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!
Please note: nothing in this blog replaces the care of your trusted medical advisor.
Our modern world can be stressful. Financial, relationship stresses, sleep/waking cycles, electro-magnetic fields, and environmental toxins all play a part. There is good news. We can change our lifestyle philosophy and habits to embrace healthier options. Our choices on food are one way of doing that.
Get the lead out: choosing foods that chelate
When our son was about eight months old, he tested for higher lead levels. Whether the lead came from an old paint chip or crawling on the floor somewhere else, we don’t know. Each month for a few months his blood tests showed lead. The levels quickly fell within acceptable limits. Our family learned that foods high in vitamin C will help remove lead from the bloodstream: strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, etc…were high on his list of foods. Since that time I’ve been on the lookout for which foods help us release toxins.
Besides raw, high vitamin C foods, cilantro tends to pull heavy metals out of the body. Parsley is also our friend. Reportedly it is effective at removing mercury from our bodies. This is especially important in areas where coal-produced electricity affects the water supply.
Pump up the volume: choosing foods that support you
Besides eating foods to detox, our family chooses foods that support health including:
Sea vegetables. We now prefer those ethically harvested from the Atlantic Ocean and avoid those from the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico. They are naturally higher in healthy iodine and minerals—which help to protect the thyroid and keep it in balance. Hint: you can throw in a handful with your kimchi.
Raw, fermented foods. We love homemade kimchi, sauerkraut and gingerbeer. Kombucha, yogurt, kefir and many other foods make a regular appearance in our home. The bacteria used in the fermentation process are beneficial for your digestive system. They start to break down the food making the vitamins and minerals more available to your body. Nothing is as satisfying as dishing out a helping of kimchi made with veggies from your garden!
Mushrooms are another of our favorites—but you must cook them! They supposed to be good for everything from ridding yourself of a cold to fighting cancer. Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti has shared research that mushrooms exposed to sunlight for two days store many times the Vitamin D of their counterparts. Apparently this practice is so healthy that even squirrels do it! (Permaculture Activist, #86, November 2012)
There are some other things to consider incorporating into your weekly or yearly diet.
- Consider including detox regimes.
- Stress and relaxation programs help with balancing your hormones (especially cortisol and adrenaline).
- Water is critical for your health. Of course there are many other options. These are a few to get you started.
Permaculture Activist (now Permaculture Design Magazine) #86, November 2012
Fallon, Sally, Mary G. Enig, PhD. Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, Inc., 2001.
If you grow it, they will come. Pests.
Problems of all kinds crop up in the garden. Beginning gardeners sometimes get discouraged by the loss of a crop. It happens to everyone somtime—and often more than once. Don get discouraged! There are some things you can do to ensure your success and lessen the likelihood of unwelcome guests in the garden. You should also prepare for losses. In this blog, we'll cover:
How much can you tolerate and what are the effects of pests?
Why Integrated Pest Management?
Steps for Success
How much can you take?
Knowledge and experience will help you avoid losses, but some losses are inevitable. Having organic, fresh, nutrient-dense foods means produce doesn’t look perfect. That’s okay! The flavor and health in that food makes it superior!
Expect 10% losses—sometimes 30%! You can lose a small part of your harvest before it affects you. By using permaculture principle 1 (Observe and Interact) every day, you will know when something changes. Sometimes a seeming pest benefits the plants.
A short story: when I began my permaculture system, I was growing a lot of dill (more on that below). We had a caterpillar begin to seriously munch on the dill leaves. It turns out that it was a tiger swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. My young daughter and I enjoyed watching the caterpillars grow fat on the dill. We thought of the butterflies they would become. After the caterpillars wandered off to their cocoons I realizes that they’d pruned back the dill plants. They did this right before the strongest heat and light of the summer. All the dill plants made it through the heat waves—and there was plenty of dill for everyone!
Why integrated pest management?
Your food will be healthier for you and your family. You will have healthier food and environment by using integrated methods and avoiding toxins. What is better for you is also better for everything else in the environment. Beneficial insects, bacteria and fungi can find their balance in your garden. You also help reduce the build-up of pesticide resistance. So if you really do have to resort to using something, it will be more effective.
When you do have to intervene, experiment with what will work on that pest. What worked for a friend may not work for you: be willing to try different things! Also recognize that what might work for you one year, might not be appropriate the next year.
