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From backyard gardens to large-scale farms, fall is often viewed as harvest time. But “nature’s garden” is in full yield in the autumn, too, as the trees begin to lose their leaves and heavy frosts set in.
Following are a few of the highest-yielding, nutritious wild foods that are ready for harvest in the fall. You will need a good plant ID book to make sure you get the right plant. As with foraging at any time, do NOT eat anything you are not 100 percent certain is the correct plant.
Many plants begin to bring their energy into their roots in the fall to wait out the winter underground, in preparation for a growth explosion in the spring. Most root crops can either be dug up with a shovel, or pulled up after loosening the soil around them with the garden fork.
1. Burdock (Arctium species): a variety of burdock has been eaten in Japan for centuries, and with a delicious sweet flavor and a delightful crunchy texture, it’s well worth trying. Burdock should be harvested the fall of their first year (before they produce along central stock with flowers) and can be dried or eaten right away.
2. Chicory (Cichorium intybus): known as an excellent coffee substitute, chicory is best harvested once the top of the plant mostly dies, sending its energy to the roots. It can be roasted and ground into a powder for a delightful tea high in nutrients.
3. Dandelion (Taraxacum species): another potential coffee substitute, dandelion roots are known as a powerful medicine and can be roasted much the same way as chicory. Be careful not to confuse them with chicory, since the leaves look similar.
Many nuts are available in the fall, and they are available from year to year under two categories: mast year nut producers, and annual producers. Mast year nuts produce nuts irregularly from year to year, with some years being “mast years” of high production, and other years yielding few or no nuts at all. Many nuts can be harvested simply by waiting until they fall to the ground, particularly after strong winds around the time they are ripe. One can put a tarp under the tree to catch the nuts during windy periods, knock the branches with a long stick, climb a ladder and shake the branches (or shake the whole tree if small enough), or get a good, solid throwing stick and chuck it at the nuts to dislodge them. Nuts keep longer once dried for two weeks either in a cotton sack (e.g. old pillow case), or on screens, and then roasted. You may also choose to purchase specialized “pickers” for your nuts to pick them up off the ground, which can be purchased online.
4. Acorns (Quercus species): With mast years every 2-3 years, acorns fall when they are ripe in early- to mid-fall, especially during wind events.
5. Walnuts (Juglans species): Irregular mast producers, walnuts may still produce at least some nuts during low-production years. They are both delectable and nutritious, though some species such as black walnut (Juglans nigra) are more difficult to shell, with relatively little nut meat, while others, such as English walnut (Juglans regia) have much bigger nuts with thinner shells. Depending on the species, they ripen throughout the fall. The hulls can be removed by stomping on them and rolling them with your feet, or they can be cut off with a knife by cutting a line around their diameter and removing by hand with a good, thick set of gloves (the hulls will stain your hands). You can then put them in a bucket with a lid, some gravel, and a bit of water, and shake the bucket vigorously to remove hull remnants, followed by a good rinse before drying (old pillow cases hung indoors away from sun work well). Dispose of the hulls by spreading them across the landscape away from gardens, as black walnuts especially can damage soil life and inhibit plant growth.
6. Hickories (Carya ovata, Carya laciniosa, Carya palida, Carya tomentosa, and Carya ovalis): Closely related to pecans, but often sweeter tasting, most hickories produce annually, ripening in the early fall, or late summer. Once dry, husks are easy to remove.
7. Pecans (Carya illinoinensis): Another irregular mast producer, they are usually ready in November, when they fall consistently from the trees. Some trees may have very small nuts that are difficult to remove from shells, though as with other hickories, husks are fairly easy to remove.
8. Hazelnuts (Corylus species): Ripening from late August through September, as with all nuts, you’ll have to beat the squirrels to hazels. Nuts can be found during mast years under the leaves and are easy to remove from the shell.
Other Fall Forage Crops
9. Apples (Malus domestica): There are many wild or untended apple trees growing throughout North America and elsewhere. Once you start looking in the fall, they shouldn’t be hard to spot in a good year. Similar to nuts, many apple trees don’t produce a heavy crop every year. Lower quality apples can be used to make apple chips (simply by cutting and dehydrating), or apple cider.
10. Hackberry / Sugarberry (Celtis species): There are several species of hackberry, many of them containing a delectable and sweet date flavored dark, light brown or orangish berry ready in mid to late fall. One way to harvest them is to wait until the leaves fall from the tree, put a tarp under the tree and shake the tree or branches vigorously. Due to their low moisture and high sugar content, the berries keep quite well without any processing and can be stored in paper bags or simply in a bowl or container that allows excess moisture to escape.
Although there are many other wild foods available for harvest in the fall, this list of higher-yielding foods is a good place to start. Other wild foods to look out for in the fall include rosehips, elderberries, watercress, amaranth seed, ground nut and many others. Fortunately, most plant ID books give a good indication as to the season that a given crop is available, so hopefully this will only be the start of your journey to find the best foods nature has to offer in your area.
If you have your own favorite fall forage crops you like to harvest in the fall, please share in the comments below!
Intuitively, we all know that diversity is important in ecosystems, and yet most gardeners chug along year after year using the same few plants in the garden, as if gardens themselves are not ecosystems and somehow fall outside of the laws of nature.
To be sure, many gardens do not resemble healthy ecosystems (think of a forest compared to a typical vegetable garden and you’ll get the point), which is why “weeds,” pests and disease are considered normal, and the consequent time spent dealing with these problems is seen as a necessary evil.
Indeed, many gardeners are now waking up to simple methods of ecological design that seek to deal with these time sinks by incorporating ecological principles inherent in healthy ecosystems into the design of their gardens. Forests, for example, usually deal with pests and diseases with ease, and are made up of what can be considered natural companion plants, or polycultures (more than one type of plant), also known as “plant guilds” that work together to support one another. Here’s how:
1. Making it harder for pests and disease to spread. With only a few types of plants in the garden, especially when they are all planted in one place, you are much more likely to attract pests that love those plants, while more
easily spreading disease. It’s simple population dynamics. For example, if all your squashes are planted tightly together, powdery mildew is more likely to spread from one plant to the other, unchecked. Space plants out in more natural patterns to make it harder for pests to find their favorite food and for diseases to jump easily from plant to plant.
2. Encouraging predators. More plant diversity means more types of habitat and food for beneficial insects, birds, frogs and other organisms that help keep insects and other pests in check. Trees and shrubs are also an important part of a healthy ecosystem, so incorporate them into your garden when possible, being careful to plan for their growth.
As ecological designer Bill Mollison once said: “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a ground bird deficiency.” You could just as easily replace “slug” and “ground bird” with any other variety of pests and their predator. One example of a good predator to have around are various types of birds, which prefer shrubs and trees to perch on, and things like berries to eat.
3. Creating healthier ecosystem dynamics. This is related to the above point. More diversity leads to a healthier environment in many ways. For example, some plants provide specific ecosystem functions, such as nitrogen fixation (creating a macronutrient literally out of thin air), dynamic accumulation (bringing specific nutrients from the subsoil up into the topsoil where other plants can use them), ground cover (protecting soil from erosion and filling ecosystem niches so that unwanted opportunistic plants cannot take over), and as mentioned, providing habitat and food for beneficial organisms.
