Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Add to My MSN


Potlucks led to SOIL SISTERS: A Celebration of Farms and Rural Life

Ask a woman farmer and homesteader what her best source of information is, and she probably won’t send you online to a website.  Undoubtedly, it will be another fellow farmer. The strength of our sustainable and organic agriculture movement deepens and widens through our support of each other.  Given this support network, it comes as no surprise that women farmers are among the fastest growing segments of new farmers today.

Take those connections a step further in your own community by creating a local farmer network in your area.  That’s exactly what seeded over five years ago when a group of women committed to sustainable agriculture started meeting regularly for potlucks here in my south central area of Wisconsin.  This area ranks in the heart of America’s conventional dairyland, where organic and small-scale farmers are still the underdog minority.  For that underlying reason, it quickly became apparent that our fledgling group shared a priority to connect regularly and support each other.

Soil Sisters Celebrates Women Farmers

Flash forward to 2016 and our “South Central Wisconsin Women in Sustainable Agriculture” group’s impact can be felt locally, both from an economic and educational perspective.  Our flagship annual event now lures both tourists and locals to over twenty women-owned farms to experience sustainable agriculture and rural living at its finest.  Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life, the name for this event, is now a project of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) and Renewing the Countryside, with funding support from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

The Soil Sisters event consists of a full weekend of engaging and interactive on-farm activities held the first weekend in August; the dates this year are August 5 – 7, 2016.   From our MOSES In Her Boots workshop for aspiring women farmers to culinary events to a free Soil Sisters: Tour of Farms that involves eight women-owned operations, our local farmer network’s impact goes beyond dishes served around a potluck table.  We’re positively impacting our community, from the food we grow, land we nurture and business we drum up.

Today, our South Central Wisconsin Women in Sustainable Agriculture group boasts over 125 active area women that gather at six on-farm potlucks throughout the year, minus a winter break. What continually amazes me is the long, growing list of tangible outcomes that come out of women who informally, but regularly, gather over supper. A beginning farmer connected with a woman with extra land to lease, and a partnership formed. Some women started a chicken feed buying co-op to enhance their collective buying power. Countless baby goats, heritage hogs, and local insurance agent recommendations are shared.

Women Entrepreneurs Launching Local Businesses

The outcomes from these gatherings go beyond the sharing economy.  They spark new businesses and dollars flowing into our community and local economy. For example, Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates met at a potluck and eventually formed a strong business partnership. Landmark was already on her way to earning her cheese making license but needed a partner to help with the business and marketing side. Bates, a food writer savvy on the food scene, gladly filled that role. The duo launched what is now an award-winning cheesemaking venture: Landmark Creamery.

Landmark Creamery cheese

“We’re both moms with kids in the same school district, but we never met until these women-in-agriculture potlucks,” reminisces Landmark. “Even if we had met in a school setting, I’m not sure we would have had the opportunity to connect in a way that we did over cheese and wine. The potluck provides a welcoming, supportive setting through which women like myself and Anna feel comfortable sharing our big picture visions and dreams.”  At the Soil Sisters event, you can meet “the Annas” at their two workshops, two of many "Green Acres Workshops":  Home Cheese Making and an All Local Wine and Cheese Pairing at Hawk’s Mill Winery with winery co-owner Teresa Joranlien.

“Twenty years ago, I felt pretty much like the Lone Ranger when we started,” shares Dela Ends, who runs Scotch Hill Farm with her husband, Tony Ends.  Their CSA in Brodhead, Wisconsin, is certified organic.  “It is so wonderful to see the growing number of sustainable and women farmers in our area thanks to this network and the connections made.  We supply organic produce, meat and milk soap to Cow and Quince.  We have purchased two Oberhasli Bucks we share with Lucky Dog Farm.  Our South Central Wisconsin Farmers Union Chapter was born out of this group of amazing people, along with the Soil Sisters event.”  Dela’s Scotch Hill Farm is on both the Tour of Farms and hosting two workshops: Baking the Best Buns Ever and DIY Body Care Products.

