September and October can be a great time to find some good deals on gardening supplies. Or maybe you’re already preparing holiday gifts for those favorite gardeners in your life. What should top your list?
Here are a few essential tools, we can’t imagine gardening without.
- Hori Hori—don’t let this name fool you. This tool, originating in Japan, is the number one tool for everything. It doubles almost daily as a trowel (marking the soil depth). It cuts branches and roots (for those tough weeds that just won’t budge). It easily cuts twine. The sharp edge can handle tough jobs, and the serrated edge takes out grass handily. Part digging stick, part root pruner, part trowel…these are completely worth the investment.
- Standard Trowel…this tool might have replaced the digging stick, it seems so old. I prefer a nice sharp pointed one for working in the soil. I save the rounded edge ones for measuring out potting soil and other soft material.
- Broad fork…for building permanent raised beds with good drainage and aeration, nothing works like a broad fork. These are relatively expensive for using in the spring and fall, so it can be a good idea to share the tool within a community.
- Weed forks and wrenches…help with those deep-rooted weeds like yellow dock that tend to come back if the root isn’t removed. These tools can save pulled muscles and strains.
- Shovels and spades…are some of the most versatile tools in the home. Specialized spades for planting small shrubs and trees can be just the trick.
- Gloves…These aren’t necessary. Some people prefer to have their hands in contact with the plants and soil. Others choose to use gloves. They can help protect your skin from briars, insects and more.
- Knee rests…usually these are foam pads that gardeners can kneel on. They save wear and tear on pants and make it a bit more comfortable to be on the ground. A small, portable bench for sitting or kneeling feels like a deluxe treat.
- Small wheelbarrow…a small, light wheelbarrow for putting weeds in or toting around mulch materials and tools can save your back and save you time.
- Rain gauge…it’s super helpful to monitor how much precipitation is falling on your garden and keep a record of what happens from year to year.
- Clogs…these might be listed last, but they keep the outdoors out and take a lot of wear and tear while supporting you in your garden rain or shine.
These are a few of our favorite things.
Care and cleaning
Tools can last decades with good maintenance. Buy the best quality tools you can afford and spend the time to take care of them. With bladed or metal tools, it is important to wash off any dirt and debris after each use, dry them well, and then store them dry out of the weather (a broad roof overhang will often do). Some people take a 5 gallon bucket, fill it with sand and cheap cooking oil. They use this to store their shovels, spades, trowels, etc….the sand helps to clean and the oil helps keep the metal in good condition.
Remember to pull your rain gauges in freezing weather so they don’t crack and break.
With these few tips, you can enjoy putting your garden to rest for the winter and know your tools and garden will be waiting for you in the spring (unless, you are gardening through the fall and winter!)
We wanted to highlight one of our Garden Tower growers, Bill Land. Bill has been gardening and working toward an abundant world for most of his life. Bill worked in planning and zoning for many years and has been involved in projects that promote community-building in Illinois and Indiana. Throughout that time, Bill has gardened. He has been gardening with the Garden Tower since almost the inception of the Garden Tower Project. This year he set up his towers a bit differently. We wanted to share with you what he did, incase you are interested in trying it next time you plant your Garden Tower.
The first thing to note, is that Bill doubled up each of the pockets with lacinato kale, romaine lettuce, and rainbow chard. In the spring, he alternated these three types of plants in diagonal rows. In the top ring of each tower, there are three Bloody Butcher tomatoes, three basil, and two bush beans. This means he had 95-100 plants in the Garden Tower at any given point (remember, you can rotate out plants and add new ones throughout the season). The plants are getting the support they need in the soil, because rich, complex nutrients are available right at the root zone! This is one of the great secrets for healthy, nutritious fruits, flowers, and veggies.
For amendments, Bill added Dr. Earth and a goat/horse manure mix were added to one tower. The other tower had: Dr. Earth, manure mix, and azomite. He also experimented with putting copper and other metals near the tower to attract a beneficial electrical charge--encouraging plant growth.