4. Limiting competition and filling spaces. In addition to more efficient nutrient cycles from dynamic accumulators, planting a diversity of plants will also lead to a diversity of plant root patterns and depths in general, and a diversity of nutrient needs that will cause less competition for nutrients and moisture. Further, it will help prevent erosion and nutrient leaching. Many gardeners keep annuals and perennials separate in the garden, but there is no reason to do this, and in fact, they work very well together, given that annuals tend to have more shallow roots, while perennials often have deeper roots. Meanwhile, annuals tend to flower for longer periods of time, and are perfect for filling the spaces between sapling trees while they grow larger, for example. Filling more space below and above ground also means that fewer unwanted plants will be able to make their way into your garden.
5. Using trap plants. A specific gardening technique you can use once you identify a pest in your garden is to find out what that pest’s favorite food is, and use it against them. Plant it in the middle of or near the affected plants, and the pest will often flock to it (e.g. use bok choi or pak choi to attract flea beetles away from brassicas/cruciferous vegetables). You can then spot spray them with organic pesticides like insecticidal soap or neem oil, or take a shop vacuum or dust buster to them if they are a slower moving pest.
Ecosystems are incredibly complex, but with knowledge of a few key principles, we can begin to work with natural systems (which is exactly what your garden is) to use their biological resources to do work for us. In other words, ecological gardening isn’t just for hippies and tree huggers; it’s for people who want to cut out unnecessary work and costs by hunkering down and learning about how the real world works. Diversifying your garden to include plant guilds or polycultures, is just one of the ways you can do this.
If you enjoyed this article, or want to share some of your own design ideas for polycultures or plant guilds, please share in the comments below!
If you live in a climate that has less-than-ideal growing conditions for much of the year due to frost or cold weather, there are many things you can do to extend the growing season by weeks, months, or even indefinitely – even in the coldest climates.
1. Choose the right plants
First and foremost, choose plants that will yield in the amount of time you have. Most annual vegetables can be grown in most places if started early (see below), but if you choose a perennial that doesn’t belong in your zone, it may not produce anything even if it does survive the winters. Learn everything you can about a plant’s needs for soil, sun, water, daylight hours, temperatures and humidity, and choose the ones most adapted for your climate (but don’t be afraid to experiment, too).
2. Use green houses
Probably the most well-known way to extend the growing season is to use green houses. The best designs for energy efficiency and resilience are passive solar green houses. They are sometimes built into south-facing slopes, and usually have windows concentrated on the south, and sometimes the east, and west sides, while the north side is generally heavily insulated or made of thermal mass such as stone or earth.
There are many designs online to explore, from in-ground walapinis, to bermed designs, to aquaculture focused, to simple free-standing versions. Add a rocket mass heating stove or other stove to your green house, and you will ensure a year-round growing season with little risk of freezing. You might even consider attaching the green house to your home so you can exchange heat between the two buildings.
3. Use cold frames
The little sister of green houses, cold frames can be an invaluable way to extend your season using salvaged materials such as old patio doors and scrap wood. Just as with green houses, you can build them into slopes or berms, but it also can be as simple as throwing a frame on a window and placing it over a bed at a height suitable to your plants. You also can create temporary quick and dirty cold frames quickly by piling logs or other materials around your beds and placing windows on top of them. Make sure you have a way to ventilate the cold frame, whether through incorporating hinges and a way to prop the windows up, or through removable sides. As with a green house, you also can attach cold frames to your home to either exchange heat, or to simply benefit from a south-facing wall.
4. Use microclimates
Microclimates are simply areas within your garden that have different temperature or humidity qualities than the rest of your garden. South-facing walls are an example, as mentioned above, as are southern hills, large rocks, pond or lake edges, or well-sheltered areas (e.g. from buildings, trees or hedges). These will all make conditions more favorable for growing less hardy plants. Likewise, avoid the frost pockets caused by obstacles or land forms (e.g. low-lying areas) that may cause frost to collect.
5. Stagger plantings
Continue planting appropriate crops throughout the entire season, including right into the fall when you can plant cold season crops like spinach, chard, kale, or beets. Once you harvest a crop, plant another crop right away, considering how much time you have before first frost. Of course, you also can plan for putting a cold frame over a crop or use other methods below if you expect it won’t be ready in time.
6. Plant diversity, including perennials
Branch out beyond the common annual vegetables, many of which have less tolerance to cold than some other annuals like globe artichoke, or radicchio, and especially perennials. Perennial vegetables like sea kale, good King Henry, garden sorrel, and many others are often poking out of the ground weeks before you plant your first annual out. And why stick to vegetables and herbs when you also can benefit from the abundance and ease of maintenance that trees, shrubs, and vines can bring? Try fruit like strawberries, juneberries/Saskatoon berries, raspberries, kiwi, and haskaps, as well as nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and cherries to keep the harvest coming all season.
7. Incorporate mounds and raised beds
Raised beds and soil mounds will warm up earlier in the spring, and stay warmer later into the fall. Although they may have some drawbacks, such as drying out faster and requiring more work to create, incorporating at least a few raised beds or hills/mounds can extend your season at least a little. Make sure to mulch a little heavier to compensate for the increased moisture loss.
8. Build rich soil
The more organic matter and nutrients that are in your soil, the faster your plants will grow, which means they are more likely to yield faster and better before the first frost. Rich, lofty soil also can act like insulation for your plants’ roots, while ongoing breakdown of organic matter may even create a little extra heat.
9. Mulch heavily
Mulching your soil with at least 4-6 inches of mulch will insulate your soil and plant roots, moderating soil temperature extremes. Temporarily putting even more mulch (even more than a foot deep) around less hardy plants for the winter may even allow you to plant things that normally wouldn’t survive the winter in some places. If deep mulching temporarily, make sure to remove the mulch back to around 6 inches in the spring to ensure the plant can make its way to the surface.
10. Start seedlings and plant early
Many vegetables are best planted a month or earlier before last frost indoors, including tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Some plants don’t transplant well, such as most squashes, but everything else is game for starting seedlings early to ensure they get a good start and produce earlier. Get to know your region’s expected frost dates, watch the weather carefully, and plant as early as you can. Consider growing extra plants and planting some of them earlier when there may even still be danger of frost, and then if frost does strike, either protect the plants, or replace frost-damaged plants with your extras.
11. Protect plants
Collect old blankets, sheets, plastic, tarps or any other similar coverings you can, and when frost is expected, be prepared to drape them over your more sensitive plants. To avoid damage to your plants from the weight of the material, put stakes in the ground around your plants that reach beyond the top of the plants, and lay the coverings over them for the night, securing them with stones, sticks, tent pegs or similar. This simple technique alone could add weeks to your growing season.
Whether you want to extend your gardening season by a few weeks, or keep the food and medicine coming all year with a green house, these methods are a good place to start.
If you have any other ideas for extending the growing season, please share in the comments below!
Kale with huge holes in the leaves. Squash plants missing large sections of stem. Flowers with their petals missing.
Insect garden pests can do all these things and more to your precious plants, and by the time you notice, it may be too late. For many, the solution is to smother plants in chemicals, both for treatment or prevention, but this pest control method has major drawbacks.
First, it creates unnecessary work for the gardener. Pesticides aren’t selective about the insects they kill, which means they’ll kill predator insects and pollinators, too, ultimately creating a vicious cycle where the gardener must continually intervene to take over the functions that a normal healthy ecosystem would do automatically. Not only that, but there is increasing evidence that pesticides are poisonous to humans, and spraying poisons on your food is probably not a good idea.
