Remove That Tomato Debris … Or Is There A Better Way? (Homesteading Basics)

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Since our TGN Community is so spread out geographically—across the globe, really—I wanted to go ahead and post this Homesteading Basics video because there are certain climates where this question is starting to come up. And if your tomatoes are still producing (or maybe are just starting to produce if you’re in a colder climate!), it’s never too early to start thinking about this!

So, here’s my question: When your tomatoes have stopped producing, what do you do with your tomato debris?

I share my intention for my own tomato plants in the above Homesteading Basics video—but are my garden cleanup plans truly necessary? I’d really like to know what you think, so please let me know your opinion in the comments!

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Keyhole Gardens vs. Row Gardens

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Elizabeth considers keyhole gardens vs. row gardens:

“David,

I enjoy your practical approach to organic/permaculture. I currently garden annual vegetables in rows on borrowed land. I styled the rows with narrow paths across the hill. This works great for me but not for my husband and friends. Anyone else walks on the planting rows. I have permission from the land owners to plant anything in any way I choose. 
Is it practical to transition to keyhole design? The keyhole design reduces the area of paths. I prefer the look of circles instead of rows. I could slightly raise the downhill side of the circle. In your videos, you do make mounds on the downhill side of some plantings. 
At this time I mostly use hand tools. The only power tool I use is a string trimmer. I have dreams of using a BCS.”
A BCS tractor, I assume. Yeah, that would be nice. I could use one of those myself.
Let’s take a look at keyhole gardens vs. row gardens.

Keyhole Gardens vs. Row Gardens

Keyhole gardens are cool. I’ve mentioned them before, but never built one.

That’s because, at heart, I am really lazy about digging and building things. I also like to plant large spaces when I can.

This is a pretty typical keyhole garden:

I mean, it’s really cool and all that—but the labor involved! Holy moly. You could plant a quarter acre of row gardens with that amount of labor in the same amount of time. To me, keyhole gardens are what happens when engineers get overly clever. I generally feel the same way about aquaponics systems, but I’m tired of taking abuse on that front so I won’t say anything more.

It would take me a day to build a keyhole garden—or to put in an entire, much larger traditional garden. I cleared, dug, and planted a half-acre in about six hours with the help of a local farmer last year. Row gardens are easy to weed with a hoe, can be built rapidly, and don’t need all the digging, piling up, and materials. I’m also not sure that a plot of land covered with keyhole gardens would have less path space than one with row gardens, as you lose the space between the circles. Perhaps someone has done the math on that already—let me know in the comments if you have an idea.

Beyond that, don’t get me wrong: There may be a good place for keyhole gardens. Beds close to the house for herbs and salad greens where you can dump your daily kitchen scraps—great! Build ’em!

But your row gardens are already doing well—so why change? Ah! That’s right. We need to face . . .

The Real Problem

Your husband and your friends are terrible people.

Kidding.

The lack of obvious paths in some of my garden beds have led visitors astray. Just because I know how I laid something out doesn’t mean that my wife, children, or neighbors—or the police detectives searching for bodies in my compost pile—do.

Why not stick some sticks in the ground to mark paths? Or just mulch some paths with straw? Or put down a few stepping stones? You could string strings between sticks to mark areas off in just a few minutes. Sure, it’s less convenient for you—but it would be a lot easier than building keyhole beds.

Even if you made dirt-mound style keyholes without bricks and sticks, it’s still a lot of digging—plus you lose growing space in between those circles.

If you’re really keen on some keyholes, I would go ahead and build a few on part of your land and see how they compare with what you’re doing. You’ll probably be tired after that—but, if you find you love them and they work great, great! Convert the rest.

I’ll bet you stick with rows, though. When you look at the keyhole gardens vs. row gardens fight in terms of labor, row gardens will win. And labor is big when you’re farming.

Just my two cents. Thanks for writing, and good luck. If you do build those keyhole gardens and have luck, drop me a line and send pictures. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

 

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Should You Plant on Mounds in Sandy Soil?

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Calen asks about planting on mounds in fast-draining, sandy soil:

“I’m a native Cracker from [coastal Florida]. I’ve been homesteading on ancestral farmland with a survivalist and traditionalist mindset for three years now. All heirloom and organic, etc. I own all of your books, and they, along with your blog and videos, have been the most helpful gardening advice that I’ve ever found anywhere. Last year I grew tons of Seminole pumpkins with great success using your “melon pits.” I passed that along to many friends who did likewise. I also plant the pumpkins in many “guerrilla gardens” in the swamp and backwoods on public land, and that’s worked out great as well. I never revisit them until harvest time, and they normally do better than my tended ones. Anyways, this year I want to give the three sisters a try. My plan is to use Jimmy Red corn, Cherokee black pole beans, and Seminole pumpkins. Pretty much everything I read says to plant on mounds. However, my place is high, dry, east-bank-of-Lake George sugar sand. Is mounding the way I should go? We didn’t even have standing water during the past two hurricanes. My thought was to maybe do these in slight pits like the melons and pumpkins but wanted to see if you had any advice on the subject? Thanks for your time.”

Fantastic. It’s good to hear from a fellow Floridian.

Mounds are what you always hear about. It’s even on the back of the seed packets. Calen is right to question the practice in his soil conditions.

For people who haven’t planted in “sugar sand,” it’s hard to explain how very hot, dry, and fast-draining the stuff is. It contains almost no humus and needier crops planted in sugar sand need almost constant watering.

Scrubland Sandy Soil

My old homestead in North Florida had large patches of almost sandy loam with smaller granules which would hold water for longer. There, I would double-dig and loosen the ground to plant, which would mound it up somewhat.

GardensFebruary2015-5

Those loose raised beds did very well, so it would be easy to say, “Oh yes, Calen, go ahead and plant in mounds—it works in Florida!”

But sugar sand isn’t the same as the soil above. Just because something works in one area of a state doesn’t mean it will work in another. And in his area, I would try to stay as flat as possible.

When you raise the height of the soil in one area, the water will drain out of it faster as it finds its level. You really can’t afford to let that happen. If he’s not holding onto water even after a hurricane, raised beds and mounds, unless amended with extra compost before every planting, are not the way to go.

You might want to go even further and grow in sunken beds, as is sometimes done in the Southwestern U.S.

Even across my old homestead, the backyard was loamy and the front yard was sandier.

This is how I used to plant melons and pumpkins in my fast-draining front yard:

Melon Pit

Those are sprouting legumes, by the way. In the winter I would plant melon pits with cool-season legumes like lentils, chickpeas, peas, and fava beans to feed the soil and pave the way for the curcurbits I planted in the spring.

Read More: “No Bare Soil! Vegetable Garden Cover Crops”

I would try planting in sunken beds, Calen, and see how it works. If you really want to see if it makes a difference, plant one area flat, one area in sunken beds, and one area on mounds, then compare how they did over the season. That would be a really good way to gain a bunch of data from one growing season.

I planted corn in flat ground when I had a sandy area:

Corn in Sandy Soil

And on mounds in clay:

Planting-on-mounds-1

You’re right to think outside the mound, and you get serious extra points for guerilla gardening Seminole pumpkins. The melon pit method is one of my favorite discoveries.

If you’re reading this and don’t know what Calen is talking about, here’s how to make a melon pit:

In sand, dig deeper and go for an indentation instead of a mound.

What about you? Have you had success planting on mounds in sandy soil? What about with using melon pits? Let me know in the comments below!

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Awesome Information Resources (Your Answers to the Question of the Month!)

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We’re guessing that, like us, you’re constantly striving to improve your garden and your gardening methods … to make your composting processes a little bit more efficient … to strengthen the microbial activity in your soil a little bit more … to improve your favorite vegetable variety through seed saving and experimentation … and the list goes on!

And while you can achieve those goals by yourself, no one would argue that getting a little help from others makes the process a whole lot smoother, faster, and more fun!

So where do our Community members turn when they’re looking for advice and information on gardening, homesteading, and home medicine (besides The Grow Network, of course!)?

We asked them recently and compiled the following list of recommended resources. (Many thanks to Fibrefarmer, Marcia, Mary Kathryn, Permies949, Scott Sexton, tracyWandling, and all the other TGN Community members who contributed their ideas!)

Wildcrafting, Foraging, and Plant Identification

  • Eat the Weeds (blog and educational resources about foraging and edible wild plants)
  • Plants for a Future (database containing the edible, medicinal, and other uses of more than 7,000 plants)

Gardening, Farming, and Permaculture

  • Acres USA (Marjory says, “Mostly geared towards small farmers, the in-depth articles on a particular crop are great.”)
  • Your local Extension office (Merin says, “The climate and wildlife here (SW Colorado) are so different from those where I used to live (SE Texas) that it has been really helpful to be able to speak to our Extension agent and fellow Master Gardeners in this area to learn how to tackle some of the differences. A lot of them are also a wealth of information on organic and permaculture practices that work in this area….”)
  • MIgardener.com (gardening products and information)
  • North Texas Vegetable Gardeners Facebook group (“I love this group because it’s focused on gardening in my region,” says TGN’s social media manager Ruth Reyes-Loiacan. “It’s nice to have a large community of local people doing the same thing. Currently, the group has 29,000 members!”)
  • Permies (Of this forum for permaculturists and homesteaders, tracyWandling says, “It has a category for just about everything, and a wide variety of contributors of all levels who share their experiences and expertise with readers. It’s a great place to ask questions and interact with others who are doing the same things you are and are always willing to lend a helping hand. Great site.”)
  • PermaEthos (educational and community-building site)
  • Permaculture Apprentice (permaculture-related resources)
  • Permaculture Design Magazinere (contains articles on eco-regeneration, broadscale farming systems, agroforestry, home garden design, and community action)
  • Permaculture Magazine (magazine for permaculture enthusiasts covers all aspects of life)
  • Praxxus55712 YouTube channel (Marcia says she also recommends the YouTube channel WisconsinGarden.)
  • Self-Reliant School (information on growing, cooking, and preserving food)
  • Stacey Murphy/BK Farmyards (offers educational training about backyard farming and real food)
  • Tenth Acre Farm: Permaculture for the Suburbs (information on micro-farming)

Homesteading and Sustainability

  • BackYard Chickens (Merin adds that, with nearly 100,000 members—many of whom are both knowledgeable and willing to share information—the related Backyard Chickens Facebook group is also a great resource for backyard chicken keepers.)
  • Food in Jars Community Facebook group (Wendy Meredith says it offers “great ideas and new recipes on how to can much of what I produce.”)
  • MelissaKNorris.com (information on raising, preserving, and preparing food; home of the Pioneering Today podcast)
  • Mother Earth News Magazine (articles on homesteading and organic gardening, with a focus on self-sufficiency and sustainability)
  • The Prairie Homestead (blog offering homesteading advice)
  • Starry Hilder’s Off-Grid Homestead (blog about off-grid homesteading)
  • The Survival Podcast (online talk show about modern survivalism, sustainability, and alternative energy)

Health and Herbalism

Finally, regardless of the category, remember that your local library likely offers myriad excellent, free resources. “My library is a tremendous source of inspiration,” says TGN Community member Fibrefarmer. “They have the best books for the best price (free), but I have to give them back after a few weeks :(.  But still, it saves money, and they let me borrow the books as many times as I need. If they don’t have the book, they can order a copy or borrow it from another library via interlibrary loan.”

What about you? Is your favorite resource on this list? If not, let us know about it by leaving us a note in the comments!

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3 Expert Tomato Growers Share Their Best Tips

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Name: James Worley
Home Digs: Kansas City, MO
Business: KC Tomato Times
Blog: KCTomatoTimes.wordpress.com
Follow on Social Media: KC Tomato Times (Facebook)
Fast Fact: I won the 2017 World Championship Squirrel Cook Off in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Claim to Fame: I’ve been growing rare tomato varieties for over a decade and have grown almost 800 types so far. I pride myself on growing the most hearty, tough, and ready-to-plant seedlings available in the area. I also host a tomato tasting each year on the first Saturday in August. This will be our 10th annual event! We’ve had as many as 100 different types of ripe fruit in years past, but always have at least 40–50 types for people to taste and experience the uniqueness of each variety.

Top Tomato-Production Tip: Soil building is key. I make my own soil for my raised beds with locally produced compost mixed with peat, perlite, and vermiculite in an 8-1-1-1 ratio. I do not use manures as they tend to be too high in nitrogen. I fertilize with Tomato-tone when I plant and then every 3 weeks throughout the season.

On Less-Than-Ideal Growing Conditions: Mulch is your friend. Use some sort of mulch to keep your soil moisture consistent. Also, I prefer silver reflective film, as this keeps the moisture in and the weeds out, and it bounces light under the leaves to drive off insect invaders like aphids and hornworms. It is very shiny and you’ll need sunglasses when working with it, but you can see your garden from outer space!

Favorite Tomato Variety: Carbon is hands down the best I have ever grown. It has deep, complex flavors and a beautiful purple color, and is fairly disease resistant and very productive. I plant at least a dozen Carbon in my gardens every year.

Sharin’ the Love: I’m an educator at heart and in my profession. I make sure that anyone who buys my plants knows the best way to plant them, care for them, and eat them as well. I’m available year-round by e-mail to help gardeners with questions they may have. As for ripe tomatoes, we eat them at home in myriad ways; however, I love to take in a box of ripe tomatoes and other vegetables from my garden to local restaurants and trade them for delicious meals or have the chefs prepare them for me in their own special ways.

Read More: “TGN Talks Tomatoes With Dave Freed, Local Changemaker”

 

Robin Wyll, Tomatoes

Nominee: Robin Wyll
Home Digs: Woodinville, WA
Business: Robin’s Gourmet Garden (Nursery)
Website: GrowTomatoSauce.com
Follow On Social Media At: Robin’s Gourmet Garden (Facebook)
Fast Fact: Well, besides gardening, my other obsessions are theater and politics, so, of course, I can rap the entire opening number of the musical Hamilton!

Claim to Fame: I grow tomato sauce—125–200 pounds of tomatoes from 36 plants! I roast them, puree, and freeze about 2–3 gallons each year for winter meals. People asked me for help, so I created a website to help inspire others. People also asked me for cuttings, so I started a business raising around 1,800 heirloom tomato plants (nine varieties) and selling them directly to customers as well as supplying five stores. Customers say my varieties are unique in the local market and more robust than industry-grown options.

Top Tomato-Production Tip: Test your soil for everything down to the trace elements, and then mineralize accordingly. I started this five years ago after reading Steve Solomon’s book The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food, and it made a world of difference in my tomato production. Also, to get the most flavor out of your tomatoes, do not water the plants during the 24 hours before you pick the fruit. Watering just dilutes the sugars in the tomatoes, thereby diluting the flavor.

On Less-Than-Ideal Growing Conditions: Here in the Pacific Northwest, the biggest challenge is wildly fluctuating weather conditions. Sometimes the temperature will drop 20–30 degrees overnight, and we tend to get a lot of rain off and on throughout the summer. My solution is twofold. I select varieties that mature in fewer than 85 days, and I grow them under a protective shelter that can be opened up during good weather for air flow and pollination. The goals are to keep the leaves from getting rained on, which can lead to fungal issues, and to hold in the heat as much as possible. This method allows me to plant tomatoes in April when it’s still pretty cool and wet and extends the harvest into November.

Favorite Tomato Variety: My single favorite tomato variety is Speckled Roman, because my goal is to freeze as much tomato puree as I can—and the Speckled Roman is thick and meaty with few seeds and excellent, rich flavor. Some of the fruit will grow to more than one pound each—and it is so dense that you can grill the slices. My preferred pick for salsa is Black Sea Man, which is a Russian variety that produces lots of beefsteak-type tomatoes that are a beautiful mottled deep green and red with delicious sweet tomato flavor.

Sharin’ the Love: I share my 15 years of tomato-growing experience, failures, and successes via my website; I answer questions and share info related to my plant business on my Facebook page; and I share my expertise live by giving presentations to local garden clubs and, of course, in casual conversation. It seems that successfully growing tomatoes is a subject of great interest in my area. Plus, my tomato sauce gets around—lots of it went to college with my daughter, and I share it with neighbors and friends in the hopes of inspiring more people to try growing tomato sauce.

 

Leslie Doyle, Tomatoes

Nominee: Leslie Doyle
Home Digs: Las Vegas, NV
Business: Sweet Tomato Test Garden
Website: SweetTomatoTestGarden.com
Follow on Social Media: Leslie R. Doyle (Facebook)
Books Authored: Growing the Tomato in Las Vegas in Terrible Dirt and Desert Heat, self-published (1996); Growing the Tomato in Las Vegas in Terrible Dirt and Desert Heat (2nd edition), self-published (2002); Slam Dunk Easy Desert Gardening, self-published (2009)
Fast Fact: I actually don’t usually eat vegetable greens. I prefer berries; tree fruit; nuts; grilled steak, fish or chicken; and chocolate (yum!).

Claim to Fame: I wrote new directions for growing tomatoes and veggies in the desert—including new ways to irrigate and fertilize the farm or garden, a way to increase light on the plants, and a method to repel insects and avoid disease. I also developed a soil/compost that is very popular and widely used in the desert.

Top Tomato-Production Tip: Help them be all that they can be. You get more reliable results when you grow a variety that is known for prolific production and then give them ample water, nutrients, and sun—and grow them in the right climate.

On Less-Than-Ideal Growing Conditions: Gardening in Las Vegas is very, very different for new residents—and impossible for them without some coaching by a successful gardener. Growing here is actually easy, but there are growing rules. Wherever you live, pay attention to your plants, and learn how to fulfill their needs and diagnose their ailments.

Favorite Tomato Variety: My favorite tomato variety is Hawaiian Tropic for several reasons: It has an 8- to 10-ounce average size, is simply delicious, and is very prolific. It grows extremely well in our hot desert climate and has been disease resistant. Hawaiian Tropic tomato is only available through me at this time. I also like Juliet, a smaller Roma-like tomato. It is easy to grow, delicious, and an All-America Selections winner.

Sharin’ the Love: We sell our harvest here at the Sweet Tomato Test Garden and donate extra fruit to the Lutheran Social Services Food Panty. Some is also shared with friends. Over the years I have written articles and tips for various publications, including Organic Gardening magazine, where I worked for almost 10 years. I publish a subscription-based e-newsletter for desert gardeners, and I have decades of teaching and speaking experience at our Desert Gardening School, the library, our local university, civic events, and nurseries. People are welcome to visit my garden, and I am delighted to answer questions!

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Supercharge Your Garden! 4 Steps to Vibrant Soil Using Compost and Crop Rotation

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Pest management and pathogen control are great reasons to use crop rotation. For me, though, nutrient management is my most important reason.

Our soil was devoid of organic matter when we moved to our homestead. I sheet-mulched, piled my beds with fresh compost, cover-cropped, chopped and dropped, trench-composted, and spread worm castings like I was icing a cake.

In short order, we had incredible yields. I thought I was a gardening genius…

Parsnip - Crop Rotation

The first clue that I’d run up against diminishing returns on compost applications was my parsnips. The tuber-tops peaking from the soil were 5 inches wide. The greens were shrubs. I expected a lifetime supply of parsnips. Then I harvested. My parsnips were only 2-3 inches long and looked like parsnip pancakes.

That’s when I learned about nitrogen overload from compost. I yanked my disappointing parsnips and planted corn. My corn was supposed to grow 6 feet tall and have 1 large ear and 1-2 small ears. I got 3 full-sized ears on 10-foot stalks.

With the magic of crop rotation revealed to me in that experience, I studied it and experimented extensively to create optimal crop rotations. Here’s what I learned.

1. Start with a Soil Test

If you haven’t had a comprehensive, professional soil test recently, get one. You’ll be surprised by how much they can tell you about your soil and gardening practices.

Mineral Content

Soil tests include listings of mineral content. If you have deficiencies, they will include application rates for minerals to bring your soil up to par.

They’ll include the phosphorous and potassium (the PK in NPK) content. If you are a regular compost user, it’s easy to overload soil with phosphorous and potassium. This test can let you know if your compost habits put you at risk for excesses.

Soil pH

Soil tests divulge soil pH. Unless your pH is right for what you plan to grow, you might as well be planting on the moon. Most vegetables like a pH around 6.5.

You may have to add lime to make soil alkaline (e.g. raise the pH). Alternately, you may have to add sulfur to acidify soil (lower the pH). A soil test should include recommendations for this, too.

Organic Matter Content

Tests also tell you how much organic matter is in your soil. Less than 3% and you need to add a ton (or tons) of organic matter to get your soil into shape for growing healthy vegetables.

Nitrogen

Nitrogen level is the one thing a good soil test will not tell you. Or, it should warn you that nitrogen results are unreliable. Nitrogen, in the soil, is inherently volatile.

Nitrogen changes based on what you plant (or your weeds), tilling and harvesting practices, amendments used, weather (e.g., lightning adds nitrogen), and water sources. Heavy rain can leach nitrogen, while acid rain adds it.

This volatility is why nitrogen is one of the most difficult forces to manage in a vegetable garden. It’s also why professional growers tend to use slow-release fertilizers, or multiple applications.

If you are like me, though, you want to use stuff you can produce at home without spending a fortune. In that case, consider rotation plans that include rotating your food crops, cover crops, and homemade amendments for nutrient management.

Start by making the adjustments determined by your soil test. When you have a good soil-health baseline, start using crop rotation for long-term nutrient management and soil improvement.

2. Rotate Food Crops by Nitrogen Needs

Nitrogen is like candy to plants. They love it. Some plants can eat all the nitrogen they want and grow better. Others eat too much and end up sick. And just like people sometimes do with candy, plants are prone to eat too much nitrogen when it’s available—even when it’s not good for them.

Plants do need some quantity of nitrogen to grow. The right quantity is good for them (I can’t say the same about candy for people). Still, this analogy offers an easy framework for understanding nitrogen and its use in crop rotations.

To manage plant consumption of nitrogen, the first thing you do is load up the nitrogen in your soil. Then start the rotation party!

  1. Start with plants that thrive on nitrogen—a.k.a. heavy feeders.
  2. After the heavy feeders, bring in plants that benefit from moderate nitrogen. These are your medium feeders.
  3. When the nitrogen is nearly depleted, bring in the candy addicts. These plants can’t handle much nitrogen, but they love it so much they’ll suck every speck of it out of your beds. We call these light feeders, but they are really more like the cleanup crew.
  4. Once your bowl is empty, refill it and start the progression again. Grow nitrogen-fixing plants or add nitrogen-heavy amendments like fresh compost. Or do both.

Real Garden Crop Rotation

In a real garden scenario, this would look like adding a whole bunch of compost and fertilizer to your beds. Then, plant corn, followed by cucumbers, and finally turnips. Next, add more fertilizer and/or bring on the beans (or peas, or clover…).

If you spread this cycle over a four-year period, you have also created a rotation schedule that works for pathogen management by using four different families of plants.

Identify Heavy, Medium, and Light Feeders

When I tried to find a good list of plants by feeding type, I found a lot of discrepancies. I recommend you make your own lists based on what you actually plan to grow and on your own experience in your garden.

Whether you like big agribusiness or not, they sure know how to manage nitrogen for optimal production. Checking nitrogen application rates for commercial fertilizers is a great way to identify your feeder type (even if you won’t be using their products).

Here’s the list I used to glean this information. It’s geared for Wisconsin, but the general reference tables have universal utility.

Page 43 starts a table of nitrogen application rates for many common crops. Those rates change based on the amount of organic matter in soil. Compost-rich beds need less nitrogen than tilled dirt because the biological life in the soil continues to make nitrogen if soil is kept moist.

A table on page 30 tells you how much potassium and phosphorous plants need—as well as which plants will remove it from the soil—which conveniently brings us to our next topic!

Cover Crop - Crop Rotation

3. Rotate Cover Crops for Healthy Soil

In addition to rotating food crops, rotating cover crops is important for nutrient management. Different cover crops serve different functions.

Cover Crop to Remove Excess Potassium and Phosphorous

Compost adds humus and fertility to your garden. However, without good crop rotation, compost can overload soil with phosphorous and potassium in the long run. To prevent this, you need to rotate in plants that are effective at extracting those nutrients.

Alfalfa and red clover are exceptional at extracting potassium and good at extracting phosphorous. Hairy vetch and field peas are excellent for removing excess phosphorous. These plants are also potential nitrogen fixers.

For phosphorous and potassium removal, harvest the above-ground greens to feed your greens-eating livestock or add them to your compost pile for later application. Do not use them as chop-and-drop, or they will just end up right back in the soil. Always leave the roots in the ground, though, for nitrogen-fixing benefits.

Cover Crop to Add Nitrogen

Nitrogen fixers are plants that pull nitrogen from the air and store it in nodes on their roots. When the plants die, the nitrogen nodes decompose and release that stored nitrogen into the soil. Nitrogen fixers add more nitrogen when they are killed before they flower. If they set fruit (e.g., peas or beans), they are more like “nitrogen neutral.”

Nitrogen fixers work best when inoculated with a beneficial bacteria that encourages them to store more nitrogen. Planting rates are different for nitrogen fixing than for food production. To kill plants being used as nitrogen fixers, scythe or mow them to the ground. Leave roots in the ground and greens on the beds.

Cover Crop With a Biofumigant

Mustard is a beneficial biofumigant to break up soil pathogens and pest problems. Mustard also scavenges minerals in deeper soil and makes them available to plants that don’t root as deeply.

When using mustard as a biofumigant and mineral source, you need to purchase cover-crop mustard seeds (not edibles). Before the plants flower, cut them to the ground and gently turn them into your soil.

Cover Crop to Preserve Nitrogen

Grasses like wheat and annual rye are used as cover crops because of their ability to protect soil and scavenge nitrogen. While they don’t technically fix nitrogen like legumes, the biological organisms in your soil will quickly decompose those grasses if they are cut while green and allowed to decompose in the beds they were grown in. As the grass decomposes, it releases nitrogen into the soil at the surface, making it more readily available to next-round crops.

Choosing Your Cover Crop

Cover crops work best when selected based on either what you plan to grow next or on what you harvested, to correct for deficiencies. For example, corn is a heavy feeder. It sucks up nitrogen like a vacuum—as in, everything easily in reach.

After corn, wheat would be a good option. Wheat will pull nitrogen from all the areas the corn missed. If chopped and left on the bed, it decomposes and disperses that nitrogen more uniformly for the next planting (e.g., cucumbers).

Alternately, if nitrogen depletion is suspected, Austrian peas or clover used as a nitrogen fixer would work better than wheat. Rather than having a set schedule for cover crop rotation, make decisions based on the needs of your beds. There are fewer pests and pathogens in cooler weather, so strict rotations are not as necessary with winter cover crops.

Compost - Crop Rotation

4. Rotate Your Homemade Amendments by Crop Needs

If your main amendments are of the homemade variety, you also want to consider rotating the kinds of amendments you put on your beds along with your crops.

4 Types of Compost and Their Uses

Humus Compost

Humus compost is the stuff made by layering browns and greens at a ratio of 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, making a large pile that heats to at least 130°F, turning it a few times, and then allowing it to age for 2 years. Humus increases the air- and water-holding capacity of soil and allows biological life to thrive. This kind of humus compost doesn’t have a lot of nitrogen.

Fresh Compost

The biological life that makes compost also creates nitrogen through their digestive processes. The longer a pile ages, the more nitrogen and other nutrients leach out by way of rain, air, etc. Fresh compost is made by the same process as humus compost. It’s just been aged less than six months and so has more nitrogen.

Composted Manure

Composted manure—i.e., a pile of manure mixed with fallen feed and bedding materials not necessarily at a rate of 25:1—can radically vary in nitrogen and nutrient content. Store-bought chicken manure has a 3-2-3 rating for NPK. Meanwhile, uncomposted chicken manure could have an NPK rating of 40-60-40, 55-55-47, or other variations.

Personally, I use a mix of chicken and goat manure that’s been aged for 3-6 months as a nitrogen source. I don’t know the exact nitrogen content, but it doesn’t burn my plants and it grows huge corn and cabbage.

Mystery Compost

Mystery compost happens when you throw a bunch of stuff together and wait. The nitrogen content will vary by what’s in the pile and what decomposed it. You could just throw it on your beds fairly fresh and hope you get lucky! Or, you could age it and use it for humus.

With these compost definitions out of the way, on to when to use them for nutrient management crop rotation.

Rotating Compost Applications for Nutrient Management

Here’s what my amendment rotations generally look like:

Year 1: Apply 4 inches of fresh or manure compost.

The risks from E. coli and other bad bacteria are minimized if your compost materials are 6 months old when your food is harvested. If you are growing lettuce, aim for 6-month-old compost to start. If you are growing vegetables like winter squash, aim for 3-month-old compost, because it will be over 6 months old by the time you harvest.

Year 2: Apply 2-4 inches of humus compost

Humus compost will still provide some nitrogen and other nutrients. Mainly though, it will help preserve any leftover nitrogen from the fresh compost in year 1 and replace the organic matter you harvested.

Year 3: Apply 2 inches of mulch to preserve moisture.

By year 3 in this plan, you are organic-matter heavy. You may also have extra potassium and phosphorous. For light feeders, just use mulch to protect your soil and preserve moisture rather than piling on compost.

Mulch is essentially browns with no greens. Straw, leaves, or wood chips work well. Mulch will eventually decompose and add nutrients, but not within the planting period that you apply it.

Year 4: Add nitrogen; remove phosphorous and potassium.

This is when you want to plant your nitrogen-fixing, phosphorous- and potassium-extracting cover crops.

Personally, I like to eat some peas and beans, too. I plant peas and beans to eat in early spring through mid-summer. I cover-crop from late summer through winter. I mulch the plants I grow for me and leave them on the beds. I remove the greens and leave the roots from my cover crops.

Year 5: Soil test and repeat.

Start the cycle again. But first, get another soil test and make adjustments as necessary. That second soil test is like a report card on how you are doing with your crop rotations for nutrient management.

Be Flexible in Your Use of Amendments

Just like with cover-crop rotations, if your beds seem depleted, then you may need to add fresh compost rather than humus compost. You may want to add humus compost rather than mulch if your beds feel dirt heavy and humus short. You may also need to up your game at times and apply worm castings or other stronger amendments. Use the health of your crops as your guide.

Crop-Rotation Conversation—What Do You Think?

To do crop rotation really well, you need to make it specific to your soil, pests, pathogen risks, crops, and amendments. There’s no canned crop-rotation plan that is going to work well for every garden.

Personally, I love the challenge of figuring out effective crop rotations. Gardening could get boring really fast if you weren’t taking your skills to the next level, paying attention to your plants, and improving your processes.

My intent with this series has been to inspire you with some of my crop-rotation concepts. Now, I’d like to hear from you!

What kind of rotations are you thinking of, what are you using now, and what is your intuition telling you? What works? What doesn’t?

(Also, include your growing region and soil type (loam, sand, clay) if possible so others can decide whether your ideas will work for them. I started with clay, but now have what I call clay-loam.)

Please join the conversation on crop rotation and share your comments below!

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The post Supercharge Your Garden! 4 Steps to Vibrant Soil Using Compost and Crop Rotation appeared first on The Grow Network.

Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 2: Pathogen Prevention

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Pathogen…. That just sounds like a creepy, scary word. And when you are talking about pathogens in your soil, it really can be.

Crop Rotation for Pathogen Prevention and Control

Irish Potato Famine

You’ve all heard of the Irish Potato Famine, right? A million Irish people died and another million emigrated because the Irish potato crops were decimated by a pathogen called Phytophthora infestans.

When it happened, Irish farmers were growing potatoes about like the rest of us grow weeds. They were so good at it, that the diets of the Irish poor revolved around that one calorie crop. Little did they know that a vicious pathogen was lurking in their soil, biding its time until it had the numbers to totally decimate the Irish food supply.

OK, in reality, the pathogen itself is not quite that menacing. The real reason this was such a big deal was because more diverse food options were not available for a large percentage of the Irish population. (The wealthy had diverse diets; the poor relied on potatoes.)

Additionally, because potatoes were planted prolifically, the pathogen spread quickly through the sharing of seed potatoes (like the way a cold spreads through an office). Once in the soil, it stayed dormant until significant rains sent it into reproductive overdrive and allowed it to infect and thrive in sopping wet potato plants. Heavy rain is to fungal pathogens what dry wind is to an open fire.

Crop Rotation for Pathogen Prevention and Control

How Pathogens Spread

If you grow tomatoes, you are probably familiar with two well-known pathogens commonly called blight and wilt. These pathogens are similar to the Irish potato plant killer. They spread slowly in the soil—usually transmitted by transplants, compost, soil mixes, or even your shoes.

In relatively dry conditions, these pathogens may be present in the soil, but have no impact on your plant. Then one day, you get 2 inches of rain, your soil compacts and doesn’t dry out for days, and leaves turn yellow and drop off. Then, on the next sunny day, your tomatoes get ugly sun scald spots and rot before you can eat them.

Here’s the thing: Pathogens alone present no risks. Many of them are plant specific, which means that unless they come into contact with a suitable host plant, they are harmless. Even when you have the pathogen and the plant in the same place, this will not necessarily result in plant damage.

It’s only when you get a trifecta of conditions that include the right plant, the right pathogen, and environmental conditions suitable for incubation and infestation that problems happen. Here’s a simple mathematical expression for how that works:

Pathogen + Susceptible Plant Host + Optimal Environmental Conditions = Disaster

Remove one of these pieces from the equation, and you can avert disaster. Since you often don’t know the pathogen is present in your soil and you can’t control things like the weather, the most logical way to avert disaster is to take the host plant out of the equation.

Crop Rotation for Pathogen Prevention and Control

Rotate Plants by Family to Reduce Risk

This is where the idea of only planting one family of plants in the same plot once every four (or more) years comes into play. By rotating your plants, you limit the risk for having a trifecta. Also, depending on the life cycle of your pathogen, sometimes without a host plant, the pathogen will disappear over time.

Crop Rotation Slows the Spread

Additionally, with good plant-rotation plans, even if you do occasionally get small infestations of a pathogen, you can slow the spread by not offering host plants in close proximity year to year. Many pathogens are soil bound. They must make their way around on the bodies of soilborne critters, through transplants, on your garden tools, by catching a ride with an airborne insect, etc.

If they can move from host plant to host plant year after year, they can build up more quickly. With no nearby hosts, they remain dormant and pathogen populations remain in check.

Crop Rotation Gives you Time to Identify and Solve Pathogen Problems

Four-year rotations improve your odds by limiting a buildup of pathogens and spreading risk. Longer rotations are even better, since many pathogens can persist in the soil for 10 years or more. However, this can be more difficult to achieve in a small garden.

Luckily, if you do have plants that become infected with a pathogen, four-year crop rotation plans give you time to research and remedy your pathogen before you plant that family in that location again.

Start by identifying the pathogen. Aim to understand its life cycle and avoid planting the susceptible host plant again until you are sure the pathogen is gone.

Depending on your pathogen, there are different strategies you can follow to make your soil safe for planting again. For example, you can plant certain kinds of mustard and till them in. This practice is called biofumigation.

You can solarize your soil. This will kill all the biological life in your soil, too. You’ll need to then build back up your biological life with organic matter inputs.

With some pathogens that have long life spans, you may also need to consider more drastic measures. Replacing your soil, installing equipment to improve drainage, and developing alternate garden areas may be necessary in some instances.

Rotate by Families Prone to Similar Pathogen Problems

Because pathogens tend to affect entire plant families, rotating by family is the most common way to avoid pathogen problems. For example, tomatoes and potatoes might seem like very different plants to us. However, even if they have a preference for tomatoes over potatoes, opportunistic pathogens will take what they can get.

These are the family categories I use in my vegetable plant rotations:

  1. Nightshade Family: Tomato, Potato, Pepper, Eggplant
  2. Grass Family: Corn, Sorghum, Wheat
  3. Lettuce Family: Lettuce, Sunflowers, Dandelion, Chicory, Radicchio
  4. Beet Family: Beets, Spinach, Chard
  5. Cole Family: Cabbage, Mustard, Turnips, Arugula, Broccoli, Cauliflower
  6. Curcurbit Family: Squash, Cucumbers, Melons, Pumpkins
  7. Legume Family: Peas, Beans, Clover, Alfalfa
  8. Umbel Family: Carrots, Parsnips, Parsley, Fennel, Celery
  9. Allium Family: Onions, Garlic, Chives, Shallots
  10. Miscellaneous: Buckwheat, Okra, Sweet Potato

This is a lot to try to rotate in a small garden. Personally, I lump a few families together to create rotational pairings.

  • The nightshade, allium, cole, and sweet potato families tend to take up more space in my garden than the other families. They each get their own rotation.
  • I lump the grass, legume, and curcurbit families together in my rotations. I use that grouping because I tend to only need one row of space for those three plant families to one row of sweet potatoes based on how we eat. Sweet potatoes are a calorie crop that we need a lot of. Corn, cucumbers, and even beans (which are hard to grow enough of in useful amounts) are things we grow for fun to add variety to our diets.

Create Interplanting or Seasonal Plant Groupings

As long as you are consistent in your crop rotation methods, you can mix and match your families to get down to a four- or five-year planting rotation cycle.

If you use interplanting in your beds for soil protection, you may want to plan your family rotational groupings using this information. For example, if you grow carrots, radishes, and lettuce in the same bed at the same time, then one of your rotations would include the umbel, cole, and lettuce families.

Once you establish that grouping of families as a rotational pattern, then you can use that information to plan other rotations. You could grow early cabbage, followed by summer sunflowers, and then over-wintering parsnips. Using that same family grouping in different ways, you can achieve more food production while still having distinct rotations geared at preventing pathogens.

If you are following this series, you now have information to help you plan your crop rotation schedules to prevent pests and pathogens. However, there is one more really big reason why you may want to use crop rotation, even in a small garden. It’s for nutrient management. In the next post, we’ll cover that in more detail. Then you can take these three concepts and apply them to growing a more problem-free garden at home.

Read More: “Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 1: Pest Control”

In the meantime, start thinking about what you grow, and the kind of pathogens that are common to your area. Are there any you are particularly worried about? Talk to your local agricultural office and find out what risks may apply to your garden.

If you have any tricks or tips you’ve learned that might help with crop -rotation planning, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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The post Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 2: Pathogen Prevention appeared first on The Grow Network.

No More Disappearing Tools With This Simple Trick! (Homesteading Basics)

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If there’s one ironclad rule of gardening and homesteading, it’s this: As soon as you lay that tool down on the ground, it will disappear! 😉 So, whether I’m heading out to the orchard to prune or trekking to the back 40 for fence repairs, I use a very simple trick to keep track of all the tools I need for the job.

Watch this 2-minute edition of Homesteading Basics to learn more:

https://youtu.be/jWQpYKBZwTU

Then, I’d love to know your tricks for keeping those tools handy on the job … leave me a note in the comments section below!

 

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Are Tire Gardens Toxic? The Case For And Against

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Are tire gardens toxic?

In a newsletter last year, I shared some thoughts on tire gardens, along with this video:

In response, one of my readers wrote:

“Hello David,
Tires do leach toxic, carcinogenic chemicals into the soil and plants grown in them. No time to research this? Then do not show pictures of plants grown in tires. That is irresponsible and bad karma as you pass on injury to others. Look into it. Fact: tire gardening and straw bale gardening are bad if you do not want toxin-suffused vegetables.”

And Sheila writes:

“One year, my father and I planted potatoes in tires. Just put on another tire and add dirt. We had lots of potatoes with seven high. PVC pipe with holes in it to water the plants. Problem was that they tasted like tires. Since then, I am not a fan of tires for living or gardening.”

Vegetables tasting like tires? And bad karma! Oh me oh my, I just want to give up.

Actually, I don’t care about tire gardens, though I do like the idea of recycling a waste product into a gardening bed.

But growing vegetables in tires isn’t a method I have any personal stake in. I’m happy to drop the method if it’s got its downsides, like straw bale gardening seems to have.

So—are tire gardens toxic? Let’s do a little digging.

Are Tire Gardens Toxic? The Case For Tires

Tires are, of course, cheap and widely available even in the third world. ECHO uses them in their urban garden demonstration area. You can set up tire gardens on driveways, on roof tops, in rocky lots, and in tight spaces.

They’re convenient, too. But are they toxic?

When Patrice at Rural Revolution blogged about their tractor tire gardens, she got a similar response to that which I got … but even harsher.

Someone wrote:

You could have created a floral landscape, a Dutch Masterpiece, an English Rose Garden, a French Formal Garden, and you chose Fords-Ville, Michelin Man, and polluted Mother Earth. Scrap timber is everywhere, so are bricks, tiles, even rockery stones, but tires no. Are you sure the food grown will be free of carbon rubber tire oil moisture? A carcinogen?

You can read Patrice’s response and entire defense of tire gardening here, but most of it boils down to what she wrote here:

“Tires have a lot of nasty things bonded into them, things that arguably ARE carcinogenic. But it’s the term BONDED that must be considered. Intact tires are distressingly inert (that’s why they’re everywhere rather than quietly decomposing into Mother Earth).”

She then quotes extensively from research done by Mr. Farber of www.tirecrafting.com (which now redirects to an Etsy site so the original essay appears to be missing):

Used tires already exist, and in their solid state, they are as safe or safer than any other construction material. The process and the result of this global discard nightmare being recycled by industry, whether grinding them up for road base, burning them as fuel, or recouping the oil, releases more hydrocarbons while costing the global economy billions of dollars for tire cleanup and commercial recycling. Modifying tires to create green space and home gardening available to everyone would not only absorb hydrocarbons, it could well be the key to salvation for practically every family on the planet that is otherwise excluded from adequate sustenance. Personal tire recycling potential benefits far outweigh all perceived hazards.

Still, I am not convinced. After all, if vegetables are tasting like tires, well, that doesn’t inspire confidence. Yet I do love what Patrice has done at Rural Revolution. In her case, it made sense.

Are Tire Gardens Toxic? The Case Against Tires

According to Brighton Permaculture Trust:

“Due to commercial secrecy, it’s difficult to find out the exact ingredients of a tire, and there are lots of different types. The list below is from a ‘typical tire’:

  • Natural rubber
  • Synthetic rubber compounds, including Butadiene—known carcinogen
  • Solvents: Benzene—known carcinogen, Styrene—anticipated to be carcinogenic, Toluene—has negative health effects, Xylene—irritant, & Petroleum naphtha
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Phenols—some are endocrine-disruptive, Benzo(a)pyrene—linked to cancer
  • Heavy metals: Zinc, chromium, nickel, lead, copper & cadmium
  • Carbon black—possibly carcinogenic
  • Vulcanising agents: Sulphur & zinc oxide
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls—known carcinogen
  • Other synthetic chemicals”

Again, though, these terrible things might have off-gassed during the tire’s usable life or been stabilized and made inert during manufacturing.

Yet as Mischa argues in that article:

“When it comes to growing food in tires, why take the risk?

Whilst the quantity of toxic chemicals may be small, we don’t know the exact amount used in tyres because of commercial secrecy.

People generally grow food organically for themselves to avoid exposure to synthetic chemicals. It seems ironic that a ‘Permaculture way’ of reusing tires could be unintentionally reintroducing potentially harmful chemicals back into the equation.”

And over at Science Daily, it gets scarier:

“Draper’s method has been to make up clean samples of water like those inhabited by several kinds of aquatic organisms—algae, duckweed, daphnia (water fleas), fathead minnows, and snails—and under controlled laboratory conditions, put finely ground tire particles into the samples. By letting the particles remain in the water for 10 days and then filtering them out, she created a “leachate” that included substances in the tire rubber. All the organisms exposed to the leachate died, and the algae died fairly quickly.”

