Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens

seed catalogue time!

I love seeds. I love poring over seed catalogues and imagining my beautiful future garden teeming with lush vegetable plants and completely free of weeds.

Of course that’s not reality – weeds are ever-present and sometimes I forget to water – BUT now is the time to dream and drool over seed catalogues. Here’s my pile:


If you are also dreaming of your garden, and possibly wondering when to plant everything for optimum growth, check out my planting time calculator for more information.

Happy Dreaming!!

mint and pineapple mint

dried mint and pineapple mint for winter teaMy fingers smell amazing right now, because I just finished scrunching dried mint into these jars. And not only Mint, but Pineapple Mint as well. The Pineapple Mint is a variegated fuzzy leaf – here’s a garden pic from spring on my Instagram – and it smells wonderful!


I love having homegrown herbs on hand to make tea in winter. I’ve also got Indian Lemongrass in my cupboard, and some wild nettle that I foraged this past spring. Mint is super easy; in fact, it will take over your garden more and more every year if you don’t keep an eye on it and pull it out where you don’t want it. One tiny plant – or even just a clipping from a plant – will last for as many years as you want it to.


Another nice thing about mint is that you don’t need a fancy dehydrator to dry out the leaves – just spread them on a screen or rack and wait until they’re crispy. You can see the stems in my jars too – it’s easier to dry on a rack when you keep the stems and leaves attached.


If you want to start mint from seed, get some good potting soil and some sort of cover for the pot you’re starting it in. Plastic wrap works, or even putting the whole pot in a plastic bag after you’re done planting and misting the surface. It’s important to keep the seeds warm and moist if you want them to germinate well, so find the warmest spot in your house to keep them. Once they’ve sprouted, take off the plastic and put them under lights. And don’t forget about them, because they will dry out super fast once the soil is open to the air.


If you have a friend with a mint plant who is willing to share a sprig or two, you can put the stems in water for a week (or until roots start to grow) and then into a pot of soil. This is much easier than starting from seed! When weather permits, plant them outside. Mint is fairly hardy, so you can plant it out before the last frost date. However, if it has lived indoors for a long time you might want to wait until after the last frost date for your region.


I’m always happy to answer any garden questions you may have; feel free to follow my SKG page on Facebook or find me on Instagram or Twitter. Happy Gardening!



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hardening off seedlings

hardening off greenhouse seedlingsThis has been the coldest spring I can remember. The sides of my greenhouse have been rolled up twice, maybe three times. Usually they’ve been open much more than this, and the seedlings have had a chance to get used to the outdoors before being sold.

At the seedling sale today, I’ll be telling people that they need to harden them off before planting them outdoors so the plants don’t go into shock.

The weather is not really ok for tomatoes and peppers and other heat-loving plants anyway, so they’ll have to be kept indoors at night anyway for a few more nights. Keep an eye on temperatures!

How to Harden-off Seedlings

There are a number of ways you can do this; I’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Don’t leave them outside at night unless the temps are above 10C. They’re not used to being cold.

2. Put them out into direct sunlight for an hour or two, then move them into a shaded location for a few hours (or vice versa – if you have a shady area that gets a few hours of sunlight, put them there and leave them). Do this for a few days.

3. Gradually increase the amount of time they spend in the sun over the course of 5-7 days.

4. When you transplant them into the garden, try to pick an overcast day OR plant them in the evening so they can recover from the shock.

Happy gardening!



feeding the soil

feeding the soil for healthy plantsThe most important thing you can do for your garden plants is care for the soil. Treat the soil like a living organism, because it does contain billions of tiny microorganisms and bugs and worms that are so very important for healthy plants.

There is a complicated web of relationships between all the organisms that live in the soil; they feed on each other, decompose organic waste, and share nutrients. They are also able to form healthy relationships with plants that benefit both parties. Bacteria that ‘fix’ nitrogen, for example. This bacteria likes to live in and on the roots of legumes (beans, peas). It can take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that the plants can use. Not only do the beans and peas benefit, but whatever is planted nearby can also use the nitrogen that is introduced to the soil ecosystem. Members of the Brassica family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc) do very well planted next to beans because they are heavy feeders.

Organic gardening focuses on feeding the soil because having these good microorganisms in the soil makes all the difference between having healthy plants and having diseased and weak plants. The healthy microbes compete with the pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes, bacteria, and fungi so they don’t get a chance to destroy the food plant that you’re hoping to eat.

The first step in feeding the soil is to stop using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They ultimately do more harm than good, killing the beneficial organisms along with the harmful ones. It’s better to feed the good organisms and let them do the work of out-competing the bad. Next:

Compost, compost, compost. Organic gardeners don’t use compost just for the nutrients that can be found there. The #1 reason to use compost in your garden is for all the beneficial microbes that live in the compost. Introducing these microbes to your garden is key to growing healthy, nutritious food.