Fortunately, there are many effective and safe all-natural ways you can control pests in the garden, most of which will save time and effort to boot:
1. Get to know your pest. Identity what your pests are, and research their lifecycles, habitat requirements and predators. Then, make a plan of attack, known as an integrated pest management strategy. Knowing your pest also may help you come up with creative solutions of your own, while knowing the right questions to ask people online or in person who may be able to help you.
2. Encourage allies (predators) of pests. As mentioned, predator insects will take a hit from pesticides, and their life cycles are generally longer than those of pests, which means they’ll recover more slowly. Further, if you keep killing all the pests, they won’t have food to establish their populations and keep the pests in check naturally. Some examples of things you can do to encourage predator allies:
- Feed allies. Many predators, such as parasitic wasps, have food requirements besides the pests they may pray on. Parasitic wasps need nectar that they can only get from umbel flowers (e.g. dill, fennel, angelica, lovage). Plant a lot of different types of plants, especially flowers, to make more food for predators, but also habitat (see below).
- Create habitat. Do you have a slug problem? More than likely, you actually have a frog and ground bird deficiency (both of which can demolish slug populations). Frogs won’t come around much without a pond, so make one! Birds need trees and shrubs, ideally with berries and other food sources. Lacewings, another ally, need furry leaved plants to lay their eggs on. Add mulch, rocks, logs, and a diversity of plants to your garden to create more habitat for more creatures. Most insects and animals are not pests, so the more you have, the easier your garden ecosystem will stay in balance.
3. Try natural planting patterns. Instead of planting all your plants of a given species in one large clump, consider spacing them out into smaller clumps, in more random planting patterns. This will make it harder for pests to find their favorite foods, keeping them moving more, which will make them waste more energy and open them up to predation.
4. Attract insects to trap plants. Once you know your pest, do some research to find out what their favorite foods are so you can use those against them by planting a few of them to attract them away from other plants in the garden. Once you attract them to the trap plant, you can more easily combat them through limited organic sprays on just those few plants, or through picking them off into soapy water, or even vacuuming them off. Flea beetles, for example, love bok shoi and pak choi, and will usually flock to it over broccoli or other brassicas.
5. Keep healthy plants. Healthy plants are better at defending against pests. Once a plant has everything it needs, it will produce its own pesticides: compounds that are toxic, disrupt digestion, make plants taste bad, or deter pests through other means (e.g. disrupting smell). Tips for keeping plants healthy:
- Plant diversity. Besides the benefits of more plant diversity mentioned above, planting a larger diversity of plants that includes native perennials fulfills more of the ecological functions needed for a healthy ecosystem. This includes decreasing root competition and increasing nutrient cycle efficiency through using deeper rooted plants, and utilizing other plant functions such as nitrogen fixation (where plants create a macronutrient literally out of thin air).
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulch has innumerable benefits, and should be at least 4-6 inches thick. It slows evaporation, provides slow release fertilizer, protects the soil and the microorganisms from the beating sun and erosive wind and rain, while providing habitat for allies like ground beetles and spiders.
- Boost microorganisms. Use aerated compost teas or effective microorganism sprays to boost microorganisms in the soil, along with mycorrhizal inoculants. Microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast, protozoa and mycorrhizae, help to break down nutrients to be more bioavailable, or usable, to plants. They also help to build healthy soil structure that prevent erosion and nutrient leaching.
- Boost soil organic matter. Although mulch and inoculants will both help build organic matter, there are other methods you can use as well to feed your microorganisms and build your soil. These include planting “chop and drop” mulch crops (e.g. alder trees, comfrey), and green manures (e.g. fall rye, buckwheat). Mulch crops can be cut regularly, with their debris being left on the soil to decompose, while green manures are cut before they go to seed, and disked or lightly surface tilled into the soil (being careful not to mix soil layers, and limiting the number of times this is done so as not to set back soil structure formation).
The above tips for all-natural pest control are all related to creating a healthy ecosystem for your plants to thrive in. Learning about ecology, and treating your garden like the ecosystem it is, will help you to better respond to pests and other issues in the garden, creating less work, and wasting less resources, while growing the most nutritious and clean food you can get.
If you have any other favorite ways you control pests in the garden that are missing from this list, please share in the comments below!
Planets partner with soil ecosystems to create conditions favorable to their growth. This includes everything from increasing organic matter in the soil, to creating soil structures ideal for holding water and exchanging nutrients, and making nutrients more bioavailable/useable to plants and animals.
Unfortunately, the common practice of tilling destroys that delicate balance of the soil ecosystem, and though it may provide a temporary boost in nutrients, what’s really happening (partly) is that the organisms in the soil are dying, releasing the nutrients held in their bodies, much of which will then wash away in the following rains, all the while oxidizing and solarizing (solar cooking) the soil to death. Of course, some organisms will always survive, but the more this is done, year after year, the more the soil suffers, and the more outside inputs of time and energy must be put into the garden to keep fertility and water content up.
Tilling also destroys the soil’s structure, which is built by earthworms, microbes, and other unseen garden helpers in the most active soil layer (the topsoil). Besides the soil life itself, this structure is partly what gives a soil its ability to hold nutrients and water.
In short, tilling creates structural and ecological devastation, leading to compaction (more on this below), erosion, nutrient leaching, oxidization, solarization (death by sun), and decreased organic matter. Add to that the fact that it stirs up weed seeds and encourages their germination, and hopefully by this point, you’re wondering what the alternatives are, and if they work.
Besides avoiding the pitfalls of tilling listed above, the methods below will increase bioavailability of nutrients, fertilize the soil, and increase nutrient cycling (reducing leaching and erosion).
1. Mulch, mulch, mulch
Mulch protects the soil and the soil food web from the drying winds, erosive rain and beating sun, among other things. It’s also a slow release fertilizer that breaks down into all important organic matter while providing food and habitat for your decomposer, predator (of pests), and microbe friends (especially fungi, which will greatly appreciate wood chips, leaves, and other mulch materials). Last but not least, mulch dramatically reduces water evaporation from the soil.
2. Diversify plants
Create more efficient nutrient cycling (with roots in all levels of the soil), while taking up all of the soil ecosystem niches that “weeds” would otherwise fill by simply adding more types of plants to the garden. Perennials and annuals can live quite harmoniously together, particularly when you don’t have to destroy the entire ecosystem every year, forcing it to rebuild from scratch time and time again. Perennials, with their deeper roots, will pull nutrients from deeper down, and will help cover and protect the soil with their bodies and their debris for all or much of the year. Make sure to throw in some nitrogen-fixing plants, as well (which literally extract the important nutrient out of thin air), and lots of flowers to encourage pollinators.
3. Till to prepare for no-tilling
Although ongoing tilling is unnecessary and destructive, it can be useful as a one-time method of preparing no-till beds. One method is to till, wait until a large number of weed seeds germinate and begin to grow, and then till again before they go to seed or have significant time to establish tap roots. This will deplete the seed bank, and after one or two times, it will be easier to establish no-till beds, particularly with the help of mulches and other methods. Adding organic fertilizers to the soil prior to the first till may encourage even more seeds to germinate.
4. Cover crops/green manures, living mulches/ground covers
“Living mulches” (ground cover plants) have the benefits of mulch, but in the case of perennials, they never have to be reapplied. Cover crops or green manures, meanwhile, are plants that can be seeded, and once grown for sometime can be tilled into the soil during the initial (hopefully) one-time soil prep (along with the germinating weed seeds). This will add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Good options include buckwheat, rye and legumes. Cover crops should be planted in the fall so that they are winter killed before seeding, or alternatively, you can use non-self-seeding annual plants, or till them in before they go to seed.
