Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Dig It! Time to Transplant Your Perennials

Early fall is the preferred time to transplant perennials, such as peonies.

As the growing season is coming to a close, most gardeners can exhale a sigh of relief. The majority of the work is done, and it’s time for a much needed break. Or is it? Now, and I mean now, is the perfect time to get into the garden and dig up, divide, and transplant your perennials.

I know that most of the focus of Mother Earth News is toward edible plants, which have rightly earned their priority in the garden. But let’s not forget the role flowering nonedibles play. Feeding bees and hummingbirds, adding value to your home, and simply beautifying the landscape, perennial flowers are a great addition to our home gardens. They’re easy to grow, once established, and can be dug up in the early fall, divided, and relocated to other parts of your property to give you more plants for free.

Perennials to Divide Now

Peonies: Spring flowering peonies are an old-fashioned favorite of mine. I love the bright pink, red, and even white peonies, and their fragrance it beyond compare. They can live a very, very long time (In fact, your peonies will probably outlive us all!). Peonies make wonderful cut flowers, and last a long time in a vase.

To divide, simply grab your shovel and dig all around the roots. You’ll want as much of the roots as you can, as they are quite hefty because they store a lot of water. Divisions will need to have a minimum of three eyes (little pinkish sprouts). Be sure to relocate your peonies in full sun for the best blooms. Also, peonies do not want to be buried deep in the soil. Just barely cover your roots and add a nice layer of mulch or straw for the winter. Once you see growth in the spring, remove most of the mulch and enjoy.

Daylilies: Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned ditch lily? The mid-summer burst of orange is a herald that summer is official here. Easy to grow, and edible, every homestead should have daylilies to grace the fence row or flower bed.

To divide, lift roots and bulbs in a large clump. You can carefully separate with your fingers or your shovel. Daylilies thrive in full or partial sun, and any soil should work (I mean, they grow in ditches, for Pete’s sake!). Just plop your division the ground, water, and voila!, you’ll have lilies next summer.

Coreopsis: Tickseed is a great flower for a country garden. With so many colors available now, you can customize your selections to perfectly complement your home. I have yellow coreopsis, and love when it blooms in the summer, attracting bees and hummingbirds (Plus, coreopsis has the word "oreo," so of course they have to be one of my favorites!)

To divide, dig up the entire plant. With your shovel or a knife (my favorite garden tool is a steak knife I bought at Dollar General, like, 15 years ago.), cut through the roots to separate the original plants. I don’t like to make more than three new plants at a time. Plant in full sun.

Iris: Let me just tell you, I heart irises! I have a few purple irises from my childhood home that I dug up and planted at my first home. When Matt and I moved to our property in Morrow County, I, again, dug them up and brought them with me.

Iris benefits from lifting every few years to check for worms (likely iris borers) on the rhizomes and divide if they’re getting a bit crowded. This helps with better blooming, too.

To divide, I dig around the rhizomes and pull up as much as I can, separating them with my hands. If the irises aren’t wormy, I just plant some around the flowerbeds and mulch. This may affect the blooming for the first year after transplanting, but by the second year, you should see your irises in full glory.

These are just a few perennials that you can transplant, but I know there are hundreds of plants I could write about. But the good folks in charge prefer I keep my posts to 500 or so words. Actually, these are the plants that I divided this morning before a mild case of sunburn set in. So, if you’ve got a transplanting tip or a favorite perennial to brag about, I’d love to read it in a comment below.

Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

September in St. Johns: Apache County Fair

 Italian Tomatoes grown by a local gardener

Gardeners all over the state grow delicious vegetables, fruits, herbs, and even grains for their nourishment, enjoyment, and to share with friends and family. A unique aspect of living in the county seat of St. Johns is being able to see a vast number of products people in our area are producing in their gardens each year. 

I've been the head of the Field Crops department of the Apache County Fair for several years, and it never ceases to amaze me at some of the amazing things that come into the fair that Wednesday morning. What amazes me even more are the stories that go along with some of those entries and the challenges gardeners tell me about as we sit at the table and fill out fair entry tags. 

