Organic Gardening

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

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10/10/2014

Summer gives way to Fall as the night air cools and the breeze comes out of the north. The summer garden's bounty is safely stored on shelves and in cellars. Time marches on. But wait! Could there be more to come from flowering plants on these crisp mornings? Yes! There will be another harvest and who doesn't love a good comeback? Especially when it's all said and done you're left with fresh, organic vegetables for dinner. Winner, Winner.

Plant and Grow Heirloom VegetablesOrange Peppers

First came the grasshoppers, then the squash bugs and blister bugs, and as expected, blazing 100 degree heat and more severe drought; an all out attack on my garden. It was enough to make Mr. Green Jeans pack it in.

For the past month I battled the insects and the elements on a daily basis, finally getting some cooler nights and now, much to a grasshopper's chagrin, my garden is making a serious comeback. Take that you pesticide immune, genetically modified Frankenbugs.

Tomatoes, beans, peppers and okra are back in production after a month of stress and dormancy. The all-heirloom variety vegetables from Baker Creek Seeds, and my own seed stock saved over the past several years, have battled the elements and won. I'll take an assist by constantly watering the garden thru a drip and soaker hose system, and for liberal applications of garlic-pepper spray, Neem, BT, orange oil, Garrett Juice, and much hand picking and chicken scratching. Once I had picked everything this summer that was ripe, I turned the hens and a young rooster into the garden for a couple of weeks. The chickens rounded up the rest of the bugs and tilled up a few areas where I had harvested potatoes, onions, beans, carrots, chard and corn, plus added a touch of fertilizer. Now that's what I call round-up ready.

Green Tomatoes On The Vine

The Queen

If there's one thing you'll always find growing in my garden, it's tomatoes. The old song is right; "there's just two things that money can't buy and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes." I love them all. Chocolate Pear (small pear-shaped fruit with a dark chocolate color and rich semi-sweet taste), Cherokee Purple (prolific bearer with large deep red and purple colors which have that homegrown tomato flavor, times two), Amazon Chocolate and Atkinson and I could go on forever. These heirloom varieties grow well in the hot and dry climate here in north Texas, and they'll produce fruit thru the end of the year if you protect them from the elements, water them and feed them. A few years ago we had fresh Cherokee Purple tomato slices with New Year's Dinner and I'm hoping for more of the same this year. I've already canned more than 50 pints of tomatoes, some with peppers and onions, so I'm hoping for another 50 jars by Christmas. Are you on my list?

Planting Fall Garden VegetablesRooster In The Field

I'm fixin' to plant lettuce, spinach, cabbage, chard and other cool season vegetables in the newly cleared areas. I've already added organic compost, corn gluten, molasses and blood and bone meal to the soil which I'm turning with a broad fork and keeping moist. I plant a few seeds of each veggie, then plant another round every week for 3-4 weeks. Hopefully it stretches out the "fresh from the garden" meals for a month or two.

Do your thing, Mother Nature. Let me know where I can help. Cold weather is coming so it may require covering everything in the garden with large sheets of plastic once December rolls around to get to one more harvest. I use four big pieces of plastic and bricks to cover four sections of my garden. Cover it at night, uncover it in the morning. Repeat. A second harvest of tomatoes, lettuce and beans on the way with some mild peppers on the bush. Will someone please pass the oil and vinegar?

Nothing is better than the nutrition-packed goodness of homegrown, non-GMO, organic vegetables. Fresh off the vine is best but don't kid yourself, an all heirloom vegetable pasta sauce with venison and wild pork meatballs would be worth the trouble as well.

Happy Meals, y'all. Happy Meals.


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.



10/8/2014

food challengeThere is a challenge going on in October that you should know about. It is the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that is being kicked off by Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us. The challenge is to choose a block of 10 days in October 2014 and commit to only eating food grown within a 100 mile radius of your home. To sweeten the deal, you are allowed 10 exotics, which are foods you want but can’t find locally. The exotics might include baking ingredients or the coffee you can’t seem to live without.

In her book Robin relates her experiences eating only food grown within a 10-mile radius of her home for 30 days. She allowed herself 4 exotics: olive oil, lemons and limes, salt plus a few Indian spices, and caffeine. If you are serious about local food, and even if you are just curious about how someone could do that, you will enjoy her book. My book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, gets into planning to grow a substantial part of your diet, including the cover crops to feed back the soil. It also stresses the need to build community systems. What you don’t grow yourself you should buy from local growers who have good soil building practices.

