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How to Transition from a Summer to a Fall Vegetable Garden

September 14th, 2013


Whenever we tell someone that we’re planting a fall organic vegetable garden, we sometimes hear, “Woh! I thought it was too cold to plant.” But there are quite a few vegetables we recommend planting at the end of the summer because they love the cool weather. Be sure to check off your chores, and you’re ready to go for fall!

Chores For Transitioning From a Summer To a Fall Garden

*First look around and see what’s working in your garden and what’s not. Pull out the plants that are no longer producing, and remove any lingering weeds or debris.

*Consider making or buying new tags or markers to label fall crops. We love this crop marker idea if you want to get your children involved!

*Before sowing in particularly hot climates, shade and water the area for a few days to allow the soil to cool down.

*Since the previous plants have used most of the nutrients from the soil, incorporate organic compost and smooth it out well. Adding compost will rejuvenate the soil when planting something new.

*Adding mulch will retain the seed moisture, and helps to prevent the soil from baking at the end of the summer. Straw or hay works well as an insulator, but there really is a variety of mulch options  you can use. If you’re concerned about keeping the straw down, consider using a floating row on top of the mulch.

What To Plant At The End Of Summer

The Brassica family in particular grows very well in cool weather (think broccoli, arugula, cabbage, lettuce, chard, collards, kale, spinach). Mustard greens also tend to be less bitter when grown in cool weather climates. Root crops like parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes can also do quite well. Most of them can take a little frost – but you can extend the season up to 30 days (give or take depending on mother nature) by using a frost blanket. To learn more, check out our other frost suggestions for keeping your veggies safe. 

Planting Tips

*Count back from frost date but tack on extra time to the calculation. Remember that the days are getting steadily shorter and cooler as fall plants mature. Don’t expect them to produce as fast as in longer and warmer spring time days.

*You generally don’t want to plant a seed more than 3 times the thickness of the seed. Strive to plant the seed two times the thickness; remembering that any deeper can impose stress, making it an issue for the plant to grow above the soil.

*Sow approximately one seed about every two inches. You don’t want to plant too many together, yet being too skimpy can cause problems too! You will be thinning them out later, so make like Goldilocks when sowing seeds. You’ll find your rows will look “just right” after some practice.

*If you’re trying to conserve water, focus watering activities on the most vulnerable plants – along with the oldest trees and shrubs on the property.

**Fellow gardeners, what are you planting for your autumn garden?

About Us:

Humble Seed specializes in premium garden seed kits that are packaged and themed for convenience and ease. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid, and organic seed varieties to those who choose to start from seed.


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Beat The Heat This Summer In Your Garden!

June 15th, 2013


During the dog days of summer, you and your plants need some extra TLC – particularly when it hits above 100 degrees. It only takes a few hours for the sun’s rays to damage your plants beyond repair while you were splashing around in the pool (not that we blame you!). To make summer gardening beneficial for your plants and more bearable on yourself, here are some quick and easy tips.

Taking note of your plants. When the heat is on, plants will show signs of distress. Look for browning, yellowing and/or wilted leaves with little to no flowering.  They may also feel crisp when touched. If there are already signs of damage, you may be able to save your plants for successful harvesting. Make sure to mulch 3 to 4 inches to help conserve water, and when watering, give your plants a good, deep soak. Mulching also cools the soil temperature by shielding it from direct sunlight. To prevent damage, read further.

Watering. Depending on what region you live in, you may be experiencing drought. If so, and if you are dealing with water restrictions, you will need to be thoughtful with the day(s) and time(s) you water. If you can, water your plants deeply when it’s cooler in the early morning or evening. If you have drip irrigation, great! If not, you may want to invest in soaker hoses. If you’re fortunate to get a summer monsoon season, a water harvesting barrel is a great way to water your vegetables and reduce your water bills.

