Archive for the ‘Organic – Sustainability’ category

While I was Gardening…

March 28th, 2009

Actually I was turning compost…

When this harmless lizzard grows up he will lose that beautiful blue color, and be a rather plain looking 5 lined Skink.

When this harmless lizard grows up he will lose that beautiful blue color, and be a rather plain looking 5 lined Skink.

I imagine it was a shock to be uncovered like that in the middle of March, but I put him back in a safe spot after taking his picture.

Lizards like this Juvenile Five Lined Skink (sounds like something from “Harry Potter” doesn’t it) are extremely beneficial and other than the single rare exception of the Gila Monster (found only in the desert South West of North America) are completely harmless to humans.  That also goes for the vast majority of snakes.  Please don’t kill them just because you were taught to be afraid of things with scales.

During warm weather reptile metabolisms soar and lizards and small snakes eat vast numbers of insects while doing exactly zero dammage to you or your garden.  Larger snakes also eat rodents.  Our most common large snakes here in central Tennessee – the king snakes – also eat other snakes including poisonous species.

Five Lined Skinks grow to about 5 or 6 inches in length and live 5 years more or less if they aren’t eaten by a hawk, other bird, or domestic cat.  The females lay a clutch of eggs late in the spring in decaying organic matter (such as compost) and guard the nest until the eggs hatch.  Newborns look just like the one in the picture above, but are only around 2 inches long.  When they grow up they lose the blue coloration, and males turn red around the jaw and throat. In older adults the stripes will also fade away leaving a rather bland brown lizard with the glory of youth only a fond memory.

If they aren’t cold lizards in general are very hard to catch – being wary and fast.  If caught, skinks can shed their tale which wiggles about distractingly while the rest of the lizard makes a break for it.  If they escape with their life they will grow a new tail – although it’s usually kind of stumpy looking.

Lizards are interesting, beneficial, harmless, and usually too small to make a helping – so please leave them in peace when you find one.

Prevent Garden Pests by Rotating Crops

February 23rd, 2009


Before farmers had the option of battling pests and diseases by applying petroleum based poisons to crops or tampering with genetic designs they worked out sustainable systems to manage  insects and pathogens by rotating crops. » Read more: Prevent Garden Pests by Rotating Crops

Gardening on the Cheap

January 29th, 2009
The big reward of gardening is being able to feed your family the best quality produce available.  The president cant get anything better than that ear of sweet corn picked while the grill was heating up.

Raising a garden will not only allow you to feed your family the freshest and highest quality food - it can also help save a lot of money!

Welcome Stumbleupon gardeners!

You can spend a lot of money putting in a garden, but you don’t have to.  Some of the best gardens I ever grew were when I had little more than my time to invest – the essential ingredient.  In today’s economy many people are interested in growing a garden to supplement their family food supply, but  will it really  save you money? Yes – if you follow a few guidelines. » Read more: Gardening on the Cheap

Plant Spacing for Intensive Gardening Methods

January 26th, 2009
That sweet corn is way too close together - the yield was very small, and much of it fell over after a big rain because of the shallow restricted roots.
That sweet corn inter-planted with pole beans (an experiment) is way too close together – the yield was very small, and much of it fell over after a big rain because of the shallow restricted roots.

Recommended Spacing for Intensive Planting  Methods

Plant Inches Plant Inches
Asparagus 15 – 18 Lettuce, head 10 – 12
Beans, lima 4 – 6 Lettuce, leaf 4 – 6
Beans, pole 6 – 12 Melons 18 – 24
Beans, bush 4 – 6 Mustard 6 – 9
Beets 2 – 4 Okra 12 – 18
Broccoli 12 – 18 Onion 2 – 4
Brussels sprouts 15 – 18 Peas 2 – 4
Cabbage 15 – 18 Peppers 12 – 15
Cabbage, Chinese 10 – 12 Potatoes 10 – 12
Carrots 2 – 3 Pumpkins 24 – 36
Cauliflower 15 – 18 Radishes 2 – 3
Cucumber 12 – 18 Rutabaga 4 – 6
Chard, Swiss 6 – 9 Southern pea 3 – 4
Collards 12 – 15 Spinach 4 – 6
Endive 15 – 18 Squash, summer 18 – 24
Eggplant 18 – 24 Squash, winter 24 – 36
Kale 15 – 18 Sweet corn 15 – 18
Kohlrabi 6 – 9 Tomatoes 18 – 24
Leeks 3 – 6 Turnip 4 – 6

Arizona State University Master Gardener Manual: Intensive Gardening Methods. » Read more: Plant Spacing for Intensive Gardening Methods

Easy Potting Soil Sterilization

January 20th, 2009

I usually don’t worry about sterilizing compost or home made potting soil. However, this year I’m starting most of my plants under lights in a rather cool grow room – a fairly substantial investment of effort and time – and I just don’t want to take any chances.

