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Category Archives: Garden

Inexpensive Gardening Organic Tips

cheap-organic-gardeningSaving the Earth and protecting children and pets from dangerous chemicals are the reasons most gardeners cite for giving up pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, but guess what? Making the switch to organic gardening methods will save you money too! Here are six examples of how going organic will put money back in your pocket. Think of them as money management tips!

# Plant Veggies, Spend Less on Doctor Bills

A recent article by a Texas research biochemist summarizes some bad news: many scientific studies show that the vitamin content of fresh fruits and vegetables is on the decline. That’s alarming, because fresh produce should be an important source of vitamins and minerals in our diets — without them, we’re more vulnerable to getting sick.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to protect your health and reduce what you spend on costly doctor visits, cold and flu medications, and vitamin pills: plant some vegetables. Fresh-picked home garden produce is brimming with nutrition, and recent studies confirm that organically grown produce can be even richer in nutrients than conventionally grown fruits and veggies.

# Fight Pests with Flowers Instead of Pesticides

More than 90 percent of the insects in your yard and garden are your friends, not your foes. Ladybugs, lacewings, and even many kinds of flies and tiny wasps are an important natural pest control force.

Their larvae (the immature stages of the insects) gobble up aphids and other pests, or parasitize the caterpillars that would like to turn the foliage of your flowers and veggies into a holey mess. One easy way to attract these good-guy insects to your yard organically is to plant a garden of perennials and herbs with tiny flowers, because the adult beneficial insects eat pollen, not bugs.

Yarrow, purple coneflowers, daisies, tansy, cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias are great plants to start with, and you’ll love how they look growing in sunny spots all around your yard. Buying a few packets of annual seeds and several potted perennials is much cheaper — and much more fun — than buying pesticides and a sprayer!

# Fire Your Lawn Care Service

How much do you pay for a lawn care company to treat your lawn? Chances are it’s way too much. So ditch the lawn service and hire a local teen to mow for you instead.

To encourage a healthy lawn the organic way, have your hired help set the mower high — at least 3 inches high. That way, your lawn grass naturally shades out weeds (no more herbicides needed).  Be sure your helper uses a mulching mower that returns grass clippings — which contain valuable nitrogen — to the lawn (no more bagged fertilizer needed).

Once a year, have your helper spread good-quality compost too, about 1/4 inch thick. The compost will melt into the lawn almost immediately, adding a wide range of nutrients as well as beneficial microbes that help prevent lawn diseases.

About Heirloom Beans

There really is something magical and enduring about beans; from their rich diversity and nutritional value, to the vigorous production in the garden, and viability outside of it.

Today’s article about growing and saving Heirloom Beans was written by Stephen Scott from Terroir Seeds, home of Underwood Gardens and Grandma’s Garden Catalog.

# A Little History on the Cultivation and Use of Legumes

Beans are one of the primal sources of food, having sustained us for thousands of years. It appears that there were several different varieties of beans that were domesticated around the world independently of each other.

Beans are hardy, grow well in most conditions, produce prolifically, have one of the longest lifespan and are easy to transport.

They are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and have nourished many families during everything from travel to hard times. Many vegetarians and vegans turn to beans for the protein that is needed in their diets.

# Getting Started with Beans in the Home Garden

There are many short season varieties that produce well. Succession planting will give longer and more production. It is best to plant every 2-3 weeks, either between existing plants, or additional rows. If planning to seed between older plants, leave room when doing the initial planting.

Pole or vining beans grow vertically and take up less space in a garden, while a bush bean will need more space lower down, usually a foot between plants. Pole beans are traditionally grown with sunflowers or corn for climbing on; with the added benefits of fixing nutrients such as nitrogen in the soil and specific fungi on the roots of the corn plant that give it more resistance to corn diseases.

Beans do well started as seedlings then transplanted once they are a foot or more tall, but can be direct sown as well. Beans like a warm soil, so don’t rush it.

# Preserving and Saving Heirloom Bean Seeds

As they are open pollinated, you can save the seeds for next year’s planting if you choose. It’s easy to save seed; just let the pods dry on the vine and shell the beans for storage until next year.

Keep them labeled with the date harvested and the name and store them in a cool, dry place. Heirlooms have been saved for several generations for their flavor, production and hardiness.

