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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‘7 Ways to Feed Your Garden for Free’

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Last year, David the Good filmed a fun (and funny) presentation for The Grow Network’s Home Grown Food Summit on how you can keep your garden fed and maximize the nutrition in your food without spending a dime.

Well, we’re a Community of sustainability-minded DIYers who like to find ways to turn trash into garden treasure, so is it any wonder that David’s video on “7 Ways to Feed Your Garden for Free” ended up being one of the event’s most popular presentations? (Plus, you know, David is just a likeable, funny guy, so that probably helped, too. 🙂 )

Read More: “Homemade Fertilizers—15 Simple and Inexpensive Options”

Anyway, David posted this video on YouTube on February 4, aaaaaand it’s already got more than 10,000 views. Translation? You should watch it now, too! 🙂

Here it is:

As David says, “The presentation clocks in at about 45 minutes long and should be a great inspiration for your spring gardening plans.”

Amen to that!

Then, let your TGN Community know in the comments: What are some other ways you like to feed your garden for free?

 

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Underground Greenhouse Produces Tomatoes Year-round (VIDEO)

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An underground greenhouse makes a lot of sense in the arid climate of New Mexico. I came across a super-effective and simple Walipini-inspired greenhouse that was homemade by Mark Irwin.

Check out this video where Mark shows you what he has been doing and how he is making a small side income by selling tomatoes to the Albuquerque market year-round.

I am a big proponent of lots of little side-income businesses. Diversity ensures there is always something coming in.

Note that I’ve put the reference Mark mentions down below the video.

Enjoy—and comment! We love to hear from you.

Here is the link to download the excellently written PDF on “Constructing A Walipini Pit Underground Greenhouse”

 

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(This post was originally published on August 4, 2017.)

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Pear Varieties for the Deep South

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Pears are thought of as a cold-climate fruit, yet they are more adaptable than you might think. One of the benefits of being a garden writer is the many comments and ideas I get from readers. Today we’ll focus on pear varieties, thanks to some insight from gardeners in the south.

These originally appeared on a survival plant post on pears I created here.

Erik writes:

“Supposedly the ‘Chinese white pear’ (Bai li) cultivars Tsu Li (which is really ancient and supposedly good but quite slow to bear) and Ya Li (which need to be planted together, as they bloom earlier than even the pyrifolia Asians [‘apple pears’]) will both fruit with only 450 chill hours and are fireblight resistant.

I have had grocery Ya Li and am not impressed–crisp, watery, no flavor (that is also my opinion of most of the larger, pyrifolia types which someone must like because they are more expensive than aromatic, buttery European pears that taste like pears).

However, I found a delicious way to treat firm Boscs that also works with low flavor sand/oriental pears and Ya Li: Poach them in flavored syrup. The bland ones actually keep their shape better than good European types (turn a Seckel glut into pear butter instead). The flavor comes from the syrup rather than the pear, but hey, it works. (The French mostly use sweetened wine, but even stale coffee. In [Polish] Chicago, I can get blackcurrant juice or syrup and mostly use that. Vanilla and ginger blend nicely with most pears, even the aromatic ones that are mostly high chill and killed by fireblight.)

‘Warren’ is often recommended as a moderately low chill (NW FL and north), fireblight-resistant European sort similar to Bartlett, but I don’t have personal experience with it. Poached pears with vanilla ice cream may not be an option if the something hits the fan, but is nice in nicer times.”

And Carl responds:

“I have a lot of pear trees in Northwest Florida that are mostly grafted over pears I purchased in box stores or in flea markets. I pick varieties that were either developed in the deep south by normal people or were found after many years to do quite well.

Best fresh-eating pears and fire-blight-resistant so far for me are: Southern Bartlett (from Abbreville, LA), Golden Boy from Just Fruits and Exotics, and the Asian pear Olton Broussard from an old shipment to a nursery labeled ‘Oriental Pear.’ Kieffers and Orient pears for cooking/salads and for pollinating the Olton Broussards.

There are many new pears that I am trying out at the moment that are said to be very good. But the three I mentioned are about as sure of a thing as there can be in the South. The Olton Broussard may not fruit in zone 9 or during extremely warm winters in zone 8b.

The Hood is another good but early pear that is disease resistant and very low chill. It was university-developed unlike the other eating pears that I mentioned. See http://tandeecal.com/page10.htm —  My Southern Pear interest group.”

Pear Varieties for the South

There are some nice field reports on pear varieties for the South at the link Carl provided. I recommend checking them out.

For North Florida (which also coincides with Southern Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, portions of Texas, and other subtropical areas), the University of Florida recommends:

  • Ayer
  • Baldwin
  • Kieffer
  • Flordahome
  • Orient
  • Hood
  • Pineapple
  • Tenn

The range of those pears probably goes a good bit farther north. For south of Gainesville, the only three pears recommended are:

  • Flordahome
  • Orient
  • Pineapple

Le Conte grows in the deep south and is apparently an excellent pear; however, it’s not as disease resistant as some varieties.

When I visited the Orange County extension office in Orlando to film my video on fruit trees for Florida, I noticed that the “Pineapple” pear was the only tree that was thriving. However, the trees were planted in a hot field.

I believe they would have done much better in a mulch-rich environment with a variety of other species, food-forest style.

Here’s that video:

In my North Florida food forest, I grew Flordahome, Pineapple, Hood, Kieffer, Baldwin, and other recommended pear varieties for the South, plus grafted branches onto some of them from an old productive pear tree of unknown variety growing in Gainesville.

People often don’t realize how far south you can grow pears.

It is good to see people having success. Don’t overlook pear trees — try some on your homestead!

Imagine homemade pear pie, pear sauce, canned pears, pear salsa … eating them fresh and sun-warmed from the tree. I never knew how good pears really were until I grew my own trees. Store-bought pears are a pale imitation of ripe fruit from the tree.

 

*Pear image courtesy Dave Minogue. CC license.

 

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7 Tips for Starting Seeds Like a Professional Grower

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There you sit, surrounded by seed catalogs. You have a head full of dreams about the best gardening season ever, flipping through pages of new cultivars to try and great new gardening tips to test out. Your seed is fresh, you have an ample supply of compost bursting with life, and you have more planting space prepared than ever before.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wait! You’ve been here before, excited about your spring planting, only to end up disappointed with your seed germination rate and the health of your seedlings.

Let’s slow down to take a closer look at some of the most common problems people have when starting seeds, and talk about some of the tools available to help you get the best possible results. With a little extra effort, your seeds and your spring garden will be the talk of the neighborhood!

seed packets

In my work advising gardeners and farmers, the number one problem I see is people starting out with weak seedlings. Gardeners often set out with admirable efforts to save money and be self-sufficient, but they can really shoot themselves in the foot before they even step out into the garden when they start with weak seedlings.

Weak, leggy, pale seedlings usually result in plants that are anything but vigorous. When these babies are transplanted into the garden, they are not prepared to face the world. Their pale foliage is likely to burn in direct sunlight, their thin stems have trouble holding up in the wind, and their delicate health sends a loud call out to tiny predators, “Come and get it!”

Pill bugs, which normally stick to recycling, will happily munch on your precious little seedlings even though they are not actually dead … yet.

Cutworms can endanger the best of your young plants, and they especially like the overly tender stems of plants that have had a poor start in life.

Whew! That is not how you want to start out this gardening season. So, let’s get some stocky, healthy, rich green starts going.

Tips for Starting Seeds Successfully

First, we want fresh, viable seed. A germination test can save time and material, but it doesn’t guarantee that your seeds are fresh. Have they been stored properly? Seeds are still the cheapest gardening investment. Be picky about who gets a spot in the seedling tray!

What about your germination mix? If you usually just scoop some soil out of the garden, stop before you kill again! Good garden soil is fine for direct seeding in the garden bed, but seeds sown in containers deserve an organic mix.

Read More: TGN’s Favorite Seed-Starting Equipment

There are some excellent mixes available for purchase, but it is so easy and fast to mix your own that it just makes sense to do it yourself. Many gardeners develop fancy secret recipes, but we are going to keep it simple.

I have had the best results using a mix made of half coir fiber and half fresh worm castings. It’s that simple!

If you don’t have access to either of those, use the very best, still moist, living compost or leaf mold. If you use compost, you should sift it before planting; you want the finest grains, not the sticky clumps.

Some gardeners sterilize their germination mix. I don’t agree. I always use ingredients with good, active biology. How would you like to be born into a little plastic cell, devoid of life? Trust in Mother Nature and use a mix with vibrant biology.

cucumber seedling in tray

When it comes to the container you use, the type of container is not important. I like the manufactured seed starting flats. They are cheap, reusable and recyclable. They drain well, and everything is contained in a well-fitted tray. If you don’t have these or don’t want them, use any well-drained container that you like.

  1. Fill the seed cells almost to the top with your starting mix. 
  2. In order to avoid tearing the young roots when you remove the seedlings from the container for transplanting, it is a good idea to tamp down the germinating mix in the cells now.
  3. After tamping, add chemical-free water to thoroughly moisten the starting mix. If you really want to be nice, use liquid or dry seaweed according to the instructions on the label. Seaweed is a great item to have on the shelf and it keeps indefinitely.
  4. When the starting mix is moist, you can plant your seeds at the depth specified on the seed packet.
  5. When the seeds have been planted, spray the top of the cells with water until the mix is well settled.
  6. After seeding, you can cover the cells with plastic. You can buy fitted plastic covers for seed starting trays, or just use some plastic wrap or a plastic bag.

Control the Light

Now, here is where the rubber meets the road: Light! You need a strong, reliable light source. You can compromise on many other aspects of gardening, but don’t cheat your green babies on the one thing they need most.

If you have a greenhouse, choose the brightest spot for your new seedlings. If you’ve been setting your seed trays on a windowsill, re-evaluate that choice. Remember: weak light = weak seedlings.  If you want husky, healthy seedlings, don’t gamble on the fickle winter sun filtered through a window.

Control the light and you control the outcome!

Setting up a grow light today is easy and inexpensive, and it doesn’t take up much room. Bulky shop lights and fiendishly hot tungsten bulbs are fading into history. If you have some empty space on a bookshelf or an empty shelf in a kitchen cabinet, you can easily install a couple of tiny T-5 light fixtures. There are also several LED offerings on the market. LED grow lights are powerful and super efficient, and they generate very little heat.

Simply attach a light or two to the bottom of one shelf to light the shelf underneath it where your tray will sit. If the shelf is adjustable, you are all set. If not, the tray can be elevated when the seedlings are started, to bring the surface of the soil within two or three inches of the light. That’s right! The light will be very close to the seeds.

If you have room to start seeds on a countertop or a table, there are several tabletop light stands that are designed for the space. The typical design is a simple metal stand that holds the light, suspended by an adjustable string or chain. Tabletop lights are small and easy to use, and they are available in a range of sizes.

The next size up is the shelf model. These resemble a regular set of utility shelves, with a grow light suspended from the bottom of every shelf. These lights offer enough space and power to grow starts for the whole neighborhood! These shelf units aren’t cheap, but they are very useful. In addition to starting seeds they can be used to overwinter plants indoors, and even to grow summer veggies and herbs all winter long.

Consider the Time

Now that you are in control of the light, there is one more important factor to consider: time. You need to transition the plants at the right times on their journey to the outdoor garden. Calculate the correct amount of time various plants need to develop to the optimum transplanting size to avoid holding the plants for extended periods. Begin your seeds based on that timetable.

When your seeds germinate, you will see cotyledons. They should be bright green and fleshy, standing on short stems. Now is a good time to remove the plastic covering, if there is any. At this earliest stage you should water the seedlings with a spray bottle, to avoid damaging the delicate young roots. Ideally, you will not need to water, but if the air is dry, the soil may require additional moisture.