A local network can provide that support you need when you perhaps can’t find it elsewhere.  “It really helps me to receive back-up verbal support from other women farmers because I don’t always get that from some members of my family or community,” adds Katy Dickson of Christensen Farm in Browntown, Wisconsin.  Christensen will also be on the Tour of Farms and facilitating two workshops:  Farmer for a Day and her sister will lead Plein-air Art on the Farm: Painting in the open air.

“The impact of these women farmers building local networks and resulting events like Soil Sisters bring strong economic ripple effects into our broader community,” shares Cara Carper, Executive Director of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  “Soil Sisters lures tourists to the area who specifically seek out local and organic food options on the menu.  This then prompts interest of other restaurants in the area to start incorporating locally-sourced produce and seasonal items on their menus, which in turn grows the successful businesses of our local farmers and restaurants, which bring more tourists.”

“Build it and they will come” may work for a baseball field of dreams in the middle of Iowa.  But it also adds up to good advice when you harbor this need to connect with other local like-minded farmers. Start initiating, keep inviting and stay in it for the long term and you will amaze yourself with the women who show up around the table, thanks to your leadership.

Come visit during this year’s Soil Sisters weekend and meet our network firsthand.  Hopefully you’ll return home with inspiration to launch your own area gatherings, changing your community for the better, one potluck at a time.

Lisa Kivirist is the author of Soil Sisters and founder of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She is also Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. With her husband John D. Ivanko, she has co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Acrobatic slug munching on a Stargazer lily bud.

Super slug acrobat munching a Stargazer lily bud.

After my success with the potato bugs, I was feeling quite cocky. Until today. I have just come in from my garden where I noticed those shiny, slimy tell-tale slug trails in my veggies and a number of cucumber leaves with large slug-munch holes. Gah!

I live in the slug capital of the world. Well, at least it feels that way. We do see an occasional snail, but for the most part, it is those long, brown European red slugs, Arion rufus. In my area, they are rusty brown to really dark brown, and some are probably the black slug Arion ater, but without dissecting the things to check out the reproductive anatomy, there is no way to tell.

Frankly, makes no difference what their names are, and the closest I will ever come to dissecting a slug is cutting one in-half with my garden trowel. There are other species of slugs here, but these are the ones I find in my garden. Now for a little slug-fo ("slug" and "info". Clever, eh? I’m like that, you know).

'Slug-Fo' 101

Slugs belong to the large class of gastropods, from the Latin gastro (stomach) and pod (foot), and they do in fact serve a purpose by literally eating their way through life. Makes sense if you are basically just a stomach traveling around on a slimy foot — and eat they do!

These slime-coated denizens of my garden are not particularly picky eaters, which makes them useful in the environment — just not my garden. By breaking down dead organic matter, including animal feces, nitrogen, and other essential nutrients, get recycled and reused in different ways. I hate to admit it, even by fertilizing the soil.

Also, believe it or not, slugs are a part of some animal diets. Birds, like geese, ducks, chickens, blackbirds, and thrushes, as well as frogs and toads, are a few of the slug connoisseurs in our world.

Slugs reproduce by finding a mate or through self-fertilization since they are hermaphrodites. My local European slugs can lay up to an unsettling 500 eggs a year! If only they would stick to dead stuff and the dog poop. I have yet to be successful with slug training or relocation efforts, and thus my garden continues to be a slug battle zone.

Radish casualties.  

Slugs love my radishes.

Slug Anatomy for Dummies

If you look at the acrobat on my oriental lily (top photo), you can clearly see a large hole called the "pneumostome," or breathing hole. This is situated in the slug’s mantle, a vestigial anatomical area that, if he/she were a snail, the shell would be secreted from here. This is also where the slug sucks its head into for protection.

Under the mantle is the slug’s anus and genital openings. You can see a faint line running under and sort of parallel to the hole and this is the bottom margin of the mantle. The long, light-brown line running somewhat the length of my now-deceased circus slug is its skirt. Above the skirt is the foot and below the skirt is naturally the sole in goofy slug anatomy.

The two long tentacles on the amazing Sluggo’s head are light-sensitive opticals with the shorter tentacles underneath that area being sensory for tasting and feeling. I am so thankful my taste buds are not on my fingertips. They also smell through their eyes (optical tentacles).

