Sunday, January 25, 2015

10 tips for a sustainable garden & yard



Sunday, January 25, 2015

If you are wanting to be more sustainable in your home, don’t forget the yard and garden.  The typical American yard uses billions of gallons of water and hundreds of millions of pounds of fertilizer each year.  Why not leverage your lawn space more sustainably?  

Here are 10 tips for a more sustainable garden and yard:

  1. Go organic.  Eliminate chemicals from your yard and garden.  Organic fertilizers last a lot longer and won’t cause lawn, flower or veggie burn like a chemical fertilizer will.  Many chemicals to get rid of bugs these days are “systemic” and stay in the plant for months and even years and kill the bees and other beneficial insects.
  2. Use mulch in your garden.  Mulch is a home run.  It keeps weeds from sprouting, it keeps moisture in the ground so you don’t have to water as often, it adds organic matter to your garden, and it looks nice.
  3. Plant natives.  Those trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses that are native to your area are well acclimated to your climate and pests.  You can plant and they will take care of themselves.
  4. Save seeds.  Growing from seed saves you money, allows you to grown interesting varieties, and raise crops that are uniquely adapted to your garden conditions.  You can get seeds by saving your own, your neighbors, favorites from the farmers market, and even from the produce and fruits you buy at the grocer.
  5. Lose your lawn.  Lawns in America are a big drain on the pocketbook and time while not providing food for your family or critters.  Add decorative flower beds with natives.  Start using at least a part of your lawn for growing herbs, fruits and vegetables for you and your family.  Nothing is better tasting and better for you than fresh out of the garden and onto the table.
  6. Water less.  Purchase natives and look for drought tolerant in the descriptions of plants and seeds you are buying.  Set up a rain barrel to use for the flower beds.  Use drip hoses instead of sprayers these can save up to 70% on water.  Use mulch in not only your flower beds but also your garden beds.   Go organic on lawn care.  Organic, all natural lawns are more tolerant of the summer conditions and need less water to survive.
  7. Grow your own food.  You can easily add fruits and veggies to your existing flower gardens.  You can easily expand your garden beds to accommodate herbs and veggies.  If you don’t have room for a flower and veggie garden bed, you can grown anything in a self watering pot.  There has been a bonanza of new container varieties developed over the last few years.  It is easy to grow and eat from the garden spring, summer and fall.
  8. Plant perennials.  Annuals take a great deal of inputs to grow from seed each year.  With perennials, you get the benefit of the inputs for years and years versus just one.  Don’t forget about perennial edibles, too!  Herbs are a great beginners choice.
  9. Compost.  Don’t throw those table scraps in the trash to just go sit in a landfill someplace.  Re-use their nutritional value in your garden by composting them.  There are basically 3 types of composters: a bin that you layer browns/greens and it takes a year to break down, a tumbler type that you throw the browns/greens together and crank daily to mix up giving you compost in a couple of weeks, and an electric type that can be used indoors or outdoors that gives you compost in a couple of days.  Why throw out all those food nutrients when you can reuse them in your own garden for free?
  10. New methods for the lawn itself.  For your lawn, mow high.  The higher grass shades the ground, causing the soil to not dry out as quickly and helping keep some weeds from growing.  Use an electric or manual lawn mower.  We purchased a self propelled electric mower this past year and it works great!  Don’t buy the typical seed mix.  Purchase  low growing grasses so you only need to mow monthly instead of weekly.  Here is a site to purchase low growers for your area:  www.nicholsgardennursery.com

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Basics of organic gardening



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Organic gardening can seem complicated.  In reality, it is pretty simple and straightforward.  You are gardening the way your grandparents did when they were young.  Just think of what they would have done in raising a garden.  Basically, you garden using only natural inputs.