Soon the tiny plants will develop their first true leaves. This is a great time for their first feeding.

Wait until the surface of the soil begins to dry out. Use a mild, natural fertilizer mixed at half strength. Fertilize every two weeks until the plants move outside.

Transplant Carefully

As the seedlings get larger, adjust the height of the light to keep it at least two inches from the top of the tallest plant, allowing for continued growth. When the root system begins to fill the cell, it is time to move up to a four-inch pot. If you transplant too soon, the seedling can break away from the germination mix, causing the roots to tear. If you wait too long, the roots can become bound and constricted in the cell, restricting optimal growth.

Wait to transplant until the soil is neither too wet nor too dry.

Now is the time when the tamping you did at the beginning is going to pay off. If the transplants are reluctant to pop out of their cells, you can give them a little push from the bottom drain hole using the eraser end of a pencil. If you are pricking out, you should transplant much sooner because a smaller root system is easier to remove intact.

Use potting soil as the growing medium for the four-inch pots, or just add a little perlite to the leftover germination mix. Remember the rule we discussed above: Garden soil belongs in the ground, not in containers.

After transplanting from the seed cells to the four-inch pots, give the plants a good drench of seaweed. You will still need to raise the lights periodically as the plants get taller. When the plants begin to fill the four-inch pots, you need to decide when they are ready to harden off.

In the case of very cold-sensitive plants like tomatoes, sometimes the weather will not permit you to begin hardening off even though the plant is outgrowing its four-inch pot. You can transplant forward again into a quart-sized pot to buy some more time. It is better to move the plants into a bigger pot than to let the roots become pot bound.

I find that potting forward to larger containers is easier than protecting young outdoor plants from late spring cold snaps.

When you decide it is time to begin hardening off, move the plants outside to a protected area and allow them to begin adapting to the outdoors. Filtered light is good for a day or so, but then don’t hesitate to move them out into the sun. These will be tough little rascals and they will transition to the garden well.

Following these simple steps will get you some of the strongest seedlings you have ever grown, and your spring garden will thrive as a result. After a few rounds of success, you will look at your seed catalogs through new eyes, confident that you can start any seed you want!

(This article was originally published January 29, 2015.)

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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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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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Banana Trees: Tips for Planting and Growing (Even During a Cold Snap!)

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Living in Florida, there are lots of tropical plants around, among them fruit trees. Our new property is on the border of Zone 8 and 9, so it is still possible to grow tropical fruits as well as some heat-tolerant stone fruits such as nectarines and peaches. We planted several different types of food-producing trees on our property in expectation of having a house there and enjoying the bounty.

Banana Tree Missteps

One of the first fruit trees we acquired for free was a banana tree. I planted it among some large palms in an area that I knew would get lots of water.

I gave it kitchen scraps from making salads and other plant-based foods, and it thrived.

I made the mistake of giving it some cooked bone scraps, and it promptly died.

My second gifted banana tree was planted on property that is still undeveloped land. We had other tropical plants growing there such as avocado, mango, and guava, and I created a barrier around the garden area with old logs and branches piled up on three sides. I thought this would be sufficient to keep it from getting too cold during the winter, but again, I was wrong, and this banana tree also bit the dust.

Read More: “The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crops”

That was almost a year ago.

When the hurricanes whipped through Florida in September, a friend of mine who had a yard full of mature banana trees lost most of them. So, while Mother Nature sometimes conspires against us, at least I am not the only one who has had problems keeping banana trees around

Another neighbor who lives about a block away had a stand of banana trees along his fence and these managed to survive the hurricanes, although the fence was completely ripped up. When I noticed that he was replacing his fence and taking out some of the banana trees, I stopped my car to ask what they were planning to do with them.

Read More: Build a Community in 9 Easy Steps

I was told that the trees were going to be discarded, so I offered to take them away with the help of my husband and his truck. About an hour later, we took the truck over and filled the back with banana trees!

Planting Rescued Trees in Winter

Knowing that winter is upon us and can drop the temperature at any time, we headed up to our property with the banana trees, a load of abandoned bamboo, several gallons of graywater, a few weeks of kitchen scraps (all plant matter), and some shovels. Along the way, we picked up a few bales of straw and potting soil—some with fertilizer, some without.

  • We dug a trench about two or three feet deep and a bit more than a foot wide, then added the kitchen scraps (to provide moisture and heat from decomposition) and the potting soil.
  • Next, we added the banana trees, placing them close together the way they normally grow.
  • After that, we put the excavated dirt back in to hold up and secure the trees, and installed four-foot lengths of bamboo vertically around the hole and fairly close together.
  • You may be wondering what the straw is for…. Insulation! We packed the inside of the bamboo enclosure with straw about three feet high, and then watered the enclosure with the graywater we brought.

Since that weekend, we have had some fiercely cold weather in Florida—two inches of snow in the Panhandle!

What about the banana trees?

They are still holding up, but even in the worst-case scenario where the tops are frozen, the bottoms should still be okay. We will trim them down at the end of February to give new growth a chance.

Once we get our ducks, the duck pond will go in nearby to feed the banana trees and the other tropical plants that will appreciate the fertilizer-rich soup that the ducks will produce. A chance meeting with a person in our area who will be moving this year brought us a free liner for the duck pond and loads of other materials that we can use to improve our homestead.

Banana trees, bamboo, pond liners, and more all came our way through a little communication!

 

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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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One TON of Food in 7 Months!

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I just got an e-mail from my pal David the Good, who shared a time lapse video of him growing 1 ton — yes, that’s 2,000 pounds! — of food in just 7 months. I thought you’d enjoy it as much as I did, so I’m sharing it here:

David says, “By far, the biggest gardening success of 2017 was hitting our goal of growing 2,000 lbs. of foodWe hit it in seven months — check out my time-lapse video above for the full countdown. That was just fun!

Much of our success was thanks to the many tree crops on the property we rented. I’ve been a fan of food forests and agroforestry for a long time.  Though the yields aren’t always as high for the space requirements as what you get from annuals, trees produce for years and require less work long-term.

We fed the jackfruit heavily in 2016 which led to great results in 2017. We also keep the bananas cleaned up and happy.

If we’d started with bare ground in 2017, though, it would have been tough to reach 2000 lbs.

Some things, such as the avocados and mangoes, basically grew themselves. Others, like yams and pumpkins, required plenty of work. Some things I planted simply failed, like sweet potatoes and beans. It was a very rainy year and the bugs were bad.

I love that David has his own song at the end of the video….

… and, whew! a lot of piña coladas to be made there, huh? 😉

 

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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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Sprouting Avocado Pits the Easy Way

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Today we’ll cover sprouting avocado pits the EASY way.

Though you are probably familiar with the “toothpicks and water” method of sprouting avocado pits, there is an easier way that seems to have a higher success rate.

The short of it? Plant them in potting soil or compost.

The long of it? Well, watch my video on how to sprout avocado pits, then we’ll meet on the other side for a step-by-step. A couple of important things should happen in order to guarantee your avocado pits sprout.

Avocados, like many tropical trees, have seeds that are designed to hit the ground and grow. The pits are not designed like many cold-climate seeds which have an embryo sitting in suspended animation that can be saved on a shelf for a long time and then spring to life when planted.

No.

These guys need to get into the ground fast, so it’s important to plant your avocado pits quickly or keep them damp until you can plant — preferably by keeping them inside the fruit!

But I’m getting ahead of myself — let’s do a step-by-step picture guide, breaking down the frames from the video.

Step 1: Open an Avocado and Take Out the Pit

how to Sprout Avocado Pit sprouting avocado pits

This avocado grew out back of our current homestead. They are nice and large with rich buttery interiors. An excellent tree and well worth reproducing.

When I took out this pit it already had some small roots growing on it — all ready to go! I took it along with a half-dozen other pits outside to plant, which takes me to step two.

Step 2: Plant Your Avocado Pits in Potting Soil

 Sprout Avocado Pit

HowToSproutAvocadoPits-Step5

There is a right side up on avocado pits. It’s the rounded side. Plant the flat side down since that’s where the roots will emerge. You could probably make a mistake and still have the tree come up fine, but I like to give my sprouting avocado pits every advantage.

A nice, loose potting mix is good but you can also easily germinate avocado pits directly planted in the ground — or, what seems to be even more successful, let them “accidentally” come up in your compost pile and transplant them.

Step 3: Water and Wait!

HowToSproutAvocadoPits-Step6

This is the hard part — waiting for the avocado pits to sprout.

They will, though. Keep them watered but not soggy in a nice sunny location. Then, one day…

germinating avocado

Beautiful!

When you sprout pits in water indoors, they then need to go through a “hardening off” period of adjustment to the harsher, brighter outdoor conditions or you can kill the young trees. When you instead sprout them in pots in full sun, you don’t have this issue. They’re ready to go.

Now many of you live in a northern climate where this is impossible. That’s fine — you can start avocado trees indoors and even grow them as a houseplant; however, they’re unlikely to fruit under those conditions. They need more sun.

How Long Does it Take for a Seedling Avocado To Bear Fruit?

The earliest a seedling avocado tree will fruit is at four to five years of age. My friend Eddy, however, scared his tree into fruiting at three years.

I have a beautiful seedling avocado tree growing in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project that is getting close to bearing size.

Rachel took this picture a year ago and it’s even bigger now.

avocado seedling I started by sprouting avocado pits

I wish I could pay that tree a visit again. Maybe when it fruits. The avocado I started it from had fruits as big as honeydew melons. It’s some sort of Thai avocado variety that was being passed around the local Thai community in South Florida. I’m excited to see this thing produce!

The California Avocado Commission claims it takes 5-13 years for a seedling tree to bear but you’re much more likely to see it fruit on the earlier end of that spectrum if they are well-tended, watered and grown in full sun.

Why Sprout Avocado Pits?

Common objections to growing avocado trees from seed are:

  1. Trees don’t always come true from seed
  2. It takes a long time for them to bear
  3. Purchasing grafted trees will give you exactly the type you want

All of these objections are easy to answer.

  1. Who cares? Maybe you’ll get something better!
  2. So? Are you planning on dying soon?
  3. What if you don’t want to spend money? And like experiments?

I really find the arguments against growing fruit trees from seed tiresome. The “common wisdom” on the subject is lame. Man has grown trees from seed, including avocados, for thousands of years. We have the varieties we have today because of gardeners like you and me who love to experiment and take joy in raising up good things from tiny seeds.

If you get a variety that just isn’t great, graft it!

Seedling trees make great root stocks. Heck, even if they don’t fruit for you fast enough you can graft on a piece from an already fruiting tree and speed up the process.

Start your own avocado pits the easy way and eventually you’ll be bringing in baskets of fruit. It’s great fun, especially when you can plant seeds with children, and totally worth the time.

Trees you grow from seed cost nothing and will give you a sense of accomplishment like nothing else. I still remember how excited I was when my seedling peach trees fruited for the first time. It’s a great feeling.

So go start sprouting avocado pits. I’m rooting for you… and so will they.

(This article was originally published on January 17, 2017.)

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Make Homemade Potting Soil With 3 Simple Ingredients

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Today you’ll learn how to create homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.

My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.

Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.

homemade potting soil recipe ingredient rotten wood

As you know if you’ve read my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age and dry for a few months.

Homemade potting soil recipe aged manure

Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Homemade potting soil recipe sifted chicken run soil

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.

Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil

If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do. It’s often full of seeds, so watch out for that unless you want pumpkins growing out of your potted begonias.

Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.

Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful. As a bonus, it contains beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.

 

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Growing Microgreens and Sprouts Indoors All Winter Long (Video)

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fresh-arugula-micro-greensAs the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, I’ve heard from several gardeners up north that they are packing it up for the year and winterizing their gardens.

But even up north, there’s one easy way to keep some fresh greens coming all winter long–with just a few containers and a little bit of your open counter space.

Microgreens are a great option for keeping your vitamin intake up over the winter. In addition to being tasty and trendy, they pack a big nutritional punch. A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry looked at 25 common varieties of microgreens and found that they generally have higher concentrations of healthful vitamins and carotenoids than their mature counterparts. Red cabbage microgreens had the highest concentration of vitamin C, and green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E.

Check out this video about growing microgreens and sprouts indoors:

If you want to give this a try and you’re looking for a cheap and easy way to get started, read this article from our writing contest: Easy and Fresh Micro Greens and Herbs All Year Round. You’ll find one example of a no-frills way to get this done–without needing to buy anything but seeds.

(This post was originally published November 17, 2015.)

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7 Staple Crops for Northern Gardeners

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If you live in a cold climate and have to garden to feed yourself, what staple crops would you grow?

There are plenty of staple crops in the tropics (I cover 10 good ones in my Top 10 Tropical Staple Crop Countdown video), but as you move farther north it gets harder to produce a lot of calories on your land. Seasons are short and sunlight is less intense, plus the variety of plants you can choose from is greatly limited.

Yet all is not lost.

Here are a few tried-and-true survival crops for the north, plus one that shows great potential.

7 Staple Crops for Northern Gardeners

Potatoes

Your best bet as a survival staple in northern climates is the trusty potato.

staple survival crops - the potato

Potatoes are really hard to beat on yields and caloric content, plus they take less space and a lot less work than small grains.

I’ve grown wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Though they’re pretty easy to grow, processing makes them a serious pain. I outlined the pros and cons in this article–go read for yourself. Potatoes are much simpler.

The Three Sisters

This is a classic method of gardening practiced by American Indians, as seen here.

Interplant corn, beans, and pumpkins/winter squash for a three sisters garden.

Let’s cover them individually.

Corn

I love corn. It’s a ton of fun to grow, and it’s much easier to harvest and use than most other grains. It’s also beautiful.

staple survival crops - corn

The number of grain corn varieties is staggering. Up north, I recommend sticking to “flint” corns, as dent corn takes much longer to mature.

Beans

In the three sisters garden, pole beans are used. For a survival crop, look for types you can shell and save–not green beans.

Beans

Beans aren’t high on yields compared to a root crop, but they do contain a good amount of protein.

Pumpkins/Winter Squash

Pumpkins and winter squash will yield you a lot of weight in long-storing calories if you pick the right varieties. Vermont Harvest of the Month has a great illustration and recipes on their site.

winter-squash-vermont

In the north, gardeners should mostly stick to C. maxima and C. pepo varieties. In the south, C. moschata usually does better.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Steve Solomon and I were talking about northern staples earlier this year, and I suggested the Jerusalem artichoke as a super-easy root crop; however, he pointed out that the difficulty most of us have in digesting them makes them a lot less attractive in the long run.

I love their productivity, but the tubers mess up your digestion unless you’re very acclimated to them. They are likely a better choice as an animal feed, particularly for pigs.

staple survival crops - Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are beautiful and make a great addition to the edges of a property or in rougher soil where regular vegetables don’t grow.

I planted these along a rough drainage ditch in hard Tennessee clay and rocks, and they grew like crazy.

Turnips

Another option is turnips. I planted big beds of turnips one year and had great success . . . but eating turnips daily gets old fast.

Turnips: staple survival crops

I knew we grew too many when my wife Rachel presented me with a turnip pie she baked for dessert one evening.

After weeks of turnips stewed, mashed, roasted . . . then in pie . . . I didn’t want to see another turnip for a long time.

On the up side, the greens are very good to eat and quite nutritious, making them a dual-purpose crop.

Chinese Yams

Some northern gardeners have had luck growing the cold-tolerant Chinese yam, a.k.a. Dioscorea batatas.

a staple survival crop chinese yam

Experiment and see how it does. As a bonus, the Chinese yam produces tiny little roots on the vine. Cook them up like mini potatoes!

See those here:

Try Chinese yams in your garden and tell me how they turn out–they did well for me in North Florida, and Eric Toensmeier grew them successfully in Massachusetts. I think they have a lot of potential as a staple survival crop. Just be careful, as they may be an invasive species in some areas.

BTW, I mentioned their invasive nature in my newsletter and reader Sharon wrote back, the real invasive species is soy and GMO corn. Wild yam will feed you along with many other weeds.”

I agree. Feeding yourself is of high importance, and if a vegetable grows like a weed and produces calories . . . I find it hard to demonize.

You can buy Chinese yam bulbils from Sharon in her online store here, along with an assortment of other obscure and wonderful plants.

Conclusion

There you go: seven staple survival crops for northern gardens. Did I miss any of your favorites?

Let me know in the comments.

And check out my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening for serious help in a collapse.

Another great title is Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.

And the must-have Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series), by Steve Solomon.

 

* Beans image by Kenneth Leung. Creative Commons license.

 

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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5 tips on growing strawberries

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Woman growing strawberries in a covered net box

Big, fat, and red – is how we like them!

Are strawberries your favorite fruit?

Want to grow them yourself at home?

Here’s 5 tips on how to grow more strawberries than expected! Practice makes perfect so don’t worry if its your first time gardening.

  1. Make a bed of strawberries. Plant them evenly.
  2. Protect your plants from birds and other critters. Make sure to cover your strawberry bed!
  3. Choose a strawberry cultivar that is known to produce a large berry crop. As most would say, short-day varieties will give you the most strawberries.
  4. Most varieties of strawberries produce runners. These runners will eventually develop their own roots, resulting in a clone plant. Once these adventitious roots establish in the soil, the

    Yum yum

    runners begin to dry up and shrivel away. After removing the runners, the plant can absorb more nutrients, which leads to producing more than expected. It’s quite simple to plant strawberry runners. All you have to do is dig around the plant and gently pull it up!

  5. To keep your fruits fresh and healthy, use mulch that decomposes and fertilizes the soil. It will feed your plants and prevent grass and weeds from growing with your strawberry plants.

And there you have it. A bunch of berries! All you have to do now is pick them and enjoy the fresh juicy taste of the red luscious berry. Permaculture experts say that growing asparagus next to your strawberries gives better results.

 

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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.)

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Apartment Gardening: Reaping Abundance in a Small Space

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Today we’re going to set to work on the self-sufficiency task of apartment homesteading. Let’s talk about your Apartment Homestead garden!

There is something so simultaneously spiritual and physical about digging in the dirt, planting seeds, nurturing them to grow and prosper, and reaping the harvest of your hard work a few short months later.

But it does take work and determination, especially when you are an apartment homesteader.

Why Apartment Gardening?

As apartment homesteaders, we have to bring potting soil into our apartments instead of simply tilling up a piece of our land for the garden. We have to take cleanliness and visual appeal into consideration as we plan our apartment gardens, because we have landlords and neighbors to contend with. We have to troubleshoot issues of lack of sunlight at certain times of the day, and we have to find ways to bring the garden inside when we don’t have enough space on our patios.

In short, apartment gardening takes some creativity and determination in order to truly reap the benefits.

But we certainly have good reason to attempt to grow our own food and be on our way to self-sufficiency, even while we are still apartment and condo dwellers. Those reasons include avoiding the pesticide contamination of non-organically grown produce, saving money, and learning how to be self-sufficient for the future.

And, even if you’re a non-apartment dweller, keep in mind that you can use some of these techniques to extend your growing season by bringing the harvest indoors!

Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The Environmental Working Group keeps track yearly of the amount of pesticides used to grow certain fruits and vegetables. The foods with the heaviest pesticide contamination go in the “Dirty Dozen” column. The foods with the least amount of pesticide contamination go in the “Clean 15” column.

Here are the lists for 2017:

Dirty Dozen

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes

Clean Fifteen

  • Sweet Corn
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Sweet Peas
  • Papayas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Grapefruit

I know we can’t all afford to buy only organic produce from the store, but with these lists in mind, we can at least be careful to purchase the Dirty Dozen organically and be a little less strict with how we purchase items from the Clean Fifteen list.

But, even better than simply buying organically produced items on the Dirty Dozen list, we can grow our own! The items in bold text on the Dirty Dozen list are the ones we’ll talk about growing in a patio, container, or indoor garden in our apartment homestead. We’ll also talk about growing other items, such as herbs and salad greens.

Remember, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to grow everything you need to live off of in an apartment. (If you are able to do that, please comment below and share your methods with us!)

But you can grow a variety of herbs, vegetables, and fruits to get you part of the way there. And, if you can grow some of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables in your apartment, you’ll save money by having to buy fewer of them at the store!

Seeds vs. Seedlings

Some of the garden items below are easiest to grow from a small plant that you purchase at a local farm. But growing from seed is entirely possible and you may decide to go that route.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to find a seed or plant source that grows using organic methods. You don’t want to start your apartment garden with seeds or plants soaked in pesticides. You’re trying to get away from that chemical yuck!

Look for certified-organic seed sellers. Local is always better for you and for the environment.

Herbs to Grow While Apartment Gardening

There are two different types of herbs you can grow in your apartment homestead: medicinal herbs and cooking herbs. Often times, a single plant variety will serve both purposes.

We won’t get into the specific medicinal uses of each of these herbs here, but look for a future post on how to create your own “apartment apothecary”!

These are some of the herbs you might decide to grow in your apartment homestead garden:

  • Mint: Great for cooking and has medicinal uses (both)
  • Basil: Both
  • Thyme: Both
  • Oregano: Both
  • Chamomile: Use to make a medicinal tea
  • Echinacea: Medicinal
  • Feverfew: Medicinal
  • Johnny Jump Up: Medicinal
  • Lavender: Use to make a medicinal tea and for other medicinal purposes
  • Lemon Balm: Medicinal
  • Marigold: Medicinal (Pretty, too—and it helps keep pests away!)
  • Parsley: Both
  • Rosemary: Both
  • Sage: Both

There are so many ways to grow herbs in your apartment garden, but here are two of my favorites:

Grow individual herb plants in large-mouth mason jars. Plant and clearly mark one herb plant in each mason jar and display them on your kitchen counter. Most of these need some sun, so try to place them near a window. They look really nice hanging or sitting in a window sill!

Grow an “herb wall.” Plant herbs side by side in long, rectangular, wooden boxes that are lightweight and can easily be hung on a wall with studs. I’ve also seen some clever uses of old shipping pallets to make a wall planter.

Analyze your apartment space and decide what herb-planting method will work best for you . . . then share it with us!

The Apartment Homesteader Herb Garden Schedule

  1. Decide which ailments you would like to treat with natural, organic herbs. Do a simple Internet search to see which herbs may help improve those ailments or your overall health. Also make a list of herbs you use regularly in the kitchen.
  2. Look up the growing recommendations for each herb you want to plant, and make note of the supplies you’ll need. (Or, check out Marjory’s herbal how-to here!
  3. Find a local, organic seed or plant seller and purchase your plants. Also purchase (or repurpose!) your materials to “build” your garden.
  4. When your herbs are ready to harvest, decide how to preserve each herb and reap your herb garden abundance for months to come. You’ll probably use some fresh and save others for later use. Most herbs can be easily dried simply by hanging the cut stems for a few days. Some people also chop up fresh herbs, place them in ice cube trays, add water, and freeze them for later use!

