Secrets of Growing Lemongrass

Do you love the smell and zesty flavor of lemongrass? Do you like growing your own herbs? Well get this, growing lemongrass is incredible easy. All you need to get started is a jar, water, and few stalks of lemongrass from the supermarket. If you live in a zone 9 region, which is mostly the southwest and parts of Florida, you can grow lemongrass outside to produce impressive plants. Don't worry if you live elsewhere though, it also makes a great indoor plant. Keep reading if you want to learn more about how to grow lemongrass.

When you head off to the grocery store to get some starter lemongrass stalks, keep a few things in mind. Make sure you are getting healthy looking plants. You want them to have some signs of life and avoid ones with a lot of dead material. You're going to have to trim off the dead parts anyway, and you don't want to end up with plants that won't grow. After you get home, trim the tops and dead parts from the plants. Fill the jar with about an inch of water, and place your plants inside. Put the jar near a window where it will get plenty of light. Also, lemongrass needs a lot of water. You should change it every couple of days. In a few weeks the lemongrass will have roots. The lemongrass is ready for soil after at least two inches of roots have developed.

Caring for lemongrass is easy too. Regular potting soil will do just fine, and you can grow them inside in pots. This is great news for apartment dwellers and those of us in colder climates. Lemongrass is a tropical plant, so it will need plenty of sunlight and water. Don't allow the plant to dry out. If you live in a zone 9 area, and you have the space, you can grow your plants outside. When transplanting them to a garden give them plenty of room; around 3 feet is good. Plant them in a sunny area as they won't do well in shade. Lemongrass can reach heights of 6 feet, but you can trim them down if you like. Fertilize your lemongrass monthly. You may consider using a high-nitrogen fertilizer as lemongrass needs lots of nitrogen. Other than this, lemongrass does well on its own requiring little attention. You can sit back, and watch your plants grow.

You should harvest lemongrass shortly before use. Make sure you snap the stalk off close to the root. To keep lemongrass fresh for a few days, store the entire stalk in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. If you plan on storing your lemongrass for a long time, it is better to dry it than freeze it. Lemongrass is a popular addition to many Asian dishes and is also used to make a zesty tea and various spices. Many people grow and use lemongrass for therapeutic purposes. Popular medicinal uses include treating an upset stomach, headaches, and other pain. Lemongrass oil is used externally to treat arthritis, joint aches, acne, and athlete's foot.

Growing lemongrass is easy. All you need is a few starter stalks to get going. Lemongrass does well in both indoor and outdoor gardens. They do well on their own meaning you get a lot of reward for little work. You can use your lemongrass to spice up dishes, make tea, or store for later use. Now that you know how to grow lemongrass, go give it a try.

 

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10 Organic Micro Garden Hacks

Are you interested in creating your own organic vegetable garden? Here are some green gardening tips that will lead you in the right direction:

10 Organic Gardening Tips

1. Test your soil:

If you are looking to have a successful outcome with an organic vegetable garden, you should first test your soil with a do-it-yourself home testing kit before you plant anything. These testing kits can be found at local garden centers and on the Internet at garden speciality stores. The kits use a number scale, 0 to 14, that helps you determine the acidity or alkalinity (also known as pH) levels of your soil. For most vegetables, an ideal number is about 6.5. If the results are too acidic (towards the low end of the scale) or too alkaline (towards the high end of the scale), your plants will not be able reap the benefits of the soil's nutrients. Once you know the results of your soil, you will be able to adjust the soil accordingly by balancing these levels with the nutrients it is lacking.

2. Make plans ahead of time and decide where and how you will grow your garden:

Before you begin digging up your lawn, take a look at your property and decide where you would like to plant a garden. Location is very important, as you will want to pay attention to the position of the sun throughout the day (your plants will need healthy doses of direct sunlight each day), the rockiness of the ground, the drainage quality of the soil, and the location's relation to your main water source.

If you have high quality soil in your yard and you have determined a location, you will want to take advantage of the benefits found in it. Healthy soils have upwards of 650 million microorganisms per one gram of soil. These organisms already present, such as earthworms and other forms of soil life are essential to the life of the soil and will help your garden prosper by providing your plants with valuable nutrients and minerals.

What to do if your soil is not healthy or if you do not have space for a garden at home:

Build a raised bed
By making a raised bed, you will have control over the garden's soil quality. When building your bed, use untreated wood, stones, or brick as a side border and be sure to make the border at least 16 inches high as the depth is important. The plants' roots will need room to stretch and grow.
Consider container gardening
If you are a city dweller, you do not have to miss out on the benefits of growing your own produce. Plant in containers that are large enough to accommodate root growth. Be sure they also have drainage holes. If you are planting organic herbs, pots that are at least 6 inches across are ideal. Another helpful hint is to use plastic pots instead of terra cotta pots. Plastic may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but they will hold moisture longer and will not dry out as quickly as terra cotta pots.
Join a local community garden
Another option is to join a community garden in your area. This is a great way to reap the benefits of growing your own organic food if you do not have land at home. Community gardens are vacant lots or fields that have been turned into mini-farms so that members of the community can plant small gardens of their own. To find out if there are community gardens near you, contact your local parks and recreation department, visit the website http://www.communitygarden.org, or take a stroll in your neighborhood and see if any gardens exist. If you stumble across one, step inside and ask a member what you need to do to join.

3. Select authentic, high quality organic vegetable seeds to use in your garden:

Organic seeds can be found at local nurseries, garden stores, home centers, online seed stores, seed catalogs, and farm supply stores. Always make sure the seed company is “certified organic” and be sure to stay away from any seeds that are “genetically engineered.” To save money, start growing the seeds indoors and transplant outdoors when ready.

 

4. Make your own compost:

Compost, also known as “gardeners gold,” is a vital element in organic gardening that improves the soil structure of your garden. Compost provides a great source of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and micro/macronutrients essential for plant growth. It also aids in stabilizing soil moisture and pH which helps keep the soil cooler during the summer months.