Feeding your plants. Many plants may hold back fruit in the hot weather, making it important that you continue to encourage fruit by providing nutrients. One easy way to do this is by side-dressing your plants with compost. Making your own compost is easy (see tips here), plus it makes a rockin’ natural fertilizer for your garden. Limiting weeds can also reduce competition for nutrients and water with your plants – pesky little things aren’t they? If it’s too hot to go weed pullin’ – you may want to try in the evening.

Shade. If your plants are showing signs of heat stress, you should provide them with shade during the hottest part of the day, generally between 11am and 3pm. You can purchase shading material at your local garden center or you can construct a shade barrier using old bed sheets and poles. Summerweight garden fabric is also a nice investment; it can shield plants from damaging rays, and protect crops from birds, insects and other nuisances. Lattices and old screens also work well to shade vulnerable plants.

Keeping your cool. Summer’s heat can be brutal and dangerous to the gardener as well, so it’s important that you protect yourself when in your garden. Using sun block and wearing a wide brimmed hat, loose fitting pants and a light-colored long-sleeved shirt or tee shirt will help reduce skin damage due to the sun’s powerful rays. Wetting or freezing a collar or a towel can also keep you feeling fresh. Furthermore – make sure to have plenty of water within reach while you work!

Best of luck this summer! What are your favorite ways to beat the summer heat within your garden? Do tell…

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Saving Heirloom Seeds 101

May 9th, 2013


For many, preserving an heirloom seed in its original genetic makeup is important.


When we think of the word “extinction,” a head of lettuce normally doesn’t pop up in our minds. It’s also obvious that our grocery stores aren’t full of endangered fruits and vegetables either. But think about the prize-winning heirloom beets you boasted last spring, or your grandfather’s special heirloom tomatoes you remember eating every summer. If these heirloom seeds are not saved, the legacy of these plants will eventually die out.

Furthermore, preserving heirlooms creates diversity, making some gardeners feel it’s their responsibly to save these seeds so that genetic variation doesn’t become extinct. If you decide to save your heirloom seeds this year, there are some important ideas to learn and put into practice to ensure success.

How To Preserve The Genetic Makeup

Ensuring an heirloom variety doesn’t accidently change its genetic makeup is a top priority. Luckily, there are some simple practices that can help limit genetic loss. One is to ensure heirloom plants do not cross-pollinate with other varieties. The easiest way to avoid this is to separate varieties a fair distance away from one another. It’s a good idea to research each plant to ensure the distance is far enough away. For example, lettuce may only require separating it 25 feet, while some pepper varieties are considered a safe distance when distancing them at least 500 feet.

Other gardeners prefer time isolation, caging, bagging, and even individually hand pollinating - these are all techniques that can help avoid accidental cross-pollination. Keep in mind that while these practices take time and thought, if two varieties cross – their genes are permanently mixed.

How To Harvest Heirloom Seeds

When you’re ready to harvest, specifically select seeds from the plants that grew quickly and with vigor.  A common mistake is to choose seeds randomly, and from mediocre plants. One major rule of thumb? Never save seeds from malformed fruit, or a fruit that has been damaged by insects, mold, or disease. Plants should be strong, healthy and not exposed to stressful conditions when early seed formation begins.

Removing any diseased plants away from potential seed saving plants will increase the viability of the plant and its seed. Diseased plants can also spread pathogens to otherwise healthy plants, and can affect the success of succeeding generations as well. During seed formation, be sure to provide the plant with sufficient moisture at flower time – this will promote pollen development and flower set.

Furthermore, learning how to properly harvest seeds from a variety of plants can ensure you’re getting the most from each plant. We look forward to sharing how to properly clean, dry, and preserve your heirloom seeds in a future post.

Friends, which heirloom varieties are you growing this year?

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Composting: Discover Which Bin Is Right For You

February 16th, 2013

So you’ve read about the benefits of composting, and now you’re eager to get started. But what composing bin is right for you? Between compost tumblers, enclosed bins, rolling bins, or a simple, homemade bin – choosing the right bin for your needs can be confusing. We’ve de-mystified the most popular styles of composting bins so that your garden is flourishing this spring, with the help of the food scraps in your kitchen.