More than anything this challenge is an experiment in mindfulness. It gets you thinking about all aspects of what you eat. We are all responsible for how the earth is used to produce the food we consume. If you want the earth to be used in good ways, choose to eat food produced that way. For me, this seems like a fun, easy project, but that’s because I have experienced Homegrown Fridays when I consume only what I’ve grown during the Fridays in Lent. I have already thought through what is important to me and what I can live without. I also grow staple crops and have written an article for Mother Earth News about that. My homegrown cornmeal cooked into a hot cereal topped with honey will be breakfast each day of my challenge. Learn more about me accepting the 10-Day Challenge at Homeplace Earth.

If you already have a garden, this is a good exercise to see how much it contributes to your overall diet. I know that by October the season is over for many gardens, but it doesn’t have to be. Next year you could plan to have more to eat through the winter by harvesting from low tunnels or cold frames. You could also preserve more for eating all year or grow crops that can be stored without much fuss, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, garlic, peanuts, and grains. Many farmers markets now extend through the winter and some of the farmers have on-farm stores. If you have a CSA membership, taking the challenge will highlight what more is needed to complete your diet. If you enjoy the convenience of the grocery store, inquire about having your neighborhood grocery carry food produced in the neighborhood or at least within 100 miles or so.

While you are considering the origins of your food, besides the earth it is grown in, consider the workers who plant, tend, and harvest the food you eat. Are their working conditions acceptable to you? Besides being responsible for how the earth is used, we are responsible for the health and welfare of the workers who produce the food we choose to eat. If you haven’t thought about these issues before, your 10-Day Challenge might be to become aware of the origins of your food and begin to align your choices with the conditions for the earth and for the workers that you deem acceptable. For those ready to jump into the 10-Day Local Food Challenge, visit the website to sign in and complete the survey. Choose your 10 days and your 10 exotics and begin the adventure! Tell them Cindy sent you.

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.


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.


10/7/2014

leavesBecause of pottery-grade clay soil, my garden is  built as raised beds, a foot deep and 10 or 8 feet long. I bought fertile mix, which is a blend of sandy loam and composts, to fill them, and have been maintaining their organic matter locally for 16 years. When I first began gardening, I tried to grow cover crops, but they always failed. The red clover was eaten by mini-slugs soon after emerging, and, the one year I did raise a good stand, I had to pull it out just as it was covered by feasting bees. After we acquired chickens and the chicken tractor, cover crops were no longer an option—but I discovered something far simpler. Leaves.

Every October, I gather leaves from our block. Property maintenance workers blow the leaves into the street to be collected by the city, which then delivers dump truck loads to local gardeners and farmers.  I cut out the middle person and truck them into the back yard myself. When the piles arrive—hopefully on a dry day, because wet leaves are messy—I grab the extra municipal recycling cart we stow in the back yard for these moments and my flexible leaf rake, lock the cats into the bedroom so they do not roll in the street, and head out. One cartful of leaves, pushed down fairly firmly, equals one garden-bed’s worth of mulch. Load, tamp, roll, and dump. Load, tamp, roll, and dump. Ten trips covers the vegetable garden of the winter. Four or five more fill in the flower and herb beds. After dumping, I spread them over the entire surface if it's barren, or work them around the few remaining plants if it is not.

Just leaf mulch worked well, but having the chicken tractor really improved the quality of the organic matter. Our coop is sized to fit directly on the garden beds; it is four feet wide and five feet long. When there are two chickens, we shift it from one end of the bed to the other. When there are more, we build a little run so that they have the entire bed during the day and are closed in at night. The Ladies spend the day rooting around, shredding leaves, eating bugs, and leaving behind some fine poop, which helps break down the leaves and bedding straw. When I shift the coop to the next bed (usually once a month), I quickly turn over the entire plot with a pitchfork, increasing the contact between organic matter and the soil.

By spring, the leaves are broken down into a rough seed bed. I push some aside and plant the starts in the soil, snugging the mulch around the roots. Leaves continue to break down until early summer, increasing the fertility of the gardens. The oldest garden beds are soft and friable throughout the growing season and the plants are lush. Leaves—the miracle mulch.

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to www.julialont.com and www.bluecamaspress.com.


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.


