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10 Tasks For Your Winter Garden

Winter is finally here in Utah and I was fortunate to be picking tomatoes right up to Thanksgiving! However, a blanket of snow doesn’t stop a keen gardener; there are plenty of jobs you can do in the garden and around the homestead to get your plot ready for the next growing season.  Read on to find out my main 10 tasks for winter.

1.  Keep Composting


Composting slows down as the temperature plummets in winter, however it doesn’t mean that you should stop adding kitchen scraps to the heap.  We’re very keen composters and are expanding the large compost bin to allow for a second heap to get started in winter which will be finished and ready to spread on the garden next fall.

I also make sure that my worm farm is topped up with kitchen scraps throughout winter and we keep using Bokashi composting too.  The Bokashi waste gets added to the compost heap throughout the year and helps to speed things up.

2.  Build New Beds

spread manure

If you live in a more temperate area you can start making new beds for your vegetable garden now.  Raised beds are easy to make and can be made relatively inexpensively if you have plenty of homemade compost.  If you don’t have any compost, you can usually pick it up quite cheap from the city landfill.  If you must buy the compost in bags, you can use other organic material or mulches to fill the bed to break down over winter before spring to make it cheaper.

3.  Support The Wildlife


Winter can be a real struggle for birds to find food and sources of water.  You can help your local bird population be hanging feeders around your garden, leaving some plants with berries on them and providing a bird bath for them to drink from.

We make feeders with a bunt cake tin, seeds, fruit and lard or vegetable shortening as well as hanging apples up in our trees.  We also create a small log pile with leaves and a rock pile to provide shelter for overwintering insects like mason bees.

4.  Tend to Apples and Pears

Winter is when pruning of the apple and pear orchard would take place, removing the damaged and diseased wood and any areas which were crossing over and rubbing whilst the trees were dormant.  Many bare root trees can also be planted at this time of year.

5.  Sort Your Seeds


Winter is a tempting time of year when those seed catalogues come in the mail.  Take stock of what you already have and proper storage can help keep seeds viable for longer periods.

6.  Organize your Shed


The garden shed often becomes disorganized during the growing season and a fine winter’s day is an ideal time to organize the space, build hangers and organizers for the tools.  Plant pots, seed trays and containers should all be emptied and thoroughly washed with hot soapy water to reduce pests and diseases.

7.  Clean and Sharpen Tools

 gardening hand tools

Your garden tools should be properly maintained; sharpen cutting blades on pruning shears, secateurs and axes using a sharpening stone, clean dirt off spades, shovels and forks with hot soapy water then rinse and oil the metal parts to reduce rust.  Wooden handles should also be oiled to reduce cracking and splitting of the wood

8.  Mulch and Cover Crops


Frost fleece can be put over cold hard vegetables before the temperature drops too far to help keep those plants happy in winter.  Frost fleece can be helpful for Brussels Sprouts, kale, winter cabbage and leeks if you live in milder climates.

Plenty of organic mulch on the vegetable beds like leaves, pine needles, straw and compost can help keep some hardy plants from freezing, allowing you to harvest in winter.  

9. Take Hardwood Cuttings

Winter is a great time to propagate plants by hardwood cuttings.  Some plants in the edible garden which do well with hardwood cuttings include elderberry and currants.  Roses, buddleia (butterfly bush) and other shrubs also propagate by these types of cuttings.  

10.  Build a Cold Frame


Extend your harvest and growing season by building a cold frame to protect plants from the harsh frosts.  Many cold frames can be made out of recycled glass doors and windows on bricks or straw bales.

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.



Saving Amaryllis for Winter Flowering

The holidays are here and many of us will receive as a gift (or purchase for ourselves) a lovely amaryllis. These brilliant, large blooms give us lots of color and make spectacular statements on their coffee or end tables.


They put up a stalk with several flowers that mature individually.


Many will send up another stalk when the first one is done. At this point, most people will throw the bulb away thinking that the show is now over. Yet, with a few simple steps, these plants can be kept to bloom year after year for decades.Once the bloom has passed, cut the stalk off near the base. Place the plant in a sunny window and water well.