Beans are self-pollinating, and will have lost their pollen by the time the flowers open, but bees can cross pollinate if they force their way into the unopened flower. Cross pollination can occur between beans, but is somewhat random, as there are a lot of factors in pollination.

# Great Tips for Improving Bean Plant’s Growth and Production

An old method of reducing cross pollination is to plant bee attracting flowers close to beans, as the bees will go to the flowers first. Plant different bean varieties at least 20 feet apart if saving seeds.

Companion plantings of carrots and cauliflower will help the beans grow. Planting summer savory with green beans helps not only the growth of both, but the flavor of the beans. Savory is wonderful in cooking the dried beans as well.

Onions and garlic will slow the growth and production of beans, as will gladiolus. Marigolds help to repel Mexican bean beetles, as do potatoes. The beans in return repel the Colorado potato beetle! Plant the beans and potatoes in alternating rows for best effect.

Common Plant Diseases

The following are some of the most common diseases you’ll be faced with along with some information on the plants they attack and some remedies – both chemical and non-chemical:

Bacterial Wilt – A common disease of cucumbers, bacterial wilt also afflicts muskmelons, squash and pumpkins. Most troublesome east of the Rockies, it is prevalent during moist weather. Cucumber beetles feeding on foliage usually spread it. Symptoms include rapid wilting of plants and death of young seedlings.

Check for the disease by cutting a stem near the base and squeezing it; if present, bacteria will ooze out in a sticky mass. Try using floating covers to keep beetles off plants or spray with pyrethrin.

Gummosis and Cankers – These are both terms used to describe various bacterial or fungal diseases that cause oozing, sunken lesions on trunks or limbs of afflicted trees and shrubs. The problem is most commonly seen on fruit trees, and often gets its start when the disease organism enters through a wound or borer entry hole.

To prevent this problem, avoid over watering and take care not to injure plants. Protect young trees from sunscald by wrapping the trunks loosely in burlap. If the plant is generally healthy, it will usually seal off the cankers. If the canker appears on a small limb, prune it out well below the canker; disinfect tools between cuts.

Powdery Mildew – This fungal disease attacks a wide variety of plants, including all sorts of beans, clematis, dahlia, grape, rose, strawberry, tomato, and zinnia, and trees such as apple, maple, oak, peach, and sycamore. It is favored by moist air, shade, and poor air circulation, but needs dry leaves to become established.

The first symptoms are small gray or white circles on leaves, stems and flowers; then entire leaves or blooms become powdery white and distorted. Some plants remain vigorous despite the infection, but others decline or fail to set fruit. Some flowering plants can become so disfigured that they must be removed from the garden.

To prevent powdery mildew, plant resistant varieties and routinely spray plants with jets of water to wash off fungus spores. Increase sunlight to plants by avoiding overcrowding. In the fall, discard infected flowers, fruits, and plants.

Sulfur may help; on roses and other flowering plants, try a baking soda and summer oil spray. Some gardeners report success with the anti-transpirant sprays sold to protect tender plants from cold. Such sprays keep the surface temperature of treated leaves somewhat higher than that of the surrounding air; apparently, they also prevent mildew spores from attaching to foliage.

Maintaining a Happy, Healthy, Disease-Free Vegetable Garden

Hopefully the above information will help you to maintain a beautiful and healthy garden. When disease is handled quickly and properly, you can keep your garden at its best with just regular care. A garden can add joy and therapy to your life, and a healthy garden leads to a happy gardener.

Garden Mulch and Its Benefit

Garden mulch can enhance the look of your garden and help keep your garden healthy. Placing it in your garden can also save you time by decreasing the need for watering, applying herbicides and pulling weeds. A healthy vegetable and fruit garden always begins with healthy soil, and a healthy soil can be encouraged through mulching.

