Monthly Archives: July 2012

Grow So Easy – Gardening without Weeds! Really!!

Weeding is one thing that any gardener swiftly grows to hate.  And the older you get, the less fun it is to land on your knees, bend over and dig the little blighters out.  But not weeding can lead to a whole lot more pain than a sore back or a knee with twinges.

Weeds grow fast and set seeds even faster.  If you see one weed, you can bet that it’s invited about 500 of its closest relatives to join it in the ultimate comfort of your garden.

Deadly Rain
I want to kill weeds too.  And I want to do it quickly and painlessly.  But I won’t do what a lot of other backyard gardeners do.  I won’t reach for the handy spray bottle of herbicide conveniently sold at my local, big box, home improvement store.

Herbicides are fast and deadly.  But they don’t just kill weeds.

Research is beginning to unravel the reasons behind the death of millions of honey bees, worldwide and it looks like the root of the problem are products containing neo-nicotinoids – weed-killing products readily available in this country and in Europe.

The debate over cause and effect is in full swing right now but I’m old enough to remember a similar debate about two weed-killing agents – 2-4-D and 2-4-5T.  Supposedly so safe that as little children, we were given the job of filling weed wands with this chemical, adding water and running through our very big yard, barefoot, killing weeds.

So far, both my brothers have succumbed to brain tumors and my older sister survived ovarian cancer and is now battling kidney cancer.  So that’s one reason why I don’t recommend using any herbicides in any form.

I also live in the country.  Everyone has wells.  Do you really want to poison your neighbors, downstream?  There are days when I consider it (joking) but polluting the water supply just doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do.

The Queen of No Weed Gardening
What do I do to get rid of weeds?

I confess that in the early days of my organic gardening life, when I was still gainfully employed, I bought a flame thrower.  No, really, I bought a flame thrower and used it to burn weeds out. That’s how desperate I was.

But it was expensive, the propane tank was heavy, bulky and an added cost.  And frankly, I never really killed the weeds, just singed them enough to make them angry and hardy!  And I lit my house on fire…but that’s a story for another day.

When I found the method developed by Ruth Stout, a pioneer in organic gardening and, even more importantly, a pioneer in making it so easy, I jumped on board with both feet.  Here’s how she described her system in an interview done by Mother Earth News.

“My no-work gardening method is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both my vegetable and flower garden all year round. As it decays and enriches the soil, I add more. The labor-saving part of my system is that I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or spray.  I use just one fertilizer (cottonseed or soybean meal), and I don’t go through that tortuous business of building a compost pile.” 

You can read the full article on Mother Earth News.  Or you can read her book aptly titled Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent

She has been my gardening guru for years and this book tells you how to suppress weeds but it also contains other organic gardening tips and lots of practical information and ideas that still work in the 21st century.

The Oxymoron of No Kill Weed Killing
Stout’s method may sound ridiculously simple but it works. I spend 4 hours in the fall mulching and about 10 hours in the spring and summer weeding. And my patch is pretty big – 20 feet wide and about 75 feet long.

It can’t get much easier than this.  Every fall I cover my entire garden with wet newspaper and straw – about 8 inches of it piled up on top of the paper.  Weeds (and all their seeds) are buried alive and prepping the garden for the next spring and summer is done.

And guess what?  While you are killing weeds and saving your back and knees, you are also feeding your soil.  All that mulch breaks down and enriches the dirt beneath it.

Sure, some weeds might poke their beady little heads up from time to time but they are few and far between.  All I have to do is just put more mulch on top of them and…they die.  But sometimes, I actually welcome the chance to break out my other secret weapon.

It’s the Fiskar’s Big Grip Garden Knife – the single, best tool I have ever bought and used in my garden.  No weed gets away and because of its design, it’s easy on my hands.  Made of aluminium, this knife comes with a lifetime guarantee and does the job efficiently and effectively.

What an amazing system – very few weeds and enriched soil served with a side order of revenge…and a back that doesn’t ache!

Next week I want to start talking about mid-season and fall planting and all the ways you can extend your garden crop!

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How to Go Green: Like Celebrities : TreeHugger

Hey, maybe if going green, living local and growing organic  become popular ideas with big name celebrities, the rest of the world will hop on the band wagon (or hybrid)!

Had to repost this wonderful article from Collin Dunn of How To Go Green fame.  It’s not all about gardening but it is about people who have the money and power to live like rapacious Republicans (you know who they are) but have chosen a different path.

Enjoy!  And remember – weedless gardening is the topic this week.