This is not complete tires, of course, but tires will break down slowly over time in the garden—and if it kills ground life, well, that’s obviously a bad thing.

The science isn’t settled, but it is unsettling.

Conclusion

After multiple hours of research, I am now leaning against tire gardening. On my new property, I have not built any tire gardens and I don’t plan to add any.

If you’re in an urban setting, have terrible soil or no soil, and no options, etc., there might be a place for tire gardens. I built mine for fun in a few minutes and have enjoyed them, but I now have no desire to expand and add more. Yet digging beds is free—so why use tires at all?

Especially if it’s going to ruin the karma I don’t even believe in.

If you want simple, tried-and-true and even off-grid methods for growing lots of food without much money in tough times, stick around The Grow Network and keep learning!

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Featured Photo Credit: Mark Buckawicki / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

 

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Companion Planting Favorites (Your Answers to the Question of the Month!)

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What Are Your Favorite Combinations for Companion Planting?

Recently on the site, we’ve been talking about Three Sisters Gardens. Of course, this classic symbiosis is a great example of companion planting …

… which got us wondering …

… what do you do in YOUR garden?

You let us know in your replies to TGN’s March Question of the Month.

Answers encompassed a range of uses for companion planting—from keeping pests away to extending the season by providing shade.

Here’s how your fellow TGN Community members put companion planting to work for them:

  • Frances Graham has found that interplanting herb barbara (Barbarea vulgaris) with brassicas helps keep whiteflies under control.
  • Scott Sexton uses a number of planting combinations to his advantage: “I like strawberries with blueberries. I also like comfrey with my fruit trees. It helps shade out the grass. I’m planning on trying a muscadine cultivar growing up my fruit trees. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it will work. They’d be growing up trees in nature. I’ve had some unintentional overlap between my passion flowers and sunchokes. The passion vines climb up the sunchoke stalks, and they both die back in the winter. So far, they both seem to be okay with the situation.”
  • Tasha Greer uses a clever trick to provide a microclimate for her arugula in warm weather: “Since I am a total arugula addict and really want to eat it year-round, I discovered a trick for germinating arugula outdoors, even in mid-summer. I interplant my arugula with buckwheat. The buckwheat comes up quickly, providing some shade and a bit of a microclimate for the arugula. I don’t know if this will work in extreme heat, but it has worked for me in 80-90ºFtemperatures as long as I keep my buckwheat/arugula patch well-watered.

Read More: “Growing Arugula: The Rocket in Your Salad Bowl and Garden (With Recipe)”

  • Marjory Wildcraft offers this tip for keeping lettuce from bolting so quickly when the weather warms up: “Lightly shading lettuce plants can provide enough of a temperature drop to keep them from bolting, sometimes up to 3-5 weeks. Shade can be from a shade cloth or a row cover on a low tunnel, or by companion planting tall, wide-leafed plants such as some types of pumpkin.”

Read More: “Growing Lettuce From Seed”

  • Riesah likes growing strawberries and asparagus in the same bed, and Kathy does the same with tomatoes, peppers, and lettuces.
  • Carolyn says she gets better crops of both basil and tomatoes when she plants them together. “Although,” she says, “marigolds with about anything is good, too.”
  • Willow likes marigolds, too, and says she places them in her bed borders or rows about every 3 feet. “They work for the broadest spectrum of insects in all stages.” She also interplants mint and chives among her crops, and says she’s found that “plants that taste good together, grow well together.” For example, squash grows well with dill and garlic.
  • Sdmherblady interplants marigolds with bush beans, and also grows carrots and onions together. “I had read they are great companions,” she says. “They repel each other’s biggest insect pests.  I had my doubts, as they are both root crops and I thought they would compete for specific nutrients. But planting them in an alternating grid pattern worked fantastic. Both crops produced very well, made large healthy roots, and there were NO pests to be seen throughout the entire bed.”

What about you? What crops do you plant together, and why? Let us know in the comments!

 

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The Best Vegetables To Plant In April

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Are you ready for the list of the best vegetables to plant in April? I planted some seeds indoors and some outdoors in the month of March. April is here and I’m planting again today. Do you love digging in the earth as much as I do? I have one seedling container that has three sprouts right now and some seeds I planted outside are just breaking through the soil mixture I added a couple months ago. Life is so exciting when you see those little green sprouts, some I recognize and some I don’t. I meant to get out there and put the markers in the rows, but well I didn’t get to it this year. The good thing is that I know I planted spinach, radishes, and Cilantro so far with seeds outside in my raised garden beds so they shouldn’t be too hard to identify when they get a little bigger.

The tomato plants were planted a week ago, fingers crossed I will miss all the freezing temperatures. I think I’m good, but Mother Nature surprises all us some years. Oh, yes, I check the temperatures for Mark’s golf games and my vegetable gardens.

plant in April

I live in Southern Utah so my Zone may be different than yours. I really like the website USDA Plant Hardiness Zones to check for each state zone to determine when you can plant certain plants. My zone is 8a. You basically put in your state then your zip code where shown on the website and you will soon learn when you can plant different vegetables, etc.

Today we are talking about the best vegetables to plant in April. There is something that connects us to the universe when we garden, dig, pull weeds or whatever. God had given us this great earth to produce our own food, and yes, we can do it!

Please remember to prepare your soil before you sow your seeds. This is the article I wrote on getting soil nutrients, Soil For The Garden

I start with Miracle Grow All-Purpose Garden Soil, you can’t go wrong with any Miracle Grow product. You can buy them just about anywhere like Walmart, Ace Hardware, Home Depot, etc.

Azomite Micronized Bag, 44 lb

FibreDust Coco Coir Block

Unco Industries Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings Organic Fertilizer, 15-Pound

Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Organic Bone Meal, 3 lb.

Espoma VM8 8-Quart Organic Vermiculite

Vegetables To Plant In April

I buy almost all of my seeds from this website Seeds Now because they are ✓ Pure NON-Genetically Modified (NON-GMO) seeds   ✓ 100% NON-Hybrid   ✓ 100% Heirloom/Open-Pollinated   ✓ 100% Raw & Un-treated”.

These are the seeds you can plant outside in April:

Asparagus

Beetroot

Broadbeans

Carrots

Cauliflower

Kale

Lettuce

Leek

Peas

Radishes

Spinach (Perpetual, it just keeps on growing)

Turnips

Winter salad greens

Please check for your “zone” to plant and get started teaching your family how to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, the proper plants, mark the rows (remember I forgot to place the markers in the first raised garden bed), weed, fertilize, watch for insects, harvest and preserve your bounty.

Tools To Prepare Gardens

  1. Gloves: I try to buy them at the end of the season for the following year to get the really good ones half-price.
  2. Shovels: I always say “buy right the first time.” If you clean your garden tools before you put them away they will last much longer. Plus, when you need to use them they are clean, ready to grab and take out to the yard. I have regular size shovels, square shovels, and short-handled shovels. I use the square ones for cleaning out the gutters in front of our home.
  3. Small garden tools, such as a small shovel, weed digger, a spade and claw tool. Here again, buy good ones that will last many years.
  4. Purchase non-GMO seeds and plants.
  5. Use Miracle Grow Root Starter in the holes where you are placing seedlings or plants. Trust me, this stuff works. I have used it every year in all of my gardens. Miracle Grow Root Starter or the liquid Miracle Grow Root Starter
  6. Watering can for mixing up your root starter or sprinkling your newly set seedlings.
  7. A good hose, one that doesn’t kink and has a good nozzle. That reminds me, I need to order one today. Here’s a Good Hose and a Good Hose Nozzle
  8. A pitchfork: I have a long-handled one and a short-handled one. I use these to turn the soil over and mix in the new nutrients I purchase each year.
  9. A rake to smooth and level the soil. Oh my gosh, I can hardly wait to get my hands on the prepared soil in my raised beds.
  10. Tomato cages: the only place I can buy the ones I really like is at a local nursery in South Jordan, Utah called Glover Nursery located on Redwood Road. They are called Tomato Cages and last for years since they are so heavy duty. This is what they look like:

prepare gardens

It is so important that we learn to grow a garden and teach our families the joy of being self-reliant. We can’t depend on anyone else to take care of our family. The government should not be looked at as the source to depend on to feed their families. I am begging you to teach your family to be self-sufficient, the time is coming that we will only have the food we can produce in our own backyards. Please be prepared for the unexpected. May God bless you and your family.

Copyright pictures:

Vegetables: AdobeStock_41860264 by Udrall

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Need a Quality Garden Hoe? Use This Trick!

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It’s not much of a trick, really, as eBay has been around forever, but it’s become my go-to source for quality vintage tools.

Look at two of my recent scores:

vintage-hoe-headsvintage-potato-hoe

Sweet, eh?

Right now, there’s a plethora of great hoe heads on eBay.

I actually resisted putting this post up because I want to buy every single garden hoe for myself, but no … I am generous.

The two listings I won will be fit onto new handles. The “potato hoe” style works great in the hard clay here.

The old steel on these heads are a lot better than the new junk you get from the hardware store. Seriouslyit’s amazing. Put a sharp edge on an old hoe and it cuts through weeds like a knife. A new hoe just doesn’t “have it.”

I posted a video about my favorite vintage garden hoe so you can see just how awesome an old tool can be:

That’s the tool that changed my whole perspective on hoeing.

I just didn’t know what a real weeding tool was like until I got a good old American steel garden hoe working for me.

Half the time, the vintage hoe heads end up costing the same as a crummy new one from China … or less! I used a mop handle on one of my garden hoe heads, and it works great. Some of my other ones were re-handled here by a local farmer who cut wild coffee wood to make solid handles. Those look really cool and work quite well.

Anyhow, go ye forth and hunt. Beyond eBay, I also recommend yard sales. Look for the real old hoes with heads that are one solid piece instead of a couple of pieces welded together.

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Food Supplies. Tomatoes, Picking & Preserving.

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We have started harvesting our tomato crop & preserving them. We may dry some like last year, but for now we are bottling them.
We always put stakes in for our tomato plants, but sometimes they get away from us! One day they don’t seem large enough to tie, & the next time we check they have gone beyond tying! I am never game to try tying them once they have got to a certain size, because invariably the stems break.
Then there are the volunteers from last years crop, we could pull them out, but we never do. We can always use more tomatoes. These volunteers grow madly all over the garden & the paths until the paths are impassable! Stakes do make the picking easier, but I find it no great hardship to pick from the sprawling plants on the ground.
12 jars so far, this is the product of 4 baskets as at the top of this page, & we still have a lot to pick, & the crop is still ripening.

Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 1: Pest Control and Pathogen Prevention

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I am betting that you’re already familiar with the idea of crop rotation. You may have seen large swaths of farm fields covered with corn one year and soybeans the next. That is crop rotation as its most basic level.

Corn is a nitrogen hog and soybeans are a nitrogen fixer. By planting them back-to-back, you help regulate the nitrogen levels in soil, while producing two important food staples.

More sophisticated monoculture rotations include corn, soybeans, wheat, a different nitrogen fixer (other legumes). Some even include using the fields to grow grasses and graze horses or cattle for several years before planting again. This practice of incorporating animal grazing is still fairly common in my region.

Though we often associate crop rotation with industrial farming, the idea of rotating fields is an ancient practice. The early rendition is often referred to as “food, feed, fallow” and has been traced back to ancient Rome.

Essentially, in the first year farmers would grow crops for humans. The second year they would grow grains and graze animals. The third year, they’d let the field rest so the manure age. Then the cycle would start again.

Farmers – and more recently gardeners — have been experimenting with crop rotations to varying degrees since those ancient times. In this three part blog series, I am going to go over some of the main reasons why crop rotation is important and how you can do your crop experimentation at home.

Making your own crop rotation plan based on what you are growing and how you are growing it will get you much better results than following  pre-fab rotational plans made by others who may not have the same challenges as you. That’s because we all have different pest pressure, different pathogen risks, and different ways of amending and tending our gardens.

So, let’s dig into the details of how to create your own crop rotation plan at home.

Why Use Crop Rotation?

There are three primary reasons why people use crop rotation. These include pest prevention, pathogen control, and nutrient management. Let’s get started by examining pest control.

Pest Control – Rotate Your Planting Times

One of the most common reasons to rotate crops is for pest control. If you were growing a large field of pesticide-free cabbage in the same location, year after year, I bet you’ll end up with a severe cabbage moth problem.

A single cabbage moth can lay 2500 eggs in a season. Even if you are diligent at picking off eggs, let’s say you miss some and ten female cabbage moths make it to maturity and begin to reproduce. Each of them also lays 2500 eggs and has 10 females (and a few males) make it to reproduction. This goes on for a few seasons.

Even with just a minuscule number of survivors, from 1 moth, you jump to 10 moths, from 10 moths to 100, from 100 moths to 1000 in just four seasons. Instead of picking off 2500 eggs, you now have to pick off 2,500,000 eggs! In a field full of cabbage, finding all those eggs is impossible and so the problem grows.

Luckily, it’s easy to break this cycle. Since cabbage moth larva feed pretty exclusively on brassicas or cole crops, take away their food supply and the cabbage moths will have no place to lay their eggs. Without suitable host plants for their eggs, the moths will fly off and look for a better place to lay. Viola, pest problem solved!

Why Field Crop Rotation Practices Will not Help the Home Gardener

For the home garden, though, crop rotation for pest management has to be a bit more strategic than just changing planting locations from year to year. Here’s why.

Let’s say you have a 20 x 20 foot garden. Even if you plant cabbage at the top of your garden one year, and the bottom of your garden the next, cabbage moths still only have to fly 20-40 feet to lay their eggs on a host plant. My garden is 100 x 60 feet and cabbage moths fly over the entire area and then go visit my flower patches an acre away. Trust me, 20-40 feet of difference in planting location isn’t going discourage cabbage moths.

How to Use Crop Rotation Strategies for Pest Control in a Small Garden

For crop rotation to be effective in a small garden, you need to think beyond rotating rows and instead think about rotating the timing of your planting to break up the reproductive cycles and prevent infestations.

To do this, you need to know the life cycle for the pest you are trying to control.

As an example, the cabbage moth typically has two generations of offspring each year. The first starts in mid-spring and the second in late summer. If you are planting cabbage in both spring and fall, you are literally offering cabbage moths the perfect conditions to increase their numbers from year to year.

Strategy 1: Shift your Planting Season

A good rotation strategy for controlling cabbage moths and still getting an annual cabbage crop would be to plant in spring one year and fall the next year. By doing this, you cut off the larva food supply during two reproductive cycles back-to-back. Cabbage moths either get the clue and move on or they fail to reproduce successfully. Either way, you win!

Strategy 2: Start Early or Late using Larger Transplants

If you must plant cabbage in both spring and fall, then starting earlier or later can help. Mature plants can withstand more insect damage than smaller plants. By transplanting larger plants into prepared soil before the cabbage moths begin laying, you can increase your yeilds by giving plants a head start over moths.

The challenge with this strategy  is that cabbage doesn’t always transplant well after it gets bigger. Growth may be stunted plants may suffer shock.

Using paper pots that will quickly decompose in the soil can help limit root damage.

Growing transplants in extremely loose planting medium can also make it easier to relocate plants without causing root damage. Note, loose soil medium often requires more watering and nutrient management than heavier mixes.

Strategy 3: Use Observation and Experience to Create Pest Prevention Rotations That Work

Here’s another example to help you figure out how to use the idea of crop rotation for pest control in your garden.

Our first year here, we planted potatoes in an area that had once been covered with crabgrass. We tilled up the soil, amended with compost, and started planting.

Unfortunately, I barely got any potatoes because we ended up with an infestation of wire worms. Those orange mealy-worm-looking guys love living in the roots of grass. It’s like the wire worm equivalent of a nice little house in the suburbs.

Well, when I swapped their suburban grass roots for potatoes, it was like I took those root eaters to Vegas and told them to have a great time on my tab. They went crazy, decimated my potatoes, and exploded their population in the process. Wire worms gone wild in my potato patch…Yikes!

That experience taught me something though. Don’t plant potatoes after grasses if you have wire worms! Since corn, sorghum, and wheat are grasses, I don’t plant potatoes after those plants for at least two years as a habit now.

Strategy 4: Keep Adapting Your Rotation Plan for New Pests

Good crop rotation for pest management is not just a “set and forget it” kind of activity. It’s something you’ll need to update as new pests make their way into your landscape.

Last year I saw my first blister beetle. Actually, I saw hundreds of them. They were demolishing the leaves of my potato plants. This brand new pest had sailed in and started devouring plants that I’d been growing diligently for over three months.

Well, I wasn’t going to have that! So, I got a bowl of water and started knocking them into it.

My chickens love eating all sorts of beetles. I was about to take those pesky pests to my chickens, when some inkling of intuition told me to identify them first. I covered the bowl and hit the computer.

First site I found started with something like “lethal to livestock”. They call them “blister beetles” because they cause blisters if you squish them by hand. The same substance that causes blisters in humans can kill a chicken with the smallest taste and even take out cattle with large infestations.

More research revealed that pigweed is a host plant for these bugs. I wasn’t growing pigweed, but I was growing Elephant Nose amaranth – pigweed’s city cousin – right next to my potatoes.

I went back to the garden, checked my amaranth plants and discovered even more blister beetles. They were covered with them. Except the blister beetles weren’t eating the amaranth – they were just living there and going across to the neighbors for dinner (e.g. my potatoes). I had found their secret hideout!

Well, down came the amaranth, and out went the blister beetles. I had to pick some more off my potato plants since they apparently hadn’t gotten the memo that I’d destroyed their habitat. However, they didn’t return once I removed the amaranth from my garden.

I had been using amaranth as an exotic edible to sell at the farmers market and as a trap plant for flea beetles since they like it a lot more than my other leafy greens. However, those blister beetles are such bad news that amaranth is now rotated out (of the garden) for good.

Steps For Making Your Own Pest Prevention Crop Rotational Schedule

As you can see, using crop rotation for pest control in a small garden is not just about moving plants to new locations. It is about managing pests by knowing their reproductive cycles, their food and habitat preferences, and using that understanding to plan useful rotations.

I Know it can be a bit tricky to figure it out at first. Try these tips to help plan your strategy.

  1. Start by identifying your most persistent pests.
  2. Study up on how the multiply, what they eat, and where they live.
  3. Use that knowledge to time your planting to interrupt reproductive cycles, limit the pests’ food supplies, and offer less hospitable habitat. Aim to break up at least one reproductive cycle to keep your populations in check. You may need longer interruptions for serious infestations.
  4. If your strategies effectively reduce pest populations, then incorporate them into your planting calendar and crop rotation plan.
  5. Repeat as necessary!

Other Examples of Pest Prevention Crop Rotations

Here are a couple other rotations I have figured out based on our pest pressure that might help you create your own rotations.

1. Squash Bugs

Squash bugs only have one reproductive cycle per year. However they are so good at hiding and flying large distances that it has proven impossible to control them with short interruptions.

Instead, we only grow plants in the curcurbit family for two years, then we take a year off.

We still hand-pick and kill squash beetles. We also  choose varieties like Seminole Pumpkin and a Virginia strain of Waltham Butternut Sqaush that seem less bothered by these pests than other squashes.

During our off year, I arrange to have others grow us squash and cucumbers in exchange for something we are growing. Or I buy from local farmers I trust.

After our yar break, we still have a few squash beetles that have  managed to stick around or found us again. However, their numbers are low and controlling them is easier! This strategy seems to prevent squash borers too.

2. Mexican Bean Beetle

I thought I’d struck gold when I first saw these yellow lady bug looking insects moving in to my garden. Who wouldn’t want thousands of beneficial lady beetles to come eat your aphids and other pests?

Except, these lady beetles were the one kind that is not beneficial to your garden. These were Mexican Bean Beetles. Within days they had consumed by bean leaves and desiccated my vines.

I tried to pick them off.  Since I had planted the three sisters (beans, squash, and corn), I couldn’t find them all and their population exploded (as described for cabbage moths above).

Well, then I noticed that they had left a few plants mostly unscathed. Those were the plants running along my fence, planted on their own, mostly for aesthetic purpose, that I’d been watering regularly because they were closer to my water barrel.

The next year I planted a bunch of beans in a plot by themselves. I neglected them – no watering, no weeding. Those sad little plants still managed to grow and even produce, but they were clearly quite stressed.

When the bean beetles emerged, they went straight for my sad little bean patch. I waited until they had laid their eggs and saw a few larva crawling on the plants. Then I yanked those plants and burned them!

After that I planted my real beans in a different location. I treated my new plants like royalty to ensure good health.  I still had a few bean beetles show up on my well-cared for real beans.  Since I planted those beans on flat trellises rather than as a companion planting, I picked survivors off with ease.

This strategy worked well because bean beetles do most of their laying in June in my area. This still left me plenty of time to plant and grow beans late in the season.

Since I am planting beans later when our temperatures are warmer, I choose varieties that germinate in warmer temperatures and can take the heat. Cowpeas always germinate in high heat, but there are other varieties that work well like scarlet runner beans.

Final Words on Crop Rotation for Pest Control

This might seem like a lot of information to take in.  But I have literally just shared my entire crop rotation plan for controlling pests in my garden.

  1. I use seasonal cabbage rotations to control cabbage moths.
  2. I rotated amaranth out of the vegetable garden permanently.
  3. I take a year off after two years of growing curcurbits.
  4. I grow a trap plant for Mexican Bean beetles and plant my my real bean crop after the mating season for this troublesome pest has passed.

I have a few more pests that visit my garden like Harlequin bugs, aphids, and tomato hornworms. Luckily, their populations are so small, that hand picking is sufficient to keep them in check.

You won’t need to use crop rotation practices for every pest you have, just those that interfere with your production (or that might be dangerous to livestock, like blister beetles). However, there are two other big reasons why good crop rotation is important. And we’ll get to those – pathogen control and nutrition management – in our next two posts.

What kind of insect pests are you dealing with in your garden? Do you use crop rotation to help manage them already? What works? Or has this post sparked some new ideas you might try this year? Please share your challenges, ideas, and successes using the comment area below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

The post Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 1: Pest Control and Pathogen Prevention appeared first on The Grow Network.

Nature Is an EXTREME Composter—You Can Be Too!

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Learning From Nature

I admit it: I get a kick out of shaking things up. For years I listened to the rules on composting … then I shrugged, threw away the rule book, and decided to watch what happened in nature and copy the design I found there.

Basically everything organic can be returned to the soil. Paper, sewage, logs, animal carcasses, chicken soup … you name it.

And isn’t it much better to return these items to the soil than it is to dump them in a landfill? It’s a no-brainer!

In 2015, my years of experimentation and the knowledge I have gained were distilled down into the book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. The response was excellent, and the sales still continue to amaze me. It is transforming the way gardeners think about composting. Just throwing things away isn’t good enough anymore.

david-the-good-doing-some-extreme-composting

Unlearning the ‘Rules’

When I wrote the book I had no idea so many people would be willing to come along for the ride. It’s thrilling.

For years, we’ve been told not to compost meat … and then we’re told to use blood meal as a great organic source of nitrogen for our gardens.

We’re told to turn our compost piles regularly … but when we walk through the woods the leaves have created rich humus everywhere, no turning required.

We’re warned that human waste is incredibly dangerous … but every other creature on the planet fails to use a flush toilet with no ill effect.

People love recycling because it’s easy and feels like a good deed … yet those same people will often throw away a banana peel or a ham bone because composting is “too hard.”

It’s not hard when you do it like nature does. Composting is recycling “trash” into soil—and we should all be doing it.

Extreme Composting

Some of the ideas in Compost Everything are certainly extreme compared to the nice, safe restrictions foisted on us by well-meaning agricultural extensions and fuddy-duddy garden writers, yet nature itself is an EXTREME composter!

Why not see what she does and do the same?

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This article was originally published on March 9, 2016.)

 

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Prepper to Prepper: Our best gardening advice

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Many, many years ago, close-knit communities would spend hours together in the course of a year sharing from their own experiences what worked and what didn’t when it came to gardening and farming. Much of that old-time, best gardening advice and wisdom has been passed down to younger generations, but unfortunately, most have been lost. […]

How To Prepare Gardens For Spring Planting

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It’s all about how to prepare gardens today. There is nothing better than picking that first tomato, right? If you are lucky enough to have lots of land with really good soil, you rock! Where I live, which is in the desert in Southern Utah, it’s a bit trickier to grow a garden. It takes a few years to get your soil so it will give you a great harvest. I have to laugh, the last three years I have not been able to grow zucchini! You know that green stuff that anyone can produce and you are going door to door to see who can use some so you can give your excess away!

The first few years I had way too many zucchini growing and then I hit rock bottom. Yes, I planted the zucchini in different areas of my planter boxes. The soil here is rock hard clay, so I chose to purchase raised garden beds. They are 48-inches by 48-inches by 18-inches deep. You need at least 18-inches deep to grow most vegetables in raised garden beds.

prepare gardens

Prepare Gardens for Better Yields

Here’s the deal, each year you need to add nutrients to the soil. I confess I do not compost, I don’t have enough garden space to make it worth my while, so I buy organic compost. You can buy most of these products at your local big box store or a garden nursery where you live. I admire those who compost, but it’s not something I want to do under my local soil conditions and hot temps.

prepare gardens

Tools To Prepare Gardens

  1. Gloves: I try to buy them at the end of the season for the following year to get the really good ones half-price.
  2. Shovels: I always say “buy right the first time.” If you clean your garden tools before you put them away they will last forever. Plus, when you need to use them they are clean, ready to grab and take out to the yard. I have regular size shovels, square shovels, and short-handled shovels. I use the square ones for cleaning out the gutters in front of our home.
  3. Small garden tools, such as a small shovel, weed digger, a spade and claw tool. Here again, buy good ones that will last many years.
  4. Purchase non-GMO seeds and plants.
  5. Use Miracle Grow Root Starter in the holes where you are placing seedlings or plants. Trust me, this stuff works, I have used it every year in all of my gardens. Miracle Grow Root Starter or the liquid Miracle Grow Root Starter
  6. Watering can for mixing up your root starter or sprinkling your newly set seedlings.
  7. A good hose, one that doesn’t kink and has a good nozzle. That reminds me, I need to order one today. Here’s a Good Hose and a Good Hose Nozzle
  8. A pitchfork, I have a long-handled one and a short-handled one. I use these to turn the soil over and mix in the new nutrients I purchase each year.
  9. A rake to smooth and level the soil, oh my gosh, I can hardly wait to get my hands on the prepard soil in my raised beds.
  10. Tomato cages, the only place I can buy the ones I really like is at a local nursery in South Jordan, Utah called Glover Nursery located on Redwood Road. They are called Tomato Cages and last for years since they are so heavy duty. This is what they look like:

prepare gardens

My favorite items:

I start with Miracle Grow All-Purpose Garden Soil, you can’t go wrong with any Miracle Grow product. You can buy them just about anywhere like Walmart, Ace Hardware, Home Depot, etc.

Azomite Micronized Bag, 44 lb

FibreDust Coco Coir Block

Unco Industries Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings Organic Fertilizer, 15-Pound

Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Organic Bone Meal, 3 lb.

Espoma VM8 8-Quart Organic Vermiculite

If we plant and prepare gardens to feed our family, we become self-reliant and will teach our families how to survive a famine. Please be prepared with the skills you need to grow food for your family, it is a skill we must not lose. Yes, it takes practice, but the rewards are awesome! Thanks again for being prepared for the unexpected.

Copyright pictures:

Garden: AdobeStock_81068305  by hqualty

Cucumbers: AdobeStock_148720053 by Sea Wave

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Three Sisters Gardens: Grow More Food With Less Work

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Imagine a small garden that produces an above-average harvest, yet needs minimal water, fertilizer, and weeding—and, as a bonus, leaves your soil more fertile at the end of the growing season. Some might call that a dream come true, but what it’s really called is a Three Sisters Garden.

Yet this remarkably savvy strategy for growing corn, beans, and squash wasn’t developed by a Ph.D. in a modern research garden. Instead, it began centuries—perhaps millennia—ago as a Native American agricultural tradition.

Three Sisters Garden 3

What is a Three Sisters Garden?

Unlike today’s gardens where plant varieties are separated by straight rows, a Three Sisters Garden allows corn, bean, and squash plants to grow together and benefit from each other.

The beauty of a Three Sisters Garden comes from the symbiotic relationship between these three crops.

  1. As corn stalks grow, they create poles for beans to climb on to gain support and find sunlight without getting outcompeted by the sprawling squash.
  2. The bean roots also help stabilize the corn in heavy winds and fertilize it by “fixing” nitrogen from the air into a form that corn and squash roots can absorb.
  3. The squash’s large leaves are prickly enough to deter pests from coming close, and they shade out weeds while keeping the soil moist.1)The Old Farmers’ Almanac: The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash 

History of the Three Sisters Garden

When agriculture began in the Americas 7,000 years ago, it quickly changed the landscape and local cultures beyond recognition.

Maize, beans, and squash were domesticated in Central and South America and gradually made their way to the American Midwest.2)University of Nebraska: The “How” of the Three Sisters: The Origins of

Different Native American tribes began to integrate these crops into their horticultural traditions, though the Iroquois (also called the Haudenosaunee) first used the phrase “Three Sisters” to describe the practice of growing them together in highly productive garden plots.

Over the centuries, the Three Sisters gained physical and spiritual importance for the Iroquois. Their planting method involved sowing all three seeds in fertilized mounds that prevented the young plants from getting waterlogged.

Women then weeded and hoed these mounds throughout the summer and harvested the crops in the early fall before drying and storing them for winter. Celebrated as a gift from the Great Spirit, corn, beans, and squash were eaten together for most meals.

American colonists first learned of Three Sisters Gardens over 300 years ago.

Since they were used to straight, orderly farm fields, most settlers first dismissed these densely planted gardens as wild.

However, they soon learned that this biointensive combination-planting method was perfectly suited for the region, as cleared land was difficult to maintain and small Iroquois garden plots needed to produce higher yields than European ones.

Today, a Three Sisters Garden is a great example of an ecological guild in America because each plant directly benefits the others.

Grown together, Three Sisters crops produce more food with less water and fertilizer.

In fact, Three Sisters Garden plots tend to produce 20 percent more calories than when the same crops are grown apart.3)Estimating Productivity of Traditional Iroquoian Cropping Systems from Field Experiments and Historical Literature

A Nutritional Cornucopia

Not only are the Three Sisters naturally suited to grow well together, they also pack a powerful nutritional punch. In fact, a diet of corn, beans, and squash is nutritionally balanced without the need for other protein sources.

Corn kernels are rich in carbohydrates and become a complete protein source when eaten with beans.

Full of vitamins and minerals, squash rounds out the diet nutritionally.

Making them even more valuable, corn, beans, and squash all could be dried and eaten throughout the winter.4)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden When combined with other vegetables native to America like peppers and tomatoes, the Three Sisters fueled culinary creativity and promoted health all year long.

Three Sister Variations

Not all Three Sister gardens are the same.

While squash, beans, and corn were important food crops throughout America, many native cultures made variations on the growing method to better fit their local conditions.

For example, throughout the dry Southwest, the Three Sisters were often planted in separate fields with wide plant spacing to maximize the use of a limited water supply.5)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

In some places, a fourth sister joined the trio. Sunflowers attracted insect pollinators to the garden while distracting birds from the corn and providing support for bean vines.

Throughout the Southwest, tobacco was interplanted with the Three Sisters as a ceremonial plant.

Likewise, watermelons and gourds were easily substituted for squash.6)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

Three Sisters Garden 4

Tips for Getting Started

When you follow the Three Sisters method today, you equip your garden with the building blocks it needs to grow flavorful plants that are well suited to your natural conditions.

You can also help preserve a Native American heritage and benefit from centuries of horticultural innovation and experimentation by growing your own Three Sisters Garden at home.

Layout

There are plenty of variations for laying out a Three Sisters Garden, but it’s always best to plant your corn in clusters instead of rows. This makes it easier to attract pollinating insects for your squash plants and for wind-pollinated corn tassels to fertilize each other.7)Native Seeds: How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

Make sure you choose a spot with plenty of direct sunlight and a neutral pH level (6.0–7.0 is best).

Minimal space is needed for a Three Sisters Garden. A 10-foot-by-10-foot plot tends to be ideal. That’s a small enough space to be fairly simple to prepare and maintain while ensuring that you sow enough corn (about 10–20 plants) for it to cross-pollinate.

To set up a traditional Three Sisters Garden in a 10-foot-by-10-foot plot, mark off three rows spaced five feet apart. Each row will have five 18-inch mounds, alternating corn/bean mounds with squash mounds.8)Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: Growing a Three Sisters Garden

Planting

Sowing a Three Sisters Garden takes a little longer from start to finish, but the steps are simple—and the results are oh so worth it!

  1. Start by fertilizing the garden bed with your favorite amendments.
  2. Form the soil into flat mounds that are a foot high and 18 inches in diameter.
  3. Alternate the corn/bean mounds with the squash mounds.
  4. Stagger the planting by species to create a “stacked” garden that gives the corn and/or sunflowers a few weeks’ head start. This also prevents the plants from outcompeting each other in their beginning growth stages.
    1. Once the danger of frost has passed, plant four kernels of corn an inch deep and six inches apart, with each kernel forming one of the four points of a diamond shape.
    2. Once the corn reaches five inches tall, plant four bean seeds in a pattern that adds corners to your diamond shape, effectively making it a square.
    3. Squash seeds should be planted one week later in the remaining mounds. In each mound, plant three squash seeds four inches apart in a triangle shape.9)The Old Farmers’ Almanac: The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash
  5. Make sure to hill up the soil as it starts to level out so that there is plenty of material for the root systems to work with.

Maintenance

As the Three Sisters grow together, you will notice the bean sprouts starting to climb the corn stems, and heavy squash leaves starting to fan out along the ground.

While squash leaves help shade out weeds as they grow, it’s best to regularly weed your plot when the plants are young to prevent them from getting outcompeted. Laying down a layer of organic mulch is also a good way to help the soil retain moisture on hot summer days.

Insect pests are likely to find your garden as exciting as you do, so make sure to watch for squash bugs, squash vine borers, and corn earworms.

A drop of vegetable oil on the tips of corn ears can help fend off an invasion, and you can keep your beans healthy by working them only when the plants are dry.10)The National Gardening Association: Growing the Three Sisters

To preserve the purity of heirloom varieties, you can hand-pollinate your corn plants. Simply place waxed paper bags over the corn silk to prevent pollen from getting in. When the tassels are two inches out, remove the bags and shake your preferred pollen on the silks before replacing the bags to prevent contamination.

Harvest

By mid-to-late summer, your Three Sisters Garden will be brimming with produce.

Summer squash is often the first to mature. You can harvest the squashes once they are two inches in diameter, as they taste best when small and tender.

Winter squash needs to be harvested when the outside skin is hardened and the squash has lost its natural sheen. Make sure to cleanly slice the stem with a knife, and leave the stem on the squash to help it stay fresh for several months.

Green beans are best harvested when the pods are slim and tender. So long as you prevent your beans from over-maturing and going to seed, they should produce vigorously for a month or two. Take care not to damage the vines as you pick them, and you should enjoy fresh beans for much of the summer.

Ears of corn are ready to pick about 20 days after the first silk stacks appear. You’ll know the ears are mature when the silks are dry and brown and the kernels are smooth and plump, and emit a milk-like juice when you puncture them with your thumbnail. Simply twist off each ear when ripe, and eat immediately for the best flavor.

Three Sisters Garden 2

Best Three Sister Varieties to Grow

Not every variety of corn, beans, and squash grows well in a Three Sisters Garden.

Oftentimes, traditional heirloom varieties are better suited to the specific growing conditions that companion planting calls for.

Below are varieties of corn, beans, and squash that are well suited for Three Sisters Gardens.

Corn

Sweet corn was a staple food in Native American diets,11)Mother Earth News: Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More and most varieties grow well using the Three Sisters method. Native corns tend to be heartier and more drought resistant than industrial varieties, so make sure you look to corn varieties that are naturally suited for your growing conditions.

It’s best to choose a tall variety so that your bean plants have plenty of room to grow.

Pencil Cob corn is a prolific, six-foot variety, and Flor del Rio is an excellent heirloom popcorn.

If water is an issue, Southwestern varieties like Tohono O’odham and Hopi mature fast and use less water, but their short stature makes it harder for them to support beans.

Beans

When choosing your beans, it’s essential that you select pole beans instead of bush beans to ensure they trellis themselves on the corn stalks. Common pole bean varieties include pinto, kidney, black, lima, and navy.

Ideally, you should grow “corn beans,” as they have adapted to growing in shady conditions and won’t suffer from overcrowding.12)Mother Earth News: Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More

Few Native American bean species have been preserved, but the Ohio pole bean and Amish Nuttle are two options.13)Mother Earth News: Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More Other versatile pole beans include Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, O’odham Vayos, and Four Corners Gold. If you do end up with a short corn variety like Tutelo Strawberry, you might pair it with a bean variety like Wild Pigeon, since it isn’t aggressive enough to overpower the shorter corn.

Squash

Unfortunately, few squash varieties that were common in traditional Native American gardens are still in use. While Yellow Summer Crookneck and Early White Scallop date back at least to the 1700s, the varieties available today are significantly different from the originals.

The best squash variety depends on the amount of space you have to work with.

If your garden provides ample room for plants to sprawl, go for a winter squash variety like Tarahumara Pumpkin or Magdalena Big Cheese.

Tighter arrangements better suit Yellow Crookneck squash, Ponca butternut, and Dark Star zucchini.

A Harvest of Heritage

A delightful combination of science and history, the Three Sisters Garden nurtures both body and soul.

Yes, it provides larger harvests with less work and water. But it also connects gardeners with centuries of heritage—and lets them play a vital role in ensuring that this wondrous planting method survives to nourish yet another generation.

For more information on Three Sisters Gardens, check out THE definitive book on the subject—Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman’s Guide to Traditional Methods.

 


 

 

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Planting Potatoes … the Easy Way! (VIDEO)

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Here in Central Texas, the rule of thumb for planting potatoes is to get ‘er done around Valentine’s Day. My TGN friends in colder climates tend to wait a little longer—say mid-April or even later—until their soil has warmed up to at least 45°F.

Since I spent this past Monday doing spring garden prep and getting my potatoes in the ground, it seemed like a good time to share this video with you:

In it, Paul Gautschi (of Back to Eden gardening fame) talks about:

  • His easy method for harvesting and planting potatoes in the same day, in the same place;
  • Why cutting potatoes before planting them is a waste of time and potential; and
  • A really cool way to get the biggest and best potato harvest possible.

He also gives his No. 1 reason why you should never buy root veggies from the grocery store.

(And, if you’ve got a little more time, you can watch Paul harvesting his potato crop without any tools in this video from Justin Rhodes’ Great American Farm Tour.)

After you watch, I’d love to know—what’s your favorite way to grow potatoes?

 

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Growing Your Own Food. New Garden Beds.

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Growing your own food is a must for future survival, you can’t trust foods from overseas, & Australia & the UK are producing less & less of our own foods! If it all hits the fan, there will be no foods to purchase, it will be a matter of grow or forage or starve.

Recently we put in a new berry patch for growing Boysenberries & Young berries, & we added another pumpkin patch ready for next spring.

We have a lot of regrowth tree saplings to get rid of for fire safety, so we spent some time cutting & mulching for the new berry patch.

The newly plowed & composted pumpkin patch.

Growing Lettuce From Seed

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Growing Lettuce at Home

When lettuce is mentioned, many people think of the standard iceberg lettuce found in supermarkets and restaurant salads. But that is changing quickly with the growth in popularity of different types of lettuces, mainly due to the flavors and colors that they offer. When you’re growing lettuce from seed at home, you can choose from the full spectrum of seed that’s available.

At farmers markets, health food coops, and organic food stores, a big variety of lettuce types have cropped up.  Their colors range from deep red to mottled greens, all the way to almost white.  And their flavors vary from noticeably sweet to tangy, and slightly bitter.

Iceberg lettuce, originally bred as a hybrid, is now offered as open pollinated varieties and has been around long enough to be considered by some as an “heirloom”!

Eating with the Seasons

We have come to expect lettuce year round. We’ve been educated by the supermarkets about what our vegetables should look like, what they should taste like, and when they should be available. And for most of them, we expect them to be available all year.

Many people are surprised to learn that lettuce is a cool-season crop.  It will bolt, or go to seed, readily during late spring and early summer months.

Where I live, it is best to plant lettuce early in the spring and then again in late summer or early fall when the temperatures start to cool off.

Infographic: Save Our Seeds

Better Lettuce Seed Germination

Lettuce seeds won’t sprout when soil temperatures are above 80° F.  But they will start to Freckles-LettuceWeb1-germinate as low as 40°F, making it ideal for early- and late-season planting.

When temperatures are too high, a plant hormone is produced that stops the germination process. This is called thermo-inhibition. This trait is a carryover from wild lettuce that originated in the Mediterranean Middle East, where summers are hot with little moisture. If the lettuce seeds were to sprout under these conditions, they would soon die out and the species would go extinct.

Choose Heat-Resistant Lettuce

Thanks to traditional plant breeding, several varieties of lettuce have been selected for heat-tolerant characteristics. And some of these are open-pollinated, meaning you can save the seeds from year to year.

Some examples are Saint Anne’s Slow Bolting, Summertime, Black Seeded Simpson, and Jericho. Just because these are heat tolerant doesn’t mean that they will grow through the summer. It only means that they won’t bolt or turn bitter quite as quickly.

Growing Lettuce from Seed: Tips & Tricks

Thanks to ongoing research on lettuce traits, there are some techniques home gardeners can use to extend the sprouting for lettuce seeds into the warmer months. The optimum soil temperature for most lettuce seeds is 68°F, with some varieties sprouting in the 40-75°F range. The temperature of the soil must be taken—not just the air temperature, which can be several degrees different.

Imbibing or soaking the seeds in cool water for 16-24 hours in a well-lit area before planting will increase the germination percentages greatly. Red light has been found to be the best color, but if you don’t have access to a non-heating red light, sunlight or full-spectrum light was found to be almost as good. In warm conditions, soaking the seeds in the dark can actually decrease their germination rates. And soaking for less than 16 hours has little to no positive effect on germination rates.

Read More: 7 Tips to Start Seed Like a Professional Grower

Extending the Lettuce Season

Successful methods of extending the season for lettuce in the garden include laying a thick mulch of straw or wood chips on the ground at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. This insulates the soil from becoming too hot and helps to preserve moisture in the soil.

Lightly shading the lettuce plants can provide enough of a temperature drop to keep them from bolting, sometimes up to 3-5 weeks. Shade can be from a shade cloth or a row cover on a low tunnel, or by companion planting tall, wide-leafed plants such as some types of pumpkin.

The traditional rule of thumb of “plant early and plant often” can be adjusted for lettuce as “plant late and plant often.”  When temperatures start to drop, be ready to start more lettuce seed for a second harvest in the fall.

Read More: A Cheap and Easy Way to Extend Your Growing Season

(This article was originally published May 22, 2014.)

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Garden Slugs? 3 Easy Ways To Kill Them WITHOUT Poison

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What’s the best way to kill garden slugs organically? Well, I’m glad you asked.

There’s more than one way to kill slugs in the garden… instead of giving you one cure-all, today I’ll give you three easy ways to slaughter the slimy saboteurs.

