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Imagine...what if we all did this?

Imagine...what if we all did this?

At a gathering in 2010, two elderly farmers in bib overalls were presenting their work to create a food hub that distributed food to the local elementary schools. They talked about the challenges of having enough produce throughout the school year for the schools and competing with companies that shipped cheap food in from out of state. They also talked about growing up when everyone farmed iwth a horse and all of the food was local and organic. It's amazing what people can do when they decide they want something and are willing to work together for it. 

Denmark to become 100% organic country!

"Denmark is the most developed country in the world when it comes to organic products and their trade with the world but that’s not what the Danish government is settling with. The government has raised a whooping 53 million euros in 2015 in an effort to turn the country into an organic country. This is probably the most ambitious plan of the century but considering the fact that Denmark has already proved it’s love for organic food, this seems to be achievable."

"Denmark is also way ahead of other countries in terms of producing organic food. The country’s national organic brand will be celebrating 25 years in business, which makes it one of the oldest organic brand in the world. As a result, the organic exports have increased by a whooping 200% since 2007."



Gifts for Gardeners

Gifts for Gardeners

Planning gifts for gardening enthusiasts?  Here are some practical and fun items that will help your beloved gardener start 2016 off right. 



Books, Calendars, and Apps


1.    Tools

See here for a list of great tool ideas for gardeners. Gardeners will love hori hori, seeding tools, nitrile-palmed gloves, buckets and bags to organize tools, small wheelbarrows, kneeling pads and seats, broadforks, and more. b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_1779.jpg

   The best tools are often Japanese or Italian steel-bladed tools. Japanese tools can be specialized but are often beautiful, ergonomic, and durable. Simple design lines are helpful for keeping your tools clean. Wooden handles are beautiful, but often break down faster than plastic handled tools.  It is always worth investing in a better quality tool that is likely to last generations. 

   Besides cutting and aerating tools; watering cans, rain barrels, and drip irrigation systems might be on your gardener’s wish list. If your gardener has a small container garden, a watering can may be enough. Rain barrels, downspout diverters, and hoses are helpful for small gardens (as long as your state and municipality allow them). Drip irrigation and wicking supplies might be better for larger gardens and dry land garden systems. 


2.    Supplies

Besides durable tools, there are lots of things that gardeners enjoy this time of year in the way of supplies. Seeds, plant markers, pots and trays, heating mats, and grow lights extend capacity in the garden and are all appreciated. Plant markers—especially reusable ones for seed starting and annuals or more permanent metal markers for perennials--can help one remember what is what. Lights can help the gardener through the winter or starting seeds in the spring. Look for low energy lights to grow under. 

    Why not gift your gardener with unusual varieties and heirloom seeds? There are exciting discoveries and beautiful plant varieties found each year. Remember to check zone and light requirements for your gardener. 

    Soils and soil amendments might not be exciting to some gardeners, but there are a range of them to include in a fine gardening practice. Seaweeds and foliar feeds may be new to your gardener and helpful in creating beautiful, healthy plants in the summer. Seed starting soil blends along with trays, heat mats, seeds, and a grow light might be the perfect package gift. Why not put them together in a harvest basket? 

   Besides these, a small greenhouse or wrap (also called a fleece) might be perfect for starting seeds or protecting a Garden Tower


3.    Books, Calendars, and Apps

 This category ranges across many subjects, but every gardener should have access to information. Thomas J. Elpel wrote a fun book to help us understand plant classifications: 

b2ap3_thumbnail_gift-books.jpg Botany in a Day. It’s a small book and just as fun as his children’s book: Shanleya’s Quest. 

Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed is a great primer on seed saving, care, and starting.

   Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower and The Winter Harvest Handbook are two classics that bear a wealth of information and help the gardener and market farmer plan the coming year.

   For those interested in permaculture, Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden is great for a beginning book. Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook is a dense and practical approach to suburban permaculture practice[i]. Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is also full of practical approaches to permaculture design.

   Maria Thun’s Gardening for Life: The Biodynamic Way is a classic (albeit esoteric) introduction to this particular approach to gardening.

