Backyard Garden: The Beginning

Small tomatoes in Korea


Well, a lot of thinking has led us to finally start working on a backyard garden.  We tried doing some container gardening on our back deck last year (tomatoes, herbs, peppers) and as a result of that, I haven’t bought hot salsa for over 4 months.  And the hot salsa I canned from all of those peppers and tomatoes?  I still have probably 6 cans left :)

Our garden goals are threefold:

  1. Get in better shape by doing something that benefits our health in multiple ways
  2. Eat AND CAN more veggies!
  3. Stop buying most of our veggies from the store and pay for our initial investment in equipment and supplies within 3 years

The ultimate goal I guess would be to never put a vegetable, herb, spice, or fruit in my mouth, without knowing for sure that it came from a reputable gardener (me!)  We also have nearly an acre to work with, so we figured this was a good opportunity to put that land to use.  Let the research begin!

Since we are new to outdoor gardening (I have some experience, but not a ton) we started off our research by figuring out what we COULD grow in our area.  We live in a sub-tropical zone but it still gets well below freezing 7 or 8 times during the winter.  It can be quite wet in the summer and short outbursts of very heavy rain are not uncommon.

After narrowing down the list by what we COULD grow, we wrote down stuff we regularly eat that was viable for our environment.  This research resulted in a list of 16 herbs and veggies that we eat regularly and buy from the store regularly.  Onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, 4 different herbs, lettuce, broccoli, beans, cucumbers, squash, etc… In some cases, multiple varieties of the above.

There were a couple of sites that were extremely helpful in our research, and I’ll call them out here:

Burpee seeds: This is a really fantastic web resource for understanding growing zones, what type of veggies grow best in what environments, what time of year to sow, first and last frost dates by region, etc.  Lots and lots of useful information on this site.  They connect really well to their seed bank e-commerce site too.  Each product description has a tabbed section at the bottom that has a TON of information about growing that particular vegetable, and most have videos explaining the sowing, growing, and harvesting process.  I highly recommend this site for people looking to do gardening research or even to become a customer.

Burpee provided us enough information about how big plants get, how much space they take up, and how much garden space you need for a good harvest.  All of our research on Burpee resulted in us drawing out the following garden map:


This is a 17 foot by 12 foot garden, with a large planting bed in the middle and planting beds completely around the edge of the garden.

Awkwardly, while the Burpee site was helpful, we did not become customers.  There are a few reasons:

  1. I don’t know how much GMO exposure I have with a large seed bank like this
  2. Their seed selection was somewhat general and not really region-specific
  3. Their seed packets were EXTREMELY expensive for someone who had a small amount of garden space
  4. The seed packets in some cases contained ten times more seeds than we needed for our garden plan

We landed on a Southeastern seed exchange site called Southern Exposure Seeds and this site was able to address some of our concerns above.  They had a very strong anti-GMO statement, an extremely southern-focused seed selection, smaller seed packets, and in some cases offered at less than half the cost.  In short:  These guys have their shit together if you are a backyard gardener in the South or Mid-Atlantic area of the US.

We purchased all of our seeds (except the potato chunks) from them.

Lastly, we started on research about growing cycles, harvest cycles, multiple cycle crops, overwintering, and other general information that we needed to know about each individual crop.

For this type of research, we found Old Farmers Almanac to be quite useful.  There is a ton of information on this site about the life-cycles of the plants, common pests and other environmental risks, scientific data on the crop itself, a little bit of history on the crop, etc.

There are also a lot of state universities that have agricultural extensions.  In these cases, they have wikis that contain large volumes of information about planting in your region.  My best suggestion here is to find an .EDU site close to your area that has an agricultural extension, and find out if they have a wiki or an informational site about agriculture.  Here is one from my area: Clemson Home & Garden Information

That’s our first update about the garden.  I’ll try to post at least once a week about it.

I will be keeping track of several things through this blog:

  1. How much we have spent on equipment, seeds, fertilizer, etc
  2. Approximately how much value we’ve gotten in edibles
  3. Improvements in our physical wellness as a result of this project
  4. Which online sites and social media sites were most helpful to us during this adventure
  • Supplies Purchased to-date:
    • 3 shovels (1 square and 2 round head)
    • 1 hoe
    • 1 order of seeds
  • Total Spent to-date: $150
  • Total Value in Harvested Vegetables:  $0

Answers to 7 Common Questions About Blogging

All too often, I get the following from a new blogger at my organization:


BLOG IDEAS (Photo credit: owenwbrown)

 ”It’s so daunting trying to blog.  I can’t think of what to blog about, and I don’t have the first idea how to get started or what to do.  This seems really difficult!”

 It doesn’t have to be that way.

Most of the concerns I hear from relative newcomers to blogging revolve around the fear of the unknown.  With a little education and repetition, content creation does not have to be a daunting task.

Here are the answers to the most common questions and concerns I see from new bloggers:

How Often Should I Blog?

In order to grow readership over time, you need to post a minimum of one blog post per week.  Two per week is better, and once a day is the best.  If you blog less frequently than once per week, your audience will grow very slowly, if at all.

How Long Should My Posts Be?