This post was inspired by JTF, who asked: “Please tell me how you stop slugs eating through your crops! l have a million slugs, you would think l was trying to grow them! Any help appreciated.”

A few years back we had a major slug infestation in our gardens and I had to act fast. Now if slugs attack, I’m ready.

Here are three ways to catch and kill garden slugs that actually work.

How to Kill Garden Slugs Method #1: Scrap Lumber

One simple method to find slugs is to wet some pieces of scrap lumber, then lay them on the ground in the evening.

The next morning, the slugs will often be underneath them, hiding from the sun.

Actually killing them now requires you to embrace your hatred.

You can throw slugs into a bowl of sudsy water, put salt on them, or just go full psycho and chop them into pieces with a knife or scissors.

How to Kill Garden Slugs Method #2: Cheap Beer

If the slugs in your garden are really out of control, go out and get yourself a few cans of cheap beer.

Now, drink them all. After a few minutes, you will no longer care about the slug infestation.

Just kidding. The beer is for the slugs, not you.

Get yourself some little bowls and put them here and there around the garden in the evening. Pour an inch or so of beer in the bottom of each one. The next morning, each bowl should have dead slugs in it.

See, slugs are nature’s alcoholics. They have very sensitive senses of smell and will crawl to wherever there is beer and literally drink themselves to death.

This method was quite effective in our garden. But we also paired it with slug-killing method #3 for a complete beatdown.

How to Kill Garden Slugs Method #3: Hand-Pickin’

Slugs are mostly nocturnal. They like the cool, moist evenings.

When the slugs really started destroying our pea plot a few years ago, my wife and I went out with flashlights a little after dark and started slug hunting.

Sure enough, we found dozens.

The first night’s hunt I brought a little dish of salt with me and we tossed them in there to bubble away into slimy, desiccated corpses…. but then we found it was just easier to take scissors in hand and nip the slugs in half with the blades.

Brutal revenge.

Final Thoughts

A few last points.

If you have mulch in your garden, slugs love that. They don’t like bare ground as much. Slugs and their cousin the snail like lots of material they can hide in. Bare ground doesn’t provide that. Raised beds with wood or stone borders also give them a place to hide. That’s one reason to just build your beds from mounded soil, like so:

Double-Dug Garden Beds

 

It’s also cheaper than buying boards or blocks.

Also, staying on top of slug issues will keep you from losing as many plants. Look for shiny trails around the garden and obviously gnawed areas—and don’t wait to get started! Hunt around and get killing before they eat up your hard work.

If you have ducks, they love to eat slugs. Letting them wander the garden now and again might work, though I don’t have enough faith in ducks to do so. Better to just pick off garden slugs and throw them to the ducks.

You can also throw the bowls of beer and slugs into your compost pile. Slugs compost just fine, as does beer.

Show no mercy.

 

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The Laws of Nature: A Touchstone for Gardening

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As a rule, when we grow plants, we follow some known practices. The practices may be based on our own experience, on the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, or on scientific research. Whatever the source, it is useful to examine the practices through the lens of the Laws of Nature, sometimes referred to as ecological principles.

The Laws of Nature are broad and substantive statements for how nature functions.

So the question becomes, “Are our plant-growing practices in harmony with or in conflict with the Laws of Nature?”

What other criteria would we use for how we treat our lands, the soils, and all ecosystems, if not the Laws of Nature?

I think of this as a pyramid, with practices on the top, undergirded by Laws of Nature criteria. Then, the practices and Laws are undergirded by our personal land-use ethics.

9 Laws of Nature

Below, I’ve listed nine Laws of Nature.

This list is not fully inclusive; some may seem to be more pertinent than others; and someone else may choose to describe them in a different manner. Nevertheless, they are all statements that hold true, with rare exceptions.

In my garden, if a practice violates a Law of Nature, I look for a substitute practice that is in harmony with the Law.

This broad topic has deep implications and is worthy of further study. The more we understand and apply these Laws, the more we can grow healthier crops, become healthier ourselves, and more fully appreciate the magnificence of nature.

Calvin Bey - Harmony Gardens

#1: Everything in Nature Is Connected

It’s like a huge spider web. Every spot on the web is connected to the whole web. All the factors effecting growth and development—from the minerals in the air to the plant’s physiological processes to the soil microbes to hundreds of additional factors—are all part of the whole.

The implications of this concept are significant.

For example, apply too much nitrogen and the plants get a pretty green color, but at the same time produce an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates, which are ideal foods for the ever-present aphids.

Chemicals and other toxins that reduce soil microorganisms have impacts on soil mineralization and soil digestion processes, which all affect quality and quantity of production. For example, if your soil has a shortage of available calcium, a tomato plant is not likely to set fruit.

Laws of Nature - Mile-High Corn - Calvin Bey

#2: Plants Are Designed to be Healthy

Like humans and other living organisms, plants have an immune system that makes them resistant to insects and diseases that are native to their environment. Plants become weak and sick when they become stressed because of environmental factors, inadequate nutrition, and/or exposure to toxins.

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers create plant and soil conditions that are not conducive to the desirable bacteria and fungi in the soil. The soil microbiome is part of the plant’s defense mechanism.

#3: Insects and Disease Are the Appropriate Response to the Existing Conditions

Insect problems and disease are the result of plant weakness, not the cause of plant weakness. When we improve the conditions, we improve plant resistance. Diseases are nature’s demolition crew and insects are nature’s garbage collectors. Both are appropriate when plants are stressed. Unhealthy plants actually send signals to the insects so they can perform their meaningful designed role.

#4: Mineral Nutrition Supports Plant Immunity

When plant growth is supported with proper mineral nutrition, plants will create higher-order compounds—for example, plant secondary metabolites like essential oils. This and other enzyme developments can lead to optimum levels of health and immunity.

The thousands of enzymes needed in metabolic processes each require a mineral “enzyme cofactor” to function. Without the mineral cofactors, enzyme pathways collapse and plants accumulate soluble compounds in plant sap, leading to pest infestations as plant health begins to fall apart.

#5: Microbial Metabolites Are More Efficient Than Simple Ions as a Source of Nutrition

The ultimate level of plant nutrition and immunity exists when plants can absorb the majority of their nutritional requirements as microbial metabolites. In this model, the soil microbial community serves as the plant’s digestive system. A complex community of soil microorganisms digest and break down organic residues and plant root exudates. In this digestive process, minerals are extracted from the soil mineral matrix and released in a bioavailable form that plants absorb and utilize very efficiently.

Laws of Nature - Strawberry Harvest - Calvin Bey

#6: When Fruit Quality Improves, Yields Increase

When management emphasis is placed on plant nutrition to improve quality, the immunity of the crop increases, creating higher yields, longer produce shelf-life, improved flavor, and reduced dependence on pesticides.

This fundamentally different approach to plant nutrition can lead to yield increases ranging from 10–30 percent. Yield increases come in not only bushels per acre, but also in higher test weights, increased protein production, and increased nutrition per acre.

#7: Healthy Plants Create Healthy Soil—an Investment in Their Own Future

It is commonly understood that healthy soils create healthy plants. The reverse is also true.

Healthy plants create healthy soils.

Healthy plants with high levels of energy can, at times, send as much as 70 percent of their total photosynthates (manifested as sugars, amino acids, and other compounds) into the roots, and then out through the roots and into the soil. Those root exudates are the fuel that feed the soil microbial community and lead to the rapid formation of organic matter.

This process, called carbon induction, is the fastest and most efficient way to sequester carbon and build soil organic matter.

It is an advantage to the plants to invest in soil building. Root exudates rapidly build humic substances. Humic compounds last in the soils for many years. In the end, the entire process ends up rapidly building soil health. It’s another win-win for nature.

#8: Genetic Variability in Plants Serves as a Buffering System

Plant variability allows for selective fitting of plant genetics to specific qualitative differences in the environment. It’s like an insurance plan, with the goal of increased probability of improved plant survival and growth. There are positive synergistic effects, above and below ground, that result from creating diversity through the mixing of species.

#9: Weeds Are a Barometer of Soil Health

We know that different crops have different soil, mineral, and soil biology requirements. So, too, with weeds. When compared to healthy domesticated crops, weeds are usually pioneering (first to enter) species that thrive in soils with imbalanced microbial and nutritional profiles. As soil health improves, crops will improve and weeds will lose their vigor. The weeds are no longer needed to correct the soil imbalances.

Laws of Nature - Harvest Basket - Calvin Bey

Take-Home Lessons

To sum up how nature functions in nine Laws certainly does not do justice to the topic nor does it show the magnificence of nature. Still, despite the inadequacies, the nine Laws are sufficient to provide guidance as to which gardening practices fit the Laws of Nature model.

The following list of gardening practices, which I use in my natural/organic garden in Northwest Arkansas, respect the Laws of Nature. Furthermore, the practices fit my personal land-ethics values.

I do these things to eat healthy food, to teach others, and especially for the children and future generations.

I hope you will consider joining in the transformation.

  1. Use no or at least minimum tillage. Never use a roto-tiller. Besides destroying the natural soil structure, roto-tillers will seriously damage the beneficial fungi in all kinds of soil situations.
  2. Keep the soil covered with a vegetable crop, cover crop, or some type of organic mulch at all times. This practice will promote soil microbial life.
  3. Keep something growing on the beds for as long as possible throughout the year. Where you can, grow crops specifically for deep-root penetration and/or high carbon production.
  4. Wherever possible, encourage diversity of species. Use companion planting where you can.
  5. Use organic fertilizers, compost (sparingly), bio-pesticides (if needed), filtered or structured water, foliar fertilizer sprays, natural biologicals for organic matter decomposition, and natural amendments (like paramagnetic rock) for plant fortification.
  6. Among all things, “communicate” with your garden through positive intentions. Remember: “Thoughts become actions. Choose the good ones.”

Thanks to John Kempf of Advancing Eco-Agriculture (www.advancingecoag) for some of the ideas included in this article.

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The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crops (VIDEO)

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Earlier this year I created a video on the top 10 tropical staple crops. It took me way too long to write and edit, so I hope you find it incredibly helpful.

Let’s run through them here, along with a few notes.

10: Grain Corn

Corn

 

Stick to dent corn varieties in warm, hot climates. Flint corns are better for up north, dent for down south. Corn needs decent soil and plenty of nitrogen, but it’s the best grain for production and processing—much easier to process than small grains like oats, rye, and wheat. You need to nixtamalize it with lime or eat it as part of a balanced diet to avoid pellagra, a niacin deficiency which will really mess you up.

9: Pumpkins/Winter Squash

Pumpkin

 

These are one of my favorite plants to grow. In the tropics, most of the pumpkins grown are C. moschata types, though there are others, too. Pumpkins take up a lot of space, but make big, storable fruit. On the downside, they’re not that calorie dense and it’s easy to get sick of eating pumpkins.

8: Breadfruit

Breadfruit

 

Breadfruit is delicious and productive, plus it’s a tree so you don’t need to plow and plant like you do with annual staples. They are tough trees, though they can’t take any cold. The downside is that the breadfruit come in seasons instead of spread out through the year.

7: Coconuts

Coconuts

So long as you don’t cut through your hand while opening them, coconuts are very good. They are high in good fats and nutrients, grow easily even in terrible soil, and require very little work to maintain. The fronds are also useful for crafts, thatching, baskets, and more. The downside of coconuts is they are a pain to open.

6: Bananas and Plantains

Plantains

It’s a fruit! No, it’s a starch!

Unripe bananas and plantains can be cooked and eaten like potatoes or fried like chips, making them a good way to fill in the caloric cracks. Though they are non-seasonal, they do produce better in the rainy season unless you keep them watered. And they like a lot of water! They also like a lot of nitrogen. Plant them around the septic tank and you’re golden.

5: Malanga and Taro

Malanga Roots

Malanga, a.k.a. dasheen, has edible leaves (when cooked ONLY) and tubers (ditto). They like a lot of water and grow like weeds in a drainage ditch or shallow pond.

4: Pigeon Peas

Pigeon Peas

Pigeon peas are a very easy-to-grow nitrogen-fixing tropical staple crop. The dry peas are a good source of protein and the younger peas can be eaten like common green peas. If you have marginal ground, hack holes in it and plant pigeon peas. The downside is that shelling the peas takes way too long. I also find them a bit hard to digest.

3: Cassava

Cassava Coming Up

Cassava is a carbohydrate bazooka. It’s productive even in bad soil and has roughly twice the calories of white potatoes. Unfortunately, it’s almost devoid of real nutrition. It’s just a blast of carbs. This makes it great for a crisis, but not good to eat all the time. The leaves are edible when boiled and are nutrient-rich, so it makes sense to eat the leaves and roots together.

2: Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have edible greens and roots, produce abundantly in a small space, are high in calories and nutrition, and are non-seasonal. An excellent choice for survival.

1: True Yams

Giant Yam Root

Yes, I am prejudiced. Yams (Dioscorea spp.) are my favorite staple crop. The flavor is good, they take almost no work to grow, they’ll live on the margins of a food forest, and they’ll even grow and produce when guerilla-planted in the woods. Grow some—you’ll be impressed.

Conclusion

Any combination of these 10 tropical staple crops could keep you alive in a crisis. I recommend planting more than one of them for variation in diet, plus redundancy. If cassava does badly one year, you’ll still have pigeon peas. If the malanga doesn’t get enough water, maybe the corn will come through. Experiment and see what grows best in your area.

Did I miss one of your favorite tropical staples? Leave me a note and let me know.

 

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Mustard Greens: What You Need to Know Before You Grow (With Recipe)

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When I think winter, I think of lush, green garden beds. I know that might come as a surprise to some of you, but my garden is full of copious swaths of varied and vibrant delicious, nutritious, winter edibles. And by far, mustard greens are the most prolific.

Most of the growing guides say mustard can tolerate light frost, but in my experience, it can take a whole lot more cold than that description suggests.

Now, I do have a few tricks I use to keep mustard happy over the long winter. And I’ll share those with you shortly.

First, though, let’s talk about why you really ought to think about growing mustard in your fall, winter, and early spring garden. 

The Goods on Mustard

Ridiculously Nutritious

100 grams or 27 calories worth of raw, chopped mustard greens contains more than your daily requirements of Vitamins K, C, and A.1)https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/mustard-greens.html

That makes it a powerhouse for building and maintaining strong bones; a great source for flu and cell damage prevention; and a promoter of strong teeth, healthy mucous membranes, and good eyesight.2)https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002400.htm Those same 27 calories also give you 11% of your daily dose of calcium, 18% of copper, 21% of manganese, and 20% of iron.

Regular use of mustard greens in your diet may also prevent arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, and high cholesterol, while offering protection from cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and colon and prostate cancers.

Delicious

A lot of people find mustard too peppery or bitter. However, that is often because the mustard they have tried is grown in spring or later and never receives the sweetening effect of a few light frosts.

Winter mustard still has a bite, but it is much more palatable than the warm-weather stuff. And besides, an appreciation for a bit of bitter is easy to cultivate.

Cook your mustard greens in bacon grease and apple cider vinegar with dried fruit or a spoon of honey to turn them into a decadent treat.

Then listen to your body and see how that green goodness makes you feel. After a couple times of doing that, you might find yourself munching on raw leaves before those greens even make it out of your garden.

Easy to Grow

You can have sprouts in days, baby greens in just a couple weeks, mature plants to cut from in 45–50 days, and your own seeds to save and replant in 90 days.

They are vulnerable to certain pests and diseases, but these can be almost completely avoided by growing mustard during cold-weather months.

Mustard can grow in almost any soil type, withstand drought conditions almost as well as wheat, and self-seed to produce a continuous crop with almost no work on your part.

Help Control Pests and Diseases in Your Soil

When chopped and incorporated into your soil just prior to flowering, mustard greens act as a biofumigant. They suppress pests and diseases through the release of inhibitory chemicals created when water and soil enzymes break down the glucosinolates in the greens.3)http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/10/pdf/Agriculture/GrowingMustardBiofumigation.pdf

(For more details on mustard as a biofumigant, check out this publication.)  

When Allowed to Flower, Make Great Winter Forage for Pollinators Like Honey Bees

Until I discovered the wonders of growing mustard, I had a shortage of bee food for our coldest winter months.

Now, by starting mustard in waves about every two weeks, cutting greens until my new plants come in, and then allowing my old plants to flower, I have another pollen source for those brave foragers that venture out on sunny, slightly warm days.

Oh, and did I mention that mustard can also be grown for seeds to make…

Recipe: Homemade Mustard

Here’s a basic ratio recipe that you can adapt to use for whatever flavor profiles you like. Personally, I use an herbed vinegar infused with sage, thyme, and rosemary as my base and I sub in whey for water. But this is your personal mustard mix, so go crazy!

Mustard Ingredients

Easy Homemade Mustard Recipe

2 parts mustard seeds, finely ground (use a coffee grinder to make into powder)
2 parts mustard seeds, whole (for “L’ancienne” style)
1 part your favorite vinegar
2 parts water (or other liquid—beer, cider, etc.)
Salt and pepper
Whatever other stuff you want to add—tarragon, sage, thyme, rosemary, honey, etc. 

Mix ingredients in jar. You can put this in the fridge to meld for a couple days. Or better yet, if you like to ferment stuff, use live vinegar (i.e., with the mother) and go ahead and leave it on the counter with a coffee filter or cloth over the top of the jar, secured with a rubber band, for 3–4 days. 

If the mix is too thick after a couple of days, add a bit of water, or other liquid, until you get the right consistency. If you don’t love the whole-grain texture, then run it through the food processor or start with 4 parts ground mustard seed instead. If you accidentally make it too thin, add more ground mustard seed. Mustard is pretty hard to mess up, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

A Few Cautions About Mustard

Now there are also a couple of things to be aware of before you make mustard part of your garden and your diet. 

It’s a Cole Crop

If you are using rotational planting as a method for limiting pests and pathogens and managing nutrients in your soil, then even when you use mustard as a biofumigant cover crop, you should still count it as a cole crop in your four-year (or longer) rotation plan just as you would cabbage and cauliflower.

Health Concerns

Be cautious about eating mustard if you are taking blood thinners, need to restrict oxalic acid, or have a thyroid condition.

Those high levels of Vitamin K can be an issue for people taking drugs like warfarin.4)https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/12/vitamin-k-can-dangerous-take-warfarin

Mustard contains oxalic acid, which can lead to oxalate urinary tract stones in prone individuals.

Components of mustard greens may be contraindicated in people with thyroid conditions.

Nutrient Overload?

You can have too much of a good thing. If 27 calories of mustard greens contain all that goodness we covered above, eating lots of mustard greens, such as by juicing them, might result in nutrient overload.

Most dietary recommendations for mustard greens include eating a couple of cups a week, on a daily or every-other-day basis. 

Concerns With Reheating

Reheating mustard greens should probably be avoided. Vegetables contain nitrates. Nitrates may convert to nitrites if you cook, cool, and then reheat your vegetables.5)https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/mustard-greens.html

Since mustard greens are great raw or cold, and are easy to cook, skip the reheating to eliminate potential health risks. 

I love and eat mustard regularly, but I do so in moderation and I don’t have any special health considerations that would make it problematic for me.

Since I can’t possibly be considered qualified to make decisions or recommendations for you, as in all things, I trust that you won’t blindly follow mine or anyone else’s advice on what you put in your body (or even in your garden, for that matter).

So with the pros, cons, and necessary legal advisement that I am not telling you want to do behind us, if mustard is right for you, then I encourage you to get growing using the info and ideas below. 

Growing Mustard Greens 

Soil Preparation

Mustard is pretty forgiving of poor soil quality. However, if you want faster growing times and really tasty mustard, then plant mustard in loamy garden soil with a pH of about 6.5-6.8.

If you don’t have that, don’t fret—just incorporate a few inches of good compost into whatever soil you have, add a handful of granite or other stone dust, and water deeply a few days before you transplant or seed. Note: This will not give you the best garden soil ever, but since mustard is much less picky than other cole crops, it will get you started.

Seed Starting

Mustard can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40°F. That means that, depending on your climate, some of you may even be able to start some in your garden now.

Keep in mind that things grow slower when days are short, so you may have to wait a while for seeds to sprout and plants to mature.

For those who live in marginal climates, you can try to start seeds under cloches or cold frames.

Failing that, starting under grow lights and growing out until plants have a few true leaves, then transplanting and protecting under cloches or row covers can also work. If it is just too cold where you live to grow winter mustard, then consider using mustard seed for microgreens to tide you over until you can grow some in the garden. 

Read More: “Grow Microgreens and Sprouts Indoors All Winter Long”

You can start your seeds in planting, potting, or straight-up ground soil. As far as I can tell, mustard doesn’t care as long as your seed-starting medium is disease free, loose enough for young roots to grow in, and kept moist.

Young Plant Care

If you are growing mustard in cold conditions, juvenile plants may need some additional protection during extended cold or frost periods. Cold frames, cloches, or row covers can all help protect plants until they develop strong roots and even after if you live in extra cold areas. 

Though mustard is drought resistant, for the best results in winter, you really want to water regularly until the plants are at least 6 inches tall.

I water the root zone of the plant until the soil is moist to about 3 inches down—which, conveniently, is about the length of my pointer finger.

I check the soil moisture every other day by sticking my pointer finger into my soil near my plants to make sure it’s still moist.

I can’t tell you exactly how much or how often to water because it really depends on your soil type and weather conditions. But by using the 3-inch rule, you are giving young mustard roots a good start.

Mature Plant Care

For best flavor and frost resistance, continue to water mature plants. Water at the root rather than the leaves for best cold resistance. Harvest leaves regularly and cut off any flower shoots that form until you are ready to let your plant flower and seed.

Harvesting

You can cut baby greens for use in salads with a pair of scissors. Be careful not to disturb the roots. You can also cut mature greens to chop up and eat raw, sauté, or steam. In addition, flowers can be tossed into salads.

Dry your seed heads in a paper bag, then shake the bag until the seeds fall out of the pods. Sift or use a fan to blow off the chaff. 

Varieties of Mustard

There are quite a few varieties of mustard available. Versions like Mizuna and Tatsoi tend to be a little higher maintenance than the Southern Giant, Green Wave, Florida Broadleaf, or Old Fashioned. There are also different seed colors—yellow mustard (called white mustard in Europe) is the most common variety used for seed and cover crops and is mildest in taste. Black or brown mustards are a bit tangier. 

Unconventional Growing Tips for Adventure Gardeners

Mustard is one of those plants that readily self-seeds if you let it. So, in addition to planting mustard intentionally, I also scatter seeds directly in my garden after they dry on the plant. Then I just let nature take its course—as in, don’t water or fertilize to force germination. Literally just let them lie until they eventually get buried in soil and are triggered by the right conditions to grow on their own. 

Some seeds will inevitably germinate in summer, and since I know they will perform poorly in my hot, humid conditions and be eaten by harlequin bugs or host the dreaded cabbage moth, I pinch those plants out and give them to the chickens or toss them into my salads.

I only allow the plants that germinate in fall or winter to continue growing. If I don’t like their initial location, I’ll transplant them to a bed of my choosing while the plants are still young.

Then, the plants that do well all winter long get to flower and seed. Those plants, rather than my intentionally planted mustard plants, become my seed stock for next year.

By doing this, I have created mustard plants that are adapted specifically for my growing conditions here and are more cold hardy than my initial seed stock.

I also use a cheap season extension trick to get the most from my plants until I let them seed:

  • I take a dark-colored 5-gallon bucket with a 1-inch hole drilled in the bottom and fill it with uncomposted materials like chicken manure, straw, late-season grass clippings, and kitchen scraps.
  • I put the filled bucket in the center of my mustard bed.
  • The mustard grows around the bucket and, as the materials in the bucket compost, they heat up and warm the plants.
  • Also, when it rains, the rain water trickles through the hole in the bottom of the bucket and makes a kind of compost tea that feeds the plants.
  • The dark-colored bucket also draws heat from the sun and cuts down on frost on the plants.
  • If stuff composts too fast, I just add more goodies to keep it composting all winter long. 

Mustard Bed with Bucket

The photo above shows a mustard bed planted in September 2016, that was still growing like mad in February 2017 when I turned over the rest of my garden for spring planting. (You can see my blue season-extending compost bucket in the picture, too.)

It was growing so well, that I harvested from that bed until May when I finally let it seed. That’s 9 months of prolific mustard greens during some of the most difficult growing months. While I can’t swear you’ll have the same results, if you are an experimental gardener like me, I hope you’ll give it a try!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on mustard and if you have any tricks or tips to share with all us winter-green growers. You can use the comments section below to share your experience and ideas. Thanks!

 

References   [ + ]

1, 5. https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/mustard-greens.html
2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002400.htm
3. http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/10/pdf/Agriculture/GrowingMustardBiofumigation.pdf
4. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/12/vitamin-k-can-dangerous-take-warfarin

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Planting a Living Fence (VIDEO)

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After a wandering bull ate my pigeon peas I realized I needed a fence — quickly.

Problem: I rent my property and really don’t want to spend money on new infrastructure.

Solution: Plant a living fence!

So I did, and I filmed the process so you can see what I did:

Isn’t that the greatest song ever to be used on YouTube?

No?

Okay, that’s fine. I understand. It really is terrible, isn’t it?

Back to the post.

I’m not a living fence expert by any means. Back when I was young I did help my dad and Grandpa plant multiple fences by taking long aralia cuttings and jamming them into the ground. I have also planted living barriers of blackberries, silverthorn and pyracantha, but they were more hedges than the interwoven sticks I’m now experimenting with. Yet I’m learning and testing now — and as you probably know, I’m rather insane when it comes to experimentation.

Since there were a lot of questions on this living fence/instant hedge, I posted a follow-up video answering some of them:

Species Options for Planting a Living Fence

For subtropical climates with little to no frosty weather, you could build a living fence with Gliricidia sepium, moringa, some aralia species, purple mombin, or even governor plum.

Farther north you can do this with willow branches — especially in wet areas.

Living fence made of willows

 

Living fences could also potentially be planted from the branches of species of mulberry, though I’ve had 0% success rooting mulberry by sticking branches in the ground.

If you don’t have any trees with branches that can be rammed in the ground to root, just plant almost any kind of tree seedlings in V shapes at 45-degree angles and tie them together at crossing points.

Dwarf apples, anyone?

There are a lot of possibilities for building a living fence. Interweaving the trees causes them to graft together over time and make an almost impenetrable barrier — even more so if you use a hard and thorny tree like osage orange!

As recounted over at Mother Earth News, “Easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, or sprouts from the roots, Osage orange is tolerant of a wide range of soils, resistant to drought, long-lived, and affected little by insects or disease. Planted at a spacing of 1 foot, in four years it makes a fence that is ‘horse-high, bull-strong, and hog-tight.’”

Osage orange is also one of the best woods for tool handles and bows. Bonus!

From the same article:

“Other thorny species that could be used to make living fences are pyracanthas, jujube, hollies, black locust (also fixes nitrogen), honey locust (which has high-protein seeds and pods for livestock and people), prickly ash, and rugosa rose (which has vitamin C-rich fruits, or ‘hips’).”

Other Side Benefits of Living Fences

Beyond just keeping out wandering livestock and nosy neighbors, living fences have some serious advantages.

Let’s run through a few.

1. A Living Fence is Free

Unless you buy seedlings to plant, you can start a living fence for free. In my case, all I had to do was cut some Gliricidia branches and plant them. As for potted trees or shrubs, you can start your own. I always keep a little plant nursery going with a lot of bits and pieces in it. Maybe a multi-species living fence would work? Imagine that! Bougainvillea, noni trees, purple mombin, alternating with nitrogen fixers… crazy! A 2-D food forest!

Oh man. I need to try that.

But the point is: free. Free is good.

2. A Living Fence Produces for You

A wire or wood fence is just a barrier, but a living fence is more than that. It’s a living, productive line of trees.

The top can be cut and fed to livestock or used as a green layer in compost. You can also let it grow taller and make the trimmings into plant stakes. Or charcoal/biochar.

Not bad, eh?

3. A Living Fence Supports Other Species

If your living fence is a nitrogen-fixing species, it will feed the plants alongside it.

A living fence can also serve as a trellis for yams and other species as well as a home for birds, beneficial insects, and lizards.

There are plenty of good reasons to plant a living fence and plenty of species that work almost no matter where you live.

My Gliricidia living fence is now dense and strong after growing through the summer. In another year it will be so strong that passing through it will be impossible.

Sorry bull, no more pigeon pea lunches for you!

 

*Willow living fence image via Rhian on Flickr. CC license.

 

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Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees?

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Growing gardens under oak trees? Jennifer asks if it can be done:

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front yard. At the base of one of 
the oaks I have started my food forest experiment. I dumped a layer 
of compost, a variety of seeds (squash, beans, herbs, morning glories, 
echinacea, passionflower and i forgot what else lol!), and light mulch 
because of the oak roots, it is growing good so far. So we talked about 
before i would begin to stop raking leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  
I would then have a self mulching landscape. From my understanding 
not much will be able to grow as ground cover since the leaves will 
ultimately smother them out. I know i can grow vines that travel up though.  
Also any fruit trees or bushes will be of low yield since they would only 
receive dappled light. Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me 
if what all I am saying is true? Also I am thinking this is a mesic oak 
hammock since we are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone 
because we sit up in the hammock zone. Hope that helps.

Thanks

Jennifer

I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.

Lactarius_Indigo_Edible_Mushroom

This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.

Leaves

One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus.

Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those!

Violets? They’re a good edible.

Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types.

See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens. I learned this concept from the late Toby Hemenway and it has worked wonderfully.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

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Reusing Food Waste: The Perks, Tips, and Tricks

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You’ve been eating healthfully and sustainably as an apartment homesteader, and it’s been kind to your budget. But when most of the waste you produce is in the form of food scraps, you need to be reusing food waste rather than disposing of those food bits.

The first way that comes to mind for most people is to turn food waste into compost for your garden. Small-space composting can be an easy and cost-effective way to use your food waste.

But beyond composting, did you know you can both regrow plants from your scraps (buy once, grow forever) and eat those scraps in crafty recipes?

Check out my favorite tips and recipes below—along with a list of even more clever ways to put your food waste to good use.

Composting in Your Apartment

Everyone can compost, even in the small space of the apartment homestead.

You can use a five-gallon bucket with a lid—easily attained at any hardware store—or a regular plastic garbage bin with a lid.

Don’t let the “lack of space” excuse keep you from composting your food waste to help feed your future garden. There are cheap and easy compost containers that will fit under your kitchen sink or in a closet, or that you can make decorative to help inspire other apartment homesteaders to start their own sustainability journey.

If you’re worried about the usual culprits (bugs, using it quickly enough, and the obvious lack of space) that make composting in your apartment homestead difficult, check out this blog on The Grow Network: 5 Cheap and Easy Solutions For Small-Space Composting.

Regrow From Scraps

If composting isn’t your thing just yet, why not start a whole garden of vegetables and fruit from your organic produce scraps?

From herbs and onions to leafy greens and lemon trees, you can regrow the produce you eat regularly with results that are both amazing for your homesteading prowess and kind to your homestead budget.

Basil

One of my favorite herbs to regrow is basil. I love fresh basil. I add it to Italian dishes or infuse water with it and fresh lemon slices.

You can regrow basil by simply stripping the leaves, leaving only a small stem. Place the basil in a jar of water with the stem submerged, and set it in a sunny but cool area in your apartment homestead. Change the water every other day and plant in a four-inch pot when the stems grow to approximately two inches in length.

Peppers

Another easy plant to regrow is peppers. Simply save the seeds from a pepper you love and replant in a pot. Place the pot in a sunny area, and you’ll enjoy peppers (and hopefully fresh salsa!) again and again.

Tomatoes

You can also save your tomato seeds. Rinse them and allow to dry, then plant them in a soil-filled pot. If you have a garden box, transfer your tomato plants there once the sprouts are a few inches tall. Otherwise, keep them potted and enjoy fresh tomatoes from your patio garden.

Here are some other things you can regrow from food scraps in your apartment homestead:

  • Avocado
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot Greens
  • Celery
  • Cilantro
  • Garlic Sprouts
  • Ginger
  • Green Onions
  • Leeks
  • Scallions
  • Lemongrass
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Fennel

Reusing Food Waste in the Kitchen: Recipes Using ‘Throwaway’ Scraps

There are so many ways to eat the kitchen scraps you would normally throw away! Just rethink “scraps” into more food! Check out these recipes for a few ideas.

Broth

Use your celery tops, onion skins, carrot peels, and other veggies to make vegetable broth. Add all vegetables to a large pot, add enough water to completely cover everything, bring to a boil, and let simmer for six to eight hours. Strain and store broth in the fridge.

Almond Flour

Do you make your own almond milk? Grind up the leftover almonds and toast/dry in your oven to make almond flour. Use almond flour to make grain-free muffins, breads, or other baked goods.

One of my favorite recipes using almond flour is Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls—they’re also gluten free (which means you can kick the nasty pesticide-heavy wheat out of your diet and still enjoy your sweets):

Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups almond flour
4 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1/2 Tbsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp. honey (in dough); 1/4 cup honey (in filling)
1 tsp. cinnamon (in dough); 2 Tbsp. cinnamon (in filling)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix together almond flour, ground flax seed, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt. Mix in eggs and coconut milk. Then, mix in applesauce, 1 Tbsp. honey, and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

Form dough into a ball, cover, and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Lay a piece of wax paper down on the counter and grease with olive oil. Place the dough onto the wax paper, and roll out the dough into a thin circle.

Drizzle honey over the dough and shake the rest of the cinnamon over the top.

Cut dough into 2-inch strips. Using your knife (the dough will be sticky), roll each strip up and place in a baking pan.

Bake for around 25 minutes or until rolls are golden brown.

Potato Skins

You can turn potato skins you’d normally throw away into a salty snack you’ll crave.

Potato Skin Chips

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toss leftover potato peels with olive oil and the seasonings you like.

Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15–20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Sprinkle with cheese and scallions or green onions.

Apple Peels

If you make your own apple sauce, you probably have apple peels for days. The following recipe offers a perfect way to use them up:

Apple Honey Tea

The peels from 6 apples
3–4 cups water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Place apple peels in a sauce pan, cover with water, and add lemon juice and cinnamon. Boil for 10–15 minutes. When the liquid has become apple-colored, strain out the apple peels, add honey, and serve.

Kale Stems

Kale stems can be too tough to eat raw.

Dry the stems and grind them into Super Green Kale Powder to add to shakes or salads.

Get Clever With Your Food Scraps

Not into the food scrap recipes? Here are a bunch of other ways to use your food scraps. Get creative!

  • Infuse liquor with citrus peels for a yummy adult beverage.
  • Sharpen the blades of your garbage disposal by running eggshells through it.
  • Add crushed eggshells to your garden soil to give it a calcium boost.
  • Run citrus peels through the garbage disposal to get rid of nasty odors.
  • Use carrot peels to make carrot oil—an awesome addition to your natural, chemical-free beauty routine.
  • Add citrus peels to white vinegar to use in cleaning. Infuse the vinegar with the citrus peels by letting them sit together for two weeks before straining the peels and transferring the citrusy vinegar to a spray bottle.
  • Make citrus air fresheners.
  • Use banana peels to shine your shoes.
  • Use spent coffee grounds in your garden as pest repellent, fertilizer, or an ingredient in compost.
  • You can also use your coffee grounds to help absorb food odors in the fridge. Put old grounds in a container and place it in the fridge to get rid of musty food smells.
  • Coffee grounds can even be used to exfoliate and rejuvenate your skin!

Whichever ways you choose to use rather than toss your food “waste,” remember that the choice to go that extra step is a leaping bound on your journey toward personal sustainability in your apartment homestead.

(And when you’re ready to take another step and really say “goodbye” to unsustainable living, you’ll want to check out the next post in the Apartment Homesteader series, on growing your own medicine—or being your own Apartment Apothecary! Stay tuned!)

 

References

http://thegrownetwork.com/small-space-composting/
https://foodrevolution.org/blog/reduce-food-waste-regrow-from-scraps/
https://www.davidwolfe.com/stop-trashing-your-scraps-16-produce-items-to-re-grow-at-home/
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/potato/container-potatoes.htm
http://undressedskeleton.tumblr.com/post/57820632507
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/ways-to-reuse-food-scraps.html
https://www.thekitchn.com/heres-why-you-should-never-throw-out-potato-peelings-tips-from-the-kitchn-212565
http://www.thekitchn.com/22-budget-friendly-recipes-that-will-use-up-your-kitchen-scraps-230090
http://joyinmykitchen.blogspot.com/2009/10/apple-honey-tea.html#.Wez9KpOnEfF
http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/green-living/7-healthy-ways-to-use-food-scraps/
http://www.naturallivingideas.com/14-genius-ways-recycle-used-coffee-grounds/
http://www.naturallivingideas.com/35-genius-ways-to-use-up-food-scraps/
http://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2015/07/13-ways-use-food-scraps/

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Improve Soil Fertility With Autumn’s Gift

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Mother Nature’s Approach

Imagine a deep, remote forest. Wildlife is abundant. Birds are singing. Mushrooms are growing on trees, and the forest floor is covered with fallen leaves of every color. You bend over and scoop up a handful of leaves to find incredible soil fertility in the form of dark, moist, healthy earth.

Mother Nature is truly amazing—when left alone, that is.

Plant life here has thrived for hundreds of thousands of years. Everything is recycled. There is no such thing as “waste” in nature. Fallen leaves get broken down and decomposed, which then creates the nutrient-rich and healthy soil that growing plants crave.

Now, enter humans. Look at how technologically advanced and stoic we are! Surely, we are smarter than primitive nature, right?

The Human Approach

Modern agriculture has made it possible for us to grow lots of beautiful-looking food in rows on farms. We have created machines that allow us to grow food more efficiently—so efficiently, in fact, that our grocery stores incorporate a 75 percent pricing upcharge to offset the huge amount of fruits and vegetables they will end up throwing out.

We have developed agricultural technology and run with it …

… Unfortunately, though, it appears that we didn’t first tie our shoes!

If you look at farm fields that have been worked for decades, you’ll see dry, cracked dirt. That hardly looks like the healthy, nutrient-dense soil we find in the forests that Mother Nature takes care of.

You may be saying to yourself: “And why is this a problem? You just told me that we have made food production efficient and bountiful. What gives?”

Well, you see, farmers have gotten themselves into quite the conundrum over the last couple of decades. It’s not their fault, really, as they are just following recent tradition.

The reason we are still able to grow food despite unhealthy soil is because the food has been grown artificially.

Farmers spray their crops with synthetic fertilizers that directly feed the plant, not the soil. And since the farmer fails to feed the soil, the ONLY way he can continue to grow crops is by spraying more and more synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides on the crops.

(Incidentally, the advent of genetically modified crops makes it easier for farmers to use pesticides and herbicides that kill everything but the prized crop, leaving it to flourish. On the surface, it sounds like a good thing. But while these GMO plants might be immune to the poisons that are sprayed on them, we certainly are not!)

At this point, many people often ask: “Does that mean Miracle-Gro in my garden is bad?”

Miracle-Gro is simply a supplemental fertilizer (not a pesticide or herbicide) that feeds plants synthetically but does nothing for soil fertility. Think of it like this: Miracle Grow is to plants what vitamins are to humans. They serve as a good supplement to our diet, but should never be the main source of nutrition.

The Soil is Alive!

Just as the ocean is teeming with life under the surface, so, too, is the soil!

Healthy soil comprises a complex network of symbiotic micro-organisms and insects that help break down decomposing plant material and turn it into bioavailable nutrients that growing plants can absorb.

As you might imagine, abundant soil fertility creates healthy, nutrient-dense plants.

So, when we think about growing vibrant plants, we really ought to think first about growing and regenerating the soil.

The Two Phases of Healthy Soil

Each year, soil goes through two distinct phases:

  • Energy Absorption: This occurs in the fall and winter seasons
  • Energy Release: This occurs in the spring and summer seasons

In fall and winter, properly fed soil replenishes its energy reserves for the next growing season. In the spring and summer, it releasing energy into plants so that they can grow.

Three Rules for Soil Fertility

Now that we understand why soil fertility is so important, let’s talk about how to restore and replenish it.

As I mentioned above, healthy soil is teeming with life. Comprising millions of beneficial bacteria, microbes, insects, and fungi, it is an underground ecosystem that thrives when we follow three simple rules:

  • Tilling Is Killing: When we think about modern agriculture, we often visualize the process of tilling the soil. However, farmers are known to severely over-till the soil, which disrupts the living network of underground organisms. It is the equivalent of taking a fleet of bulldozers through the forest. If you must till, a shallow till of two to three inches is actually optimum. Otherwise, consider a no-till garden.
  • No Bare Soil: Soil likes to be covered up. You can use hay, wood chips, or shredded dry leaves to blanket the top of the soil. This prevents it from drying out. Also, as the material breaks down, it provides food for the soil (such as occurs in our remote forest example).
  • Amend the Soil: Each growing season, plants absorb energy and nutrients from the soil. The best time to replenish the soil is in the fall after harvesting your crops. Simply add compost on top of the soil, and then blanket the top of the soil again. Luckily for us, we can accomplish this last step using a material that’s free, abundant, and right outside our back door!

Don’t Bag Those Leaves!

Fallen leaves are one of nature’s gracious gifts to us.

Over the winter, they help insulate your plant beds and provide shelter for invertebrates such as insects, worms, and roly poly bugs (which, incidentally, are crustaceans!).

Fallen leaves are the building blocks of soil. As they break down via the help of invertebrates and soil fungi, they help create incredibly rich soil fertility. This allows for a cascade of biological processes, including nutrient cycling.

Leaf litter also fosters an environment that encourages the development of mycorrhizal fungi. You won’t see the vast majority of these miracle workers, as they often are too small to be visible to the naked eye. But don’t take them for granted. Soil fungi form symbiotic relationships with virtually every plant on Earth by exchanging nutrients and making them more bioavailable. (That is a whole other amazing topic for discussion.)

It’s basically everything you saw in the movie Avatar. Plants can communicate and pass food to each other via a connected underground fungal network. This network connects plants of all shapes and sizes to one another so they can cooperate as enormous interconnected systems.

But without the decaying matter that leaves provide, none of these intricate processes can happen.

Thank goodness for fall and its multicolored bounty—and for neighbors who are graciously raking, bagging, and giving away this precious resource!

Take advantage of their kindness and use these leaves in your garden. In short order, your plants will be thriving in the same dark, moist, healthy soil that exists deep in the heart of the forest.

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Grow Your Own Jack-o’-Lanterns: Learn How to Save Pumpkin Seeds

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How to save pumpkin seeds demonstration

Are you are a crazy seed saver?

You know the type: you have avocado pits sprouting on the counter, watermelon seeds drying on paper towels, lemon seedlings sprouting on the bathroom windowsill…

Life is full of temptations for seed savers. Every fruit has a pit… Every nature hike has a must-have wildflower… Every trip to a botanical garden, you’re keeping your hands stuffed in your pockets so they don’t “accidentally” pinch a cutting.

But then, fall arrives… and you completely lose it.

Farm stands are loaded with amazing produce containing seeds!  Yes seeeeeeeds, precious seeds! The grocery store is stocking winter squash varieties you’ve never seen before. That nice Mennonite family down the road has some crazy birdhouse gourds in a shape you haven’t seen before.  There is amazing Indian corn for sale on the roadside.  And you’re all over it.

My personal favorite finds are the pumpkin and winter squash, and this is most definitely the season.