5. Permanent beds and paths to avoid soil compaction
Finally, since you won’t be continually tilling to give the soil the loft and aeration it needs, you must rely on natural means of maintaining this ideal soil structure for plant roots to thrive, and for new seeds to germinate. This simply means keeping off garden beds to allow the soil food web to do its work to create a healthy soil structure, with maximum water and oxygen infiltration. Meanwhile, simply sift mulch aside to plant your new seeds. If weed seed germination within your seed beds is an ongoing issue, you might try adding a layer of seed starting compost on top of the mulch (making sure it is well cooked seedless compost), along with some more mulch sprinkled lightly over the seeds, and more generously around the compost to contain it.
This is but a brief overview of some of the methods for no till gardening that in mine and many other peoples’ experience, can not only save you a significant amount of time in the garden, but will also create a more balanced and healthy soil ecosystem for your plants. If you liked this article, or have any other no till methods to share, please feel free to comment below!
What is your favorite no-till method? Share your advice in the section below:
If you ask a representative sample of gardeners what they least enjoy doing in the garden, you’re likely to get the same answer from most of them: weeding. In my own experience as a low-maintenance landscape designer and professional gardener, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Gardening shouldn’t be about slogging away day after day trying to kill the multi headed-hydras of the plant world. Weeding is by and large unnecessary if your garden is designed well, and although getting to the point of a nearly weed-free garden is an art and science in itself, sheet mulching for weed control is a good place to start.
Sheet mulching, or lasagna gardening as it’s also called, is a technique for smothering and permanently killing weeds in existing garden beds, building soil fertility and organic matter, and starting new garden beds. The basic idea is to create rich soil on the spot through compost building using alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen rich materials (see below). Now that you know the basics, let’s get down to the steps involved:
Step 1: Collect materials
To increase decomposition speed and create balanced compost during a regular composting process, it is recommended that you aim for a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of about 30 to 1 in the materials used. When sheet mulching, it’s fine if that ratio is a little off, but it’s still a good idea to shoot for a ratio somewhere between 30 to 1 and 100 to 1.
Four to eight yards of mulch will be needed for about 100 to 200 feet square, which is about 6 to 10 bales of very rotten hay or seedless straw, for example. Ideas for materials: Nitrogen-rich materials include things like kitchen scraps and manure, while carbon rich materials include things like leaves, sawdust, cardboard, small branches and wood chips. A good base layer of cardboard can often be acquired from farm supply, appliance or bike stores.
Step 2: Water the soil
The evening or day before your sheet mulching project, water the soil at the site if the ground is not already moist. This helps kickstart microorganisms and will make it easier to ensure the bottom of your pile starts off moist.
Step 3: Cut existing vegetation
Simply cut the area to make putting down your layers easier and leave the debris where it is.
Step 4: Add soil amendments
To create a rich soil add organic fertilizers like greensand, seaweed powder, rock dust and other amendments directly to the existing soil. You might also consider doing a pH test and amending based on pH. For example, overly acidic soil can be amended with lime while overly alkaline soil can be amended with sulfur or gypsum.
Step 5: Break up compaction
Use a spading fork or broad fork to break up and loosen the soil and work in your amendments. This brings oxygen into the soil and helps prepare it for better water and root infiltration. Avoid mixing soil layers, which is bad for the soil ecology.
Step 6: First layer
The first layer is a nitrogen rich layer such as compost, composted manure or livestock bedding (or non-composted things like manure or restaurant kitchen scraps if you’ll be giving it a few months before using the bed). Moisten this first layer, but do not make it soggy.
Step 7: Smothering layer
The second layer is your smothering layer, usually a layer of cardboard or newspaper. I recommend cardboard, which is fairly easy to find and creates a thicker layer more easily. The bigger the pieces you can get, the better. The smothering layer pieces should overlap by at least 6 inches, if not a full foot, and it should be 1/8 of an inch thick. Water the material to keep it from blowing away and avoid walking on it so it doesn’t tear.
Step 8: Nitrogen layer 2
Self-explanatory: another layer similar to the first.
Step 9: Bulk carbon
Now it’s time to add a thick layer (8 to 12 inches) of carbon material such as weed-free straw or rotted hay. If you only have potentially seedy mulch, you can still use it, but in that case it’s important to add further layers on top to ensure the seeds rot rather than germinate. You can also sprinkle in seaweed powder or other nitrogen-rich material here, and water every few inches to dampen.
Step 10: Repeat
Continue adding layers as deep as you like.
Step 11: Compost layer
When you get to your second last layer, it’s time to add at least a couple of inches of compost, or several inches of compostable materials if you will be letting it compost on the spot for a few months prior to planting. This will be your seeding or planting medium.
Step 12: Final layer
Finish it off with at least 3-6 inches of mulch that is completely weed- (and root-) free. Wood chips are great for this layer if possible since they last longer before decomposing. Leaves, rotted hay or seedless straw also will work.
Step 13: Plant
To plant seeds, separate the mulch aside into your desired planting patterns and plant away, leaving the mulch where you don’t plant. Sprinkle a small amount of mulch on top of the seed areas to prevent evaporation and increase seed germination. For plants, make sure to plant into the soil, and tuck the mulch right up to the plant once planted.
That’s all there is to creating low-maintenance, nutrient-rich, moisture-retaining garden beds. It might be a little more work to start, but it is more than worth it once you experience the freedom of a (mostly) weed-free garden full of healthy, disease-free plants. Even the few weeds that do manage to poke their way through or germinate among your plants will be easy to pull since the soil will be loose and moist (as long as you do double-reach, no-walk beds to avoid compaction). At this point, all you have to do is add more mulch each year, or gradually replace it with living mulches to maintain an even lower maintenance, weed-free garden.
Do you have any experience with sheet mulching or other time-saving methods for new garden bed creation? Please share your own experience and comments
Whether you’re a new gardener, or a long-time student of the land, there are many things you can do to cut back on inputs and save time and money in the garden.
In fact, there is a growing movement of gardeners who have found great success in shifting more and more of the work in the garden onto natural processes, taking hints from natural ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, marshes and savannas, which maintain healthy “gardens” of immense biomass with no human inputs whatsoever.
It turns out we can mimic these natural systems in the garden to virtually eliminate weeding, controlling pests, fertilizing and if you desire, even planting. Here are a few of the main ways we can do this:
1. No tilling. The fact is that tilling is an outdated gardening method. New research, along with the direct experience of countless farmers and gardeners around the world, indicates that tilling to temporarily set back weeds and/or loosen the soil has the exact opposite effect in the short term: stirring up the seed bank and bringing more weed seeds to the surface to germinate, while destroying the soil structure and decimating microbe and earth worm populations that are so vital to soil health.
2. Mulch and solarize. As mentioned above, the only truly effective way to kill weeds without disrupting your other plants is to smother them. Sheet mulching is my preferred method, which is simply smothering the weeds with alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen rich material, starting with a layer of cardboard (with no shiny labels or tape, etc.), and finishing it off with a nice thick (4 to 6 inch) layer of mulch.
My first gardening mentor once told me that the first 3 rules of gardening are: mulch (for weed suppression), mulch (for evaporation prevention), and mulch (for soil organic matter and microbe health). Another technique is to first “solarize” an area to prepare it for garden beds, which entails covering the area with a black tarp for 1-3 months during the warm season to cook the weeds to death. Once the tarp is removed, it’s important to reestablish a healthy soil food web with compost, compost teas, and of course, mulch!
