go to your local grocery store and ask for the boxes that the produce and other items come in. Go to your local appliance store and see if you can have the refrigerator boxes…those boxes can cover a lot of ground in the garden.

I’d really like to compile a list of free mulch sources…can the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers help me out with this? What a great resource that would be for other gardeners. If you know of a free source, leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

March 19, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Did You Know? Planting Cool Season Vegetables


Did You Know? that it’s almost time to plant cool season vegetables? March 17 (Happy St. Patrick’s Day) is a general guideline for planting cool season vegetables in the garden. With the winter we’re having, you could have planted cool season vegetables a week or two ago and been safe. But I like to use guidelines instead of hard and fast dates. I’ve learned in the past that holding Mother Nature to a specific date is a bad idea…you and your plants stand a chance of getting burned.

So what can go in the ground in March? Here’s a list of cool season veggies and whether they are best sown directly in the garden or planted as transplants:

  1. planting cool season vegetablesBeets – seed
  2. Broccoli – transplants
  3. Cabbage – transplants
  4. Carrots – seed
  5. Cauliflower – transplants
  6. Fava beans – seed
  7. Kale and collards – seed
  8. Lettuce – transplants
  9. Onions – transplants or sets
  10. Parsley – transplants
  11. Peas – seed
  12. Swiss chard – transplants


I have to put in a disclaimer here so that you won’t blame me if your veggies turn to mush in a cold snap: watch the weather forecast and if you see that temperatures are going to drop into the mid-20s or lower, make plans to protect your veggies. So what are your plans for getting your cool season vegetables in the ground? Have you started yours as transplants or will you be sowing them directly? Let me know what you have in mind for your cool season garden this year. Instead of imbibing a green tinted adult beverage this St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps you’ll be digging in the garden. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

March 12, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Reader Question: Using Salt Treated Lumber in the Garden


Phillip from Hoboken, NJ writes:

I have access to salt treated lumber and I want to know if it’s safe to use in the garden. Most of it is leftover from tearing down a friend’s deck but I’ve also acquired bits and pieces over the years. I read your Square Foot Gardening post and I’d like to use it to make the sides of the beds.

Phillip, this is a common and very valid question. Many people have access to salt treated lumber, even if it’s the used type as you discuss. Much fear exists in the gardening world when it comes to growing food in beds built with salt treated lumber. The most prevalent fear involves using Copper Chromium Arsenate (CCA) treated wood. Up until late 2003, a great majority of the salt treated lumber was treated with CCA. The lumber industry changed their method of preserving wood and now uses Alkaline Copper Quat (ACQ) and other chemicals that don’t contain arsenic. Does that mean that it’s OK to use salt treated lumber in the garden?

salt treated lumber in the gardenIn my opinion, no. Placing wood in contact with high quality soil that is rich in organic matter will only speed up the leaching of chemicals into the soil. If you’re planting dahlias and daffodils, plant to your heart’s delight…you’re not eating the dahlias and daffodils. But if you plan on using the raised beds for vegetable gardening, there is too great a chance of the chemicals being taken up by the plants and ingested by you. I know that I sound like a Negative Nellie so far when it comes to using salt treated lumber in the garden. BUT, I have some options for you Phillip:

  1. Wrap the side of the wood that is in contact with the soil with plastic. Pick up a roll of vapor barrier from the home improvement store and you’ll save yourself a lot of guesswork when it’s time to dine on your harvest.
  2. Plant 6″ away from the edge of the bed; a foot would be even better. The chemicals that make up the preservatives don’t move readily in the soil so 6″-12″ is a sufficient barrier. With that being said, be sure not to mix the soil when you clean up the beds in the fall. Also, this may not be practical when you are planning a conventional 4’x4′ bed as every square inch is valuable.
  3. Consider the volume of chemicals you could be ingesting by eating conventionally grown produce. If you currently consume organic veggies, I don’t have an argument here. But if you buy your veggies from the produce department at the local Piggly Wiggly, you’re probably going to be better off eating your veggies from your beds built out of salt treated lumber.