Here is the disturbing part: Slugs have mouths full of teeth! Literally rows of thousands of rear-facing replaceable teeth that they use not only for eating my radishes but also fighting each other. If you are a banana slug, those teeth can make for some pretty perilous sex. It is a bit X-rated, so I won’t go into details, but it sounds like it is all fun and games until one slug chews off the other’s, ahem, appendage. Enough of the slug parts.

 Slime trail.

A petunia's leaves with slug slime.

Sluggomotion: Slip-Sliming Away

How does a slug get around my garden? Up a 3-foot lily? It’s all about the foot, ‘bout the foot, ‘bout the foot, and mucous. More than one type of mucous at that.

The slug’s slime is a multi-purpose mucous that keeps the gastropod from drying up into little slug raisins (muffin anyone?), leaves a trail for future mates to find them by (imagine if this were true for humans), provides self-defense, and lubricates their way around the world. Not all slug slime is created equal, though. After all, a slug cannot live by thin slime alone – one must have thick slime for traction (like climbing up lily stalks).

Then there is that muscular foot. Through a series of complicated muscle movements, the amazing Sluggo and his/her acrobatic buddies slide around, up and down, and all around, wagging their slug trails behind them. Propulsion created through waves of muscular motions and some slimy-goo for those hard-to-reach spots.

 Can o' beer trap success!

Successful can o'beer trap!

Time for the Punch Line: How to Control Slugs

I use several different prongs of attack in my war against slugs. There are other safe methods — these are my favorites and have worked the best for me and my garden.

Encourage natural predators to visit. Create habitats for toads and frogs and feeding stations to attract a variety of birds.

Frequently monitor for damage. This is very important to baiting and slaying. Know your enemy! Slugs do most of their feeding at night. During the day, they hide in cool, moist spots such as under flower pots (being squishy has it perks), rocks, wood, debris, and similar. Search and destroy missions should be targeted at these areas.

I have also found walking around after a light rain is helpful, since this brings them out of hiding. One spring evening, just about dusk, I went walking around my yard and those brown buggers were everywhere! I quickly donned some most stylish vinyl gloves and started “picking.” I filled a gallon bag. No joke. It was a triumphant, albeit gross, moment.

Beer traps are a favorite but require thoughtful placement. I use two types: cat food cans sunk into the ground and glass jars on their sides. The cans should not be flush with the ground – this prevents beneficials from accidentally stumbling in. The horizontal jar is slightly angled to help the beer pool at the bottom and keeps most of the rain or sprinkler water from filling the trap up. I do not empty them every day unless the trap has filled with slugs.

There are also commercially made traps. These are more eye-appealing, if that is a concern. These guys are not beer snobs. Cheap is fine. I had a homebrew batch that didn’t turn out well and use it and the slugs are loving it to death!

Using slug bait. I was using a purportedly safe slug bait and killer product that contains iron phosphate. However, the more I read about it, the more skeptical I am. Even though it was approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), I don’t think we know enough. Remember, there was a time in the not-so-remote past that people thought glyphosate was safe.

By the way, the next time you get slimed, wipe it off before washing. That mucous is hydrophilic, meaning it loves water and will become more instead of less. What are your tried and true safe slug slaying methods?

Susan Slape-Hoysagk is a registered nurse who moved her family to the northern Oregon coast in order to live a more self-reliant life. She gardens and cans and enjoys backpacking, hiking, camping, skiing and swimming in the nearby lake. Connect with Susan on her Dreaming in a Sleepless World Blog and on Facebook. Read all of Susan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


The Market Gardener Book Cover

For those wishing to create a livelihood from the land, yet perhaps scared of how to make the numbers work, this new book by Jean-Martin Fortier is a revelation: The Market Gardener: A Successful Growers Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming (New Society Publishers, 2014).

A step-by-step guide that lays out practical know-how, Fortier has done his due diligence to learn from those who have innovated in the past and compiled successful strategies into one small successful farm. In a time of “feel good stories” that may or may not be financially solvent, Fortier simply hands over to the reader the blueprints to confidently launch and run a small-scale market garden.

A Brief History of Bio-Intensive Farming

Fortier’s book builds upon the teachings of Rudolf Steiner in Europe. The “French Bio-Intensive Method” was brought to America by Alan Chadwick and showcased at U.C. Santa Cruz’s Chadwick Gardens. This venue provided the learning lab for numerous baby-boomer students of Chadwick.

