" 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 Search above, on garden tips, more on beneficial bugs and natural pest and diseaase 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:

Brown Lacewings.
Order: Neuroptera. Family: Hemerobiidae

Average Size: 3/8" to 5/8".

To camouflage themselves, the brown lacewing larvae sometimes carry debris - such as the remains of past meals - on their backs which allows them to sneak up on prey while at the same time avoiding becoming bird food. This is what led to them also being called "trash carriers".

Larvae eat aphids, mealybugs, nymphs of scale insects and other soft-bodied insects. Brown lacewings lay their eggs directly on leaves instead of on long filaments. Often found near or in forests and fields, adult brown lacewings have brown wings with a pattern that differentiates them from their cousins the green lacewing. The adults are also avid predators that keep plant-eating bugs under control.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:

Bug Traps.

Slugs and Snails: Many people are familiar with the simple but effective trap for killing snails and slugs or putting some stale beer in a shallow dish. However, if you find these garden devourers are just taking a sip and slinking off, add a little flour to the beer to make it sticky.

Earwigs: Pour some bacon or hamburger grease into a tuna can or small plastic container to about 1/4 full. The earwigs crawl into the container and cannot get out.
You can also put boards or containers just about anywhere that earwigs love to hide under at night and the next morning scoop them up and place them in a container of gasoline or dish soap until they drown.

Coddling Moths and Worms: Mix molasses, water and sugar and pour it into small buckets. Hang the buckets from your fruit trees and they will act like a trap for the coddling moth whose larvae is so destructive to fruit trees. Hang the traps at blossom time in the spring. Coddling moths appear in late spring.

Fruit Flies, Maggot Flies, Cherry Fruit Flies: Many garden centers and online stores carry sticky plastic fruit as bate. Plastic oranges work the best because insects are more attracted to the color orange than a plastic apple. These commercial bates are treated with Tanglefoot or Stikem which makes the insects stick to the plastic fruit coated with it and leave your real fruit alone. However, Tanglefoot is made from a petroleum product and Stikem from a plastic-based glue, both of which can be washed off of the traps with every rain and end up in your soil.
To make your own sticky substance that won't wash petrochemical glues into your soil every time it rains, try a sticky non-drying glue made from natural gum resins, vegetable oil and melted wax. Work with the combination of these to get a suitable sticky glue to coat anything orange with.


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.

Beans (Phaseolus and Vicia).

There are many different types of beans, but basically all will thrive when interplanted with carrots, beets and cauliflower and aid cucumbers and cabbages to grow.

Marigolds in bean rows will help to repel the Mexican bean beetle. Summer savory will improve the growth of beans and also deter bean beetles. Savory is also tasty to cook with beans.

Beans are inhibited in their growth by any member of the onion family, including garlic, shallots and chives. They also do not like being planted near gladiolus.

Broad beans are excellent companions to corn, vining up the stalks for support. The heavy vine growth may inhibit raccoons, or at least slow them up a bit when they get tangled in the vines trying to get at the corn. In turn, the beans add nitrogen to the soil for the corn which is a heavy feeder and requires a lot of nitrogen.

Bush Beans planted with potatoes will protect them against the Colorado potato beetle. In return the potatoes protect the beans from the Mexican bean beetle. This seems to work best when the beans and potatoes are planted in alternate rows. Bush beans do well planted with cucumbers which they are mutually beneficial with, as well as strawberries, with both growing more rapidly than when planted alone.

Pole Beans also do well with corn, but dislike kohlrabi and sunflower. Radishes and pole beans seem to derive a mutual benefit from each other.

Since beans and corn have the same growing season, sun and temperature requirements, they can be planted together at the same time of year.



Circkles.com is a member of:

EcoFirms.org Member

Tilapia Farming and Backyard Aquaponics.

By Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com

So you want to be an aquaponics farmer, or at least in your backyard? There are several videos on Youtube instructing do-it-yourselfers on how to build numerous different aquaponics setups. We won't be addressed the setups in this article, but rather the types of fish that are best suited for aquaponics, how to get them and keep them alive and healthy. Your fish will be the biggest concern and the one aspect that should be researched fully before you invest because you cannot get a do-over if you screw it up.

Tilapia is all the rage these days, not just among fish farmers but with consumers. Many commercial fish farms raise tilapia because the demand is high, the fish are easy keepers, they are lowest in mercury because they do not eat other fish and because they grow quickly and thus have a shorter amount of time to accumulate mercury or lead from contaminated water sources than ocean fish. While tilapia is a cleaner fish in the wild, it is not necessarily so in fish farms. Extremely large numbers of fish are kept in one tank, leading to overcrowding, and in some cases, a filthy environment. Because tilapia are such easy keepers, they are fed a diet of cheap grains and soy, rather than plankton, plants and algae as they would eat in the wild, so they also contain less healthy fatty acids than their wild counterparts. Any fish or crops coming from China are heavily laden with lead and arsenic from years of poisoning their farmlands with chemicals. Those chemicals contaminate their farm-grown fish, so definitely avoid any fish coming from Asia, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. However, U.S soils are not much better, and the potential for nearby agricultural chemicals to leach into fish farms, or the water they use, is very common and very high.