The long and short of whether it’s safe to use salt treated lumber in the garden is no…with exceptions. If you have the time and energy to make a few modifications before you fill the beds with soil, you can repurpose that decking into something that produces delightful food for your family. I hope to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers about their experience using salt treated lumber in the garden. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Seed Starting 101 Part 4: A Week in the Life of a Seed


So last Sunday, February 26, I sowed my first flat of veggie seeds for the season. In Part 2 of Seed Starting 101, we looked at exactly how I did it, from washing the flats to prepping the Jiffy pellets to sowing the seeds. As a wrap-up to the week, I thought we would look at what the seeds have been up to since then. Here we go:

DAYS 1 & 2

Here is the flat just hanging out…nothing to see here…move along

seed starting


I’m not sure if you can make it out but there is a little white dot at the bottom of the seed. That is the radicle, the first part of the seed to emerge. These are all broccoli seeds by the way.

seed starting


Now we’re cooking with grease! The seedling’s first leaves are preparing to unfold.

seed starting


Imagine my surprise to come home from work and see these beauties waiting for me! It’s amazing how quickly a seed can grow in 24 hours.

seed starting


Here are the babies today. Still growing strong and ready for the world.

seed starting

Here is a picture of the cabbage babies that have really started coming around in the last 24 hours.

seed starting

And the onions are just starting to germinate.

seed starting

The eggplants, asparagus and cauliflower haven’t germinated yet but that’s OK…they will in due time. I hope that you have enjoyed this Mid-Atlantic Gardening seed tour today. Let me know what seeds you are growing this year by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at Happy gardening!


Seed Starting 101 Part 3: Lighting


As we have discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of Seed Starting 101, providing the right amount of light for your seeds can be a daunting task. The number of footcandles on an average summer day outside is around 25000 whereas the number of footcandles in a well-lit office drops dramatically to 125. In case you aren’t aware, footcandle is a way to measure light intensity. So what type of lighting should you use to get your seeds off to the best start?

seed startingIt all depends on what you want from your seed starting adventure. If you are interested in just getting them large enough to put in a cold frame, a set or two of fluorescent shop lights will serve you well. If you want to move up the sophistication chain, consider LED (light emitting diode)lighting. LED lights are very energy efficient and last forever. OK, not forever but it will seem that way in comparison. These are the same lights that the new stoplights are composed of. They will provide ample light for your seeds; the only drawback is that they are more expensive initially. You can pick up a set of shop lights for around $25 whereas a small LED light will cost a couple of hundred dollars. You can probably find a better price by shopping around online but even still, it won’t be $25.

The grandaddy of all the lighting systems is the metal halide light. But again, the cost of the lighting is prohibitive to the average gardener. Costing upwards of $500 each, I won’t bother to expand more on this lighting. If you choose to go with flourescent shop lights, what can you do to get the most light out of them for your seedlings?

  1. Replace your light bulbs each year. The light quality diminishes each year and for a $10 investment, you can ensure that your seedlings are off to the best start.
  2. Use warm and cool bulbs in your fixtures. Plants need a combination of wave lengths to do their best and that’s what your aiming for.
  3. Keep your lights within inches of your seedlings…not 12″ or 8″; hang them 1″-2″ above the tallest seedlings and adjust them upwards as the seedlings grow.
  4. Leave your lights on for 16 hours each day. Mine are actually programmed for 17 hours right now and the plants will be fine. What you don’t want to do is leave them on 24/7. Plants need to sleep too (this is when the process of respiration takes place).
  5. Aluminum foil. This may sound like a bizarre solution but it works. It helps immensely for those poor little seedlings on the outside edge of the flats. They are the ones that lean in to try to reach the light in the center. By draping aluminum foil over the lights so that it touches the table on both sides, it creates a more reflective environment and also keeps the heat in. I leave the ends open so that air can still circulate.


I’d love to hear the creative ideas that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have for increasing the light that your seeds receive. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Click here for Part 4 of Seed Starting 101. Happy gardening!

March 1, 2012Permalink 1 Comment