Container-Friendly Vegetables and Fruits

In addition to herbs, you can also grow a bunch of your favorite fruits and vegetables in your apartment garden!

Here’s a list of some of the plants that are easy to grow in small spaces—in pots, in wall gardens, and on your patio in garden boxes:

  • Microgreens
  • Garlic Greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Salad Greens
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Green Beans
  • Kale
  • Scallions
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Ginger
  • Winter Squash
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Artichokes

Pick two or three of your favorites from this list and research planting and growing recommendations for those plants.

Start with the ones that are easiest to grow. (And bonus points for growing some of the produce on the Dirty Dozen list!) Consider planting one tomato plant, two bell pepper plants, and two different salad greens in your first garden go-round.

Just like with your herb garden, each plant will have specific instructions for optimal growth. Also, make sure you look into how much soil space each of the plants you want to try requires when mature. Then, purchase or build your pot or garden box to accommodate them.

The Apartment Homesteader Vegetable Garden Schedule

  1. Decide which fruits and vegetables you want to try to grow in your apartment garden. Pick stuff you like to eat and wouldn’t mind eating in back-to-back meals.
  2. Look up the growing recommendations for each item you want to plant, and make note of the supplies you’ll need.
  3. Find a local, organic seed or plant seller and purchase your plants. Also purchase (or repurpose!) your materials to “build” your garden.
  4. When your produce is almost ready to harvest, make a menu schedule. Find a multitude of recipes that use the produce you are growing and eat as much of it fresh as you can. You can also find recipes and methods to can, dry, or otherwise preserve your produce for eating in the future. There are some stellar tomato-preserving recipes out there!

Pick a Garden Design You (and Your Neighbors!) Will Love

I was clicking around on Pinterest the other day and came across some truly awesome patio garden designs.

One of my favorites used cinder blocks and garden fabric. This pinner stacked the cinder blocks in different ways to expose square openings in the blocks and then attached garden fabric to the inside of the exposed openings. He then filled each “cinder block pot” with soil and planted what he wanted to grow in them.

I also love the raised garden bed designs floating around. I give it bonus points if the gardener uses repurposed materials during building! Make it fun, make it fashionable, and make it sustainable—just like everything else you do as an apartment homesteader.

The same goes for your indoor garden and any container gardening you do. It might seem a little “hipster” or HGTV-wannabe to do so, but making your garden fun and fashionable (think “Pinteresting”) will inspire your friends and neighbors to create their own fun and fashionable apartment gardens. Making self-sufficiency and sustainability look cool encourages more people to pursue it.

What to Plant if You Don’t Get Enough Sun

If your apartment doesn’t face the right way for optimal sunlight, don’t fret! You can still grow a multitude of plants, but you need to get even more creative with your choices.

Here is a list of herbs that grow well in the shade:

  • Mint
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Tarragon
  • Golden Oregano
  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme
  • Angelica
  • Anise

And here are vegetables that grow well in the shade:

  • Salad Greens and Leafy Greens
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Radishes
  • Swish Chard
  • Beans

Or make your own sunlight by purchasing a sun lamp. Just search online for “plant growing lamps”—you’ll find a bunch of options to choose from.

Restarting Plants From “Scraps”

Another really cool way to live a truly sustainable apartment homesteader life is to restart some of your garden items from scraps!

Check out this long list of produce you can restart from your organic table scraps:

  • Leaks
  • Spring Onions
  • Scallions
  • Fennel
  • Lemongrass
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Ginger
  • Potatoes
  • Avocadoes
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pineapple
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Pumpkins
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Turnips
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Lemons
  • Hazelnuts
  • Chestnuts

Remember, once they get going, many of these will need more room than a pot provides, plus a warm climate or heated greenhouse to grow properly. Take that into account before you go through the work of restarting a lemon tree in a northern climate.

Community Gardens

If gardening in your apartment is simply not an option, look around your city for community gardens to join.

You’d be surprised how many community gardens there are around you. For a small fee, you’ll be allocated a small parcel of the garden and you can plant what you want to plant.

Make sure you ask about the garden’s policy on the use of pesticides. If the rest of the gardeners douse their produce in chemicals, you may want to look elsewhere for a garden space.

Once you’ve found your community garden plot, plant a handful of medicinal herbs, a tomato plant, some leafy greens, beans, a row or two of potatoes, a few pepper plants, and any other vegetables you can’t live without.

If for some crazy reason there aren’t any community gardens near you, start your own with other apartment homesteaders! Start a Meetup group for people in the area interested in homesteading and gauge how much land you’ll need to grow a community garden.

Ask your landlord about possible locations for a community garden in the area, or seek out churches and community groups to see if they will sell or allocate a small parcel of land for garden use. You never know what kind of neighborhood green initiative you might start by simply asking questions and offering some encouragement.

What if You Don’t Have a Green Thumb?

Do you lack the gift of growing? Don’t worry; do research. Find local homesteaders and inquire about working in their gardens or in other areas of their homesteads in exchange for free produce.

But don’t just work. Ask questions. See what knowledge you can glean from established homesteaders who grow their own food.

Before you know it, you could be well on your way to becoming a green-thumbed expert in the field of apartment-homestead gardening.

There are so many ways we apartment homesteaders can practice self-sufficiency, even when we don’t have any physical land to grow on. With some creativity, research, and a little determination, we can become abundant apartment homestead gardeners.

Share your apartment garden projects below! We’d love to hear from you!

 

References:

http://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/flowers-and-plants/herbs/15-herbs-that-grow-in-the-shade-pictures
https://www.thespruce.com/growing-vegetables-without-full-sun-2540014
https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/#.WdTouNOGMfE
https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/medicinal-herbs/
http://mashable.com/2015/06/07/plants-you-can-grow-in-apartments/#NnTSQaEnHGqV
https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/10-fruits-and-vegetables-you-can-grow-in-a-tiny-apartment
http://blackthumbgardener.com/1-plants-you-grow-from-kitchen-scraps/
https://www.diyncrafts.com/4732/repurpose/25-foods-can-re-grow-kitchen-scraps
https://bonnieplants.com/library/grow-tomatoes-pots/
http://www.contemporist.com/make-modern-outdoor-diy-succulent-planter-using-cinder-blocks/
http://www.diyhowto.org/diy-raised-garden-bed-ideas/
http://www.pinkwhen.com/how-to-make-an-herb-garden-from-a-pallet/

The post Apartment Gardening: Reaping Abundance in a Small Space appeared first on The Grow Network.

Pueblo Farming Methods For Your Resilient Garden

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I spent the morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Resilience Garden learning about the history of Pueblo Farming Methods. There are 19 Pueblos of New Mexico represented at the center.

The Resilience Garden tells the story of pre-contact foods and traditional farming methods all the way to modern plants and gardening methods for urban communities.

Watch the Interview (15:49 minutes):

Irrigation

The Zuni Pueblo is highly represented in the Resilience Garden because of its unique irrigation method, called a waffle garden. It is a brilliant technique to harvest and conserve water and is several thousand years old.

Zuni Pueblo Waffle Garden

Without a permanent water source, you can’t water a large area of crops. The waffle garden acts like a puddle. You hand-carry water to the beds and make sure the water stays concentrated where you put it.

The walls of the waffle bed are hand formed to catch any rainfall and focus that precious water around seeds and the roots of plants. It keeps the soil damp during the weeks of the dry season.

Water is a vital, life-giving element, especially in this desert climate. Pueblo cultures honor water through sustainable practices, as well as seasonal dances praying for generous rains, healthy plants, and a bountiful harvest.

pueblo-farming-methods

Acoma and Laguna Flood Garden

Seasonal rains were crucial in Pueblo agriculture. Many of the Pueblos are located near plateaus. When the seasonal rains come, the rain runs off of the plateaus and into the flood gardens.

A wall around the flood garden holds the water in a particular area to water their crops. There were often multiple flooding areas, so if one area filled up with water, a wall would be removed so the water flowed into the next area and so on.

Pueblo crops planted in these types of gardens

The waffle and flood gardens were planted with melons and squash. The heavy amount of water would undermine a corn plant’s root system causing it to fall over.

Plants

The Pueblos are scattered throughout the state of New Mexico with a wide-variety of climates, from mountains to desert and plateaus to scrub. However, the Pueblo People concentrate their gardening around the Three Sisters (Corn, Beans, and Squash).

Community food production

Most of the crops grow in communal plots. Land was not owned, making it easy to move your garden each year. You weren’t planting in the same place (preventing pest and disease issues, and giving the land time to rest). By the time you got back to your original growing space, nature had time to rebuild healthy soil.

Want to know more about community food production? Click here to watch I Don’t Want to Grow All My Own Food. 

Prior to European Contact

Prior to contact with Europeans, there were many berries and different types of shrubs that were wild harvested.

Other pre-contact plants:

  • Mint
  • Cotton
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Wild Spinach
  • Yucca
  • Wild Celery
  • Tea (a tall grass)
  • Chokecherries
  • Wild plums
  • Wild mushrooms

Traditional herbs and many plants were not cultivated but harvested where they grew naturally.

Learning through history

Lessons were learned throughout history in places like Mesa Verde and Bandolier. These sites were built into cliffs with little or no space for agriculture to support such a larger community.

Corn is one of the oldest plants, which came from Mexico. The Pueblos have had corn for many thousands of years.

It is unknown when or how Beans and Squash came into Pueblo agriculture. There isn’t an exact story of where these plants came from.

The stories that have been handed down through the history of Pueblo culture speak to why they garden as they do and the way plants are cultivated or not.

When the Spanish came to the New Mexico, the pueblos were thriving. They had seven years-worth of food stored. The stored food kept the Spanish from conquering the Pueblos. It was the generosity of the Pueblo people that helped the Spanish survive in this harsh environment.

The Spanish, in turn, brought sheep, horses, chickens, and even the fruit trees that are grown today.

There are still families at the Pueblos who grow in the traditional methods and incorporate modern plants. Even the younger generations are becoming interested in the agricultural traditions once again.

Pueblo Ceremonies

Pueblos have many ceremonies throughout the year. The dances and songs vary from Pueblo to Pueblo. The reason many dances are not open to the public is because they are sacred. The dance and song are prayers to the soil, the plants, the pollinators, and gratitude for the harvest.

The season starts in the spring with ceremonies for preparing the soil and starting seeds. The ceremonies also bless the land with songs and dances.

Then throughout the summer, there are many dances that bless the field and crops, bring in the pollinators like the butterflies, and for a good harvest.

All of the dances, songs, preparations, plantings, and seasons lend themselves to the story of living life close to nature and gardening in a sustainable way.

Your Resilient Garden

At the Resilience Garden, they’re inspiring modern gardeners. Their methods are thousands of years of trial and error.

If you got out in your garden for the first time today, you would still come up with these methods on your own. Learning some of the best methods right away and adapting them to where you live will only help you create an abundant harvest.

The Resilience garden shows what gardeners have learned over the years:

  1. Preparing the soil is the foundation to sustainable gardening
  2. Planting the right plant in the right place
  3. Harvesting with gratitude
  4. Sharing knowledge with others

Resilience is a common theme for the Pueblos throughout history. They have survived contact with many nations and still remain humble, loving, and incredibly generous. The Pueblo agricultural methods and seeds are still alive after thousands of years. That’s pretty amazing!

The name of the garden is powerful and inspiring for the Indigenous people of the area, and anyone who comes to this space. There is even a Seed Bank, where the Pueblo people drop off seeds that have been in their family for many generations. That’s better than money!

If you’re in Albuquerque, please stop by and learn more about Pueblo Culture and the Resilience Garden. Click here for more information.