Here are the five basics:

  1. Get rid of all the chemicals.  This includes all chemical fertilizers.  You can give them away or take them to your local hazardous waste disposal site.  You should never dump the chemicals in your yard, down the drain, in the sewer or down the toilet.
  2. Feed the soil naturally.  Your soil should ideally be 20% clay, 35% silt, and 45% sand.  They call this loamy soil.  You can test your soil by filling a quart jar 1/3 full of soil and 2/3 full of water.  Shake and let settle.  The top layer is clay, the middle silt and the bottom sand.  You can increase the silt in the soil by adding compost.  Make sure you get your compost from a reliable source. 
  3. Natural pest control.  You do have options for keeping pests under control without chemicals.  Do a daily walk through the garden to manually remove the “bad” insects, use row covers to keep the pests from getting inside, use traps like buried cups with beer, bringing beneficial insects into your garden.  It may take 2-3 seasons for your garden to come into balance after going all organic.  
  4. Leverage earthworms.  Earthworms till the garden for you; no tiller needed.  At the same time, they fertilize.  Worm castings are great.  They add nitrogen and beneficial microbes.  One of things that earthworms love is cardboard.  To attract earthworms, lay down a layer of cardboard in your garden, then cover with mulch.  You will be amazed at the number of earthworms that invade your garden!
  5. Control weeds naturally.  When you go organic, you can no longer use chemicals to get rid of weeds.  You can use a natural pre-emergent like corn gluten that is applied at the time the forsythias come into bloom.  Corn gluten will also keep any garden seeds you have planted from sprouting.  You can also spritz weeds with a vinegar spray that burns them up.  My favorite control is mulch with hand pulling of weeds.  I plant my vegetables and fruits in my mulched flower garden bed.  Any new garden beds, I cover the grass with cardboard, natural fertilizer and then with mulch a few months before I am ready to begin planting.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Difference between organic and all natural?



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Amazingly, many Americans believe “all natural” is better than “organic.”  It is crazy what marketing and advertising can do to change people’s understanding of reality!

“All natural” is not regulated at all in the United States.  “All natural” usually means that there were no chemicals added to the food after it was grown.  “All natural” foods are grown conventionally with toxic herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  Herbicides and pesticides remain on and in the fruits and vegetables to varying degrees.

"Natural foods" are often assumed to be foods that are minimally processed and do not contain hormones, antibiotics or artificial flavors. In the United States, however, neither the FDA nor the USDA has rules or regulations for products labeled "natural."   Food companies often place a "natural" label on foods containing heavily processed ingredients and GMO’s like high fructose corn syrup.  

“All natural”  has no regulated definition so what you are getting will vary by the region of the country, the brand and store you are buying it from.  Unfortunately, natural does not mean organic and comes with no guarantees.

Organic on the other hand is the most heavily regulated food production and manufacturing system.  Organic has very strict and detailed regulations outlined by the USDA.  Only organic guarantees that no toxic synthetic pesticides, toxic synthetic herbicides, or chemical NPK fertilizers are used in production, and no antibiotics or growth hormones are given to animals.  Meat, seafood and poultry labelled as organic are also fed an all organic diet, too.

Organic requires detailed record keeping, announced and unannounced on site inspections to insure that they are producing and processing organic products in a manner you and your family can trust.  In order to put the USDA organic label, the producer must be certified and re-certified annually.  For more details on organic, visit the USDA web page:  USDA

Here is chart from Stoneyfield that shows key differences:
Organic vs Natural



















When you see “organic” on the label, you know that food was made with a set of farming and production practices defined and regulated, in great detail, by the USDA.  While “natural” assures you of little, “organic” tells you you’re buying food made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, sewage sludge or irradiation.  Being grown and raised the way nature intended.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Top 10 Nutrient Dense Veggies & Fruits

Wild watercress

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention did a recent study on nutrient density of 47 vegetables and fruits to determine which ones were the top sources of 17 vitamins and minerals.

It was not possible to include phytochemical data in the scores so total health benefits are not inclusive in the ranking scores.

Leafy greens were in the top half with other veggies in the next grouping.    For the fruits that qualified as a “powerhouse” source of nutrition, they were in general at the bottom of the ranking.

Like Mom said, “Eat your vegetables.” 

Here is the table of the ranking:
Item                    Nutrient Density Score
Watercress            100.00
Chinese cabbage    91.99
Chard                    89.27
Beet green             87.08
Spinach                 86.43
Chicory                  73.36
Leaf lettuce            70.73
Parsley                  65.59
Romaine lettuce     63.48
Collard green         62.49
Turnip green          62.12
Mustard green        61.39
Endive                   60.44
Chive                     54.80
Kale                      49.07
Dandelion green     46.34
Red pepper            41.26
Arugula                 37.65
Broccoli                 34.89
Pumpkin                33.82
Brussels sprout      32.23
Scallion                 27.35
Kohlrabi                25.92
Cauliflower            25.13
Cabbage               24.51
Carrot                   22.60
Tomato                 20.37
Lemon                  18.72
Iceberg lettuce      18.28
Strawberry            17.59
Radish                   16.91
Winter squash        13.89
Orange                  12.91
Lime                      12.23
Grapefruit(red/pink)11.64
Rutabaga               11.58
Turnip                   11.43
Blackberry             11.39
Leek                      10.69
Sweet potato          10.51
Grapefruit (white)   10.47