Enjoy these Great Advantages of Mulch in the Landscape:

  • Helps moderate the soil temperature
  • Enhances the growth of fruit and vegetables planted
  • Retains moisture during dry weather, reducing the need for watering
  • Reduces excessive weed growth
  • Natural mulches can improve the structure of the soil
  • As mulch decays it becomes topsoil adding nutrients to the soil
  • Enhances the beauty of your home by adding color and uniformity
  • Mulches help prevent damage to trees and shrubs by lawn equipment

There are two general categories of mulch; organic and inorganic. Organic types are made from natural matter, such as bark, wood chips, straw, leaves, pine needles, or grass clippings. Inorganic mulches includes gravel, pebbles, black plastic and landscape fabrics.

Making Comparisons between Organic and Inorganic Mulches

Organic mulch is the most beneficial to your garden. Unlike manufactured types, organic mulch helps improve soil by adding organic matter as it decomposes. According to the United States Department of Agriculture; “Mulch may also encourage the growth of worms and other beneficial soil organisms that can help improve soil structure and the availability of nutrients for plants.”

Organic mulch also costs less than inorganic mulches. Many local Park and Recreation Departments give away wood chips and bark at no charge. A small disadvantage is that because organic mulch decomposes over time, it needs to be replaced after several years.

While inorganic mulch (also known as man-made mulch) doesn’t benefit your garden as much as the organic varieties, it is easier to maintain. The various types of inorganic mulch do not attract pests and do not decompose. Inorganic mulch is an especially good weed barrier.

Water Features for Your Garden

This post is a sponsored review of UK Water Features which is based in Yorkshire, England. A water feature is a great addition to the sustainable garden and can provide many benefits even in a residential backyard.

In addition to the ornamental appeal, a water source is important for the well-being of beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife that roams the landscape and interacts with the plants, shrubs, and trees that grow there.

Water Feature Suggestions for the Outdoor Landscape

If your backyard is lacking in regards to feathered and furred friends than adding an outdoor fountain or pond may be all that is needed to liven things up! UK Water Features offers some great ideas and options to incorporate water into a variety of settings.

As you’d expect there’s an extensive assortment of garden fountains, bird baths, indoor fountains, and all the supplies needed to set up your own backyard pond including; pumps, liners, lighting, misters, and other pond accessories.

Friendship Fountains and Deck Ponds

A couple of unique products that caught my eye were the Friendship Fountain and the Deck Ponds. The Friendship Fountain is a tiered water feature with water bubbling up from a ball and flowing into one bowl that then feeds into a second lower level bowl. This fountain combines an attractive appearance with relaxing sounds and lighting to accent any outdoor location.

The Deck Ponds come in a variety of sizes ranging from as small as 25 gallons right up to larger units totaling 400 gallons. The Deck Ponds are made from sustainable timbers, require no digging or plumbing and are easy to set up. The simple assembly makes it a snap to store these ponds during the winter months when you are not outside to enjoy them.

Take Your Pick from an Assortment of Garden Features as Well

UK Water Features is about more than just water, they also offer a wide range of products of interest to the gardener and homeowner. You’ll find everything from accent and solar lighting to fire pits, garden furniture, pavers, ornaments and patio heaters.

For the hobby gardener there is a selection of greenhouses, items to assist with pest control, and “grow your own kits” for raising giant pumpkins, fruits, sunflowers, herbs, and more.

UK Water Features offer quality products that are constructed to last even with the constant exposure to outdoor elements. They offer free shipping within the UK, a price guarantee, speedy delivery, and a Yorkshire showroom in addition to an Internet website. So check them out if you have interest in adding a water feature to make your backyard more inviting to both people and wildlife, including beneficial insects that will be happy to lend a helping hand out in the vegetable garden.

A New Technique Grow Sweet Potatoes

Some veggies wilt under the summer’s heat but growing sweet potatoes is one way to make the most of high temps in the backyard garden. In fact, many growers will need to find ways to turn the heat up a few degrees in order to keep sweets happy and productive.

The opportunity for growing sweet potatoes is not limited to Southern climates, They have always done just fine in my Central Pennsylvania gardens producing tubers that are large, sweet, and tasty with little fuss and no disease or insect worries.

# Why Try Something Different when Growing Sweet Potatoes?

So why would I change a good thing when it comes to growing sweet potatoes? Because that’s part of the joy of gardening and I’m always seeking out new techniques and better ways to tend the garden.

In this case I made a few minor changes and so far I’m seeing some rather surprising and noticeable changes. Of course the full story won’t be known until harvest time when the sweet potatoes are dug, and even beyond that after they are cured and eaten!