These two spring towers were planted the on May 3, 2015. The first harvest was on day 26—and continued to go strong throughout the summer despite copious amounts of rain.
If you are interested in sharing your story with the Garden Tower as a feature, contact us!
The debate around genetically modified organisms is intense this year as labeling laws and bans and bans on bans are taken up. GMO technology has become pervasive in our world; and its impact on our food supply gets most of the attention. Is your food safe or isn’t it?
Whether you believe GMOs are dangerous or not, the majority of people agree we should have an option to know whether the food we buy contains them. And this is where GMOs get even more confusing. Many companies voluntarily label their foods GMO-free. Others don’t.
There is also the belief that if you buy organic, your food is also GMO free. This was called into question by Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen in a July 8 opinion piece for Forbes magazine. The key passage is includes this quote from USDA officials:
“As USDA officials have said repeatedly: “Organic certification is process based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the [National Organic Program] regulations . . . If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation” [emphasis added].
This language is probably meant to protect the investment farmers have made in certifying organic and the value of organic as a label. It also means that due to genetic drift or other means, organic food may have GMO “residue” in it.
Miller and Kershen go on to point out the issues with certification and accountability with organic certification programs. Among their points, they report that there are only two conditions under which organic produce can be tested: 1, if the farmer is suspected of intentionally violating organic standards; 2, 5% of the operations certifiers work with are tested annually.
The authors' bottom line is that eating organically doesn't guarantee your food is GMO free. They seem to miss the point that farmers choose not to use materials like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that will compromise their certification. This means the food is not sprayed with synthetic toxins and that natural, organic substances are used. In addition, growers are becoming savvy to dealing with genetic drift by using measures like planting corn earlier than GMO corn is planted so that pollination times are staggered.
Does this mean throw out the value of eating organically? By no means! Becoming more aware about the concerns surrounding food safety and helps us understand why we want to buy and eat certain foods—or turn more towards growing our own.
When it comes to food, soil is where it’s at. There’s the adage: healthy soil=healthy plants=healthy people. It’s true! That’s why nutrient dense foods are as important to identify as organic or local foods. Growing your own in an active soil food web is key.
We focused on what goes into healthy soil in a blog from May this year…and there’s more. Many of us live in urban or rural areas that have damaged and contaminated soils: oil spills, herbicides, asphalt and concrete bases in the soil, etc. In fact, it might be safe to say that most of us have something to consider in our environment. This blog isn’t meant to be a “doomer downer” entry, but to introduce to you some techniques to heal our soils:
- Microbial remediation uses the bacteria and other microbes present in a healthy soil food web. Composting and applying compost as well as increasing the variety of plant species present are two of the keys.
- Phytoremediation uses plants as the primary processors of toxins. Plants can extract the toxin (and then be removed themselves) or break the contaminant down, or bind it up.
- Mycoremediation uses fungi to process contaminants. These are especially good at long-chain carbon substances (such as those made from oil).
These three techniques alone, or in combination, can do much to work with natural processes to break down or bind up toxins. Remediated landscapes are then much healthier for people, plants and animals to be in.
Don’t go it alone! More research and working with specialists in the subject can help you to assess and formulate a plan for how to address an area safely. Healing a damaged landscape can take years to fully realize.
Community groups together with municipalities are more appropriate to make decisions for larger common spaces. Many municipalities and states mandate capping the damaged soil with clean soil brought in from outside. Just like throwing a rug over your dirty floor, capping is not a complete solution. While, it is an understandable approach given financial and time constraints, it might be worth suggesting alternative test plots using remediation and proceeding carefully from there.
If you want two sources to inspire you, please do check out Earth Repair: A grassroots guide to healing toxic and damaged landscapes by Leila Darwish (2013) and the work of Paul Steamiest of Fungi Perfecti. Both are cautious, optimistic, and passionate about transforming our landscapes into healthier places for future generations.
