All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

Starting a Vegetable Garden in February

“Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January, begins with the dream.” 

~Josephine Nuese

If you’ve spent this month dreaming of a garden, now is a great time to put some action behind those dreams! February is the perfect month to start a vegetable garden. Here are a few simple steps you can take to get started today. 

Plan Your Layout

Planning your garden’s layout can help you maximize your space. You’ll need to decide on details like what types of beds you want to create, where your pathways will be, and where you’ll plant any perennials on your list. It’s essential to get a good feel for your layout. You want to ensure you can reach across beds and have plenty of room to maneuver a wheelbarrow.

Once you have the structure laid out, you can design your plantings. Remember that you’ll want to rotate your crop families each year. For example, nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes shouldn’t be planted in the same bed for a couple of years. You may also consider companion plantings. A mix of chives, tomatoes, cabbages, and marigolds rather than monoculture blocks helps deter pests.Hand holding freshly dug carrots

Prepare or Build Your Beds

Depending on what type of beds you’re creating, you’ll need to take different steps to get started. You can use no-till methods like hugelkultur or lasagna beds, though these will generally take longer to be ready for planting. You can also try a traditional garden, double digging, or raised beds. 

If you’re opting for the raised bed route, starting them now is a good idea. You’ll want to choose a solid material, but avoid pressure-treated or other chemical-treated lumber that could leach into the soil. Fill your beds with good-quality soil and finished compost if you want to be able to plant in them this spring. 

Install Fencing

Open gardens may be the beautiful idea you have in mind, but odds are you’ll need to install some fencing to keep the critters out. On the East Coast, gardeners contend with cottontails, groundhogs, raccoons, and tons of white-tailed deer, among other creatures. A good, tall, sturdy fence is a significant investment but will save you a lot of heartache and trouble in the long run.

Order Seeds

If you haven’t already ordered seeds, it’s time to get a move on! Planting time for some crops is already here and is drawing closer for others. It’s time to finalize your seed list and send it in.

We also have a list of other small seed companies that share our values and could use your support if you don’t find what you’re looking for on our website.

Start Seeds

To new gardeners, February may seem an odd time to be planting, but it is the perfect time for many of our cold hardy spring crops. This month, you can start broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and other greens indoors. 

It may be a little cold and dreary, but don’t let that deter you. Spring is just around the corner, and February is a great month to start a vegetable garden.

Growing Eggplants: Tips for Success

Homegrown eggplants are tender, mild, and perfect for summer grilling or classic recipes like eggplant parmesan, baba ganoush, and ratatouille. These heat-loving vegetables can be tricky to grow, though. After years of growing eggplants, we’ve compiled some tips for success.

The Basics

Start your eggplants indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost, and harden them off outdoors for 1 to 2 weeks before transplanting. Plant your eggplants in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Space them equidistant 24 inches apart or 20 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart.

Tips for Success

Eggplants can be challenging to grow, but these tips will ensure success.

Avoid setting plants out too early.

Eggplant seedlings are susceptible to cold temperatures. Attempting to harden them off too early can shock your plants and stunt their growth. If a late cold snap occurs, bring them outdoors during the day, but keep bringing them in at night until the temperature warms.

Garden beds with row cover
Row cover protecting White Beauty Eggplant from flea beetles.

Keep pests off your seedlings.

Young eggplants are highly susceptible to pest pressure, especially flea beetles. There are a few different methods you can use to protect your seedlings.

  • Harden seedlings off on a table at least 3 feet tall. Few issues occur at this height.
  • Use organic control methods like pyrethrum or diatomaceous earth.
  • Cut the bottoms off 1-gallon milk jugs and place them over the seedlings with the lids off.
  • Use row cover to protect young eggplants and remove it just before flowering to allow pollinators to reach the blooms.

Older eggplants require less protection. They can still produce well even with quite a bit of flea beetle damage on their leaves.

Feed your eggplants.

Eggplants enjoy fertile soil that’s rich in organic matter. Adding several inches of finished compost to your bed before planting can encourage good production. You can also mix a bit of compost into your transplant holes.

If you’re growing eggplants in containers, giving them a bit of extra nutrition is a good idea, especially when they’re flowering and setting fruit. You can use an organic vegetable fertilizer or make your own compost tea. 

Provide support for eggplants.

Eggplants loaded with fruit are prone to lodging or falling over. Set up stakes, tomato cages, or other supports early to ensure your plants don’t lodge later. Securing the plants while they’re still small will prevent you from damaging them or knocking off fruit later. 

Keep the soil moist.

Eggplants produce best when they have moist soil but not soggy soil. Check the soil and water regularly to keep it consistently moist for best production.

Louisiana Long Green (Green Banana) EggplantApply mulch.

Mulching around your plants can help suppress weeds, keep the soil moist, and add additional organic matter. We like to mulch around eggplants with an organic mulch like straw or old leaves.

Harvest your eggplants regularly. 

Regular harvesting will encourage your eggplants to keep producing. We find that the small fruits have the best eating quality. Eggplants are ripe when the skin appears glossy, and the fruit is resilient to thumb pressure. When your eggplants mature, harvest them by clipping the stem with scissors or garden snips. 

Rotate your eggplants and other crops.