The other day I screeched to a halt in our car after passing a roadside stand sporting the craziest pumpkin I’d ever seen for sale. After realizing we weren’t all going to die in a fiery crash, my wife grinned at me and said, “pumpkin?” I nodded and ran before someone else could snag it.

She’s used to this seed-saving madness. I’ve been doing it for so long that if I ever stopped, she’d know I was taken over by an alien space pod.

But I digress.

Since Halloween is almost here and a lot of us will be cutting open pumpkins, let’s cover how to save pumpkin seeds. If you’d like to grow next year’s jack-o’-lanterns yourself or if you’re the type that can’t help but bring home beautiful new varieties from the local farmer’s market, today’s post is for you.

I’ve been growing pumpkin and winter squash for a long time and I’ve always loved how easy it is to save pumpkin seeds. They are a great size for planting and also germinate readily. Much more fun than dealing with mustard, lettuce, or carrot seeds.

Recently I posted a new video on how I save pumpkin seeds — and how I make seed packets to hold them until it’s time to plant them in the spring.

Here’s the video:

Now let’s break it down into a nice visual guide with pictures and everything.

How To Save Pumpkin Seeds, Step by Step

Are you ready to pack away seeds like a kleptomaniac squirrel so you never have to buy another pumpkin from the store again? I will help.

Step 1: Gut the Pumpkin and Save the Slop!

How to save pumpkin seeds step 1

The inner cavity of pumpkin and winter squash is filled with a stringy mess of pumpkin bits and seeds. This isn’t the “good eating” part of the pumpkin, so it’s not worth trying to save any of the stringy mass, except for the seeds. In order to do that, move on to step two!

Step 2: Clean the Pumpkin Seeds

saving pumpkin seeds step 2

I dump pumpkin guts and seeds into a colander and swish them around under running water to clean them off, smashing the goop through the holes and separating the strings. If you’d like to save pumpkin seeds for eating rather than planting, you can just go directly to roasting them at this point.

For seed-saving purposes, I’ve sometimes let pumpkin guts sit on the counter for a few days and rot around the seeds. This smells bad but really loosens up the seeds when you wash them out. I think it may also increase the germination rate but I haven’t tried a side-by-side trial.

Step 3: Dry The Seeds

saving pumpking seeds step-3

Seed-covered paper towels on counters, windowsills, shelves, tabletops, dressers and even the bathroom counter are common in our house during the fall as we save pumpkin seeds alongside the other heirlooms we want to plant in our spring gardens.

Spread your pumpkin seeds out someplace where they won’t get wet again. Also make sure they aren’t too wet when you spread them out (sometimes I pat them down with one paper towel, then spread them onto a second) and have good air circulation as you most definitely do not want them germinating on your counter. They should dry quickly. This will also keep them from molding as easily in storage and potentially losing their ability to germinate.

Step 4: Make Seed Packets and Pack ’em Up!

 saving pumpkin seeds making homemade seed packet

There are better ways to make seed packets, but I just rip a sheet of paper in half, fold that, then fold up the edges a few times and tape them. You can see how in the video – it’s very simple.

Because I’m cheap and hate throwing things away too fast, I use scrap paper from the children’s homeschool assignments or pieces the toddler has doodled upon.

My friend Steven Edholm has better looking seed packets, but they’re a bit small for the amount of pumpkin seeds I store.

saving pumpkin seeds homemade seed packet step-6

I also illustrate my homemade seed packets, which is NOT OPTIONAL. You have to draw on them. You just have to. It’s the rule.

Along with a drawing of the mother pumpkin, I also note the variety, the harvest year and notes on type. This is important as I work on my pumpkin breeding projects, but for your pumpkin seed saving, you likely just need to note the type or draw a nice picture of the headless horseman.

If you live in a humid climate or need to store seeds for a longer period, you can dry pumpkin seeds a little further in a dehydrator and then pack them in tightly shut Mason jars stowed in the fridge.

That’s it, the whole scoop on how to save pumpkin seeds. Happy gardening and enjoy the rest of October.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post that was originally published October 25, 2016.)

The post Grow Your Own Jack-o’-Lanterns: Learn How to Save Pumpkin Seeds appeared first on The Grow Network.

Gardens For Two People-Yes You Can Do It

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Do you love seeing gardens full of vegetables? There is something so rewarding when we plant a garden and we slice that first tomato that was just picked. Cherry tomatoes are like candy to me, but I learned very quickly that I can only plant one cherry tomato plant. They are so sweet and so easy to grow. Here’s the deal, I know it sounds wonderful to have a huge plot of land and harvest enough for your family for a year.

Well, there are a few of us that are now down to one or two in the family. The kids have grown and moved on to start their own story with their family. They will teach their children how important gardens are. But, Mark and I still want a fresh supply of vegetables. We have less than 1/4 acre and yet we can grow enough food to feed 6-8 people for a year.

I remember when we were raising our daughters, our neighbors always teased us because we had the biggest garden in the neighborhood. I really never thought about size, I thought about how much food I could produce. The largest piece of land Mark and I have owned was a 1/2 acre. We had the best garden ever there. But, I also had several hands to help plant, weed and cultivate all the plants we needed.

We also had six people to harvest, snap green beans, peel pears, peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, make applesauce, salsa, spaghetti sauce and so much more. Now, It’s down to Mark and me to produce food in our raised gardens.

I live in in the desert in Southern Utah and the soil is hard rock clay. A few people here have brought in loamy soil and used a tiller to incorporate some amenities into the ground. We have owned several garden tillers over the years, but we no longer want a tiller.

I decided to build four foot by four foot and 18 inches high raised gardens. They are made by a company called Suncast. I have seen better ones but these work great for us now. I no longer want to bend over and kneel on my knees. You have to realize you do have to bring in soil and nutrients to fill those babies, but they are awesome.

The picture at the top will be my next purchase, with the brackets and the wood planks. I have seen them 24-36 inches tall, those would be my dream. The company sells different size brackets depending on how tall you want your garden, just dreaming here. But for now, I have these plastic Suncast ones.

gardens

If you plant tomatoes get really good tomato cages. These are the only ones I use and they are like 15 years old. I bought them from a garden nursery in South Jordan, Utah called Glover Nurseries. Yes, I have purchased many of them, I’m so afraid they will quit selling them. I can’t find them anywhere else. They are rock solid. My favorite tomato plants are Early Girl and Better Boy or Big Boy. Life is good when you can grow your own food. I love to plant spinach, radishes, lettuce, and cucumbers. I have my strawberry patch in one box that just keeps on producing. I do cut them way back in the spring.

I do the same thing with all my tomatoes and squash plants I cut them back and they bounce back and produce more for me to harvest.

gardens

Well, I tried growing tomatoes in large pots, that didn’t work. But I can grow lots of potatoes year-round in those pots. The great thing about potatoes if you buy the right ones as in Organic you will never have to buy potato seeds again. In other words, you will always have potatoes, I mean forever. And if you buy the right ones they will have zero pesticides on them. If you think about it, potatoes fill the belly. Yay! I love it!

All you do is dig a hole about 5-6 inches deep, cut a piece of the potato with a “sprouted eye” looking up and cover it with soil. These potato plants below are actually sprouting from potatoes I missed when I harvested a month ago. I love it. My favorite potatoes are Organic Gold Yukon potatoes.

gardens

My favorite items to start your gardens:

If you have rich loamy dark soil like I had up in Salt Lake City, Utah, all you need is Miracle Grow Root Starter mixed with water, put some of the liquid in the holes you dig  and then place the plants in the holes, water it in and mound the soil around each plant and watch them grow. Easy peasy.

More Things For Your Garden by Linda

Miracle Grow Garden Soil, you can get bags of this at your local hardware or big box stores.
Azomite Micronized Bag, 44 lb
FibreDust Coco Coir Block
Unco Industries Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings Organic Fertilizer, 15-Pound
Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Organic Bone Meal, 3 lb.
Espoma VM8 8-Quart Organic Vermiculite

I received an email from Ann over at A Green Hand (.com) she is teaching the world how to garden. She has an awesome blog, you’ll want to read, I promise. She asked me to contribute to an article “50+ Ideas To Build A Garden” in which experts in gardening were asked to give a little advice to help people to get started gardening. A Green Hand 50+ Ideas To Build A Garden I was honored to be asked to contribute.

Please teach your family to be self-reliant and grow a garden. May God bless this world.

The post Gardens For Two People-Yes You Can Do It appeared first on Food Storage Moms.

Kids and Gardening: Fertilizing Our Future

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As a mother and a gardener, I cannot avoid children in my garden. Luckily, kids are natural helpers. They question everything and want to take part in what we are doing. These little “helpers” can frustrate us when we are short on time and NEED to get our chores done. Truthfully, kids and gardening go hand-in-hand!

While it is tempting to say, “you are too little” or “maybe when you get older,” we must remember that our mindset and actions as adults determine how much (or little) kids will continue to want to help. As adults, we have:

  1. The power to provide an environment where kids can learn and explore the wonders of the natural world.
  2. Responsibility to show them how to be good helpers, teachers, and productive members of society.
  3. A duty to teach them how to share the abundance in their lives—whether it be knowledge, compassion, or food—with others.

Outside in the garden is perhaps the best place to teach kids how to be good helpers, get them excited about food, and become closer as a family.

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
– Bill Mollison, Co-founder of Permaculture

Can I Help?

Our children want to help, but what can they do?

There are many kid-sized activities in and around the garden.  Some of the things they can tackle include:

  • Planting
  • Weeding
  • Watering
  • Controlling pests
  • Harvesting

Planting starts with seed selection. Children love to pick out their favorite foods from the seed aisle or catalog. They love to imagine what the fruits of their labor look and taste like. A child’s interest begins here, and their patience ends.

Be sure to help them pick out some quick growing crops such as lettuce, baby carrots, and bush beans. Having your child choose quick-growing crops ensures they can continue to be excited during the early and slow parts of the season.

Teaching them about succession planting is also useful, so they are constantly thinking about what to harvest and plant next.

 

kids-gardening-boysindirt1

Weeding, the chore everyone loves to hate

Luckily, pulling plants apart and out of the ground is a natural pastime for little hands. We need only guide their enthusiasm to ensure some of our crops remain to maturity. The time is perfect to discuss each plant that grows and answer some important questions such as:

  • What “weeds” are in the wrong place?
  • Which plants provide for us and each other?
  • Some plants can hurt us.
  • How do plant friends help each other?
  • What types of plants don’t get along with “this plant?”

Watering provides plants with their essential element of moisture and children their key element of playing and splashing. Just try and keep a 4-year-old out of a mud puddle.

Controlling pests combines two forces of nature: bugs and bug squishers

Bugs are some of the most fascinating and terrifying creatures in the lives of our children. Introducing them to harmful as well as beneficial insects sets the tone for their relationship with these creatures for the rest of their lives, ask someone who had a spider put on them at a young age.

Point out the pollinators, and tell the kids how bees and butterflies help fruit and vegetables grow. Talk about the life cycle of a butterfly. Tell them how bees work together to make honey.

Tell them about beneficial predators such as the praying mantis, ninja of the bug world, and the Braconid wasp, killer of hornworms.

Get them a bug house. It will always be full.

kids-gardening-mantis

Bonding as a family

Working together outside in the sunshine and growing food for the table will also strengthen family bonds. It’s a way to build responsibility, excitement, and self-esteem in both child and adult.

Let the kids help in the garden, in the house, and in your life. Just like plants work together to improve the soil and protect each other, families work together to strengthen bonds.

Despite our urges to simply get stuff done, we must have patience with our children and take time to teach them. No matter our gardening successes and failures, they are always watching and learning.

Our most important crop is our children. Every experience and lesson are fertilizer to help them grow strong and wild into the best version of the individual. Of all the things we teach them, the most important lessons are how to be human.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.
Masanobu Fukuoka, Farmer and author

 

kids-gardening-dadandboys

Do your kids help in the garden? What is their favorite chore? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources

Mollison, Bill, Permaculture: A Designers Manual

 

 

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Planting by the Moon and Stars: Great Idea or Hogwash?

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This method of gardening might be right up your alley, or it might be so far out there that it leaves you scratching your head. Let’s look at “planting by the stars.”

Farmers and Gardener have been planting by the stars and celestial bodies for centuries.

To add another layer to your garden planning: According to legends and stories, each sign has something to offer a gardener and his or her garden. Let’s take a look at some gardening tasks and the best signs to do them.

The moon moves through the various signs of the Zodiac every couple of days. Each of the signs is associated with different elements, which are suitable for different tasks in your garden, like watering, planting, harvesting, fertilizing, and cultivating the soil depending on which sign the moon is in.

The Elements

One premise of gardening by the stars is that the Universe is made up of four elementsEarth, Air, Fire, and Water.

The signs are connected to the elements like this:

Earth – Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn

Air – Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius

Fire – Aries, Libra, and Sagittarius

Water – Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces

The Earth signs are very fertile and good for planting. The root is the part of the plant that is associated with the Earth signs. Earth signs are particularly good for planting root crops or transplanting to encourage root development.

Air signs are primarily dry and barren, Libra is an exception, which is good for flowers and herbs. Melons like to be planted in Gemini and Onions do well if planted in Aquarius. It is a good time to harvest or cultivate the soil during an Air sign.

The water signs, Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio are great for planting above ground crops. These are the best signs to plant in general.

In the fire signs of Aries, Sagittarius, and Leo, harvest, pull weeds, or get rid of pests. Harvesting is a good idea during a fire sign as the crops won’t rot in storage.

Planting by the Signs

Fertilize

It is best to fertilize when the moon is in Cancer, Scorpio, or Pisces. These are fruitful signs. Use Taurus or Capricorn if necessary. Apply your fertilizer during the moon’s waning phase, preferably in the third or fourth quarter.

Harvest

Root crops intended for food and fruits should be harvested during the waning moon in the third or fourth quarter in a dry sign of Aries, Leo, Sagittarius, Gemini, or Aquarius. Harvest root crops like sweet potatoes at the full moon in one of the dry signs.

Watering

When the moon is in a watery sign, like Cancer, Scorpio, or Pisces, it is a perfect time to water your garden. If that’s not possible, watering in Libra is good, too.

Mowing

Mow your lawn or meadows to increase growth during the first or second quarter of the waxing moon, or during the third or fourth quarter of the waning moon to decrease growth.

Pruning

It is best to prune during the third quarter waning moon in Scorpio to reduce branch growth and set better fruit.

Cultivating Soil

During the signs of Aries, Gemini, Virgo, and Sagittarius, cultivate your soil. To cultivate your soil, add organic matter, creating compost, improve soil texture, aerate, and mulch. During the first or second quarter waxing Moon in Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, or Libra, add cover crops to increase nitrogen and decrease erosion.

The Science

Ask a scientist, and they’ll give you a blank stare or laugh hysterically. And rightly so.

The nearest star is more than four light-years away (that’s four years traveling at the speed of light, which would be great if we could do it). The light from the stars would not affect plant life here on Earth.

However, first-rate farmers and gardeners follow the signs, and while they might do just as well if they didn’t garden by the signs, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to say whether it works or not. We only have experiences.

We do know that planting by the stars and moon phases does no harm, so why not try it as an experiment? Plant half your garden by the stars and the other half as you normally would and see for yourself which plot does best.

Be fair and let common sense make up your mind. Keep in mind everything you know about gardening, even the most devout “sign planters” take weather and temperature into account before undertaking a gardening project.

Quite frankly, Moon & Star Gardeners never asked why it works. The farmer who planted his homegrown food by the moon and stars has a bountiful harvest to show for it. Isn’t that really all that matters?

Did you see Part 1 of this series? Click here to read Planting by the Moon and Sun.

 

Do you plant by the moon or the signs? What are your results? We’d love to hear about your experiences below.

 

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10 Benefits Of Growing Lavender At Home

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Growing lavender is fun, easy, and has a number of health and culinary benefits. Lavender is known for its versatility and numerous uses, especially its oils, which are extracted from the flower of the plant through steam distillation. It is a member of the mint family, and can be used for medicinal or culinary purposes.

The flowers of the lavender plant have a soothing fragrance when they are fresh or dry, which is one of the many reasons why they are so popular among those who grow herbs.

The calming scent of lavender makes it a regular ingredient in aromatherapy. Lavender oil combines beautifully with other herbs, such as cedarwood, pine, clary sage, geranium, and nutmeg. You’ll find lavender commonly used in many personal care products, including lotions, gels, and soaps, as well as in sweet and savory foods.

In addition to the calming effect of its aroma, lavender oil has many other benefits.

On a related note … Did you see this article on the benefits of Mugwort?

10 Benefits of Lavender and Lavender Oils

1 Bug Repellent

Lavender oil is the perfect natural alternative to harmful bug repellents. The scent of lavender oil is too strong for many types of insects including mosquitos, midges, and moths.

If you have been bitten by a bug, rub a few drops of lavender oil onto your skin. This should relieve the irritation caused by the bite. Lavender oil has anti-inflammatory properties.

Next time you go out in the woods, keep a bottle of lavender oil in your Natural First Aid Kit.

2 Insomnia

One in three adults has trouble sleeping, (1) which heavily affects his or her ability to do day-to-day activities. The lack of sleep affects mood and the immune system, too.

Prescription drugs that help you sleep can have severe side-effects, including addiction.

Lavender oil induces sleep without any side-effects; a few drops on your pillow, or a sachet of lavender under your pillow, is all you need.

3 Nervous system

Lavender’s soothing aroma is known to calm nerves and reduce anxiety. It helps provide symptom relief of migraines, depression, and emotional stress. The calming fragrance relaxes your nerves, while revitalizing your brain.

Studies found that people suffering from anxiety and stress before an exam had increased mental function after sniffing lavender oil. (2)

4 Skin Conditions

It is common for people to suffer from acne breakouts during puberty, but some adults also suffer from this bacterial outbreak.

Lavender oil reduces the growth of bacteria that cause infections and regulates the over-secretion of sebum (oil produced by the skin).

Scars left by acne can be reduced by the use of lavender oil. By adding a couple of drops to your moisturizer, or even some water splashed on your face, should reduce your acne and its scars.

5 Immune system

According to the Journal of Medical Microbiology, “lavender shows a potent antifungal effect against strains of fungi responsible for common skin and nail infections.” (3) Lavender has antibacterial and antiviral properties, which protect the body from diseases like TB, typhoid, and diphtheria.

6 Circulatory system

Research has found that aromatherapy using lavender promotes blood circulation, lowers elevated blood pressure, and reduces hypertension.

The increased blood flow leads to increased amounts of oxygen in the muscles and the brain. Your skin also glows due to better blood flow, and your body is better protected against heart disease. (4)

7 Digestive system

Lavender oil leads to better digestion by increasing the movement of food in the digestive track.

The oil stimulates your intestines and the production of bile and gastric juices. This helps with upset stomach, stomach pain, indigestion, gas, colic, vomiting, and diarrhea. (5)

8 Pain relief

It can help with sore or tight muscles, joint pain, sprains, backache, and menstrual cramps.

For menstrual cramps, massage a few drops of lavender oil on your lower abdomen and apply a warm towel. Also, applying the oil on the bottom of your feet will help.

9 Diabetes treatment

In 2014, Scientists in Tunisia tested the effects of lavender oil on blood sugar levels to see if it would help with diabetes.

During their study, they found that lavender oil treatments protected the body from increased blood glucose, weight gain, and liver and kidney function. Researchers were amazed to find that the radical antioxidant properties of lavender were more effective than Vitamin C. (6)

10 Healthy Hair

Lavender oil helps kill lice, lice eggs, and nits. There are some studies that show that lavender can possibly treat hair loss and boosts hair growth by up to 44 percent after seven months of treatment. (7)

 

growing-lavender

© maximkabb

 

Growing Lavender at home

Lavender is a very useful herb, it can be used for everything from taking care of you to cleaning your home. With these types of benefits, it would be great to grow your own lavender plants.

Here is one of the easiest way of growing lavender at home:

Grow Lavender in Pots

Growing lavender in a pot is easy, whether you use seeds, cuttings or bought plants.

If you’re going to use seeds, place them on top of sandy soil. Cover them lightly with a layer of perlite. In two to three weeks, your seeds should sprout.

If you’re going to use cuttings, make sure to take them below the node (the leafy part of the plant). Dip your cuttings in root hormone or an organic rooting hormone. Place them upright in warm, damp sandy soil.

Make your own Organic Rooting Hormone! Grab a small cup and cinnamon. Spit into the cup, or have your son do it. Dip your cutting in the saliva. Then, dip it into the cinnamon. Place your cutting into  your rooting medium. Saliva is a natural root enhancer, and cinnamon minimizes damping off of your cutting.

Whatever type of container you choose to hold your lavender plant, keep in mind that while lavender does need water, it does not like moisture. This means that you need a container with a good drainage system.

A container with plenty of drainage holes is perfect. If there are only a couple of holes, drill some more.

If your pot is going to be inside, then get a pot with a removable saucer at the bottom to catch the excess water. Do not get a pot with an attached saucer. You don’t want your lavender plant to be too damp.

Maintain your potted lavender

Once you’ve found the right amount of moisture in the sandy soil, maintaining your lavender becomes pretty easy. Ensure that the plant receives the right amount of sun exposure, water, soil pH, and temperature.

Sunlight

Place your lavender pot somewhere that it will get at least 8 hours of sunlight a day. Note: In places in the southwest and southeast where the sun is extremely strong, your lavender may need a bit of shade.

Water

Lavender does not require much water. Let the soil become dry in between watering, but do not let it get so dry that the plant wilts.

Soil pH

Lavender does not like acidic soils. It may look fine the first year, but it will start dying off. This member of the mint family loves an alkaline soil with a pH between 6.7 to 7.3.

Temperature

Depending on where you live, your lavender will grow best in the late spring to early summer. If you are in a cooler climate, you might want to look at varieties, like English Lavender, which will grow in your cooler temperatures.

French Lavender is at its healthiest when it is warm. There is a good chance it won’t survive a cold winter, which is why it is better to plant it in pots, so it can easily be moved when temperatures drop.

Harvesting Lavender

Lavender has many benefits in all its forms.

If you prune the first bloom in early spring, you may have a second harvest in the summer.

When re-flowering begins to slow, (after about a month of flowering), you’ll be ready for your final harvest. Remove the flower stems from the bush and gather the stems into a bunch.

Cut your lavender a few inches above the woody growth with a harvesting knife.

Drying Lavender

Dry lavender in bunches, on screens, with a dehydrator, or in a paper bag. Either dry in a cool, dark place hanging upside-down, or on a screen out in the sun. Note: The sun will change the color of the lavender.

Now use YOUR lavender for anything from crafts to cooking. However, the lavender oil, which you can extract through steam distillation, is lavender’s most popular use.

What is your favorite way to use lavender? The comment section is waiting for you below.

Resources:

  1. Trouble Sleeping? [https://centracare.org/florida/blog/2016/05/23/trouble-sleeping/]
  2. Lavender Oil Benefits: Reducing Stress and Depression [https://www.drwhitaker.com/lavender-oil-benefits-reducing-stress-and-depression]
  3. Lavender Oil Has Potent Antifungal Effect. Science News. [https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110214201842.htm]
  4. Relaxation effects of lavender… [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17689755]
  5. Love Lavender? Try Lavender Oil. Mercola. [http://articles.mercola.com/herbal-oils/lavender-oil.aspx]
  6. Lavender essential oils attenuate hyperglycemia… [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880178/]
  7. What are the health benefits of lavender? Medical News Today. [http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265922.php]

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Grow Tulsi: The Super-power Salad Herb

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Growing tulsi (holy basil) is super-easy!

About two years ago, I joined a community garden and planted a 4-foot by 8-foot plot. A friend has a local nursery, so I picked up some plants to get started and used seeds for the rest. One of the plants I purchased was a goji berry bush. To be honest, I am not the best community gardener. I have problems incorporating regular visits to the garden into my weekly schedule.

Getting Everything Planted

A few weeks after I got everything planted, I noticed another plant growing like crazy next to my goji berry bush. I tried to cut it back, so the goji would have room to grow.

The leaves tasted like a spicy mint that was very pleasant.

The Takeover

As the weeks went by, this crazy plant literally took over and smothered the goji berry bush.

Every time I would go to my plot, I would cut it back. It didn’t work. Then, it started to flower. It had tiny whitish purple flowers on a long stalk. I brought a few of the flowers home so I could research and identify the plant.

Have you seen this article on how to identify plants.

It turned out to be holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum).

When I harvested my garden plot, I decided to bring the tulsi home to see if it would grow. It lasted a while with a lot of flowers. Then it died completely, or so it seemed. The tub was on my front porch and left there throughout the winter.

Annual Revisits

When the weather started to warm again, I saw the green leaves of the tulsi start to sprout out of the soil in the tub.

The Harvest

We have been harvesting tulsi for the last eight months. It is delicious in our salads. It adds a spicy, mint flavor similar to regular basil.

The Many Benefits of Tulsi

In India, people have been growing Tulsi for its medicinal properties for more than 3,000 years. Holy basil is considered a sacred plant in Hinduism.

In traditional medicine, Tulsi is used for:

  • Stress
  • Digestive problems
  • Treating colds and fevers
  • Treating allergies & infections
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Treating hair and skin disorders
  • Dental health
  • Repelling insects and treating insect bites

Tulsi is very important in Ayurveda and naturopathy, because the plant is loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential oils, and vitamins A and C, which have been known to help manage diabetes and high blood pressure. If you use a few tulsi leaves regularly, it will help the body function properly.

It is known to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It is considered an adaptogen, (a substance that helps the body adapt and function optimally).

Besides adding it to salads, the leaves are easy-to-make into a tea.

Add it to your garden

There are more than 100 varieties of Tulsi. If you have a warm, sunny place in your garden or on your porch or windowsill, consider adding a tulsi plant. It is perfect in a container garden with other sun-loving herbs. It is easy-to-grow and requires very little care.

In the late spring or early summer, when the temperatures in your area are around 70°F, sow seeds outdoors. If you want an early start, sow the seeds indoors in a sunny window.

Put the tulsi seeds on top of the soil and lightly press down for soil contact. Spray the seeds with water or compost tea. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate in about 1 to 2 weeks.

Pinch the top of the tulsi plant when there are four to six pairs of leaves for a bushier plant.

Harvest Tulsi

Harvest the tulsi leaves throughout the growing season. As the plant gets bigger, use a pair of scissors to cut the larger leaves or cut an entire branch.

Use the fresh leaves the same day, or they will fade. Or dry the leaves by collecting the branches. Place them in a dry place away from direct sunlight. Move the stems around about three times each day until the leaves are crisp and easily crushed.

 

Do you have tulsi in your garden? How do you use it? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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24 Injuries and Ailments You Can Treat With Home Remedies

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(Length: 27:30 min.)

Snake Bite!

Many of you know that I got bitten by a copperhead snake late last summer, treated it with home remedies for snake bites, and lived to tell the tale.

What you may not know is that this was the second copperhead bite in my family in the last few years.

(Yeah, we have a lot of copperheads here in Central Texas!)

The two experiences could not have been more different.

Last time, it was my husband who got bitten.

When it happened, he chose to head to the hospital. I respected his right to make that choice—and you’d better believe I went with him and stayed by his side as his advocate the entire time!

His whole experience was very painful, very disruptive, and very expensive. But, within about a week, all of the swelling had gone, and he was back to normal.

Contrast that with my own snakebite experience last summer. My husband knows me well enough that, after I got bitten, he didn’t even mention going to the hospital. Instead, he asked, “What do you want to poultice it with?”

I’m not going to lie—there was still a lot of pain involved.

But in every other way, my snakebite experience was completely different from my husband’s.

I was in the comfort of my own home, being treated by my husband and daughter. And, honestly, while that snake venom was working its way out of my system, I had the most amazing spiritual experience I’ve ever had.

It was absolutely life-changing.

You can read more about it on our website—the first part of my blog post is here and the second part is here.

Perhaps most telling of all was my husband’s comment to me when it was all over … .

I tell the rest of the story in my next video chapter of Grow: All True Wealth Comes From the Ground. (above)

In it, you’ll learn:

  • My #1 Favorite Home Remedy
  • 24+ Injuries and Ailments You Can Treat at Home
  • 7 Simple Steps to Mastering Home Remedies

I also reveal the fundamental difference between home and hospital treatments, what home remedies are (and what they’re not!), and why treating illness at home can be such an abundant source of family wealth.

After you watch, I’d love to know:

What are your favorite home remedies?

What’s your most memorable experience with treating illness at home?

I can’t wait to hear from you!

P.S. If you’d like to take the Antibiotics IQ quiz I mention in the video, click here!

The post 24 Injuries and Ailments You Can Treat With Home Remedies appeared first on The Grow Network.

How To Identify Plants Quickly

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Would you like to be able to quickly and easily identify plants?

Even be able to recognize species while driving 60 m.p..h. down the highway?

Marjory Wildcraft discusses Tom Elpels classic book Botany In A Day. Botany is the most crucial skill for sustainable living—everything we need ultimately comes from the plant kingdom: Our food, medicine, shelter, clothing, heating, and so much more.

In this video, you’ll learn:

  • How related plants have similar characteristics
  • Identifying plants in the Mustard Family … and they are all edible!
  • How family patterns can teach you a lot about plants
  • Get a grasp on the seven plant families

Get Tom’s book, Botany In A Day by clicking here.

identify-plants

When you want to identify a plant, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a hazardous plant?
  • General question: Is this a flower, tree, succulent, shrub, or grass?
  • Is it a monocot or dicot?
  • How are the leaves arranged?
  • Are the leaves simple or compound?
  • What is the shape of the leaf?
  • What other leaf characteristics do you see?
  • What do the flowers look like? (shape, color, florets, petals, sepals, pedicel, stamen, etc)
  • What does the stem look like?
  • What type of root system does the plant have?

If you would like more information about plant identification, check out this publication.

 

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Homegrown Spices and Seasonings For Your Living Spice Cabinet

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(Length: 1:16 minutes)

How old are the spices in your spice cabinet?

If you’re like me, some of spices and seasonings might be just slightly older than two to three years—the point at which they lose potency and should be discarded.
But what if you could have a continual supply of homegrown spices and seasonings that you use most, without having to worry about an expiration date?

In this quick video, I show you a quick solution—a living spice cabinet on your kitchen windowsill filled with homegrown spices and seasonings.

I grow basil, chives, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and sage.

These are all excellent choices for indoor container gardening. And you can add parsley, horehound, winter savory, dill, marjoram, coriander, and mint to that list.

Whether you’re a well-established gardener or your gardening skills are just starting to bloom (sorry, couldn’t resist! 😉 ), you’ll need a few things to get your living spice cabinet started.

Environment: Right Plant, Right Place

One of the most basic principles of successful gardening is “right plant, right place.”

Basically, if you grow a plant in an environment that meets its basic needs for sunlight, temperature, airflow, soil drainage, etc., you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor in the long run.

Your plant will be stronger, healthier, happier, and more productive; have fewer disease and pest issues; and create fewer headaches for you!

So, before you head to the garden center for pots and seedlings, take a few minutes to determine how you’ll provide the right environment for your herbs.

Here’s what you’ll need to consider:

  • Light Sources

Sunlight: Most herbs need six to eight hours of sunlight daily. You can usually provide this via an unobscured window with western or southern exposure. To ensure that the entire plant gets adequate sunlight, rotate it every three to four days.

Artificial Light: If you don’t have an indoor location that provides enough natural light, you can use two 40-watt cool white fluorescent bulbs. Place the plants 6 to 12 inches below the light source, and keep the bulbs lit for two hours per hour of required sunlight. For example, if your plants need eight hours of sunlight, expose them to 16 hours of artificial fluorescent light daily. And if you don’t want to mess with turning the lights on and off at certain times each day, consider buying a plug-in timer to handle the task for you. (Trust me, they’re awesome. Highly recommended!)

  • Temperatures

Herbs prefer moderate temperatures, so choose a location that reaches 65°F–70°F during the day and 55°F–60°F at night. Avoid temperature extremes by keeping your herb plants away from mechanical heat sources and out of chilly drafts.

  • Humidity

Herbs will grow best in a somewhat humid environment. So, if you live where it’s arid, you’ll need to get creative to provide supplemental humidity. You might fill a tray with stones, set your pots in it, and keep it filled with water just to the bottom of the herb containers. Alternately, you can keep a spray bottle handy and mist your herb plants with water as needed.

  • Airflow

Like many other plants, herbs do best with good air circulation. So be sure not to crowd your plants together, maintaining a bit of space between them. And, when possible, crack a window or turn on a fan to keep some air flowing in the area.

Materials: Four Essentials

Now that you’ve figured out the best spot in your house for your homegrown spices and seasonings, it’s time to go shopping—either in your potting shed or at your local garden center!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Fast-Draining Growing Medium

Look for a potting mix designed to drain fast and control moisture.

The main ingredient will be coir or sphagnum peat moss. These amendments have a large texture that helps the soil stay aerated and well drained, and their natural absorptive properties help keep the soil moist. (Interestingly, the more sustainable choice of the two, coir, is also the most useful. Not only is it a renewable resource produced from coconut husks, but it absorbs nearly a third more water than peat, is much easier to re-wet when it’s dry, is more alkaline, is slower to decompose … the list goes on.)

The ingredient list will also include some combination of water-holding minerals, such as vermiculite or perlite.

Many growing mediums will also include additions like compost, fertilizer, and wetting agents.

Or, you can be like Grow Network, Change Maker, David the Good and make your own!

Liquid Fertilizer

Think fish emulsion and seaweed. Make your own liquid fertilizers centered on these ingredients here, or find some premade options at your local garden center.

Recommendations vary on how often to feed your culinary herb plants. Some say to use low-dose liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks, while others recommend feeding them every four weeks, or even less often. If you’re concerned about overfeeding, let your plants be your guide. If they look lush but have poor flavor, it’s time to cut back on the fertilizer.

Plants

Many people prefer to plant seedlings because they get you to your goal of freshly harvested herbs that much faster. However, if you’re willing to wait a little longer, grow your herbs from seed. In either case, follow the planting directions provided on the pot or seed packet, and you’ll have homegrown spices and seasonings in no time.

Water: The Final Ingredient

Finally, remember to water your herbs—but just occasionally.

Almost all herbs grown indoors will do best if you let their soil dry out between waterings. You’ll know it’s time to water if, when you stick your finger into the soil to a depth of one-inch, the soil is dry. Rosemary is the exception to this rule. Its soil needs to be kept moist.

It’s Time to Spice Things Up!

With just a few simple materials, plus a careful choice of environment, you’ll have homegrown spices and seasonings in YOUR living spice cabinet, just like mine.

It will add visual and aromatic appeal to your home and your meals—and, perhaps best of all, help ensure that your favorite spices are always fresh and full of flavor!

 

What are your favorite spices to grow? Do you have a living spice cabinet? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Sam Coffman Top 25 Herbs Chart

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The post Homegrown Spices and Seasonings For Your Living Spice Cabinet appeared first on The Grow Network.

10 Most Cost-effective Garden Vegetables You Can Grow

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There are a lot of benefits to garden vegetables that you grow yourself, but saving money is not necessarily one of them.

Some vegetables are simply cheaper to buy at the grocery store. I know. I hate saying that, too!

Over the years, saving money is not always the main reason we grow garden vegetables. Am I right?

Sometimes the work needed to keep the soil happy, the beds weed free, with healthy plants discourages us from planting crops that are “dirt cheap” in season at the grocery store.

If you’re growing vegetables to save money, or want to make the most of your garden, here are ten garden vegetables that can put money back in your wallet.

Did you miss this article about the cost of grocery shopping versus home grown food?

The Big 10 Garden Vegetables!

These veggies are easy-to-grow in your vegetable garden big or small. Depending on your growing season, you may even be able to plant two or three times. (See succession planting below)

1. Lettuce

I don’t know about you, but I go through a bunch of lettuce each year. At almost $2 per head, that gets expensive. Here’s the great part: They are pretty easy to grow in any part of your garden. They even do well in flower boxes. A seed packet costs about $2.50 for the heirloom variety (which I highly recommend). If you harvest the outer leaves of the plant, it will easily last for several months. Lettuce is also a great vegetable to succession plant.

2. Bell peppers

Bell peppers are fairly expensive, especially for organic. I’ve seen them as high as $2 each! If you start your little seedlings ($2.50 per packet) in small pots, you’ll be able to transplant them to your garden in a few weeks. Pick the peppers as soon as they get to full size.

3. Garlic

This popular plant has a lot of health benefits. Garlic is used in all kinds of recipes. This is a vegetable that I have on hand at all times. Plant the garlic clove in the soil before winter; six to eight weeks before your first frost date. You’ll have a bumper crop in late spring to early summer.

Find your first, and last frost dates here.

4. Winter Squash … including PUMPKIN!

Winter Squash is getting more and more expensive. Butternut squash (one of my favorites for winter soup!) is $1.69 per pound with the average being at least 2 pounds. Keep in mind that winter squash takes between 75 and 120 days to reach maturity, and sprawl 10 to 20 feet. Think vertically or try the bush or semi-bush cultivars in a small garden. And winter squash will store well in a root cellar.

5. Tomatoes (especially Heirloom)

These babies have multi-colored, scarred skin, and a high price tag. They are about $4.50 per pound or more, depending on where you live. Now, while the price may break the bank, the taste is amazing! Growing heirloom tomatoes can be a bit fussy. I lost all of my seedlings this year, but happily planted a friend’s transplants. One of the biggest problems you’ll face is disease. Now, if you don’t want to face the heirloom issues, try a cherry tomato that grows well in your area. You’ll have a plethora of tomatoes to can or dehydrate.

6. Carrots

While I didn’t have much luck with tomatoes this year, I did have success with carrots! These are a cool-season crop that takes 70 to 80 days to mature. Check your last and first frost dates, plant three weeks before the last expected frost date and two to three months before the first fall frost date. They are a delicious root vegetable that stores well in a root cellar and is usually resistant to diseases and pests. At $2.50 per seed packet, you’ll have more than enough of this vegetable to last you through the winter.

7. Potatoes

Welcome to the most popular vegetable in America! Growing potatoes is fairly easy, and the flavors of a freshly dug potato cannot be rivaled by the $5.00 a bag, grocery-store varieties. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained, loose soil, so the roots and tubers have room to grow. They do need a steady water supply to keep the plants happy. When the tops of the plants die off, the entire crop is ready to harvest. And some potato varieties store well in a root cellar.

8. Sweet potatoes

In my area, organic sweet potatoes run about $4 for a 3-pound bag. It costs about $21 for 1 pack of sweet potato slips (though I have found them cheaper locally, so check your local garden center). Plant them in the spring, and they’ll produce about 3 to 6 sweet potatoes per slip. They prefer a slightly acidic, well-drained, loose soil. If there is a possibility of frost, cover them. Harvest in 100 days. Sweet Potatoes store well in a root cellar.

Did you see David the Good’s article on Growing Sweet Potatoes? Check it out here.

9. Zucchini, and other summer squash

My grandmother would be proud that zucchini made the list. It was one of her favorite veggies to cook. However, she wouldn’t be excited about the $1.90 per pound sticker price. If your garden area is small, go vertical! At $2.25 to $2.50 per packet, the zucchini plant will yield between three and nine pounds of yummy summer delights. Harvest when they are about 4-inches long.

10. Green beans

At the grocery store, organic green beans cost about $2.50 per pound. A packet of seeds costs $2.50 per packet. You’ll get between three to five pounds of beans PER plant. That’s a lot of beans to freeze, can, and boy are they yummy, dehydrated!

BONUS: Herbs … Basil, Rosemary, Parsley, Mint, Lavender

I didn’t want to leave out some herbs. All of these herbs are easy-to-grow. Each of them costs about $2.50 per plastic tub at the grocery store. Parsley is less at $1.00 per bundle. If you are considering your footprint on the Earth, the plastic containers and twist ties need to be taken into consideration. A seed packet of each will cost about $2.50 per packet. It’s well-worth having your own herb garden. I’d even suggest starting your gardening adventures here!

garden-vegetables

How to boost the abundance of your garden vegetables

Here are a few tricks to help you make the most of your vegetable garden, even if it’s small. It will save you money on food all-year-long.

Only Plant What You’ll Eat

This sounds may sound silly, but there is no point in planting green beans if you don’t like green beans. You’ll have pounds of garden vegetables that will just go to waste.

Also, take into consideration who in your family will eat the different veggies. If you’re the only one who will eat squash, don’t plant ten of them.

If you rarely eat something, it’s better to buy from your local farmer’s market.

Still confused? Here’s a downloadable interactive guide to help you decide what to plant. Print it out and keep it in your garden journal.

Succession Planting

Succession planting is after one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space. The length of your growing season, climate, and crop selection will determine how you will replant your favorite garden vegetables. In warm climates, you’ll be able to do several plantings of favorite garden vegetables, like tomatoes. In cooler climates, you’ll be able to get a second planting of peas.

If you have a small vegetable garden space, extend your harvest by planting different varieties of the same vegetable. You’ll have a crop early in the Spring, mid-summer, and fall. For instance, salad greens do well if you plant seeds each week, rather than all-at-once. This gives you the ability to harvest the outside leaves, while the other plants keep growing. You’ll have a supply of lettuce all season long!

Use the downloadable sheet (above) to determine how much to plant, for one person, for the most commonly grown vegetables. Don’t forget to include your succession plantings.

Coming Soon! Look for more articles on succession planting right here on this blog!

Which is your favorite garden vegetable? Is it cost-effective to grow it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Access our growing selection of Downloadable eBooks…

… On topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!

The post 10 Most Cost-effective Garden Vegetables You Can Grow appeared first on The Grow Network.

The SECRET to Raising Healthy Kids

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(The Secret To Raising Healthy Kids, length: 24.19 minutes)

Do you want to know the secret of raising healthy kids? The perfect story to illustrate this is from my friend, Rick.

Every week…

on the exact same day at the exact same time, my friend Rick takes his wife, Melissa, on a date.

They go to the exact same restaurant.

They even sit at the exact same table ….

… Week, after week, after week.

Sounds boring, right? I thought so, too.  I even asked Rick if maybe that wasn’t just a little bit restrictive.

But after he explained things to me, I understood that my friend is actually not the worst date-planner in history.

Rather, he’s tapping into the 3 R’s of family wealth—

one of the most powerful secrets to successful relationships …

… Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms.

The 3 R’s work for marriages.

They work for friendships.

And—GREAT news for those of us who are engaged in the daily, all-in, sometimes gut-wrenching struggle to raise healthy kids—they work for families, too!

I talk all about it in my latest video chapter of Grow: All True Wealth Comes From the Ground.

In it, you’ll learn:

  • The SECRET To Raising Healthy, Happy Kids
  • My No-Fail Strategy For Winning The Mealtime War On Electronics
  • The Key To Your Best-Ever Family Vacations

And, since we could all use a little help planning and maintaining family rituals …

… I also reveal my super-simple technique for ensuring these routines get repeated every year. (HINT: It involves passing the buck to Mother Nature!)

Then, I’d love to know:

What rituals do you have?

What family activities do you do that are related to the earth’s seasons and production?

I do read all the comments, and I can’t wait to read yours!

Thanks so much!

Did you miss some of the other chapters of Grow: the Book?

You can watch them here.

 

 

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Does A Compost Pile Destroy Weed Seeds?

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Does a compost pile destroy weed seeds? Or more specifically, does YOUR compost pile destroy weed seeds?