# What’s New and Exciting with Sweet Potatoes in the Home Garden

For me the changes started with the sweet potato varieties that I planted this year. Rather than the popular but ordinary Puerto Ricans and Georgia Jets, I went a bit more exotic with selections like Korean Purple, Diane, Beauregard, Speckled Purple, and one variety that goes only by a number; “8633.”

My plants were purchased from Mericlone Labs this year and that leads to the next departure from the norm. If you are used to the slips sold in local nurseries that sit in water and already have a nice root system attached, you’ll be as surprised as I was by the appearance of the “slips” from Mericlone.

Their sweet potato plants were shipped from California in a plastic zip lock bag with no water, soil, perlite, or other packing material. The plants had no roots to speak of and looked like a simple vine cutting with a few leaves and part of the stem.

# Growing Sweet Potatoes from Cuttings Rather than Slips

Set aside your skepticism, these plants adjusted to being transplanted faster and easier than any locally grown slips that I have used in the past. Planting was easy as inserting the stem end a couple inches into the soil, and then I just went about my other gardening tasks.

Weather conditions were mild and we did get some rain as the plants were establishing themselves but it was still amazing to watch those rootless sweet potato cuttings take off with very little set back.

A month later I took a cutting from one of the plants in the garden and inserted it into an EarthBox to see how it would do. The weather was much warmer by this time but the cutting took just as easily and makes me wonder why nurseries always use rooted slips for propagation.

# Warming up to New Techniques in the Sweet Potato Bed

The next change that I implemented this season with growing sweet potatoes was to use a black plastic mulch to help warm the soil and retain moisture. This worked great and was very convenient because a small slit in the perforated black plastic was all that was needed before inserting the cuttings.

Mericlone Labs recommended using PVC hoops and clear plastic to cover the bed and running drip tape inside for irrigation. I chose to substitute a heavyweight grade of floating row fabric in place of the plastic because I thought that would work better in my climate and also allow water to penetrate, eliminating the need for drip irrigation under the tunnels.

The floating row covers also helped to increase and hold warmth for the heat loving sweet potato plants; especially on cooler nights. The covers were left in place and made it impossible to actually see the plants, but I could tell that they were growing and filling out behind the scene.

# Evaluating Results of the Improved Practices for Sweet Potatoes

Well yesterday I decided to roll back the cover and take a peek to see just how the plants were doing. It was a very pleasant sight to see lush, healthy, green vines filling the area underneath the cover.

I know it’s still early and there’s a long way to go before I harvest or sample the first fruits from this trial, but so far all is good and I’m encouraged by the results. I’ll probably leave the cover off at this point, especially considering that the vines look like they are ready to stretch out beyond their tunnel area.

One final twist to report is the discovery that unseen underneath the row covers my sweet potato plants have actually been flowering! I’ve never noticed that happening before, and here’s hoping that it’s a good sign of things to come at harvest time, I’ll keep you posted.

Greening Backyard Tips

Landscapes are changing for the better due to the shift in environmental attitudes, and gardeners are standing up and taking notice of the effects that wasteful, environmentally unfriendly, and energy consuming practices can have on their surroundings.

“Going Green” is the battle cry that reigns supreme; making chemical laden lawns a thing of the past and stirring interest in materials that are environmentally friendly when creating a backyard paradise. You can go greener as well by following these ten tips:

# Employ Native Plants in the Landscape – Create a lovely garden and landscape scenario by utilizing native plants grown for your climate. At the same time your backyard getaway can invite a variety of butterflies and birds for your enjoyment.

# Enjoy the Lawn that Comes Naturally – Everyone knows someone who is devoted to maintaining their lawn, over the years this desire to have the greenest lawn on the block leads to the overuse of toxic chemicals and adds stress to the water supply. It is simpler to go green and allow your yard grow naturally with normal grasses and vegetation forming a great lawn.

# Add the Sound of Flowing Water – There is something so special and relaxing about the sound of running water. Your garden paradise can be highlighted by a water feature; consider using a solar-powered fountain, not only will it save you money, but it will add hours of soothing peacefulness.

