Urban Garden

Well, I was reading this article about “Urban Gardening” and thought I would share some of my thoughts. Urban gardening to me is gardening anywhere there is more people per acre than mature trees.

 

No Space, No Problem: Not everyone has a backyard, roof or balcony. To overcome this issue, start a container garden. While decorative pots can be lovely, they don’t improve the quality of your plants and can be expensive. Instead, you can use a large bucket from a garden store, which is a low-cost and effective option. Or upcycle containers not in use, such as crates, old toys or paint cans.

 

Just remember that anyone can have a garden and there is no limit to size, large or small. A garden can even be grown on a balcony using containers.

 

Plant Selection: There are vegetable, flower and herb varieties that are easy to grow in urban spaces. When planning your garden, think about what to plant – shallow-rooted veggies, such as herbs, lettuce and radishes typically do better in confined spaces.

 

There are many new plant selections that grow to a perfect size for small gardens. Many plant breeders have been selecting vegetable plants for small spaces.

 

Plant Right: Potting your plants takes a few simple steps. Put some gravel in the bottom of your container to help with drainage and fill with soil, tamping it a bit. Leave 1 inch at the top for watering. Tamp the soil after the plants are in place and water gently.

 

Be sure the soil drains good. It is always easier to add more water than to wish the plants could dry out. Many vegetables produce better if the soil has a good wet dry cycle.

 

Water Wise: Hand water every morning. Once the plants are large and summer is hot, they will probably need watering in the evening, too. A little afternoon shade can keep them from drying out too quickly.

 

Never overwater, unless the plant is aquatic. Too much water can lead to root disease and weak growth.

 

aquaponics harvest

 

This is just some of the best points I took from the article. Read more here http://www.wsfa.com/story/35707006/10-tips-for-urban-gardening

 

Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena, also known as Aloysia triphylla, is generally known to be one of the most strongly scented and intense of the lemon scented plants. Although lemon verbena is native to South America, it has become an easily accessible plant in most countries. The perennial can stand 2-3 feet high and has small purplish-white flowers. Plants grown in shade will be less flavorful. Plants remain evergreen in frost free climates.

Culinary Uses

Lemon Verbena is commonly used in many different culinary dishes. It can be used in place of lemon zest in recipes. My favorite way to use lemon verbena leaves is by making jelly.

 

• 1 1/2 cups lemon verbena leaves
• 2 cups water
• 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups sugar
• 3 ounces liquid pectin

Makes approximately 32 ounce

 

  1. Puree leaves in blender and bring to boil with water. Let steep for 15 minutes before straining.
  2. Add vinegar and sugar. Mix well and bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the liquid pectin and continue to boil for 1 minute more.
  4. Skim foam from the Lemon Verbena Jelly with a spoon if necessary and pour into jars.

Alternative Remedy

The essential oil of lemon verbena contains a high concentration of many antioxidant compounds, including verbascoside, nerol, geraniol, and citral. The oil glands of the leaf are on the underside and are used to cool the plant during hot summers. The leaves can be dried and then steeped to make a wonderful tea. Lemon verbena’s active ingredients could potentially worsen kidney disease.

 

Lemon verbena is not available as seed. I buy my plants at https://wrightgardens.com/product/aloysia-triphylla-lemon-verbena/

Organic Gardening Glossary

Organic Gardening Glossary

Wondering what a certain organic gardening term means? Find it here in the organic gardening glossary.

 

Aerobic composting Composting by means of bacteria which thrive in an oxygen rich environment. Generally, this type of composting doesnt stink. More at compost.

 

Anerobic composting Composting by means of bacteria which thrive in an environment lacking oxygen. Generally, this type of composting stinks. These bacteria give off sulpher dioxide as a waste product, which stinks like rotten eggs. More at compost.

 

Annual Plant which lives for only one season.

 

Bat guano Bat feces used as a fertilizer. It is high in nitrogen and phosphorus.

 

Bird guano Feces of seabirds harvested and used as a fertilizer. It is high in nitrogen and phosphorus.

 

Biennial Plant which produces flowers the second year of growth.

 

Biological pest control Use of biological organisms to control unwanted pest organisms. Example, use of lady bugs for aphid control.

 

Cold frame A temporary covering, usually of glass or plastic, which protects plants from frosts and freezes.

 

Companion planting Planting certain plant species which benefit one another. Example, marigolds will help deter pests in the garden.

 

Compost The process of decomposing organic materials for use in the garden.

 

C:N Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. Refers to the amount of carbon-rich materials to nitrogen-rich materials in a composting set up.

 

Compost tea Compost which has been oxygenated in water, increasing the number of good bacteria present.

