Thursday, March 23, 2017

How To Grow Asparagus

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that can successfully thrive in a garden for decades if properly planted and maintained. Asparagus is actually one of the very first springtime crops to yield harvest, so when properly planted and cared for; you can enjoy an abundant crop of spears for up to 30 years!

A favorite in North American diets, perky green asparagus stalks can add a delicious bright crunch to daily meals, in addition to B and C vitamins, iron and plenty of calcium. Even though maintenance isn’t difficult, planting asparagus does have its delicate intricacies, which we’ll outline below so you can plan accordingly!

Growing Asparagus

First, you’ll want to get your hands on asparagus crowns. While growing asparagus from seeds is possible, it becomes more difficult because of their extreme delicacy and overall stubbornness to take root. Instead, opt for one-year-old crowns. This gives you a head start over seeds. Crowns are actually just dormant roots and are available at local garden centers and reputable nurseries in early spring. We recommend an all-male asparagus variety if your primary goal is to have a high yield. Since female plants produce seeds, much of their energy is expended there.
Next, you’ll want to prepare your new asparagus bed. Whether you’re isolating asparagus on a raised bed or digging a trench in the ground, ensure the removal of any signs of weeds or potentially harmful grasses. Asparagus does not compete well with others for growing space and unfortunately, it won’t survive at the first sign of competition.

Prepping the Soil

To ensure long-term fertility, you’ll want to create non-acidic soil that is well drained and nutrient-rich. You can fortify the soil with compost, a vegetable fertilizer, rock phosphate or organic greensand.

Planting Asparagus From Roots

To plant the crowns, you’ll want to dig trenches approximately a foot wide and six inches deep. If you’re utilizing a sandier soil, dig down eight inches. Place the crowns two feet apart and cover them with an additional two to three inches of soil—approximately two rows of asparagus crowns will nicely fit into a 4-foot wide bed. You want to space your crowns to produce larger spears. Water them deeply right after covering them.

Maintaining Asparagus – 1st Growing Season

You’ll want to keep your asparagus bed moist through its first growing season. To ensure moisture conservation, you can spread a light layer of mulch over top. As your asparagus grows, you’ll want to fill furrows with soil. Overall, maintain wet soil for the first eight inches. Be gentle since you want your asparagus to develop a strong root system.

Maintaining Asparagus – 2nd Growing Season

You won’t want to harvest the asparagus the following year after planting. Instead, allow them to grow into a small bush. If it’s brown, you’ll want to remove the old stalks and any new signs of weeds. Periodically check the pH level of the soil with a soil test kit and squeeze some lime to maintain proper levels. You’ll also want to water biweekly through any dry weather.

Maintaining Asparagus – 3rd and 4th Growing Seasons

If you see spears larger than four inches, you’ll want to harvest them. Utilize a knife and while holding the spear in one, cut it off about one inch below the soil line. Avoid deep cuts because you’ll end up damaging the crown. Follow a two, four and 6-week harvest sequence. You’ll want to harvest stalks every two weeks in the second year, four weeks the third growing season, and finally six weeks after the fourth growing season. Every fall season that follows, remember to remove any brown brush.

Asparagus needs a whole lot of love to get started, but the annual rewards make it worthwhile!

Have you had any luck growing asparagus? Leave any additional helpful tips below!
Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tips for Deciding What to Plant in Your Garden

Small, stubborn sprouts and pitiful produce can be discouraging – especially for beginners. Even if you’re cultivating crops correctly, it’s possible the variety of seed you’re planting is hindering your success. If you want your buds to blossom and your harvest to be plentiful, it’s important that seed selection is approached strategically.

To help you understand the complex considerations that drive a well-informed plot planning process, we’ve outlined the major factors that should influence your decision. Read on to discover the impact smart seed selection can have on the vibrancy of your garden!

Assess Your Skill Level

Before getting your hands dirty, you need to objectively analyze your gardening expertise and be cognizant of your own limitations. Successful gardeners with green thumbs should be significantly more ambitious with their seed selection than beginners who are still a bit “green” when it comes to cultivation. Each variety of vegetation requires a unique level of tender care, and it can be easy for inexperienced planters to struggle with stubborn seeds.