Compost Tumblers

Pros: These circular, self-turning bins aerate compost by cranking or rolling the container with a handle. They can build a steady supply of compost every few weeks, and are ideal for small backyard spaces. These composting bins are also a lot easier to use compared to turning up an open pile with a pitchfork.

Cons: Once the composting bin is completely full, expect to wait anywhere from 2-10 weeks for the contents to process before adding more materials.  They can be pricey, and will also run you anywhere from $100 – $500.

Enclosed Bins

Pros: Enclosed bins are ideal for someone seeking low-maintenance composting, as family members can easily lift a lid to throw in composting materials. There are a variety of enclosed bin styles – from bins specifically made for composting, to a simple garbage can with a lid. Most enclosed bins will also keep rain, pests, and wildlife out very well.

Cons: While low maintenance, the processing time can be quite long (up to two years) because the materials are not aerated routinely. Unfortunately, low maintenance composting can also mean a longer wait time for rich results.

Rolling Bins

Pros: Rolling bins are convenient because of their removable lid, which makes it easy to turn the soil while keeping out pests and rain. Like the name suggests, the bin can be rolled to your garden or yard waste, and rolled back. You’re also able to aerate and turn the compost pile every few days by tumbling it around.

Cons: A rolling bin is not necessary for small backyards, and work best in large yards. Bins can also become challenging to roll once they are very full.

Simple, Homemade Bins

Pros: Simple, homemade bins can be made from a variety of inexpensive materials. Many choose to create their bins from lattice panels, plywood, cinder blocks, wood pallets, or a trash can. We like this guide to making a few different styles. Most homemade bins can be made in a day or weekend, and if made well, can work well for many years.

Cons: Wooden compost bins may rot within a year or two.

Friends, which composting bins have been the most successful for your needs? What bins are you eager to try?



About Us:

Humble Seed specializes in premium garden seed kits that are packaged and themed for convenience and ease.  We are dedicated to providing the highest quality heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid, and organic seed varieties to those who choose to start from seed.

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5 Easy Ways To Prevent And Remove Weeds

June 17th, 2012

It’s that time of year again.  Summer temperatures are rising, and backyard weeds can grow just as fast as you can pour yourself an ice-cold glass of lemonade. Weeding will most likely be the brunt of the maintenance required in the summer time, as weeds thrive in the dry heat and can inhibit a vibrant garden. Aim to weed about 2-3 times a week, and remove weeds quickly when they are small, as large root systems won’t have the opportunity to form.

But before you run out to buy yourself a tube of Bengay for a future back braking session of weed pulling, we have some tricks to make the process easier.  While prevention is paramount to less grueling summer maintenance, we also have some helpful tips on killing weeds naturally (so you have more time to drink ice-cold glasses of lemonade).

1.  Prevent and control weeds with mulch.  We’ve already discussed the amazing benefits of mulching, and we love that weed control is one of them.  Covering the soil with a layer of mulch blocks weeds from growing, while lowering the soil’s temperature (weeds thrive in hot temperatures). Mulching can be done on the cheap or free, using materials like natural falling leaves, twigs, and pine needles, nut shells, plastic mulch sheets, shredded wood, hay, cardboard, bark, sawdust, crushed rocks or aged compost.

Sheri Blumenthal over at Farmer’s Almanac has this clever tip, “A great mulch combination is to first lay cardboard down and then leaves on top. You can add a layer of compost above the cardboard and then put the leaves on top for an extra nutrient kick. This process is called sheet mulching, and it does a much better job than just leaves alone.”

2.  For further prevention, resist the urge to turn the soil. Unseen to the gardener are a number of dormant weeds underneath the soil that require light and air to surface and thrive. Keeping the weeds underground by minimizing disturbances allows them to remain dormant, and “sleep.”

3.  Spray weeds with vinegar, salt and/or dish soap, a lethal combination that acts like a weed terminator. While salt dehydrates the weeds, vinegar acts as a natural herbicide, allowing plants to decompose in aerobic conditions. The dish soap works to help the solution to “stick” on the plant’s leaves and stalk. The University of Idaho recently conducted a study using vinegar as a weed killer, and found that vinegar had an 80-100% kill rate on selected weeds. To make your own batch, pour 1-quart household vinegar, ¼ cup salt, and 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap into a spray bottle. Shake well, and spray liberally.