 

Composting worms Red wiggler worms or Eisenia fetida, worm species which are able to eat many times their weight in decomposing organic matter on a daily basis. Their excrement (castings) is a valuable gardening resource for enriching soil.

 

Drip irrigation System of irrigation which drips water right at the base of the plant, instead of spraying a large area.

 

Fish emulsion an organic fertilizer made from fish waste from fish oil and fish meal processors.

 

Fish fertilizer See fish emulsion

 

Heirloom seeds Seed varieties collected for generations by everyday people. Such varieties are usually hardy, pest resistant and have other desirable qualities, as well as being open pollinated. Heirloom seeds are important store houses of genetic diversity.

 

Hydroponics A method of growing plants without soil. Plants are grown in water and nutrients.

 

Mulch Dry organic material used to cover the soil surface to keep moisture in the soil and prevent growth of weeds. Examples: pine bark, shredded newspaper, straw, cypress

 

N P K Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium (or potash). The three essential nutrients of plant growth and health.

 

Organic gardening the science and art of gardening using non-synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, soil building techniques, and promoting heirloom variety plants.

 

Perennial Plants which live indefinitely, blooming year after year.

 

Soaker hose A porous, rubber hose which leaks water onto the soil, allowing it to soak deeply.

 

Terra preta Rich, black, man-made soils of the Amazon basin which continue to replenish themselves even today.

 

Vericompost Compost created by worms.

 

Xeriscape A water wise gardening method which uses native plants adapted to xeric (dry) conditions, so little watering is required.

The Holistic Gardening Handbook

A Book Review

holistic gardeningThe Holistic Gardening Handbook – creating health and abundance in your organic garden by Phil Nauta.

I wondered if it was worth the money. Is an e-book really worth it? Its not on Amazon.com, so I cant browse it.

Its over 300 pages. Is it going to be boring and academic and like reading a textbook?

 

I got a sample chapter as part of the 15 lessons for becoming a better gardener free e-course Phil offers. It was on EM or effective microbes. EM are the microbes used in bokashi. I was always rather confused about what bokashi is, and this chapter provided a very enlightening explanation.

 

So I took a chance. I bought the book. And I found that I was delighted with the material.

 

How Long is it?

Its large. Its 333 pages. (For those committed to the belief that you dont have time to read 300 pages, there is a 100 page condensed version that comes with the package.)

 

Even though the book is meant to be read all the way through, reading sections in no particular order works as well. I started with the food web and then skipped to compost tea.

 

I found I was able to fill holes in my knowledge and bridge concepts that way. But thats just me.

 

Whats in the Box?

The package contains:

  • the full version of The Holistic Gardening Handbook
  • the 100 page abridged edition
  • 27 audio files
  • Phils Garden Checklist
  • Phils Garden Calendar

Im a podcast junkie. So I love the audio files.

The audio files are not Phil reading chapters of the book. He covers the same concepts, but I think hes just freestyling on the topic. I found the audio very helpful in digesting the information.

 

I really appreciate Phils Garden Checklist as well. It is a great way to start implementing what Ive read.  You can also scan the checklist and see what topics are covered in the book.

 

The checklist is your map.  It reflects the big picture while providing the necessary detail to make a great garden happen.

Phils writing style is simple and direct. (Note, I did not say simplistic.) He is able to paint with a broad brush and give the big picture, while also supplying the necessary detail for implementation.

 

Whats the Big Idea?

The big idea of the book is:

Growing food is part of a living ecosystem, not apart from it.

I highly recommend the book to anyone whos serious about growing healthy food and promoting a healthy earth in the process.

As a closing comment, the term organic has become watered down and confused. Phil touches on this in his introduction.

 

Many people are looking for a new term for agriculture in which agriculture is executed in such a way as to be in balance and harmony with the surrounding ecosystems and promoting health for humans and the environment. Holisitic gardening may be that term. I just wish I would stop spelling it with a “w”.

Texas Strawberries

I replanted my parents front flower bed because over time, the sun-loving plants that were there got shaded out.  It was full of lantana, pink skullcap, and mealy blue sage.  Watch the short video and see what I planted.

 

 

Both the Salvia coccinea and Ruellia are seed spitters and spread quickly.  I chose these because my parents need something that will fill the bed and be super low maintenance.  Dont plant either of these if you dont want them to spread!

Turks cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) is a great sun/shade plant.  Its one of those rare ones that really can do both.

 

Texas Strawberries

I was itching to put food in that bed somehow.  The two big problems were deer and shade, not to mention the fact that certain neighbors would think food growing as somehow subversive.  Little do they know that they are right.

