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Survival Gardening: How To Boost Your Disaster Preparedness

December 28th, 2011

It is as good a time as ever to begin your own survival garden for you and your family.  This year, increased food prices, economic uncertainty and recent record natural disasters have undoubtedly heightened our concern about the safety and availability of food. A desire for a survival garden may also be rooted in the fact that you crave fresh, organic and non-GMO vegetables, fruit and herbs year round. Or like our parents and grandparents during World War Two, “victory gardens” save money, while allowing commercially grown food to be directed to areas that need it.  Whatever the reasoning, survival gardens are easy to construct and following these additional suggestions can allow your family to eat healthfully from home.

How To Start A Survival Garden:  First, decide what your gardening goals are.  Are you looking to add a few more fresh fruits and vegetables to your weekly meals? Perhaps you want an emergency food supply? Or, maybe take it a step further and completely live off the grid? Whatever you decide, it’s best practice to begin by planning a 4-foot wide space for your garden.  You do not want it any wider or you’ll have some trouble planting, harvesting and weeding in the center.  You may make the length as long as you prefer, yet many like to begin with 4×12 feet and the opportunity to grow larger as need be. Pick a location that’s relatively flat and receives sunlight with some shade at certain parts of the day.

After you have found the perfect location, dig an area about 1 foot deep.  You may dip deeper to add more vitality to your garden, but keep in mind that you’ll need more soil to compensate.  Using sized pieces of wood, form an “L” at one end of the garden and use a power drill to set each screw in.  Do the same for all four corners until you have a sturdy rectangular shape. Fill in the hole with nutrient-rich, organic soil, leaving some space a few inches at the top.  Use compost periodically to boost the soil’s needs.

Deciding What To Plant:

Grow any type of fruits, vegetables and herbs you prefer, but do keep in mind that some plants are advantageous to grow together while others will literally steal nutrients from the plant next door.  Check our Companion Gardening blog post to see a complete list of companion plants.

Planting medicinal herbs and plants is a good practice for those who aspire to grow a garden for emergency purposes. Garlic, onions, aloe, cloves, anise seed and other herbs have proven medicinal qualities that could be helpful for injuries and other ailments in a crisis.

Emergency Seed Banks: Many of us want to be prepared in any type of natural or economic disaster, and creating your own emergency seed bank is one way to ensure your seeds are viable when you need them most.  Begin by selecting a wide variety of seeds that are non-hybrid heirloom and non-genetically modified.  Next, make sure your seeds are completely dry and place them in a vacuum-sealed bag.  A Mylar® bag may also be used to ensure tight sealing.  Then, place bags in an airtight, waterproof container or a compact storage case.  Carefully label your seeds and keep planting guides in the container as well. These simple steps will increase the lifespan of your seeds, while giving you more control and self-sufficiency over your food supply in a worst-case scenario.

Storing Fruits and Vegetables: Canning your leftover fruits, vegetables and herbs from your survival garden can prevent waste and can prepare you and your family for most unexpected emergencies.  Using mason jars and two-piece lids will suit you just fine for canning foods.  Make sure the food, cans and lids are sterilized before you label and place the jars in storage for later use.  Freezing food in air tight bags will also retain most of the nutritional value, while blanching vegetables before freezing can stop enzymatic activity that slowly causes the quality of the food to dissipate. Remember that freezing is better for short-term consumption, as a loss of power could mean the loss of your food if you do not have a backup generator.

Do you have a prepared food source for your family in an emergency? 

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Seeds Bombs Away! Your Guide to Guerilla Gardening

December 23rd, 2011

Ready-Made Seed Bombs

Some may see a real eye sore of barren land, but in your view it is the perfect location to implement your handcrafted weaponry.  In the shadows you quickly peak over your shoulder.  Others creep along next to you to join in on the ambush.  With one forceful throw – you find yourself immersed in guerilla warfare.  Only this kind of warfare is vastly different from a WWII scene; think seeds and un-loved land in lieu of machine guns and trenches.  A growing world movement; guerilla gardeners form gardens by throwing an assortment of seed bombs in open  land that could benefit from the beauty of a garden, but may be challenging to reach and spend time in for traditional sowing. Intrigued?

Those that participate in guerilla gardening are as diverse as the seeds they launch. Some do not have a space of their own to garden, yet wish to have the benefit of growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Others wish to build a sense of community in their area or to send a message about sustainable living.  Some want to memorialize a person with their seeds, while others would like to beautify areas that see the wear and tear of city life.