If I had planned ahead I would have done solar pasturization by putting saran wrap on the top of a picnic cooler full of compost.  Since I didn’t plan ahead I did this instead:

Grilled dirt anyone?  The oven bag makes it look kinda like a dirt haggis.

Grilled dirt anyone? The oven bag makes it look kinda like a dirt haggis.

An oven bag full of  my best screened compost cooked well done on the gas grill.  I added about a quart of water so that it would all steam evenly, and punched a small hole in the top to keep it from building pressure – took about 2 1/2 hours to reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  The probe thermometer lets you be more efficient by not opening the lid.  Needless to say plan on just letting it sit there for several hours to cool.

If you only cook the compost you should be able to make 2-3 times this volume of sterile homemade organic potting soil by the time you add the other ingredients.

The oven bag looks no worse for wear and tear, and I don’t see why you couldn’t reuse it again – for dirt of course.  Next time though maybe I’ll do better and use sunshine instead of fossil fuel, but in the middle of January this worked pretty well without cooking dirt in the kitchen.

Spring is Here – Time to Garden!

January 13th, 2009
Cocus Flowers in the Snow - Carmelite Monastery Chapel Bettendorf, Iowa

Cocus Flowers in the Snow - Carmelite Monastery Chapel - Bettendorf, Iowa

OK, Spring isn’t here yet, but it is time to take some action. I know, there’s a blizzard blowing down today, but in just a few weeks (around February 15 in zone 6) it will be time to plant spinach out in the garden – and by the end of February it will be time to plant early potatoes. Not to mention anything that you are planning to start indoors.  So, this is just a heads up.

If you’re hoping to plant any varieties that aren’t available off the shelf it’s time to place your seed order pretty soon.  No catalogs?  Just Google for garden seeds and place your order online.

In just a few weeks it WILL be spring with birds singing and buttercups blooming – and you’re going to want to get your hands in the dirt.   An early start really helps you to get the most out of your garden – and will make your garden the envy of the neighborhood.  Act now so you can be ready!

Grow All Winter In a Cold Frame Made From Recycled Materials

January 8th, 2009

A simple cold frame is an easy, economical way to get more out of  your garden.

Fresh salad in the cold frame in January

Salad ready to eat in January

You might know that I built a small greenhouse this fall.  Unfortunately by the time I finished it in early November it was pretty late to get started – I have a few things going in there now, but I’ve not really been able to use it to full advantage.  Being able to enjoy the sunshine while I’ve worked in there out of the cold has been nice.  But the truth is that so far this cold frame has been at least as productive as the greenhouse.

While I built my greenhouse on the cheap ($50 out of pocket) building this cold frame actually cost nothing – 100 percent recycled materials» Read more: Grow All Winter In a Cold Frame Made From Recycled Materials

Free Seeds for Life

January 2nd, 2009
Many seeds such as this basil can be easily saved from year to year.

Many seeds such as this basil can be easily saved from year to year.

Winter is a great time to sit down with a nice warm beverage and a seed catalog to plan your garden for next Spring.  Unfortunately sticker shock usually strikes when you start tallying up everything that you would like to grow.  But it doesn’t have to be like that. » Read more: Free Seeds for Life

How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse

October 27th, 2008
  • First off – you really can build this thing very cheaply, but to do so you have to recycle, freecycle, and scrounge.  If you just go out and buy new everything it will probably cost over $200 – still not bad all in all.
  • This Article is featured in Jan 2010 issue of Birds and Blooms Magazine!
  • Want to find out if this thing works before you read all this?  Read 6 months in the Greenhouse first.
  • Want to see what happens when a few inches of wet snow accumulates on this?  Collapse!
  • Building the Greenhouse Doors is addressed in a separate article – isn’t this enough for one weekend?
My $50 Greenhouse

My $50 Greenhouse

Welcome Stumbleupon Gardeners! How about a Thumb up if you like this article?

Materials list

Construction Steps

Hind Sight – What I would do differently

The planning is over and construction on my hoop house greenhouse has begun.  I’ve rounded up all of the materials and it looks like I’m going to end up with about $50 in a 165 square ft. green house. Granted I already had most of the materials because I’m an incorrigible pack rat, but even if I had bought everything new just for this polytunnel It would still only come to about $120 $150 – less than a dollar per square ft.  Due to the fact that we are in the midst of a global economic meltdown, and the future is a bit uncertain keeping the cost of this project as low as possible is an important consideration. » Read more: How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse

Easy Organic Compost

October 4th, 2007
  • Compost is the best way to improve your soil
  • If you use compost you probably won’t need to use fertilizer
  • Compost doesn’t harm beneficial organisms like earthworms (chemicals do)
  • If you have a yard, you are already doing most of the work to make compost
  • Compost is free, easy, and saves energy
  • You can start a compost pile any time you have material for it

» Read more: Easy Organic Compost