Other benefits of organic compost:

Great source of food for wildlife because it attracts insects and fungi that eat decaying matter. These small animals support larger animals like songbirds
Suppresses plant disease
Assists in controlling soil erosion
Acts as a mild herbicide
Reduces need to apply commercial fertilizers
Reduces amount of waste sent to landfills
Reduces gas emissions that would result from transporting kitchen waste to a landfill

How to compost:

Build or buy a compost bin. These can be found at home centers, garden centers, and online.
Place compost material in repeated layers. To give your compost the best result, alternate layers of green matter with brown matter. An example would be alternating kitchen scraps with straw/stalks or dead leaves with grass clippings.
Cover compost heap for optimal results. This will avoid moisture loss and keep in heat.
Keep the pile moist as a wrung-out sponge.
Aerate and turn compost pile over frequently.
When ready, pile will look like fresh fine soil.

Some ideas for good compostables:

Kitchen waste
Aquarium water, plants, and algae
Sawdust
Tea leaves/coffee grounds
Pet rabbit or hamster droppings
Eggshells
Old spices
Lawn clippings (thin layer)

Make leafmould:

Leafmould is a dark brown, rich and crumbly material that is created from naturally decomposed Autumn leaves that have fallen onto the ground. It is an excellent soil conditioner and mulch, a great earthworm meal, and is easy to make.

To make leafmould:

Collect fallen leaves (avoid evergreen leaves) and place in a container to rot Leafmould matures best in high moisture, so the best time to collect leaves is just after rain.
Wait 9 months to a year for the leafmould to mature.

The Shoestring Gardener

100’s Of Wonderfully Frugal, Eco-Friendly and Highly Resourceful Ideas, Techniques and Tricks with Detailed Instructions for Just About Everything Having to Do with Gardening

5. Use water wisely:

Water conservation, harvesting, and recycling are great methods for organic gardening.

Recycle/harvest rain water
Not only is rainwater is a great way to hydrate your plants, but it is also an excellent way to lower your monthly water bills, reduce storm-water runoff, and prevent flooding and erosion. It is generally clean, free of containments and byproducts such as minerals, fluoride and chlorine and has a low pH which plants and soils like. Rainwater can be collected and stored using gutters, downspouts, rain barrels and/or cisterns and can be used whenever needed, even later in the season during dry weather.
Use a soaker hose
A soaker hose is a great and easy way to save time and money in your garden. Water seeps out of soaker hoses and delivers water directly to your plants' roots while keeping the leaves dry, which helps prevent disease. Hand watering is time consuming and tedious, sprinklers can be wasteful due to evaporation and runoff, and drip irrigation is expensive.
Avoid grey water
When recycling water, avoid use of grey water (household waste water that comes from sources such as sinks, washer machines, and showers) on any plants used for consumption. Grey water may contain phosphates, nitrogen, and pathogens that can be harmful to your health.

Watering tips:

Water your garden when the air and soil are cool, typically in the early morning or evening hours. During these times, less water will be lost due to evaporation.
Water deeply but less often. Direct the water at the root systems at the base of the plant. This will encourage plants to grow deeper roots, causing them to need less watering. Shallow watering causes the roots to grow close to the surface, making them more vulnerable to drought.
Remember that plants and soil in containers will dry out much faster than in the ground and require frequent watering.
Avoid watering leaves. Excess water film on a plant makes it more susceptible to disease.
Shallow rooted vegetables such as beans and greens need to be watered more often with lighter applications than deep rooted plants like corn and tomatoes. These vegetables require more water but less often.
Use a milk jug. For a clever trick, take a 1 gallon milk jug and poke very small holes into the bottom. Bury most of the jug next to your plants when you plant your garden. If you leave it uncapped, you can place your water hose nozzle into the opening to fill. With this method, the water slowly drips into the ground and encourages deep plant roots. This self-irrigation system is great for whenever you need to travel and leave the garden unattended.

7. Weed Control:

Weeds can be a serious threat to gardens because they remove valuable moisture, nutrients, sunlight and growing space needed by crops.

Some ways to control weeds:

Select high quality vegetable seeds or transplants By planting high quality seeds, the chances of them containing weed seeds or seedlings is very low.
Rotate your vegetable crops As crops differ in their ability to compete with weeds, rotating crops between hardy competitors and weaker plants can reduce weeds.
Use ground cover The use of ground cover and organic mulches such as hay, straw, glass clippings, and manure in your garden is one of the most effective ways to control weeds. Spread the ground cover 2-3 inches thick as this will block sunlight and prevent weed germination and growth.
Transplant seeds Transplanting seeds instead of sowing them gives plants a healthy head start in defense against weeds.

Methods of removing weeds:

By hand This method is most effective after a recent rain because the soil is loosened.
Thermal A short blast of heat directly onto the weed causes it to wilt and die. This is most effective on driveways and paths and is not always ideal for gardens.
Hoeing This is effective for larger patches of newly cleared ground.

Make sure you have earthworms

Earthworms are essential to a successful garden. Vermicompost, the combination of organic matter and earthworms' castings is a high-octane form of compost that provides the soil with an immediate all-purpose fertilizer loaded with nutrients and nitrogen. By tunneling through the earth, earthworms aerate the soil which improves the soil's access to air and drainage so that water reaches the deep roots of plants more easily. They also encourage beneficial soil bacteria while discouraging disease and predators such as crop destroying insects.

Don't have earthworms in your soil? Here is how to get them:

Discontinue use of any toxins in your garden.
Spread 2-3 inch layers of organic matter on top of the soil each year – this will attract earthworms
Use leafmould – this is a great earthworm meal.
Order earthworm eggs online. Once you receive them, scatter them onto the ground and in about 3 months they will be adults and ready to reproduce.

8. Keep a gardening journal

By keeping track of your garden's progress, you will be more prepared next year to tackle issues that came up this year. You will also have a place where you can jot down experiments, experiences: the good and the bad.

9. Protect against predators and pests:

Make your garden friendly to the native wildlife in your region. This will attract and encourage natural wildlife pest controllers to your garden. Ladybugs, birds, frogs, toads, and bats all help to keep pests such as aphids, insects, and snails in check.