Setting up for Success
1. Plant a polyculture. This strategy has a lot of benefits. Companion planting is one step in the right direction. It puts plants that feed on different soil nutrients or that deter pests of the neighboring plants together. Go a step further and plant a true polyculture—mixing many types of plants together. Continuously rearranging plants in the garden avoids predictable patterns and keeps pests confused. This strategy can be an effective means of keeping populations distributed and creating opportunities for pest predators and beneficial organisms to find their niches, too.
Polycultures are more like natural ecosystems. They create lots of variety—in contrast to monoculture cropping. For a potato beetle, a few rows of potato monoculture looks like a buffet. When potatoes are mixed in with perennials, flowers, veggies and especially fragrant herbs, insects are more confused. A few may find your plants, but it is not likely to be hordes.
Another thing is to use plants that attract pest predators. By encouraging a rich ecosystem, it can correct itself. Plants in the carrot family (dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, etc…) attract predatory wasps. Don’t worry, these guys aren’t interested in you! Praying mantis and ladybugs showed up in our polyculture in the second season and have been increasing in numbers ever since. Spiders are helpful, too—though you may never see them.
Use strong smelling herbs and flowers (like marigold) to confuse insects that rely on smell to locate your favorite veggies!
If you grow in containers—like the Garden Tower—your ecosystem is small, but still active. Choosing your plants and arranging them with these tips in mind will help you achieve better plant health.
2. Space plants for good air flow and light penetration. Besides insect pests, bacterial and fungal problems can affect your garden yields. Soil fertility and management allow us to pack plants in, we want to make sure there is adequate air flow to discourage fungal growth. Breezes also discourage insects from settling on your plants. Good air-flow spacing also means plants get adequate light saturation to be productive. Remove dead or dying or infected leaves from plants.
3. Plant and harvest at the right time: By planting late or early and harvesting at the right time, you can avoid a wave of pests and their lifecycles. Last year, I planted winter squash around the fourth of July. By doing this I avoided the squash vine borer that can devastate a crop, but I also didn’t get much of a crop from the vines (which grew vigorously). This year, I’ll plant more plants and hope to get a better yield. It also turns out last year wasn’t a big year for vine borers.
4. Know what you’re dealing with: Identify the pests first. If you need help, send a picture or sample to a county extension agent or directly to your state’s land grant university. The agricultural programs at these universities may have different recommendations for you about what to do, but their knowledge and experience can be very helpful.
5. Support pest predators: Predatory wasps do love the carrot family (mentioned above). If you have an abundance of these foods in your garden, the wasps will come to live with you—and lay their eggs on the caterpillars of pests. Setting up homes for frogs, lizards, and birds and making water and spaces available to them will help to create a natural balance.
6. Use sacrifice crops: Plant extras of things that pests love and be willing to sacrifice some of them to the pests in exchange for more of what you want.
These are some passive ways to organize your garden to deal with pests. Pest management techniques also range into using traps (like a shallow pan of beer for slugs) and repellants of all kinds. Many of these are sold commercially and work well. Recipes for sprays also abound and most of the ingredients (like cayenne pepper) are common to your household.
Try some of these techniques and report back to us on how it went!
Microclimates are those areas around your home and garden with distinct temperature and moisture variations; exposure or protection from winds; and access to light. They create unique opportunities for variety in your garden plantings and the use of your home. In part I, we looked at the factors affecting microclimates (latitude, elevation, temperature, moisture, vegetation, and soil composition).
In this section, we’ll look at identifying microclimates. Then we’ll look at options to adapt to less than desirable microclimates or how to enhance positive areas.
1. Observe and interact. The first principle of permaculture according to David Holmgren comes into play here. Observe and interact with the microclimates in your space.
2. Once you’ve identified your microclimates, match those spaces to their best use for your home economy. Here is a simple worksheet to help you do that.
In the home:
Growing or producing items can improve your home economy (turning old t-shirts into quilts? Or some other craft). Do you have space for a workshop or sewing corner? Gardens? Mushroom logs?
Right behind production in the home economy comes the question of storage. How much storage do you have in your home? With the growth of the consumer society in the 1950’s space for storage in the home decreased. In recent years, home designers increased the amount of storage. This is not because we are more productive in the home economy, but because we consume more. Some savvy people are using that space for storing away their harvests, materials and other resources.
I often have my permaculture design students sketch a map of their homes. Then I ask them to put the pencil down in their bedrooms—pretending to move around as they would in a typical day. They discover the areas they use the most often. Many identify a cold or hot room or a room they almost never use—and why. Use cold rooms as cool storage for items that need to be dry (root veggies through the winter?). Mitigate overly hot rooms (next to a stove or furnace?) to be useable by increasing ventilation and shading (from the inside or outside). They also might be helpful spaces for drying herbs or veggies in the summer. Insulated curtains or a spread of indoor plants to absorb the sunlight and humidify a room can make a huge difference.