Resources:
Historic Images: Library of Congress
Dance footage courtesy of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

 

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I Don’t WANT To Grow All My Own Food. Here’s Why.

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Would it surprise you to learn that I don’t grow all of my family’s food?

(Well, maybe if I could get my teenagers to work a little harder … then I would? 😉 )

But the truth is, I don’t even want to.

I’d rather live in a gift economy—a core community of like-minded people who are so interconnected that they support, help, and give to one another … without any expectation of getting something in return.

It’s a joyful, stable economy—and it’s ancient for some wonderful reasons.

In fact, really, the deep satisfaction it brings is what we’re all aiming for when we talk about growing a community.

But how do we get there?

How do you go from no or little community to living in a gift economy?

That’s the topic of my next video chapter of Grow: All True Wealth Comes From the Ground.

In it, I talk about:

  • One Of The BEST Ways To Start Producing Food As A Community
  • 5 Ways To Give — And Which Offer The Most True Wealth
  • What’s In It For You? The No. 1 Reason To Pursue A Gift Economy

Did you see last week’s video Chapter of GROW? Click here to watch Build Community In 9 Easy steps!

After you watch it, I’d love to hear your story.

What type of giving brings you the most satisfaction?

How has giving created community for you?

I can’t wait to read your comments!

 

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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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… on topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!

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6 Experts Give Their Top 3 Gardening Tips on How to Keep Pests Out of Your Garden

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6 Experts Give Their Top 3 Gardening Tips on How to Keep Pests Out of Your Garden Starting and maintaining a garden takes hard work, patience, and some basic awareness.  Don’t let garden pests ruin all that hard work, and your beautiful garden, by taking some preventive steps that are easy and effective.  BugsBeGone site …

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How to Eat and Grow Pomegranate – an Amazing Fruit for Food and Medicine

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How to Eat and Grow Pomegranate – an Amazing Fruit for Food and Medicine When it comes to survival foods, you’ll want to grow pomegranate. If you don’t have the space to grow your own, or your not in the ideal pomegranate growing zones 7-10, then you can add this to your list of foods …

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Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are With A Free Infographic

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Permaculture Zones

Permaculture Zones

Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are This A Free Infographic

Learning the permaculture zones can be intimidating. There never seems to be an easy down to earth explanation about permaculture. I have never seen a Permaculture for dummies. If there was I would buy it right now. For Infographic Monday’s I thought I would share one on the 5 permaculture zones. No long mysterious explanations here. You can check out the interview I did with Paul Wheaton for a bit more.  Also, the Permaculture Playing cards are a great resource.  I found this infographic at Afristar. They have a ton of great free resources.

 

Permaculture Zone 1

Permaculture zone 1 starts at your door. Basically inside your home is zone zero. When you step outside its zone 1. It can also include frequently visited paths. The things in a permaculture zone 1 need daily attention. 

However, if you have an area around your house you never visit it is not zone one. So if you have a tiny space on the side of the house that you never go to even though it is touching the house it is not zone one. It could very well be zone 5 if you never even do maintenance to it. 

If you go to an area every day to maintain it, it’s zone 1. 

Permaculture Zone 2

In permaculture zone 2 are things that still need a lot of attention but less than zone 1. Your perennials and long growing season vegetable’s go here. In fact, most of your garden will go here. With automated irrigations and raised beds that don’t need weeding there’s not reason, to visit except for harvesting. 

Fruit trees, Beehives, and chickens also go in permaculture zone 2. 

Permaculture Zone 3

Zone 3 is basically farmland. It is your typical row crops, Large orchards and pasture for grazing animals. On most backyards, you have little to no permaculture zone 3.  This area is not visited much at all. Zone 3 requires little day to day attention. 

 

Permaculture Zone 4

Permaculture zone 4 is semi-managed woodland. You use this area to forage for wild edibles, timber and for grazing animals. You might take out saplings in here to open up the area. Make paths for yourself and animals. Set up feeders or cameras. This is also a good area to practice bushcraft skills and set up a permanent camp. 

Permaculture Zone 5

Zone 5 is unmanaged wilderness. This is an area where nature takes her course. You can visit to observe and enjoy. This is the part of your land to enjoy nature is her untamed glory. To see the animals in their natural environment. 

 

Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are This A Free Infographic

Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are This A Free Infographic

 

 

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How to Plant an Apple Tree the Right Way

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How many ways are there to plant a fruit tree? Quite a few, it appears! I’ve been reading up on the topic, reading such books as The Apple Grower, Creating a Forest Garden, Edible Forest Gardens and The Backyard Orchardist.

Seems like there are as many ways to plant a fruit tree as there are books on the subject. I went with a combination of what I’ve read and feel pretty good about it. The pages below are from the books “The Apple Grower” and “Edible Forest Gardens volume 2”.

Two ways to plant an apple tree

The conclusion? Proper holes, mycorrhizal fungi inoculation, molasses and seaweed concentrate makes for a good start in life. I’ve planted one tree and have three more apple trees to plant, as well as a plum tree.

The apple trees I’m planting are grafted onto Antonovka seedling rootstock, which may grow larger than are practical (7m) but on the other hand they can live 100+ years and are more resilient than more dwarfing rootstocks.

There’s a special feeling about planting trees that not only my 10 month daughter will enjoy but likely also HER grandchildren.

The forest garden

The forest garden will be to the left of the house on the field that’s sticking up. It’s roughly an area of 30 x 20 meters, i.e. 600 sq. meters. I’m not sure if I’ll ever plant the whole area, I’m starting small and will just take it season by season and let it grow as I find interesting plants to fill it with.

Measuring for planting

Measuring out the 1 m hole

There were a lot of anxiety involved with choosing the exact location for the very first tree in my forest garden. I didn’t want it too close to the house because as mentioned apple trees on Antonovka root stock grows quite large and can cast a long shade. So I ended up planting it 12 meters from the house, lined up with a window in the house so we can see the apple tree from our kitchen and living room.

The hole

Dig a $10 hole for a $1 tree.

Again, a proper planting hole is key for good establishment. Edible Forest Gardens recommends a hole 2x the size of the root ball. I dug an even larger hole of 1 meter in diameter, roughly 3x the width of the root ball, because the tree was fairly large with long roots that needed the extra room.

Breaking up the soil

Breaking up the soil

Breaking up the compacted soil on the sides and bottom of the planting hole is a good tip to make it easier for the roots to spread down and into the surrounding soil. I left the ground right under the tree as is to prevent settling of the tree.

Tree planting ergonomics

Do try to have better ergonomics when planting. Bend your knees, not your back. I can improve in that area. Good tools to have on hand when planting a tree is a good shovel, a pitchfork, some tarp to put the soil on while digging (otherwise a lot gets lost in the lawn), a wheelbarrow, and a large bucket for watering in the tree afterwards.

Spreading the roots

Spreading the roots

Spreading out the roots of the apple tree is an important step in planting. Curled roots, as I had on this tree, can eventually strangle the tree as they grow.

Mycorrhizal fungi

Mycorrhizal fungi

I used mycorrhizal fungi when planting, as recommended by Richard Perkins at Ridgedale Permaculture. Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots, and exist by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas greatly increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system. Bare root plants can be dipped in a solution, but I had a container grown plant so I sprinkled the inoculant over the roots in the planting hole.

Combined with the mycorrhizal fungi inoculant I watered in the tree with a mix of sugar molasses and seaweed concentrate. 3.5ml of concentrated kelp extract, the recommended dosage. I used roughly 1 cup of sugar molasses to 10 liters of water.

Rock dust application

Rock dust application

The only other soil amendment I used was rock dust that will provide a long term boost in minerals.

That’s it! Now I have four more trees to plant, as well as a cherry bush. Stay tuned for more updates on this developing forest garden.

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How to Build an Instant Garden

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Here’s a very simple instant garden system demonstrated by Geoff Lawton. It’s pretty much the same system I use at the Walden Labs homestead, except I added straw mixed with sheep manure on top of the sheet mulch.

The basic how-to is this: Put down a bit of manure straight on the grass, cover with sheet mulch (newspaper, cardboard, egg cartons, old books), vegetable scraps from your kitchen if you have some, and then apply a thick layer of rough mulch (straw, hay, grass clippings, etc.).

Here’s Geoff explaining the “why” of sheet mulch gardening:

“What I’m doing is I’m imitating the forest floor. The soil organisms down there, those millions of organisms, tons of them in every square meter. Right now they’re thinking that a beautiful forest has landed on top. You can’t really go too thick [with the mulch]. You can definitely get too thin. This will hold huge amount of moisture. The soil surface will be warmer in winter and cooler in summer. It will greatly moderate the water flow”

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How To Earn $60 Per Hour Growing Potatoes

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Want to save lots of money on your grocery bill? Grow your own food.

Take potatoes for example:

As I wrote after my 2015 harvest, my return on investment from growing potatoes was 3,468%.

I planted 2 kg and harvested 69.3 kg. Excluding the initial field preparation that I won’t have to repeat, I spent no more than 5 hours total on this small field of potatoes, maintaining, watering, and harvesting.

Potato harvest

If I go and buy potatoes of similar quality in the supermarket today they’ll cost me around $3 a kilo.

That means my ~70 kg potato harvest has a store value of $210. Remember, it only took me 5 hours to get this harvest, which means for every hour I spent in the garden I saved / earned $42.

But that’s like earning $42 tax-free. If you’re an employee you have to pay tax on your salary before you can go and buy potatoes in the store. With a 30% income tax you’ll have to earn $60 per hour to end up with $42 post-tax.

Do you make $60 per hour on your job?

If not, you can save money by growing your own potatoes. If you like potatoes, you can save a lot of money by growing a lot of potatoes.

Of the 137,896,660 US workers that’s recorded in the “May 2015 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates“, roughly 69 million workers earn $17.40 (median hourly wage) or less.

So I’d argue with some certainty that well more than 69 million US workers could save money by growing their own potatoes, even if that means taking a few hours per year off from work.

But the good thing is, having a garden and having a job is not mutually exclusive. You can do both. Your job might take up 8-9 hours a day, plus you need to sleep 6-8 hours. That means you have around 8 hours in a day to do what you want.

You could spend many of those 8 hours watching TV alone or with your family, but personally I’ve found it much more enjoyable to spend time outdoors and in my garden. Even more so since I had my first child. Now I take every chance I get to bring her outside.

This is not only applicable to potatoes. As I noted here, I once bought some sea-buckthorn berries at the store. They cost me $3 for 250 grams.

Buying a sea-buckthorn bush on the other hand would cost me $16.

Sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn bush in Russia, 2007. Photo: Axel Waehling

So I could buy 5 packages of sea berries at the supermarket for a total of 1250 grams, or I could buy and plant a bush in my garden that would provide a harvest for years to come.

(Note: sea-buckthorn requires both male and female plants in a ratio of approximately 1 male to every 6 females. So I’d actually have to buy at least 1 male and 1 female plant, but you’ll likely want more than 1 female if you have the space for it)

One bush can produce a harvest of 7 – 20 pounds (3 – 9 kg) of berries in a year, i.e. a total store value of $36 – $108. Even with the lowest estimate I’d break even in one year if I buy 1 male and 1 female plant.

$3 for 250 grams or $16 for 3-9 kg per year, what do you choose?

Of course, you need land to be able to grow potatoes. If you live in the city, there are still ways to do this though, for example through a community garden or renting a plot of lawn.

I planted twice as much potatoes this year, but I’m sure I won’t spend more than 10 hours tending the field. Spread out over the 3 summer months that’s 3 hours a month, or 6 minutes a day.

Is it worth it?

For me, it’s a no-brainer.