Other beneficial garden predators and the pests they feed on:

Centipedes: feed on slugs and eggs
Preying mantis: feed on all types of insects
Spiders: feed on insects and arthropods
Lizards: feed on insects/pests
Frog/toads: feed on all types
Ladybugs: feed on aphids

To protect against pests:

Plant nectar producing plants Tiny flowers on plants such as sweet alyssum will attract beneficial insects, such as predatory wasps. The alyssum's aroma will also scent your garden all summer. Herbs like parsley, dill, and fennel will attract ladybugs which will also eat intruding insects.
Choose native plant species over imported varieties whenever possible Native species have better “immune systems” and will be able to fight against insects in your area better than an exotic plant will.
Try companion planting Companion planting is growing two or more different types of species of plant together for the benefit of one or both. For example, by pairing a flower with a vegetable plant, many adult insects will visit flowers for pollen and nectar and in return are effective natural controllers of unwanted pests on the vegetable crops.

How does companion planting work?

Companions help each other grow: Tall plants provide shade for shorter plants sensitive to sun.
Companions use garden space efficiently: Vining plants cover the ground, upright plants grow up. Two plants in one patch.
Companions prevent pest problems: Plants like onions repel some pests. Other plants can lure pests away from more desirable plants.
Companions attract beneficial insects: Every successful garden needs plants that attract the predators of pests.

Examples of good companion plants:

Carrots and onions: Pests attracted to carrots' sweet smell can be confused by the pungent smell of onions.
Corn and beans: The beans attract beneficial insects that prey on corn pests such as leafhoppers and leaf beetles. In addition, the bean vines will climb up the corn stalks.
Cucumbers and nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are said to repel cucumber beetles and can create a habitat for insects such as spiders and ground beetles which help defend the garden from destructive pests.
Radishes and spinach: Radishes attract leafminers away from the spinach. The leafminers will damage the radish leaves, but since radishes grown underground, no damage is done to the radishes.
Cabbage and dill: Cabbage can help support the floppy dill plants, while the dill attracts the tiny beneficial wasps that control cabbageworms and other cabbage pests.
Tomatoes and cabbage: Tomatoes are repel diamondback moth larvae (caterpillars that chew large holes in cabbage leaves)
Cauliflower and dwarf zinnias: The nectar from the dwarf zinnias lures ladybugs that help protect cauliflower plants.
Collards and catnip: Planting catnip alongside collards can reduce flea-beetle damage on the collards.

Other ways to deter pests from your organic garden:

Create barriers and deterrents: Try hanging shiny silver objects in your garden. The reflection produced from the sun can confuse insects such as aphids which orient their flight patterns by sunlight.
Rotate your crops each year This will aid in keeping pest and disease problems at bay as well as correct nutritional deficiencies.

10. Last few tips on garden and soil care:

Avoid compacting soil by walking on it excessively This restricts air movement and makes it hard for roots to penetrate.
Do not over dig This will destroy vital soil structure.
Cover Keeping plants covered with things like mulch helps protect soil structure.
Avoid overfeeding and over or under watering Let the plants performance guide you.

I hope you will be able to share the same satisfaction and gratification I experience when I build, create, and tend to my own vegetable garden. Have patience, be willing to get dirty, and be ready to smile and reap the bountiful benefits of an organically grown vegetable and herb garden.

Enjoy!

In good health

Jennifer M. Regan, NASM-CPT, C.H.E.K HLC

Jennifer Regan is the founder and owner of Bamboo Core Fitness, a personal training and holistic lifestyle coaching business based in the Boston and Metrowest areas.

Jennifer holds a BS in Exercise Science and Minors in Health and Nutrition from Ithaca College, is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, and a C.H.E.K Holisitc Lifestyle Coach. In addition, she is a Cancer Wellness Specialist and holds certification in AED, CPR, and First Aid.

For more information on health, nutrition, and fitness topics, please visit her web site at: http://www.bamboocorefitness.com

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DIY HOW TO GROW BLACKBERRIES

Blackberries have been growing wild across Europe for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The wild bramble plant is often well-protected with spiky thorns and long trailing stems that trip unsuspecting woodland walkers! Blackberries can still be found in the wild, although should never be collected from the side of a road because of car pollution, or near any non-organic farms as sprays could have drifted over and affected the fruits.

Pick wild blackberries from higher branches to avoid animal contamination and watch those thorns – they are mean. Hybrid varieties of blackberry are designed for growing in a garden or even a large container.  Thorn-less types are available and, although they made need a little extra TLC, they are safer to grow in a garden, especially where there are children playing.

Healthy Reasons

All berries are power packed super foods. Blackberries are high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants and really do help to keep your body healthy. Blackberry leaves, as well as the fruits, have been used medicinally for many years. Blackberry leaf tea is sold commercially as a tonic and pick-me-up – organic fresh leaves from your garden will do even more☺ A small cup of fresh blackberry leaf tea every day will help build the immune system and in turn help prevent colds and flu bugs.

Preparation

If you’ve ever taken over a neglected garden or piece of land, you will know how dangerous brambles can be. It’s tempting to plough the whole lot up, but if you have the space available it may be worth trying to train a few plants. Arm yourself with protective clothing and heavy duty gloves before you start though. Starting afresh is a lot less stressful.

Blackberry plants can be started from seed but it will be a good few years before you will have a crop of fruits and plants will need looking after during this time. Start your plants from cuttings or the layering method if you already have a healthy plant available. Or invest in a blackberry plant from your local garden supplier. There are many new hybrids on the market. Read through any specialist requirements before you buy.

Preparing the Land

Choose a fairly sunny well-drained spot in the garden. Dig over the ground early in the spring if you can, as soon as it’s workable. Check at this point that the soil is well-drained. Dig in some well-rotted manure or compost if the soil is tired or lacking in nutrients. Remove any perennial weeds, large stones and non-organic debris. Rake over and cover with black plastic or old rugs etc; until your plants are ready to put out. The covering should be removed a week or so before planting to allow the soil time to breathe. Fork over the soil lightly before planting. If the weather is too bad in early Spring, prepare your ground as you need it. Simply dig over when you’re ready to put the plants out. If you are growing in pots or containers, make sure they are well-drained, well positioned and filled with good organic fresh potting compost, or use your own compost if available.