10/7/2014

According to the literature, hügelkultur can remain fertile for up to 30 years without adding new materials. However, it can be difficult to plant into the logs and branches. We call our latest experiment a hügel mulch. It is a base of logs and branches covered with a wood chip sheet mulch that should give us many years of growing without any labor except planting and harvesting.

At the Living Systems Institute we work with the theory that nature maintains a habitat for a whole soil ecosystem that retains nutrients. By “whole soil ecosystem” we mean a complete set of organisms that cycle nutrients through complete growth, decay and regrowth cycles. I have been working with the concept over ten years now and I know I can grow more vegetable with substantially less work using a deep mulch system than with any of the other gardening technique that involves turning the soil. In my experience maintaining a habitat for that whole soil ecosystem is why it works.

Experimenting with Deep Mulch Systems

August 2011I started the experiment in 2004 using the permaculture technique called sheet mulching.[1] By 2011 our gardening teams were incorporating ideas from a technique called hügelkultur.[2] One third of our 2011 experimental sheet mulch garden was built with varying sizes of branches, sticks and wood chips twelve inches deep, then covered with an inch of horse manure. The section using hay has been renewed annually, the section using only wood chips will need to be renewed this fall. We planted the section built with branches for the 4th year in 2014 and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Typically, organic gardening involves a cycle of composting, tilling in compost, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and removing plant debris for composting. We spent a morning. We followed the sheet mulching formula contained in Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden except that we used the sticks instead of the recommended materials. I then went in and “drew” pathways on top with more wood chips and put in drip irrigation. Since that morning we have done nothing but plant and harvest with an occasional mulching of volunteer plants. You can see how productive it is in the pictures.

August 2014I have given this explanation to people in my garden where they can see the results and yet they go home and crank up their rototillers. Many gardeners who have achieved success using labor intensive methods seem loath to try the deep mulch approach. How is it that we can do so much less work and still get this kind of production? Let's look at how the theory of whole soil ecosystems applies to our observed results.

Building a Habitat for a Whole Soil Ecosystem

Have you ever wondered how nature grows things without depleting nutrients from the soil? How can nature increase the nutrients in the soil while the land is fallow? Why is it that human gardening and farming depletes the soil?

The way a forest builds soil is by a regular addition of carbon on top. The wind blows, branches break off, old trees fall over, and the leaves fall each autumn. The animals make their contribution of nitrogen. That process creates layers of decomposition. That is the habitat for the soil ecosystem that developed in the forest. The ecosystem itself is a complete set of organisms that evolved to decompose the carbon and nitrogen raw materials and convert them into the food required by the forest plants which in turn produce the food for the forest animals. As soon as something excretes a substance, or dies and releases the nutrients contained in its body there is another species there ready to take up those nutrients and process them further. Nutrients of all types are produced continuously. The nutrients cycle through the system over and over. The nutrients build up in the system rather than being depleted from the system.

When we till the soil we destroy the habitat for that whole soil ecosystem and start losing the participation of specific species. Without the participation of the primary decomposers we have to gather the carbon and nitrogen and do the composting ourselves. When we till in the compost all of those nutrients are available for our plants immediately. Our plants do not need all of the nutrients all at once and the unused nutrients are taken up by weeds or leach out in the rain. Then we have to supply more nutrients next year.

Tilling creates the perfect habitat for nature's pioneer plants. Because we have no bare soil in a deep mulch system many of the species considered weeds are not a problem. Seeds will blow in or are carried in by animals and those plants may volunteer in the mulch. These volunteers are rooted in the mulch, not the soil, and are easy to pull. A weed, by definition, is a plant growing where it is not wanted. If we want that plant for mulch it is not a weed. It is a gift and when you pull it and lay it down the decomposers with take up and cycle those nutrients right away.

We also have no pests in our gardens. We want to foster a healthy system that includes as many different species as possible. That means that the insect eating our plants is not a pest. It is food for the species that want to protect our plants. Each species participating makes its contribution by processing nutrients as a part of its life cycle and excreting them and releasing them in death as a part of the nutrient cycle. The more species participating the more “whole” our ecosystem becomes.

This fall, when the first hard frost is predicted, I will dismantle the drip systems and bring in the head strings for the winter.[3] Every thing in the garden, tomato cages and all, will stay just where they are. That way, when the wind blows, the garden will collect organic matter and improve the habitat for our soil ecosystem. In the spring we will plant directly through the accumulated mulch. The habitat that we maintain for our soil ecosystem forms the basis for the integrated closed loop production systems we explore at the Living Systems Institute.