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How to Grow a Vegetable Garden the “Back to Eden”-Way

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I first stumbled upon this film a few years ago, and I know it has inspired many to start growing their own food. It’s a fantastic film showing all the benefits of mulching. Check out the short 20-minute version above, or watch the full film for free on Vimeo.

Back to Eden Film shares the story of Paul Gautschi and his lifelong journey walking with God and learning how to get back to the simple, productive organic gardening methods of sustainable provision that were given to man in the garden of Eden.

The food growing system that Paul Gautschi calls “back to eden gardening” relies on heavy mulching to eliminate or reduce modern farming issues such as soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation, weed control, pest control, crop rotation, and PH issues. As the film makers note: “None of these issues exist in the unaltered state of nature or in Paul’s gardens and orchards.”

You will walk away from Back to Eden Film with the knowledge of how to plant an organic garden and how to grow your own food.

If you want to support the film makers and watch the film offline then buy the DVD, including bonus features, here.
Produced & Directed By: Dana & Sarah Films
Starring: Paul Gautschi

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Grow Your Own Brussels Sprouts

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Grow Your Own Brussels Sprouts

This is a very nice video on the growing of Brussels Sprouts. This is a very long season crop, but so very much worth the investment in time and effort. As preparedness people, we must never be lazy. We must always be learning, growing, and developing more strategies in order to strengthen our ability to not just survive, but thrive. A diversity of food sources and choices will not only enhance our nutrition, but also help with our sanity through a diversity of tastes and textures. You could even leave them on the plant through the first snow fall so they get starchy and sweet. Learn from many sources and people for knowledge of all the little tricks that may not be common in books on gardening.  I myself, have sought out many sources for deepening my knowledge of growing food.

       

 

The Most Efficient Irrigation System in the World

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If you live in a hot and dry location and you want to grow a garden, or keep a potted plant on your balcony, you have a problem.

It’s very hard to keep your plants properly watered.

I might have a resilient solution for you. It’s a simple, low-cost technology that works for you, around the clock.

Specifically, it’s an ancient bit of technology from Northern Africa/China that may be the most efficient irrigation system in the world. It has the capacity to:

  • Use 50-70% less water (which makes it a nice compliment to a rainwater harvesting system).
  • Control soil moisture levels to prevent over-watering and reduce irrigation labor.
  • Allow planting by seed. Reduce weed cover (by depriving surface rooting plants of water).
  • And much more…

What is it?

It’s simply a clay pot called an Olla (pronounced oy-yah). This clay pot is buried in the soil next to the plants you want to irrigate as you can see at the center of this photo (via Dripping Springs).

olla irrigaion

To irrigate, you simply add water to the pot. The pot then slowly releases the water to the plant over time.

Very simple.

The Olla

Here’s what an Olla looks like:

olla

It’s a terracotta clay pot that is:

  • Unglazed (you can glaze the neck and lip).
  • Fatter at the bottom than at the top.
  • Open at the top (typically with a lip to make filling it easier).

To put it to use, bury the pot next to the plants you want to water and cap it with a fitted cap or a stone to prevent mosquitoes from using it.

After that, just keep it filled.

Photo of Ollas that are about to be buried.

ollabed-2

The technology employed by the Olla is pretty simple.

The unglazed clay of the pot only releases water upon demand, when it senses negative pressure (suction). It doesn’t just seep out continuously. This negative pressure is caused by plants. When plant roots use the water, removing it from the soil, negative pressure is created. The interaction between the plant and the pot is what makes it so efficient.

Well, I’m back on the hunt to find great insight/experts for this month’s report.

Sincerely,

JOHN ROBB

PS: If you know somebody that might benefit from this idea, please share it with them!

PPS: Kevin Bayuk is an expert in Olla operation and employment (as well as many other permaculture topics).

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Urban Farm Tour: Making $75,000 on 1/3 acre

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Curtis Stone is an urban farmer, and a quite successful one at that. He started his own business using other people’s backyards for farming in an urban environment. After some years he managed to purchase the land where he planted his first crop, ultimately turning it into his base of operations.

Curtis’ 1/3 acre farm, Green City Acres, is situated in Kelowna, BC, Canada since 2010. In an eight month growing season, the farm generates over $75,000 per year on only one third of an acre.

The farm has been recognized internationally, as flag ship example of how profitable and productive urban agriculture can be.

How does he do it?

In his own words, “This is done by specializing in a select group of high value, quick growing crops that allow for multiple plantings in the same beds as well as calculated intercropping strategies.”

Urban Farming

We use highly effective intensive farming techniques to maximize the production of the land, while regenerating the health of the soil.

Curtis is not just a farmer, but also an author, consultant and speaker on topics such as quick growing and high values annual vegetables for direct consumer market streams.

Curtis has written a book, The Urban Farmer, which is a must if you’re interested in becoming an urban farmer yourself.

The Urban Farmer Book Trailer

This book is “a comprehensive, hands-on, practical manual to help you learn the techniques and business strategies you need to make a good living growing high-yield, high-value crops right in your own backyard (or someone else’s).
In his book called he introduces organic intensive techniques centered on business and systems to streamline labor market. This became an alternative to conventional farming, an approach where there is a direct link between quality of life and profit.”

Curtis Stone

You can learn more about Curtis Stone and his farming experience by visiting his Youtube channel where he shares his knowledge about urban farming.

Urban Farming

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How To Survive The Stock Market Crash

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Have you been following the stock market woes? No? Perhaps you have noticed rising food prices and the cost of goods? You are most likely aware of the incredible drop in gas prices. While we have sometimes spoken about it in a far-off future disaster scenario, the facts point to one thing – the stock market, and our global economy, is crashing. Let us discuss ways for you to get through it and perhaps even thrive.
The economy IS crashing. This is not a doomer fantasy. Find out how to survive this economic crash.

Read more »

Hydroponic Farm Grows 350 Varieties of Vegetables with 90 minerals

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John from Growing Your Greens goes on a field trip to Swank Specialty Produce that grows over 350 varieties of vegetables and uses 90 minerals to grow the best tasting food.

In this episode, John will visit a farm in South Florida growing both Hyrdoponic Shade House Grown and Organic Full Sun Production.

You will get a full tour of the farm including many of the crops they are currently growing, how they are growing them. You will learn how important it is to grow diversity in your garden and grow specific varieties of crops for success instead of failure.

You will also discover the special trace minerals they use to grow the best tasting food.

Finally, John will interview Darren Swank, the farmer who has been been in the business of farming for 13+ years now and ask him the following questions:

Questions answered in the video:

  • Is there any such thing as Organic Hydroponics?
  • What Nutrients do you use in your Hydroponic System?
  • How do you control pests using organic methods?
  • Why is it important to be proactive instead of reactive for pest control?
  • What organic control do you use for Powderly Mildew?
  • How important is growing diversity in crops?
  • What are the easiest vegetables to grow in South Florida?
  • How important is educating the public if you are a farmer?
  • How can people learn more about and contact your farm

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How To Grow Food During Winter in a Greenhouse

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This video demonstrates how you can grow during the winter in a 4 season greenhouse in Colorado.

Here are five more examples of cold climate greenhouses. Greenhouses are great for extending your growing season to 2, 3 or even 4 seasons.

For many colder climates a simple cold frame or high tunnel (or any of these 6 DIY greenhouse designs) can extend your season by weeks or even months in both the spring and the fall. Using warm beds and other techniques you can potentially grow food year round, depending on where you live.

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How To Grow Potatoes In Containers And Get An Amazing Yield

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The traditional approach growing potatoes is to hill them. Essentially, you use a hoe to cover up the potato sprouts as they emerge to get more growth out of them.

In contrast to the above, a growing in containers you grow the potato vertically, above ground. This method has the potential to yield more than an “in ground” method while using less space and reducing the labor required to dig them up.

You can grow potatoes in hay, on compost, directly in the dirt, growing boxes, buckets, chicken whire and any other good sized container.

Potato towers

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10 Easy DIY Greenhouse Plans (They’re Free!)

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Building a greenhouse does not have to break your budget. There are cheap and easy to build greenhouse plans out there, and below you’ll find ten of them.

Also check out these 6 DIY greenhouse designs inspired by traditional shelters and these five northern greenhouse examples.

1. Build an Easy 5 x 5 Home Greenhouse for under $25

Cold frame greenhouse

free plan

2. How to build your own Recycled Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

Recycled bottle greenhouse

free plan

3. How To Build a Fold-Down Greenhouse

Fold down greenhouse

free plan

4. How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse

$50 greenhouse

free plan

5. Free step by step plans to build a barn style greenhouse!

Barn style greenhouse

free plan

6. My Homemade Greenhouse

Homemade greenhouse

free plan

7. CD Case Greenhouse Tutorial

CD case greenhouse

free plan

8. On the Farm: Building a DIY Greenhouse (For less than you think)

DIY greenhouse

free plan

9. How to Build a GeoDome Greenhouse

Geodome greenhouse

free plan

10. FREE plans for PVC pipe projects / Arched Greenhouse

PVC greenhouse

free plan

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This Innovative New Greenhouse Makes It Possible To Grow Crops Even In The Desert

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In regions that regularly experience high temperatures, frequent droughts, and severe dryness, farming is virtually impossible. Roots Up is a non-profit organization in Northern Ethiopia that strives to help Ethiopian farmers produce healthy crops in even the most undesirable weather conditions that the region is subjected to.

Roots Up greenhouse

 

The team has come up with an innovative, multifunctional greenhouse, the Root Up Greenhouse, that is capable of both growing food and producing water by working with an arid environment rather than against it.

During the hot hours of the day, hot air is trapped within greenhouse and the temperatures continue to rise. All of the heat causes water to evaporate creates a humid environment within the greenhouse atmosphere, providing an excellent grow environment for the plant life as well as maximizing the dew harvest.

Roots Up greenhouse

From evening until morning when the temperatures drop substantially, the top of the greenhouse can be opened allowing it to cool. Eventually, the greenhouse environment reaches dew point, at which point the atmospheric water vapor condenses into small droplets on the surface of the bio-plastic sheet where they drip into the container below, providing the farmer with clean water for drinking and irrigation.

H/T: The Mind Unleashed

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$300 Underground Greenhouse Grows Food Year Round; An Extraordinary Walipini

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From vertical farms to solar-powered “farms from a box,” we’ve seen how farming technology has grown leaps and bounds in recent years. But for those who prefer something a little more rustic, growing food from a hole in the ground is as low-tech as you can get.

A walipini, meaning “place of warmth” from the Amaraya Indian language, is an underground greenhouse with a transparent (usually plastic) covering that stays warm by passively soaking up the sun’s heat and absorbing the earth’s thermal energy.

Underground greenhouse

This underground greenhouse collects the sun’s rays and earth’s heat to grow food Photo credit: schweibenalp.ch

Fruits and vegetables can be grown year-round, making it ideal for communities in colder locations that can’t usually grow their own fresh and local produce during certain parts of the year.

The farming method isn’t exactly new. Walipinis have been used in South and Central America for decades, including one that can grow bananas at 14,000 feet in the Andes.

The technique was notably adopted by The Benson Institute, a worldwide food security program of the Mormon church. According to The Plaid Zebra, the Benson Institute and its team of volunteers built a community-sized 74-feet-by-20-feet walipini in La Paz, Bolivia for around a mere $300.