Take John Bennett for example. He's been growing, showing, and winning at the Apache County Fair for decades. In fact, he's one of the biggest exhibitors every year. He tells of a pink banana squash that he grows over in Springerville, that he's been growing for nearly as long as he remembers. He says that some of the biggest challenges is knowing from year to year where the squash will pop up. As an organic gardener, he composts all of his plant waste and inevitably some viable squash seeds end up in the compost that gets spread all over his garden site. 

Another big exhibitor who has been growing and showing in Apache County for a long time is Heather Higginbotham, daughter of Rick and Lorie Williams, who own Boondocks Farm and who used to have the job I now have at the Apache County Fair. Heather and her son Karsin win top honors every year for their produce, just like mom and dad did a mere ten years ago. Heather makes the most amazing fruit jams and jellies and sells them at the local Heritage Market through summer and fall, as well, and I can attest at the amazing flavor of the local produce. One of the things they battle on their farm is unpredictable weather. Late-summer hail storms have decimated plants in the past. Late spring freezes have also been a challenge as fruit trees start to flower and bud. This area is known for the challenging weather patterns above all else. 

Dried Beans

During this year's fair, I talked to a bunch of people who have recently moved in or are currently looking at moving in, and seeing the fair gives them hope. But true to the spirit of my blog and why we started the Gardeners with Altitude garden club ten years ago, I had to let them know of the unique challenges they may be facing. It is really easy to see this abundance on these shelves and believe that throwing some seeds out onto the ground would lead to an abundant harvest. "Nay, nay," said one of our local gardeners. "Do not believe that this sort of produce will be grown easily, particularly out east of town where all the land is going for so cheap. There's no water. There's three solid months of drying winds. The ground is as hard as a rock and the pH is so high that even if you can get the soil broken down into something workable, your plants won't be able to access nutrients like boron, iron, or calcium. Soil that grows this kind of produce requires decades of working and tons of water. Without a well, you could go broke just hauling water from town."

The Apache County Fair is not only a fun time for all involved, thanks to chairpersons Josh and Annie Anderson, but it is a time to learn a lot about how gardening in southern Apache County works. It is a time to listen and talk with neighbors, glean the wisdom of "old-timers", and really get the low-down about how to be a successful organic gardener in St. Johns, Springerville, Concho, Vernon, Alpine, and many other little towns in this area. It is one of the only FREE county fairs in the state and would love to see Mother Earth News readers visit if anyone happens to be in the area. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Mid-Summer Foliar Spray for Fertilization and Pest Control


Photo by Flickr/Herry Lawford

Across the Northern Hemisphere, we are now beginning the transition from summertime active growth. We now have passed the longest weeks of the year, when the sun is as far north as she sets. In plant terms, the month following Summer Solstice (on or around June 21st),  are when plants transition from green growth to forming flowers and then fruits.

In those next weeks, you can give a last nitrogen boost to your plants to stilt them up tall. This easy blend can be given as a root drench and also as a foliar spray. Foliar is to be applied in the time when the sun is up but too low to shine on the leaves. By spraying directly on the plants leaves, a boost to their metabolism hits them faster than in the soil.

June is a time when many of the insects have sprouted and are potentially snacking on your plum leaves. By spraying weekly you can discourage the bugs to bite the summer foliage.

Joshua’s Multi Function Foliar Boost for Summer Solstice

1 teaspoon kelp meal *(adds nitrogen for green growth final push)
1/2 teaspoon volcanic ash dust *(lengthens nodes of branches)
5 drops peppermint oil
750 mL spray bottle
Note: Spray 1 time per week just before sundown.

Want to learn more about foliar sprays? Check out Joshua’s Foliar Spray Article in the Spring 2016 Edible East Bay.