Eggplants can be affected by many of the same diseases, like verticillium wilt, that affect other nightshades, such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Rotate your crops yearly and avoid growing any nightshades in the same plot for at least two years.

Eggplants are tasty, beautiful additions to the summer garden. They can be fun to grow, too! Even beginners can succeed with eggplants if you follow a few simple tips.

7 Easy Materials to Fill Your Compost

Most gardeners already know that compost is black gold in the garden, but it can be challenging to make as much as we may want to. It’s always surprising to see how much that pile of kitchen scraps shrinks as it breaks down! If you’d like to make more compost, there are a few materials you can gather to fill up your bins.

Compost Basics

If you’re new to composting, read this before digging into the list.

Ideally, compost piles are made of a mix of nitrogen-rich “green” and carbon-rich “brown” material, usually in a 1:1 ratio. This mix allows the pile to decompose correctly, which can be achieved by layering or stirring in the material with a garden fork or shovel. 

A quick tip is to add more green materials if your pile is too dry and not breaking down and add more brown materials if your pile is too wet, slimy, and smelly.

In the list, I’ve labeled items as “green” and “brown” in parentheses. 

Learn more about the basics of composting in our guide, Black Gold: Making Compost.

Black Gold: Making Compost

Grass Clippings (green)

Fresh grass clippings are often one of the most accessible “green” materials to collect in mass for your compost pile. If you have areas that you keep mowed, getting a bagger for your mower can be a great way to fill up a compost bin quickly. If you have raised or permanent beds, mowing the paths is excellent for this.

If you don’t mow, check with neighbors, especially in suburban areas. Many people send grass clippings to the landfill. See if you can put them to good use instead. As with leaves, you want to check whether your neighbors use herbicides or pesticides before adding the clippings to your compost or garden.

Seaweed (green)

For our friends near the coast, seaweed is an incredible compost amendment.

Make sure you check local regulations about gathering seaweed. Always harvest responsibly and sustainably. Remember that many organisms call seaweed in the tidal zone home, and species like birds and insects use beach-cast seaweed.

Read more about How to Harvest Seaweed Sustainably with Modern Farmer.

Learn to make Seaweed Fertilizer with Milkwood Permaculture.

Cardboard and Paper (brown)

Especially after the holidays, our homes can fill with cardboard and paper. Some of this material can be used to top up the compost bin! Avoid adding glossy or highly colored paper, and remove any packing tape.

It’s best to opt for brown paper and cardboard, as some companies have switched to packing. To encourage it to break down, rip it into smaller pieces with your hands, water it well, and put a layer of green material over it if available.

Old Woodchips (brown)

Fresh woodchips aren’t ideal as they take too long to break down and can tie up nitrogen in the process. We like to use woodchips as mulch, but if you can collect a bunch or have a local tree company dump a lot on your property, you can leave them to break down in their own pile for a year or two. Once they’ve started to break down, they make an excellent addition to the compost pile.

Four square compost bins with leavesFallen Leaves (brown)

Fall and sometimes through the winter are great times to build up your compost pile with old leaves. In rural areas, you may have to rake and collect your own, but in more suburban places, you may find folks happy to pass on bagged leaves they’ve removed from their yards. When getting leaves from others, politely checking if they use herbicides or pesticides on their property is always a good idea.

It’s always a good idea to leave a few leaves around as they provide habitat for overwintering beneficial insects and add nutrients back to the trees and plants they’re around.

Sawdust (brown)

If you cut piles of firewood or untreated lumber in the same spot, you may have a great source for your compost bin! While woodchips should be set aside for a bit, finer sawdust will break down faster and can be mixed into a pile with nitrogen-rich materials. 

Also, check with local sawmills or lumber yards. Just ensure that you and your sources do not include sawdust from pressure-treated, painted, or stained material.

Manure (green)

If you own chickens, goats, horses or other livestock adding their manure to your compost pile can be an easy way to add tons of nitrogen rich material. You can also check with local farms and horse stables.

Unfortunately, the rise of herbicides and pesticides, even in hay fields, has made using manure much more complicated than it used to be. Unless you know for certain any hay you’ve bought is uncontaminated, even your own animal manure could be harmful.

One easy way to check the manure is to try a simple bioassay test. Plant four to ten seedlings in small pots. For half of the pots, mix a bit of the manure in with your potting soil and grow the other half in plain potting soil or your usual mix. Watch for signs of herbicides in your seedlings, such as twisted, misshapen stems and curling, discolored leaves.

Learn more about Bioassay tests and Herbicide Residues in Manure, Compost, or Hay from The University of Florida.

Bonus Question

Can I compost clothing?

In an ideal world, we could compost most of our clothing at the end of its lifespan. You would think you could compost clothing made from natural materials like silk, linen, cotton, and wool. Unfortunately, the reality is far from that. 

Many items made from cotton or other natural fabrics have been treated with chemical dyes or solutions that make them stain or wrinkle-resistant. They may have also been stitched with polyester thread.

Some organic products are the exception, but you should check how they were manufactured. Homespun and handmade products may be composted. Just know that they may take a while to break down.


An endless supply of compost is a gardener’s dream. While we may never get there, these seven materials can help you quickly build up a larger compost pile, ensuring you have plenty of material for next season.