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: Praying Mantid

Order: Mantodea. Family: Mantidae

Bright green to brownish-gray in color depending on their surroundings, they are the only insect that can look over their shoulder, but mostly they sit motionless, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting passer-by. They will eat just about anything, which means good as well as bad bugs, but they are worth having around as one of the few things that will put a good dent in a grasshopper infestation.

They lay their eggs in the fall in a cocoon-like case that is usually attached to anything made of wood. You will often see them attached to the underside of a wooden fence or branch. Mantises can vary greatly in size depending on the climate, with the largest ones - up to 5 inches in length - being spotted in the warmer southern climates. They venture as far north as Northern Colorado in the Southwest's warmer northern regions.


Natural Insect Control: Aphids.

No doubt about it, aphids are a pain in the neck, especially if they get into your greenhouse. Once inside, natural predetors can't get at them, so the only alternative is to put ladybugs in your greenhouse or use sprays. Just knocking aphids off with a strong blast of water doesn't really cut it, so we listed some alternatives below for homemade sprays to use on r aphids.

Tomato Leaf Spray:
Tomato plants, as members of the nightshade family, contain toxic compounds called alkaloids in their leaves. When the leaves of tomato plants are chopped, they release their alkaloids. When the alkaloids are suspended and diluted with water, they make an easy to use spray that is toxic to aphids, but still safe around plants and humans.

To make tomato leaf spray, simply soak one to two cups of chopped tomato leaves in two cups of warm water. Let it steep overnight. Strain the leaves out of the liquid using cheesecloth or a fine strainer. Add another one to two cups of water to the liquid and add it to a spray bottle.
Spray the stems and foliage of the infested plant with the spray, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves, where aphids most commonly congregate.

Caution: While this spray is very safe for humans, some people are allergic to members of the nightshade family. If you are one of them, use care in making and applying this spray.

Garlic Oil Spray:
This works against aphids but may also kill ladybugs and other beneficials. Using it in a greenhouse would be fine if you don't have any beneficial insects you have relocated there. To make garlic oil spray, mince or finely chop three to four cloves of garlic, and add them to two teaspoons of mineral oil. Let this mixture sit for 24 hours. Strain out the garlic pieces, and add the remaining liquid to one pint of water. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. This mixture can be refrigerated and used as needed. When you need to spray, use two tablespoons of the mixture added to one pint of water in a spray bottle. Shake up before spraying to mix the oil with the water.
To use your garlic oil spray, first test by spraying an inconspicuous part of the plant to see if your mixture harms it at all. If there are no signs of yellowing or other leaf damage after a day or two, it is safe to use. If there is leaf damage, dilute the mixture with more water and try the test again.

Lemon Spray:
This natural aphid pesticide works as an instant remedy, killing the aphids on contact. To make this natural pesticide, grate the rind of a large lemon. Boil it in enough water to fill a garden spray bottle. Let the mixture sit overnight. Strain the liquid into the garden spray bottle. Spray the aphids and larvae directly.

Vinegar Spray:
While vinegar sprays work well against many types of insect infestations, some delicate plants may be killed by it as well. Start with a diluted solution of 10% vinegar to 90% water and spray on just a couple leaves of the infected plant and wait approximately 3-4 days to see if the leaf on the plant dies. If so, try the lemon or tomato leaf sprays instead.

Ready, Set, Sprout!

March and April signify the beginning of planting season for diehard gardeners. We have already started our seeds indoors in a sunny window in constant anticipation of that first warm week in spring when we can plant the seedlings outdoors. Or, for those lucky few who have greenhouses, perhaps you have already started your cool weather spring crops and your summer seedlings in your greenhouse.

Starting plants from seed is a long-time tradition with gardeners who want to grow unique varieties not offered by your local garden center, or who grow heirlooms or save their own seed from year to year. Finding room in your house to start plants from scratch can be a challenge. I have a small sunroom that is covered with seed trays from February to June. Not many people start from seed anymore because it does require so much room and a very sunny location. Some plants are just down right difficult to start from seed, such as some flowers or herbs which have to be scarified first - which means you have to scratch or nick the surface of the seed to get them to germinate. Others have to experience a certain amount of freezing temps in order to germinate - so next to the steaks in my freezer, you will see seed packs of those that require cold temps to germinate. I love to grow nasturtium, and it is one of those flowers/herbs that needs to be scarified and then soaked in water for 24 hours to get it to germinate. Echinacea seeds require at least 90 days of below 40º temps in order to germinate effectively.