 

 

I picked strawberries for the following reasons:

  • In Arizona, people would grow them as a sort of ground cover.  Granted, the growing conditions are much different, I thought it was crazy enough that it just might work.
  • That particular bed has been mulched with wood mulch for 15 years.  I figured there had to be the type of fungus found in woodland soils in that soil, a plus for strawberries.
  • Commercial strawberries are sprayed with a super toxic chemical, methyl bromide and I wont buy them anymore.
  • I was gambling that the 3 hours of late afternoon sun would be enough for the strawberries to grow.

So far, so good.  What crazy chances have you taken in your garden and how did it turn out?  Let us know in the comments below.

Why I Like the Idea of Growing Mushrooms

Growing mushrooms intrigues me.  I don’t know why.  I’m not a big mushroom fan.  I eat them, but don’t go out of my way to obtain or eat them.  I don’t hunt my own.

 

Growing Mushrooms Reason 1

I think what I like about the idea of growing mushrooms is that they are pretty much a no care product.  Once the spores are implanted, the only care is watering once every few weeks.

 

Growing Mushrooms Reason 2

I also like that mushrooms are grown in an unusual way, by stacking up logs.  How cool is that?  I love things that make people wonder what the heck Im up to, or even better, are not even identifiable as a project.  They just think Im weird and messy.

 

Growing Mushrooms and Paul Stamets

The last reason Id like to grow mushrooms is because of the work of Paul Stamets.  Mushrooms produce excellent antibiotics, sequester carbon, can be used to produce fuel and are excellent for toxic waste cleanup.  They can even be used to eradicate carpenter ants and termites.  Like composting worms, mushrooms are a small and overlooked group of organisms that can create big positive changes in the way we live.

 

How to Grow Shitake Mushrooms

Ive read some articles on growing mushrooms.  Then I found this video.  These guys do a great job of showing the process.  Holes are drilled in a fresh oak log, and spores are implanted.  The holes with spores are sealed with wax and then left alone to do their thing.  If you werent aware, mushrooms are the fruit of the fungus, so the mycelium need time to grow.  One log can produce several harvests of mushrooms before needing to start over.

 

 

Have you ever grown mushrooms?  If so, leave us some tips in the comments.

Soil Simplified: Why You Should Care About the Soil Food Web

The Texas Transfarmers of Austin, Texas, recently had a meetup at Third Coast Horticulture Supplies.  At the meetup, Shawn Bishop, the owner, passed around this easy to understand essay on the importance of soil microbiology.  With his permission, Ive reproduced it here.

 

Soil Simplified: An Introduction to Your Gardens Microbial Life

 

Plants Relationship With Microbes

Until modern times, plants have relied on nutrients provided by their relationship with microbial life.  This relationship can seem complex and mysterious.  There are however, some key elements to microbial soil life that can enlighten curious gardeners with little more than a brief explanation:

  1. Plants exude sugars from their roots.
  2. Bacteria and fungi ingest these sugars.
  3. Protozoa and nematodes then eat the bacteria and fungi.
  4. Their excess waste is transformed into plant available nutrients right in the root zone.
  5. The plant uses these nutrients to grow.
  6. The plant is in control of when and what it eats.  By using a piece of its own energy to feed these microbes, the plant insures a future source of energy greater than what it has lost.

Understanding this cycle will help you better learn how plants relate to the soils in which they are grown.  Realizing that plants evolved with this relationship can help you decide what is best for your garden.

 

Soils Relationship to Microbes

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, and a full spectrum of living creatures.

It is also a microscopic landscape where life decomposes to its base ingredients and ushered into new forms.  Gardeners dont need to know complex biochemistry to know their garden, but understanding some of the processes going on in your soil can be rewarding:

  1. Fresh organic material is broken down by microbes.  The bacteria eat the sugars and fresh green material.  The fungi eat the tougher woody material and proteins.
  2. Plant material is further broken down by larger microbes, small bugs, and worms that feast on the bacteria and fungi.
  3. Microbes hold moisture and nutrients in their biomass.  They keep the water from evaporating and the nutrients from leaching away.
  4. Bacteria produce slimes that bind particles together to form humus in your soil.  This helps the soil store oxygen, creates cracks for water to flow, and provides shelter for the multitude of creatures thriving underfoot.

These are just a few examples of microbial soil interactions that can help you better relate to your garden.  Through these processes, the life in your soil maintains balance with the environment that it is a part of.

 

Working With Soil Biology

If you are adding compost, mulching, or avoiding chemical fertilizers, then you are probably already doing much to improve your soils health.  By learning how these actions affect your garden, you can better trust your own reasoning and intuition to guide your relationship with soil life.