Of this rich legacy of students, the bio-intensive method was most popularized by student and author John Jeavons in his book, How to Grow More Vegetables. As Jeavon’s luminary text laid out concise plant spacing charts to achieve maximum production per square foot, so too does this book lay out explicit plans for success.

Tools for Financial Success

Fortier’s farm in Quebec, Canada, produces $150,000 per year in merely 1.5 acres of intensive production.

From startup expense spreadsheets to in-depth planting charts and rotation planting plans, Fortier walks the reader through all phases of vegetable production for market. A young farmer still in his 30s, this no-nonsense approach appeals to readers wanting guidance in how to grow successfully, not reasons why it is important.

The abundant spreadsheets and charts help turn concepts into easily interpreted images. The fact that he makes $150,000/year (gross) on 1.5 acres has the calming effect of encouraging the reader to take a try in this rapidly growing industry of small-scale ecological farming.

This book walks the reader through crop profiles regarding season length, spacing, fertility (heavy versus light feeders) and profitability of each crop per square foot. In this way, the reader can follow the step-by-step guide and achieve an educated jump on how to orchestrate the many moving parts of a vegetable farm.

Further, Fortier provides multi-year rotation charts to ensure soil health and prevent pathogens from spreading between plants of the same botanical family.

Inspiration for Beginning Farmers

The human-scale success of the Fortier’s story and the infectious passion he conveys in his writing sparks an enthusiasm to get out there and try these organic cultivation concepts.

Written in 2014, this text gives a modern update to the bio-Intensive method of crop production in small acreage. By humbly presenting past mistakes as well as home-grown innovations, Fortier’s words are rooted in action, not rhetoric.

I had the pleasure of hearing him lecture at a local food conference this past winter, and surely his willingness to travel throughout his winter off-season to spark interest around the nation shows his passion to share and incite the grand experiment of producing a livelihood from humble acreage. 

For all Acres USA readers with an inclination to attempt market gardening, this book is a tangible support structure to follow suit and turn that fallow paddock into a productive and profitable small-scale farm.

Through all phases of farming — planning, planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing, to sales and market research — this book is a how-to guide to instill in the reader a newly found confidence to begin production of market vegetables.

The Market Gardener is a no-frills support guide that empowers the reader to get involved in positive local change, and make a decent living while doing so.

Find The Market Gardener in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.

Joshua Burman Thayer is an ecological landscape designer and writer, based in Vallejo, California. Find him at Native Sun Gardens, and read all of Joshua’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


When we first began work on our remote lake front homestead in the Precambrian Shield, we knew gardening would be a challenge. Being above the 56th parallel, we are in Zone 0, the harshest zone per Ag Canada.

We're faced with a short, fickle growing season where frost can occur at any time during the summer months. Because this was virgin wilderness, our first course of action was to clear all garden and orchard areas of trees and roots (read a previous post about that here.)

Next, we were faced with the daunting task of improving the poor boreal-forest soil. Actually it's more accurate to say we “made soil” as the layer of topsoil was very thin as shown in the photo. The following paragraph from my book, Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness, gives you an idea of what we were up against.

One of the characteristics of the Precambrian Shield is poor, thin soils, and our sandy knoll was no exception. As soon as I started rototilling, it was evident that a thin layer of moss and decaying organic matter was all that covered our new garden spots. At most, 2 inches of top soil existed.

I can clearly recall one of the bush pilots saying to me when he first saw us establishing garden areas, “So you think you're going to have a garden here?” To which I replied, “yes.”

Clearly he was skeptical and not without reason. But that pilot was out during the following summer and he remarked with genuine sincerity what a great garden we had going. I think we earned his respect at that moment.

To begin the arduous soil building process, we scraped up all organic matter and topsoil from the future sites of the house, storage shed and woodshed prior to building. Transporting this material by wheelbarrow, we dumped the contents onto the garden areas and tilled it in.

This process has continued every year, except material is now collected from the surrounding forest. Here again I refer to my book.