It helps to have a tray under the pot to catch any overflow of the water. Keep an eye on it and don't let it dry out — it will need water every two to four days. In the summer, you can place the plant outside in a sunny location, but this is not absolutely necessary.

In mid or late August, place the plant in a brown paper bag in a cool spot. A root cellar or other cool cellar is ideal. Don't cut the green off; it will wither on its own. Check it once a week and remove any leaves that are decomposing. Pull these off at the base and discard. Once all the leaves are gone, you can leave it alone until you want to replant it.

Mid-October to mid-November, it's time to bring the amaryllis out. Scrape off the top 1/3 to ½ of the soil and add it to the compost.


Get some top quality potting soil and refill ½ of what you removed. Here it's best to add some bone meal or other flower food.


Next, fill in the rest of the soil to where it was full before. Return the plant to the sunny spot and water well. Keep an eye on the moisture and stake the stalk if it starts to droop. In five to seven weeks, you should have new blooms.

IMG_3584 (1)

If you have more than one amaryllis, it's great to take them out of storage one at a time. Start in mid-October, wait two or three weeks and take out another one. Repeat the process until all of your amaryllis are in the sunny window. If you collect a number of them, you can have continuous blooms all winter long. This little bit of care can result in bright bits of color when the world outside is white or brown. It's well worth it.

Celeste Longacre and her husband, Bob, have lived sustainably for more than 35 years. They grow almost all of their vegetables for the year and preserve them by freezing, canning, drying and using a home -built root cellar. Celeste ferments much of the couple’s produce and makes her own sauerkraut, kimchee, and fruit and beet kvass. She is the author of Celeste’s Garden Delights and writes a gardening blog for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. For more information, visit Celeste’s website, and read all of her 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.

Growing Winter Lettuce

Cultivating winter lettuce in the hoophouse. Photo by McCune Porter 

Sowing Lettuce in September

We transplant a lot of lettuce — our annual series of sowings runs to number 46 on 9/27. (The last few sowings are “insurance plantings” in case something goes wrong with an earlier planting.) From 9/1-9/21 we sow head lettuce every 2 days. The rate of growth slows down when the weather cools, and the harvest dates of those September sowings will spread out. They feed us through winter, if we protect them from the cold.

We used to grow lettuce outdoors in winter under double row cover, before we got our hoop house. It stayed alive, but we didn’t get harvests very often. Row cover keeps the lettuce 4 to 6 degrees F (2.2 to 3.3 degrees C) warmer, depending on the thickness. Lettuce survives an occasional dip to 10 degrees F (–12 degrees C) with good row cover outdoors — but not 8 degrees F (–13 degrees C), I know!

Varieties to try. Half-grown lettuces are more cold-hardy than full-sized plants. Small and medium-sized plants of 'Marvel of Four Seasons', 'Rouge d’Hiver', 'Winter Density', and 'Tango' can take 15 degrees F (-9.5 degrees C). I’ve seen some small unprotected lettuces survive down to 5 degrees F (-15 degrees C): Winter Marvel, Tango, North Pole, Green Forest. Other particularly cold-hardy lettuce varieties include 'Brune d’Hiver', 'Cocarde', 'Esmeralda' (a bibb), 'Lollo Rossa', 'North Pole' (bibb), 'Outredgeous', 'Rossimo', 'Sunfire' and 'Vulcan'.

From 9/1 to 9/7, we use cold-hardy varieties for planting in cold frames in central Virginia: 'Green Forest', 'Hyper Red Wave', 'Merlot', 'Midnight Ruffles', 'New Red Fire', 'Oscarde, Panisse', 'Pablo', 'Red Salad Bowl', 'Salad Bowl', 'Winter Marvel' (a Bibb) and 'Winter Wonderland' (Romaine).

'Pablo' is a hold-over from the summer Batavian lettuces — heat-tolerant varieties also tolerate cold. There are also specialized cold-hardy varieties that do not tolerate heat (because they have a relatively low water content). Sow these in fall and winter only.