Here is a link to the report:  www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/13_0390.htm 

As you are planning your garden for next year, you can add some of the top powerhouses!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

You can garden year round in small space



Sunday, January 11, 2015

You can garden year round in a small space or container garden.  This is called four season gardening.  You need to grow the right vegetables for the season and use some season extender strategies.

4 Season Garden Explained
You hear people talk about a four season garden.  This just means growing a garden that you can harvest from in all four season-spring, summer, fall and winter.

Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops.  Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool.  When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the cold crops “bolt” which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds.

Warm season crops are those that abhor frost or getting their feet chilly.  Most of the warm season crops are killed by frost and won’t grow unless the soil is nice and warm. 

As you can guess, cold season crops are grown in the spring and fall.  The really cold (and freeze) hardy ones are also grown in the winter garden.  Warm season crops are put out after all danger of frost is passed and the soil has warmed.

Cold crops-Arugula, Broccoli, Cabbage, Celery, Fennel, Leek, Lettuce, Marjoram, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Summer savory, Sorrel, Cilantro, Spinach.

Cold season greens for spring, fall and winter

Warm season crops-Basil, Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Squash, Basil and Beans.
Warm season veggies-basil, peppers and tomatoes

So, when you go to plant in the spring, you will start with the cold season crops.  Once the danger of frost has passed, you can then add in your warm season crops.

For fall gardening, you actually start your seeds in July.  These will be the same type of veggies you planted for your spring garden.  You may have to start them indoors as some seeds will not germinate in the hot temps of summer.  You can extend the fall harvest by covering your veggies with crop fabric when chilly temperatures arrive in late October.  

For winter gardening, you need to look for varieties specially bred for winter.  These will have descriptors like winter hardy, freeze hardy, bred for winter.  There is not much growth that happens from October through January so you have to get your winter crops to full size by the end of October.  Look at the seed packet (or seed catalog) for the days to harvest and add 2 weeks.  Back up from October 31st and this will give you the date for starting your seeds. 

Like fall crops, winter crops benefit from extra protection.  Using a fabric cloth will help raise the effective temperature around the plants and protect them from hard freezes.  As you get into the mid 20’s and below, a portable green house will keep your plants nice and toasty.  Be careful on sunny days as the temp inside a greenhouse can skyrocket if not cracked open.

Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted spring, summer or fall.  You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, ARP rosemary, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.

Most of your warm season crops are actually subtropical perennials and can be brought indoors in the fall like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  You can dig up your favorite, bring inside for the winter and replant in spring to get a big head start on the season.  They will continue to bear fruit during the winter months as well with good southern exposure in front of a window.

Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers.  Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects.  It is a win-win all the way around.

I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch.  Day lilies are edible and marigolds are a great pest deterrent.

Seed catalogs that have a good selection of organic vegetables, garden fruits, and herbs-Abundant Life Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Company, Cook’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interest.

If you are just starting out, choose a catalog that also gives growing instructions for each vegetable and fruit type.  Ones that I have that do a nice job are Abundant Life, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Territorial Seed gives a month by month planting guide along with detailed growing guide.  Johnny’s gives a seed germination temperature guide.  They will send you free catalogs or you can go on-line to visit their web page.  High Mowing is offering free shipping this season.

Here is a link that shows a map of where many seed companies are located:  www.motherearthnews.com/directories/seed-and-plant-directory

The most adapted crops to your garden will be those that are grown near you.  Choosing a seed company you trust is even more important than where they were grown.  Just look in the descriptor for key words that describe your growing conditions.  You can save seeds from your best producers of any heirloom or open pollinated varieties to have crops that are perfectly adapted to your garden.

Don't overlook the option of saving your own seed from your best producers or your neighbors.  Your neighbors and the farmers at your farmers markets have much experience in the varieties that grow well in your area.  Check local harvest.org for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gardening by the phase of the Moon



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Man and woman has gardened by the moon for eons.  The long term forecasts in almanacs are based on the stars and the moon and is 70% accurate a year out.  The interactions of the earth and the heavens together is magical.