    Two Inches of Top Soil

Two inches of poor topsoil

With a pH of 4 to 4.5, the soil in its natural state is perfect for blueberries, cranberries and potatoes, but much too acidic for most vegetables. This has been easily corrected with the application of ash from our wood stoves.

Because we are constantly adding acidic organic matter each year, we spread wood ashes each year, too. During the growing season, if we notice any plants that are pale and not thriving, a dusting of wood ash at their base quickly rectifies the problem. They become a vibrant green and resume growing properly.

Soil fertility was also a big issue. The soil was deficient in everything. Here's what we did initially until we learned a hard lesson.

Early on, we wanted to increase the soil fertility. To do this we opted to use manure, a traditional choice. We made the mistake of flying in a large quantity of store-bought, bagged manure.

In hindsight, this was a big error because the product was never composted properly and, as a result, we imported many non-native weed species. We have been weeding the garden of these pests ever since. Unfortunately, they are a prolific bunch.

To avoid the introduction of more weed seeds we stopped using the bagged manure and switched to bone and blood meal. And, of course, we make and use compost. The end result of all these efforts is a thick layer of rich topsoil visible in the photo.

Nine Inches of Top Soil

Nine inches of dark, loamy soil

We employed the same soil building methods in the greenhouse beds, herb garden and asparagus/strawberry patch.

To illustrate how successful our soil-building program has been, I'll share the sad saga of our asparagus with you. We love asparagus. We were eager to get a big patch established when we first settled here. We dug trenches and worked in organic matter, planted the roots and watched them die.

After ordering plants for the second time and having them winter kill, we decided to give it one more shot, but only after intensive soil improvement. I double dug the entire area, about 10 feet by 60 feet, and Johanna kept me supplied with innumerable wheelbarrows of organic matter from the woods which I worked in by hand. I am happy to say all the effort was worthwhile as we now have an established asparagus patch which gives us enough for fresh eating.

Turning the poor soil of the Precambrian Shield into viable garden soil has been a strenuous task, but it has been worth it as the gardens provide us with year-round sustenance.

To learn more about our off-grid homesteading life, I invite you to participate in our free E-book download this coming weekend July 23 and 24th, 2016.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published bMoon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


 July Garden Bounty

July garden bounty

The summer garden is in full swing. July is the time of year for harvesting the heat lovers like tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, sprouting broccoli, green beans, all types of peppers, garlic, basil with other Mediterranean herbs.

Peppers, zucchini, and eggplant are just ready to start harvesting, but will be in mid July. My tomato plants have many baby tomatoes and are typically ready to start harvesting by the 4th of July. I just re-planted my cucumber plants for the third time. They love this heat and humidity so should be producing within the month.

1. Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden
2. Growing zucchini and summer squash
3. Peppers are for every taste and garden
4. Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes
5. Cucumber info and tips for growing

By the end of the month, there will be more summer veggies than we can eat and will start preserving the extra. Preservation garden

The spring greens have bolted, but there are summer greens that are robust during the hot days of summer. My favorites are salad burnet, Swiss chard, collards, Malabar spinach, mustard greens, New Zealand spinach, orach, sorrel, sprouting broccoli and cultivated dandelions. Growing summer salads

The spring lettuce has gone to seed. When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save. I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator. I also re-seeded our self watering pots with some of the seeds. I had a few small volunteer lettuce plants elsewhere in the garden that I transplanted to the pots as well. The lettuce seeds I planted last month have sprouted and are ready to transplant. Never ending salad from one packet of seeds

There are even a select few varieties of lettuce that can stand up to summer heat:

• Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
• Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
• Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
• Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”

If you haven't already, now is the time to plant these heat champions. Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

Edible and Decorative Garden Bed

Edible and decorative garden bed

The pole green beans are putting out beans consistently. Harvest them to keep them producing. I keep a quart bag in the freezer and add mature green beans as they are ready for picking. The other legume, my snow peas, have finished producing for the season. I love to eat them right off the vine. Not many of these beauties made it to the kitchen! Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

I have already harvested the garlic, including the elephant garlic. I love elephant garlic as the cloves are as their name suggests, they are huge! When pulled, I will harden both types in the shade outdoors for two weeks before storing indoors. Hardening is critical for the garlic to not rot when stored. Save the biggest cloves for replanting in the fall. Garlic harvest time is near!