4.  Out of dish soap? Try boiling water and vinegar together.  Then carefully pour it in a heat resistant container. When immediately possible, pour the hot liquid directly over the weeds. The solution must be at boiling or near boiling point for the weed’s roots to “cook” and die.

5.  For acute weed growth, The DIY Network suggests reusing grass clippings by dumping them all over the entire area covered in weeds. The grass clippings acts as a soil amendment, and will stifle light and air from the weeds, until they eventually die.  While unsightly for a few days or weeks, this process can break the weed cycle and improve the overall health of the soil in the long term.

Looking for more maintenance tips to make life easier? Read through our summer guide!

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DIY Organic Fertilizers And The Benefits

May 23rd, 2012

If you’re looking for a fertilizer that maximizes your edible garden’s nutritional content, without the worry of harsh chemicals and synthesizers found in traditional fertilizers, perhaps making your own organic blend is a logical next step.  Similar to cooking, controlling the ingredients in your own natural fertilizer can be a healthier and safer alternative to what we see packaged in stores. Initially, a DIY fertilizer may remind you of a high school chemistry class, and seem somewhat daunting. Yet, a little motivation to get you started (from us) and some further research (from you) has the potential to turn even a neophyte gardener into a fertilizer-blending dynamo! To get you started…

The Commercial Fertilizer Dilemma:  Common chemical fertilizers like Ammonium Sulphate, Potassium Chloride, and Potash are non-synthetic (and not harmful to health), and directly supply the amount of Nitrogen and Potassium needed for plant vitality. However, these fertilizers purchased at your local gardening store are not only costly, but can eventually damage the soil’s physical, biological and chemical structure.  Studies have shown that consistent and long-term use of chemical fertilizers change the soil’s alkalinity, salinity and sodium levels, while eventually depleting your plant’s root systems of oxygen.  While synthetic fertilizers have the potential to infiltrate food and ultimately harm our health.

Furthermore, from an environmental perspective, chemical and synthetic fertilizers pose a real threat to the Mama Earth. There is growing concern that chemicals found in fertilizers coupled with excess run-off continues to damage natural eco-systems, lakes, rivers and oceans.  It has become increasingly clear that long-term use has consequences not only for our home gardens, but on a larger scale as well.

A Few Rules Of Thumb: Before you begin, it is important to consider which blends will work best for your plants, and what is locally available to purchase.  Many ingredients can be found at your local gardening center, and some may have to be purchased online.  With a little research, you’ll become more familiar with both of these concepts. Also, keep in mind that a good fertilizer may only need to be applied once a year, ideally before you plant your first Spring crop.  Generally, blending the fertilizer in with the soil before you plant works well.  Therefore, be sure to mix the right amount for your own garden’s needs, and store the rest in an airtight container.

Ingredients To Consider:

*Seed meals are byproducts of vegetable oil and animal feeds. They contain highly nutritious seeds like flaxseeds, soybeans, cotton seeds and sunflower seeds.  They are prized for their high Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium content.

*Heavy Nitrogen blends have natural amino acids and can yield vibrantly large vegetables, as Nitrogen is wonderful for the growth process.

*Adding ocean products like Kelp Meal can be quite beneficial for heavy feeders like squash, tomatoes, corn, broccoli and cabbage.

*Using rock phosphate has high doses of Phosphorous, which will provide vigorous growth for edible plants and flowers.

*Gypsum is a wonderful source for Calcium, and will not raise the soil’s Ph levels.

*Dolomite has a neutral Ph, and is a prized source of Calcium and Magnesium.

*Rock dusts are blends of several different types of rocks, and can revitalize over worked soil.

*Green Sand is harvested from the ocean, and is a natural source of Iron, Magnesium, Silica and minerals.