# Look to Harness the Sun– The world is constantly looking for alternative energy sources. But thanks to solar technology you need look no further than the sun. By utilizing fixtures that are solar powered you can harness the sun’s energy during the day and enjoy the light at night.

# Try Outdoor Cooking – Whether you are firing up a good old fashioned charcoal grill or using the sun’s energy in a solar oven; when you cook in your backyard you won’t be over working your air conditioner with that hot oven heating up the kitchen.

# Use Ecologically Friendly Materials – When it comes to an outside patio; there is nothing quite like natural stone to bring out those rustic features. For fences, bamboo is quite popular these days and decks made out of cedar ignore rot while eventually weathering into a lovely shade of silver. Using environmental friendly materials helps pave the way for going green.

# Know Your Timber Choices – Various types of timber are grown and harvested to supply our needs. Some are grown using sustainable methods that ensure the least impact on the environment, knowing your building materials and how they are produced is one trait of an environmentally friendly consumer.

# Plan For The Longer-Term – Going green is all about purchasing items that are durable. When you buy products that will last for the long haul; you don’t have to worry about them breaking down or clogging landfills. Go with quality and durable products that can turn into family heirlooms and be enjoyed over and over again.

# Create a Surreal Environment – There are many items that can be chosen to create a classic backyard setting that will melt your heart and sooth your soul. The classic porch swing offers the same rustic appeal it did more than a century ago and the cast iron glider is as popular today as ever. There are many accessories that can be added to enhance your backyard paradise.

# Remember Those R’s – Most people have heard that it is vital to reduce, recycle and reuse, but in addition, it is just as important to repair and redecorate. Whenever you accessorize your landscape ensure that you pick items that are durable and easily recycled should they run their life cycle.

The Advantages of Raising Potted Fruit Trees

Growing potted fruit trees will allow you to overcome a limited growing area and enjoy a nice harvest of delicious homegrown fruits in spite of the real estate. Even a porch, balcony, deck, or patio can offer many opportunities for raising fabulous fruits in containers!

As a matter of fact, potted fruit trees offer the backyard grower some advantages that acres of land in the country can’t match; just try growing citrus or tropical fruits out in the open in a northern climate. And who wouldn’t appreciate the convenience of taking your entire orchard with you if you ever decide to pack up and move from one location to another?

In other instances, even if you do have space to plant fruit trees in the ground, a container may really be a better option. For example, cold climate gardeners can raise potted fig trees and avoid the hassle of winter protection or the risk of the trees dying down to the ground because of icy temperatures.

Or if you have a shady yard, by growing potted fruit trees you can move the containers around to make best use of the available sunshine. And if you’re going to spruce up the deck or patio with plants anyway, why not chose plants that are both attractive and provide delicious fruit to enjoy?

Grow Fruit Trees in Container Tips

Oranges, apples, limes, blueberries, bananas, and pomegranates are among the most popular choices for growing fruit trees in containers. Then there are my personal favorite potted fruits; fig trees, which are easy to grow, productive, and hardy in many areas. Read on for general cultivation tips and ideas specific to growing fruit trees in containers.

# Ideal Varieties – For cultivating potted fruit trees it’s best to look for dwarf varieties or choices such as figs
that are naturally easy to maintain in a compact size. Many fruits are perfectly comfortable growing in a container, and will still yield a decent sized harvest of tasty fruit for your enjoyment.

# Planting Stock – There are plenty of Internet suppliers offering an assortment of fruits to stock your container orchard, as well as local retailers that you can turn to. But don’t overlook friendly gardeners in your neighborhood that may be willing to divide or share their own plants to help you get started.

# Choosing Containers – When cultivating fruit trees it pays to use the largest sized containers that you can get your hands on. But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune on expensive pots. Get creative and recycle, search out bargains at yard sales, or take advantage of off-season sales at the garden centers.

# Potting Soil Mixes – Make life easier for yourself and the fruit trees by using a potting soil mix that is lightweight and promotes even drainage, but doesn’t dry out too rapidly. This will encourage better growth and plant health at the same time that it eases the strain of moving the containers around and reduces the frequency of watering.