3. Minimize weeding. Over the past 13 years, I have done very little weeding in my garden, or in my landscaping company. Yet, my clients’ gardens and my own gardens have very few weeds, and the “volunteer” plants that do grow in my gardens are ones that usually benefit the other plants around them. If I do see some aggressive quack grass or similar coming up, I simply smother it with a good sheet mulch (see below) and then never have to deal with it again. Trying to pull grass, and many other weeds, is absolutely futile, as you’ll quite often only encourage their regrowth by splitting their roots up so that they can come back as many different plants, like a garden dominating hydra. Weeding can also contribute to soil disturbance and soil structure disruption, leading to more weed seeds germinating, and less water and nutrient holding capacity.
4. Build rich soil. Weeds are often a response to poor soil structure, soil compaction and nutrient deficiencies, so building your soil by adding organic matter via green manures, ground covers, compost and compost teas, along with chop and drop techniques, will make a less-than-ideal growing situation for many species of weed, particularly if you keep a constant cover crop and/or heavy mulch on the garden (including on pathways!). When a soil is healthy, with a diverse ecosystem of microbes, and is high in organic matter, there is little-to-no need for ongoing fertilization, and much less watering is needed. Plants also will be much healthier, of course, and will get fewer disease and pest problems.
5. Use a diversity of plants. Growing only a few different types of plants is a sure recipe for pest problems and inefficient nutrient cycles. Growing only a few types of annual crops, for example, means your garden will be full of only shallow roots, all competing at the same soil depth for the same nutrients, while creating an easily accessible buffet for pests to get out of control, and limiting habitat and supplemental food for predators of these pests. Planting a variety of perennials with deeper root systems will create a more efficient nutrient cycle, bringing nutrients and moisture up from deeper down and competing less with your annuals, while also providing habitat and food for predators such as lacewings and parasitic wasps. Using more perennials, including edibles and medicinals, means less replanting year after year, as well, and often leads to earlier harvests in the spring of things like perennial onions, or perennial greens like Good King Henry.
6. Minimize direct pest control. Notice that I’m not saying to stop trying to control pests. What I’m advocating is to minimize direct interventions such as spraying pesticides. When you kill pest populations, not only are you usually also killing their predators, you’re ensuring that their predators don’t have time to build up their populations so that they can establish themselves and take the burden of having to control pest populations off you. Instead of trying to kill all the things eating your plants, try to identify what they are, and then, find out what eats them, and what habitat and food requirements that predator has. For example, slugs are a common pest on greens such as chard or lettuce, and they just happen to be a favorite food of frogs. Most frogs require a pond, and shade and hiding places that are created from large plants, logs and other structures in the garden.
There are many other things you can do to minimize inputs of time, money and energy in the garden, many of which are intuitive and simple once you start. The key is to slow down, observe and strive to understand the natural processes at work in the garden so that you don’t spend your time fighting an uphill battle that simply leads to needless work and unnecessary expenditures.
What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:
Imagine being able to store fresh food and medicines in the ground indefinitely for emergency purposes, not only maintaining their nutrients, potency and freshness, but actually increasing their quantities and quality from year to year with little or no work.
This is exactly what you can do by growing perennial plants that are edible and/or medicinal. Here are some of the best ones for nutrition and ease of maintenance. Consider it your “survival insurance.”
1. Perennial brassicas (Brassica species) — Perennial brassicas like kale, broccoli and collards are super-nutritious and packed with health-promoting compounds. On top of this, their deeper root systems make them more drought-tolerant and possibly more nutritious, considering they have more potential to suck up nutrients. Brassica species, also known as the cruciferous family, require full sun and a rich soil fairly high in nitrogen. Some species to look out for include Tree Collards, Sea Kale, Pentland Brig, and Perennial Five Star Broccoli.
2. Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) — This perennial green was once grown as a popular addition to salads, and is nutritious and easy to grow. It requires moist soil, preferring part shade, but tolerating full sun, and grows in most soil types.
3. Chinese toon (Toona sinensis) — Although Chinese toons are technically trees, they are also an excellent salad green right away, since their leaves are edible and have a unique onion flavor, so they can be counted as a perennial green.
Their seeds also can be sprouted, as is done in China, for a high nutrition sprout similar to alfalfa or bean sprouts. The leaves are high in vitamin A and protein, and they require full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
4. Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) — Also called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes are a prolific and aggressively spreading root/tuber crop related to sunflowers. They require full sun and plenty of space, ideally separate from the rest of your garden since they can take over. Best grown in loose, deep soil for better root production. The best varieties have smooth tubers that are easier to wash. As with beans, it is best to start off eating a small amount until your system adapts to eating them.
5. Moringa (Moringa oleifera) — Moringa is a tropical tree that can only be grown in areas without frost as a perennial. However, in other areas this highly nutritious and medicinal tree also can be grown as an annual or as an indoor or greenhouse specimen. Its leaves are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, having been used for decades by aid agencies in major plantings around famine-stricken areas to supply a wide spectrum of nutrients. Its seeds are highly medicinal, as well, and can be used to help purify water by killing microorganisms and viruses. Some say you can get seeds in one year if you start them indoors several months before the last frost and then plant them out in full sun with plenty of good organic fertilizer for the growing season.
6. Chinese yam (Dioscorea polystachya/Dioscorea divaricate/Dioscorea opposita) — This edible and medicinal vine produces a large root — up to three feet long — that has been eaten in Asia for centuries for its health-promoting properties. It is a good low-maintenance calorie crop, but great care should be taken anywhere warmer than zone 5, as the plant may become invasive. It requires full sun and a trellis to grow on, and will produce aerial tubers (small berry-like balls) that can be planted to produce new plants, or cooked and eaten.
7. Nettles (Laportaea and Utrica species) – Nettles are high in iron and protein, among other things, and also have medicinal value. Their leaves and seeds are both highly nutritious, although they must be steamed to neutralize the sting prior to eating. The younger more tender leaves are best. Wood Nettle (Laportaea canadensis) can grow in part to full shade while Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) prefers full sun to part shade, and they do best in rich, moisture retentive soil. Plant these somewhere out of the way (or in the way if you’re protecting something) to avoid the sting. Use gloves to harvest.
The best thing about perennials is that as long as you keep them well-mulched and build organic matter-rich soil, they’ll pretty much take care of themselves, giving you a low-maintenance way to continually increase your food supplies.
What perennials would you add to our list? What is your favorite edible perennial? Share your thoughts in the section below:
There is an old saying that goes, “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago.” This holds especially true for trees that someday may save your life in the event of a crisis or disaster.
The next best time to plant a tree, of course, is right now.
But, what should you plant?
Below is a list of trees that are especially important for food and other survival uses, based on the amount of calories they can supply, how well they store, and how long they take to produce.
1. Hazelnut (Corylus species)
Uses: Nuts are one of the most nutrient-dense, long-term storage crops you can grow, and hazelnuts top the list of best nuts to plant. This is because of their exceptional nutritional value as well as their ability to produce quickly, within 4-5 years. Keep the nut shell on and store in a cool, dry place, and it should store for at least 12 months. An edible oil can be extracted from the seed.