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grow Sub-tropical Moringa for Food and Fodder


Photo by Flickr/Books for Life

The amazing a fast-growing soil-builder called moringa (Moringa Oleifera) is a perennial plant that is edible from root-to-shoot and can be a real boon to your garden and orchard. High in iron, it is an amazing vegetarian nutrition boost to you and your chickens.

Grow your soil. Moringa is a fast-growing sub-tropical shrub. Unchecked, it can grow to over 20 feet tall. However, with one or two pruned per year, it can be managed to 4 to 8 feet tall and its pruned branches can be eaten by humans, goats, or chickens. The pruned branches can also be “chopped and dropped.” This means that pruned branches are laid around production trees to break down and feed the desired trees.

Cool the orchard floor. In the heat of summer, the exposed ground can get very hot. By growing crops like moringa in the gaps of your orchard, you can “green mulch” the ground surface, helping keep root temperatures cooler.

Grow a tree salad. As moringa grows vertical, the amount of soil space needed for it is small compared to the biomass created. This can be called “vertical economy” and provides the advantages of growing up, rather than flat on the ground.

Edible parts of the Moringa include:

Immature seed pods
Mature seeds

Find out more about moringa at Perennial Solutions.

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Hoophouse Bed Prep for Fall Plantings

book cover 

Because crops grow so fast in the hoophouse, the organic matter in the soil is consumed at a rapid rate. Each new crop requires a fertility boost. In the fall, we prepare our beds by removing all the summer crops, and spreading about four wheel­barrows of compost per 4' × 96' (1.2 × 29 m) bed. This rate is a generous 46 gals/100 ft2 (or 680 L/36 m2 bed). A full wheelbarrow generally holds six cubic feet (44 gallons or 170 liters). 1 ft3 = 7.5 US gals. An inch of compost is about 8 ft3/100 ft2, or 60 gals/100 ft2; 20 gals/100 ft2 is 15 tons/acre (8.6 L/m2). Other professional growers use any­where from 12–40 gals/100 ft2 (5–17 L/m2). Some use much more.

There are three concerns about using too much compost: high phosphorus levels, raised salt levels and nitrate accumulation. Some growers like to do two years of high compost rates (40 gals/100 ft2, 17 L/m2 or more), then reduce the rate to half that and add fish or kelp, at only 5 oz–8 oz/100 ft2 (15–24 gm/m2) per year. Sustainable alternatives to compost in­clude organic pelleted chicken manure, alfalfa meal, etc.

We added in an annual broadforking a few years after we put up our hoophouse, when we noticed that despite our best efforts, we were walking on the edges of the beds and compact­ing them. Initially we simply loosened the edges of the beds with a digging fork. We then noticed that the plants on the edges grew better, and we realized the whole bed width needed loosening. If you have designed your hoophouse to use trac­tor equipment there, that will deal with soil com­paction. We wanted our hoophouse to be free of internal combustion engines and fossil fuels, and the broadfork has provided the solution. Ours is an all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools.

We set nylon twine to mark the bed edges, holding it in place using sod staples. The string alone has not been enough to stop us walking on the bed edges. Loose soil is important because our winter crops grow all the way to the edges. After spreading compost, we broadfork the beds, then vigorously work the compost into the top of the soil with scuffle hoes and rakes. We learned the hard way the importance of raking the soil to a fine tilth immediately after broadforking — you don’t want to let the broadforked clumps dry out into bricks before you rake!



A section of a hoophouse bed after broadforking, before working to a fine tilth.

When I posted Sowing hoophouse winter crops on my website in Sept 2017, I wrote about our bed prep method and tools, and also our outdoor sowings for transplanting into the hoophouse, with a special focus on suitable lettuce varieties.

We had just started planting our late fall, winter and early spring crops in the hoophouse. We pre-sprout our spinach for a week in a jar in the fridge. Soak the seed overnight, drain it in the morning, fit a mesh lid on the jar, and lay it on its side in the fridge. Once a day, give the jar a quarter turn to tumble the seeds and even out the moisture. If the seeds are a bit wet when you need to sow them, and clumped together, pour them out on a cloth to dry a bit before sowing.