This year, we had cutworms eating our outdoor lettuce seed bed in August and September. We sowed (and resowed on 9/16) some outdoor baby lettuce mix to play catch-up and help feed us salads until the hoop house lettuce were ready. Our lettuce mix was ready to cut on day 35 after sowing. We had a warm spell, which helped them grow faster. Because we usually only grow lettuce mix in our winter hoop house and hadn’t planned to sow the mix outdoors, we didn’t have enough ready-made lettuce mix seed. I made our own mix of seasonally appropriate leftover fall varieties that we wouldn’t need for the second hoop house sowing on 9/24.

The lettuce sowings from 9/8 to 9/17 get transplanted in our (unheated) greenhouse. During the winter we harvest lettuce by the leaf, rather than cutting heads. We don’t grow butterhead lettuce (bibbs) after the end of August. The green and red salad bowl varieties do well in the greenhouse and the hoop house, although they are not cold-hardy enough for growing outdoors here.

We use 'Green Forest', 'Hyper Red Wave', 'Kalura', 'Merlot', 'Midnight Ruffles', 'New Red Fire', 'Oscarde', 'Panisse', 'Red Salad Bowl', 'Red Tinged Winter', 'Revolution', 'Salad Bowl', 'Tango' and 'Winter Wonderland' for the greenhouse.

For the hoophouse winter lettuce, we sow outdoors on 9/15 and 9/24 to transplant inside. We like the Osborne multi-leaf lettuce types (Multigreen 57, Multired 4, Multired 54), 'Green Forest', 'Hyper Red Wave', 'Merlot', 'Oscarde', 'Panisse', 'Red Tinged Winter', 'Revolution', 'Tango', 'Red Salad Bowl', 'Outrageous', 'Salad Bowl', 'Winter Wonderland Romaine'.


Young Green Forest lettuce. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Sowing Lettuce in October

In October our lettuce planting moves indoors, while our lettuce harvesting is straddling outdoors and indoors. On 10/15 we transplant the first outdoor sowing (9/15) into the hoop house, about 230 plants at 10-inch spacing in 4 rows in a 48 feet length of bed (half the length of our hoop house). We expect to harvest leaves from these from 11/16 all the way to 3/1.

On 10/25, we transplant our 9/24 sowing, a similar sized planting. We hope to harvest from these from December to mid-April. We plan to start harvesting our outdoor lettuce heads from 4/15.

On 10/24, we sow our first baby lettuce mix in our hoop house. For those unfamiliar with lettuce mix, this is a cut-and-come-again crop. We like Fedco’s 2981LO Lettuce Mix OG or Johnny’s Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix #2310. For those with challenging growing conditions, both companies offer other specialized selected mixes. 1 oz of seed sows about 600 feet.

How to grow baby lettuce mix. We sow 10 rows 4.5 inches apart in a 4-foot bed. That will give us a lot of lettuce! We weed and thin to 1 inch as soon as we can see the seedlings well enough to do so. When the plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, we cut them about an inch above the soil, using large scissors or shears. I gather a small handful with my left hand, cut with my right. After putting the harvested leaves in a crate or bucket, I weed the just-cut area so that there won’t be weeds in the next cut.

I have also read the recommendation to rake over the rows after harvest with a fine leaf rake to remove outer leaves and cut scraps. If you want to make more than one cut, you will need to remove anything that isn’t top quality salad while you can see it.

We’ll get our first cut somewhere in the 12/5 to 12/22 range and might even get as many as 8 cuts during the winter. It will get bitter and need to be pulled 2/26 to 3/15. We’ll have some later sowings to take over before that happens.

We also sow some “lettuce filler” in our hoop house. This is a small area of a few crosswise rows of the varieties we have sown to grow full-size. We’ll use the fillers to replace casualties, or if we don’t have any casualties, we ‘ll cut it as baby lettuce like our intentional baby lettuce mix.


Red Salad Bowl lettuce. Photo by Bridget Aleshire 

Harvesting Lettuce in November and December

I have written blog posts about growing lettuce in October, September, August, July, June and May. Around 11/23 we waited out a cold snap (19 degrees F/-7 degrees C) until a mild spell so we could uncover the last outdoor lettuce beds and finish harvesting them.