Make Your Own Compost

There are many ways you can complicate the composting process. If you wait until you’ve got it all figured out, you might never begin. It’s best to just give it a shot and adjust as you go. Start with the basics.

Simple composting steps:
1. learn what greens and browns are: greens are fresh, like grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps. Browns are dry, yellow, brown, like leaves, straw, sawdust, or black and white newsprint.
2. mix greens to browns 1:2
3. keep it moist but not soaked
4. turn it over every month or so in warm season
5. when it looks like soil, add it to your garden.

If you don’t have yard space, consider composting with worms! They live indoors very easily, and don’t smell bad at all. There’s a very good website that can give you more information about this:

Once you have great compost you can also make compost tea. And if you don’t have compost, you can make plant extracts. The following free white paper download will give you a recipe for compost tea and a recipe for making an ‘herbal tea’ plant extract that you can use to feed your soil.

Brewing Compost Tea and Plant Extracts

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soil texture sedimentation test

It’s good to know what you’re working with in terms of soil texture and structure. There’s a simple home test you can do to determine what type of soil you have in your garden, called the soil sedimentation test. It will tell you the percentages of sand, silt, and clay that you have in your soil. These percentages can then be used to find the overall soil type via the soil texture triangle chart at the end of this post.

Why is this important? Well, the soil texture can tell you a few things about your soil. For example, clay is able to hold helpful nutrients in the soil, and exchange them with plants. Sand and silt do not have this capability. So even though many gardeners tend to groan at the thought of clay in the soil, it’s actually a very useful component of soil and can help you grow nutritious food if it’s treated right. Because of its high nutrient-holding capacity, you can add more amendments than if you had a sandy soil (as long as you add the right ones!). Sandy soil doesn’t hold nutrients nearly as well, so it would be a waste to spend money on amendments that will just be washed away in the next rainfall.

To find out your soil’s texture:

Fill a 1L mason jar 1/3 full with soil.

soil texture sedimentation test 1


Add cold water until the jar is 3/4 full.

soil texture sedimentation test 2

Add 5 tablespoons of liquid dish soap.

soil texture sedimentation test 3

Screw the lid on tight and shake vigorously for 10-15 minutes.

soil texture sedimentation test 4

Set the jar down and wait at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

soil texture sedimentation test 5

You will see banding in the jar as the layers of sand, silt, and clay separate. Measure the height of the sediment in the bottom of the jar, then measure the height of each different section to determine the percentages of each. This will tell you what type of soil you have when you chart it. In this case, I had 4.5 cm of sediment at the bottom of the jar. Find each percentage on the chart below, and draw a line straight through the triangle at each of the percentages. Where they intersect in the triangle will tell you what type of soil you have. For example, if you have 60% sand, 30% silt, and 40% clay, the area where they intersect is labelled ‘sandy loam’. That’s the description of your soil type.

soil texture triangle

Analyzing Your Soil

Once you know the type of soil you have, you will know more about the water holding capacity, air supply, and nutrient holding capacity of your soil.

Water is held in the soil by nature of the distance between the soil particles as well as the total surface area of the particles. The greater the surface area, the more water can adhere to the particles. Water’s two important properties, adhesion (to minerals and other particles) and cohesion (to itself), cause it to be held in the soil. Silt has a smaller particle size than sand, so it will hold more water due to the smaller particles having a greater surface area if compared to the same quantity of sand. It’s a larger particle size than clay, so it will give up water more readily. To recap: Clay = excellent water holding capacity, sometimes too good because it won’t give it up to plants. Silt = great water holding capacity, AND it will share more readily with plants because it doesn’t hold the water as tightly as clay. Sand = poor water holding capacity. Water tends to run right through sand, and if your soil has a high sand content, it will behave very similarly.

Pore space is the space between particles of soil. It tells us about the air supply to plant roots. The larger the pore space, the more air can reach the plant roots. Silt has a moderate level of air content. The pore space between particles is larger than with clay soils, but smaller than with sand. The water will drain out of pores when the force of gravity is greater than the force of cohesion (see above), leaving air behind. The large particles of sand create large pores that allow for good air flow, and the small particles of silt create small pores for air flow through the soil. Clay has much smaller particles, which doesn’t leave as much room for air to flow to plant roots. This also relates to compaction – if a soil is highly compacted, it will have very poor air supply due to the compression of the particles.