# Feeding Potted Fruits – Compared to fruit trees planted in the ground, you’ll need to provide fertilizers on a regular basis to satisfy hungry container grown trees. A variety of commercial organic fertilizers, compost, foliar sprays, and liquid soil amendments can be used, but be sure to taper off your feedings as the growing season winds down and the fall season approaches.

# Irrigation – This is a big responsibility and one that needs to be considered when planning your container fruit tree orchard in order to ensure that you have the time and water resources necessary to care for it. Fruit trees growing in containers are thirsty and need to be watered on a daily basis during the summer months and while you are away on vacation.

# Pest Control – Your best option here is to do your homework in order to identify fruit types and specific varieties that are naturally resistant to the insects and diseases that are found in your growing region. Insect traps, bird netting, and other organic controls are all easier to manage in the smaller scale of the potted orchard than they would be out in the field.

# Winter Care – If you live in a cold winter climate it’s a good idea to move dormant trees to a sheltered spot for the winter. They need very little winter care and will do fine in a garage where they can survive without any sunlight and just a small amount of moisture. On the other hand, tropical fruits will need to find a spot inside the home where they can stay until things warm back up outdoors.

Other Considerations for Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

Stakes and trellises are your friends and some type of support is often needed to keep your container fruit trees growing straight and upright. Pruning is used not only to manage fruit production but also to keep the plants in balance and at a size that is suitable for the pots that they are growing in. In addition to pruning the top growth, root pruning may occasionally be helpful.

As mentioned earlier larger containers are best for fruit trees but don’t start small fruit trees out in a huge container, it’s better to pot them up to a bigger container as they mature and increase in size. Rotate your containers a half turn every so often, just as you would a house plant to promote more even growth.

Potted fruits won’t provide as much production as field grown trees, but they will deliver the same satisfaction and sense of accomplishment as you lovingly tend to their needs and watch them grow from tiny specimens into small but mature trees yielding luscious, ripe fruits!

Grow These Edible Perennials Plant

Here is a partial listing of edible perennials; both vegetables and berries that will make great additions to your garden and provide you with continuous harvests for many years:

Choice Edible Perennials for the Home Garden

  • Asparagus – the ultimate long-term vegetable crop that will yield for decades with no drop off in production. One of the earliest spring production crops in the backyard garden.
  • Sea Kale – A rare and unusual vegetable, sea kale is an interesting perennial vegetable that is better known in the United Kingdom. Sea Kale produces edible shoots in the spring that are blanched before harvesting.
  • Artichokes – This one is somewhat dependent on your climate, cardoons can be a
    challenge to over winter, but it’s not impossible to grow them as edible perennials here and I’ve had success on occasion.
  • Salsify – While usually listed as biennials; salsify and scorzonera both act more like perennials in my garden. The plants return each year and grow larger as they put on an impressive display of attractive purple or yellow flowers.
  • Potato Onions – Unlike garlic, potato onions can remain in the ground after they mature without shedding their wrappers or greening up. It is best to lift and cure the bulbs before replanting and spacing them apart, but once you raise potato onions you’ll always have potato onions!
  • Blackberries – Very easy to grow but they do require annual pruning in order to get the best quality fruit. Try cultivating the thornless blackberry varieties or raspberries which have similar care and cultural requirements.
  • Mushrooms – While not as long lasting as true edible perennials, gourmet mushrooms are pretty care free and productive over many seasons once they are established and will reward you with recurring flushes of tasty gourmet shrooms.
  • Potatoes – You may want to argue with me over listing a potato along with these vegetable perennials, but tell that to the Purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes that I planted several years ago and can still find sprouting up in the garden every spring.
  • Rhubarb – It doesn’t get any easier than this edible perennial that is attractive enough to grow as an ornamental even if you don’t like the taste. Rhubarb is popular as the centerpiece of some delicious desserts!
  • Semi-Perennial – Like the purple fingerlings, Epazote, Sunchokes, Calendula, and Sacred Basil behave much like edible perennials and can be counted on to volunteer for repeat appearances once they have been established in the garden. In some cases they can even turn a bit invasive, so keep that in mind if you welcome them into your landscape.

That’s just the short list of vegetable perennials that can make life in the garden a bit easier by providing recurring crops after they are introduced into the garden. If I left out any of your favorite edible perennials you can add them to the comment section below.