Propagation: The seeds should be planted fresh during autumn in a cold frame if possible, or stratified (kept moist, but not soggy in soil or soilless mix) over the winter. Stored seed can be pre-soaked in warm water for 48 hours and then given 2 weeks of warm moist treatment, followed by 3-4 months of cold moist treatment (i.e. warm stratification, followed by cold stratification). It should then germinate in 1-6 months. As with all trees, particularly when first planted, mulch aggressively, and consider putting a weed barrier around them (e.g. cardboard) as they establish, and then mulch with 4-6 inches of mulch to or beyond their drip line (recommended for all trees). All trees benefit from mycorrhizal inoculant, as well.
2. Walnut (Juglans species)
Uses: Black walnut (Juglans nigra) and California walnut (Juglans californica) are both good choices, as is the English walnut (Juglans regia). The nuts are high in calories and nutrients, with a sweet, rich flavor. They can be stored like other nuts (dried, kept cool and dark) and will keep for up to 6 months, though roasting extends storage times.
A brown dye can be extracted from the husks, bark, leaves and stems, and the husks also can be made into a high-quality coal once removed from the nut (burn at low oxygen), which can be used to create a water filter. All parts of the tree contain juglone, which can be used as an insecticide and herbicide (use only in an emergency, as it will kill soil life and could affect health of soil, while making the soil unsuitable for most plants). Sap also can be tapped and used in moderation for hydration, or boiled into a syrup.
Propagation: There are cultivars of walnut that are much better for eating (larger nuts, thinner shells), so if possible, obtain these trees, or seeds, from nurseries. Growing wild walnuts from seed is certainly not a bad idea, however. You can get nuts from a tree from seed in as little as 10 years, although they take some time to produce in quantity. You also can graft cultivars onto root stock that you grow from seed. To grow from seed, either plant the seeds in their permanent location in the fall after removing them from the husk, and protect them from rodents by putting chicken wire over the planting area, or stratify them in a bucket of soil or soilless mix outdoors over the winter (if planting a winter hardy species of walnut in a cold climate), followed by planting in the spring, potentially even individually as you check for sprouting nuts. They require deep, well-drained soil as they have a tap root, and should be planted into their permanent position immediately, or within a year if you can keep them in a deep pot (4 inch PVC pipes 2 inches long with mesh holding the soil in will work, and will prevent roots from tangling).
3. Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
Uses: Much the same as walnut, particularly the edible nut. Hickory nuts store better than walnuts, however, keep for up to 2 years. The seed also can be ground into a meal and used as a thickener, while it is also sweet and delicious on its own.
Propagation: The same as walnuts, but they cannot be stored as long and should be sown as soon as possible. Store seeds in moist soil or soilless mix until planting. Like walnuts, look for improved eating cultivars.
4. Mulberry (Morus species)
Uses: Mulberry has a sweet and delicious edible berry that is usually produced in abundance, and can be eaten fresh (although it doesn’t keep well), made into preserves, or dried. Unfurling leaves and young shoots are also edible (raw or cooked) in most if not all species, including Morus alba and Morus rubra. Young leaves are better. Mulberry is also an excellent fodder crop for livestock (this is, the leaves and berries), and you can get decent fiber from the bark and young stems, which is traditionally used for cloth and paper making.
Propagation: A fast-growing tree, it is best grown from seed. (Seed-grown plants are much more vigorous than those from cuttings.) Seed requires 2-3 months of cold stratification. Red mulberry (Morus rubra) is said to be among the best species for eating, although it is endangered and can be difficult to find. Seeds can be sprouted in their stratification container and then pricked out into individual pots, or planted densely in pots before sprouting, and then thinned or transplanted as soon as they germinate. Trees develop a tap root, so are best planted into their permanent position within 1 year, and should be kept in deep pots until then.
5. Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Uses: Seeds are edible raw or cooked, with a taste similar to peas, and they are high in carbs and protein. Seed pulp is sweet and can be eaten or used as a sugar substitute. Pods also are great livestock fodder, and the tender young seedpods are edible cooked. The tree fixes nitrogen so is a good companion plant for many other plants, and can be used to make a “living fence” by planting them densely in rows and then keeping them trimmed. Wood is very rot-resistant and can be useful for making tools or fence posts (although living fences are much smarter since they never rot).
Propagation: Seeds can be “scarified” by soaking in water that is boiled and then letting them sit in the water for 5 minutes. Soak for 24 hours. This will break down the tough seed coating, and the seed should then “imbibe,” meaning it will engorge with water. Seeds that do not engorge should be re-soaked in hot water until they do. Viable seed has a high germination rate, and the tree will then grow quickly. To get thornless honey locust, find a larger tree and cut a thornless grafting scion from the top (the tops of trees often do not grow thorns) to graft onto planted root stock.
These are, of course, only a few of the excellent choices for trees to grow for survival insurance. Others include honeyberry (a.k.a. haskap, a fast-growing berry shrub), elderberry, white/paper birch (fast growing, excellent sap for hydration), yellow horn, chestnut, and many others. Given that nothing in life is certain, it’s best to prepare ourselves by planting our own low-maintenance food trees around our homes. Your future self may thank you.
What trees would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:
A rocket cook stove is a super-efficient stove that can use just about anything for fuel — including small twigs, scraps of wood or even dried dung if you’re really in a pinch.
The principle behind the operation of the rocket stove is quite simple: a direct-to-cooking-surface insulated combustion chamber ensures nearly complete combustion of the fuel, giving off more heat, and burning the material quickly and intensely.
Although often used as portable cook stoves, rocket stoves are great alternatives to barbecues and fire pits, using much less fuel. This means you collect less wood. It also means you save money by not having to purchase propane.
Let’s get right into how you can make your own rocket cook stove with minimal time and money. In fact, you probably have most of what you need to build the stove laying around the house, and if not, you can cheaply buy the materials. Assuming you already have a drill and most of the essential parts (like a wheel barrow), you likely can build this for under $10.
- Plastic 5-gallon bucket
- Reciprocating saw or other cutting tool to cut PVC pipe and bucket
- 4 feet of 4-inch PVC or similar pipe
- Drill with bit
- Concrete mix
- Shovel or mixing device
- Concrete mixing container – e.g. wheel barrow
- Measuring tape
- Piece of metal for burn chamber fuel tray
- Refractory sand (optional)
- A marker to mark cuts on the PVC pipe and bucket
Step 1: Mark the Intake
Measure about 2 ½ inches from the bottom of the bucket and make a mark. This is where the bottom of the hole for the intake pipe will go. Place the bottom of the pipe against the mark and trace a circle around the pipe with your marker.
Step 2: Cut the Intake Hole
Drill holes all around the marked intake circle so you can get your reciprocating saw blade in and cut your intake hole.
Step 3: Cut a Concrete Release Line
For ease of getting the bucket off once the concrete dries, you can cut a line from the top of the bucket downward toward the middle of the hole. Tape it with duct tape so it stays together when the concrete is added.
Step 4: Cut and Fit the Pipes
Measure and mark the pipe on a 45-degree angle where you will make a cut, making sure there will be enough pipe to extend beyond the top of the bucket for the combustion chamber outlet pipe, as well as for the intake pipe to extend beyond the intake hole. You can use a simple square to mark the angle.
Step 5: Mix Concrete, and Fill the Bottom
Mark the inside of the bucket with the marker at the height of the bottom of the hole.
Mix the concrete, adding sand or even refractory sand if you want the stove really to stand up to the heat. The consistency should be fairly thick. As you fill it, continually tamp down the concrete using whatever is around, being careful to use something smaller to tamp it down around the edges to make sure no air pockets are left.