Our basil has been slow to get started but is now off to the races. The trick to keeping the plants from getting woody is to make sure to harvest down to the first few sets of leaves before the plants go in to full flower. It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall. Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Oregano, mint, and catnip is in full bloom. The bees love the small lavendar flowers! It could be cut and dried now, but I love the flowers, too, and will wait until fall. Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

I fertilized all the pots again as well as the basil to keep it growing. Pots lose nutrients at a much higher rate than garden beds. I am using a foliar spray on all the plants at least every other week and using a solid fertilizer monthly around each plant. I like Espoma. I use their tomato fertilizer for all fruit producing plants and their general purpose vegetable fertilizer for all other veggie and herb plants. Decorative container gardening for edibles

Adding Flowers to Edible Pots

Adding Flowers to Edible Pots

I have started using a mineral supplement for my plants this year. Right now I am using Azomite. So many soils are low in minerals. Your plants can't absorb what the soil does not have. Adding minerals to the plants and soil will significantly increase the minerals in the plant itself, giving you minerals in the veggies you eat. The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

A key to keeping the garden productive this time of year is to keep even moisture to all the beds and containers. Water the beds weekly and deeply. During hot, dry periods, your containers may need watering every other day. Self-watering pots with reservoirs in the bottom are the trick to extending watering duties. Summer garden tips

For more on organic gardening in small spaces, see Melodie's blog at

Happy gardening!

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page


plastic plant pot

Don’t just throw away those plastic pots your plants came in! Here are our six favorite ways to reuse and recycle plant pots.

1. Plant halo.

Take an old plastic pot and cut off the bottom. Push it partway into the soil, and then plant your tomato inside. When you water the plant, the pot will retain the moisture and let it gradually soak into the soil at the roots.

You can also add more potting soil or compost into the halo when you plant to encourage more roots to grow from the buried part of the stem. This will provide more nutrients and support for the plant.

2. Planting guide when potting into a larger container.

When repotting a plant into a larger container, first add some potting soil to the new container. Place an empty plastic plant pot the same size as the smaller, original one into the middle of the container, and then continue to fill around it. Remove the pot to leave a hole just the right size for your plant.

3. DIY bug hotel.

Stuff a pot with short lengths of bamboo cane, hollow stems, twigs, or corrugated cardboard, and then site the DIY bug hotel on its side in a safe, sheltered spot.

4. Twine holder.

Put your ball of garden twine into an old plastic pot and feed the end through one of the drainage holes. Attach duct tape over the top of the recycled plant pot to stop the ball of twine from falling out.

5. Crafts.

You can decorate old plastic pots using non-toxic paints, burlap, rope, cloth, shells, or mosaic pieces to create a unique container.

6. Harvesting basket. 

A large plastic pot makes a handy container for harvesting vegetables. Its drainage holes will enable quick and easy cleaning of your fresh produce.

Learn more about how to reuse and recycle plant pots in this video:

More Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.


For all those current gardeners as well as potential gardeners out there, the surefire way to learn how to garden is by conducting experiments — by setting a hypothesis, testing it, and recording your results. Then doing this over and over.

Although you may hear the term "master gardener", there is no one right way to grow your garden. No two gardens are even the same. Soil conditions, climate and micro-climates, the preponderance of pests and many other factors all can vary widely from one person's garden to another's.

While it is great to get tips from your neighbors or from the plethora of information online, you will not truly know if something will or won't work for you until you get out there and try it for yourself. Conducting mini-experiments around your garden also increases the fun factor and keeps every growing season interesting.

For me, since this is only my third or fourth year growing any type of vegetable garden, most everything I do is an experiment. To help inspire you toward selecting and conducting some experiments of your own, I'm listing a few of mine.

Grow Zucchini or Summer Squash Vertically

Zucchini and summer squash are some of the easiest vegetables for beginning gardeners, but I thought I would change it up a bit this year. I was intrigued by some blog posts about growing squash vertically.

I got my tomato cage, staked it around my zucchini seedling and started training the leaves up through the cage. I left the yellow squash un-caged as the "control" to my experiment, so I can compare the one grown vertically to the other. I like how the cage keeps the plant from meandering out of the garden bed and into the pathways, but I also noticed how the birds love to perch on the wire of the cage. They have really torn up the leaves of the zucchini plant.