Learn How! (No camouflage required)

Choose a guerilla seed bomb that suits your selected area, purpose and climate.  Whether you find a deserted lot, a park, an empty planter/flower bed, or the side of a road; be sure to select low maintenance plants if you cannot visit the site regularly. Most seeds from Uncle Herb’s Favorites will work well. You should also decide the purpose behind your guerilla garden.  If you wish to be a witness to how your beautiful garden affects the community, don’t stuff your seeds in a balloon you will never see again. Rather, choose a seed bomb that can be easily spotted. Finally, select an area in the right climate.  Ideally, this is an area exposed to plenty of natural sunlight and rainwater.

Traditional Seed Bomb:  These bombs are comprised of clay soil, compost and seeds.  They are eco-friendly and very easy to make.  Keep in mind that they can get quite messy, and will work best in areas that are exposed to sun and water.

Step 1: In a large bowl, combine clay soil, compost and seeds at a ratio of 5:1:1.  Slowly pour in water until the consistency is moist enough to form a hardened ball.

Step 2: Roll out the seed bomb mixture about ½ inch thick using a rolling pin or wine bottle.  Using a small knife, cut into 2in. x 2 in. sections.

Step 3: Roll each section into a ball.  Once hardened, they are ready to throw.

Exploding Eggs: This method requires stuffing empty eggs with your favorite seeds.  The empty eggs will crack and “explode” seeds
upon hitting the ground.  These are much less messy than a traditional seed bomb, but they are slightly more challenging to make.  Be patient, and you’ll be tossing seed eggs in no time at all.

Step 1:  Wash and dry a free-range egg.

Step 2: Using a needle, poke a hole into each side of the egg. The holes should be large enough for the yolk to exit the shell.  Place a bowl underneath you, and using your mouth, blow through one end of the egg. Allow the yolk to dispense into the bowl, and save it for an omelet
later on.

Step 3: Find the largest hole on either side of the egg. Carefully fill the egg with about a ½ teaspoon of seeds.  Be patient, as this takes time!  Wrap the egg(s) in a cotton cloth so that they will not break when being transported. Unwrap the cloth and the egg is ready for tossing!

Other Ideas:  If you’re looking for some other ideas on how to join the forces of guerrilla gardening, many enjoy stuffing clear Christmas
ornaments, biodegradable pill capsules and balloons later filled with helium.  Be wary that each of these may suit your purpose, but have varying degrees of difficulty and environmental challenges once the seeds are airborne.

If you think guerilla gardening is the activity for you, which areas in your community could benefit from such a garden?

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Winter Gardening Tips For Adults and Kids

December 15th, 2011

When the mercury begins to drop, try these gardening tips to spruce up your garden and prevent winter damage.  We also included some fun gardening activities to engage your children during winter break! To learn more ideas on how to protect your plants from frost, stop by and read, Protecting Plants From Freezing Temperatures.

Safety first! Many use infinite amounts of salt in their pathways and porches to prevent a dangerous fall on winter’s slippery ice.  But did you know that salt could wash away in your garden and sterilize the fertile soil? To get the best traction without harming your prized cabbages, use organic kitty litter without any added chemicals.  You’ll find that a light sprinkle of litter can salvage you and your plants from preventable winter dangers.

Drip Irrigation:  It is good practice to check your irrigation system for damage each season.  Before winter hits in full force, you may want to review your model’s instructions and remove all of the water from the system.  Then turn off the system completely for the coldest months.  Many attribute this to be the best way to protect your irrigation investment from extensive winter damage.

Depending on your city’s winter climate, a rule of thumb for winter watering is once every 10 days when temperatures are below 75 degrees F, and once a week when temperatures are between 75-90 degrees F.   Be sure to water only when temperatures in the soil are above 40 degrees, and when there is no snow coverage.  If possible, a midday watering routine is best to allow time for water to soak in before chillier nighttime temperatures hit.

Pruning Procedures:  Pruning a large tree or bush is best done in the wintertime.  Prune branches that awkwardly cross, and/or branches that appear to have diseased or dead wood.  Remember, topping a tree or cutting more than 25% of a plant can ultimately lead to more extensive damage in the long run.  As for more delicate herbs, flowers and vegetables; wait until the spring to prune. Even damaged leaves and foliage continue to carry heat and can suffer more frost damage if pruned too early.