LEARN THE EASIEST WAYS TO GROW BLACK BERRIES AND OTHER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES HERE!

Sowing & Growing

Check on the manufacturer’s sowing and growing recommendations before you start. Regional and variety needs will differ. It’s possible to germinate blackberry seeds, as most plants originally come from a seed – but it’s a long process and could be years before you get a crop of fruit. Buy a hybrid variety especially suited to small gardens or containers from a reputable local supplier. Some varieties are thorn-less but may need a little extra TLC. Hybrid blackberry plants will be less hardy than wild brambles. Or there are other ways to propagate if you have access to a healthy established plant:

  • Layering

As with many woody plants, blackberries can be propagated by layering: Start with a healthy well-established plant with low growing branches. Choose the lowest healthiest branch and stretch out along the ground. Peg to the soil where it naturally touches the ground. Use a V shaped peg (part of a branch or something similar).  Don’t use anything sharp as you may damage the branch.

Water well, and mulch during the winter months if it gets cold in your region. By the following spring the branch should be developing roots where you pegged it. If it’s growing well, cut from the main plant and allow to grow on. If it’s too close, the new plant can be transplanted. Do this carefully to avoid damaging the roots. You may have to wait a little longer than the following spring for the new plant to get going. Be patient and try not to move it too soon.

  • Cuttings

Cuttings should be taken from a healthy plant after it has finished fruiting for the year. Cut lengths of stems and push the cut end into potting compost or well-prepared seed beds. Look after them through the winter. They will need watering if kept indoors, and probably protecting from the cold if outdoors. Always plant more cuttings than you’ll need. They don’t always work! Again, the following spring, the cuttings should have started developing roots. If the plants look healthy and are starting to produce leaf, then they are probably ready to move to their prepared spot in the garden. If not, be patient!

Planting Out

Allow about 18 inches (45cm) of growing space for each ‘cane’ you put out. Double check with manufacturer’s growing recommendations if you are buying plants from your garden supplier. If all the sunny spots are filled in the garden, blackberries will still develop fruits in the shade. However, new hybrid varieties may prefer more sun. Also, if you can find a sunny spot, the plant will produce larger sweeter fruits. Water well after planting and keep weeds away so that your plants get all the nutrients they need from the soil.

  • Containers

Use large containers as blackberry plants need space to grow. Fill well-drained containers with fresh organic compost. They must be well-drained.  Plants take nutrients from the soil, and the plant will benefit from a feed from time to time, and the soil should be renewed when re-potting.

Always remember to water pots and containers. Plants can’t find water when their roots are contained. And the soil often dries out more quickly in containers. This depends on where your plants are kept but generally care should be taken that container plants get enough water.

During the second year of growth, blackberry plants will probably start growing new canes. As fruit develops on the first year of growth, it’s wise to let these grow on as far as possible.

Plants can get unruly, and it’s wise to keep a check on their growth – prune regularly, after fruits have finished for the year and train branches to suit your space. Always double check the growing recommendations that come with hybrid blackberries as they may have specific pruning requirements.

Harvesting

Pick fruits as soon as they are ripe. They should fall into your hand at the slightest touch.  A light hand is needed when collecting soft fruits as they squash very easily.

Storing

Blackberries will keep for a day or two if kept in the salad compartment of the fridge. They can be frozen but they will lose some texture and taste during the freezing process. Prepare and lay blackberries out on a tray and freeze quickly. Put into a suitable container, label and freeze. The most common way of storing blackberries is by making jam. There are probably hundreds of different jam recipes with blackberries.

 

 

Mini Farming: Ultimate Beginners Guide To Mini Farming

Building A Backyard Farm And Growing Organic Food At Home

One’s ability to be self-sufficient goes hand-in-hand with their potential for resiliency. When you can depend on yourself and your land to produce something as necessary as food, you can become someone who is no longer vulnerable to spikes in produce prices or dependent on trips to the grocery store for fresh ingredients. Building your own backyard mini-farm doesn’t have to be a huge task, either.

This short guide will provide you with the basic guidelines of building your own farm, starting from proper soil preparation, growing your seedlings, plant placement and selection as well as potential integration of farm animals and some tips on using your resources efficiently. At the end, you can find the perfect combination to suit you and your family’s needs that reduces your carbon footprint, reduces food costs, provides fresh, organic, homegrown produce and overall simply makes the most of your space. Why pay someone else to do something that you can easily do yourself? Plus, it can be really fun!

What Is A Mini-Farm?

Have you ever imagined yourself “living off the land”? Being self-sufficient to the point where you no longer are dependent on your local grocer for food? You may think that this is only possible in huge, rural spaces, far away from any sort of civilization. However, it is actually completely possible to grow enough food for self-sustainable living on an acre or less of land! This is otherwise known as a “mini-farm”, “micro-farm”, “small-scale farm” or “urban homestead”. Yes, really! You can have your cake and eat it too! Actually, in this case lets say, “you can have your homegrown, organic quinoa and eat it too!”

There are many reasons why you may be interested in creating your own mini-farm. With climate change on the forefront of many governmental policies and discussions worldwide, reliable food production is a major concern. While most citizens of first world countries are not subjected to the possibility of food scarcity, it can never hurt to become more self-sufficient and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. When you have a “sustainable farm” you essentially consume what is raised, grown and produced on your plot of land. This is different to commercial farming, which is primarily for profit. Furthermore, growing your own food reduces your need to purchase it at the store, therefore lowering overall food costs and saving you money!

The main element of a sustainable farm is its ability to keep working with no or the least amount of imported resources. Utilizing natural resources, reusing and recycling waste is key as well as establishing a balanced cycle is essential to the success of your farm. For example, if you are keeping animals such as chickens, goats or sheep, a good example of the cycle would be feeding the animals with yields from the farm and in turn using the manure to enrich the soil, making it healthier and more productive to grow more plants that will again feed the animals.

Preparing the Soil Building your soil is the first step.

