Category Archives: Gardening

The Rise of Community Gardening – Guest Post

With the highest rising obesity rates in the world, major health issues in the U.S. are beginning to take their toll on the population at large. In 2010, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) stated the worrying statistic that around 35.7% of adults are obese, as well as 17% of the populace’s children. These figures cast ugly aspersions on our ability to eat well, and can be seen as a comment on our lack of self-control and our attempts to eschew the temptations of the pervasive fast food world.

The Rise of Community Gardening

Thankfully, things are now changing.

The number of health-aware consumers is steadily climbing nationwide, and a newly conscious society is emerging. It’s important to understand the journey of any of the thousands of food products that end up on your plate. Being knowledgeable about the meals you consume means you can ask informed questions about any worries or concerns you may have. With the burgeoning power of online communication and the influential weight of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, members of the general public can now research and educate themselves about the food that they’re buying, preparing, and serving to their family and friends.

You may have noticed the striking increase in farmers markets, organic supermarkets and the special supplementary organic sections in key grocery stores. The organic production industry was reportedly worth $12.4 billion in America alone a mere two years ago, and has been on an unshakable upward trajectory ever since.

Over decades, farmers have been producing crops routinely sprayed with all kinds of fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and other chemical-altering mixtures and, in recent years, consumers have altered their attitudes towards GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Mankind’s innovative technological advances in biochemistry and engineering have somewhat backfired, helping us journey down a dangerous path. Through the habitual manipulation of Mother Nature, fresh fruits and vegetables have become disturbingly less healthy. Combine this with the everlasting criticism over the ubiquitous fast food presence assailing our daily culture, and you can see why so many are looking for cleaner methods of quality food production.

Comparable to a food-based time-share opportunity, the worthwhile and gratifying concept of community organic gardening encourages a group of friends and/or neighbors to rent a piece of fallow land and, with the use of organic fertilizers, grow what they choose. Renting several plots of fertile soil will supply gardeners with the prospect of growing a whole host of delicious crops, including potatoes, tomatoes, apples, sweet corn and cabbages, herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley and thyme, and a multitude of vibrant, colorful flowers.

Shared public garden spaces are typically popular for those who live in apartments and don’t have their own backyard. Community gardening develops a palpable sense of community spirit, because it’s an enterprise that brings together those from varying cultural and economic backgrounds, and unites people of different race and age groups through the beautification of nature. Therefore, community gardening reaps enormous social rewards, as well as a feeling of neighborhood improvement and a much-needed connection to the environment.

Time For Action on Clothianidin Pesticide

I’ve posted in the past about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bees, but I haven’t paid much attention to the topic lately because I haven’t seen much going on. That said, it’s clearly still a problem when you take a look at the losses beekeepers are suffering in their colonies. That’s why beekeepers are petitioning the EPA to suspend the use of Clothianidin, a pesticide which is suspected to be at least a partial cause of CCD.

The trouble is that it’s really hard to say if Clothianindin is the problem or no, as testing on it may have been poorly designed. That said, some beekeepers say they have greater losses than usual when they bring their bees to crops treated with Clothianindin. Obviously, that’s suspicious to them.

The worst part is that the EPA is already aware of problems with Clothianindin. It’s less risky to agricultural workers, fish and wildlife than other pesticides, but they don’t feel the situation merits a ban at this time.  It has, however, been banned in some European countries.

While it’s likely that Clothianindin is not the only cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, it looks as though it’s probably a factor, and that’s worth considering. If you want to do something to help, there are a few things you can do.

You can get involved with groups such as the Pesticide Action Network. They have suggested actions you can take, such as contacting Congress.

You can also make sure your property is friendly to bees. Have a variety of flowers available to them, and don’t use pesticides in your own yard. Native plants are best for bees, but you can always grow a garden for your family while attracting bees. It may not sound like much, but it’s one of the best things you can do directly for the bees in your area.

7 Homemade Weed Killers

Herbicides can be hard on the environment, but many people like them because it’s the easy way to get rid of weeds. The problem is that they can make your yard toxic to other creatures as well as your children. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to kill weeds in your yard that aren’t dangerous to much aside from the weeds.

My goal here is to keep things as safe over time as possible. There may be some risk with certain products at the start, and you should be careful of how much of some weed killers you get into the soil. Anything other than the boiling water may stick in the soil a little and make it harder to grow other plants there if you overdo it.

1. Boiling water

I use this method regularly. It’s pretty time consuming, but there’s no dangerous residue and it’s effective on many weeds. You may have to treat an area a few times, as boiling water doesn’t get down to the roots. Be persistent, and the roots will have a much harder time recovering. That said, I’ve found that dandelions seem to recover really quickly from having boiling water poured on them. Those things are stubborn!

The great part is that the boiling water cools within minutes. I’ve made the mistake of stepping on areas I’ve treated shortly after pouring the water, and it can be uncomfortably hot, but I have yet to get a burn. You do have to be careful with the water when you’re pouring it, of course, as it will burn you at that point.

Boiling water will of course kill all plant material it comes in contact with, so you don’t want to risk pouring it too near plants you actually care about.

2. Cover them

If you cover a weed, it will die due to the lack of sunlight. A few layers of newspaper will work well, but you can place just about anything on top of a weed to kill it. I have a circle of bare earth right where one of the kids left a bucket in the middle of my lawn, in fact. This method is slow and highly subject to the cover being moved, but if it stays long enough, that weed will die.

This is a part of why mulching around your garden is such a good idea. It covers the areas where weeds might grow, plus helps to keep the soil moist.

3. Pull the weeds yourself

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but pulling weeds by hand and with appropriate garden tools absolutely works. You can always assign the job to the kids once they know how to tell a weed from a wanted plant. Do your best to get the root when you pull weeds, and try not to spread any seeds.

4. Vinegar

Many people swear by vinegar as a weed killer. It’s an acid, and it works. Don’t dilute it with water, but some say you can mix it with a squirt of soap to make it more effective. The plain vinegar you use in your kitchen should work, but you can also use pickling vinegar or other stronger formulations. Be careful as the acidity goes up, as you can get a burn from the more acidic varieties.

Vinegar will dilute in the soil over time, but it may be too much for young plants, so be careful about using it near your garden. It may make the soil sterile for a year or two if too much vinegar gets into the soil. That’s a benefit if it’s a place you don’t want anything growing, but a serious problem for your lawn or garden. The more acidic your mixture, the more likely you are to have a problem of this sort.

5. Salt

This is one to be really careful with. There’s a reason why salting the earth was used in war. Nothing will grow in soil that is too salty. But if you do it carefully, it can kill weeds for you. Do your best to keep the salt on the leaves of the weeds, not in your soil. This is not a personal favorite, but in places you really don’t want anything growing, it’s a pretty effective treatment.

6. Corn gluten meal

If you use corn gluten meal, you need to be sure you buy a type made as a pre-emergent herbicide. It doesn’t kill weeds so much as it keeps seeds from sprouting. On the plus side, you can use it in areas where you’ll be planting grown plants, as it won’t effect them.

7. Maintain a healthy lawn and garden

If your lawn and garden don’t give space to weeds, weeds will have a much harder time growing. You aren’t so much killing weeds as denying them the chance to live in the first place.

All this said, remember that many weeds serve a purpose. Clover and dandelions attract bees, for example. If you can stand them in your lawn, leave them be. If you can’t, at least try to plant other plants to attract bees, such as native flowers.

How Does Your School’s Garden Grow?

My kids’ school has been pretty interesting this year. It’s an International Baccalaureate candidate school, so they’re trying a lot of new things right now. Each class has taken on a community project. For my son’s class, that’s starting a garden at the school.

School gardens have become more popular in recent years. School have come to see the value of gardening as a way to teach science to children and to show them what fresh produce looks like. Students get to see how seeds grow into plants and how plants produce fruits, vegetables and flowers. They can learn about bees and insects which are valuable to the life cycle of the plants, and the ones which are damaging to it.

Our school is just starting it’s gardens. This weekend they had volunteers come on campus to prepare garden beds, and they’re having a seed drive to collect seeds. We sent quite a number from my husband’s stash of seed, as in our current situation we just don’t have the space to plant many of them.

Later this week, the school will have groups of students planting seeds. The plan is to grow both vegetables and flowers for the kids. It’s not going to be easy, as not all the spaces chosen for gardening have sprinklers installed already, and those areas will have to be watered manually.

If your children’s school is gardening already, I hope it’s a wonderful experience for them. If not, maybe it’s a good time to bring up the subject and see what it would take to put aside a little space for a school garden. It doesn’t have to be huge, just enough space to be educational. Civil Eats has a good article on a few school garden programs across the country.

Start Planning Your Garden Now

It may be winter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be planning your garden already. It takes time to figure out what you want to grow this year, get the seeds and get things moving. A little extra time means you’ll be ready when it’s the right time to start planting in your area.

In our garden, for example, we already know that we’re switching where the vegetables grow and where the wildflowers will be. It will be a bit of a pain switching them, but it seems to me that where we had the vegetables last year got too much direct sun combined with reflected heat for the health of the plants. Our yard is small, and we rent, so we’re limited in what we can do. The fence there is cinderblock, and reflected quite a bit of heat onto the plants. The soil there dries out much more quickly than the rest of the yard.

I already have the kids taking some of the seeds from last year’s wildflowers and shaking them over the area where we had the vegetables. With any luck, a few of them will sprout when the time is right. We’ll add more seeds and actually plant them when it’s spring. More planning is of course necessary for the vegetable garden.

Decide What You Want to Grow

You probably have some favorites you grow each year. Tomatoes are the one my husband insists upon, with several varieties grown each year. Sweet basil is another favorite. I want to include string beans this year, as when we’ve grown them other times the kids have eaten them like candy. By that I mean begging to eat more, willing to do chores to get extra. They really love fresh, raw string beans.

I recommend looking for heirloom and/or organic seed sources. You can also buy young plants if you prefer, but seeds cost less.

Lay Out Your Garden on Paper

Figure out what space you have for your garden and how much room you need for each kind of plant. There are plenty of gardening books out there to help you figure this part out if you aren’t comfortable doing it on your own.

Know When to Start Planting

When it’s safe to start planting your garden depends on where you live and what you want to grow. Some plants are more frost resistant than others, some need warmer weather than others to grow well. There are plenty of garden zone maps available online, and seed packets often tell you where and when they’re most likely to do well.

Decide How to Prepare Your Soil

You may not be able to do any actual soil prep in the winter, depending on where you live, but you can consider what you’re going to do with it. If you have a compost pile, for example, you may want to mix in some of that compost.

Decide How to Start Your Seeds

Many people start their seeds indoors. You don’t have to worry about frost or critters getting your seeds or very young plants that way. You can get a bit of a head start this way.

Others prefer to start their seeds in the ground. It’s simpler to not worry about transplanting things later on. Either way can work.

Talk Rewards With Your Kids

One thing that helped our garden last year was setting a reward for spotting tomato hornworms.  The kids loved getting paid to spot those pests, which were doing some serious damage to our tomatoes. They’re learning to pull weeds too, although that requires more supervision as they usually have questions. Kids can be a wonderful, natural way to control weeds.