This frustration can be highly discouraging to beginners—it’s much more reaffirming to start simple and achieve immediate results. We recommend beginning with basic crops that are relatively low-maintenance and that won’t leave you demoralized. Examples of a few vegetables and herbs that are among the easiest crops to grow include: carrots, chard, beans, basil, cucumbers and radishes. Our favorite flowers that are guaranteed to flourish in any garden include: Sunflowers, Marigolds, Poppies, Cosmos and Zinnias.

If you’ve proven your ability to sow seeds and reap a hearty harvest, consider advancing to more demanding and time-consuming plants. When it comes to fruits and veggies, experts should try planting cauliflower, artichokes, head lettuce and melons. These crops may be stressful to cultivate, but the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel from picking ripe produce off the vine is unforgettable. To test your skill, try planting azaleas in your garden. Azaleas are arguably the hardest flower to grow and will wither if the temperature ever rises above 65 degrees.

Access to Sunlight

When you’re choosing plants to include in your plot, you should definitely take the amount of available sunlight into account. Without sufficient sun, plants aren’t able to use photosynthesis to produce the fuel necessary to survive. The amount of light that a plant needs, however, is variable and depends upon its species. If part of your garden is obscured by shade, it’s important to place sun-loving plants elsewhere. Some vibrant flowers that thrive in the shade and are easy to maintain include Hydrangea, Geranium and Impatiens.

Soil Quality

Nutrient-rich soil is the foundation from which beautiful gardens are grown. Unfortunately, some regions (like the American Northeast) have rockier, less flower-friendly soil than others. While hauling in new top soil and adding fertilizer is an option, you should consider growing tough plants that can withstand the limited nutrients offered by your native soil. For gardeners in rocky regions with shallow soil, we recommend planting seeds like: Perennials, common Sage, Lamb’s Ears and Black-eyed Susan.

Climate Considerations

Conduct research before selecting your seeds to ensure your climate is conducive to success and suitable for cultivation. There are four major categories of climates: tropical, mild, continental and arid. A plant that thrives in a wet, tropical climate will obviously suffer when exposed to the debilitating dryness of a desert. Growers looking for fast results and satisfying returns should try sticking with varieties of plants that are indigenous to their region. If the seeds you plant occur naturally in the wild, it means they’ll require less attention when placed in your garden.

If you’re itching to get a jump-start on spring and start planting, take a step back and strategically plan your seed selection first. The seeds you choose should reflect your expertise, climate and growing conditions. To get yourself started, be sure to check out Paris Farmers Union’s wide selection of garden supplies. Leave a comment below if you have additional tips for choosing what to plant in your garden.

With the help of these basic supplies, you can begin carefully cultivating seeds before the onset of spring and receive unparalleled satisfaction from watching your seedlings sprout. If you’d like to try seed starting for yourself, be sure to check out our full selection of seed and plant starting accessories and if you are ready to purchase your seeds download our 2017 Bulk Seed Order Form.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What You Need for Seed Starting

If your green thumb is getting antsy during the off-season, seed starting can give you an early jump on spring. Cold conditions make it impossible for seeds to survive outside, but by beginning the cultivation process indoors, your plants can thrive when the weather inevitably improves.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t access a greenhouse! Incredible results of starting seeds indoors are still possible for amateur gardeners on a budget. Best of all, seed starting is a simple technique to practice—it only requires a bit of foresight, a little time for preparation and a few basic supplies.

To help you understand the practical process necessary for the implementation of this technique, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide that outlines the materials every seed-starter should have on hand. Read over our list below to distract yourself from the dreary winter weather – and to begin cultivating seeds of your own year-round!


The most important factor influencing the results of your seed starting experiment is—wait for it—the quality of the seeds themselves (self-explanatory, we know). Luckily, finding good seeds is simple if you know what to look for. When choosing seeds, be sure to select an Open Pollinated (OP) seed rather than a Hybrid (F1) variety. Along with being more expensive, Hybrid seeds are used more frequently by commercial farmers than by backyard botanists. It takes more time for an OP seed to mature than an F1, but the extended waiting period gives amateur growers flexibility when harvest season rolls around.