In November, we switch to harvesting winter salad mixes, no more big bowls just of lettuce. We use leaves from the outdoor lettuce, the outdoor lettuce mix, or leaves from the lettuce in the greenhouse, according to whatever is most ready. We chop the lettuce up as we harvest. I start with about half of the harvest bucket full of chopped lettuce. I notice that it takes 3 half-buckets of harvested greens to fill one bucket! The greens settle, and when mixed they take less space than they started out using.

Varieties to try. Lettuce varieties we harvest in November include 'Green Forest', 'Hyper Red Wave', 'Merlot', 'new Red Fire', 'Oscarde', 'Panisse', 'Red Salad Bowl', 'Red Tinged Winter', 'Revolution', 'Salad Bowl', 'Star Fighter', 'Tango', 'Winter Marvel' and 'Winter Wonderland'. Last winter, we grew some Osborne Multileaf varieties we liked a lot.

This fall, I learned the hard way that pelleted seed doesn’t store well. See Johnnys Seeds JSS Advantage Newsletter January 2012: “Some seeds, particularly lettuce, are primed before pelleting, which begins the metabolic process leading to germination. Because some of the early steps toward germination are completed before the seed is planted, germination happens more quickly.

Germination times can be 50% faster with primed seed. When seeds germinate quickly, they may avoid potential problems including soil crusting, weeds, and soil-borne diseases. On the down side, primed seed doesn’t have the same storage life as unprimed seeds, so we recommend that you purchase only enough for the current season.”

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at Sustainable Market Farming and in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store. Pam's blog is on her website and also on Facebook. Read all of her 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.

Preparing Fruit Trees for Winter

You’ve pruned your fruit trees in early spring then harvested fruit through the summer and autumn. Before heading into the warm indoors, take time to prepare your fruit trees for winter. This includes giving them protection from cold temperatures, rodents, infections and even the sun. The following three steps will help insure healthy trees for your next year’s harvest:

Mulching fruit trees with a thick layer of organic material will protect the roots from severe cold weather. Because fruit trees naturally grow by the edge of forests where the soil is littered with branches and leaves, similar high-carbon mulch is best. Wood chips, straw and leaves are usually most available and will protect the trees’ roots during winter. As this mulch decomposes the following spring, it gives soil a slightly acidic pH that fruit trees require for their best growth.


Wood chips are a valuable source of high-carbon mulch and minerals. The highest in minerals are small branches not more than 2.5” in diameter. One source of these branches is from springtime pruning. Additionally, if tree trimmers are clearing electrical lines in your vicinity, ask them to dump loads of chips at your house. It may be a chore to transport them from driveway to orchard, but worth the effort any time of the year.

Straw is also a valuable source of high carbon mulch. Unlike hay, it is an excellent insulator because it has hollow stems which hold air. Always be sure the straw you use hasn’t been “dried down” with Roundup. You don’t want to mulch your trees with an herbicide that has also been patented as an antibiotic. We want the soil surrounding our fruit trees to be vibrant with microbes!

Leaves are a wonderful addition because the roots of trees transfer minerals from deep in the soil to their leaves. By enriching fruit trees’ soil with minerals, we are fortifying their immune systems from disease and increasing the nutrition of their fruit. At our house, we chop and gather autumn leaves with the lawn mower and then stack them thickly around our fruit trees.

Compost can also serve as mulch for fruit trees, but additional carbon should be added to standard compost used for vegetable gardens. Adding “brown” material like wood-chips, straw and leaves, gives compost the balance fruit trees need.

Three caveats regarding mulching fruit trees:

1. Mulch should be placed at least six to eight inches deep to protect the trees’ roots during cold winter months.

2. Mulch should be placed out to the drip line of each tree. If we picture each tree’s branches as an open umbrella, the “drip line” becomes evident.

3. Keep mulch at least six inches away from the trees’ trunks. Mice and voles find mulch an excellent winter home, and you want to discourage them from damaging the tree’s bark.

All this mulching also gives you a head-start next spring when it will reduce competition from weeds and grass as well as preserve moisture for the trees’ roots.

Protecting fruit trees’ trunks is especially important in winter for two very different reasons. The first was mentioned above—rodents and rabbits love to chew on tree-trunk bark which can kill fruit trees. Besides keeping mulch a distance from the trunks, young trees need the extra protection of tree guards. I’ve found the easiest tree guards to use are the white, spiral variety sold through tree nurseries and online. Not only can I put them on without damaging the bark, but if I forget to take them off, they expand as the tree grows. Rodents can’t chew through the plastic guards, so that problem is solved.