While the yellow squash is encroaching into my garden pathway, it has been producing a lot more than the zucchini, which is likely a bit stressed by the beating it has taken from the birds.

Would I do this one again? Possibly. But I would need to figure out a way to discourage the birds from hanging out on the cage.

Grow zucchini vertically

Grow Pumpkins Out of Raised Beds

I have never grown pumpkins before, so this one is especially exciting for me. I would love to be able to grab some pumpkins directly from our garden for the kids to turn into Jack-O-Lanterns at Halloween (and for me to make some pumpkin bread)!

Since my entire garden is in raised beds, I am experimenting with training the pumpkin vines to grow over the side of the bed and hopefully down the hill on top of the succulent ground cover. So far so good.

The vines have really started to take off and I have been able to train them over the side of the raised bed. I even see the beginnings of two pumpkins forming. The jury is still out on whether the pumpkins will overtake the other vegetables in the same bed with them. I already had to transplant a couple green bean seedlings that were being completely shaded by the pumpkin leaves.

Pumpkin vine growing in raised bed

Start Sweet Potato Slips and Try Starting Late in the Season

I have some space in one of my beds that I have been trying to figure out what to do with. Based on my zone recommendations, there are not many options for vegetables to start in July, since we are coming upon the hottest, driest part of the year for the next couple of months.

But we are also blessed in Southern California with weather that stays warm well into November and December. I'm experimenting to see whether the sweet potatoes will have enough hot weather to produce well with only just now (mid-July) starting the process to grow slips from an existing sweet potato.

Sweet potato starter

Build Simple Cloches to Protect Green Bean Seeds from Birds

Oh the birds! Have I mentioned the birds?! Birds seem to love our property (especially Mourning Doves). They love hanging out in my garden beds pecking around for my freshly planted seeds.

I have such a hard time getting my green beans to grow into seedlings, because as soon as they start sprouting through the surface of the soil, the birds get them. So, I am going to experiment with making some simple chicken wire cloches to keep the birds away long enough for the plants to get stronger.

Experiment with Organic Pest Control

In the realm of organic gardening, experimenting with natural repellents for pests and diseases is extremely important. Remember, organic gardening does not mean "plant it and forget it" — you need to actively be on the lookout for pests and disease and find organic solutions that work for you.

Again, here are some of my examples:

1. Fight aphids with an insecticidal soap made of water, a couple drops of natural dish soap, and a couple drops of peppermint essential oil (worked for me).

2. Dust a mixture of flour and baking soda over broccoli leaves to get rid of Cabbage Loopers (did not work for me).

3. Spray a solution of milk, natural dish soap, and water on squash leaves as a preventative measure against powdery mildew (seems to work).

4. ight spider mites with an insecticidal soap similar to the one above, with additional lemon essential oil (works somewhat).

Keep a Gardening Journal

Do you remember back to high school science classes? A key part of conducting experiments is documenting your hypotheses as well as the results. The same is true with gardening and is why we should all be keeping a journal.

Would I remember in a couple years that 'Bloomsdale' spinach does not grow well for me? Or that I need to plant and trellis my peas appropriately for strong westerly winds so they do not bunch up from being blown on top of each other? Perhaps I would remember a few things, but it will be nice to have a running tally of all these experiments I am conducting. Even if something fails, perhaps I just need to tweak one aspect of it and try again.

I've always thought of organic gardening as a creative endeavor, but perhaps it also appeals to me due to the rational, scientific approach I can take towards testing my many hypotheses.

Also, there is no such thing as a failure if you are just experimenting! What experiments are you conducting or going to start? Stop by Amber Burst any time to check in on what I am currently experimenting with.

Rachel Stutts began yearning for a simpler lifestyle more rooted in family and community after having two children and continuing in the corporate rat race.  Following conversations with her husband over drinks one date night, they agreed to search for a new property where they now work toward some serious gardening and "lite homesteading" pursuits.  Connect with Rachel at her Amber Burst blog.  Read all of Rachel's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Subscribe Today!

Pay Now & Save 67% Off the Cover Price

(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here