Two essential ingredients for healthy soil are water and air. Many times, new gardeners will simply dig a small hole in the topsoil for the plant. However, one must consider how to the plant will grow, including the direction and depth of the roots and how the plant will draw water and nutrients from the soil. Therefore, it a good rule of thumb that healthy soil will be sufficiently aerated so that air and water can move freely within the soil, but not so uncompacted that the soil falls apart. Properly aerated soil will retain more water, which will require less watering as well as allows roots to easily penetrate to the desired soil depth.

Learn how to greatly improve your garden soil beyond belief with simple, very easy methods.

When selecting your area for planting, make sure the space will get plenty of sunlight and is not too close to other plants that may put your plot at risk to pests. Once you have selected the land are for planting, preparing the soil properly will give you the best chance for success. The size of your planting beds is dependent on your available space, but keep in mind that paths should also be established as walking on the soil will compact it, which will reduce the aeration of the soil. It is recommended to dig at least 12 in (30 cm) below the surface of the soil. For some crops, it can be beneficial to dig as low as 24 in (60 cm) below the surface.

When digging, make sure to remove all weeds, weed roots and stones. As you are digging, take a look at the soil. Does it appear more sandy or clay-like? The answer will be a good indicator of what you would add to the soil to enhance it for plant growth. If the soil is more clay, it may feel more sticky and dense and it can easily be rolled into a ball, with no or limited cracking. Clay soil can be very fertile, but may also be very heavy and slow to drain. To improve clay soil, you may consider using a raised bed to assist with drainage or adding additional bulky organic material such as “horticultural grit”, which can essentially be small pieces of angular, crushed materials such as limestone or granite. This will assist with aeration and infiltration. If the soil is sandier in texture and appearance, this may be easy to dig, but will not hold nutrients and water efficiently.

To improve sandy soil, compost is recommended. This can be easily purchased at a garden center. However, if you want to maintain a more sustainable cycle with your mini-farm you may want to consider establishing your own compost. Composting is the perfect way to reuse your farm’s “waste” in a way that will improve the fertility and condition of your soil, provide nutrients for plants and microorganisms, help to increase water retention and reduce landfill waste. Your compost should be made of a mix of carbon and nitrogen with a good rule to use one-third green materials to two-thirds brown materials. “Green” materials include: table scraps (avoiding any meat, bones or fish scraps), green leaves, weeds, flowers, coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc. “Brown” materials include: dried leaves, hay, pine needles, corn stalks, newspaper, cardboard, and even dryer lint!

Start by loosening the soil up to approximately 12 in (30 cm) below the ground. Add a small layer of twigs or straw first to assist in aeration and drainage. Then, add thin layers of compost material, switching between wet ingredients, such as table scraps, and dry ingredients, such as leaves. Don’t make the layers too thick, as this will slow the decomposition process. Finish with a layer of green manure such as grass clippings, or any other nitrogen source, and then cover the pile so that it will retain proper moisture. Make sure that you either water the pile occasionally or uncover during rainfall.

Placing the pile in the shade can also assist with moisture retention. You may also need to turn the pile every few weeks with a pitchfork or shovel to ensure proper oxygen. The compost should turn from a musty smell to an earthy smell, where the materials become more difficult to recognize and feel rich to touch. Most piles will be ready in four to six months depending on materials used as well as the climatic conditions.

Growing Your Seedlings

Growing your own seedlings versus purchasing the already sprouted plants may seem as though your just adding extra work to the already seemingly large task of building your own mini-farm. However, there are many benefits associated with sowing your own seeds such as lower costs, a larger variety to choose from, potential to grow high quality plants and, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that you have completed the entire cycle of your plant from seed to harvest.

The first step will be to choose the right container. Depending on your plants, the container should be about two to three inches deep (five to eight cm), with plenty of options for drainage. You should plant the seeds about one to two inches (two to five cm) apart. Keep an eye on your seedlings to ensure that roots are not touching the bottom of the container, as this is a signal it is too small and may damage the plant.

Create a protected space such as a small greenhouse for the seedlings to begin the sprouting process. This will also help to keep them free from pests. Once you begin to see some sprouting from your seeds, keep in mind that proper transplanting to your garden area will be vital to the health of the plant. Start by “hardening off” your seedlings by transferring them from the protected temperature to the temperature of the surroundings.

After a few days, the seeds are ready to be transplanted into the garden. It is very easy to find seeds at any garden center, however, to maintain a self-sufficient farm cycle, it is recommended to use open-pollinated (OP) seeds. OP seeds are naturally pollinated, either by insects or wind and allow the farmer to save the seeds on the farm, which will provide for future crops, thus saving resources and lowering costs. OP seeds are not genetically modified and will breed true-to-type plants, which resemble the parent plant and not a hybrid. You can then reuse the OP seeds harvested the year before for the next year’s plants. Do a simple online search to determine where you can find OP seeds near you.

Plant Selection And Placement

Grow Robust Organic Vitamin Rich Vegetables for a Healthier Diet

To maximize your production in a small space, implement an intensive planting design. Intensive planting creates an environment for your plants where roots and plants have an uninterrupted grow space, while at the same time the close proximity of the plants enhances soil and establishes a consistent area of living mulch, ideal for growing conditions. This placement will also reduce weed growth and maximizes the number of plants in the given space so production is increased.

Companion Planting

Companion planting provides benefits for your entire farm by establishing a planting layout of vegetables, fruits and flowers that support each other and deter pests to create a mutually beneficial relationship to bring harmony between the plants, insects and soil. Some common companion choices are: Basil near other garden crops such as tomatoes or lettuce, which can improve the flavor and growth as well as deter pests.

  • Beans near crops such as beets, cabbage, catnip, marigolds, cauliflower, cucumbers, potatoes, corn, savory and strawberries and away from crops such as beets, garlic, kohlrabi, leeks, onions and shallots.
  • Beets near crops such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, bush beans, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, chard and kohlrabi away from crops such as field mustard, charlock and pole beans.
  • Corn near crops such as melons, beans, peas, early potatoes, pumpkins squash and soybeans.
  • Garlic near crops such as cabbage, cane fruits, fruit trees, roses and tomatoes and away from crops such as peas and beans.
  • Onions near crops such as beets, cabbage, carrots, chamomile, lettuce and parsnips and away from crops such as peas and beans.
  • Peppers near crops such as basil, carrots, eggplants, onions, parsley and tomatoes and away from crops such as fennel and kohlrabi.
  • Potatoes near crops such as basil, beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, flax, hemp, marigolds, peas and squash and away from crops such as apples, birch, cherries, cucumbers, pumpkins, raspberries, sunflowers, tomatoes and walnuts. Also consider that crop rotation will also be necessary to maintain the health of your plants.