White tree guards also solve the second winter problem to fruit tree trunks—sun scald. Sunny winter days heat up the dark fruit tree trunks which then cool rapidly in the evening. These swings in temperature cause expansion and contraction of the bark which result in it cracking and peeling. Fruit tree trunks thus become more susceptible to insect damage and disease.

white tree guard

White latex paint can be used instead of tree guards to prevent wintertime’s rodent and sun damage. White paint reflects back the winter sun and prevents the bark from warming and thus avoids cracking and peeling of the trunk’s bark. Interestingly, white latex paint also discourages rodents, rabbits and insects. It can either be diluted to ½-strength with water or used full strength. At our homestead, we place the tree guards on trees for their most susceptible first couple years and then use white latex paint on their lower trunks as the fruit trees mature.

Remove dead fruit to prevent fungal infections. There are usually some desiccated fruit remaining on fruit trees and the ground every autumn and early winter. This old fruit provides breeding ground for fungal pathogens. Balance can be tipped to the “good fungi” by removing all dead fruit from the vicinity of fruit trees. This helps the trees’ natural immunity withstand disease without using chemicals. At our homestead, old fruit is placed in a young compost pile where pathogens will be destroyed during the natural heat of the composting process. We never use fungicides because fungi are essential for delivering the soil’s nutrients to the food we eat.

Mulching around fruit trees, protecting their trunks and removing old fruit are three important measures to insure healthy fruit trees the following spring.

Photos by Mary Lou Shaw

Mary Lou Shaw a retired physician and homesteads with her husband in Ohio where they grow most of the food they eat. Mary Lou's book, Growing Local Food, can be purchased through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of her 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.

Why Growing Your Own Food Matters More Now Than Ever

The Protectors of Industries

The Protectors of our Industries by Bernard Gillam (1883)

Don't believe the hype. The mess we’re in is bigger than any one politician's promises. The policies of both ruling political parties and the concept of an American Dream are based on the fallacy of an infinite supply of cheap energy. The way out is to cut defense spending by 50 percent or print $500 billion more dollars a year for 30 years to pay for infrastructure upgrades, renewable energy, education, health and the general welfare of all the citizens of the country.

And stop selling weapons all over the planet. That ain't gonna happen. Congressional gridlock prevails over a populace suffering from nature-deficit disorder while climate change is rapidly changing our options for food production.

The need to learn how to grow your own food, live in a like-minded community, and develop the self-reliant skills Mother Earth News has taught since 1970 has never been greater and I’ll explain why I say this, below.

History Lesson

The wealth extracted from us during the last 40 years is gone, sitting in protected off-shore accounts, built into mansions on tropical islands and in towns like Aspen, Colorado. The 401K scam was set up so Wall Street could get our money and they use it to finance factories and operations in Mexico and Asia to outsource our jobs so their profits would rise.

The graphic above titled The Protectors of our Industries by Bernard Gillam was published in 1883 and shows the captains of industry at the time being carried on the backs of the rest of the country. The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. We’re in the same boat 100 years later.

The Ronald Reagan dream of living in the Information Age with a service economy is coming to an end and is turning into a nightmare. Uber, self driving cars, and the next smart phone app are not going to save the economy or the nation.

Mother Earth News was founded by back to the landers from the Woodstock generation who were a product of the turbulent 60's when churches were blown up and cities burned in this country while peasants were massacred for oil in Vietnam. It sounds like Deja View all over again, doesn’t it?

Is it 1969 All Over Again?

An interesting piece of history going back to that time was an exchange between two factions of the back to the land movement.  The Whole Earth Catalog was the paper version of the Internet back when ditto machines ruled before the invention of the Xerox machine.  They couldn't print enough catalogs. It was a reference guide for access to tools, knowledge and the wisdom needed on the utilitarian and spiritual journey back to the garden. MOTHER EARTH NEWS was the monthly how to for the movement. The Whole Earth Catalog editors also began a publication called Coevolution Quarterly.