When choosing what type of plant or crop you’d like to grow, don’t get overly ambitious from the onset. Seeds that naturally thrive indoors include: basil, zinnia, tomatoes, marigolds and cosmos. We suggest that you stay away from seeds that require very particular, native soil like petunias and azaleas.

Starting Mixture and Fertilizer

Instead of simply tossing your seeds into garden-variety topsoil, it’s essential that you use a pure, unadulterated seed starting mixture. By choosing a seed mix, you ensure that your soil is devoid of any contaminants that could potentially alter the germination process and harm the plants’ overall health. Seeding mix contains fewer nutrients than soil straight from the ground, so be sure to supplement the mix with an organic liquid fertilizer

Tray or Container

As long as the container you choose has enough depth (2 to 3 inches), your seeds should grow properly. This leaves growers with plenty of room to get creative. Yogurt cups, newspaper and paper towel rolls are effective DIY options, but we suggest you use a greenhouse starter kit instead. Specialized trays are better equipped for handling the increased levels of humidity your seedlings will be exposed to, and these trays won’t mold with moisture.

Lighting Setup

Providing your growing trays with adequate artificial sunlight is a fundamental key to seed starting success. Relying upon a window for natural sunlight during the winter is a surefire way to get stunted sprouts. Instead of settling for uneven lighting, we suggest investing in a grow light set up or a compact lighting system.


This small apparatus isn’t critical – but it will make your seed growing easier since you won’t need to remember to turn the lights on and off at the start and finish of each day. Your budding seeds need an environment that simulates that of being outdoors, and daylight is a big part of that. So save yourself the effort of remembering to hit the lights each day and invest in a timer. 

Spray Bottle & Watering Can

As your seedlings grow, you’ll be watering them from the bottom, so you’ll want a vessel that makes this process easy, like a watering can. You’ll also want some sort of spray bottle to keep the seeds from drying out from above without dumping too much water on them. It’s a fine balance, and these supplies will help you reach it. 

Heat Mat and Enclosure

If you’d like your seeds to start sprouting in no time, a heat mat may be just the thing. By placing your tray of growing seedlings on this mat, germination and rooting will take place sooner than otherwise with the elevated temperature. The root area will be about 10-20° warmer than what it would be otherwise, giving it that extra boost for growth. Adding a dome to that tray will create an enclosure for the growth – a layer of protection for your budding vegetation. 

With the help of these basic seed starting supplies, you can begin carefully cultivating seeds before the onset of spring and receive unparalleled satisfaction from watching your seedlings sprout. If you’d like to try seed starting for yourself, be sure to check out our full selection of seed and plant starting accessories as well as our 2017 bulk seed order form.
Monday, January 30, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Maple Syrup’s Health Benefits

Throughout the month of February, you should be prepping for the upcoming sugaring season. Gallons of sap will be spilling out of your spouts, and you need to have your equipment ready to transform this unremarkable substance into a rich, sugary syrup. Once you’ve boiled your sap into syrup, it can be used to make candies, marinate bacon or add much-needed moisture to a stack of pancakes.

If you harvest maple syrup, you’re already aware that it is a lucrative product and a sweet treat, but few are privy to the bevy of health benefits that are masked beneath the syrup’s rich taste. Pure, organic maple syrup is swimming with antioxidants, nutrients and minerals that make it a suitable substitute for processed sweeteners with added chemicals.

Read on to learn more about the health benefits of maple syrup and the extent of its nutritional value!

Strengthen Your Immune System 

Two minerals that maple syrup has in abundance are zinc and manganese. Both of these minerals effectively bolster the immune system and support cells that fight harmful bacteria. A quarter cup of maple syrup contains 100 percent of the DRV of manganese, which helps build a healthy metabolism, encourage energy production and expedite the healing of tissue. Research has indicated that zinc deficiency ultimately leads to the production of fewer white blood cells, but consuming foods high in zinc (like maple syrup) causes production to return to normal levels.

Build a Healthy Liver 

The liver is indispensable in keeping blood sugar in equilibrium, filtering alcohol from the bloodstream and producing amino acids. Preliminary results on lab rats have suggested that pure maple syrup aids liver function when compared to standard sugars. The study concluded that maple syrup may be a better choice of sweetener due to the polyphenols, vitamins and minerals it contains. In addition to swapping out your sweetener, be sure to exercise and manage stress—your liver will thank you.