We are regularly assured by composting experts that hot composting destroys seeds … yet I have some pumpkins that beg to differ.

composting destroy weed seeds

Those pumpkins grew as volunteers from a compost pile a few years ago. Granted, it wasn’t a regularly turned compost pile, meaning they probably missed the hottest part of the heap, but how many of you turn your compost regularly? And I’m going to bet that you still had little tomatoes or weeds pop up in it. Come on, admit it!

My bet is ALL of you.

Here’s an example of “hot composting kills weed seeds” advice from Aggie Horticulture:

“The composting process also naturally kills weed seeds. Properly managed, a compost pile should easily reach 140°F, which breaks down all organic matter, including weed seeds.”

They recognize the difficulty, though, as the next line reads:

“The keyword is properly.”

My bet is that few gardeners reach that lofty, “proper” status.

Why Our Backyard Compost Pile Doesn’t Kill Weed Seeds

compost destroy weed seeds

A typical backyard compost pile isn’t insulated or turned often enough to maintain heat. Those viable seeds in the compost don’t get rotated through the hot center of the pile.

Yes, the heat generated by thermophilic bacteria (an organism living at hot temperatures) is high enough to destroy weed seeds, but getting every bit of your compostable materials hot enough to kill the seeds takes very good compost management.

My old compost pile didn’t do it. It was built from reclaimed landscape logs with too many gaps to get everything hot. Plus, turning it was a pain.

I imagine if you owned a cement truck and packed the barrel of it with a proper mix of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials. Then you rotated it every day or so, and perhaps insulated the inside with foam. You could get that compost to heat up perfectly.

I’m joking. A bit.

My composting methods have gone from complicated to simple over the years. I’ve realized creating perfect compost doesn’t really matter.

Nature doesn’t create perfectly sifted, totally rotted, brown humus. No! She throws logs and leaves on the ground. There’s always some finished material and some fresh material, fungi eating at this, and some insect boring away at that.

But let me back up. What prompted today’s post?

This Viewer Asked a Question

There was a comment that prompted today’s great big post on weed seeds in a compost pile. Four words that led to 1,145 words (give or take):

weed-seeds-in-compost

Martha asked this question on this anaerobic compost tea video I posted:

My answer was:

“Good question. I try to avoid throwing plants with mature seeds into the tea. They never seem to get completely die in a hot compost pile, either. Even though we hear all the time that “hot composting kills weed seeds!” It’s probably true for the ones in the middle of the pile, but I’m always getting volunteer tomatoes, wheat from straw, weeds, and pumpkins popping up even from a hot compost pile. My guess is that this tea method will rot down most of the seeds, if it sits long enough … but not all of them.”

It takes a lot of faith in your compost to deliberately throw in weedy materials, no matter how you’re composting.

If you have spiny pigweed going to seed in your food forest, do you really think you’ll be able to throw that in your compost bin and use the resulting compost in your spring gardens without spiny pigweed popping up?

Do you want to take that risk?

I hear you, “But I Compost the Right Way!”

That’s fine—I appreciate the “thermometer and sifter” brigade.

To those about to compost, I salute you!

I am totally sure that I could destroy weed seeds by hot composting if I thought it out properly. However, my interest is more in gardening than in the processes that lead up to it. Making a “perfect” looking compost pile, or compost for that matter, isn’t as important to me as growing corn, pumpkins, beans, yams, and fruit trees. I also don’t like spending money to make perfect systems.

If you enjoy it, that’s fantastic. I love the smell, look and taste (well, maybe not taste) of finished compost. I made some nice-looking stuff myself this year and just sifted it the other day.

composting destroy weed seeds

I made that compost with almost no work, though. No thermometers, no turning, no measuring ratios of carbon/nitrogen to get that 25/1 mix. No, I just threw it all on the ground in one of my garden beds.

And—oh YES—LOTS of seeds came up in it! Enough to start my new fruit tree nursery.

I view this as a feature, not a bug. Sometimes I just let compost piles turn into garden beds since there are so many volunteer edibles coming up.

But What About Killing Weed Seeds???

Right – that’s what you all want to know, right? How CAN you compost those pesky weedy plants?

Weed_Bouquet_3

My favorite method is to keep them out of the compost pile and gardens altogether.

In my former food forest, I would chop down weeds and throw them on the ground around my fruit trees and other shrubs. If they self-seeded and came back, I’d chop them down again.

Unlike delicate annual garden plants such as lettuce and cabbage, trees and shrubs don’t need to be perfectly weeded in order to produce. I just knocked down the weeds again and again. Every time I did, guess what?

Those fallen weeds rotted into humus.

Nature does this all the time.

The winter freezes come once-a-year and kill all the weeds. They fall to the ground and rot into the soil, which improves it.

If you want to use weeds to feed your gardens, you’ll have much better luck in a no-till system where you throw a pile of seedy weeds on the ground. Then, cover them up with mulch … and then, DON’T TILL!

If you till, you’ll bring those seeds up to the light and warmth. They’ll go crazy in your eggplants. However, beneath a layer of mulch, they’ll eventually rot away safely.

That’s my two cents on composting and destroying weed seeds. Yes, a compost pile can destroy weed seeds … BUT … and it’s a big but … most of us aren’t doing it “properly.”

Don’t trust too much in the magic of compost to pile-drive your pesky pigweed problems.

Personally, I prefer cold composting anyhow! I believe it keeps more of the good stuff in the pile instead of steaming it away into the air. Nature almost always cold composts! While that process takes longer, I think it’s a simpler and gentler method. I wrote an entire book on composting (Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting) and many of the methods in that book are cold compost approaches.

You might also like these composting articles from David the Good:

How to Build a Super Simple Compost Pile From Local Materials

Back to Eden Chicken Run Composting: Easy and Productive!

Nature Is An Extreme Composter—You Can Be, Too!

Manure Tea—An Easy Way To Stretch Your Compost

So, tell us … have you had success hot-composting seedy weeds? The comments below are waiting for yours!

david-the-good-top-10-survival-crops

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The post Does A Compost Pile Destroy Weed Seeds? appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Simple Tricks To Regrow Onions

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(Length: 2:32 minutes)

On this edition of Homesteading Basics, I’m going to show you a really simple tip to regrow onions from the scraps.

Who doesn’t love onions?

I cook with onions, and we all know that when you’re getting ready to chop your onion, you cut the ends off. You cut off the top and the bottoms.

On that back end, where the roots are, you’ve got just a little bit of a scab. Here’s the tip: You can actually plant this, and it will regrow.

Take the scab of the onion. Put it in some dirt, and leave it there.

I’ve been doing this for the past couple of weeks. Look, you can see that some have already sprouted. Now, this is not going to make a whole new onion bulb, but rather beautifully small onion that looks a lot like a shallot. You can chop them up, and put them into soups and salads. They have that nice onion taste.

Another really great thing about this, they’ll become onion plants that sprout those big, beautiful allium flowers. They are very decorative.

This is a green that’s going to grow through the winter. The time to regrow onions is when it is moist and cool outside.

See…you’ll be able to get way more out of that onion than you first thought.

Other foods that you can grow from scabs

Simple and easy-to-regrow!

Place the root end in a jar of water and watch it regrow in a few days.  Just make sure to replace the water every couple of days or as needed.

  • Spring onions
  • Leeks
  • Scallions
  • Fennel

Smells so good!

  • Lemongrass

Regrow lemongrass exactly the same as the spring onions and leeks, but wait to harvest it until it is about 12 inches tall.

To the roots…

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger

Plant a small chunk of either ginger or turmeric in well-drained potting soil about two inches below the surface. Ginger and Turmeric like indirect sunlight in a warm, moist environment. The shoots and roots will begin to regrow in a few days. Once the plant is established, harvest by pulling up the whole plant, including the roots. Remove a piece off of that plant. Replant it to repeat the process or regrowing your ginger and turmeric.

  • Potatoes

Choose a potato that has a lot of good eyes. Cut it into 2-3 inch pieces. Each piece should have 1 to 2 eyes on it. Allow the cut pieces to sit at room temperature for a day or two. This will allow the cut areas to dry. Potato plants thrive on a high-nutrient environments, so be sure to add a lot of compost before planting your potatoes. Plant your potato pieces about 8 inches deep with the eye facing up. Cover the pieces with 4 inches of soil. Leave empty space above the 4 inches of soil. As your plant grows, you’ll add more soil.

Be aware! A lot of potatoes are Genetically Modified. Be sure you get your potatoes from a reputable source.

  • Sweet Potatoes

David the Good shows you how to grow and regrow sweet potatoes here.

How about some greens?

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage

Cut the leaves or stalks off to about an inch above the roots. Place the root end in a shallow pot of well-drained soil. Make sure the roots are in the soil, but do not cover the rest of the plant.  Place the pot a sunny window and mist with water 1 to 2 times a week.

regrow-onions

Boost Your Immune System

  • Garlic

Break a bulb apart a few days before planting. Leave the papery husk on the clove. (You can also plant garlic cloves in the ground before the ground freezes.) Plant a garlic clove 2 inches deep with the root-end down in well-drained soil. Sit the plant in a sunny window.  Once established, cut back the scapes (green part) and use for cooking. This forces the plant to produce a garlic bulb.

And don’t forget the fruits…

  • Pineapple

Cut off the leafy top about half an inch below the leaves. Twist the leaf away from the base. You’ll be left with the leaves and a stub. Remove the lowest set of leaves until you see roots. The roots look like small, brown-colored bumps around the stem. Plant your pineapple crown in warm and well-drained soil. Water your plant regularly. Don’t be afraid to water the leaves. They are meant to catch water. The roots should be established in about a month or two. Put your pineapple plant in bright, indirect light.

Of course, you can always plant onions:

Here’s a great article from Farmer’s Almanac!

Do you grow or regrow onions? What about other fruits or vegetables? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

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The post The Simple Tricks To Regrow Onions appeared first on The Grow Network.

Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Fresh Food

Click here to view the original post.

Feeding a family isn’t cheap these days, and it only gets more expensive with each additional mouth. I’ve always wondered about the cost between Grocery Shopping and Fresh Food, but never really sat down to crunch the numbers … until now!

Eating healthy is also more expensive than eating processed foods loaded with artificial ingredients and sodium. In fact, following the government’s recommended dietary advice can add 10 percent to your monthly bill. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always more expensive than processed, canned, or frozen foods. If you want to go completely organic, count on spending sometimes double that.

The Criteria for the”Food War:”

We have to compare apples-to-apples and … well you get the idea. So, we’ll look at:

  • Expense
  • Health – Mental and Physical
  • Waste
  • Time

In the expenses, we’ll compare certain food:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Apples
  • Eggs

We’re also going to use $15 per hour for any labor costs or time spent.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Grocery Store!

According to the USDA 2017 Cost of Food Report, the average American spends between $100 to $300 per person per month on groceries. It may be higher or lower based on where you live. (1)

Grocery Store Expense (This is from your average local store, prices may vary in your area)

Lettuce

Organic Price: $1.69/head
Non-organic Price: $0.99/head

Carrots (3 lbs.)

Organic Price: $3.49
Non-organic Price: $2.99

Tomatoes (Heirloom)

Organic Price: No organics available when I went shopping
Non-organic Price: $2.99/lbs.

Basil

Organic Price: $2.99/pkg.
Non-organic Price: $1.99/pkg.

Apples

Organic Price: $1.99/lbs.
Non-organic Price: $0.99/lbs.

Eggs (1 dozen)

Organic Price: $5.69
Non-organic Price: $1.99

Most of the non-organic produce was from Mexico or Peru, and a lot of the organic produce was also.

On average, I spent about $125 per week for my family of three. I bought organic produce, grass-fed, free-range, no hormone meats and eggs (sometimes from the store, but usually from a local farmer).

Health – Mental and Physical

In 2016, the average American spent $10,345 annually on health care (insurance premiums, deductibles, co-payments, prescriptions, and medicines). (2)

According to a The Atlantic 2014 article, healthcare was the number one cause of personal bankruptcy and was responsible for more collections than credit cards. Forty percent of Americans owe money for times they were sick. (3)

More than 71 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and 16 percent of children and adolescents are struggling with obesity (4)

There are four contributing factors: (5)

  1. Processed foods
  2. Portion size
  3. Fast food
  4. Being less active

Let’s not forget to add in the hassle and headache it can take to go to the grocery store. You might not be able to be quantify it, but just bear it in mind.

Can you be healthy eating from the grocery store? Check out this chapter of the Grow Book!

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Waste

The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash each day. The annual weight of trash from the entire country equals 254 million tons, that is the same as 1.2 million blue whales, and would reach to the moon and back 25 times, a journey of 11,534,090 miles. (6)

The sad thing is that you probably live closer to one of the 2,000 active landfills than you might think. Some inactive landfills have become public parks. (6)

Landfills also produce millions of cubic feet of methane gas each day. What impact does this have on our health?

Think of the waste from your groceries: food packaging, plastic produce bags, plastic bottles, twist ties, Styrofoam, and grocery bags that come along with buying groceries. This waste has to go somewhere. I kept track for several months of my grocery shopping days. Over half of my grocery list had some sort of packaging, which added up to about 10 lbs. a week.

Some cities are beginning to charge for every bag of garbage your put in the bin. The average cost is $2 per bag.

The good news is that 34.3 percent of garbage is being recycled or composted each year. That prevents 87.2 million tons of material from going into the landfill. (6)

Think about how much food you throw away because it spoiled in the refrigerator. Waste adds up!

Time

It takes me an hour to shop, but I also spend about 30 minutes to 45 minutes preparing to go grocery shopping, making my list, and seeing what needs to be bought. It takes about 15 minutes each way to get to and from the store. The parking lot is always a madhouse. Add the stress of that up in the Health section above.

Pros of going grocery shopping:

  • You can have your favorite food any time.
  • It’s convenient to run to the store if you need something.
  • Loyalty cards/Cash-back programs
  • Prepackaged, quick food

 

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Fresh Food!

(And the crowd goes wild!)

Even a small garden plot, can yield an estimated 7 lbs. of fresh produce per square foot. (It depends on where you live and what you plant.)

Expense

You will have an initial investment, which includes soil conditioning, garden beds, and seeds or plants. Based on my own start-up costs, I’m saying $250 for the veggies and $300 for the chickens. You can certainly do it cheaper. We’ll have more on that in future posts. I’ll average this out over the year.

Lettuce

Seeds: $2.50/pkt
Watering: 1 hour/every 3 days.
Labor: Minimal. I was surprised how easy this was to grow.
Final Yield: I had continuous salad mix by harvesting the outside leaves every couple of days. Estimated 5 lbs. throughout the season. I had a cup of salad greens every day for four months. I can definitely extend the season and produce more.

Carrots

Heirloom Seeds: $3.00/pkt
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Minimal. Didn’t do much at all. They grew really well without much help.
Final yield: About 6 lbs. Plenty to eat raw and dehydrate, can, and freeze.

Tomatoes

Heirloom Seeds: $2.50 – $3.00/pkt  Heirloom Plants: $6.00 ea.
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Average. About 15 minutes every other day, nipping suckers, watching for signs of disease or pests. My first seedlings didn’t make it, so I replanted heirloom plants.
Final Yield: A little less than 80 lbs. of tomatoes from 4 plants, enough to eat fresh and preserve for later in the year.

Basil (It’s difficult to grow basil from seeds)

1 Plant: $3.00 – $5.95
Watering on system: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Labor: minimal. Harvest leaves every few days. Grew like a weed.
Yield: Off of 2 plants, I got enough for 12 pint jars of pesto and a 16 oz. container of dried.

Apples

Bare tree: $20-$25
Watering: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Fertilizer: $10
Kaolin clay: $12
Labor: Intensive. planting, pruning, training, thinning, treating, picking up fallen fruit. About 20 minutes every other day.

Eggs (only have 6 laying hens and no rooster)

Feed: $100/mo. (This can be reduced with a little planning and a more mature garden.)
Water: 1 gallon per day
Room: about 100 square feet, including the coop and run. They free-range, too!
Labor: I do the deep-litter method, so there isn’t a lot of maintenance. I spend on average 30 minutes every day, checking, gathering eggs, feeding, cleaning the roost, and giving love.
Yield: average 2 dozen eggs/week. We keep one and sell one.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Health – Mental and Physical

New studies are showing that the microbes in the soil actually work a lot like Prozac. (7)  They give you good feelings, well-being, and happiness.

The food is healthy, too. You know exactly what was used to grow your groceries.

And let’s not forget the exercise factor. You can burn anywhere from 200 to 600 calories per hour gardening.

Waste

Growing your own groceries has minimal trash.

My family is still buying some food from the grocery store. Maybe one day, I’ll grow my own quinoa.

Now that I’m conscious of food packaging. I look for packaged food that can be recycled or composted. If not, I try not to buy it. My garbage went from one full bag of garbage every three days to a handful of recyclables, large bucketfuls of compostables, and less than 2 lbs. of actual garbage each month.

I’m still trying to minimize my footprint. The goal is zero-waste, or at least as close to it as possible!

Time

In my small garden (about 100 square feet, if you put it together), I spend an average of 20 hours each month in the garden on various chores during the growing season between February and November. I spend about five or so in the winter months on greens, looking through heirloom seed catalogs, and planning next year’s garden.

All of my beds are on a timed and water-regulated irrigation system. In other words, if it rains, the system doesn’t come on. This saves water and time.

The chickens take an average of 30 minutes-a-day winter and summer. They are quite the characters, so they provide entertainment as well.

I didn’t keep track of my preserving time (canning, drying, and freezing), so an estimate is about 10 to 20 hours total for the entire season.

Of course, I see this as time well spent. Twenty hours in the garden or 30 minutes for the chickens could easily be more, because I love it so much.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And the winner is…!

As far as cost goes, fresh food from the garden wins by a slim margin. However, it is difficult to quantify your health and happiness into this equation.

I know for me. I’m happier when I’m gardening. I know I’m healthier because of the exercise and eating good, clean food. The dollar amount is interesting, but almost inconsequential.

 grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Resources:

  1. [https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood]
  2. Department of Health and Human Services;[ https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/individual-market-premium-changes-2013-2017]
  3. The Atlantic [https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt/381163/]
  4. [https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm]
  5. American Cancer Society: [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html]
  6. Save on Energy [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html ]
  7. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-dossey/is-dirt-the-new-prozac_b_256625.html]

Do you grow your own food and medicine? What savings have you seen? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Access our growing selection of Downloadable eBooks…

…. On topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!

Save

Save

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The post Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Fresh Food appeared first on The Grow Network.

Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Home Grown Food

Click here to view the original post.

Feeding a family isn’t cheap these days, and it only gets more expensive with each additional mouth. I’ve always wondered about the cost between Grocery Shopping and Fresh Food, but never really sat down to crunch the numbers … until now!

Eating healthy is also more expensive than eating processed foods loaded with artificial ingredients and sodium. In fact, following the government’s recommended dietary advice can add 10 percent to your monthly bill. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always more expensive than processed, canned, or frozen foods. If you want to go completely organic, count on spending sometimes double that.

The Criteria for the”Food War:”

We have to compare apples-to-apples and … well you get the idea. So, we’ll look at:

  • Expense
  • Health – Mental and Physical
  • Waste
  • Time

In the expenses, we’ll compare certain food:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Apples
  • Eggs

We’re also going to use $15 per hour for any labor costs or time spent.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Grocery Store!

According to the USDA 2017 Cost of Food Report, the average American spends between $100 to $300 per person per month on groceries. It may be higher or lower based on where you live. (1)

Grocery Store Expense (This is from your average local store, prices may vary in your area)

Lettuce

Organic Price: $1.69/head
Non-organic Price: $0.99/head

Carrots (3 lbs.)

Organic Price: $3.49
Non-organic Price: $2.99

Tomatoes (Heirloom)

Organic Price: No organics available when I went shopping
Non-organic Price: $2.99/lbs.

Basil

Organic Price: $2.99/pkg.
Non-organic Price: $1.99/pkg.

Apples

Organic Price: $1.99/lbs.
Non-organic Price: $0.99/lbs.

Eggs (1 dozen)

Organic Price: $5.69
Non-organic Price: $1.99

Most of the non-organic produce was from Mexico or Peru, and a lot of the organic produce was also.

On average, I spent about $125 per week for my family of three. I bought organic produce, grass-fed, free-range, no hormone meats and eggs (sometimes from the store, but usually from a local farmer).

Health – Mental and Physical

In 2016, the average American spent $10,345 annually on health care (insurance premiums, deductibles, co-payments, prescriptions, and medicines). (2)

According to a The Atlantic 2014 article, healthcare was the number one cause of personal bankruptcy and was responsible for more collections than credit cards. Forty percent of Americans owe money for times they were sick. (3)

More than 71 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and 16 percent of children and adolescents are struggling with obesity (4)

There are four contributing factors: (5)

  1. Processed foods
  2. Portion size
  3. Fast food
  4. Being less active

Let’s not forget to add in the hassle and headache it can take to go to the grocery store. You might not be able to be quantify it, but just bear it in mind.

Can you be healthy eating from the grocery store? Check out this chapter of the Grow Book!

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Waste

The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash each day. The annual weight of trash from the entire country equals 254 million tons, that is the same as 1.2 million blue whales, and would reach to the moon and back 25 times, a journey of 11,534,090 miles. (6)

The sad thing is that you probably live closer to one of the 2,000 active landfills than you might think. Some inactive landfills have become public parks. (6)

Landfills also produce millions of cubic feet of methane gas each day. What impact does this have on our health?

Think of the waste from your groceries: food packaging, plastic produce bags, plastic bottles, twist ties, Styrofoam, and grocery bags that come along with buying groceries. This waste has to go somewhere. I kept track for several months of my grocery shopping days. Over half of my grocery list had some sort of packaging, which added up to about 10 lbs. a week.

Some cities are beginning to charge for every bag of garbage your put in the bin. The average cost is $2 per bag.

The good news is that 34.3 percent of garbage is being recycled or composted each year. That prevents 87.2 million tons of material from going into the landfill. (6)

Think about how much food you throw away because it spoiled in the refrigerator. Waste adds up!

Time

It takes me an hour to shop, but I also spend about 30 minutes to 45 minutes preparing to go grocery shopping, making my list, and seeing what needs to be bought. It takes about 15 minutes each way to get to and from the store. The parking lot is always a madhouse. Add the stress of that up in the Health section above.

Pros of going grocery shopping:

  • You can have your favorite food any time.
  • It’s convenient to run to the store if you need something.
  • Loyalty cards/Cash-back programs
  • Prepackaged, quick food

 

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Home Grown Food!

(And the crowd goes wild!)

Even a small garden plot, can yield an estimated 7 lbs. of fresh produce per square foot. (It depends on where you live and what you plant.)

Expense

You will have an initial investment, which includes soil conditioning, garden beds, and seeds or plants. Based on my own start-up costs, I’m saying $250 for the veggies and $300 for the chickens. You can certainly do it cheaper. We’ll have more on that in future posts. I’ll average this out over the year.

Lettuce

Seeds: $2.50/pkt
Watering: 1 hour/every 3 days.
Labor: Minimal. I was surprised how easy this was to grow.
Final Yield: I had continuous salad mix by harvesting the outside leaves every couple of days. Estimated 5 lbs. throughout the season. I had a cup of salad greens every day for four months. I can definitely extend the season and produce more.

Carrots

Heirloom Seeds: $3.00/pkt
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Minimal. Didn’t do much at all. They grew really well without much help.
Final yield: About 6 lbs. Plenty to eat raw and dehydrate, can, and freeze.

Tomatoes

Heirloom Seeds: $2.50 – $3.00/pkt  Heirloom Plants: $6.00 ea.
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Average. About 15 minutes every other day, nipping suckers, watching for signs of disease or pests. My first seedlings didn’t make it, so I replanted heirloom plants.
Final Yield: A little less than 80 lbs. of tomatoes from 4 plants, enough to eat fresh and preserve for later in the year.

Basil (It’s difficult to grow basil from seeds)

1 Plant: $3.00 – $5.95
Watering on system: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Labor: minimal. Harvest leaves every few days. Grew like a weed.
Yield: Off of 2 plants, I got enough for 12 pint jars of pesto and a 16 oz. container of dried.

Apples

Bare tree: $20-$25
Watering: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Fertilizer: $10
Kaolin clay: $12
Labor: Intensive. planting, pruning, training, thinning, treating, picking up fallen fruit. About 20 minutes every other day.

Eggs (only have 6 laying hens and no rooster)

Feed: $100/mo. (This can be reduced with a little planning and a more mature garden.)
Water: 1 gallon per day
Room: about 100 square feet, including the coop and run. They free-range, too!
Labor: I do the deep-litter method, so there isn’t a lot of maintenance. I spend on average 30 minutes every day, checking, gathering eggs, feeding, cleaning the roost, and giving love.
Yield: average 2 dozen eggs/week. We keep one and sell one.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Health – Mental and Physical

New studies are showing that the microbes in the soil actually work a lot like Prozac. (7)  They give you good feelings, well-being, and happiness.

The food is healthy, too. You know exactly what was used to grow your groceries.

And let’s not forget the exercise factor. You can burn anywhere from 200 to 600 calories per hour gardening.

Waste

Growing your own groceries has minimal trash.

My family is still buying some food from the grocery store. Maybe one day, I’ll grow my own quinoa.

Now that I’m conscious of food packaging. I look for packaged food that can be recycled or composted. If not, I try not to buy it. My garbage went from one full bag of garbage every three days to a handful of recyclables, large bucketfuls of compostables, and less than 2 lbs. of actual garbage each month.

I’m still trying to minimize my footprint. The goal is zero-waste, or at least as close to it as possible!

Time

In my small garden (about 100 square feet, if you put it together), I spend an average of 20 hours each month in the garden on various chores during the growing season between February and November. I spend about five or so in the winter months on greens, looking through heirloom seed catalogs, and planning next year’s garden.

All of my beds are on a timed and water-regulated irrigation system. In other words, if it rains, the system doesn’t come on. This saves water and time.

The chickens take an average of 30 minutes-a-day winter and summer. They are quite the characters, so they provide entertainment as well.

I didn’t keep track of my preserving time (canning, drying, and freezing), so an estimate is about 10 to 20 hours total for the entire season.

Of course, I see this as time well spent. Twenty hours in the garden or 30 minutes for the chickens could easily be more, because I love it so much.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And the winner is…!

As far as cost goes, fresh food from the garden wins by a slim margin. However, it is difficult to quantify your health and happiness into this equation.

I know for me. I’m happier when I’m gardening. I know I’m healthier because of the exercise and eating good, clean food. The dollar amount is interesting, but almost inconsequential.

 grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Resources:

  1. [https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood]
  2. Department of Health and Human Services;[ https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/individual-market-premium-changes-2013-2017]
  3. The Atlantic [https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt/381163/]
  4. [https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm]
  5. American Cancer Society: [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html]
  6. Save on Energy [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html ]
  7. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-dossey/is-dirt-the-new-prozac_b_256625.html]

Do you grow your own food and medicine? What savings have you seen? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Access our growing selection of Downloadable eBooks…

…. On topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The post Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Home Grown Food appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Easiest Way To Prepare A Garden Bed

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In this short video, you’ll see the easiest way to prepare your garden beds.  Seriously, this is a way to take an area with grass and weeds, and turn it into a garden bed of your dreams.  This short, easy-to-watch video takes you step-by-step through the preparation process—from the very beginning when you fence off an area to the very last step, which is laying down the compost. Preparing your garden beds has never been easier!

This video is only one part of the “Instant Master Gardener Certification.”  If you like what you see, consider signing up for the full garden exploration! Click here to sign up for the Instant Master Gardener Certification.”

 

Learn to grow your own Food and Medicine!

 

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The post The Easiest Way To Prepare A Garden Bed appeared first on The Grow Network.

What To Do With A Bee Swarm!

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Have you ever come across a bee swarm? It can be scary, exciting, and overwhelming. What do you do?

All of us at The Grow Network do various kinds of homesteading. Nikki, our Director of Customer Success, is … among other things … a beekeeper. A few weeks ago, she shared with us that the bees from one of her hives had swarmed.

Nikki’s Story

bee-swarm

Those little brown specs are bees flying all over the place.

Nikki said, “We have 2 hives in the yard, and one decided it was going to swarm to the top of our sycamore tree in the backyard today.”

With the height of her tree and the size of the ladder, it was going to be quite an ordeal reaching them.

She decided to sacrifice her 13 year old, and sent him up the tree. She jokingly said, “I am officially okay with being shorter than my kids now!”

Her son had to rig the ladder with a tie down strap in the truck.

He used his body weight to hold the ladder straight. There wasn’t a branch to rest it on. Her other son took the cutters and took down the branches. They worked together on two separate branches.

There were so many bees that their weight broke one branch just before her son had a chance to fully cut through. This sent thousands of bees raining down on top of her.

“This hive has the potential to give us more than 100 pounds of honey this year, so we definitely didn’t want to see the bees relocate. Now, they are safe and sound in a new hive. We are re-queening the other two hives we have, and hoping to have 3 healthy and hard-working hives,” Nikki said.

It sounds like everyone is trying to settle down from the experience.

bee swarm

Nikki said she wishes she had seen Jacqueline Freeman’s presentation at the Home Grown Food Summit before she had a swarm of bees on her hands, but all worked out well.

What? You haven’t seen Jacqueline’s Home Grown Food Summit Presentation, “Gentle Ways to Collect Bee Swarms.”  She is so gentle with these little buzzing sweeties. You can still get in on this goodness, click here.

Why bees swarm

According to Jacqueline, it’s very natural for bees to swarm. Bees swarm because there is no more room for them. Their home is full of honey, pollen, and brood (baby bees).

The good thing is that healthy and successful colonies create more healthy Queens and new colonies, so it’s a good thing for a hive to swarm.

Before they swarm, the Queen is slimmed down. All of the bees have a feast and fill their bellies with honey. Two-thirds of the colony will suddenly fly into the air. One-third stays in the original hive and re-queen. Bees will only leave the hive if there are new queen cells in the hive.

The other reason that bees swarm is so the queen can increase her fertility, and sunlight does that for her.

When do bees swarm

Jacqueline says that a swarm is a big, bunch of chaos that typically takes flight in mid-spring, around mid-day. There needs to be a lot of pollen available. It also needs to be warm and windless. When they first leave the hive, they fly into the sky in a big, buzzing, whirling cloud of bees. Jacqueline’s amazed that they don’t bump into each other. The queen is hidden in the swarm, so she is well-protected.

Eventually, the bees land on some object, a branch, fence post, vine, or anything that looks like a good spot. The Queen directs the bees to gather and form a tight cluster on the object.  Jacqueline says it’s about the size of a football that is clasped to the branch. This is their resting spot for a few hours to a few days. Then, the scout bees roam around trying to find a suitable place to live.

Typically, bees that swarm are very gentle, according to Jacqueline. She said, in the hundreds of bee swarms that she has captured, she’s only been stung four times, and they were all her fault. A bee swarm is not likely to sting you.

How to catch a bee swarm

There is only one way to catch a bee swarm, according to Jacqueline…gently!

Here’s how she does it:

  1. First, take a deep breath and calm yourself. Be respectful. Let the bee swarm know what you are going to do, and how you’ll do it.
  2. Hold a catching box underneath the swarm.
  3. Give the branch a good shake. The swarm will regather in the box. Put the lid on and leave an opening, so bees can get in.
  4. Let the swarm rest for 10 to 30 minutes so as many bees as possible get in the box.

How to transfer a bee swarm to a new home

When you’re ready to transfer the bees, have your hive ready. Remove a couple of the frames to give you room. Hold the box over the new hive. Give the box a good shake so the swarm goes into their new home. Jacqueline shows you exactly how to do it in her video. Get access to it here.

 

More from Jacqueline Freeman:

Bees Need Water, Too!

 

 

marjory-wildcraft-how-much-land-do-you-need

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The post What To Do With A Bee Swarm! appeared first on The Grow Network.

How To Express Garden Gratitude

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(length: 3:30 minutes)

One of my favorite wild plants is the Farkleberry, or Sparkleberry. They are a native blueberry. If you cut out sugar from your diet…like I have…the berries can be really sweet! I always offer this plant what I call “Garden Gratitude” or “Plant Gratitude,” if you prefer.

I know this might sound kind of woo-woo. When I leave offerings and give garden gratitude to the Farkleberry that I’m harvesting, I see more and more of them. It’s almost like they call to me.

We know that plants give us air, food, clothing, shelter, and medicine—but did you know that these living beings are able to communicate, too?

Think of a beautiful flower. The beauty is what calls to us. This is that plant’s particular way of communicating with us. If you want to take it one step further, ask it why it called you over.

The Basics of Garden Gratitude

We tend to walk through the world without acknowledging that plants, animals, the wind, etc, are living things. If you walk through your life with awareness, you’ll be surprised how often plants communicate with you, and how they respond to you. We can choose to deliberately engage.

What It Is: Giving gratitude to plants, the elements, and animals is based on the premise that everything is alive, and that we are all interconnected. It is a two-way street in which the plant and the person achieve mutual understanding, each communicating in their own language.

Who Can Do It: Garden gratitude is natural and simple. Everyone can do it. It comes quickly and naturally once a person understands and practices it.

How to Get Started: There are two tricks to having garden gratitude for plants. The first is to believe it enough—even skeptically—to try it. The second is to actually speak to the plant. Third is to leave it an offering.

Ways to Give Gratitude to Plants

Offerings have been around for thousands of years. It is a practice that is found all over the world. However, modern-day society has forgotten the old ways.

Anytime I’m harvesting something I’ve planted, or even a wild one, I want to express my gratitude. My gratitude is for the plant producing the fruit and letting me pick and eat it, so I leave an offering. Plants also  exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, helping us breathe, too! Some plants give us medicine, shade us, and clothe us.

There are many reasons to give garden gratitude!

garden gratitude

What Do You Have to Offer?

Anything can be used as an offering. I’m sure you’ll come up with a ton of them. Just make sure it comes from the heart.

Here are some offering ideas to get you started:

  • Hair (great source of protein, which turns into nitrogen)
  • Saliva (offers trace minerals and water)
  • Song (research has shown that plants grow larger with certain types of music)
  • Urinate beside them (it provides nitrogen for the soil)
  • Water (plants need water, too)
  • Tobacco (make sure it is additive and chemical-free, but is a source of decaying organic matter)
  • Cornmeal (stimulates and feeds beneficial micro-organisms)
  • Breathe on it (plants love carbon dioxide)

As you can see, there are some scientific reasons these offerings help the plant, too! Just making an offering of some sort is beneficial to your relationship with all wild plants.

Offerings do several things…

  1. It is an exchange of energy and a place of humility for you. We are all one and equal—You and the Plant.
  2. Offerings show you that we are all in the same world. All of us only get to be here for a short time, so be present and intentional with your time here.

It’s Not Magic!

Every couple of years, I grow tobacco. Tobacco is a plant that has been used for centuries by the Native People of the Americas.

It is believed that Tobacco offers its own gift of interpretation, which helps us with disputes.

Just a pinch, spread on the winds…with words of thanks and garden gratitude. Your words to the plant can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like.

Want to know more about working with nature spirits to grow more food? Check out this article.

Learning From Your Plants

What to Expect: Sometimes, in the same way that ingesting a plant affects our body, communicating with a plant will affect our minds. You can also communicate and have garden gratitude for plants when you’re dealing with strong emotions or difficulties. Different plants offer help in different ways. Which plant in your garden calls to you? Why has it called to you right now? What are you dealing with in your life that perhaps the plant is trying to remedy?

Why Some Plants Seem to Harm: Plants carry a level of energy that is very normal and safe for you to interact with. Even plants that can hurt you, don’t do it maliciously. In fact, once you accept that, you can work on understanding what else the plants are trying to communicate to you. For example, when people get a rash from poison ivy, often it is because there is an irritant or issue in that person’s life that they have chosen to ignore—something the plant is trying to get them to deal with. Once a person understands that, he or she can get a lot of help from that particular plant and others like it.

You can even give gratitude to animals domestic and wild. Here is a great article to get you started.

 

Be willing to communicate with your plants, animals, and the elements, means you say something and hear something in return.

Once you get over the doubt and skepticism, give it a try, and practice, it will become second nature.

Being in relationship means being nurtured by the plant and you nurturing the plant. Who doesn’t want that!

So tell us! Do you talk to your plants? Do you leave offerings? Inquiring minds want to know, so leave a comment below!

 

 

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Outdoor Kitchens For Sustainability

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Summer Kitchen Revival

Before the days of electricity in the house or the air conditioner cooling off the living spaces from the heat of summer and cooking, there were outdoor kitchens.

It was an effort to keep the house as cool as possible. They are also known as Summer Kitchens.

The summer kitchen’s purpose was for putting up food for the year, canning, preserving, pickling, and processing. It all took place on a wood-fired stove, which created enough heat to chase everyone out of the house.

Outdoor Kitchens Still in Use Today

When I lived on a small island in the Caribbean, our tiny beach cottage had a kitchen on the porch. Why? So cooking a meal wouldn’t heat up the entire 400 sq. ft. house. Unlike summer kitchens of North America, this little work space was our main kitchen year-round rather than seasonally.

In the past, the food was often prepped in the kitchen, but it wasn’t stored there. Herbs would dry in the attic, flour and vegetables were kept in a cool cellar. You would walk all over the house to gather the ingredients for a meal.

When electricity started making its way into homes, the summer kitchen was abandoned.

However, these outdoor kitchens are starting to make a comeback because people want to get closer to their food supply. There is no better way to get closer to nature and the food we eat than having a summer or outdoor kitchen.

What do you need for an outdoor kitchen?

When planning your outdoor/summer kitchen, think about function, efficiency, and comfort. What do you need and what can come later?

An efficient summer kitchen space could be as simple as you want it to be or as elaborate. Oh and that pizza oven you want, is it necessary or is it a luxury?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your Summer Kitchen:

  1. Do you want it to be seasonal or permanent?
  2. Does it need to be enclosed, partially enclosed, or open to the elements?
  3. Does it need shade?
  4. Do you need seating? A table?
  5. What will you need to store? Food? Spices? Cutting boards? Silverware? Plates & Bowls? Cookware?
  6. Is there a nearby herb or veggie garden?
  7. Do you need running water?
  8. What about a greywater catchment system?
  9. Is a compost pile nearby?
  10. What will you cook on?
  11. Do you need an oven? A Sun Oven? A dehydrator?
  12. Is the ground level where you want to put the kitchen?
  13. Do you need refrigeration?
  14. What will you do when it rains? When it’s windy? When it’s blistering hot?
  15. Who will be using the kitchen?
  16. Who will be in the kitchen, particularly at the same time?
  17. How do you spend your time in the kitchen? Cooking or baking? Entertaining? Dishes? 

Think triangular work space

The triangle is a great shape when designing an efficient kitchen workflow. No matter the location of the kitchen.

How do you work in the kitchen when you prepare a meal?

You take the food out of the fridge. Then it is taken either to the sink or the stove area, cleanup goes from the stove and prep areas to the sink, and leftovers get put in the fridge.

Have a plan before you create your outdoor kitchen. Take a good look at what will fit in the space that you’ve allowed for your summer kitchen. Two ways into and out of the space will help with flow.

Start with the Sink. That’s where you’re going to spend a lot of your time, cleaning, prepping, and doing dishes. You’ll also want a beautiful view while you’re doing your work, right?

In the Cooking Area, you’ll want to be able to socialize with family and friends.

You’ll probably want between 18 in. to 36 in. for a comfortable prep area. There’s nothing worse than not having enough prep area. Am I right?

Think about walkways and flow into and through your summer kitchen, too.

Set the kitchen up into 5 zones:

  • Food storage (fridge, cabinets, or pantry)
  • Dishes
  • Clean up (sink area)
  • Prep area
  • Cooking

Store items as close to their zone as possible. For example, knives, mixing bowls, cutting boards, and wooden spoons should be in the prep area. Cooking and baking pans should be in the cooking area.

Store your dishes close to the sink. Having a cabinet above the sink where your dishes dry and store all in one place is amazing.

outdoor-kitchen

Food preservation in your summer kitchen

When my grandmother canned her summer vegetables, outdoor kitchens were the norm, not a luxury. She’d set up her outdoor kitchen under a giant poplar with the chickens running all around the yard. If grandma did it, so can you!

Preserving your harvest is wonderful in the cold, winter months. It may take time and effort right now, but it is well worth it.

Life slows down a little bit, so you can enjoy family and friends.

There are three ways of preserving food that can be done in your summer kitchen: storage, canning, and drying.

The important thing is to start where you are. Check out this video for more tip.

Storage

A handful of vegetables can be stored, but only for a limited amount of time. Here is a great article about storing fruits and vegetables from the University of Missouri Extension Office.

You can store:

  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • beets
  • turnips
  • parsnips
  • carrots
  • leeks
  • radishes
  • horseradish
  • rutabagas
  • garlic
  • onions

Make sure veggies are firm. Remove any dirt, but do not wash the veg. Place the veggies in a box or bin. Air should circulate around the veggies. Slatted wooden boxes and wire baskets work great for this.

Canning

If you’re going to be canning, make sure you have all of your supplies handy.

  • Canning jars and lids
  • Water bath canner
  • Pressure canner
  • Funnels
  • Ladles
  • Pectin
  • Spices
  • Salts
  • Jar Lifter

Here’s a recipe for “Canned corn that’s sweet every time.”

Know which fruits and vegetables need to be pressure canned versus water-bath canned. The book, Stocking Up is invaluable for this purpose.

Drying

It’s super-easy to dry fruits and vegetables. You can even do it in a Sun Oven! Dried foods can be stored indefinitely, as long as they are kept dry.

You can dry:

  • root vegetables
  • beans of all kinds
  • cereal and grains
  • celery
  • herbs
  • peas
  • peppers
  • berries
  • fruits with high sugar and low moisture

Here is a great article with dehydrator recipes.

If you’ve ever thought of having a summer or outdoor kitchen, perhaps now is the time. Share your thoughts on how you would set it up. We’d love to hear from you. Leave your comments below!

 

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Stress Management: When Wildfires Threaten … Do This First

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The horizon around me was choked with dark smoke.

We were literally surrounded by five separate wildfires. I needed stress management and fast!

One of the longest, most respected scientific studies has shown that there is a STRONG correlation between proper breathing, stress management, and a long life.

According to that study, the No. 1 indicator of life expectancy is…

…well, you’d probably be better off just watching the latest video chapter of Grow: All True Wealth Comes From the Ground.  In it, I explain all that, give detailed how-tos on various breathing techniques—and a whole lot more.

Watch the video for more on my story and how I overcame the stress of the situation. (Length: 21:22 minutes)

And, as I sat on the roof of my barn, I knew we were one wind shift away from having our property engulfed in flames.

We were ready to evacuate if the fires started coming our way. But until then, I focused on the one thing that could help me maintain a clear head, stay calm, and avoid stressing out…stress management!

I breathed. Deeply. In through my nose, filling my belly, then my chest, counting strategically, and then exhaling through my mouth.

Despite the circumstances, I could feel the increased oxygen jump-starting my brain. Whatever came next, I was ready.

Thankfully, that wind never shifted. The wildfires didn’t destroy our homestead. Our family and livestock were safe.

But I still remember that rooftop moment as a great (maybe extreme?!) example of a time when deep breathing helped me manage stress in a healthy way.

Proper breathing really can save your life.

  • What do you think? 
  • What’s your go-to in times of stress?
  • What are your favorite breathing tips?

Have you seen the other Grow Book videos?