When large groups of the same crop are placed in one area for an extended period of time, they become an easy target for pests. Furthermore, when crops of the same family are placed the same location over a long period of time, this depletes the nutrients of the soil, potentially requiring additional artificial fertilizers to maintain soil health. Instead, to maintain a healthy, organic soil, do not plant crops of the same family in the same location within a period of three years. This creates diversity for the plant bed, enhances the soil and minimizes the potential for disease and pests.

Plant Classification

To classify plants in terms of a crop rotation plan, follow this helpful guide:

  • Brassicas (cabbage family) Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, all cabbages, kohlrabi, cauliflower, kale, mizuna, pak choi, arugula, rutabaga, turnip
  • Legumes (bean & pea family) Snap peas, peas, bush, pole, lima, fava, dry beans
  • Solanaceae (potato & tomato family) Eggplant, potato, tomato, peppers
  • Alliums (onion family) Garlic, all onions, shallot, chive, leek
  • Umbeliferae (carrot & root family) Celery, celeriac, cilantro, fennel, carrot, parsnip, parsley, dill
  • Cucurbits (squash & marrow family) Summer/ winter squash, cucumber, melon, pumpkin
  • Chenopodiaceae (beet family) Swiss chard, spinach, beet, 
  • Miscellaneous All fruit, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, lettuce, endive, cress, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, okra, corn salad, chicory

A simple classification of various plant species. Source: growveg.com. When planning your crop rotation, keep in mind some tips such as brassicas (cabbage family) will fix the nitrogen in soil, making it ideal for legumes to benefit from the nutrient rich conditions.

In areas where there is very rich soil, avoid planting root vegetables, as this will cause lush foliage instead of the edible parts of the plant. Keeping in mind the difference between calorie crops, carbon crops and staple crops will also benefit your garden as well as the dietary balance of your yield.

Calorie Crop is a vegetable that will produce a large amount of food energy (calories) in a specific unit of space. Examples of calorie crops include root crops such as potatoes, garlic, parsnips and perennial vegetables. Calorie crops are typically considered the best option for feeding yourself and your family as they provide the most amount of nutrition in the smallest amount of mass. Calorie crops tend to be heavy feeders and may drain your soil’s nutrients quickly.

Carbon Crop, also known as “biomass”, is a food plant that produces a large amount of carbonaceous material to be used in compost. Carbon crops are perfect for promoting sustainable soil fertility, as they will establish a balance for heavy feeders such as calorie crops when used as compost and are recommended to make up approximately 60% of your total planted area. Carbon crops include maize, sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, millet, rye, wheat, barley, rice, oats, and sunflowers. In addition, when you grow carbon crops such as grains, they also provide a beneficial addition to your dietary calories.

Staple Crop, can be considered a mix of carbon and calorie crops. These are crops that you could consider necessary parts of your diet that have the potential to be stored for long-term periods without spoiling. Examples include grains, root crops, and dry beans, including soybeans, which can be used for other purposes such as soymilk or soy flour. A crop could also be considered a staple crop if it can easily grow well in your region, provides high nutrients or calories, is easy to harvest, process and store as well as adds to healthy soil fertility.

What Animals Would Be Suitable For A Mini-Farm?

Depending on the amount of available space, you may also consider adding some farm animals to make you mini-farm complete. Large livestock such as cows or horses should not be considered, as they need a lot of land area to thrive. Animals can assist in maintaining a healthy sustainable balance as they can feed off of grains, as well as provide manure for compost or fertilizer. As well, they can provide other benefits such as goat milk or chicken eggs.

Adding animals to your farm, however, will surely increase your responsibilities on various levels and may be subject to certain regulations. Therefore, it is imperative to do proper research as to which would be best suitable for your purposes.

Rabbits

Rabbits are excellent candidates for small spaces. They can easily be managed in small, wire hutches and tend to be odor free and do not attract flies. They can also provide a high meat return for the amount of feed and labor invested. Rabbits can be very predator prone, however, so it is important to ensure their enclosing is secure to so that they won’t become easy prey for any neighborhood prowlers.

Chickens

Chickens are also a great option for a mini-farm. They can provide highly efficient meat as well as eggs daily. They can happily feed off of meat scraps, bugs, weeds and table scraps and are relatively low-maintenance. Like rabbits, however, the chicken’s enclosure must be secure as they are also an easy target for predators.

Goats

Goats are also a popular option as they are very intelligent and are highly efficient produces of milk. You can easily gain about a gallon of milk each day with three to four pounds of grain and a few pounds of hay. During the lactating period (typically 10 months), however, the dairy goat must be milked twice per day, everyday, which may be more responsibility than you are looking for.

Pigs

Pigs are one of the most efficient animals to raise in regards to their waste-to-meat ratio. Pigs can eat kitchen scraps, garden greens, grains, roots, eggs or other meat, making them the perfect example of recycling! Pigs also don’t require a great deal of space.

Using Water Efficiently

To build you sustainable farm, maintain the mindset that “everything can be used”. This is especially true for your already present natural resources. We’ve already discussed ways to improve the already present soil, utilizing yields for compost and positioning your vegetables in proper sunlight, but what about the one ingredient that is absolutely essential to any healthy farm: water?

Conserve rain water and grey-water for reuse in your garden. City water bills just keep going up and up!

If you already have a water supply such as a small stream or river on the property, consider how this can be used for your farm instead of relying solely on your well supply. Gray water refers to the water that has already been used in the sinks, bathtubs, shower, dishwater or washing machine. This is no longer fit for human consumption, but would be absolutely fine for your garden. You can choose to manually collect the water from the bathtub or even simpler is to reroute drainage pipes to a small storage tank. With the reuse of gray water, you can recycle up to 50 gallons of gray water per week!