The moon goes through an entire cycle every 28 days.  The two weeks from the full moon to the new moon is called “waning period.”  The two weeks from the new moon to the full moon is called the “waxing period.”  The waxing period is when the moon is strong and productive while the waning period the moon is in its regenerative phase.

In general:    
    New moon to full moon:
    Apply fertilizer, plant seeds, place transplants, harvest fruits, graft plants
Full moon to new moon:

    Prune, kill weeds, and turn soil

The moon is increasing in strength from the new moon to full moon cycle.  This is when its pull causes high tides and the water table to rise.  Low tide occurs during the waning phase of the moon when its pull is the lowest.  

You can then get into the more specific signs that the moon is passing through in each of the waning and waxing cycles to optimize the lunar influence on your garden:
    First quarter of new moon to full moon
    Plant above ground crops with seeds on the outside, like flowers, lettuce, spinach, cabbage
    Second quarter of new moon to full moon
    Plant aboveground crops with seeds on the inside like peas, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant
    Third quarter of the moon (week after full moon)
    Plant below ground plants (carrots, beets, hostas, potatoes) and sow your lawn.
    Third and fourth quarter of the moon (from full moon to new moon)
    Harvest.  Cultivate your garden.  Kill weeds.  Destroy pests.  Mow.

In an almanac, the last column shows the "age" of the moon.  This is in days and starts at 0 with the new moon.

There are many almanacs out there that can purchased and there are several apps that can be downloaded that give even more details as well as that long term forecast.  My granny always used the almanac and I try to for the big impact tasks like planting.  The app I use is "Vital" along with "The Old Farmer's Almanac" publication.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

You really are what you eat!



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Contemplating what to have for your New Year’s resolution?  How about adopting a new way of eating that will slow signs of aging, help prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS, you name it!

This is what Dr. Weston Price found when he went around the world in the 1940's looking at the diets of the last indigenous people left in the world and they had no tooth decay and no degenerative diseases (like cancer).  If you want to learn more, there is a web page   http://www.westonaprice.org

All studies today show the same thing as Dr. Weston Price found when studying indigenous people.  Eating a low carb, organic diet with lots of leafy greens, multi colored veggies and natural fats is the best diet in the world for slowing signs of aging, avoiding cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS, you name it.  Get rid of processed foods and anything with sugar added is a great step in the right direction for your health and how you feel and look.

Eat food grown the way God intended, without chemicals, with great soil (to get your vitamins and minerals), and absolutely no GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms).  To know for sure this is how it is grown, grow it yourself or buy from a farmer you have visited and trust.  Join a CSA (to find one near you, visit http://www.localharvest.org ).  Local and organic at the store is the next best thing.

With a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), you pay the farmer before the growing season starts so she can buy all her seeds and supplies she needs.  Then, when she starts harvesting in May/June, you get a share of what is harvested each week through October.  If you calculate how much you are spending on produce each week, it is likely more than you are now.  What we found is that our overall grocery bill went down dramatically as we planned all our meals around the produce we were getting each week.  A CSA is a great deal as well as motivator to eat really well!

You can grow in small spaces and pots.  You don’t need much room.  It is amazing how much you can grow in a small amount of space.  It doesn’t take more time than grocery shopping or eating out to grow your own.  Seeds are cheap (you can even get them for free from friends, neighbors or the veggies you get from the store).  You can make containers out of almost anything, too.  A 6’ by 6’ plot, planted right, will grow most of what you need for produce for most of the year.  This small of an area will grow $500 worth of produce if only doing a traditional 2 season garden.  Stretch it to a 4 season garden and the benefit goes up.

As soon as you pick a vegetable, it begins to die.  Some vegetables lose 90% of their nutritional value in a week, about the time it takes for produce to be picked, washed, packaged, shipped across the country and put on the store shelf.  The most nutritious will be that which is just picked, grown in soil that is rich in organic matter and minerals.

Truly, God created the heavens, the earth and all living plants and creatures perfectly.  He created the plants and animals to sustain us and give us everything we need.  We should remember that and eat a variety of foods that are as close to its natural, fresh state as possible to feed our bodies the perfect nutrition.


Eat well, live well!