I’m talking it out as I write it, and I’d love to get your feedback. You can see them here:

Grow Book Overview

Be Wealthy – Even If You’re Not Rich

Can You Be Healthy Eating From The Grocery Store?

What Toxins Are Hiding In Your Home?

Staying Healthy and Free—Even into Old Age!

How I Almost Lost My Leg!

I so appreciate you watching these videos and giving your feedback. So, please leave a comment below.

The post Stress Management: When Wildfires Threaten … Do This First appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Process a Coffee Plant From Tree To Delicious Cup

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A delicious cup of coffee is a luxury many of us can’t do without. This tropical beauty (the coffee plant) has us wrapped around her little finger from the first sip to the last drop. 

Now that I live in the tropics, I’ve jumped in with both feet to grow a coffee plant and process the beans. Today, I’ll show you how I do it. Now, we didn’t process our coffee plant the easy way. I deliberately didn’t look up all the labor-saving ways to process coffee, much to my wife Rachel’s chagrin. Instead, I decided to do it all by hand.

It started with harvesting the coffee cherries from the coffee plant we discovered in the cocoa orchard.

Watch the video. (Length: 8:47 min)

After that, there are four distinct phases to processing the beans from the coffee plant.

  1. Harvest the fruit from the coffee plant
  2. Remove the coffee beans from the fruit
  3. Ferment/clean the coffee beans
  4. Dry the coffee beans
  5. Remove the “parchment” layer from the dry beans
  6. Roast and grind the beans

I created a couple of videos showing the whole process. You can watch the two-part long version or the short version.

In Part One, we remove the coffee beans from the fruit and start the fermentation process. (Length: 18:29 min)

We did this all by hand, so it was a rather time-consuming process. Using your teeth is not necessarily recommended but works much better than any implement I’ve found, unless you do it the easy way and smash with a big board, like this (Length: 1:43 min):

In Part Two, we show the final process from drying to roasting. (Length: 17:39 min)

If you’re short on time, watch the short version. I demonstrate the whole process from coffee plant to cup in 2.5 minutes:

And, just because…I’m sure you have a cup of coffee close at hand. Have a little fun with the Hip-Hop version!

There’s really no excuse for the rap, but I guess you could call it “edutainment.”

Can’t handle the caffeine in coffee? Try some Dandelion Coffee.

A few years ago, I did a post sharing the entire process as a Hawaiian couple does it.

Sounds like fun and you get coffee?! That’s a win-win! So are you going to try to grow your own coffee plant? Tell us in the comments below.

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Straw Bale Gardening: How to Succeed

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It’s a lot easier to have soil problems than soil perfection. But whether you’re dealing with pH complications, drainage issues, rocky or cold soil, or perennial pest and disease concerns, Joel Karsten has a solution for you…Straw Bale Gardening!

As the culminating event of this year’s Home Grown Food Summit. Marjory interviewed Joel about the innovative straw bale gardening method he created more than 20 years ago.

If you have soil concerns, this method is worth considering. (Be aware, however, that there are some hidden dangers to keep in mind.)

The following article provides a summary of highlights from Marjory and Joel’s conversation.  

 

And If You Missed the Podcast, Click Here to Listen Now!

 

Straw Bale Gardening—What Is It and How Does It Work?

First, let’s talk about what straw bale gardening isn’t. You aren’t growing vegetables in straw. What you’re actually doing is growing them in very recently decomposed straw.

And it doesn’t have to be straw. It can be any tightly compressed organic matter. Use whatever you have available in your area: oat straw, wheat straw, barley straw, rice straw, hay, grass clippings, etc.    

Depending on how large and tightly compacted your bales are, you may be able to get a couple of growing seasons out of them.

But even when the bale has lost its shape and decomposed extensively, you can still take that same straw, put it in a large container, and compress it. If needed, add additional organic matter such as fresh grass clippings and leaves, and just make a new “bale” yourself.

The Soil-Making Process

Essentially, you are creating virgin soil within the interior of the bale—soil that is free from lingering disease or insect problems, and which provides the nutrient capacity the roots need to grow. To create this decomposition, you encourage the rapid reproduction of naturally occurring bacteria by “feeding” them nitrogen.

Now, depending on which kind of straw you’re using, you could be starting with as much as an 80:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. What you’re aiming for at the end of the conditioning process is a 20:1 ratio. So, you’ll need to add a significant amount of nitrogen. (This process is called “conditioning” the bale.)

You’ll spend several days conditioning the bale, although exactly how long it takes depends on what type of nitrogen you choose—traditional or organic.

Either way, you’ll want to start the conditioning process 20 days before your area’s average last frost date.

This will help ensure that the temperature outside isn’t so cold that it inhibits bacterial growth. (If, however, you get a cold snap during this time and the daytime temperature stays below 45°F one day, just pretend that day didn’t exist. Don’t treat your bales at all that day—no fertilizer, no water. Simply start the conditioning process up again the next day.)

Conditioning With Traditional Fertilizer

If you condition your bales using traditional fertilizer, such as lawn fertilizer, the process will take 12 days from start to finish. Choose a lawn fertilizer that has at least 20 percent nitrogen. (Nitrogen will be the first of the three numbers on the bag.) Make sure it’s not slow-release nitrogen.

Use 1/2 cup on days 1, 3, and 5 of this process. Simply spread it on top of the bale. (You’ll add water afterward, which will help push the fertilizer into the interior of the bale. More on this in a minute.)

Then, use 1/4 cup on days 7, 8, and 9. On the 10th day, add the phosphorous and potassium by applying one cup of 10/10/10 garden fertilizer to each bale.

By day 12, you’ll be ready to plant.

Conditioning With Organic Fertilizer

You’ll need 18 days to complete the conditioning process if you use organic fertilizers such as feather meal or bone meal, both of which have about 12 percent nitrogen. These fertilizers work because they are high in protein, and as it decomposes, protein becomes nitrogen.

(Some people even use urine, which has between 9 and 12 percent nitrogen, but keep in mind that you’ll need about 3-1/2 gallons of urine per bale per day!)

If you use an organic fertilizer, use 3 cups per bale on days 1, 3, and 5. Then, use 1 to 1-1/2 cups on days 7, 8, and 9.

On the 10th day, it’s time to add phosphorous and potassium. Do so by applying 1 cup of bone meal and 1 cup of wood ash to each bale.

You’ll be ready to plant in the bale by day 18.

Irrigating Your Bales

Whether you use organic or traditional fertilizers, you’ll need to water your bales every day—during both the conditioning process and the growing season.

Every day during the conditioning process, add one gallon of water to each bale. If you’re watering on a day when you also fertilize, add the fertilizer first, then top it with water to help push it into the bale.

It’s okay if the fertilizer doesn’t completely wash into the interior. The bacteria will actually come up to the surface of the bale to access the fertilizer when they need it.

Ideally, use water that has been warmed to air temperature so you’re not inhibiting the decomposers with frigid water straight from the spigot. Simply fill a bucket with water today, then use it tomorrow so the water has had a chance to warm up a bit.

Once the conditioning process is complete, you’ll still want to water your bales each day.

There are two options that Joel recommends:

  • The cheapest, easiest, and quickest method is to use a soaker hose. However, the UV light from the sun breaks them down fairly quickly, and you’ll end up having to replace the hoses eventually.
  • Once you know straw bale gardening is for you, he recommends upgrading to a drip system. It’s a little more expensive up front, but due to its adjustable nature, a drip irrigation system allows you to save money on water long-term since you are able to water each bale only as much as the plant needs. For example, your tomatoes are going to need more water than your potatoes. With a soaker hose, you have to water to your least common denominator—meaning your potatoes are going to get overwatered so that your tomatoes can get enough water. Drip irrigation solves that problem.  

straw bale gardening

The Benefits of Straw Bale Gardening

This unique gardening method offers many benefits:

  • The virgin soil within the bale has a very neutral pH, so depending on your water, your soil will be about a 6.8 to 7 on the pH scale. That’s an ideal range for most edibles.
  • Straw bales both drain and hold moisture exceptionally well. You can’t flood a straw bale garden. No matter how much you water it, it will only hold three to five gallons. The rest of the water will run right out the bottom of the bale.
  • Since you are creating virgin soil during the conditioning process, you don’t have to deal with perennial insect or disease problems.

What Grows in a Straw Bale Garden?

Most plants will thrive in a straw bale garden.

A few won’t.

Personally, Joel has had trouble growing onions and rosemary in his.

He also doesn’t recommend trying to grow sweet corn in straw bale gardens, because their height and big root structure make the process inefficient. (You’d only get about four good stalks of corn per bale!)

And perennials like asparagus and rhubarb aren’t ideal since the bale will break down before those plants really start to produce well.

How Many Plants Per Bale?

Space your plants in the bale as you would if you were planting them in the ground. You might even be able to space them a little bit tighter.

In a bale, though, what you’d usually plant in a row you’ll plant in a checkerboard pattern, instead.

You can also build a trellis above the bales to allow your larger or vining plants—such as green beans, tomatoes, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, and squash—to grow vertically instead of horizontally.

It’s a very productive method, and you end up with a lot less disease and a lot fewer insect problems.

Any Special Instructions for Planting Seeds?

If you’re going to plant tiny seeds, you’ll need to make a seed bed on top of the bale with some really clean compost or potting mix. Spread it into a half-inch layer and put your seeds in that. They’ll root right down into the bale.

If the seeds you’re using are big, such as peas and beans, you can use your finger to push them right into the bale.

What If My Bale Is Full of Mature Seeds When I Get It?

While you are conditioning a bale, its interior will reach approximately 140°F or 150°F. This heat is going to kill most of the seeds that may be present at first.

But it won’t reach the outside of the bale, so it’s still possible to end up with a “chia pet” growing out in your garden.

If you do, simply head outside with a sponge mop and a cake pan filled with vinegar and a squirt of liquid dish soap. Dunk your sponge mop in the liquid, and wipe down the outside of the bale.

When those sprouts first emerge, they have very limited energy reserves. The vinegar solution will knock them back. And, since they won’t have enough energy in the seed to regrow, you’ll only need to use the vinegar solution on them once.

What if There Are Latent Herbicides in the Bale?

It’s true that many fields are sprayed with broad-leaf herbicides, and that it can take some of these chemicals a pretty long time to break down naturally. It’s one of the reasons we are often cautioned against using straw or hay as mulch in our gardens. After all, most of our edibles are broad-leaf plants, too.

However, one of the great things about a straw bale garden is that it takes the guesswork out of whether or not your bales contain latent herbicide. The truth is that, if they do, your plants simply won’t grow.

If you’re concerned about it, though, Marjory recommends a simple test. (This test also works for manure.)

  • Grow a flat of legumes.
  • Mix the straw or hay with water in a five-gallon bucket and stir frequently for a day or two.
  • Then, use the water on the legumes.
  • Keep an eye on the legumes to see how they respond. If the second and third set of leaves look normal, the straw, hay, or manure is probably safe to use.

How Do I Keep Mice From Nesting in the Bales?

A properly conditioned straw bale really isn’t going to make an attractive home to rodents.

Since the straw itself has been harvested, it shouldn’t contain many oats or wheat seeds. That means it doesn’t provide much of a food source for rodents.

Also, during the conditioning process, the bale gets really hot inside and the interior starts to turn into a big, mushy pocket of soil. Neither of those conditions are attractive to mice or rats.

That said, there are a couple of things you can do to further discourage rodents from taking up residence in your straw bale garden:

  • First, make sure there aren’t any bird feeders nearby. Those really tend to attract rodents.
  • Second, make sure you’re watering your bale appropriately—on a daily basis, with the water fully saturating the bale.

 It’s always important to do your research when embarking on a new gardening adventure. But once you do, you may find that straw bale gardening is the solution you’ve been looking for—no matter where you live, what your soil is like … or whether you have soil at all!

Are you excited about Straw Bale Gardening, or have a burning question? Tell us in the comments below!

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35 Cheap Organic Fertilizers to Power UP Your Garden

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Home gardeners spend millions each year on fertilizer for their gardens and houseplants. WOW! While many scientists agree that chemical fertilizer is harming the environment, organic fertilizer is draining our wallets. The good news is that you can easily make your own fertilizers from organic waste material and other things that you have around the house.

3 Reasons You Need Organic Fertilizer

Your plants need organic fertilizer because:

  1. Most soil does not provide the essential nutrients that are required for the best plant growth and production.
  2. Even if you are super lucky to have rich loamy soil that all of us crave, as your plants grow they absorb those nutrients and leave the soil less fertile.
  3. All of those beautiful flowers, fruits, and veggies that you grew last year took the nutrients that were in the soil. This year, your garden needs another boost of nutrients for this year’s plants.

Why It’s Important To Know Your Soil

While it’s important to fertilize your plants and the soil, it’s also important to know what your soil needs. That’s where a soil test comes in. Get one from your local county extension office. When you send in your sample, you’ll get the report. It tells you what your soil has in abundance and what you really need to add for best plant growth.

Also, soils vary in their ability to hold nutrients and make them available to plants. Sandy soils do not hold nutrients well, clay soils do. However, clay soils do not like to give up the water they hold, so it is more difficult for plants to take up the nutrients that are available.

Which Do I Need A Soil Amendment Or Organic Fertilizer?

Soil amendments are mixed with soil to improve the physical properties or increase microbial action. It makes a plant’s roots happy and healthy. Amendments improve the soil’s water retention, permeability, drainage, air holding capacity, and structure.

Fertilizers are soil amendments that are applied to promote plant growth not change the soils characteristics.

The short answer is you need both. Okay, so what’s the difference? Soil Amendments are added to…well…the soil!  You can add them before, during, or after planting. However, the nutrients are not readily available for the plants to take up. Microorganisms in the soil need to break them down further so the plants can use the nutrients in the amendment. Fertilizers are pretty close to being available for the plants to get their nutrients pretty quickly. Think of soil amendments like eating your favorite veggie. The nutrients in that veggie aren’t readily available for your body to use right away. Your body has to digest it for the nutrients to be available for your body to use.

Organic vs. Inorganic Manufactured Fertilizer

Organic fertilizer comes from the remains of or are because of different types of organisms. Microorganisms found in the soil breakdown the organic material, making its nutrients readily available to the plants.

Inorganic fertilizers completely or partially contain man-made materials. Manufacturers combine these in different ways and amounts to get a super-growth fertilizer that may or may not be organic. Many inorganic fertilizers are manufactured using fossil fuels, too.

TIP: Over use of inorganic fertilizers or adding a fertilizer that your soil or plants don’t need can lead to a buildup of salts and other minerals in the soil causing damage to your plants. It can also be a waste of money. More is not better when it comes to any kind of fertilizer!

Organic Fertilizer

Organic fertilizer releases nutrients slowly and decreases the risk of over-fertilization. The slow release of nutrients also means they are available for a longer period of time. Many organic fertilizers improve your soil, by increasing your soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients. They will also help decrease erosion and hard, packed soil due to wind and rain. Organic fertilizer adds natural nutrients, feeds important microbes, and improves the soil structure.

On the downside, organic fertilizer is released slowly so your plants will be nutrient deficient until the decomposing process is completed, and some organic fertilizers contain lower percentages of the three key nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N-P-K). Timing is everything with any fertilizer. The best time is to add them when your soil is waiting to be planted.

TIP: There are fast-acting organic fertilizers, too. Bat guano, fish meal, and worm casting all have nutrients readily available for plants.

 

You’ve probably already read about
15 of the best fertilizers here.

Here are 35 more great fertilizers to consider:

  1. Worm castings
 – Worm castings are soil superfood! They provide nitrogen and make soil absorbent. A huge number of beneficial microbes and bacteria are introduced to the soil, too.
  2. Beer
 – The jury is out on this one. Many tests have shown that beer doesn’t add anything, but some people swear by it. Beer is a simple sugar and plants need complex sugars. Scientifically speaking, it probably doesn’t work. However, it does work to get rid of slugs and is a great cool down on a hot gardening day! Also, if you brew your own beer or live near a microbrewery, you might want to use “Beer Mash” (the grains leftover from making beer). It’s a great soil amendment.
  3. Ammonia
 – Ammonia naturally occurs in the soil. There are microbes in the soil that pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil in the form of ammonia. The amount is what is important here. Use 1 or 2 ounces per gallon of water mixed with molasses. Microbes love this stuff. If you’re uncomfortable using man-made ammonia, you can always slide down the list and use urine instead.
  4. Liquid Dish Soap
 – This is another one that is up for debate. There are a lot of studies that show that dish detergent (made with a lot of chemicals) is harmful to plants. However, there are some organic dish soaps that will help your “supertonic” to penetrate the soil. You only need a couple of drops in 32 oz. of water to get the job done. Remember, more is not better!
  5. Dog and Cat Food
 – Make sure that it is an organic pet food. Sprinkle the dry pet food on the bed or container. Turn the soil or water it in. It provides protein to feed the fungi and bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, plus other minerals. To discourage vertebrae pests, be sure to cover this fertilizer with cardboard.
  6. Tea
 – Tea and tea bags are excellent for your garden. As the bag and tea decompose, they release nitrogen. First, make sure your tea bag is compostable. You don’t want the ones made of polypropylene. If the bag is slippery, don’t use it in the garden. Tea also makes a great brew for acid-loving plants like azaleas and blueberries. Tea also helps deter some root maggots.
  7. Bone Meal
 – Alright so this is a stretch for just having some lying around the house. However, bone meal is a really good source of phosphorus and protein. It is coarsely ground animal bones and waste products. Make sure you need phosphorus in your soil before adding it. A soil test is your best friend in the garden. However, if you want to make your own bone meal, here’s what you do: 1. Collect bones by storing them in the freezer. 2. Clean them by making a bone broth. 3. Once they are clean, sterilize them. Place them on a baking sheet under the broiler for 10-15 minutes. 4. Dry the bones by placing the cooking sheet on the counter for about three to four weeks. They need to be completely dry. 5. Crush them into a fine powder with a food processor. If you use a mortar and pestle, be sure to wear a mask over your nose and mouth. 6. It is now ready to use.
  8. Antacid Tablets
 – If your soil is low in calcium, this should be a go-to. It helps prevent blossom end rot in your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Push one tablet into the soil by the plant’s roots. Voila! Instant calcium boost.
  9. Coconut Coir
 – Coconut coir has become the replacement for the non-renewable Peat Moss. This soil amendment adds air and space to assist with water retention and nutrient uptake. It makes a great seedling starter!
  10. Humanure – (To prevent pathogens and disease, only use for fruit and nut tree, not vegetables)
 Okay, I hear you with your “Ewww’s,” but hear me out. This organic material is a valuable resource rich in soil nutrients. In the U.S., each of us wastes more than a thousand pounds of humanure each year. Composting is key! It takes a year to fully compost human feces and breakdown the pathogens. For more information, check out The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.
  11. Newspaper
 – Makes a great mulch and soil amendment. The added bonus is that the soil-based ink kills diseases in the soil. It can be shredded or laid in a thick layer on your beds. It is best to wet the newspaper before applying.
  12. Comfrey
 – This deep-rooted herb was once a traditional remedy to help heal broken bones. Its vast root system acts as an accumulator by extracting a wide range of nutrients from deep in your soil. These nutrients naturally accumulate in its fast-growing leaves. Cut 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.27 kg) of leaves from each plant. It is super-rich in nitrogen and potassium. Some research has shown that comfrey leaves have 2 to 3 times more potassium than farmyard manures!
  13. Urine
 – Yes, you read that right! Human urine is an excellent source of nitrogen. It is great to add to compost tea or your compost pile as an activator. Pathogens, disease, and toxins are quickly killed within 24 hours of leaving your body. Dilute the urine with water in a ratio 1::2 and water your plants.
  14. Citrus rinds – 
Stir those rinds right into the soil. As they break down, they’ll release sulfur, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and more nutrients. You can also dry the peels and grind them into a fine powder that can be added to the soil.
  15. Kelp meal or seaweed
 – Kelp contains small amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, but it’s very high in trace elements, too. Typically, you’ll mix this liquid fertilizer with water. Use it as a foliar spray or pour it onto the soil around plants.
  16. Granite dust – 
Granite is made of volcanic rock. It is filled with more than 60 different elements, including potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Trace elements in granite make the soil nutrient dense. Be sure to read the label!
  17. Green manures
 – This is a favorite! Green manures are a fall cover crop that is grown on beds or pastures before or after crops or flowers to add nutrients back into the soil as they grow. They get turned under after their season. Some green manures include clovers, vetch, rye, and mustards.
  18. White Vinegar
 – There is a lot of chatter on the Internet about white vinegar changing the pH level of your soil. Tests have shown that it may have a temporary effect, but it is nearly impossible to change the pH of your soil, except over the very long-term. However, feed your container plants with a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar in 8 ounces of water. Bring the mix to a slow boil until the sugar dissolves. Then, let it cool and feed those hungry plants.
  19. Grass clippings and Weeds – These are an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium for your fertilizer teas. Put the clippings in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Cover and let marinate for 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll have a lovely batch of “green” fertilizer tea.
  20. Mushrooms
 – The part of the mushroom that you see is actually the fruiting body. In the soil is where the real magic happens. Fungi are part of the soil web that helps bring nutrients to your plants.
  21. Borax
 – Some plants of the Brassica Family, like broccoli and cauliflower need boron (found in borax). Be sure to do a soil test to see if your soil needs boron. If it does, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon over 100 linear feet.
  22. Bat guano
 – Whether fresh or dry, bat poo adds a heavy dose of nitrogen to the soil. It acts fast and has very little odor. It also helps enrich the soil and help with drainage and texture. Add it directly to the soil or make a bat guano tea!
  23. Rabbit droppings
 – Bunny poo has a high concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other trace minerals. It can be added directly into the soil or added to your compost pile. Bunny Poo Tea can be made using a 5-gallon bucket, a shovel full of rabbit pellets, add water, and let steep for two days. Water the soil when it’s ready!
  24. Chicken feathers – Feathers from your backyard chickens add nitrogen to your compost pile, and eventually, the garden. First, put them into your compost pile to let them decompose.
  25. Shellfish – 
Lobster, shrimp, and crab shells provide nutrients, including phosphorus. However, the bacteria that breaks them down is even more important! Simmer the shells for 20 to 30 minutes in boiling water. Drain well. Put them in a food dehydrator or oven until dry. Crush the shells with a mortar and pestle. Add to your compost pile or directly into the soil.
  26. Baking Soda – 
In order to sweeten tomatoes and discourage pests, lightly sprinkle baking soda on the soil.
  27. Compost
 – Compost is a great soil amendment and provides nutrients and micro-organisms to your soil. The microorganisms make the nutrients available for the plants to take up. However, some research is showing that compost teas are ineffective. Basically, it is watering down the nutrients in the compost, and doesn’t make it any more available to the plants to take up. Click here to read more about boosting your compost pile.
  28. Alfalfa
 – Alfalfa is commonly used as part of livestock feed. However, alfalfa meal is simply ground up so that it breaks down faster. This particular fertilizer has low amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. As a result, alfalfa meal works fairly slow. The best use for this fertilizer is as a soil amendment in the early spring prior to planting crops.
  29. Nettles
 – The stinging hairs of the nettle plant may deter you from using this bad boy, but if you can stand it, put your harvest into a 5-gallon bucket, and cover them with water. In 3 to 4 weeks, you’ll have wonderful plant food for your garden.
  30. Hydrogen Peroxide
 – Your plants’ roots will thank you for a little extra oxygen. Mix 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with 2 cups of water. Water your plant’s roots with the solution.
  31. Pine needles or Straw
 – Adding pine needles supplies nitrogen to your soil. It also adds bulk that will bring in the beneficial microbes to help break them down.
  32. Blood Meal
 – Add crucial nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen to the soil by using blood meal to promote healthy plant growth. Want to make your own blood meal? You can! Gather the blood. If you’re a woman, use your menstrual blood by collecting it in a menstrual cup. You can gather it from your meals, or from butchering some of your animals, too. Either way, pour the blood onto a baking sheet. Put it into a 375° oven. Keep it in the oven until all the blood is completely dry, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Scrape the dried blood off the baking sheet and into a container. Use a mortar and pestle to ground the blood into a fine powder.
  33. Fish Emulsion
 – Fish emulsion fertilizer is high in nitrogen but pretty stinky! It is also very acidic and should be used lightly to avoid burning plants. Nonetheless, fish emulsion acts immediately once it is applied, which makes it a good treatment for leafy greens that are suffering from low nitrogen levels. Be sure to experiment. Some plants may not tolerate it very well. There is a recipe below!
  34. Ground oyster shells
 – You may or may not have access to oyster shells, but they are a slow-release fertilizer to keep your garden healthy. Crush them into small pieces and bury them in the garden. The calcium carbonate in the shells will make the soil alkaline. Again, make sure you know your soil before adding this amendment.
  35. Nut Shells – 
Pop the nut in your mouth and toss the shell into the garden. It’s a win-win! Nut shells add bulk, which will allow water and nutrients to get to the plant roots. Microbes will be super-happy with your discarded shells.

Five More Easy Homemade Fertilizers

Comfrey Tea

What you’ll need:

  • Brick to hold the comfrey leaves down
  • Big bucket or plastic trash can with a lid
  1. Submerge your leaves for 3 to 5 weeks in a bucket or trash can of water. It depends on the warmth of  your climate.
  2. Mix the comfrey solution with more water to dilute (so it doesn’t damage or burn the root systems of plants), a 1::3 (water) ratio should work.
  3. Store in a cool dark place.

WARNING: Comfrey Tea stinks like crazy, but is OH-so good for your plants!

 

 

For Acid Loving Plants

Mix 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in one gallon of water. Hand water your acid loving plants.

Seed Starter Organic Fertilizer

What you’ll need:

  • 1 drop of organic liquid dish soap
  • 2 drops of ammonia
  • 1 tablespoon of worm castings
  1. Place the above into a one quart misting bottle.
  2. Fill with water.
  3. Shake it gently and mist the surface of the seed container every day until you start to see little sprouts.

Homemade Fish Emulsion

Don’t buy fish emulsion. You can make it with this recipe! Click here to get the homemade recipe.

 

 Apartment (or Condo) Container Garden Smoothie Fertilizer

What you’ll need:

  • Compost bucket
  • Blender
  • Kitchen scraps
    • Egg shells
    • Vegetable scraps
    • Banana peel broken into small pieces
    • Old coffee grounds
    • Used bulk herbs from herbal teas
    • Spent fruit (non-moldy)
    • Stale sea-vegetables
  1. Place all scraps in blender.
  2. Fill blender halfway with water. Don’t add too much water because there is already liquid in your kitchen scraps. (You don’t want your blender to explode compost all over the kitchen!)
  3. Place lid on blender.  Start on a low setting and puree until everything is combined and becomes a liquid.
  4. Feed it to your container soil.

Other Options:

  • Pour it on top of the soil, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then, water it in or turn the soil.
  • Water it in as soon as you put it on the container’s soil.
  • If you already have plants in place, pour the mixture into large bucket and fill with water.  Then pour the water-liquid over soil.

There are a lot of different types of fertilizers for you to try. However, use what you have locally or in your home to save you some money. If you are in the Midwest, there is no point in ordering Oyster Shells. Use what you have! Whether you are a Hobby Farmer or a Container Gardener, here are your first steps in a nutshell (pun intended!)

  1. Start your compost pile. Regardless of what your soil test tells you, a compost pile will be an invaluable source of nutrients that will feed your soil’s microbes and your plants.
  2. Get a soil test to know and understand what your soil needs. More than likely your county extension office will have soil testing kits.
  3. Understand what your plants need at different times of the season. Are they growing, flowering, or needing to add roots? Fertilize at the right time with the right organic fertilizer!
  4. Make up a batch of fertilizer that is just right for your garden. Experiment. Learn. Have fun!
  5. Remember that gardening is an adventure. Try different things and make note of the results. Some things may work better for you than others. You be the judge!

 

What’s your favorite organic fertilizer and how do you use it in your garden? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your gardening adventures!

Keep growing!

 

 

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The post 35 Cheap Organic Fertilizers to Power UP Your Garden appeared first on The Grow Network.

Back to Eden Chicken Run Composting: Easy and Productive!

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Paul Gautschi of Back to Eden fame has a method of composting where he throws food scraps and garden waste into his chicken run and lets the birds eat and till and manure it down. Then he takes a wheelbarrow and sifter out and harvests the rich compost/soil in his chicken run and throws it on his gardens.

I have done the same for the last few years and find it works wonderfully.

You can see how I’m using this Back to Eden garden method to make plenty of the good stuff in this video:

It’s really simple and doesn’t take much thought. I’ll share how I do it, then you can tweak in your own gardens however you like.

Back to Eden Chicken Run Composting

The basic idea: throw everything out in the chicken run (or inside the coop, if it has a dirt floor like ours does) and let the chickens turn it into compost.

If you have free-range birds without a dirt-floor chicken coop, this method is a non-starter. I have found that letting birds totally free range is often more trouble than it’s worth, as I’ve lost many birds to predators, plus finding where they lay the eggs is a total pain.

Ideally you can balance “outside time” with safety, as keeping birds locked up in a coop all the time is sad… but finding eviscerated corpses of birds dragged behind the barn is also sad.

Currently we keep our setting hens locked up in the coop for the safety of their eggs. Mothers with young chicks are also kept inside. The other birds are free to wander during the day, but if they start sleeping in the trees and not coming back to the coop, we lock them up for a few days to reset them.

But… back to chicken run composting.

Here’s step 1:

Throw Compostable Items to the Birds!

Yard “waste”, weeds, kitchen scraps, picnic remains… if it’s organic and will break down in a reasonable amount of time, throw it to your hens.

Back To Eden Chicken Run Compost

When you prune trees you can take the entire pruned branches and toss them into the chicken run. When all the leaves fall off, pull the branches out again and throw them into a hugelkultur mound, turn them into biochar, or use them for rocket stove fuel.

The leaves will be turned into compost by your birds, and then you can use that compost in your garden.

This mother hen and her chick started tearing into the leaves and garden “waste” as soon as I dropped it in the coop:

Back To Eden Chicken Composting

Chickens want to work for you if you give them a chance.

Make a Compost Sifter and Start Sifting

I used to have a proper compost sifter made from pressure treated wood with hardware cloth nailed on it. Now I just use a bent piece of hardware cloth. Redneck, but it works.

Back To Eden Chicken Compost Sifting

Throw the dirt and compost from the floor of your coop or chicken run onto the hardware cloth and sift it through. This keeps the rocks and big pieces of junk out of your garden, though if you were going to use this chicken run compost for fruit trees you could just shovel it into a wheelbarrow and skip the sifting.

I love handling dirt so I enjoy sifting.

Back To Eden Chicken Compost Paul Gautschi Sifting

You can see various twigs and debris left behind by the birds. Eventually everything woody will break down, so I don’t take the little twigs out of the run – I just leave them to be turned and manured by the chickens until they’re compost.

Wrapping It All Up

The compost I harvested from the chicken coop in today’s video was the remains of a thick layer of leaves and grass we raked up during a yard clean-up day. The inside of the coop was mostly 6″ deep in it and you can see how thin the layer is now.

I harvested a total of two five-gallon buckets of compost from the coop when all was said and done.

Back To Eden Chicken Compost Handful

Five gallons of compost was spread across my garden beds and the remaining five gallons I set aside to make potting soil.

The Back to Eden garden method, in its whole, works best when you have access to lots of cheap or free wood chips. I do not, so, like most of my gardening, I borrow the pieces that work for me and throw out the pieces that don’t.

Heck, I can’t even follow a recipe in the kitchen without changing it, let alone do so in my garden.

I love the Back to Eden chicken run compost method… it’s amazingly easy and creates rich compost in only a couple of months, and it’s one of the methods I share in my book Compost Everything. I like it so much that I’m going out this afternoon to load up the bottom of my chicken run with a bunch of fresh organic matter.

The chickens enjoy it and I don’t have to spend any time measuring C/N ratios or turning a pile. Win, win, win!

Finally – I posted a video on my site of Paul Gautschi using this method a few years back. You can see that post here.

The post Back to Eden Chicken Run Composting: Easy and Productive! appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Build a Super Simple Compost Pile from Local Materials

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Here’s a simple compost pile design:

Unlike many of my composting experiments, this is a traditional compost pile of alternating layers of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials. The boundary is made from cut limbs hammered into the ground and woven about with palm fronds.

I also added homemade biochar to this compost pile to get it “charged” for future projects.

The C/N ratio in this pile should be about perfect with the greens and browns but if it doesn’t get hot enough I can always pour on some diluted urine to raise the nitrogen levels.

This simple compost pile can be set up anywhere in about an hour using local materials. I’ve done this in a cornfield before, cutting and chopping old stalks for the base, then adding on layers of greens and browns. Come back a few months later and harvest your compost!

Here’s a breakdown on the whole process.

How to Build a Simple Compost Pile with Local Materials

Step 1: Cut Stakes

I used sticks cut from some unidentified roadside nitrogen-fixing tree locals use as a windbreak.

Simple_compost_pile_stakes

It’s a soft wood and easy to chop, but you can use anything you like from bamboo to oak to PVC. 4-5′ lengths are good, as you want the pile to reach at least 3′ tall and you need some stake depth to drive into the ground.

 

Step 2: Install Stakes and Put Down Rough Material

I had already cut up some rough material and thrown it down before putting in the stakes, but it’s better to put in the stakes first.

Simple ompost pile Step_1

Cornstalks, hedge trimmings and other rough materials filled with air pockets make a good compost pile foundation. In the case of this pile, I used chopped twigs and leaves from the nitrogen-fixing trees used for the stakes, some jasmine and hibiscus trimmings and a papaya tree.

Step 3: Weave the Sides

I can’t make a good basket, but I’m not bad at simple compost pile weaving.

Simple compost pile weaving the edges

The idea is to hold in the compost while still allowing some air through into the pile. This also supports the stakes. In a temperate climate you could replace the palm fronds with grape vines, tall grasses, cattails or other plant material.

Step 4: Add some Browns

Gotta get that carbon!

Simple_compost_pile_adding_brown_layer_to_compost

As I state in the video, these leaves have a lot of dirt in them. That soil contains microbes which will help break everything down, so I didn’t bother adding a few shovelfuls of soil as I normally would when making a compost pile.

Step 5: Add some Greens (and Keep Layering!)

Get that nitrogen in there!

Simple_compost_pile_adding_green_layer_to_compost

Grass clippings are a really good compost pile starter – if you have them, use them.

Just keep laying greens and browns until you’ve made the pile nice and tall. You can also throw in biochar if you have it.

Simple_compost_pile_adding_biochar_to_compost

It won’t really help the composting process, but my hope is that it will be charged up with nutrients, bacteria and fungi as the pile rots.

Step 6: Water Well

This is important: composting uses a lot of water, so get some on at the beginning. If most of your materials are dry, you might want to water each layer as you build the pile. I was too lazy to do that so I soaked it from the top before finishing the final covering layer.

Simple_compost_pile_water_the_pile

Step 7: Cover the Pile

Covering the pile holds in heat and moisture. Sticking with my locally available materials, I used banana leaves.

Simple_compost_pile_cover_the_pile

You can also use a tarp or just another layer of brown leaves. Compost really isn’t a finicky thing to make – it’s will work, even if you don’t do anything “right.”

It’s going to decay and become humus over time, hot or not, perfect ratios or not.

In a few months you can turn this pile over and sift out the good stuff – or just push it around over the garden bed beneath and get planting.

Get out there and get composting – a simple compost pile is all you need.

The post How to Build a Super Simple Compost Pile from Local Materials appeared first on The Grow Network.

An Incredible New Garden Website For Gardeners, By Gardeners!

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A new garden website?!! I don’t think we’ve ever been more excited to release an article than we are today! Today is the official launch of a new garden website, created with one purpose – to celebrate gardeners and gardens

The post An Incredible New Garden Website For Gardeners, By Gardeners! appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.

Our New Three Sisters Garden. Hugelkultur.

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This season we are trying a slightly new garden method, just to see if it works. This will be our three sisters garden, corn, beans & squash. This method of making a garden bed is known as Hugelkultur .

I will be making a video of this later when the crops are up, but right now this is as far as I have got. I dug a trench first & filled it with garden refuge, cut grass & weeds, heavier tree trimmings on top of that, some old garden edging logs that we have replaced, then the soil on top. I did add some chook manure before adding the soil to help break down the refuse.
When I started mounding the earth, I soon realised that I was not going to have enough soil to cover the highest logs. I did not want to bring more soil from elsewhere or use our compost that we needed for our other garden beds, so I removed two of the top logs.

The two pumpkins are volunteers from last year.

‘Miracle-Working’ Companion Plants That Will Make Your Vegetables Flourish

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'Miracle-Working' Companion Plants That Will Make Your Vegetables Flourish

Image source: Pixabay.com

Are you thinking of planting a garden this year that includes more than just vegetables? Are you wanting to learn new ways to use less pesticides, less room, but gain more produce? One way to accomplish all of this is to plant companion plants around your vegetables. Let’s take a look.

Companion gardening is when you include different species of plants that benefit each other when grown together in your vegetable garden. They can be planted and grown side by side and have many uses. Companion plants are a way to maximize garden area, attract beneficial insects and wildlife, or simply repel pests.

Companion planting does very well in smaller spaces and is a very organic way to introduce variety to the soil. Companion planting eliminates any monoculture that many traditional gardens create. In other words, the plants do the work for you.

Need Non-GMO Heirloom Seeds For Your Spring Garden? The Best Deals Are Right Here!

If you want to add some variety to your garden, and some color, considering trying a few of the companion plants below.

1. Lovage. This tall plant is good to use as a wind-breaker or shade-provider. Vegetable plants tend to increase in flavor and health when planted near lovage. It does well by potatoes, root vegetables and peppers. Lovage can be used as a border plant or in patches.

2. Marigolds. These beautifully bright flowers repel aphids, beetles, potato bugs, squash bugs and nematodes. You can plant marigolds (make sure they have a scent) around any garden vegetable, with a huge list including: tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, melons and kale.

'Miracle-Working' Companion Plants That Will Make Your Vegetables Flourish

Image source: Pixabay.com

3. Okra. Okra offers protection from wind and can also create partial shade during the summer. It works as a border plant when needed. Okra increases the oil in nearby herbs. Okra also offers some protection from aphids. For most benefits, plant okra beside cucumbers, peppers, melons and eggplant.

4. Buckwheat. Plant buckwheat around Brussels sprouts, broccoli and peppers. Buckwheat attracts bees and other pollinators. Once the season is over, Buckwheat is good to crunch up and use as mulch. It also works well as a lovely cover crop.

5. Geraniums. Besides adding color and variety to the vegetable garden, geraniums work to repel pests like spider mites, Japanese beetles and cabbage worms. Geraniums tend to do well near peppers, corn, cabbage, tomatoes and even grape vines. Geraniums last all summer long.

6. Marjoram. This is a low-growing herb. It doesn’t compete for space and is said to improve the flavor of vegetables around it. Marjoram, itself, is full of flavor and is wonderful when it is used in cooking.

7. Nasturtium. Great for repelling aphids, whiteflies, beetles and squash bugs, nasturtium is also beautiful and edible. Yes, that’s right, an edible flower that is sure to impress in summer salads! You can plant them around peppers, tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, cabbage and fruit.

Companion Planting Tips

Avoid planting dill with carrots and tomatoes, and avoid putting beans near garlic, onions or chives. Fennel is a little fussy. It needs to be on its own, and away from other vegetables.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

Keep track of maturation rates. To keep weeds at bay, plant your vegetables and companion plants so there is continuous blooming. As one plant fades, another will be ready to take over.

It is best to plant taller companion plants by vegetables that enjoy a bit of shade. This way, the companion plants can block the sun for part of the day. Put the vegetables that love sun at the south end of the garden and tall plants at the north end, as this will help let each plant get the sunlight it needs. Herbs often make great companion plants, too, so you can mix them through the garden (remember: no dill near carrots). Chives, onions and garlic are great repellers, too (just don’t put them near beans). Marigolds (especially French) should be planted all over the garden to be the most beneficial to repel pests and attract any beneficial critters.

Here’s another question to keep in mind: Are you planting for insect control, weed control, increased nutrition for the plants, for plant protection or simply because of space? For weed control, any low-growing plants will help. If you are trying to repel insects, remember that most plants with strong smells will do a great job. Marigolds do well for this.

So, take a little time and check out your potential companion plants. By planning your garden with such a variety, you can be sure to have a healthy harvest this year.

What companion plants would you add to the list? Share your advice in the section below:

Every Spring, Gardeners Make This Avoidable Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

How Much Food Can You Grow on 1/4 Acre?

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An Organic Mini-Farm on a Small Suburban Lot

How much food can you grow on a 1/4 acre lot? Not much, right… Maybe a small garden in the back yard… Think again!

A group of roommates in Austin decided to stretch their small suburban lot as far as they could. And you won’t believe how much food they’re producing…

In addition to replacing the lawn with garden beds, they worked in a couple of greenhouses with aquaponic systems, and a huge composting operation. They didn’t neglect the visual appeal of the yard, either. They worked in some evergreens and perennial landscaping to keep the yard looking nice for the neighbors. As you’ll see, they actually won their neighborhood association’s Yard of the Month award in 2014.

My favorite part of the video is when Michael says, “Our way of dealing with the squash vine borer… is to just replant.” That’s great! We hear so much about this particular pest and I’ve seen some pretty intricate attempts to control it. Some people insist on bringing in fresh soil. Others build physical barriers to keep the moths out. Still others inject Bt insecticide into their squash stems using hypodermic needles. Or, you could “just replant.” I love it when there’s a simple, natural solution for a complicated problem.

Micro-Farming as a Side Income

It looks like these folks are eating very well, and they’re generating a big surplus. They’re selling some of the produce they grow in a mini-CSA arrangement. And they sell their aquaponic herbs and greens directly to local restaurants.

This group had to be pretty resourceful to come up with the funds to bring this whole plan together. Between crowd-funding, grants, and partnerships with other local organizations, they were able to find all of the money they needed.

No doubt, some neighborhoods would not be as supportive as this one has been. In some places, you might attract some unwanted attention by building a farm in your front yard. But even if you have to keep your garden in the back yard, these guys might lend you a little inspiration about just how much food you can grow on a small plot of land.

You can learn more about Ten Acre Organics and co-founders Lloyd Minick and Michael Hanan here: Ten Acre Organics.

 

How to Use Squash Pits for Bigger Garden Yields

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What is a Squash Pit?

If you’ve already read David the Good’s book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, then you might already be familiar with his ideas about “melon pit composting.” In this video, Marjory adapts his idea to create a rich planting bed for squash this spring.

You can learn more about this simple method for increasing your veggie production, and lots of other cool, innovative ideas from David the Good, during the upcoming Home Grown Food Summit. During the summit, David is presenting his new “feature film” Extreme Composting – The Movie.

If you’re already a member of the [Grow] Network, then you’re already signed up for the event! So keep an eye on our newsletter each Tuesday and Friday for upcoming announcements. If you don’t receive our newsletters, you can sign up for the Home Grown Food Summit here: Register Now

 

7 Must Grow Veggie Plants For 2016

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We are just a few weeks away from starting our seeds indoors for this year’s garden – and as always – it’s time to share our top seven must grow veggie plants for the garden! Our garden is used not only for

The post 7 Must Grow Veggie Plants For 2016 appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.

