Garden Circkles:

Sustainable, eco-friendly and organic gardening tips and techniques.

See our Local Circkles pages for Farmer's Markets in your state. (Sorry, you must be a Circkles member.)

See our Green Circkles Page for tips and information on living a more sustainable lifestyle at home.

Heirloom Seed Suppliers: We have ordered from these suppliers and find them to be very reputable and honest.

Baker Creek carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. The company has become a tool to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage. Gardeners can request a free 212-page color catalog or order online.

Seed Savers Exchange's collections contain heirloom and open-pollinated (OP) varieties. Heirlooms are OPs with a long history of being cultivated and saved within a family or group. They have evolved by natural or human selection over time.

Annie's Heirloom Seeds: Heirloom seeds produce vegetable varieties that have been around for 50 years or more. These are the vegetables your grandmother grew. These are the vegetables that were around before the huge agrobusinesses that create most of the "food" on store shelves today.


Beneficial Insects: Assassin Bug.
Order: Hemiptera. Family: Reduviidae

Depending on your area, your assassin bugs may look slightly different from the one in this photo, but generally they are elongate, about 1/2"-3/4" long, dull or brightly colored, with a long head and legs and a curved beak they use to inject paralyzing venom into their prey- which is why you don't want to pick one up barehanded as it might bite you. They feast on flies, bees, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, caterpillars and tomato hornworms etc.
They will take up permanent residence in leafy perennials where they can stalk their prey - hence the name Assassin Bug.
The nymphs (young) look like smaller wingless versions of th adults.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:

With orchards starting to bloom soon, the backyard arborist has to start thinking of something to protect his apple blossoms. Apple scab is caused by the fungus Venturia inaequalis. This disease is a major problem in both organic and conventional apple growing. In many commercial orchards, apples are sprayed 10 to 20 times per year. The fungus winters in fallen leaves on the orchard floor, and in the spring it produces primary spores, ascospores, which are discharged after rain and dispersed to new leaves on the tree. The spores germinate on the leaf surface and attempt to penetrate the outer leaf layer, the cuticle, and grow between this layer and the outermost cell layer of the leaf. 

The successful use of a water extract from ivy (Hedera helix) to control apple scab was reported in Switzerland some years ago. Ivy contains compounds, which showed fungicidal effect against spores of V. inaequalis. The StopScab project has included testing of ivy extracts in the orchard at DIAS Aarslev this summer (2004), and the trials will be evaluated at fruit harvest. 

Many other plants contain similar compounds, e.g. soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), and extracts from roots of this plant has been reported to be effective against apple scab on apple seedling in greenhouse experiments carried out in Germany. 

Other very promising natural products are extracts of Citrus spp. However, it has recently been found that some commercialized products based on extracts from grapefruit kernels had been preserved with synthetic chemicals thus making them non-organic alternatives.

Companion Planting: Plants that assist each other to grow well, repel insects or even other plants when grown next to each other can be a sustainable and eco-friendly way to improve and protect your garden against unwanted inhabitants.

Wormwood Artemisia absinthium:

Absinth wormwood takes advantage of disturbed areas where there is little plant competition. Without attention, the plant will also out-compete desirable plants and grasses in pastures, fields, and native grasslands.
Growing like a small bush of about 15-24 inches with feathery silver-colored leaves. It has a smell similar to sage when you crush it in your hands and many people mistake it for sage. Planted as a border, it will keep animals away, but it will also compete heavily with any plants it is near, so plant it where you want to keep out other weeds or grass. Once established, it will not need to be watered and will readily self-sow all over your yard.

Companion Planting for Garden Benefits.

 " A major enemy of the carrot is the carrot fly, whereas the leek suffers from the onion fly and leek moth. Yet when they live together in companionship the strong and strangely different smell of the partner plant repels the insects so much that they do not even attempt to lay their eggs on the neighbor plant." Excerpt from "Carrots Love Tomatoes" by Louise Riotte.

If you plan ahead, you can get very creative with your companion planting by planting flowering herbs or flowers with vegetables in a landscape design that's not only pleasant to look at but beneficial as well. We will be offering a new column on companion plants in the left column of Garden Circkles in which every month we will feature a new companion plant and its benefits, so in this article, we will just go into the basic principles of companion planting.

Accumulative Plants: These are plants that are not so much beneficial for their insect repellent properties but because they collect or absorb nutrients from the soil, or in some cases, large amounts of nitrogen, and are very good to grow to add nutrients to the compost pile. They must be composted in order for other plants to be able to utilize their resources. Many accumulative plants are grown as cover crops: such as peas, buckwheat, clover, grains etc., and plowed under at the end of the season so that when they decompose they release their large stores of nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil where they will benefit a crop that needs them. If you till your garden, you can simply till these cover crops into the soil in the fall and let them decompose over the winter. The next spring plant a vegetable that would benefit from all the nutrients left by the cover crop such as corn, which is a heavy feeder. Rotate your cover crops with your vegetable crops every year to spread the benefits around.

Alfalfa is a great accumulative plant but cannot be planted as a cover crop because the roots go down too far into the soil and cannot be eradicated by tilling. But for that very reason, alfalfa's deep roots bring up a great deal of minerals to the top of the plant. To utilize these resources, it's best to have just a few alfalfa's plants around, cut them down and throw them on the compost pile. You can get 2-3 cuttings from one alfalfa plant every summer and it is very drought tolerant, needs no maintenance once established, and collects a great deal of nitrogen which is especially good for compost used to revitalize greenhouse dirt.

Although some plants perform better when planted with other plants, the opposite is also true: some plants perform much worse when planted with certain other plants. Rhubarb contains a natural herbicide type chemical that will prevent any other plants from growing in its vicinity or in dirt the rhubarb has recently occupied. So if you want to eradicate weeds in a certain area, grow some rhubarb there. Wormwood is another plant repellent as well as a rodent repellent.

Herbs: Act as very good natural insecticides. The more aromatic herbs repel insects quite effectively just be being planted next to vegetable crops, or they can be used to make herbal sprays. Pyrethrum is such a plant. A member of the Chrysanthemum family, many insecticides use it as a base in their formulas to kill bugs. Pyrethrum induces a toxic effect in insects and is a broad-spectrum natural insecticide that will work on many varieties of insects. It looks like a daisy so it's an attractive herb to have around as well as extremely beneficial.

Orchards: Planting chives around fruit trees will prevent apple scab and can be used as a spray for powdery mildew. Garlic planted around the base of fruit trees will repel nasty cutworms and beetle larvae (grub worms) that love to dine on the roots of plants and kill them. Garlic also repels mice who will girdle fruit trees in the winter months when there is snow on the ground. Bury some bulbs just below the surface of the soil and leave them to grow as perennials.

Download a companion planting chart as a pdf. This chart does not encompass all the companion planting options, but it will help to get you started. Follow our monthly "Companion Planting" column to the left of this page to learn about more companion plants and techniques and to stay current on updates to this intriguing practice.

© 2013 Redstone Promotional Communications/

Eco Garden Designs: Pond Ideas.

A backyard pond adds interest, entertainment, and a relaxing atmosphere to a any home and can be your little getaway if you live in the city. Many homeowners are building them right into patio and deck areas as part of the landscaping. With or without fish, natural or modern looking, a pond will quickly become the area you cherish most in your yard to relax in, so it's important to do it up right. Design is important, but equally important is making sure you design it to be as low maintenance as possible or it will become a chore to keep clean rather than a relaxing, enjoyable hobby.

April 2013
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