Building a Hügel Mulch

Hugel Mulch

1. Start by soaking the area to be mulched with water.

2. Spread manure over the area about 1/2 to 1 inch thick.

3. Assemble a weed barrier by laying down a layer of cardboard with as little over lap as possible. Take newspaper and lay it out over the seams in the cardboard. Don't do a lot of unfolding. Just lay it out whole sections at a time. You will want to wet the paper as it is laid out if there is any wind at all. Lay out a second layer of cardboard and cover all those seams with newspaper.

4. Spread another layer of manure 1/2- to 1-inch thick.

5. Keep the water running and wet each layer as you go.

6. Cover the area with logs and then fill in the gaps between the logs with smaller branches and sticks.

7. Fill in any remaining gaps with wood chips.

8. Spread a third layer of manure about 1-inch thick.

9. Add 12 inches of wood chips on top.

10. Spread a final layer of manure about 1-inch thick.

11.You can now mark your pathways by laying out a line of wood chips about 2 feet wide and maybe 1 or 2 inches thick. 

Resources

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheet_mulching

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%BCgelkultur

[3]The head string is the timer, filter, pressure regulator and back flow preventer that attach to the outdoor faucet.


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.

 



10/6/2014

Basil will turn black when it gets close to 35 degrees.  I pull all the leaves when the forecast says it will get close to freezing or any chance of frost. You can chop basil, put it in an ice cube tray and cover it with water to preserve it for any time your recipe calls for fresh basil. It stores best when it's frozen in water. You can also make it into pesto and place in freezer bags with just enough for a meal. Gives a whole new meaning to “fast food.”  Pesto is great over pasta, fish or as a condiment on sandwiches.

Other herbs like parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives, savory and sage will do just fine through frosts. It takes good snow cover to stop these herbs. Many winters you can harvest these herbs the entire season for cooking.

I will wait until it gets down to 32 degrees before I strip off the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  You can freeze or dry these veggies. Tomatoes are a high acid fruit so you can also easily can sauce from them without using a pressure canner, a stockpot is all that is needed. Be sure to follow any canning recipes exactly so your canned goods don’t spoil.

Make sure you pull the tomatoes from the vine before the vine dies. Wondering what to do with the green tomatoes? You have a couple of options. You can make fried green tomatoes—yum! Just use some fish fry seasoning; we like Andy’s Cajun Seasoning. You can also wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool, dark location and many will ripen. Check about weekly to cull any that spoil. They won’t taste as good as fresh off the vine, but are better than store bought.

October is garlic planting month for the Zone 6 garden! Plant in the waning cycle of the moon. Garlic loves loose, well-fertilized soil. Loosen the soil down to about 6 inches, mix in a couple of inches of compost, and plant your garlic cloves about 2-3 inches deep. Garlic leaves are one of the first greens you will see in spring.

Now is also a great time to divide any perennials you have, whether they be herbs, edibles or ornamentals.  This will give them all fall and winter to put down strong roots. Perennial greens (like chard, sorrel, cultivated dandelions, salad burnet) are always the first up in the spring.

It is still not too late in early October to transplant fall crops like cold hardy types of lettuce, cabbage, chard, pak choi, broccoli, kale, parsley or perennial herbs. Meijer, Lowes, and Home Depot have 6 and 9 packs ready to plant if you didn’t start your own from seed.

To extend the season, you can order a mini greenhouse to cover your pots or a part of the garden you have planted your cold hardy greens you want to harvest all winter. You can also purchase row covers that cover plants and provides protection from frosts, but not hard freezes.

Winter hardy kale, spinach, Austrian peas, carrots and winter onions don’t need to be covered and can be harvested all winter (as long as the ground isn’t too frozen) and into spring.

I’ll put our portable, plastic mini greenhouse over the greens in my Earthboxes sometime this month. One thing to look out for with green houses: they get very, very hot in sunny weather, so be sure to open them to allow circulation in fall and early winter. They will need to be closed up when winter really sets in December sometime. 

For more organic small space and container gardening, see Melodie's blog.


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.