*Adding Lime with its Calcium and Magnesium will add strength to your garden. It can also raise Ph levels in the soil if needed.

Sample Fertilizer Recipe (1:5:2)

4 parts seed meal

2 parts Gypsum

1 part Rock Phosphate

1 part Green Sand

1 part Dolomite Lime

Method: Mix all ingredients well.

Would you consider making your own organic fertilizer? What is your favorite blend?

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Mulch Much? Discover Why It’s Important

May 2nd, 2012

Biting into a crisp carrot, or admiring the brilliant red color of a beet has more to do with the quality of top soil than most consider.  With climbing temperatures in the Spring and Summer, soil can easily lose it’s efficiency if not protected and nourished. Mulch is either an organic or non-organic protective cover placed on the top layer of soil.  If you’ve never considered using mulch, simply applying it can enhance your garden’s vitality at a low cost and with little maintenance (seriously, everyone’s a winner).

Why Mulch?

For one, mulching is a lot of bang for your buck.  Many gardeners find that mulching with a variety of materials can yield a good list of benefits!

To name a few, mulch

*insulates soil and stabilizes temperature, especially in the warmer months.

*provides shade for soil, which reduces evaporation and increases moisture levels.

*helps to reduce erosion from rain and wind. This can also improve the permeability of the soil.

*can suppress weed growth.

*protects soil from solar radiation damage.

*encourages faster growth and a more vital garden

Mulching Materials

A variety of organic and non-organic materials can be used as mulch in your garden. In a forest, we see dried leaves and twigs become “mulch,” as it forms around tree trunks, protecting the top soil and roots of each tree.  Many gardeners use the same idea as they mulch in their own garden.  Natural falling leaves, twigs, and pine needles all work well (and come at no cost!).  Yet grass clippings, nut shells, plastic mulch sheets, shredded wood, hay, cardboard, bark, sawdust, crushed rocks and aged compost are also commonly used.

Which Mulch Is Which?

Start by brainstorming what you would like to accomplish from the mulch. Would you like the mulch to look attractive, or would it serve a more functional purpose? Are you applying in the spring and summer, or are you looking to winterize your plants? Do some research on which mulch is best for the plant(s) in your garden. For example, when mulching around annuals and perennials, small pieces of shredded wood or bark work best. Or, to show off the vibrant colors of your flowers or vegetables, applying dark mulch will heighten their beauty. Also, pine needles can create more acidity in your garden, which can benefit a potato heap.

How To Apply It

It is most beneficial to apply mulch at the beginning of the growing season and then reapplied when necessary. Once you have done further research and selected the right mulch for your garden, clean the area you plan to mulch by weeding or removing unwanted materials. Apply the mulch in a single layer on the surface of the soil, about 2-6 inches thick and wide enough to cover all potential underground roots. Keep in mind that trees require thicker layers of mulch while flower and vegetable beds need only a thin layer to be effective.

If you’re looking to lower the maintenance in your garden, drip irrigation is not a bad idea! It’s less work intensive than manual watering, and normally only needs to be adjusted seasonally. Drip irrigation is the most efficient watering system when mulch is present in your garden, as the water can be applied directly to the root zone. When irrigating, keep the soil bed moist yet never flooded or too dry.  Also, use caution not to over water your plants, as mulch can prevent most water evaporation.

Friends, what types of mulch do you prefer in your garden?


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How To Compost Indoors Safely And Effectively

March 17th, 2012

Many of us associate composting with the big sandbox in our backyard filled with kitchen scraps and coffee grounds.  If you’ve never tried composting before, it entails taking organic waste materials like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee and tea grounds, eggshells, and even gritty materials like cornmeal, and adding them to a barrel to decompose.  In turn, a composting pile can produce a rich fertilizer for your home garden.  But how does one effectively compost if they are living alone and do not produce many kitchen scraps?  Or perhaps, have limited outdoor space and/or opportunities to change the land?  It’s also not easy to compost outdoors in inclement weather.  For many, indoor composting is the answer, and has become a safe, accessible and effective way to create rich, fertile soil for your garden.

