" What is a weed?
A plant whose virtues have never been discovered."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Garden Circkles:

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

See our Local Circkles pages for Farmer's Markets in your state.

See our Green Circkles Page for homesteading suppliers, tips and information on living a more sustain-able lifestyle at home.
Find more gardening articles
in our Archives, and garden tips, more on beneficial bugs and natural pest, disease control and more.

Heirloom Seed Suppliers: We have ordered from these suppliers and find them to be very reputable, reasonably priced 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:

Green Lacewings.
Order: Neuroptera. Family: Chrysopidae

Average Size: 1/2" to 3/4".

The alligator-shaped larvae of this beneficial look like a nasty pest but they use their curved mandibles to impale aphids and other soft-bodied insects and suck them dry. Hence their name of aphid lions. They also feed on spider mites (especially red mites), thrips, whitefly, leafhoppers, some beetle larvae, eggs and caterpillars of moths, and mealybugs. The larvae will eat for 2-3 weeks, spin a cocoon, and 10-14 days later, emerge as adults.

Green lacewings are available from some commercial gardening centers and are good at sticking around in your garden if you supply them with nectar producing plants and foliage to lay their eggs.
Pale green to gray eggs are attached to slender stalks. This protects them from cannibalism from the newly hatched larvae who emerge with such a veracious appetite they will even eat their own kind.

Adults feed on insects also but prefer nectar, and are usually found among weeds, grass and the leaves of trees. To encourage them to hang around, grow nectar-producing plants such as sunflowers, angelica, corn and some flowering weeds or herbs.

Photos from top: 1.) Adult lacewing. 2.) Lacewing eggs.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:

Problems With Hormonal Control.

For organic growers and those in the biological control field, the initial enthusiasm for hormonal control of insect pests has been diminished by the discovery that, "there is danger that developments in this field could follow the pattern resulting from the almost exclusive reliance on conventional insecticides," states C. B. Huffaker in a research paper prepared for the 1973 conference on integrated pest management held in Berkeley, CA.

He goes on further to say that, "although it's thought that hormonal chemicals disrupt processes peculiar to insects, and although insect hormones are structurally different from that of vertebrates, we should not conclude that vertebrates are safe. It comes to mind that developers and manufacturers of chemical products have been incredibly lax in the past in testing for long-term effects. If we'd known in 1945 what we know now about DDT today, we might not have covered the earth with a layer of the stuff."

Given the above information, it would seem that we should try every natural means possible to control insects rather than resorting to chemicals or GMOs when even scientists admit that they don't know the long term effects of so-called "safe" biotechnology. And really, there is no such thing as a safe chemical. The human body is not designed to run on chemicals at all, but strictkly organic matter, and scientists know this. The ones developing toxic chemicals for pesticides and herbicides are doing it strictly for the money.

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 pests and disease.

Beets Beta vulgaris.

Beets grow well near bush beans but do not like pole beans. They also do well with onions or kohlrabi. Lettuce and most members of the cabbage family are good companions for beets but field mustard and charlock inhibit their growth.

Birch Betula. (Gray Birch)

Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, one of the early advocates of the Bio-Dynamic Method of farming and gardening observed that compost piles benefitted from birch roots which excrete a substance that encourages fermentation. Even if the roots of the birch tree penetrate the compost pile, the compost suffers no loss of nutrients due to the added benefit of the gray birch.

It is recommended that you keep your compost pile at least six feet away from the trunk of the tree however, so as not to cause the the tree trunk or roots to rot.



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Making A Greenhouse Self Sufficient. (Part two of two on Greenhouse Designs.)

By Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com

Making a greenhouse solar may sound superfluous, but a greenhouse can utilize the sun for light and not be self supportive or energy efficient. Many greenhouse growers still use electricity to heat and cool their greenhouse, however, our greenhouse setup has been proven to work extremely well in doing the same thing with absolutely no electricity.

A completely self sufficient greenhouse takes some initial planning in the set up stage, but after that is very low maintenance. First of all, building raised beds instead of using pots is much more energy and space efficient. We discovered this simple fact made a huge difference in the efficiency of our greenhouse setup for one very good reason: the beds will gather and emit heat in the winter to keep plants warmer than pots will, and beds absorb excess heat in the summer to keep plants cooler. We made the beds out of redwood so they wouldn't rot, and 2 feet high to allow plenty of room for deep-rooted plants. We also made them 3 feet wide all the way around the inside of our 9x12 demo greenhouse, leaving a path through the middle of the beds so we could walk to the back of the greenhouse to open vents, and to allow the doors of the greenhouse to be unobstructed.

We then placed a 33 gallon garbage can in each corner filled to the top with water and covered. The 33 gallon containers not only act to mulch the corners to hold in more moisture in those areas that dry out quicker than the rest of the bed, they absorb heat during the day and emit it at night to keep plants from freezing during the winter months and baking during the intense summer months. Large barrels or containers of water act as thermostats to aid in regulating and keeping the temperature inside the greenhouse a bit more even so it doesn't fluctuate from one extreme to the other, which is so typical with a greenhouse and which plants don't like - especially tomatoes.

Next we put portable shelves over the raised bed in various places which are 3-4 feet high and sit in the back against the walls of the greenhouse so we can still allow for plants underneath them. We use these shelves to place dirt-filled trays for shallow-rooted, small plants like lettuce greens or radishes so we can utilize dead space above the beds that is not being used by taller plants, thereby creating twice the greenhouse area to plant in. Keeping the shelves portable instead of fixed to the walls of the greenhouse allows us to move them as necessary to accommodate tall plants as we rotate our plantings from season to season.

Lastly, but most importantly, we insulated the greenhouse over the winter. Initially we preplanned for this a bit when deciding what type of greenhouse frame would best suit our climate and usage. We made sure to purchase a greenhouse frame that would allow us to insulate it over the winter. (See last month's Garden Circkles page for part 1 of this series.) The Rion Greenhouses are good for this because their frame structure allows for individual hard foam insulation to be cut into panels that can easily be added and removed daily as the weather requires .
We purchased the 4x8 foil-covered hard foam insulating panels from Home Depot and cut them to fit into the individual frame sections inside the greenhouse roof. The reason we chose foil-coverd panels is because when they are in place, the foil will reflect light back into the greenhouse. The great thing about the Rion greenhouse design is each individual panel of the roof structure has little ledges in the corners that make it easy to just slide the hard foam panels into a section of the roof and have them rest on the little ledges so no fasteners of any kind are required to keep them in place so they can be removed daily with ease.
We used the rolled, foil-lined insulation for the walls or sides of the greenhouse because it's thinner and can easily go over the greenhouse frame and between the walls and our raised bed to help hold it in place. Also because it is much easier to maneuver around plants and pots in the greenhouse than large hard foam sheets would be. When we aren't using it, we simply roll it up and store it for the summer.

This completely efficient greenhouse setup up works so well we can grow cool weather crops all winter long in Northern Colorado where it can drop to 18º below zero. As long as our greenhouse gets some full sun at least every 3-4 days, the 33 gallon water-filled containers heat up enough to stop it from getting below freezing inside. We have had very few occasions in Colorado where it has stayed cloudy for longer than 3 days. During the most severe cold, or lack of sun due to snow storms lasting for days, we cover the plants in the raised beds with heavy cloth tarps or blankets. All that dirt in the raised beds also retains heat for a few days and emits enough warmth to keep the plants from freezing even in the most severe cold as long as they are covered to hold in the heat.

Our seasonal routine with this self sufficient design consists of covering the sides of the greenhouse with our rolled insulation in late fall, which we leave in place all winter. We cover the roof of the greenhouse with our insulating panels overnight to hold in the heat in the winter and uncover them during the day to allow the sun to warm it up again and give the plants much-needed sunlight during short winter days.
When spring rolls around and the thermometer we keep in the greenhouse tells us that the temperature is staying at least 45º at night for warm weather plants, we remove the insulation along the sides of the greenhouse and keep the insulating panels for the roof for a couple of weeks as needed. When we no longer need any insulation at all, (outdoor nighttime temps stay above 45º) it all gets taken down and stored in the garage or barn for the summer.
During the summer, all we have to do is open the roof vents during very hot days to allow good air circulation and excess heat to escape. Our vents are not electric but manual, but we find this is not a big deal. We open the vents in the morning and close them at night if needed, and during mid summer when it stays warm all night, we keep the vents open all the time. Incidentally, we had to cover our vents with a fine mesh to keep bugs from flying into the greenhouse through the vents. We used cloth mesh that can easily fold and unfold as we open and close the vents. We also installed a misting system that will release a fine spray during the extremely hot, intense summer days in Colorado to cool down the greenhouse even further if needed. If the heat buildup becomes to much during our 95º days in the summer, the insulating hard foam panels we made to winterize the roof will also work great to create some shade and keep the heat out if need be.

That's it. And it all works like a charm with absolutely no electricity. Because as one of my neighbors put it, if we had to use electricity to heat the greenhouse or cool it, "you would have a $50 dollar tomato." Exactly.

Photos from top: 1.) The inside of our demo greenhouse from the front doors. You can see the raised beds. 2.) The sides of the greenhouse are insulated with rolled insulation that looks similar to bubble wrap only with a foil coating. Using rolled insulation on the walls is much quicker and easier to utilize than the foam panels we use on the roof. Potted strawberries hang from the roof to utilize dead space. 3.) Here you can see the same rolled insulation is being used along the north wall, which does not get any sun anyway, to hold in heat during the winter, also you can get a good look at the hard foam panels we are using in the roof of the greenhouse. We cover the entire roof with these and remove them during the day to let sunlight in. You can also see the 33 gallon garbage can filled with water sitting in the corner that we use to keep the greenhouse warm during the winter and cooler during the summer so plants don't overheat.



Growing Winter Greens:

Kale is becoming popular among gardeners for the same reason it is popular with people who juice and are health conscious: kale is very nutritious and lacks the often bitter taste of greens that are similar in nature such as spinach. It's incredibly easy to grow because it will do well in any type of soil and is a cool weather crop like it's relatives in the cabbage family. Kale is so forgiving and compliant that you can have very good success growing it in pots or 6 inch deep trays. It does extremely well as a winter crop in the greenhouse when temps are a bit cooler and would kill most other warm weather leafy plants. Having kale on had is very beneficial for adding nutrient value to salads, smoothies, juice, sandwiches, pasta and many other dishes.

There are many different types of kale, and a survey we conducted revealed that most people prefer the taste of lacinato kale because it's more mild than other varieties and is usually never bitter if young leaves are harvested. Kale is a type of non-heading cabbage, and because it's hardy and a light frost often sweetens it's flavor, it can be started in the spring or in the fall. However, kale does not transplant well, so when it's very young, it's best to mulch it if you are going to experience a hard frost. Once it gets to be about 3-4 inches tall, it can take a mild frost on occasion and older plants will withstand frost that many other leafy plants cannot. In milder winter climates, it can over-winter with a good mulch or in a cold frame.
Once the weather gets hot or dry, it does best with a mulch to keep the roots cool and some semi-shade during the hottest part of the day. Kale will supply a continuous crop of leafy greens if you just pick the large, outer leaves as they become big enough rather than pulling the whole plant.

To give your kale a good head start, plant the seed in a soil that has been amended with some mature compost and keep it semi-moist until it sprouts. Kale will do very well if given this initial little boost of nutrients to get it going and will then continue to be a nutritious, hardy plant. Kale also does not require as much sun as many leafy greens, which makes it perfect for growing during the short days of winter.

Bok Choy is another good winter green because it tends to bolt and get very thin during the hot summer months. It is also small enough to grow in planters and doesn't need as much sun as other greens such as lettuce. As with kale, start it in a soil with some compost mixed in to give it a good start. Watch for aphids as they love bok choy. There are several varieties of choy, which is also referred to as pak choy, bok choy, bok choi or pak choi and chinese cabbage. It does not form a head like cabbage, but a cluster of leaves that taste similar to a cross between cabbage and celery but milder. It's good in soups, salads, pasta and stir fries.

Cilantro, parsley, chard, spinach, and collards are some of the more common winter greens. The problem with growing spinach is that it doesn't get very big, so it takes a large number of plants to get enough for a meal. Unless you have a lot of room to grow a lot of spinach plants, or you love spinach, it's difficult to grow enough of it to make it worthwhile. This is probably why kale is much more popular, because you can make a sizeable serving from one plant. Chard is another good winter green, but keep in mind it can get quite large, sometimes up to 2 feet tall and wide, so it can take up a lot of room in a greenhouse. On the up side, you only have to grow one or two plants and if you pick the leaves as you need them, as we mentioned with kale, instead of cutting or pulling the whole plant. You can get many meals out of just one plant before it goes to seed. Red chard or rainbow chard are favorite varieties mostly due to the fact that they are higher in vitamin A than green chard.

Cilantro bolts at the slightest hint of warm weather, so in some climates, it's best to plant it as a winter crop if you hope to get anything out of it besides just seeds. It also requires a large number of plants in order to get a sizeable quantity of cilantro. An amount equal to the bunches you usually see in the grocery stores is about 8-10 plants.
Parsley will grow in summer or winter just as well, but it does tolerate the cold fairly well and can often be over-wintered with a good mulch. It loves greenhouses and will supply you with a constant source of high amounts of vitamin C and fluoride for many years. It will also readily self-sow, so once you plant parsley, and supply it with adequate amounts of water and sun, you don't have to think about it after that; it will take care of itself and reproduce on it's own. The only pest of parsley is the parsley worm, which you can easily pick off the plants, and in a greenhouse parsley is not usually bothered by pests at all.

Photos from top: 1.)Kale growing in pots in the greenhouse. 2.) Bok choy in large ceramic planters. 3.) Italian parsley will stay nice and green in a greenhouse all winter if the greenhouse is setup to not allow a hard freeze inside.

© 2013 Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com. All rights reserved to articles and images.

Garden Circkles 2013 Back Issues: You can also find these our article archives where you can search by topic.

Jan/Feb 2013 - Heirloom Seed Suppliers, Natural Pest Control etc.

March 2013 - Ready, Set, Sprout, Beneficial Insects etc.

April 2013 - Companion Planting, Apple Scab, etc.

May 2013 - Grow Your Own Bug Potions, Mosaic Garden Art, etc.

June 2013 - Foodscaping, Grape Arbors as Decor.

July 2013 - Better Tomatoes, Chinampas, Leaf Curl, Nasturtium.

August 2013 - Does Anybody Can Anymore?, (With canning recipes), Beneficial Insects etc.

September 2013 - Plants Can Tell Us Secrets, Apple Harvest Recipes.

October 2013 - Ollas, Ollas, Ollas; Urban Farming Family, Basil as a Companion and more.

November 2013 - Tilapia Farming and Backyard Aquaponics, Greenhouse Designs: Frame Materials Compared.
(Part one of Two.)



December 2013
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