 



10/5/2014

Permaculture has become the new buzzword in certain circles. From shirt and tie urban planners who have never planted a garden, to the LEED certified architect, a lot of money is changing hands as a common sense approach to co-existing with nature and is being promoted in the name of sustainability. The money part is good for the dirt farmers, but I wonder about the quiche aspect of a subject with so many definitions. Here’s a definition I found attributed to Gus & LaNada James:

“Permaculture combines current technology with aboriginal cultural knowledge collected over generations: to create self-contained, self-perpetuating ecological systems. This includes growing edible (& nutritious) plants, fish & animals; as well as the application of appropriate technology to create energy from solar, wind, water, & compost.”

This is a really good definition, one of the best I found, but I don’t like the word aboriginal; we’re not all anthropologists. I’d substitute “our tribal ancestors” (what we were before we succumbed to and were corrupted by empire and religions).

Steve Mann, facilitator of the Food Not Lawns Class taught at the University of Missouri of Kansas City Communiversity explains that it is an ethics based method of living described by David Holmgren based on:

Care of the Earth: The Earth is a living, breathing entity. Without ongoing care and nurturing there will be consequences too big to ignore.

Care of People We are provided with times of abundance which enables us to share with others

Fair Share: We are provided with times of abundance which enables us to share with others.

The evolution of Permaculture—like Yoga—is a study of how ancient knowledge and wisdom get turned into a marketing tool, requiring certification and a lineage to impress the uninitiated. Well, gee, we did it for 10,000 years but this is the 21st century so if we market it we need to be able to trace credentials.

Well, enough tongue in cheek. Now that I got that off my chest, I’d like to congratulate all the hard working people that do permaculture. They do understand what the future will bring based on the current path the world is on and they are training people how to find their way back to nature.  

To all you teachers and practitioners of permaculture, when I think of you I think:

Some of us are dreamers; some of us were fools,
but we’re are making plans and thinking of the future,
we are gathering the tools,
we will need to make our journey back to nature,
with our hearts turned to each other’s hearts for refuge
in the troubled times years that come before the deluge.

From:Before the Deluge.
By Jackson Brown

Practicing Permaculture

A Farmer and his Rice Crop. Rice Paddies near the Kali River in Karnataka State, India.

Farmer and His Rice Crop

When Does Planting Your Own Food Become a Revolutionary Act of Defiance?

The first time I know that it happened was after the Spanish outlawed the growth of amaranth in what is now Mexico. The Spanish attempted to eradicate amaranth. Growing it was punishable by death. But you know, it’s hard to stop some people. If the rulers say you can’t have it or grow it, they’re gonna go get some and plant it. Sound familiar? (They might even smoke it).

It happened again during WWII during the planting of the Victory Gardens.

The Victory Gardens were started during WWI in Europe so that more food could be exported to the Allied Forces in Europe. Reset, Repeat. The same thing happened during WWII, and when food rationing began and in 1942, Victory Gardens took off again. The Department of Agriculture objected to the promotion of Victory Gardens and lobbied to stop their promotion by the US Government. They were smacked down by a woman named Eleanor who planted a Victory Garden at her residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, no doubt to the delight of President Roosevelt.

People grow their own food for a variety of reasons: to save money, to avoid herbicides and pesticides, to produce the fresher taste, to get better nutrition.

Growing food also enables us to lessen our total dependence on the corporate state and the agricultural mutations that have become the franken-foods used to feed us and animals in feed lots and hog, chicken and turkey barns.

 We can Plant Victory Gardens and Grow our Own Food

Say No to GMO

In India they have practiced Permaculture for 5,000 Years.

In March, I was able to visit a village of “tribal” people living in the hills and jungle of a Bengal Tiger preserve near the Kali River in Southwest India. The local Hindus who arrived at a much later date in history call them tribals.  They have practiced permaculture, for the last 5,000 years.

The Permaculturists: Grandmothers and Daughters and Grandson

The Permaculturists

One of the village out buildings with 100% local building materials. In a back to the Future world, all our building will be LEED certified by default.

LEED Certified Out Building

Stock Pens

Stock Pens

After the Harvest, cows graze in the rice paddies and provide fertilizer.

After the Harvest

Gopala is the Cow Protector. In order to get a feel for what it is like to walk in these hills amongst this this culture, listen closely to this song about the protector.

Scarecrow

Living In A Time of Great Change

Climate, over population, resource depletion, fiat currencies, and weapons manufacturers are familiar to those who read MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Volume 1, No. 1, 44 years ago. The magazine began with these words “….a new beginning." Where are we now?