As already mentioned, clay is a superstar when it comes to holding nutrients in the soil, particularly positively charged nutrients like calcium and magnesium and potassium. That’s because clay has a negative electrical charge. Sand and silt do not have this capability. So the higher the clay content of your soil, the more nutrients it can hold. The sedimentation test will not tell you what kind of nutrients you have in your soil, or if indeed you have any. The negative charges in your clay might be filled with hydrogen, in which case you will have a very acidic soil. The only way to know for sure what’s in your soil is to get it tested at a lab. But, you at least know that you have the capability of holding good nutrition if you know you have a high clay content.

If you’re interested in testing your soil for nutrients (sending a sample away to a lab) and receiving a full analysis, I’m happy to offer my services.

Soil Analysis

– organic recommendations by me – Sarah Hemingway
– tested by SGS Laboratories
– find out exactly what your soil needs for balanced nutrition
– only add what’s missing
– full nutrition in the soil = full nutrition in the food you grow and eat

Please contact me (LINK) for more information.


seed planting time calculator

seed planting time calculator - by skgEnter your frost dates, and watch planting dates appear for 70+ vegetables and herbs! A good portion of my winter was spent on the laptop, creating an excel spreadsheet that will do all the hard work of calculating when to plant your seeds. It tells you what to plant indoors ahead of time, and what to plant directly in the garden. It will give dates for planting out in cold frames, too. AND tell you when to expect a harvest and if you can plant multiple times for extended harvest. There’s LOTS going on in this 4-page excel file.

The days are getting longer and the promise of spring is ever so slowly becoming more believable, and now is the time to start thinking about seeding indoors. Some people I know have already started onions!

Frost Dates

If you don’t know your frost dates, no worries. You can look them up on the Farmer’s Almanac website:

And if you’re in the States:

If you’d like to try before you buy, please download my free ‘LITE’ version of the Planting Time Calculator – it has 10 types of veggies and provides a good ‘test run’ that will introduce you to this tool.

FREE DEMO – Veggie Planting Time Calculator LITE

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Veggies and Herbs Planting Time Calculator FULL

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7 reasons to grow food from seeds

Seeds are awesome. I love seeds. I feel rich when I look in my seed box and see how many different varieties of plants I can grow. Here are some of the reasons you might like to try growing from seed too:

7 reasons to grow food from seed1. You get what you want. There are so many more options when growing from seed. If you grow from seed you will NOT be at the mercy of garden centres or greenhouses where choices are limited. Often these places will grow what grows well, and provide a narrow range of choices. Flipping through seed catalogues, you can read descriptions, look at photos, and decide what sounds good to you, and give it a try in the garden.

2. Controlling the process allows you to be organic (or not). You will know what the plants were treated with from the very beginning, and you can stay away from pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are often used in greenhouses.

<quick commercial break: at the bottom is a tool that will tell you when to start from seed. Try it for FREE>

3. Seeds are cheaper than transplants. The bigger your garden, the more you save by starting from seed.

4. It’s so fun to watch the tiny plants poke through the soil. It fills me with the wonder of life. Every. Time. It’s amazing how something soooo tiny can grow to such enormous sizes and eventually take over the garden (in the case of oregano or mint, at least).

5. If you grow from seed, you can save seed from the plants in your garden. This adds up to even more savings over time.

6. Storing seeds is kind of like banking food. It’s an investment in the future. If for some reason your finances fail you, you still have the option of eating good food if you’ve got a storehouse of seeds from a variety of plants.

7. The act of growing from seed, when shared with children, ensures that the basic knowledge of keeping the human race alive gets passed on to the next generation. If you have children in your life, in whatever capacity, grow a few things from seed and share the experience with them. It’s important for kids to know where their food comes from (and adults too!).

Seed Planting Calculator

If the timing of growing from seed seems overwhelming, you might want to try out The Planting Time Calculator. Basically, you just enter your spring and fall frost dates and the spreadsheet will automatically calculate planting times for 70+ veggies and herbs.

It will tell you when to start from seed, when to transplant into the garden if seeds are started indoors, when you can expect harvest, and if you can sow multiple crops in one season. If you want to grow using cold frames, there are also dates provided for that.

Try the Veggie Planting Time Calculator for Free

The Veggie Planting Time Calculator LITE is a FREE DEMO version with only 10 types of plants. You can download it for free to see how the spreadsheet works before purchasing the FULL Veggies and Herbs Planting Time Calculator.

Veggie Planting Time Calculator LITE

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Veggies and Herbs Planting Time Calculator FULL

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Thank you for reading! Please contact me if you have any questions.




seedling orders 2014

This year I have not one but TWO seedling catalogues to share with you.

pre-order veggie seedlings 2014Good news – I found a kindred spirit on my street here in Hamilton! Janice grows tomatoes like you wouldn’t believe. There are 81 varieties on her list this year, and you can order from the whole list. She only grows the tastiest tomatoes – if it doesn’t taste good it gets rejected. Even if it’s pretty, like my Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes. I will have a few tomatoes on offer, but please order from Janice because she is a pro. Her tomatoes will definitely be bigger and better looking than mine.