The institute published a DIY manual on how to build such a structure. It explains:

The Walipini, in simplest terms, is a rectangular hole in the ground 6 to 8 feet deep covered by plastic sheeting. The longest area of the rectangle faces the winter sun—to the north in the Southern Hemisphere and to the south in the Northern Hemisphere. A thick wall of rammed earth at the back of the building and a much lower wall at the front provide the needed angle for the plastic sheet roof. This roof seals the hole, provides an insulating airspace between the two layers of plastic (a sheet on the top and another on the bottom of the roof/poles) and allows the suns rays to penetrate creating a warm, stable environment for plant growth.

Minneapolis-based Seasons Unity Project builds walipinis and says these structures can be constructed in places with surface temperatures as cold as -10 degrees Fahrenheit and as few as four feet below ground level.

Walipini

The walipini can be a low-cost and effective year-round greenhouse. Photo credit: Flickr

“Of course, many climates are too harsh for growing healthy vegetables, fruits, and herbs outside year-round. Rather than stopping at the apparent challenge or obstacle… [the structure] allows its caretaker to harvest, store, and deliver energy without generation or requirement of external energy or active energy input,” the Seasons Unity Project said.

This 4-minute clip features a farmer from the Comanche community in Bolivia. He explains how a walipini helps grow crops, such as potatoes and quinoa, even during the frosty and rainy winter from December to February.

It’s a new system for us. We can rescue the heat, and with that heat we can make a good production and we also save water,” he says. “With a walipini…we can produce not only fodder (for animals), we can produce food for all the people who live here.

A walipini is also great for places like The Netherlands, which also cold weather spells. A volunteer farming group there called Creative Garden Wageningen is working on its own walipini, dubbed the Sunken Greenhouse that will house lemons, strawberries, peppers, and a variety of beans and herbs, as you can see in the video in the beginning of this article.

Impressively, the structure’s inside beam is a living willow tree. Additionally, the grounds outside have plots for plants such as beans, pumpkins, onions and more. The roof covering was made with donated landfill plastic.

“We made it ourselves for very little if no money at all using leftover and donated materials,” uploader Ben Green wrote.

He added that their walipini now has a reciprocal roof, “one of the few in the world to have such a roof.”

Interested in building your own underground greenhouse? Here are 5 things you should know:

Walipini Infographic

Note: Cost of construction is relative.  Supplies required are quite inexpensive. Many off gridders provide their own labor and are extensively resourceful. If you plan to throw money at it and see it built, a $300.00 solution isn’t for you. If you require a backhoe rental to dig, and someone to run it, the costs will be sizeably more. I might suggest an in-between solution.  I was once offered a job as a 16 year old: 50 cents per wheelbarrow full.  The homeowner saved a lot of money, and I made $12 per hour in a time where $4.00 was a typical job for a 16 year old.  I learned a work ethic that carried through my entire life.  Many lessons can be gathered from such a project.

Originally published on Ecowatch.com

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How to Grow 6,000 Lbs of Food on 1/10th Acre

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Who would have thought you could find this self-sufficient beauty 15 minutes away from downtown Los Angeles? If you want to grow your own food and make sure that everything you put on the table is 100% healthy and free of any chemicals, take the example of this next L.A. based family.

The Urban Homestead

Over 6,000 pounds of food per year, on 1/10 acre (3,900 sq.ft. / ~ 66′ x 66′) located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The Dervaes family grows over 400 species of plants, Up to 6,000 pounds of harvest annually, 900 chicken and 1,000 duck eggs, 25 lbs of honey, plus seasonal fruits throughout the year. 99% of everything they consume in a year comes from their own household.

urbanhomestead-1

All their products are chemical free and green and their sustainable way of life is a great example to follow by everyone who wants to control what they are eating. Growing your own food also means saving a lot of money and the Dervaes managed to earn over $20000 last year.

As you can see in the video, they utilize every single square inch of their garden. The 6,000 pound harvest on such a small footprint is only made possible using techniques such as companion planting, square inch gardening, intensive growing methods, polyculture/intercropping and vertical gardening.

urbanhomestead-2

They also have chickens (eggs/manure), ducks (eggs/manure), dwarf rabbits (manure), dwarf/pygmy goats (milk/manure) as well as bees (honey/wax) and an aquaponics system where they have Talapia fish.

Take a look at the video above to find out more about this healthy family and tips on how to follow in their footsteps. You can follow their progress at The Urban Homestead.

urbanhomestead-3

urbanhomestead-4

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20 Vertical Gardening Ideas for Turning a Small Space into a Big Harvest

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Vertical gardening is nothing more than using vertical space to grow vegetables (or herbs, or flowers, even root crops), often using containers that hang on a sunny wall. Traditional gardeners have done similar things with climbing plants like squashes and beans for centuries by building trellises. Vertical gardening takes it one step further by giving non-climbing plants a space on the wall.

Vertical gardens take up less space, are easier to harvest, and easier to maintain. However, they do have their own limitations:

  • You need sunny wall space
  • If they are built too high, they can be difficult to maintain. Don’t make them taller than you can reach
  • The support system must be strong enough to handle the weight of everything
  • The supporting wall must be able to withstand a lot of moisture. You can use polyethylene cloth to create a vapor barrier along the back of your garden if this might be a concern.

That being said, vertical gardening is one of the most forgiving and flexible gardening systems. If you can already get a harvest from container gardens, vertical gardens should be no problem. Here are several ways you can try doing vertical gardening in your own home for the upcoming season.


The Self-Reliance Garden Tower

The Self-Reliance Garden Tower

The Garden Tower might just be the highest performing soil-based gardening system available. Just look at these features:

  • Grow up to 50 plants in 4 square feet
  • Easily rotates for plant access and sunlight
  • Compost kitchen scraps into organic fertilizer
  • Recycles nutrients, saves water, and vermicomposts
  • Accessible, easy to use, senior friendly, food-grade, recycable
  • Put simply, the “ultimate patio farm” for proches, balconies, & rooftops

Black Friday Special!

We’ve managed to secure a limited number (56 to be exact) of these Self-Reliance Garden Towers from the manufacturer for Walden Labs readers.

On Black Friday you’ll have a chance to get your hands on one, and you’ll save over $100 off MSRP. They are going to go FAST… and I don’t want you to miss out, so if you’re interested sign up for our Early Bird list here.

The all-new Self-Reliance Garden Tower 2 is the culmination of four years of extensive testing by thousands of Garden Tower users across North America. First-time Gardeners, Master Gardeners, Environmental Scientists, Commerical and Community Gardeners, and Ecological Educators in more than forty institutions consistently rely on the ease and efficiency of this system.


Hanging Pots

Hanging Pots

At its simplest, a vertical garden spot is just a container full of soil with drainage holes and a spot on the wall in the sun. A section of fencing or a pallet as shown here could provide a spot for a clamp that can screw into the pot and the pallet to give it support. It’s important when building your garden that your support system can handle wind.


Gutter System

Gutter vertical garden
Here’s an interesting idea that repurposes old gutter sections for gardening space. It’s like a window box only more so. Make sure there is enough space between the gutter sections for sunlight to reach between them. Also make sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom of the sections so the plants don’t get waterlogged and lower levels can get adequate water.


More Gutter Gardens

vertical garden

Image: shelterness.com


Even More Gutter Gardens

Gutter vertical garden
Here’s another example of a gutter vertical garden attached to the side of a house. One thing to watch for when doing this style is to make sure there is adequate drainage so the siding doesn’t get damaged. This is a great setup for people who cannot bend over very far.


Traditional Trellis

Traditional Trellis
Every gardener should have a traditional trellis system if they grow vining vegetables. You get a much larger harvest out of those plants, a cleaner garden, and it’s easier to find all those hidden tomatoes. Be sure to place it where it won’t shade the rest of your garden, and make it strong enough to withstand the weight of the plants. If you can, sink your posts 24” down to support the weight of the heaviest pumpkins.


Tower Gardens

Tower Garden
Not DIY, but if you want to take vertical gardening to another level (both in cost and results), you could try a Garden Tower. There are both aquaponic towers that pump a mineral solution up the tower and drips it over the roots of the plants, as well as towers where you grow in soil


Tray Herb Garden

Tray herb garden
In this quite-large vertical tray system herbs are growing good and strong. You cay buy specially designed trays that can plant food thickly like this. If you do go big with your garden, make sure your wall and fasteners are strong enough to support the weight of all that material!


Pallet Tray System

Pallet tray
You can also do the same thing DIY with some plywood, landscaping cloth, a pallet, and a staple gun. Staple the plywood to the pallet, then wrap the back, sides, and bottom with landscaping cloth. Use a lot of staples as shown in the bottom row of the picture.

Fill with soil and lay flat, then put in seeds, or preferably seedlings, into the slats. Once the plants are well established (at least two weeks for seedlings), they should stay stable after hanging up the pallet. Great for getting spring planting started then freeing up space for summer crops after hanging.


Hardware Cloth Frame

Hardware cloth
Here’s an example that uses hardware cloth and a frame to create a very sturdy trellis for tomatoes. Find instructions on how to make this project here.


Bottle Garden

Bottle garden

Images: Rosenbaum

Here is an example of an herb garden using recycled bottles They’re suspended on strings for easy maneuvering. While some of the plants wouldn’t reach their full size due to the small container, there’s enough plants to get herbs for a family.


Florafelt System

Florafelt
For those who like to make living walls and want an all-in-one system, you can’t go wrong with Florafelt. These recycled nylon felt units come with easy to use pockets for root-wrapped plants. A built-in drip irrigation system runs along the top of the wall to water the pockets. Leftover water falls into a drain line at the bottom. A major distributor of this system is PlantsOnWalls.com.


Succulent Gardens

Succulent garden
This may be more art than a food garden, but living walls can help reduce the amount of cooling needed in a house. Succulents are very low-maintenance plants and could be hung inside of the house as an attractive feature. Just mist the board from time to time.


Freestanding Garden

Freestanding garden
If you’d like to build your own structure, here is a good idea. Build a small raised bed, then put in these vertical angled supports. More information about this model can be found at superplanters.co.nz.


Pyramid Garden

Pyramid garden
Here is the same concept taken up one step further. This type of garden would be great for smaller plants like lettuce and strawberries. Plans for this structure can be found on indulgy.com


Another Pyramid Garden

Another pyramid garden

Image: mikeysklar

 


Pallet Planter

Pallet planter
Here is an alternate pallet system using the back side of the pallet. Notice the other boards nailed under the crossbeams to hold up soil, turning this pallet into a bunch of row boxes. Placement of this type of design would be crucial due to the shade that is created, but it’s perfect for these succulents.


DIY Wall Planter

DIY Wall Planter
Here’s the same sort of design, but with much better solar options. The bins are four inches thick. You could fill in the entire bottom and fill with soil or put in four inch containers and rest them on the cross sections as shown here.


Beam Planter

Beam Planter
If you’re a woodworker and have some extra beams, you could also hollow out angled sections as shown and put in potting soil. The same could be done by putting a solid back and sides on a pallet, removing the sections, then filling the unit with good soil.


Stair Garden

Stair garden
Here is an old staircase transformed into a wonderful vertical gardening system. The stair steps provide a good way for excess water to drain off down the unit.


A Shoe Organizer

Pouch garden

Image: pippa5

Finally, you could always hang a burlap sack on a nail and fill it with dirt. Or you can make canvas pouches or use an old shoe organizer and get something very similar to florafelt. You can learn more about this design here.


By now your head is probably buzzing with all the ideas of how you can build your own vertical gardening system.

As long as you stick to the principles of gardening, plants are pretty happy to grow wherever you can get enough dirt, water, and sun. You can ask any plant growing out of the crack of a sidewalk.

Try a vertical gardening system this year and let me know how it worked for you!

The post 20 Vertical Gardening Ideas for Turning a Small Space into a Big Harvest appeared first on Walden Labs.