Seed Germination Tips:
In past years, I had a difficult time getting most of my seeds to germinate simply because I live in such a dry climate, the seeds would not stay moist long enough. Planting seeds, even peas, directly in my garden is out of the question because I can water them every day but our climate is so dry, the soil and seeds simply dry out within a few hours. If I mulch them, they stay too moist and rot. Yes, growing in my area is a huge challenge.
So I started pre-sprouting everything, even my peas, in the house and then transplanting them out in the garden when they had established a solid root system. I found over the years that by covering the trays I planted them in with the recommended plastic wrap technique, they would rot before they germinated. Now I find it works much better for seeds like tomatoes, peppers, squash and pretty much any large, hard-shelled seed, to soak them overnight and then plant them in my seed trays. Then I just keep them barely moist by watering once or twice a week but I don't cover them with plastic. The 24 hour soaking time gets the seeds to soften up sufficiently to germinate, while not keeping them so wet by covering them with the plastic that they rot.

For very fine, small seeds that usually cannot be planted very deeply in the soil or require some light to germinate, I still have to use the plastic wrap technique for the first week to keep them moist enough to sprout, but after a week, I remove the plastic wrap covering so they don't rot and just continue watering them once or twice a week until they sprout. This is equivalent to pre-soaking the seeds but in the soil for fine seeds that are too difficult to broadcast over the soil if they are wet.

It's a bit tricky getting seed to germinate in a dry climate. In more humid areas, it's much easier because you usually don't have to cover the soil at all after planting the seed, it will absorb enough moisture from the air until germination. Just water it once after the initial planting of the seed and then lightly water once a week until sprouting occurs. But in my extremely dry climate, I even pre-sprout my corn, peas and beans rather than planting them directly in the garden. I really can't plant anything from seed directly into my garden and expect it to germinate with any degree of success. I use the method for growing sprouts indoors to pre-sprout my peas, corn and beans. These vegetables sprout so quickly that I don't have to waste potting soil on them, I simply pour some seeds in a bean sprouter or shallow dish, pour water over them just to keep them moist, drain and rinse them with fresh water every day to keep them from rotting from bacteria, and within days they sprout. Once sprouted I quickly plant them in the garden. I have a 90-95% germination rate this way whereby when I planted them directly in my garden I only had about a 50-60% germination rate.

You can also use the old tissue paper, newspaper, or paper toweling method whereby you pour some seeds in a shallow dish and keep them covered with a moist piece of paper toweling until they sprout. This works very well for corn which will sprout in just a few days with this method. Peas will tend to get moldy if you keep them in straight water too long. If they don't sprout within a week, add some potting soil to the water in the tray and keep it moist; it will help stop the peas from getting moldy before they have a chance to sprout. Beans do well with the bean-sprouting method of just pouring the bean seeds in a sprouter or shallow dish and keeping them moist while rinsing them every day to prevent bacteria build up. Bean spouters are great for pre-sprouting seeds because the top tray holds the seed and has slits in the bottom of it so the seed don't actually sit in water. The bottom tray holds water which evaporates and keeps the seeds in the tray above continually moist but not soggy. Bean spouters (usually used to make sprouts for salads etc) are very inexpensive but very useful for sprouting just about anything and using the sprouts to eat or to plant.

Photos from top: 1.) Seeds sprouted in a shallow dish until sprouted. You have to rinse the seeds every day with this method if the dish does not have bottom drainage or bacteria will build up on the seeds and they will often rot before they sprout. 2.) This is the seed sprouter I use. It only costs about $13.00 and works extremely well to sprout peas, corn and beans for planting or sprouts in salads. 3.) Seeds sprouted using the wet paper towel technique.

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Eco Garden Designs: Container Gardening Ideas.

A great, fun summer activity is to travel the antique stores for relics like this one that make truly amazing garden centerpieces, but you don't have to buy antiques, you can always make interesting garden accents from almost any old thing.

March 2013
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