Growing Cole Crops – Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and More

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Everything You Need to Know About Growing Cole Crops (or Brassicas)

We’ve had good luck with Brassicas this year, for the most part. At this time of year they’re one of the few things we can harvest. This is especially true in my garden this year. We’re just getting back into the swing of things after taking a few months off. So, every little thing we can harvest is much appreciated right now.

We haven’t put much effort into any of the Brassicas. We sprayed Bt once (a couple of ounces in a handheld spray bottle), applied a little fertilizer, and applied seaweed twice when the temperature got very low.

And we covered/uncovered the plants a few times. The recommended time window for transplanting Brassicas in our region just opened, but we got an early start. Which meant we had to cover the plants with floating row cover a few times on very cold nights. No big deal.

We’re glad we started early because broccoli, cauliflower, and kale have been finding their way to the table – and a few cabbages are close behind. We stagger the planting dates for Brassicas for a slow but steady harvest, so we’ve started a few rounds already, and we’ll do one or two more plantings before it gets too hot and the harlequin bugs arrive to wipe them out.

Strong Seedlings – Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage

We had taken a few months off from actively gardening, while we focused on a more important project. During the downtime, I made some changes to the beds and pathways, and revitalized the soil with compost tea and some other goodies.

Then, as soon as we finished planting in the fall, our little garden got hit with a torrential downpour and most of the direct-seeded seedlings were drowned. I was out of town but my wife described it to me over the phone like this, “There’s a waterfall in the garden! Oh no, there are many waterfalls in the garden!”

Calendula, lettuce, spinach, and beets all disappeared. But the Brassicas hung in there and they ended up doing just fine. Plants really win me over when they overcome adversity and/or neglect and then go on to flourish – especially when they feed my family. I love tough plants!

fresh-broccoli-growing-in-the-garden

Fresh Broccoli Growing in the Garden

Easy Gardening with Cole Crops

While I was reading through some information about Brassicas, I came across this helpful PDF from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service at Texas A&M:

Read and/or Download the Original PDF File here: Easy Gardening – Cole Crops

This document contains some good information about all the basics you need to know for growing Brassicas. And it’s oriented toward the home grower. Some of you may be thinking, “It’s crazy to be talking about cabbage right now – there’s snow on the ground.”

Of course, the varieties mentioned, the planting dates recommended, and some of the pests mentioned are all very region-specific. You should seek out planting dates and recommended varieties from your local extension service.

A Fresh Market Grower’s Guide to Growing Cole Crops

This guide is from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. This document is oriented to the market grower, rather than the small-scale home gardener.

Read and/or Download the Original PDF File here: Growing Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, and Other Cole Crops in Wisconsin – A Guide for Fresh-Market Growers

Now, here we’re on the other end of the spectrum in terms of planting dates. Just as it would be crazy to transplant broccoli in Wisconsin on February 1st, it would also be crazy to transplant broccoli in Texas on June 1st. Talk to your local extension service about planting dates – or use historical average temperatures for your area to make an educated guess.

This publication is definitely oriented towards a larger growing operation – it’s meant for farms instead of gardens. But there’s some great information here about growing conditions, and some in-depth information about pests and diseases. And there’s an extensive “Additional Reading” list at the end.

Controlling Pest and Disease in Brassicas (or Cole Crops)

When it comes to dealing with pests and diseases, you have to “pick your poison,” so to speak. According to the Texas A&M publication, for example, you can deal with aphids by using pyrethrins – or garlic juice. In the Wisconsin publication you can deal with black rot by using calcium hypochlorite – or hot water.

Generally, try to choose the mildest solution you can find, unless your situation calls for something more drastic. In a small garden, you can probably control an aphid infestation with nothing more than a pressurized stream of water. Do some searching and you’ll likely find good solutions that are natural and sustainable.

And finally, when you’ve got pests or disease, your best course of action is usually to contact your local extension office. The specific pests and diseases you’re likely to have are much different depending on where you live. And the solutions that worked for someone in another area might not work well in your area. Your local extension service should be able to point you in the right direction – and then if you don’t like their recommendations, you can research more natural options on your own.

There is one thing that every source I checked agrees on – definitely use crop rotation when growing Brassicas. Brassicas are heavy feeders, and many of their pests and diseases are soil-borne. So rotate your Brassicas around the garden, and try not to use the same planting space again for several years.


Many thanks to Joseph Masabni, Assistant Professor and Extension Horticulturist; and Patrick Lillard, Extension Assistant, The Texas A&M System of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Many thanks to K.A. Delahaut, Horticulture Outreach Specialist for the Integrated Pest Management Program and A.C. Newenhouse, Horticulture Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.

 

Spring gardens!

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Spring gardens!
Brett Bauma “Makers On Acres

Spring gardensOn the next episode of the Makers On Acres Tech, Build and Grow show we are going to be discussing preparing for our spring gardens!

On the last episode I talked about indoor gardening, but now is also the time we need to be focusing on and planning our spring gardens and getting ready to produce some food!

1-30-2016 3483926142_fec5aa45f5_bWhat can we really do in February to prepare our gardens? We can be doing a lot of little things that will help set us up for success when we hit the garden hard in the spring. Many times we sit through the winter planning in our heads “The Great Garden” for this year, and when the time comes we get overwhelmed and under produce with poor results.

1-30-16 5268691633_6e90cfcf11_bI will be discussing a few projects that we can all do to get ready and have our plan in effect for a productive and abundant garden this spring. Don’t waste the precious down time. Before tuning into the upcoming show I suggest that you listen to the archive episode from Saturday the 23rd of January about indoor gardening, as some of that show will be helpful when I start referencing seed starting and plant propagation for our spring gardens.

I will also be discussing some building projects and other labor tasks that we can knock out now to make our garden start that much simpler this spring! Be sure to tune in and spread the word!
Makers On Acres:Website: http://makersonacres.com/
Join us for Makers On Acres “LIVE SHOW” every Saturday 9:00/Et 8:00Ct 6:00/Pt Go To Listen and Chat

Listen to this broadcast or download “Spring gardens” in player below!

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(Video) Everything You Need to Know about Saving Bean Seeds

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bean-plants-and-flowersThis video contains an abbreviated version of Seed Savers Exchange’s webinar on saving bean seeds. The video touches on lots of good information about growing, harvesting, and saving beans to replant the following season. The advice here is good for any legume, including common beans, peas, lima beans, cowpeas, fava beans, runner beans, and soybeans.

If you’ve ever had questions about when to take your beans, how to separate the beans from the pods, or how to store saved seeds – there’s some good information here to help you along.

I loved the example of a trellis shown in this clip, which is just a group of sticks tied together with twine. I’ve seen a million different attempts at trellises, but I often feel like the simplest trellises are the best looking and the most functional. This trellis is a great example.


Thanks to Seed Savers Exchange for the great video. You can learn more here: Seed Savers Exchange.

 

(Video) Seed Saving Advice for Beginners

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ayocote-de-camote-seeds-close-upHere’s a nice video from Seed Savers Exchange about things you should consider when you’re interested to begin saving seeds. The video includes short interviews with many key players from SSE and their Heritage Farm, including co-founder Diane Ott Whealy.

There is lots of sound advice here, including to choose seeds that you are passionate about, i.e. something you love to eat!

My favorite piece of advice comes from Shanyn Siegel. She says, simply, “start small.” Don’t overwhelm yourself by biting off more than you can chew. Pick one thing that you like to eat, learn to save those seeds well, and then move on from there.


Thanks to Seed Savers Exchange for the great video. You can learn more here: The Seed Garden.

 

The Secret to a Long and Happy Life is in the Garden

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Dan Buettner wanted to find the secret of longevity. He traveled the world over, meeting and interviewing the world’s centenarians (people over 100) to learn the secret from those who could speak from experience. But when he pressed them for an answer most of them could not really say. One of them said with a shrug, “We just forget to die.” Too busy living to worry about dying.

These centenarians never thought of retiring. For some of them it was literally never a thought that crossed their mind. They didn’t even have a word for retirement. They were still herding sheep, milking goats, or tending their gardens. They all ate lots of vegetables, and most of them grew their own.

In the U.S., we have a fascination with youth and a fear of aging. These feelings are are not shared in some other cultures. Of a village in Sardinia, Italy, Buettner says, “On tavern walls, instead of posters of bikinied women or fast cars, you’d see calendars featuring the ‘Centenarian of the month.’”

Buettner says, “None of the 253 spry centenarians I’ve met went on a diet, joined a gym or took supplements.”

How is it that these people are still dancing when most people their age have returned to dust? Buettner put together a team to help him collect the data and facts as well as engage in personal visits so they could actually get to know these amazing people and translate what they learned into information that we can all use to keep us dancing right up to the moment the music stops.

Dan Buettner’s Recommendations for Longevity

After working on this project for seven years, Buettner boiled it down to the following recommendations:

1. Make exercise a part of your lifestyle rather than just doing exercise for its own sake.
2. Stop eating when you feel 80% full, because the feeling of fullness is delayed by 20 minutes.
3. Eat mainly plants.
4. Drink a little red wine daily — with moderation of course.
5. Have a goal in life — a reason to get up in the morning.
6. Slow down and have strategies for relieving stress.
7. Be part of a spiritual community.
8. Make your family members top priority.
9. Choose friends who encourage these positive values.

You can read the whole story in his book, The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

I am pleased to note that most, if not all, of these recommendations can be answered in the garden. We have healthy exercise, plenty of fresh vegetables, a reason to get up in the morning, and a place to forget stress for sure. Some things in the list might be answered indirectly – like growing red grapes to make wine, and having gatherings and family picnics in the garden.

Let’s take a closer look at the different recommendations and how you can fulfill them in your own garden:

Recommendation #1 – Exercise
Working in the garden is certainly exercise, but your choice of tools will make a big difference in how effective and enjoyable it is.

I have lately discovered the Meadow Creature broadfork. It’s an excellent tool for breaking up new ground and loosening the subsoil to make it retain more water. It’s perfect for exercise because you keep your back straight and use both arms and legs equally. You just step on the cross bar, sinking the tines into the ground, then lean back to cut through the soil. It loosens soil without turning it over. If the ground is very hard, keep it shallow on the first pass and then repeat until you get the tines all the way in — 12 to 16 inches, depending on which model you use. I feel such a sense of well-being after working with my broadfork that I wonder if I might be getting the grounding benefit called “earthing.” Even though I’m wearing shoes, my hands are on the metal handles and the tines are deep in the ground. Anybody out there have any ideas about that?

My broadfork obeys me perfectly, so it’s safe to use up close to plants, as long as I pay attention to what I’m doing. Not so with a rototiller, which I think has a mind of its own, and a cantankerous one at that. The broadfork is also quiet, undemanding, and maintenance free. Another favorite garden tool is the garden claw which also lets you keep your back straight while working. It has six tines in a square position at the bottom. You push down and twist. No more back-breaking work with these two tools.

Recommendation #2 – The 80% Rule — Stop Eating Before You Reach Full Capacity
Well, I’m afraid this one isn’t easier if you garden. It might actually be harder to stop eating, because your food all tastes so good. But then, you aren’t consuming empty calories, so I wouldn’t worry as much about this one. Just eat slowly, and stop before you’re full.

Recommendation #3 – Eat Mainly Plants
No problem! If you garden at home, there are plenty of fresh vegetables for the picking. And if you plan your garden well, you can keep the fresh harvest coming almost all year long in many areas.

Recommendation #4 – Drink a Little Red Wine
Most of us rely on the grocery store or another retailer to supply us with red wine. But if you’re an adventurous gardener, you could consider planting a grapevine along the edge of your garden. This would provide you fresh grapes to work with, and it might even provide some additional exercise if you crush the grapes traditionally – with your feet. However you get your red wine – always drink it in moderation.

Recommendation #5 – Have a Reason to Get Up in the Morning
There’s no place like the garden in the early morning. What an inspiring place to be! Avid gardeners are heavily invested in their gardens, and so they always have a reason to climb out of bed and go out to the garden to survey their progress, preen their plants, and plan for upcoming projects.

It’s true that a garden can become very unsightly and discouraging if bugs and weeds take over. So, always keep the size of your garden small enough to maintain it in good condition, and continue adding new seeds and plants so that you have constant, vigorous growth. Yes, let some of your plants go to seed for flowers and nectar for the good guys (pollinators and insect predators), but keep planting new things, too, so that the garden stays beautiful all season long.

Gardens can also be very expensive, especially if you opt to purchase soil, fertilizers, and pest sprays. One way to keep costs under control is to learn the principles of permaculture. Permaculture seeks to mimic nature and always tries to minimize external inputs (like store-bought soil). The word “permaculture” (combining “permanent” and “culture”) and the basic principles behind it have been around since the 1970s, but some of the concepts are quite ancient.

a-guild-of-lettuce-radishes-and-beetsOne of the ideas in permaculture is to create groupings of plants that aid and protect one another. These plant groupings are referred to as guilds. And emphasis is placed on using plants that attract pollinators and other “good guy” insect predators. The “three sisters” is a great example of a guild, invented by Native Americans. They planted corn, beans, and squash near each other. The corn stalks act as a trellis for the beans. The bean plants fix nitrogen in the soil. And the squash plant acts as a mulch, shading the ground and keeping the soil moist.

When you plant large groups of the same thing, you make it easy for the nibbling insects that eat in your garden. Instead of having to forage for food, they get to shop at the supermarket. If we take a cue from nature, and plant a variety of different plants together, we have a better chance to outsmart those pests.

a-guild-of-lettuce-beets-and-radishesI have not tried the “three sisters” yet, but I have learned that beets, radishes, and lettuce work well together. You do need to give a little extra attention to the beets, to make sure the other plants don’t overwhelm them. Here the radish has shaded the lettuce, and some bugs have eaten the radish leaves instead of eating the lettuce. This worked out great for me, since I wasn’t planning to eat the radish leaves anyway.

One experiment I did was to stop spraying for insects because spraying kills the good guys, too. This summer, when I was watering and something jumped out of the foliage, it was often a small frog or toad rather than a grasshopper or cricket. You don’t eliminate all the pests, and believe it or not, you don’t want to. If all of the pests disappear, there won’t be any food left for the good guys, and they will disappear too. I must confess, though, that the cabbage caterpillar was just too much and I had to resort to using Dipel. I don’t mind so much when insects stop by for a snack, but when they move right in to stay and leave garbage behind, I just can’t help myself.

open-pollinated-grape-tomatoesThis year I was excited to have an “open pollinated grape tomato” (that’s the only name I have) come up prolifically. I did nothing for them except grow them last year. This year I didn’t plant, water, fertilize, or spray for disease or bugs. I didn’t even pull weeds or keep the tomatoes picked. The plants came up through the weeds and grass, grew up over the top of the the weeds or climbed on anything available, without being tied. Other tomatoes had a hard time this year – it was too wet, then too dry, and the bugs were bad. But there was no problem at all for those little grape tomatoes. I could pick what I wanted, whenever I wanted, all summer long. And they kept right on growing until the first frost. They are bite-sized with superb flavor, perfect for salads and snacking. I would love to hear if anyone else has a favorite garden plant that takes care of itself like this. The picture here was taken in November, so the tomatoes had slowed down quite a bit. But you can see how they still held their own above the weeds and grass.

Recommendation #6 – Slow Down and De-Stress
Gardening is a great stress-reliever for gardeners of all ages. For many of us, the garden is a place we go to unwind and bond with nature. If you have a garden in your yard, you always have a place nearby to regroup and collect your thoughts when life gets difficult and stressful.

If you’re already feeling tranquil, just go out and smell the flowers. Want to punch somebody? Attack the weeds instead. This works better than a punching bag, you will love the results, and there are no regrets!

Walking barefoot on bare earth or grass also helps to reduce stress. We actually do run on electricity, and we benefit greatly from grounding. This is called “earthing.”

Recommendation #7 – Be Part of a Spiritual Community
Recommendation #8 – Make Family Members a Priority
Recommendation #9 – Choose Friends Who Encourage These Positive Values

Some people get a strong spiritual reward from gardening, and for others it’s all about the food. Some families garden together, while some gardeners have families that prefer to stay indoors. Some people garden alone, while others are active in local gardening clubs and community gardens.

What’s important here is to acknowledge that people need people. So, you might need to consider leaving your garden for these last three.

Community gardens are a great way that you can use your love of gardening to connect with others. Even if you already have your own garden at home, adopting a plot in a community garden will put you in touch with other like-minded people in your area. Local gardening groups and clubs are another great way to connect with others who share your love of gardening.

If your family and friends aren’t interested in gardening with you, leave your garden and meet them on their ground. You can always bring some of the wonderful flowers and food from your garden along, to share with your closest loved ones.

Gardening Your Way to a Long, Happy Life

I think the time has come to consider returning to some of the forgotten ways of our ancestors, which were just as effective, and often more efficient, than the way we do things now. Permaculture can be an exhaustive subject, but there are many new books available that translate the concepts into use for the home garden. This opens many vistas for continued learning and keeps our minds alert. Some of my favorite authors on the subject are Anna Hess, Toby Hemenway, and Christopher Shein.

Growing your own food gives you such a sense of satisfaction when you walk through the grocery store. The food there is bland and it lacks nutrition, but you notice the prices going up and up. Instead of wringing your hands and wondering how long you’ll be able to feed your family, you can feel wealthy – knowing that the most delicious, most nutritious food is already at home.

Go to your garden for health and long life. There you will find your medicines and your supplements. And these don’t need to be kept out of the reach of children. Instead of harmful side effects, they have wonderful, live-giving benefits.

sunflowers-in-bloomThe garden provides more than just fresh produce. There is an energy exchange — a symbiotic relationship between people and plants. It’s obvious when you think of the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, but there is so much more. We were meant to be in a garden. The beautiful sights, the pleasant fragrances, and the songs of birds have a calming, healing influence on us. We take care of the garden, and it takes care of us.

Life began in a garden and it still flourishes there. The bible tells us that even Jesus sought solace in the garden. He went there to commune with His Father, and to gain strength for His supreme hour of testing.

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than any place else on earth.

– Dorothy Frances Gurney

 

Alternative Strategies for a Disrupted Water Supply

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rainwater-collection-tanks-and-solar-panels-for-well-pumpMost all of us have gotten up one morning or another, turned on the faucet, and gotten a big, fat nothing coming out. It is annoying, but not usually a big deal because the water comes back on at some point, generally sooner rather than later. During times of extreme heat or extreme cold, many of us have had a nearby water main break, leaving us without water for eight hours or longer. But what if one day the water supply is interrupted for days, weeks, or even months? How would most of us manage without a steady supply of running water?

Everyone should keep enough bottled water on hand to meet drinking water needs for each person in their household if an emergency arises. But how much is enough? The minimum recommendations say that we should store at least one gallon of water per person and to keep a three day supply on hand at all times. If the climate is hot, water needs may be double that recommendation. This is just water for drinking – not for washing, flushing the toilet, watering the garden, or any livestock we may have.

Those folks who provide their own food by gardening intensively and raising livestock not only need to supply water for their families, they also need to plan on how to keep their plants and animals watered in the event of a disaster that disrupts the water supply for an extended amount of time. During the first day or two without running water, water can be found in places such as toilet tanks, water heaters, and swimming pools. But once these supplies are depleted, locating water will be an ongoing effort. In my area, if we are not in a drought, there may be a few places nearby where I can go to get water. But I cannot depend on those sources being available if and when I need them. And if these water sources are available, I certainly won’t be the only person needing the water who will be using them. I really do not want to have to fight another person to get water for myself and my household. I would much rather employ other means to get the water we will require.

Unless we plan ahead and get prepared beforehand, having enough water to take care of gardens and livestock in a lengthy water emergency is going to be very, very difficult. In some locations, it might actually be impossible.

With this in mind, here are some ideas you can get started on right away so that you will be prepared if problems do arise. And if the problem never happens, you will be using less water, conserving both resources and funds. The older my husband and I get, the more we have come to appreciate lowering our expenses as one of our tactics to live comfortably after retirement – and some of these ideas can help you lower your expenses too.

A Well with a Solar Powered Pump

Many folks living in rural areas are on well water, which is great because it is usually a reliable source of water – unless there is no electricity to operate the pump. In my research, I discovered that there are solar-powered well pumps which have been in use for around thirty years. Apparently, the availability of solar pumps is not common knowledge, even among people who have wells. I had a conversation with a well owner who told me that her family has a generator to run their well in case of a power outage. She was not aware that solar pumps even existed. If you are on a well, you may want to look into a solar powered pump now so that you have a measure of comfort in being able to access your water during an electric or water emergency. Owners of wells with solar pumps will be in a much better position than the rest of the population in a grid down situation because they will be able to provide water for their families, gardens, and animals. You may want to explore the option of digging a well and outfitting it with a solar pump as your first line of defense against a water emergency. This is the most costly option of all the strategies I found, but it’s also the option that offers the most reliable supply of water.

If you don’t have a well, then I recommend using the following four strategies listed below, either separately or together, to ensure that your plants and animals make it through a water interruption with the least amount of stress for them and you.

Simple Strategies to Keep the Water Flowing When Supply is Disrupted

An ancient way of collecting water is to construct a condensation trap. In ancient times, people dug a pit into which they placed some type of receptacle to catch water. They used branches angled down towards the receptacle to direct the dew and frost that gathered on the branches overnight into the catchment container. With the advent of plastic sheeting, we can now use plastic instead of branches for this purpose, which has the advantage of not allowing water to be misdirected as can happen with branches. This method of collecting water might help water some animals or a small garden but unless you have quite a few condensation traps set up, you are not going to get enough water. Detailed instructions for creating condensation traps are widely available on the internet.

Rainwater collection is something everyone can do, whether they have a nice set up with gutters feeding into a storage tank or not. If you don’t have tanks or a rain barrel, you can collect water in various receptacles such as clean trash cans with lids or a swimming pool with a cover. Keeping the collected water in a covered container prevents mosquitoes from using your water as a breeding ground, and prevents evaporation of your precious water supply. If you don’t have gutters on your home, you can still make use of channels in your roof that divert water into a stream off the rooftop and arrange containers underneath that area to catch the rainwater. My roofer added two diverters that direct water quite nicely off the front of my roof, which makes it possible to catch the water in large basins and buckets during a rainfall.

In addition to collecting rainwater in whatever way you are able to catch it, you may also wish to consider creating swales to catch and keep rainwater in your garden. Swales are water-harvesting ditches, but unlike drainage ditches that cut across the contour of the land to speed water along, swales are built “on contour” to slow water down and sink it into the earth. Swales built on contour collect water and help to recharge groundwater tables, and they help to control erosion as well. You don’t need any special equipment to build a swale – all you need is a shovel, a pick, some stakes, and some muscle. There are many instructional videos on the internet that demonstrate how to layout and dig swales. Large swales have become very popular in many communities to direct and retain the flow of water. In a water emergency, neighborhood swales might be a place where you could obtain water for your garden and animals. Of course, this is something that you would need to build ahead of time, before the water supply is actually disrupted.

And finally, learning the principles of dryland farming will help every gardener use the least amount of water necessary and keep the moisture in the soil longer, which means less water will be needed. Using the least amount of water possible is very useful in a watering emergency. Tim Miller of Millberg Farms in Kyle, Texas is well-known in central Texas for his dryland farming. An article on Texas Young Farmers website shares many of Tim’s techniques, such as mulching heavily and making liberal use of rotting wood chips in his garden beds, along with rainwater collection. Another component of dryland farming is making use of drought-resistant, region-specific crops so that your garden or farm needs less water.

The good news is that there is a lot that we can do to survive a lengthy water supply disruption. The bad news is that advance preparations are pretty much required to take advantage of these techniques. There really is not a way to just “wing it” when it comes to keeping animals and gardens watered during a water outage. Getting prepared doesn’t necessarily mean a huge cash outlay but it will require planning, time, and effort to dig swales, set up condensation traps, catch rainwater, and create a drought-resistant dryland garden. In the area of the country where I live, we are in an El Nino, which means more rain. I would be foolish not to collect this rain while it is plentiful. If that is all I do to prepare, it will be a huge help in surviving a water interruption. If I do all this preparation and do not need it, I certainly will not regret it. My water bill will be reduced at the very least and at the most, my family and I will be able to sustain ourselves if the worst occurs.


Sources:

• Making a Condensation Trap – http://www.ehow.com/how_11367791_make-condensation-trap.html
• Water Wells – http://www.totallyhomeimprovement.com/exterior/installing-home-water-well
• Solar Powered Well Pumps – http://www.ruralpowersystems.com/blog/10-reasons-to-install-a-solar-powered-well-pump-system-today/
• Texas Young Farmers/Tim Miller Dryland Farming – http://www.texasyoungfarmers.org/tim-miller-teaches-dry-gardening-all-around-excellence/
• Dryland Farming – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dry+farming

 

10 Reasons to Garden NOW!

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small vegetable garden design, garden, garden ideasSomeone commented on one of my videos the other day that she was “a city girl” who didn’t know what she was doing in the garden… and that she was probably just going to give up.

I urged her to keep going. Now is a terrible time to quit gardening!

With the way the world is going, this is the time to garden like you’ve never gardened before. Here are just a few reasons.

1. GMOs
Do you really want to be part of a big science experiment, eating gene-spliced foods without knowing if they’re safe or not? Me either! Grow your own food with heirloom seeds and step away from the lab.

2. Economics
The economy is rotten and is likely to get worse. Runaway immigration, shaky banks, rising food costs, global unrest… all these have an impact on wages, investments and savings. Fortunately, a garden can save you some serious money.

3. Eating Local
Why count on food coming in from 1,000 miles away? Eating locally is a big deal right now – and you can’t get any more local than your own yard. Put in a garden and cut out the shipping!

4. Fresh is Better
There have been studies showing a significant loss of nutrition in vegetables and fruit that have sat around before consumption. It often takes days for food to reach your plate. Grow your own garden and you can reap the maximum nutritional benefits.

5. Gardening is Healthy
Think about it: you’re working outside in the sunshine and fresh air, interacting with nature and getting your hands into the good earth. That beats sitting indoors in front of the television — plus it won’t turn your brain into oatmeal.

6. Homegrown Food Tastes Better
Seriously: store tomato vs. homegrown tomato. Is there any comparison?

7. Time May Be Short
History is punctuated with periods of prosperity followed by periods of strife, disease, war and famine. We’ve had things good for a long time now and there are clouds on the horizon. Knowing how to grow your own food makes sense against the backdrop of an uncertain future.

8. Avoiding Toxins
The level of pesticides sprayed on our crops is a horrifying thing — and the herbicide levels are also ridiculous. Do you want to eat food — or poison? If you’re eating typical commercially grown crops, you’re getting both. Grow your own food and you’ll know exactly what’s gone into your dinner.

9. Gardening is Great for Families
My children all eat their vegetables and enjoy them. I believe this is in large part because they’ve helped grow them! We’ve spent many weekend afternoons together working outside, pulling sweet potatoes, planting seeds, weeding rows and enjoying each other’s company. Gardening is good family time and it builds real-world knowledge.

10. Gardening Beats Worry
If you’re concerned about the future, get planting. There’s nothing like seeing rows of potatoes, cabbages and beans in the ground to make you feel a little better about tomorrow. If it’s too cold to garden, gather leaves and build compost or go through seed catalogs with your sweetheart. If you’ve never gardened much and you’re counting on your tinned Apocalypse-Brand Seed Bank, you’re on shaky ground. Most folks can’t grow a lettuce without killing it! Learn now and you can quit worrying about the future.

Finally, my publisher just released my latest gardening book and I’m thrilled to see its popularity thus far. If you’re not sure where to start with your gardening plans, this book is for you.

It’s called Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening. Check it out:

david-goodmans-grow-or-die-book-cover

In this book, I cover crop varieties, off-grid irrigation, tilling without gasoline, and a lot more. You’ll dig it. It’s only available in the Kindle version right now but a paperback will be coming soon. At $2.99, it’s really cheap insurance against an uncertain future and will give you all you need to start gardening before your life depends on it.

Bonus: it’s also funny.

Now get out there and start gardening like your life depends on it… because one day it may.

 

A Cheap and Easy Way to Extend Your Growing Season

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Want to eat fresh home grown greens all winter long? This video shows a cheap and easy method for extending your growing season into the winter months.

This simple structure is a low tunnel. Low tunnels are called by different names in different regions. I’ve heard them referred to as a hoop houses, cloches, and cold frames. Those terms get the point across, but each each of them technically refers to something else. So for the sake of clarity, we’ll call this a low tunnel.

Components of a Low Tunnel

The structure is a simple series of hoops. I’ve seen people use PVC pipe, PVC electrical conduit, steel rebar, cattle panel, and flexible fiberglass rods (like tent poles). In my opinion, the best option is PVC – unless you have one of the other materials on hand already. A 10 foot length of 1/2 inch schedule 40 PVC pipe typically sells for under $1.50 – so it’s affordable. PVC electrical conduit is about the same cost, and it should last longer out in the elements.

My favorite method for securing the posts is driving a piece of rebar into the ground and fitting the PVC over the rebar, as is demonstrated in this video. (It’s comical to think that you could drive rebar 2 feet into the ground in my area – solid rock down there – we use pieces that are about 1 foot long, and we can usually get them about 8 inches deep.) I have also seen many people use pipe straps, screwed into the sides of their raised beds. I think the rebar method is better – especially if your beds are a few years old and the wood has started to break down. And, the rebar method can be done on any bed or row, even if there is no frame.

The final element is the cover, and this is where I’ve heard a lot of debate about which material is best…

Plastic versus Cloth as a Low Tunnel Cover

There are two common options: plastic or cloth.

Plastic sheeting allows light in to the plants, but it doesn’t allow for any air circulation or water penetration. Water may not be an issue if you’re protecting a bed that has drip irrigation installed. But because there is no air circulation – plastic is prone to overheating the tunnel on sunny winter days. If you use plastic, you need to remove or ventilate the tunnel appropriately to avoid smothering your plants with hot, humid air.

Cloth is a better option for air circulation, and water penetration. Floating row cover is a cloth material made of woven synthetic fibers that allows hot air out and allows water in – while providing insulation and light penetration similar to that of plastic film. In my relatively warm and dry climate, cloth row covers work very well for low tunnels. Be careful about using old sheets and blankets in wet weather – those can absorb water and they can actually cool the air as that water evaporates.

A couple of tips and pointers:

Climate: Take your climate into consideration when choosing the material you use to cover the tunnel. Where I live, I need to take advantage of every drop of rain that I get – so I use cloth instead of plastic. If you have abundant winter rains and you need to regulate the soil moisture – plastic might be a better option for you.
Integrity: If your low tunnel is very long, or if your garden gets a lot of wind in the winter – consider using an additional length of pipe across the top, length-wise, for structural integrity. Fix it to the hoops using twine or zip-ties – not pipe fittings.
Staples: In the video above, they staple the plastic to the raised bed frame. I would skip that step, and use rocks or bricks to weigh the plastic down instead. You’ll extend the life of the cover and make it easier to ventilate on warm days by avoiding the staples.
Lights: You can use a string of Christmas lights inside the tunnel for added warmth. If you do this, you will want to use the old school incandescent lights. The newer LEDs are more efficient, but they don’t offer much warmth. In this case, you want less efficient bulbs that use more energy, and generate more heat.
Survival Blankets: You can add a survival blanket on top of your cover for extra insulation on very cold nights. Face the shiny, aluminized side down – and remove the blanket to let the sun warm the soil again on the following day.

Check out this PDF from the Colorado Master Gardener Program and the Colorado State University Extension. They tested a low tunnel with 4-mil plastic sheeting, a survival blanket, and a 25 light string of C-7 Christmas lights. With all three of these measures in place, they consistently raised the temperature inside the tunnel between 18 to 30 degrees. You can read or download the PDF here: Frost Protection and Extending the Growing Season.

To see some more creative ways to add heat inside a structure during the winter, read these two great articles from our writing contest. This one is technical: Mad Scientist Works For Greenhouse Heating Independence Down To -25F, and this one is practical: Saving Heat in a Small Winter Hoop House.

If you want to eat fresh home grown greens this winter, but you don’t want to build a structure… Here’s a much smaller scale solution that you can put into place right on your kitchen counter: Grow Sprouts and Microgreens Indoors All Winter Long.


Thanks to Natalie Donnelly, John Garlisch, and Nissa Patterson of the New Mexico State University – Bernalillo County Extension Service, for the nice video.

Thanks to David Whiting, Carol O’Meara, and Carl Wilson of the Colorado State University Extension for the PDF Frost Protection and Extending the Growing Season. Their original post can be viewed here: CMG GardenNotes.

 

Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

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Over the last decade, I’ve helped convert multiple liabilities into assets that grant returns on a level stock brokers would envy.

The liability: a typical lawn.

The asset: a high-yielding food forest.

Why is a lawn a “liability?”

It’s something you pour labor, water, fertilizer, and gas into (hopefully not literally, though burning fire ant hills with gasoline is entertaining… must… resist…) in order to keep neat… and in return, it gives you nothing but inedible grass. And sometimes chinch bugs.

An asset pays you for your investment.

For example, what’s the return on a mature pear tree? Perhaps 100—200lbs of fruit per year?

What is a pear worth — maybe a dollar or so?

$100 – $200 worth of fruit… every year… is a great yield for a tree that originally cost about $25 at a nursery!

If that tree takes up about 400 square feet of your property, that’s a nice yield on the space.

What would 400 square feet of grass pay you over the course of a year?

Nothing. In fact, at $10 per mow, you’re probably paying a kid over $250 just to maintain it.

When you go further than just planting one tree, and instead plant a big edible forest ecosystem filled with fruits, nuts, roots, and greens – you can turn a non-productive space into a veritable food factory.

I did that with my front lawn. Here’s a “before” picture:

front-yard-food-forest-after

And here’s an “after” photo of the same space:

front-yard-food-forest-after

In that piece of abundant jungle there are mulberries, plums, chestnuts, oranges, persimmons, arrowroot, cassava, black cherry, loquats, figs, pecans, nectarines, peaches, perennial basil, Mexican tree spinach, wildflowers, sweet potatoes, jujubes, African yams, and more butterflies and bees than you can count… plus many more plant and insect species that would take too long to catalog.

It took me five years to build that food forest — and that’s only 1/3 of the complete system (and I have a lot of annual gardens out back).

Unlike a traditional orchard, a food forest is easier to tend and has excellent yields due to its diversity of species. The bad bugs get eaten by the good ones and diseases won’t spread like they do in traditional systems. And you can basically prune with a string trimmer and a machete.

I don’t miss my mower, I can tell you that.

And I love picking fresh figs, tangerines, herbs and lots more from the front yard. There’s always something new in every season.

That said — my home and food forest are up for sale right now (click here to see lots of pictures and my listing page) because I’ve got another opportunity to do it again in another climate and I can’t turn it down. You can also see what I’ve built here in Central Florida in this recent tour video:

Creating a food forest seems like a huge task the first time you do it, but over time it gets easier and easier. You start to see the patterns behind the trees and their interactions. You know when they’re going to be happy and when they won’t be. And you learn what works and what doesn’t. As the trees grow and sink their roots into the soil, they become less and less demanding on your time as well… and they feed you like a king!

My challenge to you is this: pick one little piece of your lawn and transform it into a long-term investment. Plant 1-3 fruit trees and surround them with some edible shrubs, some flowers, and a few perennial vegetables. Mulch the area and keep it watered as needed for the first few years.

The productivity and beauty of that little island should cure you of your grass addiction. I fell in love a decade ago and will never go back.

The cost of food isn’t likely to go down as The Great Depression 2.0 rolls on… and gas isn’t getting cheaper… and the stock market is primed for a crash… and you can probably name a half-dozen more reasons why growing your own food makes sense.

Turn your liabilities into assets by turning your lawn into a food forest — and reap the sweet rewards!

 

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

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prickly-pear-cactus-opuntiaDrought. A chilling term for a period of less than average rainfall, usually accompanied by times of hot, dry, and often windy conditions. It is enough to drive any gardener stark raving mad. That is, of course, unless you have knowledge of some simple drought gardening techniques.

In the first installment of this series, I covered what steps you can take in your current garden to help make your normal plants more able to tolerate a drought. We also looked at a few simple tips and suggestions for your garden, and a selection of good varieties of common garden favorites for the drought-tolerant garden. In this installment, we will look at some rather unusual edibles for your drought-resistant garden.

Edible Cacti

The first group of genuinely drought-tolerant plants we will focus on are very good desert plants that grow and thrive in the 115 degree temperatures of the great American southwest. Many plant species, such as those in the family Cactaceae (better known as the cactus or cacti family), have developed adaptations like reduced leaf area and waxy cuticles to enhance their ability to tolerate drought. An interesting note about cacti is that the needles of the cactus are actually specialized leaves, and the green is the stem. In cacti the green stem, and not the leaves, is where photosynthesis takes place.

Almost all cacti are edible or have edible bits and pieces, though some taste good while others are downright nasty! I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona, and my early twenties in the far southern parts of Arizona near the town of Nogales, on the Mexican border. I learned to really love the beauty, hardiness, and ease of the cacti I found growing all around me. One thing I learned was that cactus, like many other plants, go by a ton of different names depending on where you are in the world. This is often confusing when trying to find the exact species you wish to plant. One cactus of which I am very fond is called the ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ but is also known by at least 14 other names such as Deer-Horn Cactus, Night-Blooming Cereus, Sweet Potato Cactus, and so forth. This is the case with many plants, but when you are looking at cacti with the thought of eating it, you better use the scientific name or you might get one that looks like the right thing but has a taste that makes you ill! ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ if you have the correct variety, has the tastiest fruit around, almost strawberry-like in its flavor and texture. But if you end up with the wrong variety of ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ the fruit you get will taste like…

… Well the only way I can describe the horrid taste of other varieties is to say that it would taste much like what you would think a child’s dirty diaper would taste. That is a vast difference in taste! So, in what follows I will use the scientific names so that when you go to find these you will get the exact cactus you have read about! Fair Warning: Lots of Latin scientific names below!

prickly-pear-fruit-at-marketThe most well know edible cactus is the Opuntia, or the prickly pear. Many Opuntia species of varying sizes produce edible fruits, many more than just the popular Opuntia stenocereus. In fact, the truth is that all cactus fruit is edible, but not all are as palatable as the stenocereus. Some are truly delicious, while others are tasteless, dry, or otherwise not very pleasing to eat. Even the tasty ones require some careful work before you can eat them – they have to be de-spined!

One of the more commonly planted large cacti in Florida and California is Cereus repandus, which produces large red edible fruit. Several species of Hylocereus are also very popular – these likely originated in southeast Asia and China, where they have become extremely popular with the indigenous populations. These cacti, though, are very cold-sensitive and can only be grown well in USDA zone 10, in USDA zone 9 with some extra effort, and in USDA zone 8 if you really, really work at it or during severe drought with hotter- and dryer-than-normal conditions. Some very large cacti that produce edible fruit include the Saguaro, or Carnegia gigantea, as well as the Cardon, or Pachycereus pringlei. Two other species of Pachycereus also produce tasty edible fruit – P. schottii (commonly known as Senita), and P. weberi (commonly known as Candelabro).

Getting a headache from all of this Latin yet? Me too, but let’s go on!

I know from personal experience that the fruits of Pachycereus schottii are very tasty; this species is very large. Most literature does not say how large the Pachycereus species must be before flowering, but the Saguaros usually have to be quite large and rather old as well, about 10-12 feet tall and some 30 years old before they will flower, and remember until they flower they will not fruit!

The Arizona queen of the night, Peniocereus greggii (mentioned above), and some other species of such as Peniocereus johnstonii and Pachycereus serpentinus, are also producers of truly tasty edible fruit. Smaller related cacti of the genus Echinocereus are famous for their fruit too, a number of species being known as “strawberry cactus” because of their strawberry (and sometimes almost raspberry) flavored red or green fruit. The most notable of these are Echinocereus engelmannii, E. bonkerae, E. boyce-thompsonii, E. enneacanthus, E. cincerascens, E. stramineus, E. dasyacanthus, E. fendleri, and E. fasciculatus; as well as some lesser-known species like Echinocereus brandegeei, E. ledingii, and E. nicholii. Echinocereus engelmannii’s flavor has been described as “strawberry and vanilla.”

Wow! That’s a load of Latin! Ready for just a little bit more? Here we go…

Among the smaller cacti, a number of species of Mammillaria produce edible fruits known as “chilitos” (they look like tiny red chili peppers) and the species include Mammillaria applanata, M. meiacantha, M. macdougalii, M. lasiacantha, M. grahamii, M. oliviae, M. mainiae, M. microcarpa, M. thornberi, and many others. Also recommended is a related genus, Epithelantha, of which the fruit of all species are said to be edible, tasty, and quite like those of the Mammillaria. Two more cacti with similar fruit are the Coryphantha robbinsorum and Coryphantha recurvata.

A commonly found cactus in many garden centers is Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which grows quite large; it produces edible berries known as “garambulos” which are said to be quite tasty, rather like less-acidic cranberries. Another genus of large cacti is Stenocereus, almost all species of which produce fruits good enough to eat. They include Stenocereus fricii (“Pitayo de aguas”), S. griseus (“Pitayo de Mayo”), S. gummosus (“Pitahaya agria”, said to be quite sweet but prone to fermentation, hence the “agria,” or “sour”), S. pruinosus (“Pitayo de Octubre”), S. montanus (“Pitaya colorada”), S. queretaroensis (“Pitaya de Queretaro”), S. standleyi (“Pita Marismena”), S. stellatus (“Xoconostle”), S. thurberi “Organ Pipe Cactus” or “Pitayo Dulce”), and S. treleasi (“Tunillo”). The genus Harrisia of Florida and the Caribbean also produces edible fruits known as “Prickly Apples”, the endangered endemic Florida species Harrisia aboriginum, H. simpsonii, H. adscendens, H. fragrans, and H. eriophora standing out, although the fruits of all the Harrisia species are edible, including the Argentinian Harrisia balsanae.

What happened there? Now I’m overloaded with both Latin and Spanish!

Some of the barrel cacti such as Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Ferocactus histrix (“borrachitos”), and Ferocactus latispinus (“pochas”) also produce edible fruits and edible flower buds. Many species of South American Corryocactus (also known as Erdisia) produce tasty berry-like fruits, including Corryocactus brevistylis, Corryocactus pulquiensis, and Corryocactus erectus. The large South American complex of Echiopsis/Trichocereus includes a few species with edible fruit also, such as Echinocereus atacamensis (or Trichocereus atacamensis), Echinocereus/Trichocereus coquimbana and Echinocereus/Trichocereus schickendanzii. Epiphyllum, known as the “orchid cactus,” has one such species, Echinocereus anguliger (also called Phyllocactus darrahii), the fruits said to be much like gooseberries. Also like gooseberries are the fruits of the fairly well-known Pereskia aculeata – hence its common name “Barbados gooseberry.” Another Pereskia (which are primitive cacti, and in fact are leaf-bearing trees or shrubs), Pereskia guamacho, also produces edible fruits.

There are no doubt many, many others as well, and if I have missed one of your favorite cacti be sure to mention it in the comments below. For now though, that is about all of the Latin I can stand!

For more information on your favorite cactus, two of the best books on the subject include Cacti of the Southwest by W. Hubert Earle, and perhaps the finest available book on cacti, The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson.

Now then, if your brain is not totally fried by now, how about we take a look at a few other drought-tolerant plants you might want to consider for your garden.