How to Go Green: Like Celebrities : TreeHugger.

via How to Go Green: Like Celebrities : TreeHugger.

Grow So Easy – The Secrets of Composting

Most people think of composting then go back to the couch and sit down.

Who really wants to spend all that time gathering grass and hauling leaves and turning the compost pile?

Not me.   That’s why I compost the easy way…just like nature.

Compost By God
There is no pile turning nor measuring of straw or grass or dirt or water.  There is no formula other than this one:   Pile of waste  + time = compost.

I’m a Master Composter – having completed the course our county offers.  And I’m glad I went to class.  I learned that yes, you can go to a lot of work, a lot of trouble and some expense (if you add compost accelerators) but you don’t have to.

Composting is not a mystical process that requires an advanced degree.  It is the most natural thing in the world.  Everything becomes compost over time.  Think about that for a minute.

Where do all the leaves and twigs, pine needles and grass that fall to the forest floor go?  Does someone rush out, rake them up in a pile and watch the pile start to smolder?  Not in my neighborhood (yet).

How to Compost
Want to compost?  Here are the steps:

  1. Collect garbage (veggie and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells but no dairy or meat of any kind) in a bucket.
  2. Troll your neighborhood in the fall and take some of the leaves your neighbors nicely bagged up for you.
  3. Rake up grass clippings (if you feel like it) and weeds you’ve pulled up (knock the dirt off the roots or they may keep growing in the pile).
  4. Dump all of them in a pile.
  5. Wait…about a year.

That’s all you need to know to make compost – black gold – as most organic gardener’s (and marketing mavens) call it.  Here are a few other gems I took home from this class:

  1. There is no rigid method that will open up the pearly gates to composting heaven.  You can try to balance brown stuff with green stuff but even if you don’t, you will still get composted soil.
  2.  Composting is free!  You do not have to race out and buy accelerators, fancy, rotating tubs, or a compost thermometer.   You don’t even need a bin!
  3.  Magic tools and additives are not required to make compost.  You only need them if you are in a real hurry and can’t wait for nature to take its course.
  4.  Depending on how fast or slow you want to turn out compost, you don’t even have to rotate your compost – flip it over and bring the oldest stuff to the top, unless you want to speed up the process.

I’m a practical organic gardener.   I like to let God do all the work.  I have three bins made out of old dog kennel fencing.  I just toss all the brown, green and household garbage in one of them and leave it alone for a year or two.

When I need some composted soil to beef up my garden or feed my new transplants, I just lift the stuff that didn’t break down over the wall into the next bin.

At the bottom of the pile, I always find 6 to 8 inches of beautiful dark brown, loamy soil.  I dig it out, use what I need and plant something in the bin that I just emptied.

Like everything else in the organic gardening world, composting is always treated as a mystical process; it isn’t.  It’s really just the natural process of decay.  And you can just let it sit and do its thing while you work around the yard.  When you need it, the compost will be there, waiting for you.

Any composting tips?  Please share!  And next week,  tips on how NOT to weed!

I know this isn’t Friday but…I will be on the road in Virginia and thought I would post early.  (Oh, and apologies for the false start on this post!  I hit a couple of magic keystrokes and off it sailed into the ethernet.)

Organic Gardening Made Easy – How To Control Bugs Without Pesticides – Part II WMD

If you’re a gardener, killing is in the cards.

If you’re an organic gardener, you will kill, too. But you won’t kill indiscriminately.  Your Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD) will be kind to you and your family and kind to the environment.  WARNING: THIS IS A LONG POST…but worth the read.  Oh and some of the ideas are gruesome…but they work.

Insecticidal Soap
Let’s start with an easy weapon you’ve heard about before – insecticidal soap.

Insecticidal soap is a good way to try to control pests before they get a foothold.  You can use dishwashing liquid for your base because it is mild and, used in small quantities, won’t damage the plants.

The soap enhances the ability of the other additives to stick to the leaves of the plant for a bit longer. Soap also dehydrates the bug’s cell membranes and speeds their trip to bug heaven. One word of caution, don’t use too much soap.  If you do, you could kill your plants right along with the bugs.

RECIPE:  Home Brewed Insecticidal Soap
Here’s a base recipe for making insecticidal soap that may discourage your pests including the cucumber beetle.

INGREDIENTS
6 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
1 to 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes or 1 to 2 tablespoons of powdered cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dishwashing soap
1 gallon water

DIRECTIONS
Put the garlic, onion and pepper in a blender or food processor and liquefy.
Steep these ingredients for an hour.
Strain through cheesecloth.
Stir the blended mixture into a gallon of hot water.
Stir in the dishwashing liquid.
Cover and let it stand for two days so the bits of garlic, onion or pepper flakes settle to the bottom.