On September 6 and 7 we sow five crops in our first bed – spinach, tatsoi, Bulls Blood beet greens, radishes and scallions. On September 15 we sow lettuces, chard, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy, in an outdoor bed to be transplanted into the hoophouse in a few weeks, after we’ve prepared another bed.

We plant crops closer in the hoophouse than outdoors, and closer to the edges of the beds. We don’t have many weeds in the hoophouse, and the paths are marked off with twine, to keep us from stepping on the beds. We find that the soil does slump and compact some of its own accord, even if we don’t step on the edges (and of course, some feet do find themselves on the bed edges), hence the once-a-year broadforking.


A late September photo of spinach sown as sprouted seeds 9/6.

Step-by-step guide to how we do our fall bed prep:

1. First remove the summer crops to the compost pile,

2. Spread a generous layer of compost over the whole bed surface.

3. Remove the soil staples and move the drip tape off to one side or the other,

4. Broadfork the whole bed, but not all at once. Only broadfork the amount of space you have time to rake immediately, otherwise the warm hoophouse conditions dry out the soil and make it harder to cultivate into a fine tilth, which is the next task. We tackle 1/3 bed each day.

To use a broadfork, go backwards working the width of the bed. Stab the tines into the soil and step on the crossbar, holding the long handles. Step from foot to foot until the crossbar touches the soil, with the tines all the way in, then step off backwards, pulling the handles towards you. This loosens a big area of soil, which hopefully crumbles into chunks. Lift the broadfork and set it back in the soil about 6” (15 cm) back from the first bite. Note: you are not inverting the soil – this is not a "digging over" process. Step on the bar and repeat.

Sometimes we use a rake, breaking the clumps up with the back of the rake, then raking the soil to break up the smaller lumps, and reshape the bed. More often we use a wide stirrup hoe very energetically. This isn’t the job stirrup hoes were designed for (that’s very shallow hoeing), but the sharp hoe blade does a really good job of breaking up clumpy soil.

5. We’ve found it important to lay the drip tapes back in place in between each day’s work, so that the soil gets irrigated when we run the system and stays damp. We don’t want dead, baked soil.

6. Once the bed is prepared, we measure out the areas for different crops and mark them with flags.

7. Next we use our row-marker rake (bed prep rake) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

8. After the rowmarking, we deepen the furrows if needed (often it’s not needed), using a pointed hoe, then sow the seeds.

For more on winter hoophouse crops, see more posts on my website, such as

Planning winter hoophouse crops for our step-by-step process for hoophouse crop planning

Cold-tolerant lettuce and the rest, our January 2018 assessment of the varieties we grew that winter and which survived the unusually cold spell we had.

Excerpt from The Year-Round Hoophouse Pam Dawling and New Society Publishers

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at, Pam's second book The Year-Round Hoophouse will be published by New Society November 20, 2018. Her blog is on her website and also on



All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grow Scarlet Runner Beans For The Flowers

Monarch on scarlet runner bean

We’re working toward growing and producing more and more of our own food. We’ve planted fruit trees, berry patches, herbs, and perennial and annual vegetables. Even so, we also like to plant certain species simply because they are the favorites of butterflies and hummingbirds, and we like to have these creatures flitting through our garden. Yes, these animals do provide a service by pollinating, and that is a benefit to us, but we just like to share our garden with them. We simply enjoy their presence.

We exercise organic gardening principles by building up the soil and rotating plants rather than applying fertilizers or pesticides. Insects are welcome to our garden. We do lose some of our harvest to the more pesky insects, but the damage is minimal because these pests are kept in check by the predaceous insects that also inhabit the gardens. We attempt to work with nature rather than fight against it and imposing our own design.

The fact that wildlife chooses to visit our garden is evidence that it is a living ecosystem. Our garden is alive. It is a place where nature can play out its story of life and death. While canaries portend doom in a coal mine when they cease to sing, the zipping flight of a hummingbird or the dainty flutter of a butterfly are likewise signs of an atmosphere’s quality, though in this instance, they indicate a healthy, functioning system.