Welcome August and the bounty of the summer garden! This is a wonderful time of year to share some of your prize veggies with your friends and brag a bit about your growing skills in the garden (pun intended). We know how to enjoy our harvest, but we often miss a secondary harvest that will reap many rewards for you—saving seeds! Even if you didn’t garden this year, you can save seeds from the foods you eat.
The world of seed saving can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be to get started. Starting out is simple and only requires a few household items, time and experimentation. Here are some of the benefits:
- Saving the cost of seed for the next growing cycle
- Knowing the source of your seed and its production conditions
- Self-reliance and increased confidence
- Fascination with the history of seeds! (Warning, it can become an obsession.)
- Breeding your own, localized varieties—and naming them
- Refining varieties that are adapted to your local environment
So how do you get started?
1. Gather seeds from foods you’ve grown and foods you like to eat (especially organic foods). ★
Here are some suggestions for getting started: peppers, squash, tomatoes (note these need to be fermented), beans, peas
2. Treat the seeds: Tomatoes need to be submerged in water for about three days until the gelatinous coating ferments off and the seeds are able to be dried on a paper towel. This is one of the more “science lab” types of seeds to be saved. Most seeds just need to be left to dry out for a few days. Remove any seeds that seem damaged or affected by mold or bacteria.
3. Label and store. Once the seeds are dry, you can store them away for use in the future. Seeds should be labeled (type, specific variety, date saved, source). They should be stored in cool, dry storage. Some seed savers stick their silica packets from consumer goods in the oven to reactivate them and then put them in the envelopes or tins or jars with the seeds. I re-use envelopes from mailings and store my seeds in tins organized by the next season I’ll start sowing them.
Your seeds are now waiting for their chance to shine in your garden!
Resource for further reading and research:
Ashworth, Suzanne. Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners. Seed Savers Exchange, 2002.
★ Organic foods may have a better possibility of being more true between the vegetable or fruit you eat and the next generation. But not always. Buying from local farmers that use open-pollinated (and even heirloom) vegetable seed is the best option. However, even if you have a hybrid in your seed collection, by continuing to select for the best qualities, you can arrive at something unique and valuable.
It’s the high heat of summer. Believe it or not, it’s time to get your fall garden under way. July is the month to plan your fall and winter gardens, start seeds or obtain young starts. It's a good idea to use transplants if you live in the colder zones or high heat. If you’re in the heat of zones 9-11, you’ve probably had a slow month in the garden, and now is the time to introduce new things.
First, evaluate your garden. Take out underperforming plants or those that have finished fruiting and harvesting. Next, look at those plants that will finish in the next month and those that will finish in two months (September/October). Also identify those plants that might overwinter or that you will let go until they produce seed. Now you will know which areas are opening up for the next round of growth and production. Remember, start seeds or locate where you will obtain transplants now. This is especially true for those in more northern latitudes, as production drops when natural light fades. Alternately, consider giving your indoor garden more light. Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs are the most cost effective.
Recordkeeping. Make a record of how varieties performed this season and anything that you believe negatively affected your plants. You can start to identify the pattern to garden woes such as: moths, heat, rain, bacterial infection and other problems. Also note varieties that performed exceptionally well.
Seed Stock. Leftover seeds from the spring can get you started. As a general rule small seeds have a harder time surviving from season to season. You may have lower germination rates with tiny seeds. Review your seed stocks and order now. You might also find seeds at a discount at a local greenhouse. You can even buy a little extra to get you started in the late winter/spring. It’s a good idea to have dates on your seeds and keep a supply of them on hand.
Challenges: keeping them cool and moist! Start your seeds in the shade and keep them moist. Shade cloth can help you regulate temperatures and moisture. In the heat seedlings can dry out if not carefully attended to. Other challenges can come from pests that enjoy the tender new plants. Again, shade cloth or netting can help deter unwanted attention.
Once your seedlings are ready—or your transplants purchased—popping them into the right spots is pretty easy. Baby these transplants a little while they adjust in the warm season to their new homes. Give them adequate water and protection from intense light or heat for the first week. Once they adjust, they will provide your garden with fresh life, new beauty, and the next round of interesting things to watch—and eat!