Strain again, stopping about an inch from the bottom to keep the bits of garlic or pepper flakes on the bottom of the jar from flowing into the newly strained liquid.

Pour the liquid into a spray bottle and spray affected plants thoroughly to discourage bad bugs!

WMD In The War on Bugs
Like any good general who goes to war, you can’t just rely on one weapon.  There are a few more that really took me a couple of years to come to grips with.

Before gardening, I was a wimp.  If a bug of any variety crossed my path, I drew myself up to my full 64 inch height, screamed and ran.  Oh, yes I did.

Then I became an organic gardener.  Bugs moved from the nuisance category to sworn  enemy.  And my arsenal expanded to include some pretty weird (and previously unthinkable) weapons.

Rocks
Rocks are a favorite.  They’re cheap and readily available.  And they’re effective.  Just hold a rock on either side of a squash leaf that’s harboring stink bugs and bring them down quickly, bashing the brains out of the vine borer before it lays eggs or pokes holes in your squash, cuke or pumpkin stems.

Oh, and make sure you check the bottoms of the leaves of your zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers and pumpkins for eggs.  Once you see a stinkbug you can be sure you have a little batch of bright orange eggs stashed somewhere on the plant.  Find them, crush them and move on.

Hands
Hands do the job with a bit more finesse than rocks.  Okay, it’s a bit gross to grab a bug and squash it with your bare hands.  But smaller beetles like cucumber, asparagus and Mexican bean beetles are much more agile than stink bugs so rocks rarely work.

NOTE:  be prepared to spend a bit of time every afternoon or evening catching and crushing these beetles.    I used to come home from the office, change and go out and vent all the pent up hostility of handling my staff, my peers and my bosses by crushing as many bugs as I could find.

Finding these winged pests and their crawling, larval offspring means taking the time to shake each plant.  When they fly up and land again, squash them between thumb and forefinger while perhaps reciting the litany of crimes your co-workers have committed and the punishment you are meting out.

Be methodical.  Flip the leaves of every plant over to look for larva and eggs.  This is especially important for Mexican bean beetles.  “Where there’s one,” my Mom used to say, “There are a million.”  So be ruthless.  Think sheer volume and crush away.

Slotted Spoon & A Pot of Water
There are some bugs I just will not tackle, bare-handed.  When the Japanese beetles and their cousins, the Asian beetle and the Green Fruit beetle (looks like a Japanese beetle on steroids) come calling, I break out my slotted spoon and a pot of cold water.  Weird weapons of choice for dealing with flying beetles that can hook to your clothes and get caught in your hair but, believe me, they work.

There’s just one trick.  You have to go out to the infested plants early in the morning, as dawn breaks and before the sun begins to warm the air.  These beetles are heavy sleepers and don’t start stirring until the sun is up.  So it’s really easy to whack them into the pot of water with the spoon and wait for them to drown.  Or if you’ve got chickens, set the pot in the coop and stand back.  It will look like a Japanese horror movie as the chickens move in to eat their fill.

Sifter and flour
This is a trick my Mom taught me.  She raised a lot of cole crops – cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts.  And these plants were really plagued by things like the codling moth.  Well, Mom showed me how to use morning dew, white flour and a sifter to turn the moths and their larvae into – well, how can I say this – papier mache bugs.

The flour and water mixed together to create a paste that baked in the sun and froze this insect enemy into tiny sculptures that could no longer chew their way through my plants.  By the way, this also works for flea beetles.

Chili Powder
Here’s another ingredient from the kitchen that works, all on its own, to help control roly-polies, earwigs, and some of our other not-so-welcome bugs.  And it’s simple and cheap (my favorite combination).  Sprinkle chili powder under targeted plants. It doesn’t hurt the plants but it sure does make the creepy crawlies take off and never come back.

Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a blessing for any gardener plagued by slugs.  And if you plant tender lettuce and young pepper plants, you will probably have slugs coming over for dinner every night.  Like the trick for killing codling moths, I tend to put the diatomaceous earth in the flour sifter and sift it gently over the affected plants but don’t inhale it. It can hurt you, too.

I also use a spoon to lay down little circles of diatomaceous earth around the stems of my plants and around the outside of the lettuce plants.  Diatomaceous earth is made of the sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. It acts like finely ground glass and lacerates soft-bodied slugs causing them to dehydrate. 