>One of our favorite wildlife plants is scarlet runner beans. The beans sport bright, red blossoms that are magnets for hummingbirds. A bean in bloom boasts the same colors as the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird - green and red. And when one is visiting the bean’s blossoms, it can be so well camouflaged that the only evidence that it is present is the whirring sound of its wings. Among the butterflies that visit the bean’s red flowers are Tiger Swallowtails, Giant Swallowtails and Monarchs.

Scarlet runner beans are relatively easy to grow. Give them a sunny spot with something to climb upon and they should do well. If the soil is rich with compost, they will do even better. Being an annual, the beans have no tolerance for frost. The seeds should be placed directly into the soil after all chance of frost is past. These beans grow as climbers and like to twine themselves around something for support. We grow them on trellises at the end of our raised beds. But they can be grown along a fence, on a teepee structure in a garden, or even up a sunflower or corn stalk. In our garden, the scarlet runners are in full flower about 2 months after the first sprouts appear. The red blossoms will persist until the first frost.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees all find the scarlet runner bean irresistible. But so do hungry rabbits. If growing the beans from the ground, some bunny proofing will be necessary if you share your property with rabbits.

I must confess that we do not eat the beans from our scarlet runners. We grow them to enhance our garden ecosystem. Our children also enjoy the pink and purple hued beans and have used them dried in myriad crafts and mosaics. The bean pods are in fact edible. When still young and tender, they can be eaten like green beans. As they mature they become very stringy and should be eaten as shelling beans. If left to dry on the plant, they can be stored and used as dried beans.

Whether you choose to eat them or simply enjoy their beauty, scarlet runner beans are a nice addition to the garden. The local wildlife will thank you.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Tips for Surviving a Summer Drought

Continue to enjoy good harvests this summer – here are some tips to help you deal with drought conditions in your garden.


When water is scarce, prioritize what you use it for. The most needy plants are young seedlings, leafy salads, fruiting vegetables, and anything growing in a container.

If watering using a watering can, try using two at a time – it will halve the amount of time it takes to water, and will help you balance as you walk back and forth too. Or if your water source is far from your beds, use portable tank to transport water to where you need it.

Photo by Getty Images/Halfpoint

A strong spray from a hose can blast potting soil right out of containers. Avoid this by placing the end of the hose in a watering can so that it fills as you pour, meaning you can enjoy the convenience of a hose without wasting a drop.

Water pots from the bottom to save water and time. Fill up a container with water to use as your reservoir. Add any liquid fertilizer you want to use to the water. Place your containers in the reservoir and leave them to soak up the water for about an hour. You can speed things along by adding a splash of water to the top of your containers before leaving them to soak.

An automatic irrigation system using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver water right to the roots of your plants, controlled by a timer, is the ultimate in water- and labor-saving. Set it to water early in the morning while it’s still cool. Fit one to your water barrels if possible to make the most of any rainwater you’ve collected.

Keeping Seedlings Hydrated

Getting seeds to germinate in hot, dry conditions can be tricky, especially seeds of cool-season crops such as lettuce. To improve germination, water the seed drill before sowing. Allow the water to drain, then fill and drain once again. Sow your seeds and cover them over with soil, but don’t water again until they’ve germinated.

Shade Your Seedlings

Young seedlings will cope more easily with the summer’s heat under the protection of some shading. Use shady areas of your garden for growing crops like salad leaves that prefer cool conditions, or use taller crops to shade shorter ones.

Shade cloth can also be suspended over plants to cast some shade. Remove it when the weather turns cooler.

Keeping Soil Cool and Moist

Using mulches of organic material such as compost, leaf mold or even dried grass clippings helps keep the soil cooler and reduces evaporation.

Water the soil well before mulching. If it’s exceptionally dry, water again a few hours later before laying the mulch.  Spread the mulch at least an inch thick all over the soil surface.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

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