Step 6: Reinforce Bottom
Once you’ve filled the bucket about halfway to the bottom of the hole, you may choose to reinforce this thinner bottom area with something like chicken wire by simply laying it on top and then continuing to fill the concrete up to the hole. 21.jpg, 22.jpg. Continue to tamp as you fill.
Step 7: Fill with Concrete
Fit the pipes into the hole, and fill it the rest of the way with concrete, tamping as you go.
Step 8: Partially Set, and Remove Pipes
Let it sit for a couple of hours and then carefully remove the pipes by twisting a little and raising slowly.
Step 9 Set Further and Remove Bucket
After a day or so you should be able to remove the bucket so the concrete sets faster. First, remove the tape, separate the release line and then carefully pull off the bucket.
Step 10: Set Completely and Put in Fuel Shelf
After another day or two you will notice the concrete turn a lighter grey. You can now add your fuel shelf, making an inch or so of space underneath it. Any piece of metal that you can bend and shape into the hole will do. You also may choose to place a grill on the top that gives some lift off the top of the stove to allow the air to flow out better.
That’s all there is to creating your own simple-yet-highly efficient rocket cook stove on the cheap. Consider keeping your pipes and bucket so you can quickly make more stoves for your friends and family.
If you liked this article or know of a different way of making rocket cook stoves, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
The key to a healthy soil with balanced nutrients may be easier and more complicated than you thought.
It’s not just about spraying the right fertilizer and watching it be miraculously sucked into your plants in the exact quantities they need. That’s because plants work in harmony with specific types of soil structures, microbe populations, and pH balances, so the best thing you can do for your plants is learn about creating a healthy soil through mimicking natural processes in natural soil ecosystems and begin to think of your soil as just that: an ecosystem.
Treatment of Nutrient Deficiencies
There are three main ways of treating soil nutrient deficiencies: increasing bioavailability/absorption of existing nutrients, adding non-harmful nutrient sources, and creating an efficient nutrient cycle.
Nutrient absorption can be increased through creating a healthy soil food web by using composts, compost tea, chop and drop techniques, effective microorganisms, green manure and cover crops, and lots of mulch. With the healthy soil food, web microbes will predigest nutrients for plants, while helping to bind them in the soil within their bodies and within the rich, well-structured soil they help to create.
Efficient nutrient cycles are created through having a diversity of plants with different root depths and patterns, especially perennials (and including trees). This ensures nutrients are pulled from deeper in the soil, while creating less root competition. Protecting your soil from erosion and nutrient leaching through mulch (4-6 inches) and/or cover crops is essential.
It’s also important to test your soil, both nutrients and pH, ideally at a soil testing lab. You’ll most likely have to mail in samples following their collection instructions. This will then give you a picture of how to proceed.
Treatment of Nutrient Oversupply
It can be easy to over-fertilize with concentrated chemical fertilizers like ammonium sulfate or sulfur coated urea, for example. These fertilizers are damaging to soil ecosystems. Many fertilizers are directly toxic to soil organisms, particularly in high amounts, reacting with other elements in the soil to create toxic substances such as sulfuric acid, hydrogen sulfide, and chlorine. Hydrogen ions released from some processes disrupt the soil’s nutrient-holding capacity, while chemical fertilizers also may increase mineral salts in the soil, stealing water from the plants.
It’s always best to go the slow-and-steady route to building your soil, using natural compounds that a healthy soil food web can break down and make available to the plants as they need them, rather than trying to force feed your plants, disrupting their ability to get what they need by themselves, and creating more work for you.
The best way to treat oversupply is to stop fertilizing with fertilizers high in the nutrient in question, and rebalance the soil if the nutrient oversupply may have caused deficiencies in other nutrients.
Following are four common soil nutrients, along with how plants react if there is an undersupply (deficiency) or oversupply.
1. Nitrogen deficiency/oversupply
Deficiency: Leaves turn pale green or yellow before finally dying, starting in older leaves, and overall plant growth slows.
Fertilizers: Seaweed, compost, compost teas, bone meal, and fertilizers containing natural sources of nitrates, ammonium or urea. Nitrogen “fixing” plants can help, since they have a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria that pull, or fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Plant things like peas, beans, honey locust and alder tree with your other plants.
Oversupply: Excess foliage growth, lack of flowering and fruiting, stunted root growth, browning of leaves, a buildup of mineral salts in the soil.
2. Potassium deficiency/oversupply
Deficiency: Leaf tips curl, leaves turn yellow between the veins before browning and dying, root growth slows, and plants have poor seed and fruit quality and quantity. Leaves may also develop brown or purple spots on underside.
Fertilizers: Compost and compost teas, langbeinite, potassium sulfate, sylvinite, seaweed, greensand, rock minerals and wood ash.
Oversupply: Calcium deficiency, low oxygen levels in soil, production of toxic compounds, loss of soil structure leading to compaction and poor water infiltration.
3. Phosphorous deficiency/oversupply
Deficiency: Poor leaf, shoot and root growth; deep green, purple or red leaf color; delay in the maturity, including with fruit and seeds; poor nitrogen fixation in nitrogen-fixing plants.
Fertilizers: Compost and compost tea, mulch such as wood chips or straw, chicken manure, bone meal, rock phosphates (with no phosphoric acid added) and fish bone meal.
Oversupply: Yellowing of the leaves (especially just beyond veins), brown spotting, death of leaves, inhibition of beneficial fungi growth, decreased uptake of iron and manganese.
4. Sulfur deficiency/oversupply
Deficiency: Common in weathered soils and areas with heavy rainfall. Yellowing of leaves (especially younger leaves), dying leaf tips, stunted growth, high seedling mortality, few flowers. Similar to nitrogen deficiency, but with reddening of veins in young leaves.
Fertilizers: Compost and compost tea, langbeinite (as long as you need all of the nutrients contained), potassium sulphate (also includes potassium), gypsum and Epsom salt.
Oversupply: Rare, but causes acidity and deficiencies in selenium.
To recap: The most effective, low-labor and low-cost way to prevent and treat nutrient deficiencies and oversupply is to start conceptualizing your gardens or landscape as an ecosystem, and to begin treating it as such.
Just as a forest has a constant layer of mulch, so, too, should your plants. Just as an oak savanna has healthy and diverse soil ecosystems supported by multiple species of plant roots at varying depths, so, too, should your landscape. We indeed can mimic natural ecosystems while still achieving our own aesthetic, using the plants we prefer while giving them what they need to (largely) take care of themselves.
What advice would you add on taking care of nutrient deficiencies in the garden? Share your tips in the section below:
There are many foods that store well, and many foods that are super-nutritious or have high caloric value, but the number of foods that store well and are especially nutrient- and calorie-rich are much fewer.
Calories without nutrients won’t satisfy your body, leading to continual hunger that will cause you to eat more calories than you need, while nutrients without calories will lead you to eat your food stores more quickly. The below foods offer a balance of these two considerations.
Also important, of course, is learning different storage techniques, such as dehydrating, fermenting, vacuum sealing, and canning. These are beyond the scope of this article, but are skills you’ll want to acquire to ensure these foods reach their full storage potential.