Neutralize Free Radicals & Reduce Inflammation 

Free radicals are molecules that have an unstable number of electrons, and they form naturally in your body through the process of oxidation. This degenerative oxidation has a number of negative side effects that include aging, heart problems, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer. Luckily, antioxidants found in fruits, veggies, legumes and dietary supplements neutralize free radicals by providing an extra electron.

Maple syrup is laden with natural antioxidants that can stave off chronic illness. In fact, a study by the American Chemical Society discovered 54 total antioxidants present in maple syrup. By testing cell growth in vitro, researchers have found that these antioxidants in maple syrup slow the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a chemical that encourages the growth of cells and oftentimes incites the formation of cancerous tumors. Maple syrup is especially effective at halting the growth of prostate cancer and lung cancer. It also has positive effects on brain, colon and breast cancer cells.

Defend Against Diabetes 

A study from the Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that polyphenols found in maple syrup (specifically abscisic acid) increase fat cells’ absorption of insulin and increase activity in pancreatic cells. Due to maple syrup’s lower relative glycemic index, it causes less of a spike in blood sugar than corn syrup or white sugar.

However, the majority of maple syrup’s composition is sucrose (table sugar), and it’s a highly concentrated source of carbohydrates. For that reason, diabetics should not consume maple syrup in large quantities. Instead, maple syrup should be used in moderation as a substitute for sugars that diabetics already add into their diet.

Finally, a healthy “super food” that doesn’t taste horrible (that means you, kale)! We don’t recommend guzzling gallons of maple syrup each day, but it’s wonderful if enjoyed in moderation and as a substitute for artificial sweeteners. To start harvesting your own sap, check out Paris Farmers Union’s collection of maple sugaring supplies. Shop today for drills, tap spouts, tubing and much more. And let us know in the comments below about any other maple syrup nutrition facts we may have missed.
Monday, January 16, 2017

What to Look For When Buying a New Pair of Boots

If you spend a lot of time on your feet, you know how important footwear can be. Cramped toes, blistered heels and sore arches all equate to a pretty painful experience. But have you ever invested in a “good” pair of shoes only to still have these ailments? Knowing what to look for – and what to avoid – when you make this purchase is half the battle.

Regardless of your budget, there are certain things to keep in mind when shopping for boots, and we’ve got the rundown right here. Some of these tips are pretty well known, but others may surprise you. Read on so you know how to find the right pair of boots for you – and don’t get stuck with sore feet and an empty wallet!

Before you choose a boot to try on, make sure it’s got what you’re looking for. If you need a sturdy winter boot, it should be water resistant and insulated and have good traction. Going on a hiking trip? Get boots with sturdy ankle support and lots of padding to protect your feet as you trek up and down steep surfaces.

Depending on what you’re going to use your boots for, it may be wise to try them on in the afternoon or evening rather than in the morning. Since your feet swell throughout the day, doing so will give you a more accurate idea of how your feet will feel at their biggest.

Once you’ve picked out a pair of boots to try on, follow these steps to assess whether they’re the right match for you:

1. First off, make sure you’ve got a pair of socks with you when you go to the shoe store. You may have the option to buy a pair at the store if you’d rather, but otherwise, the salesperson will often only give you a sheer stocking sock that’s too thin to come close to how your regular socks will feel. And you most certainly want to get as close to that feeling as possible when making your decision.

2. Consider trying a couple of different sizes above and below the one you normally wear. This may not be necessary, but many boots and labels run small or large, so it’s a safe way to make sure you’re covering all your bases and getting exactly what fits your feet best.

3. Once you slide on your prospective new boots (onto both feet, not just one), check behind the heel. You can actually do this before you lace up your boot. Just push your foot forward in the boot and then see how much space there is behind your heel. You should be able to fit one finger there.

4. Lace up your boots, stand up straight and wiggle your toes. How do they feel? Cramped? Or like they’re floating around? You don’t want the boots to feel ginormous; however, the greater concern is tightness. Make sure your toes aren’t tightly wedged and have plenty of room to wiggle around. Think about the three outer areas of the front of your foot – the end of your big toe, the big toe mound (that sticks out to the side at the base of your big toe) and the pinky toe mount (that sticks out below the base of your pinky toe). Make sure these three areas especially aren’t feeling any pressure.

5. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell just how much space you want in your boots. A test you can do to check this is kicking a wall (ideally without alarming any other shoe store patrons or staff). Make sure your toes do not touch the end of the boot when you do this.

6. Now for the heel test: Walk, run, rock up and down, squat, jump – move your body in a number of different directions, all the while focusing on your heel. It shouldn’t move.

7. The foot isn’t the only thing to consider in boot sizing; your ankle needs support, too. By standing on the sides of your feet, you’ll be able to determine whether your ankles are well supported and have flexibility.

8. One last trick – slip your bare feet into the boots and see how they feel. This will give you a different sensation and may help you determine whether there are any spots that could turn into pain points. 

And that’s it! If you go through these steps and still like the boots, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re good quality boots that fit your feet well. There will usually be some time required to break in your boots, of course, so plan to wear them for short periods a few times before you go in for the long haul. And if you’re looking for a variety of high-quality options, check out our selection right here. Good luck! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Don’t Be Fooled by Myths About Winter

Wintertime can be a tough season to get through. For one thing, you have to bundle up in layers and layers of extra clothing anytime you leave the house. For another thing, there are lots of germs floating around. And the weather can be unpredictably treacherous – for driving, walking or however it is you’re getting around. But there are some myths that circulate around winter – and we want to clear them up right here so everyone knows what’s what. Don’t be fooled; read on for the truth about some common cold weather myths.

One of the most widespread winter health myths is that cold air makes you sick. Rather, our bodies actually produce more infection-fighting cells in the cold than otherwise as a way to combat low temperatures. Cold viruses thrive most at 91° Fahrenheit, so being in the cold air (with proper attire, of course) is probably going to help combat sickness rather than cause it.

You don’t need sunscreen in the wintertime. This is just not true. As it turns out, the earth is actually closer to the sun during the winter months (that is, winter months for the northern hemisphere – it’s summer on the other side). This being the case, it’s even more critical to cover your exposed skin with a layer of sunscreen to protect it. Not to mention the harmful rays that can be powerful as they reflect off snow and ice. Granted, less of your skin will be exposed during winter than in other seasons – but make sure you’re protecting what the sun is hitting.

Exercising in the cold is a bad idea: false! Race times have actually been found to be faster in colder temperatures. Again, as long as you’re properly dressed for the weather (and you’re healthy and in good shape), you’ll be fine exercising outside in the freezing air – and may even do better than otherwise.

While four-wheel drive is certainly a good thing to have while driving in wintery weather conditions, it should not be relied upon completely. Four-wheel drive doesn’t help stop a car – rather, it’s snow tires and skilled driving that do that. (Snow tires allow stopping up to 30% faster than otherwise!) Driving in the snow should be done using a vehicle that, yes, has four-wheel drive, but also by a driver who has gone through driver education specific to best winter driving practices. 

Although it might not seem to be the case, drinking alcohol does not warm you up. When you drink alcohol, what’s actually happening is that your blood rushes toward your skin – and away from your internal organs – causing your core temperature to drop. What’s more, alcohol makes it harder for your body to shiver and create extra heat. So, drinking is definitely not a good solution for keeping warm on cold winter nights.

Vitamin C is the solution to the common cold. That would be nice, but unfortunately, it’s not the case – at least not entirely so. Vitamin C will contribute to keeping your immune system strong, but it won’t prevent or necessarily directly help you get over a cold. We do know that a balanced diet, exercise and plenty of sleep (especially through the holiday stress time) will keep you healthy and going strong, whatever the season brings your way.