Although this is a largely personal choice, best practices seem to indicate that you should stay on a focused topic throughout the length of a blog post.  A few paragraphs on a very narrow topic is better than a textbook with five of six topics covered.  Somewhere between 250 and 1000 words is probably about right.

What Time of Day or Day of the Week Should I Blog?

The answer to this depends on the topic of your blog, and your audience.  Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Who is your most likely audience?
  • What is the most likely day of the week that they will be able to read your blog?
  • How are you going to reach them proactively?  (more on this later)

In general:

  • Publish posts in the morning (in whichever time zone your audience is)
  • Try not to publish posts on Mondays or Fridays if you’re trying to attract an audience while they are at work
  • Think about publishing a post on weekends if you’re trying to cater to hobbyists or an audience that might have more time to read blogs on weekends
  • For a business audience, I’ve found that the best days of the week to post are Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Your mileage may vary depending on your audience
  • I have also seen spikes late in the evenings if you’re trying to cater to working parents.  I have to assume that this happens because they’re trying to catch up on their internet reading after the kids are in bed

I’m Running out of Ideas!  How can I Stay Inspired?

This is the most common question and the most likely source of fear, uncertainty, and doubt among new bloggers.  The easiest answer is to have a very large stable of ideas before you even have a blog site.

I try to maintain a notepad document on my desktop called “blogs”.  Anytime I’m reading something on the internet that’s related to the blog I write, I consider it to be an opportunity to get inspired.  If something I am reading about social media or communities causes me to have a really strong opinion, I do the following:

  • Open up my “blogs” file
  • Write a note about the blog idea
  • Link to the content that inspired me

When it’s time to write a blog post, I just open up my “blogs” file, pick a topic, and  start writing!

Here are some other ideas:

  • Comment on some other bloggers’ postings.  Link back to their post(s), and talk about why you agree/disagree with them.
  • Comment about a big move in the marketplace you cater to.
  • Read the news about your market, and take notes on things that inspire you.
  • If you’re in a business meeting with your laptop, and you get inspired, open up your blogs file and take notes.  It’ll just look like you’re taking notes during the meeting!

Is it Bad Form to Call Out My Competitors by Name?

In general, it’s better to refer to “your competition” in a generic sense.  If you provide enough detail, they’re going to know you’re talking about them anyways.  If it’s a specific piece of news, you can still refer to them in the generic, and link to the news story that talks about them specifically.

Regardless of whether you use your competitions’ name, there is one simple rule that you need to follow:

Always show respect to your competition, even if they do not show respect to you or your organization.

Why Isn’t Anyone Reading My Blog?

This is the biggest source of disappointment I’ve seen from new bloggers.  They built a blog, they write compelling content, and nobody reads it.  The reasons usually come in three flavors:

  1. Potential audience size
  2. Lack of marketing
  3. SEO issues with the site

Not much you can do about #1.  Unfortunately, that’s the least likely cause of your problems.  #2 is the most common;  you can write all day long and write really compelling stuff, but if you don’t make an effort to put it out there, your audience will grow extremely slowly.  Meanwhile, the author gets frustrated at the lack of readership, and blogs less often, exacerbating the readership problem.

Suggestions to get your work out there:

  1. Start a Facebook and/or Twitter account, and syndicate your postings to those accounts.  Spend time every week (an hour or so) finding and following people talking about the same topics on Twitter.  A lot of them follow you back.
  2. Spend a half-hour after you publish a blog post looking for other blogs, forums, or online social networks that are talking about the topic you just blogged about.  Post on their forums and link back to your post.  If your blog was a response or a retort about someone else’s content, make sure to post on their blog pointing them to yours.

In short, work to get your content out there, and your audience will grow faster.

Why Aren’t More People Commenting on My Blog?

This is another source of common angst among bloggers.   This is the facet of blogging that takes the most time to build.  Comments will start eventually coming in once your audience gets to know you.  Suggestions:

  1. Ask questions in your blog post.  Ask for opinions.
  2. When someone DOES comment, make sure to answer them, even if it’s just to thank them for their compliment/criticism.
  3. Engage with someone who comments outside of your blog by sending them an email or following them on a social network.

I’ll also be writing another post in a few weeks about link trading, which is a great way to get more traffic to your blog.

If you have any questions about blogging, post them in the comments section!

Until next time!

Additional resources:

OSS Changes Its Tune!

Peace in the Midst of Giants

(Photo credit: IntelFreePress)

Hello all,

Up to now, OSS had been writing about Internet Safety and how teachers and parents can keep their kids safe on social networks.  As many of you probably have noticed, we took an extended break from this mission in the spring of 2011.

After some evaluation and discussion, I have decided to pick this site up and start blogging again.  I will still talk about how to keep kids safe online now and then, but I’ll also be blogging about general social media issues, basic SEO principles, and other topics that cover a little more territory than just the internet safety topic.

I’ll also be re-evaluating OSS’ resources and news sections to figure out whether to continue doing news and updating these sections or not.  More to come as time goes by.

For those that have been readers of this blog in the past, thanks for reading!  I think you’ll find some of the information in here to continue to be useful if you have a general interest in online interaction and social networking :)

If you’re brand new here, welcome to OSS!!

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