   Every gardener needs access to a calendar. Many people swear by the Farmer’s Almanac. The land grant university in one's state probably has an online calendar or planting guide accessible through the extension office. Here is one example.  Besides informational calendars, gardening journals to help a gardener plan, observe, and record the garden’s yearly activities is a thoughtful offering. 

   Apps are popular and several are geared to help you know when to plant in your area and to help one choose plants that will suit one's garden space—even helping you imagine what your designed space will look like through the season. In this case, a gift certificate to the app store might be just what is needed to round out a gift. 

   Remember, gardening not only produces beauty and food, but health and well-being to a gardening friend. What better gift could one give someone in the holiday season? 


[i] In the interest of full disclosure, Peter Bane has been a mentor and colleague for the past ten years. 


Double the Growing Power

Double the Growing Power

We wanted to highlight one of our Garden Tower growers, Bill Land. Bill has been gardening and working b2ap3_thumbnail_Bill-Land-setup.jpgtoward 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. b2ap3_thumbnail_First-Harvest.jpg

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!


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Eating and the Environment

Eating and the Environment

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.

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Summer Garden Tips

Summer Garden Tips

b2ap3_thumbnail_hconw1CC.jpgThe summer solstice marked the official start of summer and your spring peas are done and looking a little brown. The lettuce is getting lanky and bitter. You’ve nibbled the kale down to nubs. Now what?

Year-round harvest means rotating plants in and out of your garden space. Late spring and early summer are a good time to make some changes that will take you through a summer of harvests eating your fresh veggies and fruit. Here are eight steps to keep you going through the summer.


  1. Evaluate your garden. Remove spring plants that are done yielding and annual flowers that are finished for the season. Put them in your compost—remember to chop or break them up into smaller pieces if necessary.
  2. Find the gaps—Now you can see where the spaces and opportunities for plants are in your garden. Think about how much time you have until your first frost. Light is not a limiting factor now, but might slow a harvest later—about the time of frosts. For these reasons, expect to put transplants into those spaces instead of seeds. Also, remember that that cute little zucchini plant will spread very quickly now. That will be fine as you remove other spring annuals or broccoli, cauliflower, etc… at the end of their harvest.
  3. Consulting a planting calendar. Calendars like this one will help you know week to week what will work in your area. By mid-June major summer crops should be in. In the Midwest there is a gap of 2-4 weeks and then fall crops are seeded in flats. If you are still looking to plant something in the last part of June, summer squashes and bush beans might be your ticket
  4. Nasturtium leaf and flower are both delightful in flowersTreat your transplants well.  When transplanting seedlings now, expect to baby them more than at other times. Regular watering will be needed. Watering in the summer should be done in the early morning or near sunset and close to the soil so that you don't stress the leaves of the plants. You may need to prune plants back if they show signs of stress (yellowing leaves, wilting).
  5. Choose plants for heat and drought. Some of the best plants for heat and drought are our annual fruits and veggies. Tomatoes, Mediterranean-based cooking herbs, squash, eggplant, peppers, and beans are all tolerant of intense summers. Summer squash are shorter lived than winter squash. Malabar spinach (vs. other types) loves the heat. Ground cherries—a relative of tomatillo—are splendid in a summer garden—and a delightful treat.
  6. Choose small fruits over larger ones. Cherry tomatoes over beef steak tomatoes, for example. The smaller fruit ripen more quickly and over a longer period of time than larger fruits.
  7. Plan for fall. As you evaluate your garden you will get to know how soon your harvest of a plant will take place and what will die back. These plants create a space for your fall crops to fill. It’s easier to start your fall crops in trays and protect the trays from excessive heat, light, and drought than to protect seedlings directly sown into the garden. This is also the time to buy seeds you want to plant in the fall. Again, calendars provide excellent guides for what works in your area.meadowsweet
  8. Keep a record. There are lots of garden journals around. A simple calendar can be the simplest tool. Filling in an observation each day helps you become educated about your own garden and gardening style. It will help you anticipate when a pest will show up in the garden—or when to expect the harvest. 

Following these eight steps will help to keep you in fresh food well into the fall! 


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Integrating Pest Management

Integrating Pest Management

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


Caterpillars on kale_rkb.JPGHow 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.

beetles on milkweed_rkb.jpg 

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!

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