Why Compost?  For one, it reduces the amount of organic waste that ultimately ends up in landfills.  In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that 14% of food ends up in land mills each year.  14% may not seem like much, but remember that rotting materials eventually transforms into methane, which has 21 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  If you already recycle your paper, cans and glass, why not do the same with food scraps? Every little bit helps!

Secondly, it’s more sanitary. Placing food scraps to rot in your neighborhood garbage can ultimately leads to rodents, raccoons and insects.  It can also be quite malodorous — which tends to linger until Tuesday’s trash pick-up day. When done correctly, composting in your home reduces the potential of these nuisances, while also posing less imposition to public health and safety.

Most importantly, composting can create a rockin’ fertilizer for your home garden. Not only is it money saving, but it’s also is rich in nutrients and acts as a soil fertilizer, soil conditioner, and even as a natural pesticide.  It’s commonly used in home gardens –- but many also use this key ingredient in landscaping, agriculture and horticulture.

Throw Them In, Don’t Walk On Them! Eggshells, and almost anything leftover from your garden is suitable for composting.  Yet other scraps, odds and ends from around the house also work well in your compost.  This includes coffee and tea grounds, gritty flours, weeds, cardboard, and even dryer lint.  What tends to not work well for less experienced composters are meats, oils, dairy products, animal droppings and overdoing it with liquids. See a full list of composting do’s and don’ts here.

 There are two popular methods to effectively compost indoors.  View the step-by-step instructions to make an indoor compost area of your own!

Aerobic Kitchen Composting: This method of composting requires two bins or containers designed for composting.  The organic matter in the containers ferments naturally using approximately a 70% moisture level, and without heat and oxygen. Each bin should fit either under a sink, in a closet, or can be left out in view.

Step 1: Create two composting bins by finding a leak proof, durable and reusable container with a sealable lid. The bin should be about 10 cubic feet, or 24×24 inches.  A small garbage can will also work just fine. The trick here is to avoid containers that are too deep, or it could lead to unwanted odor.

Drill holes at the bottom of the container for aeration.  Set the container on bricks, and place a tray underneath to catch any liquid.  Using two bins allows one for processing, and the other may be used to add more scraps to.  Once one bin is ready for fertilizing, the other will be processing.

Step 2: Add 1-2 inches of a dry mixture to the bottom of the container.  This could be torn newspaper, cardboard, straw, dead leaves, peat moss, sawdust from untreated wood, cartons, or a combination of these materials.

Step 3:  Distribute the daily kitchen scraps (or weeds, dryer lint) on top. Cover the scraps with more dry mixture.  Some practice adding soil and lime to the dry mixture for more odor control.

Step 4:  Turn the soil every few weeks with a compost aerator or something comparable to create air passages.  If your compost is prone to heavy leaking, or has an odor, simply add more dry bedding and mix it well with an aerator.

Vermicomposting: similar to aerobic kitchen composting (yet not for the faint of heart!).  Adding Red Wriggler Worms in the composting bin will attain an even richer, more fertile compost. Red Worms are built for eating organic matter, and can compost half of their body weight every day! If you’re worried about having worms in your home, keep in mind that these worms are odorless, and help to more efficiently decompose kitchen scraps.

Step 1: Line the bottom of the can with rocks to prevent any worms from escaping. Follow steps 1-4 for aerobic kitchen composting. Leave out any citrus, alcohol, or spicy foods like jalapeños and peppers to keep the Ph level at about a 7.  The ph level is is an important monitor for creating an ideal worm thriving environment.

Step 2: Once the bin has its first layer of kitchen scraps, place the worms in for a “welcome meal.” Continue layering dry bedding, kitchen scraps, and worms until the bin is full.  Most dry bedding works well for worms, but avoid acidic peat moss as it will bring the ph level lower than 7, making the environment too acidic.

PS ~ Vermicomposting for kids.