Another great option would be to harvest rainwater. You can easily and inexpensively place a storage barrel at the bottom of the gutter pipe to collect large amounts of rainwater from the roof. For example, a 1,500 square foot (139 square meter) roof in a region that gets at least twenty inches of rain per year, could potentially gather about 18,600 gallons of water annually to be used for gardening.

Conclusion

If you are someone who likes the idea of reducing your carbon footprint, saving money on food, eating fresh, homegrown produce and just overall making the most of your living space, a mini-farm could be the perfect option. The best thing about building your own mini-farm is that there is an infinite amount of combinations of fruits, vegetables, flowers and even animals that you can choose to suit your needs and space availability. There is no simple formula for success; instead, it is a process of trial and error, determining what the best mixture is for you. You can also seek out others in your area that share similar interests for swapping of ideas, produce and maybe even make some new friends. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get your farm going!

If your interested in starting your own Mini Garden, I strongly recommend this very informative book called the Shoestring Gardener. 

The Shoestring Gardener

A Compendium of Hundreds of Eco-Friendly,
Creatively Frugal Gardening How-Tos, Remedies & Tips

 

 

5 Tips for Choosing a DIY Hydroponics Project

Choosing the best DIY hydroponics project for you is an important decision. Here are some things you may want to consider in making your choice.

Your space: Do you have a small space with just enough room for a vertical hydroponic system? There are several types of DIY hydroponic projects you can fit into a very small space. Or do you have plenty of room to spread out and build something more substantial? There are lots of options but if you're a beginner, start small and “get your feet wet” before spending a lot of money, time and energy on your project. You could do a project called “nutrient film technique” which allows nutrients to continually flow over the roots of your plants. Or you might consider a space saving vertical aeroponic system that pumps a spray of nutrient water onto the roots of your plants at regular intervals. Both can be done in a very small space.

Your budget: There are DIY hydroponics projects that can fit just about any budget. Some can be done using primarily equipment you probably already have on hand. However, you will need to spend money on a few things, such as pump, timer, nutrients and ph tester. The easiest and cheapest method is called the “wick system” but generally this should be used for small plants and on a small scale. Delivery of nutrients to the roots is slower than in some of the other hydroponics methods.

Your experience and commitment: Do you want a project you can throw up in just a few hours and then not have to fuss over? Or are you someone who wants to check the nutrients and ph every day and hover over your project. There are projects that will work for you no matter what your style may be. Are you a seasoned Do-it-Yourselfer with experience building other types of projects? DIY hydroponics may require some basic knowledge and experience with plumbing, electricity, carpentry as well as some basic gardening skill. The method known as the “drip irrigation hydroponic system” is probably one of the most complicated but most of the methods have versions that range from less complicated to more complicated.

Your plans for what you'd like to grow: Are you more interested in growing something like lettuce or herbs that will give you a harvest very quickly? Or are you more interested in growing some more complicated crops such as strawberries or tomatoes? Your choice of a DIY hydroponics project will be highly influenced by what you want to grow. The “ebb and flow” system works quite well for things like tomatoes, while strawberries do better with “nutrient film technique” (NFT). Most other plants aren't too fussy about how they are grown.

Your climate: Do you live where it's relatively easy to set up and maintain a hydroponics project either indoors or outdoors? Is it too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter to be successful? Keep this in mind as you choose your project. If you live where there is intense heat in the summer, you may need to consider protection from the sun. If it's very rainy, you may need to consider rain protection by building your project indoors or inside of a hoop house or greenhouse.

Find out more about DIY hydroponics by visiting [http://www.freecycleusa.com/how-to-hydroponics] and for suggestions and ideas for home hydroponics projects see [http://www.freecycleusa.com/how-to-hydroponics]

 

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How to Grow Healthy Organic Food

How to Grow Healthy Organic Food

The increasing pollution of the environment with industrial waste and poisonous substances have become a major health concern in recent years. Food, air, water and other essentials components of human existence are now polluted with dangerously high concentrations of poisonous chemical. As a result, there is now an increasing need for organic food that is free of pollution.how-to-grow-organic-food

Some organic vegetables can be grown at home, as they require very little space. Thus, the following tips will help to comfortably grow healthy organic food at home. 

SAVE MONEY NOW! SIMPLE EASY WAY TO STAT GROWING FOOD AT HOME!

To renew the bed in your garden, slice under the turf and turn it over. Cover it with wood chips and wait a few weeks. You can then use this bed to grow healthy organic food. The ground you have turned over is made richer by the turf that is under it.

When you notice an area with a lot of weeds, instead of pulling them, take a shovel and dig under it. Then turn the soil over so that the weeds feed your seeds like manure would. This will save you time and also keep the weeds from growing back.

Other organic components that can be used to grow organic food include dry leaves, left-over food, hay, straws, animal waste, charcoal, and other things. Once available, put those away in an airtight container, or a pit dug behind in your backyard. The more you gather and put in these airtight spaces, the more organic compost you will have to use on your garden.

To prevent your herbs from rotting, dry them immediately after harvesting. After drying, keep them away from moisture by storing them in a cool dry place. This will also prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Some bugs are important for your garden. Example is the lady bug. This is because it feeds on other bugs like aphids, which destroy the crops by eating up the leaves. Lady bugs prey on these bugs and thus help in growing healthy organic crops. Other helpful bugs are butterflies. These help with pollination of the plants.

Add a little bit of water to the biological decay, and spread it on your plants in an efficient way. This is better for providing organic based nutrients to your plants than using chemical fertilizers. It also prevents the contamination of the environment with toxic chemicals. All these help to make plants more organic, healthy and free of toxic contaminants.

ORGANIC FOOD GROWTH MADE EASY STEP BY STEP!

Water your garden with a hose under low pressure. This ensures that your garden is gradually irrigated or soaked without flooding. It will also give you time to multitask. You, therefore, get more things done will gardening.

When you develop the techniques for growing organic food, you will know that it is worth the effort when you see the quality of produce that you will grow. Thus, if you are interested in growing your own non-contaminated, healthy organic food, give it a try by clicking on the learn more below link, and you will be happy you did.