Dry, warm rooms with good air circulation are excellent for storing tea, herbs, and other smoked or dried foods—like the mint or basil from your Garden Tower! Or dried tomatoes. [For a treat, dry slices of tomato with basil and a diced garlic on a cookie sheet in the oven or in an electric dryer. Stack them in a glass jar and use in winter sauces and stews—or just as a yummy snack!]
Cold and cool dry rooms are good places for winter squash, potatoes, and apples. Old-timers (and some savvy younger generations) use cool bedrooms (which are better for sleeping) for keeping produce in crates under the bed!
When you observe these areas and begin to match need to use, your home economy improves dramatically.
In the garden
Microclimates are everywhere! They are a secret to the theoretical unlimited yield mentioned by permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison.
Microclimates affect the placement and success of gardens. Situate your garden where plants can get 6-8 hours of direct light. This is the amount of light needed for most annuals and perennials to bear fruit. If your garden area gets less than the minimum amount of light, don’t despair! Play with plants that bear in partial shade or even deep shade. Use Plants for a Future to help you find good options for your space. Try greens, potatoes, and anything in the brassica (broccoli) family. These are more likely to yield a harvest in a shady spot. You might want to consider thinning the tree canopy if that’s your limiting factor.
The second generation Garden Tower is fantastic because the rotating design allows you to turn the tower and even out the amount of light each section gets. If the tower is on casters, then you can move the tower into just the right place for what is growing.
If you live where there is too much light saturation—where intense light negatively affects plants--you need to change your growing area. They are usually areas with higher temperatures. Sometimes we find them at higher elevations (where the thinner atmosphere hits plants with more intense UV light). In these areas, light shade can improve your yields. An awning or a light over-story tree with dappled shade can be the easiest way to create a shade house. Shade cloth or placing your garden on an eastern wall can also help to get the right amount of light to your garden. Shading your garden has other benefits, too. It lowers temperatures. It limits light. And it eases the soil evaporation and transpiration sucking water away from these tender plants.
As ozone levels continue to change in our atmosphere and UV light intensifies, these strategies (common in the southwest US) will become more common throughout the continent. More of us need to experiment with growing under light shade. Your plants will tell you as they drop their leaves or slow productivity in the hottest parts of the summer.
Vegetation and buildings (and landscape features) also determine how wind moves throughout the landscape. Excessive exposure to wind tends to dry out the soil and place stress on the plants. Plants like being in a sheltered, sunny spot. Windbreaks make a big difference. At the same time, a light breeze can confuse or discourage pests. To create a windbreak, try to install something (a perennial planting or wall) that gently lifts the wind over the area you are using and sets it back down. To direct wind, use perennial plantings in a V shape with the V pointing towards the window or garden area you want to cool and the wider part of the V pointing toward the direction from which wind tends to come.
I’ve mentioned keeping plants cooler with shade, but keeping them warm enough to be productive is the other side of temperature and microclimates. It is THE key strategy for season extension in spring, fall and winter. The keys to passive heating are: (1) to create a barrier that traps warm air (like a hoop house or greenhouse); and (2) to use thermal mass to warm an area through the night. If this is not enough, you are looking at using a heater, which requires expense, maintenance and fuel of some kind. It is much simpler to insulate the greenhouse well and use thermal mass to absorb the sun’s energy from the day—re-radiating it out at night. You’ve all enjoyed a warm stone or brick ledge on a cool day. That is the one way of benefitting from thermal mass.
In greenhouses, people use stone, brick, gravel, and tanks of water to store away solar energy. Usually the tubs of water are black to be the most effective. With the Garden Tower, a wonderful thing happens as the core mass of compost and soil (which is also moist) absorbs a good deal of solar energy and stores it away—just where the plants want it. This is a win, win, win when the tower is in an enclosed area in the cooler months.
As you practice observing microclimates; become more familiar with the techniques to modify them; and learn about different productive plants you can include in your garden, your system will become more resilient and unique to your interests. Enjoy discovering your microclimates! Don't forget to put a hammock or other relaxation spot in your favorite microclimate! Please share what you learn with other gardeners on the Garden Tower Facebook page!
Cats and dogs are microclimate masters. They can identify that warm, cozy spot or that spot in the shade better than anyone. This post explores what goes into understanding microclimates. In the next one, we’ll look at how to apply this to your garden—and especially to your Garden Tower.