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Outdoor Composting For Beginners

March 16th, 2012

If you’ve never attempted composting, and have a sizeable backyard near a water supply — run, don’t walk to get started! Compost is a mixture of organic matter (as in leaves, twigs and kitchen scraps) used to improve the soil’s structure while providing nutrients. Composting can also be done indoors, but we find outdoor composting to be more versatile and easier to manage for beginners.  Once you’ve created a designated area to compost, they key is knowing what works well in your compost, and what does not.

Why Compost?  For one, it reduces the amount of organic waste that ultimately ends up in landfills.  In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that 14% of food ends up in land mills each year.  14% may not seem like much, but remember that rotting materials eventually transforms into methane, which has 21 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  If you already recycle your paper, cans and glass, why not do the same with food scraps? Every little bit helps!

Secondly, it’s more sanitary. Placing food scraps to rot in your neighborhood garbage can ultimately leads to rodents, raccoons and insects.  It can also be quite malodorous — which tends to linger until Tuesday’s trash pick-up day. When done correctly, composting in your home reduces the potential of these nuisances, while also posing less imposition to public health and safety.

Most importantly, composting can create a rockin’ fertilizer for your home garden. Not only is it money saving, but also is rich in nutrients and acts as a soil fertilizer, soil conditioner, and even as a natural pesticide.  It’s commonly used in home gardens –- but many also use this key ingredient in landscaping, agriculture and horticulture.

Before You Get Started: All composting should contain 3 primary ingredients: kitchen scraps and other organic matter (vegetable and fruit peels, eggshells, gritty flours like cornmeal, coffee and tea grounds and dryer lint), dry bedding (leaves, twigs, soil, newspaper, cardboard and sawdust from untreated wood), and water. Be sure to leave out all animal products like meat, bones and dairy, as well as oils, diseased plants and dog/cat feces, as these can lead to unwanted pests.  See a full list of safe materials to compost here.

To ensure the process is smooth, the following tools will prove useful as you compost: 1-2 composting containers (if using), a wheelbarrow, water hose, pitchfork or compost aerator, and a shovel. Although there are comparable tools one could use, a good composting system will require at least most of these.

To avoid pests, insects and animals, add in more dry materials periodically — this will help aerate the pile, and will alleviate any bad odors. Some also practice adding red wrangler worms to the pile, as they can decompose the compost more quickly, preventing critters from investigating. To ensure a larger animal will not disturb your compost, use a container with a sealed lid for all decomposing matter.  Secure it even further by placing a large rock on top, or wrap it with a bungee cord.

 A Step-By-Step Guide To Outdoor Composting:

1. Choose a shady area in your yard that is close to a hose or water supply.

2. Decide whether you prefer to dig a pit, or use a sealed container for your compost pile.  Although both are effective, containers do help prevent against pests, raccoons and insects. See this guide for building your own composting container.

3. Chop and shred all dry materials and kitchen scraps before adding them to the compost. Begin by adding a 6-inch layer of dry bedding (see list above).

4. Add a 3-inch layer of kitchen scraps (things to never compost here).  Next, top the kitchen scraps with another 3-inch layer of dry bedding.  Spray some water on the dry bedding to create a moist but not wet compost pile.

5.  Continue this process of layering kitchen scraps and dry bedding to the compost.  Aerate the pile once a week with a compost aerator, pitchfork, or something comparable.  This helps to prevent an odor, and allows the compost to ferment evenly.

Harvesting Your Compost: Depending on how large the compost pile is, when to harvest the compost pile will be different for everyone.  A general rule of thumb is to allow 4-8 months of processing before harvesting.  When ready, shovel the dark, soil-like compost to the top while pushing the under-processed compost to the bottom for more time to decompose. If the compost is too damp, add soil to it and mix well.

The compost to soil ratio should be 1 to 5 as you harvest it.  Or, use it on plants that are already established by adding 1 inch around the plant, or 2 inches dug into the soil.  You’ll find the compost will enhance your garden with its nutrients, leaving your garden more vibrant and sustainable.

Do you practice composting in your own yard? What are some tips you’d give to beginners?