In the summer of 1976, the CQ editors asked the founder of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, John Shuttleworth, if he could recommend CQ to his readers. He replied that "CQ is nothing but 1969 endlessly replayed." My opinion is that the two political parties ruling this country have not progressed since the 1968 Democratic Convention and the trials of the Chicago Seven. The events we see taking place today remind me of 1969.

Coevolution Quarterly comments

The interesting thing is that the first three articles in the Fall 1976 CQ magazine sound like they could have been written today by the current sustainability and back to the land movers and shakers. They were titled:

From Present to Future by Herman Khan et. al.

The Shift from a Market Economy to a Household Economy by Scott Burns

Future Primitive by Raymond Dasmann

Also interesting is that MOTHER EARTH NEWS continues its fine tradition of publishing the same variety of information it did 40 years ago. I’ll bring two stories to the table. One is based on history, the other is based on numbers.

The Fourth Turning

The ebb and flow of history, the rise and fall of empires, are a familiar themes. The Greeks, the Romans, and recently, a couple of historians named Strauss and Howe have studied the characteristics of generational cycles (20 years) to explain the similarities between political and economic systems that have affected our ancestors. These generational characteristics have distinct psychological profiles and repeat over time. The alignment of these generations has been matched to the great highs and lows in our history.

Strauss and Howe published their book The Fourth Turning in 1997. They predicted that according to the characteristics of generational cycles, there would be an economic disruption in 2008. They were 100 percent correct. So pay attention. They predict that we are approaching a Fourth Turning, a time of immense stress and change. By 2024, they predict that the United States has only a 50-percent chance of surviving intact.

Get the picture?

The Math of Energy and EROI

Now for the numbers. What is EROI? In the oil patch it’s known as "Energy Returned on Energy Invested." It is the ratio of the amount of usable energy delivered from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy used to obtain that energy resource.

As can be seen in a novel presentation prepared by the Hills Group we are close to the half way or break even point where the amount we get out of a barrel of oil equals the amount it took to find, refine, and transport the oil we use. This presentation has four of the best graphs I’ve seen. It is a little wonky at times but the math is simple. It’s a 45-minute listen, so find a time to take it all in.

EROI Graph

Photo still from YouTube video on SRSrocco

The point of the presentation is the effect on the economy. When the energy available in a barrel of oil equals the energy costs of exploration, extraction, processing and distributing, the entire system breaks down economically. Production and processing stop. There is no product to distribute. There is no gas for you car. The economy collapses — worldwide! Carbon emissions cease. Global warming emissions end. At the current rate, the projection is that this will occur by 2022.

I ask the question: Will carbon emissions end in 2022?


We face total collapse, according to Strauss and Howe or the EROI gurus. You tell me. Do you want to take a chance? Considering the recent election, Hunter S. Thompson, in consideration of an upcoming election once said, "All we have to do is get out and vote, while it's still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out of the White House." It did not happen in the election of 2016. The status quo is baked in. But we will survive. Change will come. 

The Gambler said, “you gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away when the dealings done.” The dealings done folks. It’s time to ante up. You may be living according to Plan A but you better have a plan B and learn to float like a leaf in the river. This is why I say growing your own food matters more now than ever. This is not bad news. This is just data. Where do you want to be in six, eight or 10 years? Find it and move.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, addresses the changes that are to come with this advice to a young activist; My friends, do not lose heart.We were made for these times."

One of the best solutions to the problems and the times we face has been proposed by the Transition Towns movement. Their goal is to to build community resilience in the face of challenges such as peak oil (EROI), climate change and the economic crisis. Find your Lake Wobegone and move to a place where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.  You are gathering the tools you will need to make the trip back to nature.

Some of you have all the tools and you’re getting ready to pass then on to your kids and grandkids. Some of you are just beginning. Enjoy the ride. We have.


Coevolution Quarterly, Issue No. 11, September 1976.
Steve St. Angelo (SRSrocco Report)
The Hills Group (2013). Depletion: A determination for the world'spetroleum reserve. Study overview.

Dr. Clarissa Estes

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby'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.