Grandsons
I don’t want to be sexist here and I was going to write grandchildren but I just could not get my granddaughter engaged in this particular game.  I paid my grandsons cash on the barrel head for Japanese beetle bodies.  And they earned a considerable amount of money some years by just banging the beetles into a pot or crushing them with rocks.

Some of the tactics seem downright cruel but, remember, this is war!

Closing Thoughts on Controlling Bugs
There will be days when you are on the battlefield, armed with your weapon of choice and you’ll still feel a bit like David to the insect kingdom’s Goliath.

Take heart and smash, bash, drown and pick until you’ve cut into the insect front line troops.  And remember that resisting a quick squirt of pesticide means knowing that your food will not kill you, your family or your friends.

Got any weird or wonderful ways to control bugs, organically?  Please share them!  Next week, composting successfully.  Composting always sounded like it required a lot of work and a pretty good dose of luck. I’ll show you just how easy it can be.

Organic Gardening Made Easy – How To Control Bugs Without Pesticides – Part I

It’s so very easy to reach for the spray or the powder and just pour it on your plants.  It’s so easy until you start reading labels and headlines about just what these various products do to you, to your family, your soil, your water and your neighbors.

Why not use chemicals?  Everybody else is.

Here’s the bottom line.  Before you unleash the myriad of products that will kill these pests, consider this.  While you are killing the bugs, you are also feeding your crops poison.  And it’s poison that can’t be washed off.

Root crops like potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes and fruit like apples, strawberries and peaches absorb and retain pesticides.  Even spinach isn’t safe in this chemical world.  Why?

When you eat these supposedly healthy foods, you are eating all the pesticides that come along for the ride and there are literally dozens of them as well as  growth retardants and fungus inhibitors.

How To Stop Using Pesticides
It’s really very simple.  Just say, “NO.” to using any herbicide or pesticide at all in your organic garden.

Yep, that’s it.  The answer is not to fall under the spell of easy and fast because these products are also deadly.   But the question still remains:  how do you control bugs without pesticides?

You may not like the answer because this bit of organic gardening will add time and tasks to your life. And you’ll also have to get a bit ruthless.  But don’t be seduced by products like Sevin, another “fast, easy” that some gardeners will tell you is okay to use.  It kills without discretion.

Sevin works but it also kills beneficials at the same time it kills pests.  And it is considered toxic to humans.  It is part of the Carbaryl family – N-methyl carbamate – and it can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, sweating and, in serious cases, pulmonary edema.  In other words, it just isn’t good for us or for our plants.

So, how does an organic gardener manage the pesky pests that will be in the garden and will do damage?  Here’s a hint; the title of this chapter should read how to get up your courage and get revenge.

How To Handle Being Bugged
First of all, know your enemy.  This means the good, the bad and the ugly.  I learned this after having killed a number of caterpillars eating my dill only to find out they were Monarch butterflies in larval stage.

You really will need a resource to help you figure out just what’s chowing down in your garden and whether or not to crush it, drown it, or boil it.  Remember the bug book I said I invested in?  It has saved the lives of countless thousands of good bugs and helped me identify and kill the bad ones.

Knowing what could be doing damage to your produce gives you a leg up on handling it.  Here’s my list of least favorite and most hated insect enemies.  They will probably end up on the top 10 list of anyone who grows anything, anywhere.

Ten Most Wanted Bugs
By the way, my top 10, most wanted (dirty, rotten, chewing, egg laying) bugs, are in order of how much I hate them:

  1. Colorado potato beetles
  2. Japanese beetles
  3. Asian beetles
  4. Cucumber beetles
  5. Mexican bean beetles
  6. Asparagus beetles
  7. Tomato horn worms (finally something not ending with beetle)
  8. Stink bugs
  9. Slugs
  10. Bag worms

Non-toxic Weapons of Mass Destruction
Handling each of these pests begins with putting healthy plants in the ground.  Healthy plants are more able to withstand an attack and less likely to keel over and die.

You can also put in some “sacrificial” plants, ones that will lure the marching army of pests to a spot that is not part of your garden.

Second on the list of non-toxic tactics is learn to use floating row covers to keep insects out but let light and moisture still get to your plants.  Most of the row covers on the market today are spun polyester. They are so light that you don’t need to buy hoops to hold them up.

You can get them in different weights but most backyard gardeners don’t need to use heavier stock.  And floating row covers can be used over and over again so you only have to invest in them once (or twice if you’re a lifelong gardener).

Next week:  A list of weapons (including my kluged recipe for handmade insecticidal soap with a kick) that will help you win the war on bugs without the  broad-based killing of the good bugs and without poisoning yourself or your loved ones.