Hazelnuts are among the most nutritious nuts in terms of balanced nutrition, and store quite well. They are high in vitamins E, K, B6 and folate. Other high-nutritious nuts include Brazil nuts (high in the all-important saturated fats, magnesium and selenium), cashews (a good source of carbs, zinc and iron), macadamia nuts (high calories in general especially fat), almonds (high protein, fiber, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin E and calcium), walnuts (high in fat and folate) pecans (also high in fat and very similar to walnuts), pistachios (high in potassium and vitamin B6) and chestnuts (high in carbs, fiber, vitamin C, folate, healthy fats, iron, calcium and manganese).
Seeds are high in nutrients and are good sources of calories, including protein and fat. Good seeds include: chia (omegas, carbs, protein, fiber, antioxidants and calcium), hemp (good fats including omegas and high-quality protein), sunflower (vitamins E, B1 and B6, copper, manganese, selenium, magnesium, folate and niacin), pumpkin (magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, protein and many others), sesame (manganese, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin B1, selenium and fiber).
3. Moringa powder
This powder is available at health food stores and is a great good source of bioavailable nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and E, in addition to protein.
If you don’t feel like shelling out the money to buy the powder, then you also can find seeds online to buy and grow your own. If in a cold climate, you might even be able to get them to produce seed in one year if you start them indoors three months before the last frost. Hang them to dry, and crush them up or grind for storage.
4. Extra virgin coconut oil
Fat is crucial in survival situations, and coconut oil has a lot of high quality fat and, thus, calories. It can last at least 18 months if stored properly (don’t get the non-extra virgin stuff for long-term storage, as it won’t last as long), and can be used in many of the same ways as butter.
5. Dried fruit
Fruits are high in sugar, which means high calorie content. Especially good are high-nutrition superfood berries like goji berries, raspberries, blackberries, mulberries and currants, which are all generally high in vitamins, including vitamins C, K, A and folate. Also excellent are cherries (good for vitamin A and many health promoting compounds), mango (very high in sugar, vitamins A, B6, C and E, copper, and potassium), banana (vitamins C and B6, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin, plus sugar), grapes (raisins, which are high in sugar, B vitamins, iron and potassium), and many others.
Brown rice, wild rice and quinoa are among the most nutritious, and most can be stored for many years if stored properly. Grains are a good source of carbs, and most contain a lot of magnesium, B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, selenium and manganese. Grains combine well with legumes (see below) to create full proteins.
Dried beans, peas and lentils all can be stored for many years and are good sources of protein, carbs, fiber and many minerals and vitamins.
Honey is packed full of nutrition and keeps very well, for decades or even centuries. It also can be used to preserve other foods. It’s high in calories and sugar, but is also quite high in vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, iron, riboflavin, amino acids, calcium, copper, magnesium and many other nutrients.
9. Unwashed free-range farm eggs
Eggs, if left unwashed, contain a bio-film that helps to preserve them much longer. They can last up to three months out of the fridge and a year or more if refrigerated. Free-range eggs are higher in nutrients than caged chicken eggs, and also are high in vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fat and iron.
What foods would you add to our list? Share your suggestions in the section below:
Earth, by its very nature, is in a partnership with microbes of all kinds. From the deepest seas, to the highest mountains, microbes such as bacteria, yeast and fungi are a key part of our planet’s ecosystems, performing vital functions like making nutrients bio-available to plants and animals, and helping our soils maintain structure and moisture.
It turns out that we can take advantage of these symbiotic soil allies to great effect, and one of the easiest ways we can do this is by creating our own aerated compost tea. We’ll get into the how of compost tea, along with a recipe, in a moment, but first, let’s look at the why.
The main purpose of compost tea, besides adding a nice dose of pre-digested fertilizer to your garden, is to increase the number and diversity of beneficial microbes in the soil. How are they beneficial? Fungi, for example, help plants take up phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iron and copper, secreting digestive enzymes that dissolve and break down compounds so that plants can absorb them. They also dramatically increase the amount of water plants can take up, and act like a huge extension of their root systems. Other microbes predigest different compounds and help plants take up different nutrients.
In addition to the aid they give us below-ground, microbes on the leaves of plants also may be important allies, helping in the fight against disease by both filling an ecosystem niche that would otherwise be open to pathogens, and creating conditions that make it difficult for existing pathogens to live or reproduce.
Many beneficial bacteria, for example, produce acids that make it difficult for pathogenic yeasts and fungus to thrive. Although there is less scientific study in this area, the theory that aerated compost teas help with above-ground diseases is borne out by my own experience. Last year, some haskap bushes on my farm had a nasty fungus infection on their leaves, so I mixed up an aerated compost tea and sprayed it on them. Within days the fungus had completely disappeared.
So, now that you know why it’s good to use compost teas, let’s get into how you can make your own. I’m going to go over making aerated and aerobic (oxygenated) compost tea specifically, but you can also make anaerobic (lacking oxygen) compost tea by simply putting a bunch of (ideally, deep-rooted) plants like comfrey into a bucket or barrel with non-chlorinated water, letting it sit for about a week until it gets really nasty smelling, and then putting it on your soil. (I would avoid plant leaves with this stuff). Another anaerobic mixture known as effective microorganisms is also incredibly useful and can be purchased online and then mixed up at home.
Aerated Compost Tea
- Bucket or barrel. At least 25 gallons is ideal for anything but the smallest garden.
- Air pump sufficient for the amount of water. You can get good ones at hydroponic shops. Tiny fish tank aerators are not the best ones, although they may be sufficient for a 5-gallon bucket.
- Non-chlorinated water. Chlorine in the water will kill microorganisms.
- Vermacompost and well-aerated compost are best. The more diversity of compost, the better. It should smell good, like forest soil, and not stinky. 5 pounds per 25 gallons.
- Unsulphured molasses. Food for bacteria, etc. 1 ¼ cup per 25 gallons.
- Liquid kelp. Fertilizer and microbe food. ½ cup mixed into 5 cups of water before adding to the mixture.
- Humic acid. Microbe food and soil conditioner: 1-2 tablespoons per 25 gallons, mixed into 2 cups of water before adding to the mixture.
- Rotten wood chips, straw or hay (optional). Decomposing high carbon materials encourage fungal inoculation. 1-2 cups per 25 gallons will do.
- Steel cut oats. Food for fungus. 1 cup per 25 gallons.
First, put the water in, then the molasses, and then add everything else. Some people like to put all of the solid materials into a pillowcase or similar (like a tea bag), but I prefer to mix them directly into the water. If you’re a little off in the amounts, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have enough molasses to sustain the microbe populations for the amount of time you will be bubbling your brew. I should also note here that a compost tea recipe can be as simple as compost and molasses. The other things will take it to the next level.
Next, stir the container well, and put in your air pump bubbler. It’s good to stir the mixture from time to time. Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours (the full 48 is better).
Once you’re done bubbling, remove the air pump and give it another good stir. Now it’s time to apply it to your plants. If you’re going to create a foliar spray for leaves (definitely recommended), let it settle and skim the liquid off the top so that it contains fewer solids and won’t clog your sprayer. To spray it, simply evenly cover the leaves on the top and bottom. For soil application, use buckets or other manageable vessels and dunk them into the stirred up mixture in order to get the solids as well as the liquid. Then, apply to the soil around the plants, ideally covering up to or beyond the drip line.
That’s all there is to it. You should notice a significant kick to your plant growth, especially if you do this every couple of weeks during the growing season. Just make sure not to fertilize beyond the first two weeks of summer in temperate climates, as this could prevent new growth from hardening off in time and you may lose it to frost.
Have you made compost tea? What recipe did you use? Share your compost tea tips in the section below: