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


Three Myths about Compost Worm Farming

compost worm farming 

When I started growing my own vegetables, I knew that I wanted to use organic gardening methods. And the best way to fertilise is to make your own compost. This has the added benefit of reducing kitchen waste as it is recycled back into the garden.

I tried several methods of composting, but nothing worked for me. This was a huge disappointment because I really wanted to make my own compost and grow organic vegetables. Finally I tried a compost worm farm and it was so much easier than I expected!

I’m not one to stick to the rules, so I’ve pushed the boundaries and discovered that much of what you read about compost worms is a complete myth. They are actually really easy to look after. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my compost worm farming adventures: 

Myth 1: Compost worms are fussy eaters

You will find a list of things that compost worms apparently don’t eat, however I threw away the list and put anything organic (i.e. anything that was once alive) into the worm farm. This includes citrus peels and onion, I even given them the odd scrap of meat or cheese. Compost worms enjoy anything that is rotting, they actually feed off the bacteria, rather than the plant material. As long as you don’t fill your worm farm with acidic scraps, they will consume it eventually. You can also throw in a bit of lime and other minerals to help balance the pH and to make even better worm compost (vermicast). I also put shredded paper, weeds and cow manure in my worm farm. I find that the worms particularly enjoy hiding in avocado skins and eggshells.

Myth 2: Compost worms don’t live in your garden

At first I thought I had to be really careful to pick out all the compost worms when I wanted to use any of the vermicast in my garden. Most information about compost worms states that they will die in your garden. Then I got lazy and just scooped the compost out when I needed it, compost worms and all. Then I read that compost worms actually attract other earthworms in your garden! And as long as you are putting tasty mulch and manure on your garden, that will start to rot, the worms will have plenty to eat and will hang around. 

Worms help to build great soil by incorporating nutrients and improving soil texture, so I am keen to attract all types of worms to my garden. I now make sure that I get some compost worms in every handful of compost, and I regularly see all types of worms in my vegetable garden.

Myth 3: Worm wee must be diluted and poured on the roots of the plant

How do you know how much to dilute it? I gave up and used in undiluted, no problems so far. Possibly this is because I flush the entire worm farm every few days and collect the fresh worm wee (vermijuice!) rather than just letting it drip out the tap naturally. That means it is not as concentrated to start with, and it is very fresh.

I also learnt that the main benefit from fresh vermijuice is the good bacteria, not so much the nutrients. It can actually help your plants to pour this over the leaves as well as into the soil, just be sure to rinse your vegetables before eating. This is why it is better to flush the worm farm and use the vermijuice right away, as you get maximum good bacteria and no time for anaerobic bacteria to breed.

Think big! Its easy!

I started with a small compost worm farm from the supermarket and a handful or worms. I now have an old bath-tub converted into a compost worm farm. I keep this topped up with kitchen scraps and cow manure, and I have a constant supply of both vermicast and vermijuice. All my kitchen scraps are consumed by the dogs, the chickens or the wormfarm, so my overall waste is reduced.

If you want to know more about compost worms, I reviewed an excellent book called Organic Farming with Worms which gave me the confidence to bust some of these myths and expand my own compost worm farming capability (you can read my full review here).

I really hope this will encourage you to try compost worm farming for yourself, its not as hard as it sounds!

Liz Beavis is a small-scale cattle farmer and soap-making beekeeper in rural Queensland, Australia. On her Eight Acres Farm, she sells beef-tallow soaps, honey and beeswak, and is the author of Our Experience with House Cows, A Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors, Make Your Own Natural Soap, and the Solar Bore Pump Handbook. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, 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.

Tune to the Seasons, Find Adventure, and Other Ways Growing Food Will Cultivate Your Best Self

mintapples 

Our modern world is a very interesting place: As technology continues to pull us into the future, some of the foundations and frameworks that got us here are starting to fall apart. As we move into a more globalized world, the rural landscapes that have sustained the rise of cities and civilizations the world over are rapidly losing people, farms, and biodiversity. With the daily news cycle force feeding the public the horrible truths of climate change and political unrest, we can all find ourselves feeling a little hopeless. I’m here to tell you that there’s always hope and that hope begins with each of us starting to take a little more pride and responsibility for what makes our lives work.

Growing your own food might feel daunting. Many of us are completely separated from the generational wisdom of food cultivation carried forward by our ancestors. The many conveniences that surround us have made it seem almost pointless to toil away in the dirt and our busy lives have made it feel like we’ve got no time to dedicate to it in the first place. Below I’d like to share 10 totally solid reasons why you should try growing some of your own food.

1. It is super fun. Let’s start with something pretty universal. We all like to have fun, right? And with our social media platforms, it’s even somewhat of a competition over who’s having the most fun. So why not win that freakin' competition? Growing your own food is like baking, cooking, making art, playing music, or writing love poems. It’s taking something that is already beautiful and putting the most beautiful parts of yourself into it. Watching a tiny seed grow into a tiny plant which grows into something you can pick and eat is a magical experience. It will naturally make any space more beautiful and you can take so many selfies with the plants at every stage of development.

There are challenges just like any good video game or puzzle and absolute drama like when a squirrel discovers your tomatoes or the local deer start showing up right outside your doorstep with bad intentions. Becoming a gardener will also give your family so much ammunition during the holidays for terrible themed gifts and your family members may even start referring to you as “the crazy gardener”, “the one with the green thumb”, or even accuse you of being “crunchy.”

2. You will eat better. With so much garbage food touted as real food in the grocery stores and convenience stores of the world, and our relentless schedules constantly keeping us on our toes, many of us have succumbed to the temptations of the frozen food section, the delicious powdered cheeses, and every night restaurant visits or fast food binges. When you grow your own food, you will find yourself holding baskets of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. You will find yourself cooking these fresh crops, throwing them in your lunch bag as snacks, and your mind will be blown by house delicious they are. The reason why these fresh vegetables are so much more delicious than any horrible turnip or cardboard tomato you were forced to eat as a child is manifold. 

For starters, it was grown from the very love of your heart and there are few things tastier than love (grandma’s cooking, right?) Secondly, the produce itself didn’t have a prohibitively expensive price tag. Thirdly, the vegetables in the grocery store, organic and otherwise, were all grown utilizing super soluble forms of nitrogen which made them grow big, but left them tasting bitter. The food you grow on your own will be developing flavor from the myriad of nutrients mined by the diverse ecology in your soils or containers and will end up being more delicious, have better texture, and be better for you as a result.

radishes

3. You’ll get tied into the rhythm of the seasons and the weather. Ever find yourself stuck in a conversation with a coworker, acquaintance, or total stranger about the weather? When you grow your own food, you will go from not knowing what to say to potentially finding yourself oversharing how you feel about the weather and how it is impacting your crops. While it’s always good to add tools to the awkward socializing tool box, growing your own food will literally tune you to what’s happening outside. Our modern day experience of well lit, climate controlled boxes has separated us from the rhythms that guide the forces of our world. Our ancestors were so tuned to these annual, seasonal, and daily movements that the Earth’s greater wisdom was factored into all decisions, creations, and ceremonies.

There is something to this relationship and we are seeing the negative effects that have spurred from this separation in our mental health, the management of our moods and emotions, and within our ability to cultivate a sense of peace. Being tuned to nature gives us a sense of purpose for each season, a knowing that each rhythm has its place. The restlessness and depression that can beset us in the winter months can change into a restorative period that allows us time for reflection, and a quiet moment for our gardens and our bodies to rest.

4. You’ll become a more adventurous cook. By the time you’ve harvested your 200th zucchini from that one plant you planted in the back corner of your garden, you will find yourself spending time googling recipes and maybe even picking up actual cookbooks and turning actual pages for inspiration. Growing your own food lures you into the kitchen more than you’d think and you’ll find yourself making homegrown appetizers, experimental roasts, maybe some glazes, and even some raw superfood salads and smoothies, all while swinging your wooden spoon around like the freakin Barefoot Contessa. Your date, spouse, and or children will start showering you with compliments and you’ll realize that you were born for this hype.

5. You will spend more time being active outside. Now I know a lot of y’all are wholeheartedly dedicated to your spin class, hot yoga, cross fit, weight lifting, couch snacking, or what have you, but there is something to be said about the whole body work out of tending a garden. Instead of picking up weights and putting them down for no reason inside a box full of mirrors and sweaty humans, imagine picking up heavy objects outside in the cool, beautiful air surrounded by birdsongs. Imagine stretching your whole body while pulling weeds and not having to hold in your bodily functions in fear of social ruin. Imagine putting your entire self physically to work and in the end reaping the rewards of healthful, nourishing food for you and your family.

sun apples

6. It’s a great way to build community. So, back to that 200th zucchini you pulled from that one plant in your garden. You will reach a point with your summer squash harvests where enough is enough. You’ve run out of recipes and you actually can’t even imagine eating one more bite of zucchini or squash for the rest of your life. This is when Sneaking a Zucchini on a Neighbor’s Porch Day becomes critical. There will be times in the garden where the abundance of your crops will be overwhelming. When canning, freezing, and drying have all been accomplished, it will be time to share your harvests with your community. This can be through a foodbank, through cooking for your neighbors, or simply by giving fresh food to loved ones and family members.

These gifts and offerings will pull good people into your life. For those with limited growing space, joining a community garden can be a fun and supportive way of getting your hands dirty and growing some of your own food. Meeting other gardeners and sharing the joys and commiserating over the horror stories is a beautiful way to build community in a world that seems to be losing touch.

7. Your carbon footprint will be smaller. Most of the food you have access to in the grocery store has actually been shipped there from very far away. Whether its point of origin is another country altogether, or simply from a distant farm across the United States, an excess of resources have been used to get it there. It has also been packaged, likely with plastic, and has steadily lost nutrient every day of its journey. Growing your own food reduces your personal carbon footprint and limits the amount of resources that have been used to put food in your mouth. Additionally, it is super powerful to buy the food you can’t grow yourself as locally as possible. There are likely many farmer artisans in your region working tirelessly to rejuvenate the rural and urban landscapes that surround you and buying food from them supports that good work, continues to reduce your carbon footprint, and results in more delicious meals for you and your family.

tomatoes

8. You will learn about yourself. The garden is the ultimate place to get to know yourself. Many of the activities associated with caring for plants are meditative and soothing. While weeding or thinning carrots, you can tap into a quiet space where you may be able to better identify the damaging thoughts that race through your mind that typically go unchecked during your day to day routine. Additionally, the garden has small challenges, loss, and heartbreak on a scale that is more nurturing and lower stakes than that experienced in our day to day lives. In the garden we are not only cultivating beautiful plants and nourishing food to eat, we are discovering how we individually cope with the stresses and hardships of our lives and our experiences therein give us insight on how we may grow more balanced, more grateful, and more peaceful amid our repressed and internalized sufferings. 

9. You will be less reliant on the systems that exploit people, resources, and landscapes. It’s no secret that most all of the systems that manage resources on this Earth are problematic if not absolutely nefarious and corrupt. From the iphones that sit in our pockets all day to the salad bar at our local chain restaurant, everything that is so conveniently placed before us has come from somewhere else. The low price tag that is slapped on top doesn’t even come close to accounting for the people, resources, and landscapes that have been exploited to create it, sustain it, and make a profit for a select few from its distribution.

When we grow our own food we are taking one seemingly tiny step away from participating in a system that steals from the Earth and its people. We are making the choice that our ability to create is more miraculous, intuitive and enjoyable than our desire to consume. Stepping away from the shopping mania we’ve all been under since global commerce became the law of the land is the first step into a different world where wildfires, food apartheid, and top soil loss aren’t the status quo.

carrots dogs

10. Your garden is a sanctuary that helps to save our world. Alright, I know the saving the world bit sounds corny and maybe even overly optimistic, but hear me out. I want you to imagine the world as a living being. All of the plants and animals just parts that make up a totally awake, living, breathing whole. You can imagine how this living world was at one time totally connected; each bioregion a network that connected to the next bioregion and tied the Earth together in a living fabric. This living fabric generating the homeostasis that brings balance, fertility, and sustainability to all layers of the Earth’s body. Now imagine the human influence over time. Imagine industry, agriculture, and civilizations carving out landscapes, mining and cutting raw materials from their places of origin. You’d notice in the Earth’s body deep wounds of separation limiting the Earth’s ability to self regulate.

When we grow our own food amidst the seemingly unstoppable chaos we have enacted on our living home, we create tiny seeds of biodiversity within the great, deepening wounds. Birds, bees, soil microorganisms, amphibians, mammals, humans and countless others all benefit from these little, hopeful sanctuaries. When we all plant gardens we are doing our part to try and tie the world back together and every bloom is an offering to the Earth that we haven’t given up on her yet.

Darby Weaver has spent the last 11 years growing biodynamic produce and teaching holistic and ecological methods to learners of all ages and backgrounds through articles, agriculture intensives, workshops, and lectures.  She currently owns and operates Life Arises Farm in Wolcott, Vermont with her husband Elliot Smith. You can read all of Darby'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.

Plants of the Bible: The Original Food Forests

Photo by Tib

The Mediterranean Basin and California share similar climate, in part because both sit in the range of 30 to 39 degrees north latitude. This latitude is considered a sub-tropical belt that can accommodate some tropical plants with less threat of frost than areas farther from the equator.   In Biblical times, the Eastern Mediterranean was wetter then at present — more like here where I live in the East Bay of California.

From the Atlas Mountains of Morocco down to the mouth of the Mediterranean at Gibraltar and continuing from the Zagros Mountains down into the Iraqi lowlands, much can be compared to our mighty Bay Area as the terminus of the Sierra Nevada Mountains' many watersheds.

In each case, upland plants make their way down the rocky slopes of hills and mountains, converging at creek confluences to move down the mountain in riverine green belts. Such “key points” of the upland watershed were crucial for ancestral people to take advantage of the fresh and episodic water before it gave way to the fertile river valleys down below and on into the marshes and wetlands. The historic “Garden of Eden” was most likely in such a dryland, upland river valley.

Plants of the Bible and the Original Food Forests

The following plants made their way into human cultivation from a region of the Old World where life sprouts in dryland hotspots for biodiversity. In the mountains of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Isreal, an abundance of life happens at the confluence of two creek drainages. Such meeting grounds allow for dry places, at times, to have enough water to foster more biotic growth: an oasis.

Oasis gardens. Early people would gather in such places to browse, to process, to rest and to gather water. Over eons, such places would continue to deposit and build up seeds and sprouts from human visits. Over time, such casual encounters led to the propagating, fostering and protecting of crops that inhabitants could consume for their edible qualities. Some see this tendency as the trend that began modern agriculture and the cultivation and co-evolution of many domesticated plants.

Bustan gardens. In a drylands region, gardens were able to thrive in oasis of water.  The Farsi term bustan is referred to as “the place that smells”, meaning the area which fruits, herbs, and vegetables are raised in a cohabitational symbiosis. These “bustan gardens” are protected from the harsh summer sun by palm trees overhead. The palms act as the nursery trees, creating shade pockets where more fragile species can live. Little by little, such systems diversify over time to create a thriving, multi-storied food forest.

Food forestry in California mission history. When the Spanish Franciscan missionaries came into “Alta California”, they brought with them from the Old World the Biblical plants, known for their ability to propagate readily and grow in a semi-arid region. Since these plants evolved in the dry Middle East, they are ruggedly tolerant of the California summer-dry, winter-wet climate we have here. Thus, they are great candidates to add to your East Bay home gardens — and those in similar climates across North America — to foster a food forest system that is appropriate to this region’s climate.

Photo by Simon

Plants from Song of Solomon

The plants mentioned in Song of Solomon harken back to hunter-gatherer humans.

Date palm. (Phoenix dactylifera) Originally found in lowlands Mediterranean, an over-story plant in cultivation since 7,000 BCE in Pakistan. Rare fruit grower and permaculture consultant John Valenzuela recommends growers in Northern California to try the variety: hybrid Phoenix dactylifera X Phoenix canariensis. Grow from seed.

Pomegranate. (Punica Granatum) Originally from upland Caucus Mountains, this mid-story plant has been in cultivation for 7,000 years in Israel and Egypt. More than 500 cultivars of this hearty plant com from the Myrtle family. Propagate from cuttings.

Plants from Genesis

These plants mentioned in Genesis denote the beginnings of human-plant co-evolution, otherwise referred to as horticulture.

Apple. (Malus domestica) Originally from bottomland Central Asia, a mid-story plant with more than 7,500 known cultivars. Try one early-season apple, one mid-season apple, one late-season apple, and one crab apple variety. A few of my favorites are ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Pippin’, and ‘Braeburn’.

Grape. (Vitus vinifera) Originally from upland Caucus Mountains, a climbing vine with more than 5,000 varieties. Grapes were cultivated from 6,000 BCE in Georgia and wine jugs 7,000 years old have been discovered in Persia. Propagate from cuttings, and grapes perform wonderfully on fences. For growers seeking faster growth over larger grapes, try the California native grape Vitus californica.

Photo by ulleo

Other Plants of the Bible

These plants speak to the time of the silk route, where plants were exchanged from all over Europe, the Mediterranean region, Africa, and Central and East Asia.

Olive. (Olea europea) With origins in Greece and Asia Minor, this mid-sized tree is believed to be between 20 and 40 million years old in its present, edible form. Seven thousand years of cultivation has provided humanity with skin protection and protein. Propagate from cuttings and plant production trees with at least one other type to foster pollination. I recommend planting three ‘Black Mission’ and one ‘Manzanillo’ olive together.

Fig.(Ficus carica) Originating in upland and lowland Caucus Mountains, fig is a mid-sized tree, cultivated for 4,000 years in Turkey. Propagate from cutting.

Carob. (Ceratonia siliqua) Originated in Northern Africa, an over-story tree that provides protein, fixes nitrogen, and provides nutritious animal feed. Propagate from cutting.

Jujube. (Ziziphus jujube) Originated in Western Asia, productive in dry conditions with more than 400 cultivars grown in China for more than 4,000 years. Jujube was domesticated in South Asia by 9,000 BCE. Propagate from cuttings.

Understory plants and herbs from the Bible

Lentis (Lens esculenta), cucumber (Cucumis melo), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), marjoram (Origanum majora), and garlic (Allium sativum) all come to us from Biblical places and times. Each provides various understory benefits that include winter blossoms, aroma, and soil-building and rodent-preventing properties.

Resources

I interviewed John Valenzuela for this article. He is a wealth of knowledge on organic orcharding an food forests. The MOTHER EARTH NEWS community can find him at Cornucopia Food Forest Gardens. California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other 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.

Top 10 Money Saving Crops

salad-264826_1280
Photo by Pixabay/ejaugsburg

Here are our 10 favorite money-saving crops. 

1. Leafy Herbs 

Leafy herbs don’t store or travel well, so they’re expensive to buy. Gardeners can save money by growing basil, parsley, cilantro and other leafy herbs to harvest fresh as required.

2. Cut-and-come-again Lettuce

Cut-and-come-again lettuce is another short-lived crop once harvested, but by growing your own and harvesting little and often, a single sowing can continue to produce fresh leaves for months. Even just a few containers can produce plenty of fresh leaves.

3. Quick-growing Salad Ingredients

Rapid-growing salad ingredients like radishes, baby beets and scallions grow fast enough to make repeat sowings as you harvest throughout the growing season.  You can even grow them in gaps between slower maturing crops so they don’t take up extra space.

4. Pole Beans 

Healthy, filling, pole beans are full of plant protein. Beans will produce pods in abundance all summer long, so long as you keep on picking.

5. Fruiting Vegetables

Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers that can be trained to grow vertically or that climb will produce lots of fruits from a relatively small area. Give them the sunniest spot you can find and feed plants regularly to boost both yield and taste.

6. Garlic 

Garlic is relatively expensive but takes up little space, and it stores well too. Harvest garlic by midsummer and you’ll still have time to grow a follow-on crop to make the most of your space.

7. Celery 

Harvest celery by the stem as required to avoid the waste that often accompanies purchasing whole heads of celery. Self-blanching varieties are the easiest to grow.

8. Zucchini 

Zucchini can be used in just about everything from stir-fries to cakes, and it’s incredibly prolific. Try growing marigolds or other companion flowers nearby to improve pollination and boost harvests further.

9. Soft fruits

Soft fruits are easily damaged, so they require careful handling and packaging. This makes them expensive to buy, but they’re very easy to grow. Freeze or can any excess.

10. Leafy Greens 

Hard-working leafy greens such as chard and kale can keep cropping for months, so you can enjoy fresh greens steamed, stewed or blitzed up into your morning smoothie for practically free.

Get More Tips with These Great 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.

My Ironic Natural Landscaping Twist

Getting rid of lawn expanses

Several years ago, we decided to limit the amount of lawn we were having to mow. The children had grown and moved out and we no longer needed a large area for playing catch or otherwise running around.

Our first tendency was to mow pathways through the lawn, letting other patches grow and become meadow-like. Unfortunately, as much as we enjoyed the look, feel, and sound of this, we found that it was blatantly against the law. The Ohio Revised Code (at the time) stated that our “lawn” could be no taller than 12 inches. We received our first “Mow it, or we will and then charge you” letter.

I tried laying it down flat, but was told it was still long and needed to be mowed. My heart broke as we had a friend mow it for us. I set about learning all I could about the laws pertaining to private property gardens. We also decided to intentionally create a more wildlife-friendly garden and to try to produce more food for ourselves.

chicory loving insects

Slowly but surely, we have transformed those grass gardens into beds of a growing diversity of plants—many of them natives. One of the largest aids to our transformations was to discover that we could obtain free mulch delivered through our tree arborists. The downside is that these arborist chips can contain things like black walnut which is toxic to some plants. A definite benefit is that we have a never-ending supply to do with what we choose.

This transition didn’t happen overnight and there were road bumps along the way. After I studied the “noxious weeds” list and rid our property of all that applied, the Village still attempted to “clean up” our property with subsequent letters and meetings. It was anything but cordial or comfortable in the beginning, replete with raised voices and threats on both sides.

After much education and growing patience, we muddled forward. One of the lingering bugaboos was our insistence that we be allowed to let the chicory on our bank remain. To many of the Village politicians, this was a weed (most are farmers or from farming families). To us, the chicory was pretty, useful to us, and was providing seeds and habitat to birds and insects.

In the final judging, they are not a noxious weed (legally). We were otherwise in compliance. Our garden may buck the norm for Ohio since it isn’t a large expanse of lawn but they couldn’t come after us for “ugly” and their solicitor told them so. Beauty is, in our case, in our eyes. And when I feel the need to prune or remove, I simply pull out my handy ratcheting loppers.

Swearing in a tree hugger

Since receiving our first letter, I have attended nearly every monthly Council meeting. I wanted to stay abreast of the various tasks they dealt with as well as get a heads up on any looming problems with our property. I found the process fascinating, educational, curious at times, and rarely boring. I’ve watched two mayors and countless council members come and go. I have grown to respect the process and the hardworking employees along with the elected officials.

Since I was attending the meetings anyway, I decided to run for our Village Council last fall. There were three of us running for two seats. Being the odd woman out, I didn’t make it onto Council. However, one of the formerly seated members resigned at the end of the year and they appointed me to fill his seat.

I recently found out on what committees I was to serve. One of them is called Public Grounds and Streetlights. Part of this committee is charged with the Beautification of the village. More than a few people have pointed out the irony of this appointment—from fighting the city for my right to keep my garden lush and full of life to having a solid say in how the village grows forward. I’ll take that irony. Here’s hoping that more natural landscapers find their way onto the bodies who make rules. Perhaps our voices can be amplified evermore.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


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.

6 Sensational Gardening Hacks

gardening-690940_640
Photo by Pixabay/Free-Photos

Here are six ingenious ideas to help you achieve more in the garden with less time, less effort or less money:

1. Start Seeds in Eggshells

Peel the top off a boiled egg then prick a hole into the bottom using a pushpin for drainage. Enjoy your egg as normal.

When you have enough eggshells, boil them in water for one minute to sterilize them, then let them dry. Fill them with seed starting mix, sow, and water. When it’s time to plant your seedlings, slightly crush the eggshell between your fingers so the roots can escape into the soil. Plant your seedling and its eggshell pot.

Eggshells will break down as your plants grow and add valuable nutrients such as calcium to the soil.

2. Make Organic Fertilizer

Place banana skins, coffee grounds, some eggshells and a few cups of water in a blender and whizz it up. Dilute the grainy liquid with more water and use it fresh to fertilize your plants, especially hungry feeders such as squashes, tomatoes and pole beans.

3. Organize Plant Labels

Plant labels which have handy growing instructions on them are easy to lose. Make a hole at one end of the label using a hole punch, then thread a keyring through the hole. Hang them up in your shed or greenhouse for easy reference.


4. Make Tool Care Simple

Mix sand with vegetable oil and fill a pot with the mixture. Store small tools such as trowels and hand forks in it when not in use, or fill a bucket with the mixture to dip spade and fork blades into before putting them away.

The abrasive sand will help clean tool blades, while the oil prevents rusting.

5. Recycle Plastic Bottles to Protect Plants

Keep seedlings safe from cold and wind using old plastic bottles such as gallon-sized milk cartons or soda bottles. Cut the bottom off a bottle, remove the cap so air can circulate, and place it over your plants as a cheap and cheerful cloche.

6. Make Organic Weedkiller

Mix one pint of white vinegar with two tablespoons of salt and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Decant into a spray bottle and, wearing gloves, spray onto weeds in paving or other hard surfaces on a still, sunny day.

Get More Tips with These Great 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.

One Veteran Finds a New Beginning through Organic Gardening

Young Boy Walking In Garden

War changes a person. Speaking as a veteran, I see war as the opposite of creation. To me, the very purpose of war is to destroy. And many men and women who have served know firsthand that war can destroy your soul as well. Doctors like to call these mental and emotional disturbances from war "post-traumatic stress disorder," or PTSD. But many veterans will tell you that what they experience is not so easily classified as PTSD. Rather, war made me smarter; it made me aware of what humans are capable of. We have done some despicable things to each other over the eons. War destroyed my psyche. It destroyed my ability to function in social environments, which is the very environment that makes us human. War disconnected me from the human experience. That’s how I felt at least: disconnected.

I became interested in gardening as a form of post-trauma therapy when I decided that there was no way I could trust leaving my wellbeing in the hands of a system run by people. People mess up. I wanted to hunt and grow my own food. In the midst of all these goings-on, I had started on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ roller coaster of medication — an antidepressant class of drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs — seemingly by the pound.

I soon had no feelings whatsoever and just felt like a zombie. I began to have suicidal thoughts that just weren’t there before. At the urging of my entire family, I got off of them and began to garden as a replacement therapy.

There came no overnight miracle. Yet, slowly, through the planting of a seed, I had started to begin to appreciate life again. As I would watch this seedling grow, and as I cautiously built up the soil, I began to see again that our world is so connected — from the mycelium in healthy, organic matter-rich soil to the miracle that is a watermelon plant. All of those are connected. The mycelium helps the roots uptake nutrients, which in turn give the mycelium nutrients the fungus cannot otherwise get. Then, I ingest those nutrients when I eat the melon.

Seedlings In Therapy Garden Plot

There is something wholesome and wonderful in this symbiosis. The act of taking a single seed, preparing your ground, planting the seed, watching it sprout, weeding, watering, pruning and harvesting the fruit, connects you to this world in a way that few other activities can. And that’s what I was missing: the connection.

Food has been bringing us together since the dawn of human inhabitation of Earth. Tribes eat together. They fight together, they live together, and they die together. The military offers this dynamic, too, and it’s one of its most enduring strengths. It’s also what is missing in our world today. We miss having a tribe.

Growing local food can bring that tribe back together. It can create community where it is lacking, for those of us who are missing it. Whole generations of people are missing out on community and fresh food. Creating a tribe using local food has given me a mission again. It’s connected me to nature, to my food, and to people.

Everything about organic gardening is about creating. Creating soil that moves and breathes and is on a mission to make us into healthy people and to create a healthy environment. All of that in order to feed people and make them healthy and strong, nutrient-dense folks! For many of us veterans, gardening is about creating during our remaining time here instead of destroying. To my fellow veterans and their supporters, happy gardening.


Ory Jeffries is a gardener in Southwest Missouri who writes at the intersection of food, growing, and mental and emotional wellbeing. 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.






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me