We both grow organically, using organic soil and untreated seeds. You can contact us via email with your orders. Contact info is in the catalogues, but if you have trouble finding it you can connect with me via the contact link at the top of this page.

Please order BEFORE March 28, Thanks! Plants will be available for pickup the week before the Victoria Day weekend.


Janice is selling her tomatoes for $3.50, they are big plants, beautiful heirloom organic delicious beauties.

pre-order heirloom tomato plants

Everything else:

My plants are $3 each pot, up from $2.50 last year. The number of plants per pot is as follows:

Single: tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, ground cherries

Double: calendula, nasturtium, brassicas, squash, cucumbers, melons

Multiple: herbs, greens

Seedling Catalogues: (PDF)

Janice’s 2014 Heirloom Tomato Plant List

sarah’s kitchen gardens catalogue 2014

If you have any questions please let me know. Janice and I both look forward to growing seedlings for you this year.



gardening for seed saving workshop

Why save seeds? Well, for a few different reasons:

gardening with seed saving in mind1. Money is probably the least of them, because one packet of seeds doesn’t really cost that much in the grand scheme of things. However, if you are like me and have an addiction to seeds, it can end up costing more than you want to admit. So, if you can save some money, even if it’s a small amount, it will add up to larger savings over time. Of course, if you end up using the saving of seeds as an excuse to buy even more rare and wonderful seeds, since you have that extra money kicking around…. well…. I can relate.

2. Food security – you can grow your own food, even if you suddenly find yourself unable to purchase seeds (for whatever reason….!).

3. The more people we have saving heirloom seeds, the less likely they will become extinct. Diversity is important for maintaining the health of our planet.

4. It teaches children about the cycle of life. If you have kids in your life, share this with them. It’s one way to help out us humans as a species. Knowing where food comes from is a survival skill that many are lacking these days.

This workshop:

Growing Seeds: How to Garden with Seed Saving in Mind

If you’re growing heirloom tomatoes or open pollinated varieties of beans, you probably also want to save some seeds for next year. Learn how to set up your garden for maximum seed saving ability, and how to avoid ending up with cross-pollinated seeds that don’t breed true to the original plant.

Generally, plants within the same species will cross-pollinate. If you’re interested in a long list of vegetable varieties and the species they fall under, please feel free to download the following free PDF file. It contains Family, Genus, and Species information for vegetable plants that are grown in home gardens. You can use this information to determine which plants need to be isolated, and which ones don’t.

The workshop will give a full explanation of isolation techniques and more information about various vegetable plants, so please come to the Seedy Saturday in Kitchener at the Country Hills Branch of the Kitchener Public Library. My workshop is free and will take place at 1:15. I hope to see you there!



Species List of Vegetable Plants

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water kefir workshop

learn how to make your own water kefirWater kefir is a non-dairy probiotic beverage that provides you with many strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast. It’s fermented over the course of a few days, on the counter, and has the potential to taste like ginger ale when you’re done. Water kefir grains look like clear, misshapen gummy bears. They bounce when you drop them but are tasteless if you eat them. Which is totally ok to do, if you prefer to get your probiotics that way.

There are two phases of fermentation; one is with the water kefir grains (no gluten, just a matrix of bacteria and yeast) in the liquid and the other is without the grains, flavours added, in a jar that seals. Pictured on this page are a selection of phase two fermenting batches of kefir. When ready and chilled most people filter out the flavour bits. Some eat them along with their drink.

Water Kefir Workshop by Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens

water kefir workshop - by sarah's kitchen gardensIn the Water Kefir Workshop, you will learn hands-on how to prepare and care for the water kefir grains. There will be taste testing, so you can get an idea of what types of flavours you like. You’ll prepare your own batch, which you will take home at the end of the workshop.

The last Water Kefir Workshop was held December 14, 2013.

Thanks to all who attended, it was a great workshop. Participants went home with two jars of water kefir, one in each stage of the fermenting process, plus an informative handout and other small goodies.

If you are interested in attending a water kefir workshop, please let me know so I can keep you in the loop about the next one.

You can contact me via the contact form (LINK).

Thank You

I appreciate your interest in the Water Kefir Workshop.


Are you interested in learning more about water kefir and why it’s so wonderful?

Download ‘The Top 10 Reasons to Grow Water Kefir’ for free.

After you enter your email and click download, the file will be sent to you automatically. Check your email!


The Top 10 Reasons to Grow Water Kefir – Free Download

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