How to Grow an Amazing Garden

Are you ready to start gardening? Gardening can be a learning curve, and it can be a lot to keep up with, but it can be great fun as well–and the whole family can participate as well!  We are so fortunate to have a preschool in Noblesville, IN, where we live, that offers hands-on gardening experiences for our children at an early age–we can’t recommend this type of childcare facility enough, but I digress.  If you’re ready to start growing some of your own produce, here are some steps to begin:

Step 1: Prepare the Soil
If possible, soil preparation should be started in the fall before the garden is planted in the spring. Using the Back to Eden gardening method can be very effective in reducing weeds and increasing the yield of your garden. I started by collecting cardboard boxes and laying them on the ground where my garden was going to be. On top of the cardboard boxes, I spread a bit of chicken manure. Then, I piled on about 6-10 inches of wood chips and leaves that I collected from a local tree service and from my town. As all of this breaks down over the winter, it will create the perfect growing environment for your plants. The manure and wood chips will break down toward the bottom of the pile so that you have nice soil to plant in, and the wood chips on top that have not yet broken down make a nice mulch, which prevents the growth of weeds.

Step 2: Decide What You Will Grow
You will want to decide which plants you would like to grow sometime in January or February. I recommend ordering seeds from a company like Baker Creek Heirlooms where you know your seeds will be high quality. Some seeds, such as tomatoes and peppers, should be started indoors approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost of spring. If you are a beginner, don’t go overboard. It’s best not to be overwhelmed by all of the plants in your garden at the beginning. Try to start with 6-8 types of vegetables the first year, and grow from there.

Step 3: Plant, Plant, Plant!
Find out when the average last frost of the season is in your area, and plan to plant around that time. If you are planning to grow leafy greens or peas, they can actually be planted a few weeks before the last frost. Otherwise, you will be planting all of your seeds on or after the date of the last frost of the season. Planting is one of the best parts of gardening. Be sure those seeds are planted well in your soil and covered with plenty of soil. Try to pull away the loose mulch so they don’t have to grow up through all of the wood chips. Once your seeds have been planted, you are ready to start watching for sprouts. You could see sprouts as soon as 5-7 days after your seeds are planted, but don’t panic if it takes a bit longer.

Hopefully now you feel prepared to start gardening! Check out the video below for more information.

The Amazing Honeybee

Honeybees are unusual creatures. They defy the laws of nature in many ways, and their instincts sometimes seem to be infinitely smarter than man can comprehend. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting operations of honeybees and their hives.

First, each hive of honeybees has a queen. There is only one queen in every hive, and she is larger than the rest of the bees. When a queen hatches, she immediately leaves the hive on her mating flight. Once she has mated, she returns to the hive to lay eggs. The queen will never leave the hive again. Her sole responsibility is to lay eggs so the hive continues to grow. As she does this, the worker bees attend to her needs, ensuring that she is taken care of.

Worker bees, as their name implies, do the work around the hive. Not only do they see to the queen’s needs, but they also build the honeycomb, collect pollen, turn it into honey, and more. Worker bees can fly up to several miles in a day gathering pollen and brining it back to the hive. When a bee finds a good source of pollen, it will often come back to the hive to let the others know about it and where it is. It does this by doing a “bee dance” of sorts. Then, more worker bees will fly off to the new source of pollen.

Nurse bees in the hive care for the eggs the queen lays. When the queen first lays an egg, the cells they are laid in are open. Once the egg reaches a certain point in its growth, the nurse bees will cap off the cell to protect the larvae as it grows. The nurse bees are also responsible for feeding the larvae in order to help them grow. The type of bee the larvae will become is determined by the type and amount of food they are fed. In fact, when a hive needs a new queen, nurse bees will feed some of the larvae a special food, called royal jelly, which causes them to develop into queen bees.

All of this just scratches the surface of the amazingness of bees. They truly are a mysterious creature and very fascinating to study. For more information about honeybees and how they work, check out the video below or search Youtube for other honeybee and beekeeping videos.

How to Raise Chickens

Are you fascinated by chickens? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Chicken fascination has swept the country in the past few years, which has been helpful in raising awareness about knowing where your food comes from and eating local. If you’re interested in getting some chickens, there are a few things to consider.

First, you should consider where you live and how much space you have for chickens. Space is not as big of an issue as you might think, but it must at least be considered. More and more people who live in town are raising chickens and benefiting from home grown eggs. For the most part, chickens are not bothersome to the neighbors unless you have a rooster. Check into you town’s ordinances to find out whether chickens are allowed in your area. In most places, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Once you have the green light to get your chickens, you have to decided how and where to buy them. You can raise them from the time they are newly hatched, or you can purchase older chickens that are either very close to maturity or are already mature. In the spring, most farm supply stores will have chickens available for purchase. You can buy them there, or you can buy them online from one of several reputable hatcheries such as Murray McMurray Hatchery, Meyer Hatchery, or Welp Hatchery. If you buy them online, keep in mind that you will typically need to order at least 20 chicks and be ready to pick them up at the post office as soon as they arrive (often at 6 a.m. in the morning!).

Once you have your chicks, they will need to be kept safe from predators until they are big enough and old enough to defend themselves. Whatever you put them in, be sure to cover the top with a screen of some sort. Your chicks will also need a heat lamp to keep them warm unless it is the middle of summer when you get them. Additionally, you will need chick food and water along with appropriate containers for them to eat and drink out of. These items can be found at your local farm supply store such as Tractor Supply or Rural King.

After about 4-8 weeks, your chicks will be ready to be moved outside. You will want to be sure you have a proper coop ready for them to live in. A portable coop and chicken run can be very helpful in making sure your chicks have fresh grass and new bugs to eat every day. If you would like to build your own coop, there are numerous plans available online. Otherwise, coops with runs will also be available at your local farm supply store.

Once your chickens reach approximately 6 months of age, they will be ready to start laying eggs. Remember, this is only an estimate, so be patient. The eggs will come. At first, they will be small, but as time goes on, they will get larger. Often eggs from backyard chickens can be very large, and double yolks are not uncommon.