Use A “Winterizer”: During the winter months, plants should focus on root growth, and can benefit from a fertilizer with potassium and phosphorus.  In early to late fall, use a trowel to loosen the soil, and add fertilizer near the roots of the plant.  If your plants have already experienced freezing or snow, skip the fertilizer and simply add more mulch to the roots to keep them warmer.

Involve The Kiddos! Winter break is fast approaching, and finding some fun winter activities is the perfect way to get your kids active and away from the Xbox! Try inviting children to make a windowsill garden. Herbs are wonderful to grow indoors; and they are kid friendly to implement.  Kids also love decorating small pots with colorful paints, paper and glue. Draw a funny face on a pot, plant a little winter grass and watch the head of hair grow! Or, have kids make holiday gifts for their loved ones with a little creativity and a terra cotta pot.

Engage children in a gardening or bird club.  Find a group at your local library, or start one of your own!  Children love distributing birdseed in the winter and documenting birds that have stopped by for a snack.  If you have a craft store nearby, involve kids in building a birdhouse to help keep the neighborhood birds “warm” in the winter.

What gardening tips will you use this winter?

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Humble Seed Announces A New Product: Cow Manure Tea!

December 13th, 2011

Does your garden need a little pick me up? Has it been through bad weather, experienced club root or does it just need a little reviving? Believe it or not, a naturally brewed tea may be just the component to enhance both your perennials and annuals. Humble Seed is excited to announce that they will begin selling Authentic Haven’s Brand Natural Brew for your garden! Humble Seed is introducing their line of cow manure teas that have been proven to cultivate a thriving garden. Haven’s Livestock Producers raises only grass-fed cows, guaranteeing no antibiotics, pesticides, or growth hormones in their products.  Health conscious and green-minded folks will love knowing that they can kiss toxic chemicals goodbye as they naturally grow their indoor and outdoor gardens.

About Cow Manure Tea: For years, farmers and home gardeners have relied on home brewed cow manure teas for enriching their gardens. The tea is comprised of a natural cow manure; one of the best tools for improving your garden’s fertility and growth, while also giving your plants a boost during preliminary cropping time and in poor weather conditions.  The tea acts as a soil conditioner, creating a strong root base and allowing plant roots to better absorb the nutrients they need. The product is shipped to you in environmentally friendly packaging, and is exceptionally easy to use.

What plants will benefit? A variety of house plants, container plants, vegetable gardens, shrubs, grass lawns and rose gardens will thrive when you use Haven’s Natural Brew Tea.

How Does It Work? You can implement the tea in your garden just days after receiving the tea. Simply brew one tea bag in a five-gallon container of water and allow to steep for a few days.   A large watering can will suit you just fine.  Once brewed, water your plants at the roots, avoiding vegetables and any edible parts of the plant.  In a few weeks, you will notice your garden stander taller and more vibrant than ever before.

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Poisonous Holiday Plants To Be Aware Of

December 6th, 2011

The holidays are here, and it is certain that no one wants to unknowingly place a potentially poisonous plant on his or her holiday table or mantle this year.  While decorative holiday plants provide beauty and cheer, some plants may cause health problems and can even be dangerous for children and pets.

Undoubtedly, the Poinsettia has caused the most alarm over the years.  Many feel it could contribute to poisoning and even death in pets and children if consumed. Ironically, this plant has never been proven to cause death, and some feel it is not the hazardous plant we’ve all assumed it to be.  However, it has been attributed to irritating the mouth and stomach, causing mild diarrhea and nausea, and sometimes vomiting. Therefore, it may be best to keep this ubiquitous holiday plant away from children and pets unless supervised.

Holly, a low growing evergreen with vibrant scarlet berries, has been used as a holiday decoration for hundreds of years.  Yet eating the berries can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.  Children and pets seem drawn to bright red berries and are sometimes tempted to take a bite.  Therefore, keep this evergreen away from them.

One of the most toxic plants used during the holidays is the Jerusalem Cherry.  This plant has white star-like flowers in the summer and fall, and scarlet flowers in the winter months.  While beautiful, every part of this plant is toxic to humans and animals.  Therefore, this plant is best for those without children or pets at home.