Operation Aphid: Combating the Garden Pest

Aphids On A Plant Stem

Photo by Andreas Eichler

The aphid. The name hardly conjures images of destruction, but that’s exactly what these little pests do best. A longtime scourge of gardeners and farmers alike, these sap-sucking insects thrive in temperate regions and multiply very quickly if not controlled.

Luckily, reducing and eliminating aphid populations is manageable and can be done quickly and inexpensively with products found around the house.

Aphids are very small in size and may escape detection by the naked eye. Color will vary depending on the species, but they all share a pear-shaped body with two antennae-like tubes protruding from the rear.

In search of plant juices, aphids will attack all parts of a plant, causing the plant to lose nutritive sap. In some cases, aphids may transmit harmful viruses to the plant.

In general, aphids prefer new growth and the underside of leaves. Look out for the following telltale signs of aphid activity.

Spotting Aphids

Leaf curl. Aphids will attack the underside of a leaf, causing it to yellow, wilt and curl inwards. Check the underside of a curled leaf and you may find an aphid hiding spot.    

Sticky leaves and stem. Honeydew is a sticky, fluid-like byproduct of aphid feeding. It clogs leaf surfaces and can also attract ants.

Black leaves. The growth of a black mold on honeydew is known as sooty mold. The mold greatly decreases a plant’s appearance and inhibits its ability to absorb sunlight.

Increase in ant population. As mentioned above, honeydew attracts ants, which in turn will protect aphids from their natural predators.

Distorted flowers and fruit. Flower buds and fruit that have been attacked by aphids may have a distorted and stunted appearance.

Many plant species can withstand a minor aphid infestation; however, a more severe infestation can greatly impact your plant’s ability to grow and flourish. In cases where the root has been attacked, the plant may shrivel and die.   

Getting Rid of Aphids Quickly and Easily

Like most maladies, early detection and treatment can be instrumental in warding off a more serious infestation. Here are a few quick and simple methods you can try using products from your own home.    

Dish soap and water. A simple dish soap diluted in water works wonders as an insecticide. Dilute two tablespoons of dish soap in one gallon of water. Stir and transfer to a spray bottle. Before you begin treatment, spot test the soapy solution on a small area of the plant and wait a few hours. If the plant shows signs of damage, your solution may be too strong.

When spraying an affected plant, be sure to spray both sides of the leaves, as well as any fallen aphids you may see. Upon contact, the soap solution will disrupt cell membranes and dissolve any exterior protective waxes that cover the aphid, resulting in dehydration and death.   

Make sure to rinse the plant with water after treatment. Sunlight will react with any residual soap solution and may cause a chemical burn (for this reason it’s recommended spraying in the early evening, as the plant won’t be exposed to much further sunlight). Repeat treatment every few days until aphid population is under control.

Lemon spray. This natural solution kills aphids on contact. Simply zest a couple of lemons into a pot filled with enough water to fill a spray bottle. Boil the mixture for 10 minutes then let sit overnight. Transfer the mixture to your spray bottle and begin the treatment.  

Yellow bowl. A more passive and less invasive approach, this trick takes advantage of the aphid’s attraction to the color yellow. Simply fill a plastic yellow bowl with water and place it amongst the affected plants. The aphids will climb into the bowl and drown.

Striking a Balance

When treating your garden for pests, it’s important to keep in mind that you are altering the balance of an ecosystem. Many plant species are able to withstand minor aphid populations, and beneficial insects such as ladybird beetles and green lacewing larvae will help keep aphid numbers in check.

However, when you believe aphid activity is beginning to have an adverse affect on your garden, it’s best to employ minimally invasive tactics that won’t harm the general biodiversity of your garden. There are many products available at your local hydro store that combat aphids, but many growers prefer a DIY approach like the ones above if the infestation is caught early on. While they’re not the only ways to get rid of aphids, they’re a good, fast and inexpensive start.

Bryan Traficante co-founded GardenInMinutes in 2013, turning a passion for home gardening and innovation into a family-owned venture to make starting a quality garden, easier. Bryan and his family invented the Garden Grid watering system which combines square-foot planting principles with ground-level adjustable irrigation and no complicated assembly. They also craft tool-free, modular cedar garden beds and provide time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook and Twitter.

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