Can Small Organic Farms Feed The World?

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The most common criticism against organic farming (or, as I like to call it, farming) is that it will not feed the world. Only conventional farming, the common wisdom has it, can feed the population of nine billion expected by 2050. But is that true?

Not only can small organic farming feed the world, but I believe strongly that it is the only thing that can save and heal our world.

organic farming vs conventional feed the world

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What Is The Definition of Local?

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What is local? Is there one definitive definition? The Canadian government defines it as anything within the province or within 50km of the province’s border.

Did you know the the food on the average North American plate has traveled an incredible 1500 miles? That’s average, which means that much of it has come from much farther away. Let us take a moment and look at the different categories.

What is local eating? Locavores eat food that is local, but what is it?

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Even More Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

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Growing your own food

As if you needed any more reasons to start growing and raising your own food, Chipotle restaurants have now given you one more reason.

Chipotle restaurants are noted or want to be noted for using organically grown foods. Obviously, the growers cannot use commercial fertilizers and still call their product organic, so they typically use animal manure for fertilizer. Before the manure can be used however, it must be composted for a specific period, but foods grown in other countries are not regulated as heavily as they are here in the United States.

The manure may go directly from the barns to the fields, bypassing proper composting practices, which would have eliminated the bacteria in the manure, bacterium that has sickened close to two dozen people so far.

In addition, human feces has been found on some food products grown in other countries, so it may not just be animal manure being used as fertilizer. In fact, in July 2015, the FDA banned Cilantro from Mexico because of human feces in the fields.

Once in the fields it is not a far stretch to imagine it is on the leaves of your produce as well. Some foods do not require cooking that would kill the bacteria, and a quick rinse may not be enough to remove the bacteria (Stapleton, 2015).

Foods from other countries or even from this country could pose a health risk if not properly grown and processed, and part of the processing to ensure you are safe must be done by you. You have to clean any foods that will not be cooked to a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria present on the product.

You simply cannot buy fresh produce carry it home and slice and eat. You shouldn’t do this even with produce you grow yourself. A proper scrubbing and rinsing is important to wash away contaminates on the product. You also have to clean fruits and vegetables that have heavy skins that are not usually eaten. The knife used to cut into the product will carry the bacteria inside to the edible parts, as will your hands, if you handle the skins before washing the skins and your hands thoroughly.

If you compost at your homestead it has to be done properly to ensure the organic matter has been broken down (decomposed) correctly. This requires heat, which is generated by the decomposition of organic matter. Cow/horse manure can be composted, but it should compost for up to six months before being used as fertilizer. The heat generated must reach a certain level and maintain at that level.

Hot composting manure before applying it to your garden will kill parasites and reduce seeds from any weeds in the manure. Hot composting balances food, water, and air in the compost pile to favor the growth of much needed microorganisms that thrive in high temperatures.

It takes one-half to one cubic yard of fresh organic matter for the pile to reach the recommended temperatures for hot composting”, states Nick Andrews, small farms specialist with the OSU Extension Service. “The pile should also have a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and good moisture and oxygen supplies (OSU, n.d.).”

Associated Press (2015, November 3) Retrieved 2015, from http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/11/03/officials-identify-microorganism-responsible-for-chipotle-e-coli-outbreak-shift-focus-to-suppliers.html?intcmp=hplnws

OSU. (n.d.). Retrieved 2015, from http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/turn-manure-compost-your-garden

Stapleton, A. (2015, July). Retrieved 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/28/health/mexico-cilantro/

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9 Ways Conventional Farming Is Killing Us

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Do you believe that only chemical-based conventional farming can feed the world? That, if we switched to organic farming, millions would starve? The truth is, conventional farming is killing us. Let me detail a few of the very major side-effects that conventional farming has had on our world – and our health.

Do you ever wonder about the effects of conventional farming on our planet and our health?

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Plant Growth Factors With Light

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Plant Growth Factors With Light

Many preppers speak of growing food indoors, but it’s not easy. I’ve been at the food-growing prep for over 30 years, and I have learned a lot from my laziness and/or mistakes. I have learned that some plants, like Lemons, can handle a lower amount of light, but also require some advanced pollination techniques to yield any fruit indoors in the absence of bees. I have also learned that no matter how much food and water you give the seedlings you start indoors, you need serious levels of light in order to have strong, vibrant plants to place in your garden come springtime. Learn more about the levels of light and how it is needed for plants to mature and yield properly.

Learn about light levels here: Plant Growth Factors

2015 Harvest Results: My 34,682% ROI on Potatoes

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My return on investment from growing potatoes this season was 34,682%.

I planted 2 kg potatoes and harvested 69.3 kg (69,365 grams to be exact), pretty much multiplying my potatoes by x34.

And this doesn’t take into account the +10 kg of potatoes I had to throw away because of neglected maintenance.

It may not sound like much, but we’re a small family (2 adults + 1 newborn) so 69.3 kg will last us a good while. Some of it we’ve already eaten with delight in the form of mashed potatoes, oven roasted potatoes and more less common potato dishes. I’m biased, but I’m certain that my homegrown potatoes are the best I’ve ever tasted.

That's me, picking up the last potatoes right before my lady went into labor and we had to rush to the hospital

That’s me, picking up the last potatoes right before my lady went into labor and we had to rush to the hospital to meet our firstborn.

Now when the harvest is all done we’ve got ~50 kg tucked away in the root cellar, but it’s a bit of an experiment because it’s the first winter I store crops in the root cellar.

If I’m to sum up this growing season in a few points, it’s these:

Lessons learned

If there’s anything I’ve learned this growing season, the first season after purchasing this property, is that it’s fairly easy to create food abundance here (given an average summer).

Frankly I’m amazed by the abundance of food you get from planting a single potato. You plant one and get not only two or five but up to twenty potatoes from that single potato. In just one season.

One of the two varieties of potatoes I grew this season. Small and tasty.

One of the two varieties of potatoes I grew this season. Small and tasty.

So what’s the financial value of this potato harvest?

On average I’d pay roughly $5 per 2 kg for locally grown (non-organic) potatoes in the supermarket.

Which means that my potato harvest of 69.3 kg has a commercial value of roughly $173. Subtracting the cost for the 2kg of seed potatoes that I bought at the start of the season, which was $24.4, my net “profit” is ~$149.

So financially, my ROI was 600%. That’s far off from the 34,682% ROI in terms of weight, but 600% is still a pretty amazing ROI in one season. Good luck getting that ROI in the stock market.

But $150 doesn’t sound much in the grand scheme of things does it?

Which brings us to the big question…

Was it worth the time and effort?

34,682% ROI sounds great. 600% ROI still sounds pretty good.

But I think the deciding factor when it comes to creating abundance for yourself and your family, when investing in self-reliance, is your ROI per hour.

My net profit of $150 doesn’t say a thing unless I know how much time I spent producing this outcome. For example, if I had spent 20 hours to produce this potato harvest that’s just an earning of $7.5 per hour (in reality equivalent to an employee wage of $15 per hour, because these potatoes are tax free).

Gladly, I didn’t spend 20 hours to grow the 69.3 kg of potatoes.

I spent…

  • 4 hours in total preparing the two 8 m x 1.2 m growing beds (19.2 sq meters total).
  • 1 hour planting the seed potatoes
  • 2 hours maintenance during the summer (“hilling” the potatoes to prevent sunburn and some minor weeding)
  • 2 hours harvesting

A total of 9 hours, roughly speaking.

One thing to practice next year: Improving my harvesting technique. The harvest this year was backbreaking work for sure.

One thing to practice next year: Improving my harvesting technique. The harvest this year was backbreaking work for sure.

This means my $150 net profit is equivalent to earning $16.66 per hour. But again, this is tax-free earnings because I’m going to eat it all and in this day and age we don’t have to pay taxes on the food we grow for personal consumption (although this hasn’t always been the case, in the old days you were forced to give a big chunk of your harvest to the church or to the state).

But if you’re an employee you have to pay tax on your money before you can go and buy potatoes, which means if you pay 30% tax you’ll have to earn $23.8 per hour to get an equivalent profit.

For me though, the government takes pretty much 50% of my earnings here in Sweden, which means my earnings from growing potatoes is the equivalent of earning $33.3 per hour at a job.

What does this mean?

It means that if you earn less than $23.8 per hour, or in my case $33.3 per hour, you’ll save money by growing your own potatoes rather than spending the time at work.

But of course you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can keep your full time job but spend a few hours per year growing potatoes to lower your food bill and increase your food resiliency. It’s a no-brainer for me.

It gets even better

I’m fairly pleased with my ROI per hour, but I’m confident I can double it next year.

Here’s how.

Almost 50% of the time invested in growing potatoes this season went to establishing the no-dig garden beds. So most of the energy went into converting lawn to productive land. Next year I won’t have to do that. I’ll spend a maximum of one hour improving the beds instead of four hours.

That's me earlier this year finishing up the no-dig growing beds. A one-time input of energy and resources that I won't have to do ever again (except for when creating even more beds).

That’s me earlier this year finishing up the no-dig growing beds. A one-time input of energy and resources that I won’t have to do ever again (except for when creating even more beds).

I’m also fairly confident I can cut the amount of maintenance in half by adding straw mulch on 100% of the bed area. This will cut out the need for weeding and will also help prevent sunburn.

If I can cut the amount of time spent in half and I get an equivalent harvest next year that means I’m potentially looking at a net profit of $33.33 per hour, or pre-tax $66.66.

Now even if I made $66.66 at work it would still make all the sense in the world for me to spend a few hours per year growing potatoes. I mean, who doesn’t like to save money?

In fact, this experiment tells me that it makes sense for the vast majority of workers in temperate climates to grow their own potatoes as a staple crop. Unless you’re a high earner, like a really high-earner, chances are you’ll save a big chunk of money growing potatoes. Even with a tiny yard you can still grow a decent amount of potatoes, and I can attest that it doesn’t take many hours out of your time either.

Self-reliance is worth it, not only in terms of the freedom and resilience it brings you but also financially.

The post 2015 Harvest Results: My 34,682% ROI on Potatoes appeared first on Walden Labs.

How To Eat A Healthy Local And Seasonal Diet

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Is it possible to eat a healthy diet in a locavore world, especially for those of us in colder climates? Many people insist that fresh fruits and vegetables are a necessary part of a daily diet, and that is not possible in many areas without food that has been shipped from far away or grown in a heated greenhouse.

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Moose, Lettuce and Spinach, Oh My!

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I’ve written before on how relieved I am that spring is finally here, as evidenced by the warmer temperatures, more birds and the moose coming out of the bush.
Speaking of moose, a friend of mine (Sara Mealey) got some great photos of that same moose I shared with you the other day.
Apparently the moose likes paparazzi. Or should that be people-razzi?


I tell you, spring couldn’t get here fast enough for me. 
Okay, I should amend that…
I want spring, but I really don’t want it to arrive with a body slam that will flood my little town. I mean, let’s be reasonable, very few of us are ready to be cut off from our main city an hour away.
I know we aren’t.

We’ve started our plants with lettuce and spinach first. I’m very pleased with how they’re thriving in their little south-facing window.

On the left is Buttercrunch lettuce and on the right, though looking less vigorous, is spinach.


It’s not a huge start, but it is a start. This morning I started some more lettuce and spinach, because, hey, we’ll want more. I also started some basil.

So why do all this when I can get it in town? 

  • Because veggies aren’t cheap, and neither is the gas required to get them
  • Because nothing beats the taste of homegrown veggies and spices
  • Because it satisfies my green thumb and there is an undercurrent of hope in growing things yourself
What about you? Are you growing anything at home, whatever form that takes?