Drought-Resistant Herbs

First let’s look at herbs. Since most of us know these herbs and their uses, I will not go into great detail on each specific herb on this list. There are many culinary herbs, but not all of them tolerate drought or low water conditions very well. However, many of the most popular herbs used in food preparation are true drought survivors. All of the herbs on the list that follows grow well from east to west and north to south so if you don’t have an herb garden yet, now is the time to plant one! If you want to learn more about herbs, you will find more information here: Herbs.

Garlic Chives – Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an excellent choice for the low water garden. They have a slight garlicky flavor and are delicious in just about everything. They also have lovely pompom lilac-colored blooms. If you allow them to bloom, however, keep in mind that they self-sow like nobody’s business, which can be both a good and a bad thing!

Onion Chives – Onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are also a great choice for a culinary herb that resists drought. These chives are more onion-like in flavor and are much more common in the United States. The blossoms from this chive (and the garlic chive) can be eaten or used for garnish.

Lavender – Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is another excellent choice, with a number of varieties to choose from and lovely purple to light purple blossoms great for sachets or potpourris.

LovageLevisticum officinale, or lovage, has a strong sweet to salty celery-like flavor. Use this herbaceous perennial in soups and stews or add the young stems to salads. While not popularly used here in the United States and Canada, lovage is very frequently found in European gardens.

Borage – With its beautiful (and edible) flowers, borage is a great pick for a dry location – it will grow well and is stunningly beautiful when in bloom. When the leaves are small, they can also be eaten and some say the taste is like that of cucumbers. Borage does very well with little water. In extremely dry locations, you may find it is also easier to keep control of this hardy herb. Borage loves to re-seed and become a part of your landscape.

Echinacea – Grow it as a backdrop to the rest of your herb garden – don’t worry, it will require very little water. Don’t just settle for pink! Echinacea comes in a rainbow of colors, with orange, white, gold, pink, and reds to choose from. Echinacea should be divided every three years, but if you have a smaller area to garden, feel free to wait longer than that and keep the spread in check.

Fennel – Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which grow closely arranged stalks. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves and flowers that produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. It has a mild licorice taste.

Oregano – Greek oregano, as its name suggests, is native to the Greek Isles and a perfect match for the low water herb garden. Its name means “joy of the mountain” from the Greek oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). It is wonderful when used fresh and can be dried as well. Oregano has medicinal qualities and can be used as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial, and an anti-fungal too.

Parsley – Parsley is another option for a low water garden. Technically it’s a biennial, but is commonly used as an annual. If you let the plant bolt and set seed in the second year, the leaves turn bitter but you get lots of new little babies.

Rosemary – Rosemary is nearly indestructible and is perfect in a drought-tolerant garden. Over time, rosemary can grow quite large if not restrained by pruning. It can also make an aromatic hedge and does very well in rocky soils.

Sage – Sage is another contender. Salvia officinalis is a hardy perennial sub-shrub. There are several varieties, all of which can be used fresh or dried. Many of the sage varieties have lovely blossoms as well.

Thyme – Thyme is another good choice with some varieties making excellent ground covers. Dry soil actually concentrates the aromatic oils in thyme, making it taste much more intense – and it thrives in rocky conditions.

Drought-Tolerant Wild Edibles

There are several good wild edibles to add to your drought-tolerant garden. What are wild edibles? Just what they sound like – plants that normally grow wild that we can eat and enjoy. We will look at three of my favorites: dandelion, purslane, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Dandelion – While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as many phytonutrients, and minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines. The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. They’re so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name: Dent-de-lion means lion’s tooth in Old French. The leaves are 3″ to 12″ long, and 1/2″ to 2-1/2″ wide, always growing in a basal rosette.

dandelion-leaves

Have no worries when eating dandelions, there are no poisonous look-alikes. Other very similar Taraxacum species, as well as chicory and wild lettuce, only resemble dandelions in the early spring, and those are also edible. All these edibles exude a white milky sap when injured, but chicory and wild lettuce leaves have some hair, at least on the underside of the midrib, while dandelion leaves are bald.

Dandelions are especially well-adapted to a modern world of “disturbed habitats,” such as lawns and sunny, open places. They were even introduced into the Midwest from Europe to provide food for the imported honeybees in early spring. They now grow virtually worldwide. Dandelions spread further, are more difficult to exterminate, and grow better under adverse circumstances than almost anything else on Earth.

Many gardeners detest them, but the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow. The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle. Unless you remove it completely, it will likely regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins.

“What’s a dandelion digger for?” a dandelion asked.
“It is a human invention, to help us reproduce,” another dandelion replied.

Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they’re the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, with the broadest leaves and largest roots, are the best. But they are still strong growers and good to eat during a drought.

Purslane – Purslane peeks its way out from sidewalk and black top cracks. It invades gardens and it even gained a bit of bad press from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has classified it as a “most noxious weed.”

purslane

A weed it may be, but “most noxious?” Please! Give this poor superfood a break! Yes, I said superfood. It truly happens to be a “super food,” for not only is it high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has high marks in beta carotene content.

This is one of the few plant kingdom sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and really is as healthy as eating fish! And you don’t have to check the latest health and environmental bulletins before you eat it!

Known formally as Portulaca oleracea, but also called pursley and little hogweed, purslane is a succulent that looks, as one chef put it, like a “miniature jade plant.” A more colorful description can be found in seed catalogs, which note that in Malawi, the name for the fleshy, round-leafed plant translates to “the buttocks of the wife of a chief.” The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony pepper tang. It grows well anywhere in the world and is a wonderful grower during a drought! Though not as popular now-a-days as it once was, it is gaining in popularity. Martha Washington had a recipe for pickled “pursland” in the Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the collection of hand-written family recipes she received as a wedding gift, according to sources at www.mountvernon.org.

jerusalem-artichoke-in-bloom

Jerusalem Artichoke – Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is familiar to many as a weed, but has some real potential as a crop plant. Native to the central regions of North America, the plant can be grown successfully throughout the U.S. under a variety of temperature and rainfall conditions. Several Native American tribes used Jerusalem artichoke as food prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Jerusalem artichoke became a staple food for North American pilgrims and was thought of as a new food in a “new Jerusalem.” In recent years, the fresh tubers have been widely marketed in the U.S., but in quite limited quantities. The plant can be grown for human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production, and livestock feed.

jerusalem-artichoke-tubers

Similar to water chestnuts in taste, the traditional use of the tuber is as a gourmet vegetable. Jerusalem artichoke tubers resemble potatoes except the carbohydrates composing 75% to 80% of the tubers are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Once the tubers are stored in the ground or refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a much sweeter taste. Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, made into flour, or pickled. They are available commercially under several names, including sunchokes and lambchokes. But as with most things you just cannot beat the home grown taste of this drought-tolerant vegetable.

Growing edibles for your family is always important but during drought conditions it is even more so. Following the tips, strategies and techniques laid out in the first article in this series, as well as planting some of the varieties mentioned here, will help to ensure your family is well fed no matter the rainfall.


This article is part of a 2 part series by Joe Urbach. You can see the entire series here:

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1
Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

 

Storage Guidelines for Fruits & Vegetables

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crate-of-peppers-for-storageIt’s harvest time for many [Grow] Network members – and hopefully there is more food coming in than you know what to do with!

Marjory sent me this handy guide from Cornell, and I thought that it would be useful to share it with everybody – to help make decisions about how you’re going to put up your harvest.

This is a PDF from the extension service at Cornell University, with a ton of information about how to properly harvest and store a variety of crops. It’s got recommendations for about 50 fruits and veggies, along with some good information about storage options – different places around the homestead where it’s safe to store a surplus, and some creative ideas for packing materials and containers you can use.

One especially helpful little tidbit that’s in here is to always store your fruits and vegetables separately – fruits release ethylene which can cause your vegetables to ripen more quickly. And stored fruits can take on the taste of nearby vegetables… Who knew?

You can read or download the original PDF here: Storage Guidelines for Fruits & Vegetables


Many thanks to Eric de Long and S. Reiners of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Chemung County

 

A Life Long Love (of Gardening)

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raised-vegetable-bedI grew up on an 80 acre farm. My father rotated corn, soy beans, and wheat, so I knew enough about gardening to be (as they say) dangerous. My family fell on hard times just after my father bought the land. A car accident left him with two cracked vertebrae and a mountain of hospital bills. This was the in the 1970s, and it was a hard decade for us, as my mother learned to make soap, as well as clothing, for herself, my father and us three boys. And we learned how to garden. And boy did we garden – over a full acre of sweet corn, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, cabbage, squash, onions, peas, beets, and many herbs. We would pick wheel barrels full of sweetcorn and tomatoes, and bushels of beans almost every other day!

What we couldn’t sell at the farmer’s market we ate or canned for winter use, and even what some would call waste was given to the chickens and pigs. I can never remember a time when we didn’t have enough to eat.

Then I went to college and then a university 150 miles from the family farm. I worked forty hours a week or more to pay my way through, and never took a dime from folks for my secondary schooling. I had grown used to the food in the college cafeteria, and quickly forgot how good fresh vegetables and fruits are.

Later I got a fairly good job, married and eventually moved into a condo. The condo association allowed flower beds, but for nine years I grew a small garden with a few tomato plants, beans, cucumbers, and potatoes (all heirloom varieties organically grown). I really enjoyed gardening and especially the fresh vegetables, and even gave tomatoes and cucumbers to some of my neighbors.

Then one day we got a letter in the mail from the board of our condo association (no direct communication, just a cowardly note) that said to cease and desist. I was heartbroken, as I loved to garden and even more loved the fruit of my work.

A couple of years later a friend of mine was retiring from his job. He is about ten years older than I, and we started talking about gardening. He had a large back yard, and decided to turn a corner of the yard into a garden. I helped him amend the soil, pick out heirloom varieties of seeds and potatoes, and we planted the first garden he had ever had in his life.

That first year was OK, but we live in Michigan, were there is a lot of wildlife, particularly deer, woodchucks, and other small creatures who tend to love heirloom and organically grown food as much as we do. So the first two years were about learning how to keep out the pests.

Then three years ago I told him about square foot gardening, and how we could build raised beds and then fence everything in to help from losing most of the veggies. He enlisted the help of his stepson and father-in-law, and between the four of us we built 10 8’x5′ beds two feet off the ground. My friend found some plastic owls that have sensors that detect movement and spay water from attached garden hoses, which he attached to the fence on either end.

I have had one bed to plant, and I have been planting three tomato plants, four cucumber plants, an eight foot row of beans, and then carrots and potatoes in the remaining space. I trellis the cucumbers, and stake up the tomatoes. We have been getting the tomato plants to grow over eight feet high! From this one bed, I get twice as many tomatoes, cucumbers and beans as my wife and I need and the rest I take into work. My workplace lets us bring in extra garden produce and my fellow workers give money to the local food bank for any veggies they want.

So in conclusion, I have come full circle as a gardener, and have brought in a friend who is using gardening not only as a hobby, but a way to keep him from getting (as he says) fat and lazy.


Thanks to Jim Craft for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

How to Fertilize Your Container Gardens

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urban-container-garden-with-potted-tomatoesGrowing food without a garden is a labor of love. My own life as a vegetable gardener started out on a series of tiny balconies and in small window boxes. While I have since been blessed with much larger areas for gardening, I still hold a special place in my heart for potted herbs and greens.

At the [Grow] Network, we get a lot of questions from people who are growing vegetables and herbs in containers, about the best way to fertilize container-grown edibles. The answer is a bit complicated, so I thought it would be a good idea to write up a recommendation so that we have a resource people can easily find and use. So, here goes nothing…

This recommendation is really intended for people who are just getting started. We publish a lot of information about fertilizers that you can make at home, some of which are probably already in your pantry or shed. We always encourage people to be adventurous, experiment, and make do with as few store-bought products as possible. But we often get questions from people who are just trying to get started. If you purchased a tomato plant and put it in a pot, and now you’re wondering what to do next, this article is especially for you.

If you regularly fertilizer your container plants already, but you’re interested in finding organic substitutes for store-bought fertilizers, read Joe Urbach’s article, “15 Simple and Inexpensive Homemade Fertilizers.” If you want to find organic substitutes for granular fertilizers, this resource is helpful – “How to Measure Your Favorite Organic Fertilizers.”

Why You Should Fertilize Your Container-Grown Edible Plants

Plants grown in boxes and pots are a little bit like a baby in a bubble. They’re cut off from the natural world around them by a container. Several feet away, in the ground, there is a flurry of organic activity taking place in the soil. But in an isolated container, there is much less organic microbial activity, and the plants in that container aren’t getting all of the beneficial nutrients, minerals, and enzymes that they would get if they were in the ground. Fertilizing is about supplementing the soil in your pot, to make it more like the soil in the ground.

In the ground, there is always some presence of the key macronutrients that are required for plant growth and fertility. Most likely, your potting soil has some concentration of these nutrients – but in theory, you could create a container environment that is completely devoid of key plant nutrients. Fertilization is how you can manage the levels of these nutrients in your potting soil.

Finally, when a plant in the ground uses available nutrients to grow and fruit, those nutrients are slowly replaced by natural processes in the soil around it. A plant in a container doesn’t always have that advantage, and it is much more prone to “using up” it’s available nutrients, creating a situation where one or more nutrients are not available in the amount required by the plant to keep growing and keep fruiting. When I worked at The Natural Gardener, I would demonstrate this to people by using my hands to estimate the size of a good slicing tomato. I would say, “Your plant is going to make tomatoes this big using only water, sunlight, and the nutrients in the soil. How many tomatoes this size do you think it can make before it runs out of nutrients in its little pot?” I think that’s an effective illustration. In a container, the nutrients get used up relatively quickly, and so it becomes important to keep adding fresh nutrients to the soil.

Compost in Potting Soil

Perhaps the best way to prevent the “baby in a bubble” situation described above is to use fresh, finished compost in your potting soil. Growing vegetables is a different game than growing houseplants, and in this case you’ll have better success with a healthy, living soil. If you can get some fresh, finished compost from a friend or neighbor’s bin, this would be an awesome addition to your potting soil. If not, get some from a nearby nursery. If you can get some fresh, finished worm castings from anywhere – definitely add those. If you can get some aerobic compost tea, definitely use that – more on that below. After you incorporate compost, castings, and compost tea – add a little molasses to feed the microbes and get them growing strong.

Click Here to See How to Make Your Own Worm Castings at Home

You can somewhat recreate a healthy, living soil by adding all the right stuff. If you do this, you’ll need fewer and less supplements. You can somewhat “fake” a healthy soil by continually adding artificial nutrients, but the plants grown in that way won’t be as good nutritionally as plants grown in a healthy, living soil. There’s just no substitute for the real thing. Don’t, however, just dump your garden soil in a pot. Do use a potting mix, any potting mix – homemade is good.

A Four-Part Recommendation for Fertilizing Container-Grown Vegetables and Herbs

All of the following recommendations can easily be classified into one of four main categories:

1) Liquid fertilization
2) Liquid supplements
3) Granular fertilization
4) Granular supplements

For a basic beginner’s approach, you can get by doing only #1 – liquid fertilization. I think this is the bare minimum if you want to grow healthy food in a pot. If you’re overwhelmed by this information, or if you’re just too busy to fuss with it – simply pick up a bottle of liquid organic fertilizer and start there. That alone will probably take care of most of your problems, and greatly improve the quantity and quality of the food you grow.

An ideal fertilization regimen for container plants would include all 4 of these categories. If you have a special baby in a container, do all four. Your plant will thank you for it. I do all four of these for some edibles that I grow in pots – especially fruit-intensive plants like tomatoes. There are a few key exceptions that I’ll talk about below.

As you learn more, you’ll figure out which bits and pieces are most important for different plants, for different problems, and for different uses. When I first noticed the visual difference in my aloe plants after they got a handful of mineral sand, something clicked, and I haven’t planted aloes without trace minerals since. When I saw how much resin accumulated on a calendula plant that grew in a tomato pot with regular high-potassium fertilizer, something clicked, and now I always use high-potassium fertilizer on calendula. When I first saw the visual difference in my strawberries after they were treated with liquid seaweed, something clicked again. I don’t grow strawberries anymore, but if I see someone else’s strawberries suffering, I know that a little liquid seaweed will probably fix them right up. This is the learning curve, and with each new experiment you’ll add another piece to the puzzle.

A Simple Schedule for Container Plant Fertilization

As I said above, I think the best basic, beginner’s plan for fertilizing container plants is to use a simple, well-balanced, organic liquid fertilizer. There is more information on specific fertilizers below. Regarding the schedule for using fertilizers, the most basic schedule I would recommend is one application every two weeks. So, a basic schedule would look like this:

Week 1 – Liquid Fertilizer
Week 2 – Skip
Week 3 – Liquid Fertilizer
Week 4 – Skip
Repeat indefinitely

If I notice that the soil smells off in a certain pot, I will often apply aerobic compost tea to restore healthy microbial life to the container. I apply this on the off weeks when I am not giving liquid fertilizer. If I am growing a crop that specifically appreciates some liquid seaweed, like strawberries, or leafy spring greens that have survived into the heat of summer, I will also apply the seaweed on the off weeks. So, an intermediate schedule might look like this:

Week 1 – Liquid Fertilizer
Week 2 – Liquid Supplement
Week 3 – Liquid Fertilizer
Week 4 – Liquid Supplement
Repeat indefinitely

If I am growing tomatoes in a pot, I go all out. I use all four categories, and I give the plants everything in my arsenal to ensure a healthy life and a good yield. An advanced schedule for special plants would look something like this:

At Planting – Granular Fertilizer and Granular Supplements
Week 1 – Skip
Week 2 – Liquid Supplements
Week 3 – Liquid Fertilizer
Week 4 – Liquid Supplements
Week 5 – Liquid Fertilizer
Repeat 2-5 until fruit-set, then:
At Fruit-Set – Granular Fertilizer and Granular Supplements
Week 1 – Skip
Week 2 – Liquid Supplements
Week 3 – Liquid Fertilizer and Liquid Supplements
Week 4 – Liquid Fertilizer and Liquid Supplements
Repeat until the bitter end

Anytime I’m applying a lot of fertilizer and supplements, as in the example above, I cut back on the dilution strength of the liquids and the volume of the granular. The general idea is to give less, more often.

Liquid Fertilizers

When you’re looking for a liquid fertilizer, I think that you will get the best results and the safest experience by selecting a simple, well-balanced, organic product. Fish emulsion is the best option I have found, no question. It comes labeled with many different names like “Liquid Fish,” “Organic Fish Concentrate,” and just plain old “Fish.” As I understand it, fish emulsion is basically just a by-product of commercial fish processing – it’s the rest of the fish, liquefied in a blender. Fish emulsion typically analyses at 5-1-1, N-P-K. So, it’s great for growing your plants large, and great for leafy green growth (lots of nitrogen). But, you’ll want to add a phosphorous source for vigorous root growth, budding, and fruiting. Or a potassium source for plants with general health and growth issues.

There are many blends available on the market that use fish emulsion as a base and incorporate other ingredients for a more well-balanced effect. A good way to choose is to make a trip to a local organic garden center and ask them what they have available. Specify that you want single digit N-P-K concentrations, and specify organic. They should be able to help you make a good choice. If you don’t have a good organic garden center nearby, Amazon may be your best bet. A simple search of “organic liquid fertilizer” yields many good results.

My favorite solution for a liquid organic fertilizer is a locally made blend that includes fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, humic acid, molasses, fermentation extracts, magnesium chloride, iron sulfate, zinc chloride, and water. This product is labeled as 3 – 1.5 – 2, N-P-K. I have used this solution on a huge variety of plants, with good success and no burning, never.

Any product that you buy should have instructions for diluting. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to dilute the concentrated fertilizer – never apply directly without diluting. A common dilution rate is 1 oz (2 Tablespoons) per gallon. If my label has worn off, or someone gave me a sample with no instructions, that is the dilution rate I normally use. I tended bar when I was in college, so sometimes when I’m in a rush I trust my steady hand to pour an even 1 oz without measuring. It’s better to keep some measuring spoons and a conversion chart on hand in the area where you will be mixing fertilizers. You can get cheap plastic measuring spoons from the dollar store – when you smell the fish fertilizer you’ll understand that you probably don’t want to use your regular kitchen measures for this task… Shake the liquid concentrate well before measuring out the desired amount – ingredients like molasses have a strong tendency to separate and settle on the bottom of the container. You want to make sure you remix the concentration each time you use it. I add a little water to a watering can first, pour the measured concentrate into the watering can second, and then fill the watering can third. You should always stir the dilution well, so that each plant gets an equal dose of the fertilizer. I use a bamboo stick to reach into the watering can, past the handle. I stir counter-clockwise before reversing the direction and stirring again, this time clockwise – until a vortex occurs (a little water whirlwind).

The correct amount to apply per plant should be given by the manufacturer, either on the product’s label, or on the manufacturer’s website. If they do not supply this information, a rule of thumb I use is to apply one ounce of diluted fertilizer solution per gallon of soil in the container. So, a one gallon pot gets one ounce from the watering can. A five gallon pot gets five ounces, so on. For very small containers, I just give a quick splash. If I get liquid fertilizer on the plant’s leaves, I shake the leaf or rinse it off to get rid of standing drops of fertilizer. You can also apply liquid fertilizers as a foliar spray, and your plants will probably love you for it. It does well when applied as a mist, but can hurt if it’s collected in puddles on the leaves. Apply it lightly, with a mister/sprayer, when the wind is low.

You should always apply liquid fertilizers to soil that has been moistened, but not saturated, with water; so that the fertilizer solution will distribute itself throughout the soil. If you apply liquid fertilizer to dry soil, it can absorb into one small area. If you apply liquid fertilizer to saturated soil, it can drain out through the bottom of the container. When I remember to, I water containers late in the day, on the day before they will get fertilized.

I’ve been told that the best time of day to apply fertilizer is very early in the morning, when a plant is beginning it’s rhythmic growth cycle for the day. However, if you’re a late riser, any time is better than never.

Liquid Supplements

What defines a liquid fertilizer is that it has a significant concentration of 3 key macronutrients required for plant growth and fertility – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These 3 macronutrients are key to growing healthy plants, but there are several other things you can do to help your plants grow big and strong. These supplemental products include other macronutrients, lesser-known micronutrients, beneficial trace minerals, beneficial fungi, natural enzymes, living microbes, and a whole slew of other goodies.

Seaweed
Seaweed is like magic for some plants. It doesn’t have high concentrations of the three key macronutrients – Maxicrop’s popular seaweed product analyzes at 0-0-1. But seaweed is great for heat resistance, drought resistance, and it helps with many common problems. If your plants are suffering from chlorosis, with yellow leaves and poor growth, seaweed can get them back to green and growing quickly (although you may be over-watering – so be sure to address the root problem). Strawberries and spinach love seaweed.

pH Control
Some plants require a more acidic soil in order to thrive and fruit. You can use liquid supplements to manage the pH level of soil in a container. Seaweed with added iron is a great supplement for acid-loving plants. You can also acidify your regular water by adding a little vinegar to the watering can – you can safely use up to one cup of vinegar per gallon of water.

Aerobic Compost Tea
As I’ve said before, using aerobic compost tea is a little bit like cheating. You take water that contains thriving colonies of microscopic life, and pour it onto your garden soil. This is an especially effective tactic for containers, where the normal soil biology likely doesn’t exist yet. You can inoculate the soil with many desirable microorganisms by applying aerobic compost tea. You can brew this miracle tonic yourself at home, or you might find an organic garden center nearby that offers it for sale by the gallon. If there is an active garden club in your area, ask around and find out if anyone else is sharing their brew – or can show you how to make it yourself. If you’re confused about what exactly compost tea is, read this – “Leachate, Worm Tea, and Aerobic Compost Tea – A Clarification.”

Any time you’re using a supplement or additive that has a living component, it’s important to pay attention to the water you’re using to dilute the additive. Tap water has chemicals in it that are specifically chosen to kill microbial life, so it’s easy to torpedo your efforts by diluting aerobic compost tea with tap water. You will still likely get trace concentrations of seaweed, molasses, humate, and the other good ingredients that went into the tea while it was brewing, but you won’t get the beneficial microorganisms, and those are what you’re really looking for with this particular supplement. For more information on this see Leslie Parson’s article, A Guide for Using Tap Water in Your Garden.

Enzyme and Vitamin Solutions
There are some good products on the market that contain natural enzymes and vitamins that are organically manufactured by biological processes. I think this basically means that the products are bottled microbe poo. I have used a few of these, and I feel like they do improve the size and vigor of treated plants. I would consider using these on stressed plants, or on plants that need to have an especially beautiful appearance, like flowers or edibles in a visible place. Some examples are Vitazyme, Agri-Gro, and SuperThrive.

Granular Fertilizers

Granular fertilizers are generally stronger, and longer-lasting than liquid fertilizers. As always, a good rule of thumb is to stick with products that have single digit concentrations of the three key macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. You’re still looking for something like 4-4-4, not 20-20-20 (N-P-K). You will find granular fertilizers made from an assortment of different ingredients – mostly animal poop. I have used packaged fertilizer products that were made from chicken poop, cow poop, turkey poop, rabbit poop; the list goes on. As with liquid fertilizers, a good course of action for a first-timer is to walk in to a brick and mortar garden center and talk with the staff there about what is available and what meets your needs. If you don’t have a good organic garden center within driving distance, check on Amazon. Shipping costs will be a factor – the smallest bags I’ve seen available are in the 5-6 lb range.

If you are a vegan, your options will be a little more limited. There are some good fertilizers available made from cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, and some others. Search online or consult with your local experts and you should be able to find a solution that works for you.

My favorite granular fertilizer is a local product that analyzes at 8-2-4 N-P-K. It is made from feather meal, turkey compost, sulfate of potash, and molasses. Most plants use the basic macronutrients at the ratio of 4:1:2, so it’s handy to have a good all purpose fertilizer like this that can be used on everything from the lawn to the flowers to the vegetable garden.

Applying granular fertilizers is easy. Because these fertilizers are stronger and last longer, you will probably only need to apply these once or twice over the course of a growing season. For the first application, at planting, I mix the recommended amount into the potting soil that I will use to fill my container. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for how much to use. If no recommendation is given on the product packaging, I use one large handful for a 5-gallon container, and adjust proportionately for smaller or larger containers. In the bottom of the planting hole, I sprinkle another teaspoon or so of fertilizer, for immediate availability to the plant’s roots.

Be sure to mix the fertilizer well into the potting soil, so that it is evenly distributed throughout. I usually get two buckets (or trugs) side by side, and pass the soil/fertilizer mix back and forth between the two buckets, completely dumping the contents each time. After dumping the mixture back into the empty bucket 10 or 12 times, I can visually see when the fertilizer has been thoroughly mixed.

Sometimes I will come back with a second helping of granular fertilizer, either at fruit-set, or when I notice that a plant’s growth has slowed down significantly. For the second application, I don’t dig down into the soil – I don’t want to damage the existing root system. I evenly scatter the granular fertilizer over the top of the soil in the container. Then I “scratch” the fertilizer down into the top 1 or 2 inches of the soil. Sometimes I use a hand rake to scratch the fertilizer in, but I usually just use my fingertips. After the fertilizer is scratched in, give the container a thorough watering to activate the fertilizer. If the container is in an area where pests are a problem, cover the top of the soil with some sort of mulch after adding the second helping of granular fertilizer. Cats and dogs are very interested in organic fertilizers, and they will dig up your plant just as it is starting to fruit. If your pot is in a sitting area, flies and fruit flies are less likely to gather in the area if a thin layer of mulch separates the soil from the open air. My favorite mulch to use is organic compost, from the backyard pile. If I need the pot to look especially presentable – I will use a small pea-sized stone instead. Expanded shale makes a great mulch and has a clean neutral appearance.

Granular Supplements

In addition to the three key macronutrients, there are lots of beneficial soil amendments that you can mix in to your potting mix at planting time.

Mycorrhizal Fungi
Mycorrhizae are fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. The fungus forms a web in the soil, tying in with the plant roots through a physical connection. As the fungus collects nutrients from the soil, it passes water and minerals up to the plant’s roots, and in return the plant passes sugars down to the fungus. Mycorrhizae exist naturally in healthy soil in the ground everywhere, but not necessarily in potting soil. You can use a product to inject these fungi into your potting soil. There are several products available from garden centers and online. You can also get soluble mycorrhizae that can be watered in to the soil.

Trace Minerals
While N, P, and K are the three big nutrients required for plant growth, there are many other nutrients that contribute to a plant’s overall health. A good way of looking at this is to compare a plant’s diet to a human’s diet – if a person ate nothing but eggs, kale, and carrots everyday, 3 meals a day – they would eventually develop a nutrient deficiency. Those three ingredients are healthy, but alone they do not constitute a well-balanced diet. To round out your plants’ diets, you can add mineral sand to the potting mix at planting time. I use a mineral sand product that includes decomposed granite sand, lava sand, granite sand, basalt, soft rock phosphate with colloidal clay, humate, greensand, and montmorillonite.

A Few Key Exceptions

I distinguish between leafy annuals and woody perennials in my fertilization schedules. Some woody perennial plants don’t appreciate the extra nutrients, and you can cause more harm than good by overdoing it with regular fertilization. Woody herbs like rosemary and lavender are especially sensitive to this. I fertilize rosemary about half as often as I fertilize other plants, and I fertilize lavender rarely if ever.

Blueberries benefit from special treatment in a container. They love seaweed, iron, and acidity. Watering with vinegar is beneficial here. Give your potted blueberries some extra love and they will pay you back with plenty of tasty berries.

When I’m growing tomatoes in a pot, as I said above, I go all out. I use everything in my arsenal to get the plant as productive as possible. I normally don’t worry about burning plants with too much fertilizer, because I only use mild organic fertilizers and I dilute them well, as I mentioned above. In this case, however, I always keep a close eye on the leaf margins to make sure that I am not over-doing it with the tomatoes.

Well, that was a mouthful. I hope that this information is more helpful than it is confusing. If you have specific questions that you want to ask – feel free to use the comments section below. There’s a whole community of people here who can help! Good luck with your container garden – if you grow a champion container garden, take some pictures and tell us your story – it would make a great entry in our ongoing Writing Contest.

 

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1

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urban-garden-with-drip-irrigationDrought. The very mention of the dreaded “D” word can make the blood of even the stoutest gardener run as cold as ice. Drought has always been an issue for human beings. Farmers and gardeners, even 10,000 years ago when our ancient ancestors traded in their hunter gatherer lifestyles and chose instead to settle in to small family communities based on agriculture, have always considered drought to be among the most serious of concerns.

Of course we all know what a drought is, but how is it defined?

“A drought is when a region receives below-average precipitation, resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply, whether atmospheric, surface or ground water. A drought can last for months or years, or may be declared after as few as just 15 days. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region.”

Although droughts can persist for years and years causing no telling how much death and devastation, even a short, intense drought can cause significant damage and harm to the local economy. Annual dry seasons in the tropics significantly increase the chances of a drought developing and along with it the chances of frequent drought-related bush fires. Periods of heat can significantly worsen drought conditions by hastening evaporation of water vapor.

Drought happens. Global climate change is real. Whether you believe it is just a normal cycle that the Earth goes through from time to time, or if you believe it is solely the fault of mankind, or even if what you personally believe falls somewhere in between these two extremes, you must admit that global climate change is a reality. To deny the obvious truth that our climate is changing is just as insane as continuing to believe that the world is flat. The question all gardeners, farmers, and preppers need to ask themselves is not whether drought due to global climate change is a reality, but rather how can we continue to grow food for ourselves and our families during drought conditions.

We cannot know when a drought will occur, and by the time drought is upon us it is too late to plant drought-resistant edible plants. But we can consider several things that we can do in our gardens to help our current plants better tolerate adverse conditions when they do occur. The first thing to keep in mind is that the garden is that our gardens are not made up of just the plants that we grow, but also of the soil we grow in. The soil is the foundation of everything we grow. So get it in your head that you start building a garden from the ground up, and you will help make your garden more drought-tolerant the same way – from the ground up. So here are three quick improvements that will greatly help your garden soil during a drought:

No Bare Soil – Use Cover Crops
Cover crops help improve soil health by reducing erosion, increasing organic matter content, improving air and water movement through the soil, reducing soil compaction, capturing and recycling nutrients in the soil profile, and managing soil moisture to promote biological nitrogen fixation. Many farmers and ranchers have recorded increases in yields during extreme drought when using cover crops. One local farmer I spoke with in San Marcos, Texas, used radishes as a cover crop to successfully increase water infiltration in areas where water had previously flowed across his field without soaking in. The radish roots aerated the area enough to allow water further down into the soil profile instead of letting it simply run off the surface and get wasted.

Do Not Till – That’s Right, No Tilling!
When soil is tilled, it temporarily gains a lot of pore space in the top layer. But tilling involves running over the soil with heavy equipment, and that leads to the structural breakdown of the soil and compaction. The end result is a layer with high bulk density and bad pores, topped by loose soil with no structure. When soil has poor structure, it can’t hold water within its pore spaces, and when the water hits the densely compacted layer below, it can’t infiltrate. This leads to runoff, and therefore, erosion, flooding, pollution, and less water held in the soil for dry times. New research has shown that tilling your fields and garden area will also lead to an often significant loss of soil nitrogen. Tilling disturbs the microorganisms that are working to convert organic matter into composted fertilizer, and tilling releases nitrogen into the air where it evaporates away without being of any benefit to our plants and crops.

Add Organic Matter – Compost to the Rescue (Again!)
Composted organic matter is absolutely magic. Poor soil can benefit greatly from even a small increase in organic matter. Even healthy soils benefit from composting – just a small increase in organic matter can improve the soil’s structure. Soils with a lower bulk density (lighter more fluffy soils) and with greater porosity (more air pockets in between the soil particles) route water more efficiently during floods and retain more moisture for plants, and so perform significantly better during droughts. Research has also proven that organic matter often holds 10 times its own weight in moisture, trapping the water in the soil for the plants to use at a later time. Organic matter particles have a charged surface that attracts water so that it adheres to the surface, like static cling, but they can also have pores and charges that repel water. A 1994 study by Hudson University showed that a silt loam soil with as little as 4% organic matter can hold more than twice the water of a silt loam with just 1% organic matter. And silt loam soil with 10% organic matter held three times the amount of water as the same loam with just 4% organic matter.

Okay, that should take care of your soil. But what’s next? Let’s look at how it is possible to grow a vegetable garden during a drought when water resources are scarce, or when water rationing has been imposed. The key thing here is to water smart. Water responsibly, plant carefully, and select fruit and vegetable varieties that are drought-tolerant. All of these sustainable gardening practices require less water at any time, and can help ensure that your family has access to a variety of nutrient-rich foods, even during drought.

Always keep these simple techniques in mind when planning your garden and you will find it doing much better during hot, dry and windy conditions. Whether you want to call them drought tips, water responsibility practices, or just plain old good garden management, these next 16 simple suggestions will help reduce water use in your backyard garden during any weather conditions including the dreaded “D” word.

#1 – Mulch, mulch, mulch!
I know that we have all heard it before but you need to mulch your garden! A 3 inch to 4 inch layer of mulch can reduce watering needs by as much as 50 percent. Mulch reduces water evaporation and keeps soil temperatures down during hot summer months and drought conditions. Grass clippings, dried leaves, pine needles, straw, and shredded bark are all examples of natural mulches which can be used to cover the soil. Hay is sometimes not recommended because it contains seeds, which yields weeds and can become problematic. But regardless of what you choose to use as a mulching medium, just mulch, mulch, mulch!

#2 – Planting Time – Timing is Everything!
Plant earlier in spring and later in fall. Planting earlier in the spring season takes advantage of the warm weather that a drought brings and it reduces exposure to the high mid-summer temperatures that often wither a garden even when not dealing with a drought. Planting later in the fall minimizes the use of supplemental water and takes advantage of seasonal rains to establish plants. For example, tomatoes and other nightshade crops such as peppers and eggplants should not be planted until soil temperatures reach 55 degrees. With a warm spring this could be as early as late March or early April for some of us. If you aren’t using a soil thermometer for accurate soil temperature readings, you really should consider getting one.

#3 – Enclosed Spaces – Smaller and Easier to Manage
Gardens planted in enclosed spaces retain water better than gardens planted in open soil. This is most often due to two key factors, the first being that in an enclosed space you usually find a raised bed garden and in a raised bed we can better control the soil our garden begins with, and secondly that gardens in a raised bed are usually planted in ways that maximize production instead of garden size.

#4 – Avoid the Traditional “Row” Garden
It does not matter if you are planting in a raised bed or in the ground, a hexagonal arrangement of plants beats traditional rows for smarter gardening hands down. A “hex” garden groups plants closer together, which provides shade from leaves, keeping soil cool and preventing water from evaporating.

#5 – Companion Planting – Everyone Needs a Friend
Companion planting is the practice of grouping crops together for mutual benefit. The Native American “three sisters” approach of planting corn, beans and squash together are a great example of companion planting. Tall cornstalks provided a structural support for the climbing beans, the beans returned nitrogen back into the soil, and the squash would spread across the soil acting as a mulch and keeping the soil cool.

#6 – Watering Times – Again, Timing is Everything!
The best time to water your garden is in the late evening and in the early morning hours, typically between 10pm and 6am. The cooler temperature and limited wind reduce water evaporation rates.

#7 – Water Efficiently – Water Wise Tips are Available from Local Extension Offices and Online
Overhead watering with a sprinkler system is not as efficient as drip irrigation. Compared to overhead sprinklers, drip systems can reduce water usage by up to half or even more. One Texas A&M study showed that in a raised bed garden, a drip system used more than a staggering 70% less water! Install a drip irrigation system, grouping plants with similar water needs together on one drip irrigation line. Drip irrigation systems are relatively easy to install for most do-it-yourself homeowners and have become very affordable in recent years.

#8 – Control Weeds – Water the Plants You Want
This one seems like a no-brainer! Pesky weeds compete for valuable water, sunshine and soil nutrients in your garden. Remove weeds before they have an opportunity to flower or spread. Pulling them when they are young is easy on you and I, and stops them from stealing as much water and nutrients from our crops. You might also spend some time learning about the “weeds” in your garden. Some of them are likely edible, medicinal, or useful in some other way.

#9 – Be Selective – Grow Only What You Need
Consider the water available to support crops through harvest, and grow only the amount and types of vegetables your family will consume. For example, plant two beds of vegetables instead of six; plant four tomatoes instead of ten. To get the most out of the water you apply, grow high yielding vegetables like beans, chard, mustard, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, squash, quinoa, and amaranth.

#10 – Drought Resistant Crops – More and More are Available All the Time!
Purchase varieties of fruits and vegetables that do well in hot and dry climates. Many heirloom varieties from Mediterranean regions are prized for being drought tolerant. And smaller varieties bred for containers often produce a more bountiful yield per plant than standard varieties.

#11 – Peak Water Times – Help Conserve by Watering Smart
Fruit and vegetables have critical periods for increased water demands. For most plants, once they become established, watering frequency and volume can be reduced until the flowering or fruit setting process begins. An increased amount of water should be reintroduced during this time. After this initial period of fruit set, water can slowly be reduced again. In some cases, reducing water can improve the flavors of your harvest!

#12 – Garden Size – In this Case, Size Does Matter!
Determine the amount of fruits and vegetables needed to feed your family. Does your family have two, four, or eight members? If you overproduced and wasted crops last year – decrease the amount of plants this year. Set up a garden exchange in your neighborhood so everyone grows less but still has a great variety!

#13 – Consider Days to Maturity – Quicker is Usually Better
A crop needing fewer days to mature requires less watering before harvest (62-day ‘Stupice’ tomatoes vs. 85-day ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes). Look for early-maturing or short-season varieties. Days to maturity will vary from one part of the country to another as well as from one microclimate to another.

#14 – Use Light-Weight Row Covers – Tuck Your Garden in at Night
Cover plants as a means to collect dew. Dew collects in the soil and helps to keep it moist. While using row covers can help prevent insect damage in some cases, be sure to look under the cover from time to time to monitor plant growth and check for unwanted insects trapped inside.

#15 – Use Shade and Wind Breaks – Give Your Garden a Break
Heat-sensitive vegetables can benefit from being planted where they receive some afternoon shade. Plant them underneath or behind taller plants or consider using a shade cloth. The moisture on leaf surfaces is dried by moving air, causing the plant to need more water – so a wind break really helps. In coastal and other windy areas, windbreaks will help roots keep up with leaf demands.

#16 – Plant Something New – Keep Looking for Your Next Superstar
There are many “Garden Greats” that you may not have tried. Have you ever grown Jerusalem artichokes, Malabar spinach, okra or loquats? There are many great garden plants out there that naturally require less water and tolerate higher temperatures. Find some of them and try them in your area. Who knows, you might discover a new favorite!

Obviously the topic of what is drought-tolerant is regionally specific to a great extent. After all, a drought in Maine will be very different from a drought in Arizona, and the plants that are considered to be drought-tolerant in America’s Pacific northwest may not be in my neck of the woods, Central Texas. So it is very important to keep that in mind when planning just what to add to the garden you plant on your little piece of planet Earth.

When thinking of common garden veggies for drought-tolerance think about the varieties that perform well in hot, dry, desert conditions. Desert-like areas present special challenges for the gardener. Living in Arizona for many years I found that I could still get wonderful vegetables to grow in my desert garden if I chose the correct varieties and kept in mind those special techniques listed above.

Some crops and varieties just naturally require less water than others once they are established. Those on the following list were selected from seed catalogs and seed catalog websites that specifically mention the terms “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in the variety description. The list is not exhaustive, but represents an opportunity for the home food gardener to consider new (or new to you) and unusual crops or varieties that allow you to be water-wise. For additional possibilities, consult seed companies or nurseries that specialize in plants suitable for desert or dry climate areas. If I have forgotten one of your favorite drought-tolerant crops or varieties, be sure to tell me about it in the comments section below.

A List of Drought-Tolerant Vegetable Varieties

Bush Beans – White Half Runner, Snap
Butter Beans – Jackson Wonder
Lima Beans – Alabama Black-Eyed Butter, Carolina Sieva, Christmas, and Fordhook 242 Bush
Pole Beans – Asparagus, Blue Coco, Garden of Eden, Romano, Louisiana Purple Pod
Broccoli – Waltham 29 (when fall planted)
Corn – Anasazi Sweet, Hopi Blue Flour, Hopi Pink, Painted Mountain Flour, Pinky Popcorn
Cucumber – Armenian, Lemon
Eggplant – Listada de Gandia
Melons – Iroquois, Navajo Yellow
Mustard – Southern Giant Curled
Okra – Gold Coast, Hill Country Heirloom Red , Jing Orange
Pepper – Jupiter Red Bell, just about any chili pepper, Ordoño
Quinoa – all varieties
Squash – Cocozelle Zucchini, Costata Romanesco, Cushaw Green-Striped Dark Star, Iran Jumbo Pink Banana, Lebanese Light Green, Tatsume
Sunflower – Skyscraper
Tomato – Caro Rich, Pearson, Red Currant, Phoenix, Solar Fire, Pineapple Stone, Yellow Pear Cherry, Juliet Hybrid
Watermelon – Black Diamond

In the next installment of this article on vegetable gardening during drought conditions, we will look at some rather atypical edibles you can grow in your own drought-resistant garden, including things like cactus, herbs, wild items, and more.

 

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Hi folks, It’s been a while since my last post, although I’ve been in the backroom of SurvivalRing every day for months, keeping things tuned, tight, backed up, and secure. I’ve thought about posting a lot of things, and often I was poised and ready to add my thoughts to the blog, and at the […]