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How to Grow an Avocado Tree From Seed

Most avocado trees are grown in tropical climates, primarily in Mexico (the world's leading producer of avocado), California, Hawaii, and Florida. California is the number one producer of avocados in the United States, with most of the crop being of the Hass variety. But why not growing an avocado tree at home?how-to-grow-an-avocado-tree-from-seed

Growing an avocado from seed and more…

To grow an avocado tree, you need to get an avocado seed, clean it off and poke three toothpicks into the side of it. Then immerse the seed halfway in the water while the three sticks rest on the rim of a drinking glass. Set the seed with the wider portion down.

Place the glass with the seed somewhere warm with not too much direct light. The water should be changed at least every couple of weeks, before it gets dirty and depleted of oxygen.

In four to six weeks, the seed should split and out should come roots and a sprout. Once the stem has grown a few inches, place it in a pot with soil. Avocados have been known to grow large, so you will have to repot the plant several times.

What's the ideal place to grow an avocado tree?

The ideal spot for the plant is at the brightest window. Avocados are widely cultivated in tropical to subtropical climates. They may grow in shade but require full exposure to sunlight for best productivity. It should also be watered every few days.

How long does it take to grow an avocado tree?

Under good conditions, growing avocado takes many years, even up to a decade or two, to begin producing fruits. Indeed do not expect to get fruits but you can still grow a beautiful houseplant!

How big is an avocado tree?

Avocado is a medium to large evergreen tree with large, leathery, deep green leaves. The tree grows to 20 m, with leaves 12 cm to 25cm long. The flowers are greenish-yellow.

Why growing an avocado tree at home?

To grow an endless amount of organic avocados! Avocados are very healthy for you. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and alkalizing properties. They can help you lower your cholesterol level and contain lot's of healthy nutrients. They are also very rich in fiber. So there're many reasons why it's recommended to include avocado in the diet. Try growing an avocado tree at home if you don't like making regular trips to the grocery store for your daily supply or if you are fed up with spending lot's of money for quality produce.

LEARN MORE ON HOW TO GROW FOOD TO SAVE MONEY!

How To Grow Banana In A Pot

Growing Banana trees in pots is easy, if you’re unable to grow it on the ground either due to lack of space or cold climate. Learn how to grow banana trees in this complete article.

There are banana varieties that can withstand temperature drops and grows well in containers, popular especially among the fans of exotic tropical plants in the garden.how-to-grow-banana-in-a-pot

The first question that may come up in your mind is– Will banana tree in a pot can bear fruits?

LEARN MORE ABOUT GROWING OTHER AMAZING FOODS HERE! 

And the answer is yes. It is possible, a banana tree bears fruits in pot prolifically. It may take up to 3 to 5 years to fruit if grown from seeds.

Growing Banana Trees in Pots

Banana is a lush green, fast-growing plant that can give any place a tropical look and feel. Many varieties become excellent houseplants that don’t need much care and grow up very quickly.

Dwarf varieties of banana trees can grow anywhere between 2 to 4 meters. Compared to the ordinary banana trees that can reach up to 15 meters high.

Growing Banana Trees in Pots in Tropics

Growing banana tree in pot in a tropical climate is extremely easy, with little to no care banana tree grows in the container. If you’re living under USDA Zones 9 to 11, keep your banana tree in the shade in afternoon in summer, when the plant is young. All the other requirements are similar as given below in the article for temperate zones.

Banana Varieties you can Grow in Pots and Indoors

These dwarf varieties of banana tree restrict up to only 1.5 m to 4 m. (4 to 12 feet) tall and are suitable to grow in containers. You can also grow these banana varieties indoors.

  • Dwarf Red
  • Dwarf Cavendish
  • Dwarf Brazilian
  • Dwarf Jamaican
  • Rajapuri
  • Williams Hybrid
  • Gran Nain
  • Dwarf ‘Lady Finger’

If you would like to grow ornamental bananas check out these varieties:

 
  • Ensete ventricosum
  • Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’
  • Musa ornata

Also read: How to grow lemon in Pots

Requirements for Growing Banana Trees in Pots

Sun

Banana trees grow in tropical and subtropical parts of the world and therefore they love full sun, heat and humidity. If you’re growing banana tree you should keep it in a spot that receives the sun most of the day but preferably sheltered from the wind.

Soil

Growing Banana tree requires well-draining soil, sandy soil that is rich in organic matters and compost. Buy a good quality potting mix for your banana tree. If you are making it at home make sure to mix sand, perlite, and compost or manure.

Banana needs slightly acidic to neutral soil to produce those potassium rich nutritious bananas. The soil pH should be around 6 – 7. If your soil is alkaline mix sulfur to decrease the pH.

Also Read: How to Change Soil pH

Watering

Banana loves moisture. Water it regularly and deeply but care not to overwater. In summer, water it every day. It may need water even two times a day in hot weather or when it is root bound. Soil for growing banana plants should be kept uniformly moist. Reduce watering in winter.

Banana Plant in Pot Care

Humidity

Banana plant prefers humidity levels above 50%. To increase humidity level around the plant, mist the plant and place it on a layer of pebbles in a tray filled with water.

Overwintering Banana Tree

Banana plants stop growing when the temperature drops below 50 ° Fahrenheit.

Before the onset of winter, do heavy mulching and prune the leaves.

Put it in a warm, bright room till the spring.

Fertilizer

Banana is a fast growing plant and it requires heavy feeding to grow at its full strength. Fertilize young plant when it establishes well with nitrogen-rich fertilizer to help it grow faster. Once your banana tree in pot becomes mature enough to produce fruit, fertilize it with 15:5:30 fertilizer regularly.

Pests and diseases

Bananas are quite resistant to diseases, still when you see the leaves turning brown and drying at the edges it means you’re overwatering and if the leaves turn yellow, banana plant is having a lack of nutrients.

Some pests that might attack banana plant are banana aphids, banana weevil, and coconut scale. These pests can easily be repelled using organic pesticides.

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR GROWING A SUCCESSFUL GARDEN!

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