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Green Tips For Treating Pests In Your Garden

February 15th, 2012

It’s time to water your garden and with your trusty watering can in hand,  you meander back to your prize-winning cabbages.  They appear happy and healthy at first, but as you inch closer; you notice tiny, pear shaped insects clustering on the leaves, sucking out the juices and leaving damage behind.  Before you grab a bottle of pesticide, consider that the chemicals found in traditional pesticides can be harmful to your health, and can eventually leak into the ground and contaminate your family’s tap water.  Check out these common pests that could disrupt your garden, and the natural remedies to keep them at bay.

Aphids: These pear-shaped insects may appear harmless at first glance, but these little guys defy the laws of science and are born pregnant; which can lead to a quick infestation.  Try spraying them off with forceful water, using a plant based soap (recipe below), and attracting ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies to your garden.  Plants like parsley, fennel, coriander, sunflowers and Queen Anne Lace will attract these ally insects, and could help keep Aphids and other harmful critters out of your garden.

Beetles: There are many varieties of beetles, and many will hide under the leaves and flowers of your plants, chewing away the foliage and leaving your plants looking tattered.  If you’re not terribly squeamish, pick them (or dust buster them) off the plants, and destroy their eggs that may be hiding just beneath the surface of your plant. While beetles love feasting on starchy plants like potatoes, they tend to loathe yarrow, catnip and garlic plants.  Keeping these plants nearby may prevent beetles from trespassing in your garden.

Caterpillars: Caterpillars may look charming, but as they increase in size, their mouths grow even larger; leaving gaping holes in their feasting paths. Once they become butterflies, they will deter harmful pests in your garden.  But if their caterpillar stage is wreaking havoc on your garden, pluck them off the plants and make your own caffeine spray (recipe below) to deter them from inching along your favorite vegetables.

Leafhoppers: Feeding on plant sap, leafhoppers are another villainous garden pest.  Leafhoppers belong to the Cicadellidae family, and there are numerous species that could damage your garden.  Just as their name implies, these insects hop from plant to plant when disturbed. Ranging in size from approximately ¼ – ½ inch, wedge-shaped leafhoppers feed on plants using their sucking mouthparts, similar to their sidekick; the aphid.  Some species of leafhoppers can transmit a virus particularly harmful to beets, tomatoes and other crops causing crinkled, dwarfed or distorted roots and veins. If you suspect a small leafhopper problem, spray off the leaves with forceful water.  For more severe infestations, consider incorporating ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies and praying mantids in the garden (see Aphids for plants that attract these insects).

Mealybugs and White Flies:  Common in indoor plants, these critters can weaken your plants while mealybugs leave a sticky substance behind. Normally infestations occur from a new infested plant exposing the others to the insect. To keep these pests at bay, try creating more air circulation in the area the plants reside in. For severe infestations, spray the leaves with diluted alcohol (remember to administer a test a patch first). Neem oil, plant based soaps and even natural dish detergent has also been studied to rid your plants of these bothersome pests.

Slugs and Snails: Similar to caterpillars, these plump pests leave holes in your plants, while leaving behind their trademark sticky trail.  Luckily, slugs and snails go wild for a cold brew, and some prefer leaving a container of beer at the base of the plant for the slugs to eventually drown in.  If the thought of watching a slug drown in your favorite stout seems hard to swallow (pardon the pun), try attracting lizards and garden snakes to your garden by leaving sunning stones and water nearby.  Your garden will feel like an oasis to these slug-loving reptiles.


Make your own natural insecticides!

Caffeine Spray: Combine a few tablespoons of used coffee grounds with herbs like: catnip, lavender, yarrow and thyme. Add 2 cups of water, and allow at least 24 hours for the mixture to steep. Strain, and spray liberally on insects and plant leaves. Combine with insecticide soap (below) for a stronger treatment.

Plant-Based Insecticide Soap: Add 1-2 tablespoons of castile soap to 2 cups of water. Spray insects as needed. Add boiled garlic cloves to boost the effectiveness.

How have you treated bothersome pests in your garden?

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