Mother Earth News No 1

We were looking forward to a new beginning, are we in the middle or close to the end?

It’s what you’re gonna do if you want to survive.

Tell your kids and grand kids –

 Teach Your Children Well

Graham Nash: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

REFERENCES

http://www.permaculture.net/about/definitions.html
http://permacultureprinciples.com/
http://www.usgbc.org/leed
http://www.jacksonbrowne.com
http://thesunshinegrove.blogspot.com/2013/03/victory-gardens.html
http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/sow-seeds/



10/4/2014

Upcycled Furniture For The Garden

When summer rolls around and gardens start to bloom, suburbanites flock to their local big-box stores to update their storage buildings and garden furniture. There’s a staggering amount of choice, from outdoor storage sheds styled like barns to patio heaters that kick out more CO2 than the average small car.

When they splash the cash, however, homeowners rarely pause to consider the long-term environmental impact of their new alfresco investment. In North America, sheds and storage buildings made from synthetic resin dominate the market. Thanks to their fossil fuel-makeup, they retain their old-world cottage charm for decades. Unfortunately, these sheds are non-biodegradable and can only be destroyed through controlled incineration to minimise release of toxic gases.

The wooden alternatives are barely any safer. Fences, benches and sheds are maintained with paints, preservatives and sealants containing creosote, arsenic, pentachlorophenol and lead – to name but a few. Most adults will be familiar with the short-term health effects of such preservatives, including skin burns and seared airways. However, many are unaware of the long-term risks posed by their carcinogenic compounds. When rain causes them to leach into the surrounding soil and groundwater, they present a risk to all who relax in or eat from the garden.

There’s good news for the environmentally conscious, however: There are much safer (and cheaper!) ways to keep up with the Joneses. Read on to discover the upcycles and simple swaps that’ll leave both your garden and conscience clean.

Eco-Friendly Gardening Tips

Use natural sealants. There are a host of environmentally safe alternatives to conventional paints and wood sealants. To add a splash of color, opt for milk paint – an organic and non-toxic alternative to regular paint that comes in a wide variety of colors. Choose a version designed for exterior use, apply a couple of coats and allow a few weeks’ drying time (it’s best to paint during a summer dry spell).

For a clean, shiny and natural finish, seal wood with raw linseed oil. Made from flaxseed, it has excellent preservative and water resistant properties and rarely needs reapplication once dry. Buyers beware: linseed oil is sticky, flammable and will take weeks to dry. However, you should resist the temptation to go for ‘fast-drying’ linseed oil – often labelled as ‘boiled linseed oil’ – as this is known to contain mineral spirits and heavy metals.

Build your own fire pit. There are few things as calming as a campfire on a cool evening. By building your own fire pit, you’ll sidestep the need for costly and environmentally damaging patio heaters, barbecue grills and chimineas. For a cheap and easy fix, create a circle of boulders and fill the centre with gravel. With a little more effort, you could dig a hole to create a recessed firepit or build a raised version with bricks. The internet offers plenty of inspiration.

Encourage biodiversity with insect hotels. Bee and hedgehog populations are dwindling and barren, walled-in, concrete-filled yards do nothing to aid the problem. ‘Bug hotels’ cultivate biodiversity in the garden and create excellent conversation points, providing homes and breeding grounds to beetles, ladybugs, bees, woodlice, spiders, hedgehogs and toads – to name just a few. You can build one cheaply (see here) by stacking disused pallets and cramming them with straw, bricks, bamboo canes, dry leaves, bark and corrugated cardboard.

Upcycle wood pallets into garden furniture. Stack wooden pallets horizontally in layers of two and cover with large cushions to make attractive sectional outdoor corner sofas. To make them more attractive, use sandpaper to remove excess splinters and then paint the wood. In case you hadn’t already figured out by now, there are a plethora of outdoor uses for old pallets – most of which require no DIY skills whatsoever.

Choose hardwood garden furniture over softwood. Hardwood comes from angiosperm trees such as maple, oak and walnut. Generally speaking, they’re the trees that produce leaves that die and renew. Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees – mostly evergreens such as pine and spruce. As a general rule, softwood is more susceptible to damp weather and can disintegrate quickly once rot begins to set in. If you are looking for garden furniture that will go the distance, choose hardwoods. Though more expensive to buy, they can last over 20 years with minimal care and won’t incur the same financial and environmental costs as shorter-lasting softwood furniture.


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. 









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