While charming to kiss under, the Mistletoe has some toxic substances within the plants’ leaves and berries that can cause mild to severe stomach upset.  To enjoy this plant without worry; either hang it out of reach, or wrap the plant in a plastic bag or netting.

A live Christmas tree is for the most part non-toxic, but do be aware that the needles can cause obstructions in an animal’s stomach, which may require emergency care.  Some pets (especially cats) mistake the Christmas tree water as his or her new watering hole – so keep an eye on that
as well.  The preservative rich and sugary water may cause mild stomach upset.

Yews, Jequirity Beans, Lilies and Christmas Roses can cause considerable stomach ailments and hallucinations, which could ultimately
lead to emergency care if consumed.  If you have pets or small children, these plants should not be purchased.

Tips To Keeping Your Family Safe:

1. Never consume any part of an unidentified plant.

2. Never place jewelry in or near your mouth (including children and pets) if made from an unknown plant

3. Never attempt to brew your own natural tea unless you are certain of the plant you are using and the recipe.

4. Never allow children to play near poisonous plants without supervision.

6. Store your seeds, bulbs, soil and tubers out of the reach of children.

Luckily, not every decorative plant has the potential to harm your loved ones and dear pets. The Christmas Cactus, Pyracantha, Christmas Orchids, and Amaryllis are all festively colored, non-toxic, and make for gorgeous decorations or centerpieces this time of year.


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Protect Your Plants From Freezing Temperatures

December 3rd, 2011

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” (cut to record scratching and you frantically running to ensure your plants have survived the cold).  If you do not have a magic wand handy, below are some helpful tips for protecting your plants during these chilly winter months, and repairing plants that have already experienced some damage.   Whether you are knee deep in snow or still strolling in shorts in a warmer winter climate, protecting plants from frost is easy and beneficial in aiding your plants’ growth when temperatures drop.

 Understanding Your Plant’s Responses to Cold

Not every plant responds to the cold in the same way.  Plant species, stage of growth, water content and general health are all factors in how to decide which plants need more protection than others.  Typically, young plants or actively growing plants with flowers are the most sensitive to cold weather.  Dehydrated plants are also very vulnerable to climate changes.  Yet keep in mind that not all cold weather will damage plants.  A mild change of temperature can actually harden the foliage of plants, protecting it from future, more damaging frosts.  However, the colder the weather, the faster the temperature drops and the longer the plants stay out in the cold weather; the more extensive the plant damage.

Preventing Frost Damage

Prevention is paramount to ensure your plants survive colder temperatures.  First, select plants that are the most susceptible to damage.  Keep in mind that most vegetables, especially root vegetables and plants in the cabbage family, do not need to be covered and prefer as much sunlight as possible (except for potatoes).  While young, dehydrated or actively growing plants with flowers should be covered immediately.  Orchids, citrus plants and gardenias tend to be the most sensitive to cold weather.  Therefore, make sure these are covered first, even if you are not expecting a frost.

If plants are in pots, the best way to prevent damage is to move them inside.  Read Your Guide to Indoor and Windowsill Gardening for more information.  If plants are rooted in the ground, use old blankets, sheets and burlap sacks and lightly drape them over your plants in the evening.  Make sure to remove the covers in the morning so that each plant receives plenty of necessary sunlight.  Stones, stakes or bricks can also be used to prevent covers from blowing off.  Keep in mind that to avoid crushing the plant, avoid using heavy blankets or place wire around the plant to balance the weight.  Comforters are not recommended as these can absorb too much moisture, inevitably damaging your plants.

Other great tricks to keep your plants warm is locating your plants on a cement patio, or placing rocks/bricks around the plant.  The sun will heat up these materials, naturally and will keep your plants warmer.  In the evening, placing holiday lights around your plants can also keep more warmth near your plants (bonus: pretty lights are so festive this time of year!).

How To Identify Damaged Plants

Common symptoms of damaged plants are dead or dormant leaves, fruits and flowers, and dieback of shoots, leaves and stems.  As bad as it may look, no need to panic and immediately prune the damaged areas.  Rather, wait until spring to prune.   Warmth will continue to become trapped inside the damaged canopies and it’s best to leave them alone.  Also, pruning may stimulate new growth, which will ultimately become damaged again in the winter months.  In the spring, you should find that new growth will appear and it will become safe to prune and take out dead wood.

What plants do you plan on covering or taking inside this season?

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