 

Compost

Compost is organic matter that has been broken down by microbes so that its energy is stored for further use.  Applying it to your garden adds colonies of diverse organisms to the soil.

It also supplies a new food source for existing colonies.

There is much variation in qualities compost can process.  For instance, the debris that comprises the compost should be fully broken down and unrecognizable.  It should have a deep brown color and rich but subtle smell.

If it smells strong then it is probably potent in some way.  If it smells rotten, then it could add problems to your soil.  Many methods of producing compost can yield different results, but remember:  We evolved with these microbes, plants, and soils as well.  Your senses can be the best judge of the quality of compost.

 

Compost Tea

Compost tea is a brew of oxygen rich water, high quality compost, and some foods to help microbes bloom in population.

The goal of good compost tea is to substantially multiply the beneficial organisms.

They can then be used to coat leaf surfaces, inoculate compost, and restore or improve soil health.

A bio film of compost tea on leaf surfaces can keep pathogens from reaching the plant as a food source.  The microbes also respire CO2 that helps fuel plant metabolism.  Use of tea in compost or soil can drastically increase the biomass of healthy life that stores and converts energy.

 

Mycorrhizae

Most plants in Earths soils have evolved to have a mycorrhizal relationship with fungi.  This  is when a specialized species of fungi attaches to the root of a plant, and directly exchanges nutrients in the soil for foods from the plant.

The fungi use enzymes and organic acids to break down minerals in the soil and draw them into the plants roots.

The fungal hyphae (strands of cells that form the organism) can multiply the water-absorbing surface area of the root zone by hundreds of times.  Use of mycorrhizal fungi spores can greatly increase your plants access to water and nutrients.

 

Minerals

Many of the nutrients locked within our soils are in the form of minerals.  Some are readily available to plants, while others need the help of microbes to unlock their energy.

When we harvest from our gardens, we deplete the nutrients made available from organic matter and minerals.

We usually replenish organic matter in the form of compost or fertilizers.  It is also good to add minerals while restoring fertility to your soil.

 

Mulch

Mulch can be a useful tool for dealing with a number of garden issues.

It can keep moisture in the soil, prevent weeds from sprouting, and be a food source for the microbes in your garden.

Mulch should be layered thick enough to accomplish these tasks but loose enough to allow for the flow of oxygen.  It can take many forms and each posses unique functions.  Try different materials and decide for yourself whats best for your garden.

 

Tilling

Tilling your soil can destroy fungal colonies, damage bacteria, and release precious nutrients back into the air.

Sometimes it is necessary while rehabilitating a landscape to till damaged soil.  Compost and compost tea should be applied soon after to inoculate the soil and restore its composition.  Hand picking weeds, cover cropping, and mulch can be useful alternatives to annual tilling.  When it comes to tillage, less is more.

 

Everything you do to your garden affects microbial life.  With little effort, you can enhance this life for the benefit of your garden, our health, and your environment.

Backyard Aquaponics

aquaponics harvestChanging climate patterns are making backyard aquaponics look better and better.

 

Aquaponic systems require time and money to set up, but have very distinct advantages:

  • Super low water usage
  • Super low electricity usage
  • Low maintance
  • No watering, no irrigation systems
  • Fish production as a by product
  • Organic if not, it will kill the system
  • Compact and easy to enclose for year round gardening

 

How Does Aquaponic Gardening Work?

Aquaponic gardening works by growing plants in water, similar to hydroponics.  Hydroponics uses human made chemicals to supply plants with all the minerals and nutrients they need.

Aquaponics uses fish and a bacterial community to supply the plants with the minerals and nutrients (nitrogen) they need.

Basically water is circulated from a fish tank to a plant bed and back.   This circulating system provides everything the plants need.  All that is required is to feed the fish.

Since aquaponic systems tend to be very compact, they can easily be enclosed or set up in a greenhouse.

I wont go into any more detail about aquaponics here.  If you want to know more,  search the web and Youtube.

But I do have one suggestion for you.

My friend Arturo of Clean Food Solutions, just published this aquaponics manual.  Its a great guide to getting started, with specific regional information for Texas.

 

Vermicomposting and Backyard Aquaponics

I contributed a chapter on composting worms and aquaponics.  As you may already know, composting worms are great for helping to maintain a diverse, healthy bacterial community in the soil.  And, versatile creatures that they are, can be added to aquaponic systems.

Worms provide additional minerals, as well as plant growth and fruiting hormones.

I also believe (I dont have any hard data on this) that worms can help keep an aquaponics system more stable by increasing the diversity of the bacterial community.  Is there a graduate student in the house?

Post any questions you have about backyard aquaponics  in the comments below.  If I cant answer it, Ive got lots of aquaponic friends who can.