There are a number of factors that make the winter months difficult – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Embrace the chill by layering up with warm materials like wool and fleece. And when you’re inside on cold, dark nights, create cozy, candle-lit spaces to enjoy. If nothing else, we hope that now you have a more accurate understanding of the common myths about winter and the truths behind them. Feel free to share more winter myths in the comments below – we’d love to hear them!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How to Stay Warm in the Outdoors This Winter

We’re already two weeks into December and even less before the winter solstice is upon us. You may be preparing for indoor hibernation – but for those of you who relish the great outdoors during the cold months (or perhaps don’t have a choice but to be outside), we’ve collected a few cold weather safety tips to keep you safe and warm, regardless of how low the thermometer plunges. Read on for these important reminders!

Stay Dry

It’s remarkable how quickly your body temperature can drop if you get wet as you’re braving the elements. Even sweat, which is actually a cooling mechanism to keep you from overheating, will cause issues once you slow down. Try to avoid any risks of getting wet, and pace yourself so as to limit how much you perspire. Of course, there will be instances where you don’t want to slow down. In these cases, if possible, try to reach a more moderate pace 20 or 30 minutes out from the end. This period will act as a sort of cool down so you’re not completely stopping from full-speed-ahead (and freezing in your fresh layer of sweat).

Another note on sweating: adjusting the number of layers you wear will help, so make sure you’re adding or pulling off what you need to in order to avoid getting too hot (or cold). Gage this on the temperature, humidity, wind levels and your level of activity.

Take Breaks

Breaks are a given with any physical exertion you do. While taking a break in the wintertime, sit on your pack – or whatever you’ve got – so you’re not sitting directly on the ground. Otherwise, the ground will suck away your body’s heat via thermal conduction. Any distance you can keep between the two will help your body hold its warmth.

And while you’re on this coveted break, aim for taking it in a sunny spot, if at all possible. Take advantage of nature’s ultimate heater – you’ll certainly feel the difference between sun and shade, even on the coldest of days.

Mittens over Gloves

Mittens may seem best suited for 3-year-olds, tied together under their coat so they’re not lost. But in reality, keeping skin-to-skin contact between your fingers will actually hold warmth more than separating them. That is, of course, as long as you don’t need a lot of maneuverability. We all know trying to do almost anything with our hands while wearing mittens is a challenge – so gloves can be a better option to get the job done. But if dexterity isn’t required, mittens are golden.

If you do choose to wear gloves, bring along a back-up pair that you can keep warm in a pocket in case your hands get cold and you need to switch it up.

Hats – But Not in Lieu of Other Essentials

If you grew up in a cold place, you more than likely have been ingrained with the idea that you need a warm hat to be outside in the wintertime. That’s because of the well-established idea that most body heat escapes through the head. Well, this “fact” has actually been shown to be more of a myth; rather, the more skin that’s exposed, the colder you’ll be because there’s more opportunity for heat to exit the body. Regardless, wearing a hat is still very important – as is covering up every part of your body. 

If you’re going to be out for a fair amount of time, consider bringing along two hats: a heavier one for when you’re exerting yourself less and a lighter one for when you’re working hard so as not to overheat. Switch them as appropriate, and keep the one not being used close to your core so it stays warm and dry.

Stay Hydrated – with Water, That Is

Your body needs plenty of water all the time, but especially while out in frigid temperatures. You become more dehydrated than you realize out there, so it’s important to carry a substantial supply of water with you, wherever that may be. You can add some sugar to it for a surge of energy, or even butter for some flavor and calories. 

Along with this additional intake of water, you should also make sure you’re giving your body enough fuel to energize your expedition. Pack some high-fat snacks, like nuts, to chomp on as you go. Because fat is a slow-burning fuel, you’ll get more out of it if you’re going to be in the great outdoors for a while. 

Don't Let Your Water Freeze

That hydration information we just covered? It’s not going to be very successful if your water is frozen. Keeping your water in liquid form is an extremely important part of staying healthy in the cold. For temperatures down to the low 20s (F), you should be fine using a hydration bladder that’s kept on your body. Just make sure the hose that leads from the sack to your mouth stays clear of water – as this is where it is most likely to freeze – by blowing into it after every sip you take. Any colder than the 20s and you will probably want to use a wide-mouth water bottle instead. Keep the bottle in an insulated sleeve upside-down so when you turn it right-side up to take a drink, any ice that’s formed is at the bottom. Clever, eh?

Feel free to add more tips on staying warm in winter in the comments below – we’d love to hear them!