Microclimates are identifiable climates at a smaller scale. That scale can range from a few miles to a square foot in your garden where a particular plant can be happiest. We deal with microclimates all the time. Think about the coldest part of your house in the winter or the hottest in the summer. The sunny window is another microclimate in your home. Take a tour of your home and think about those spots! How could you use them to your advantage? (Indoor plants, root vegetable or seed storage, summer sleeping areas?)
Just like your home, the garden has many microclimates. Mid-latitude gardeners of the northern hemisphere often identify a shady, northern wall that is challenging. West facing patios where air temperatures warm throughout the day and then have overheat under afternoon sun are uncomfortable, too.
As a gardener and designer, the good news is that we can organize and create solutions modifying microclimates for our benefit. Some plants (cooking herbs from the Mediterranean or succulents from the southwest) love those sunny, hot, western areas.
There are several factors affecting microclimates: moisture, temperature, winds, vegetation, soil, latitude, elevation and season. Use your observations of your own microclimates to make your home more comfortable and your garden more productive.
Where you are in relation to the equator [latitude] affects your general microclimate. Closer to the equator, you may be in the tropical or subtropical zones. The soil in these areas does not hold fertility in the same way mid-latitude, areas. Temperate soils act as a battery for deciduous perennials—storing fertility (organic matter, sugars in roots, etc…) in the soil for use in the next season. The advantage of subtropical and tropical areas is that the sun’s light is more constant—allowing plants to hold their own fertility throughout year. The Polar regions have yet another set of microclimate factors to design for. We unconsciously adapt to the ecological limits of our latitude—internalizing the flow of the seasons, for example. We can’t change these factors—only adapt to them. We can become roficient at placing our productive plants in those mimates that suit them—and making duke they have enough protection through the winter or spring and season to be productive. We can make sure there is enough protection from intense light, rain, and heat to produce in the hotter, more humid zones.
Elevation also affects microclimates. At the home scale, plants growing at the top of a hill vs. the bottom can make a difference—they are different microclimates. In the evening, plants at the top of the hill, the mountain, the forest lose the warm air faster than plants on the lower slopes or in the valleys (where heavy cool air can also pool). Apartments in a taller building are more exposed to light and wind, for example. Again, we may not be able to change our elevation (unless we have a large farm, or the ability to change apartments). Usually, we have to get savvy about choosing the right plants to grow—adapted to our elevation—or using greenhouses and shade houses to protect our gardens.
Moisture affects microclimates a great deal. The moisture regime you are in—from arid areas to humid areas with dozens of inches of rain each year impact microclimates. Most of our productive plants need more water than less. Moisture in the soil and atmospheric moisture are both important to the life of the plant. For this reason, many plants’ leaves reflect their ability to modify the microclimate immediately around them.
A plant’s form reflects a balance between absorbing or deflecting light. The form tells us about how a leaf transpires or absorbs water and materials from the atmosphere. It tells us how the plant holds humidity around itself. A community of plants can, to some extent, regulate their own humidity and light levels. Ever see squash “wilt” in the intense summer heat—even though it just rained? They were lowering their leaves to self-limit light levels. This is how vegetation can affect microclimates.
Winds affect microclimates. It is a good idea to know your prevailing winds in both the summer and winter: they can change. You want to soften or block cold, northern winds or strong winds coming from large bodies of water. Likewise, tall buildings in urban areas speed winds up as they pass between buildings.
If you can enhance gentle breezes by creating a “path of trees and shrubs” for them, you can create a pleasant area, too. Letting prevailing, hot summer winds cross a pond or fountain before arriving at your patio, can be a good way to get a cooling, pleasant microclimate benefit.
Temperatures fluctuate a great deal in microclimate due to a whole host of other factors—many mentioned already. Latitude affects seasonal temperatures. Higher elevations see cooler temperatures or a wider range of temperatures throughout the day. Areas with more lush vegetation can be shady and cool in the understory and hot and humid at the edges. Temperatures near large bodies of water are more stabile—remaining warmer into the fall. Thermal mass affects microclimates in the garden a great deal. Any dense material that can absorb the sun’s light during the day and radiate heat out to the surrounding area creates thermal mass. Our homes create thermal mass. Brick walkways, and walls, tanks of water, and ponds all create thermal mass. They regulate the temperature and keeping plants warm in the shoulder seasons. Green houses--allow air to warm through the day and trap it inside—cool slower than the surrounding air. Shade houses prevent the sun’s light from entering an area—creating cooler zones in a hot climate.
In an upcoming post, we’ll take these factors together help you place your garden elements in just the right places to help them thrive.