Types of Fish for Farming:
To the backyard aquaponics enthusiast, tilapia is a challenge to raise. They only survive in water kept at around 85º, so that right there limits most people's ability to grow them. Getting fingerlings to start your tilapia farm with can also be a challenge depending on where you live. So when considering what type of fish you want to raise, keep those two things in mind. Cold water fish are much easier to care for. Small freshwater fish such as perch or bluegills have been raised in aquaponics setups with greater success than tilapia. All you have to do is keep your tanks in an environment that doesn't freeze, and that is easy to do with either a standard trough heater used to keep water troughs for livestock from freezing during the winter, or just keeping your freshwater tanks in a greenhouse is usually enough to keep them from freezing. Don't be fooled into buying a pond heater, they are the exact same thing as a trough heater and will cost you twice as much just because they are called a "pond heater." Cold water fish tend to taste better and are cleaner with less disease.

Fish Breeding:
Tilapia are prolific breeders, so growing many of them is easy if you keep the water between 80-85º. However, the adult fish will eat their young, so this means you have to catch the pregnant females and put them in a holding tank just until the fry are hatched then keep the fry separated from the adults until they are too big to be eaten.
Some cold water fish breeds, such as yellow perch, need a simulated seasonal change between winter and summer to spawn. If you keep them in an outdoor tank in northern climates, this is no problem at all with a tank or trough heater as mentioned above which will keep the water in a 10x10 tank at approximately 40 degrees, just above freezing, in the winter. In a greenhouse, keeping the water cold enough will likely be a bigger challenge.

Fish food:
One of the problems with farmed fish is that they are usually fed pellets of very cheap grains. This is not very nutritious to them or the people who eat them, which is one reason wild-caught fish are still preferred among consumers who know better. So keep in mind that what you feed your fish you will also be eating in the end. Keeping your cold water fish on a diet that is close to their natural food is best; which would be insects and water plants. One advantage to outdoor fish tanks is mosquitoes will continually lay their eggs in an open tank and give your fish a natural source of protein without any effort on your part when they eat the mosquito larvae. However, this alone may not be enough to sustain a tank with a lot of fish. Consider worms, grubs or other live bait to supplement the diet of your cold water fish.

Fish Farm Predators:
Don't forget, you may not be the only one in your area that likes fresh fish. Keeping raccoons away from a fish pond can be very difficult as they are very clever and persistent little critters who love fish and can get into just about anything. You won't have to worry about them with most greenhouses, but you will with an outdoor aquaponics setup.

One very reliable source for tilapia fingerlings if you live near enough to them is http://tilapiafingerlings.com. They guarantee the fry will arrive alive.

Also see our article in this month's Green Circkles for more info on the health concerns regarding farm raised fish.



Photos from top. 1.) aquaponics setup at Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI. 2.) Portable, hand built setup also at Growing Power. 3.) Mini aquaponics setup in a home shows the simplicity of the concept.


Greenhouse Designs: Frame Materials Compared.(Part one of Two.)

By Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com

The elements of a greenhouse design that will ultimately help you make a decision as to which type of greenhouse is right for you are: cost, how harsh your climate or weather is, and maintenance expenses.

Plastic Frame: Most engineers agree that polycarbonate 2 " or larger plastic greenhouse frames are the most sturdy, with manufacturers such as Rion claiming their greenhouse design will withstand snow loads of up to 2 feet and winds up to 70 mph. Rion boasts with pictures of a man standing on the roof of their greenhouses. However, don't purchase a dark-colored plastic frame such as the dark green plastic greenhouse kit that Rion offers for intense sunny climates as in the Southwest because the dark color makes the plastic heat up so much in that intense sun that it severely warps the frame and can cause it to fall apart. Go with the white plastic frame in hot, sunny locations and it will hold up much longer with little to no warping.

The small diameter pvc tubing style greenhouse frames (1/2 inch to 1 inch) are incredibly inexpensive and maintenance free, but will not hold up to strong winds, heavy hail or snow loads. They also are usually covered with 4-6ml sheets of plastic instead of panels which will have to be replaced on average of every 5-6 years depending on your weather conditions. Plastic panels such as Rion's double-walled panels are very durable and can last 10-15 years. You can get a nice 9'x12' Rion greenhouse kit for about $1,800 and it is probably the best all-around in sturdiness, maintenance, looks and functionality. And in next month's Greenhouse Designs article we will discuss the added benefit of Rion's design when it comes to tweaking it with modifications to make it a completely self-sufficient solar greenhouse that heats itself all winter.

Aluminum Frame: These frames will not warp or ever need to be painted or maintained, however, they do not hold up to major snow loads and strong winds can also damage them. Any heavy, wet snow over about 1 foot deep can cause aluminum-framed greenhouses to buckle and collapse. If you live in an area that gets very little or no snow, this might not be an issue for you.

If money is no object, they are now making aluminum frame greenhouses that look like cedar. Be prepared to start out at about $8,000 for a small one though.

Wood Frame: Wood is strong and won't warp as much as plastic in sunny climates, but as we all know, it will eventually rot, and much quicker than normal under damp greenhouse conditions. If you are thinking about building your own custom greenhouse design, wood is much easier to work with, but you will spend a little more time maintaining it to get it to last. Only use redwood or cedar to build a wood frame, but still paint it to make it last longer. With periodic re-painting to keep it sealed it can last for your lifetime at least.

Lean-To: There are several styles and materials used in a lean-to type of greenhouse that attaches to the side of your house. The advantage to these is that they are sturdy, sometimes inexpensive depending on what they are made of and how elaborate the design, with the biggest benefit being that the your main house helps to keep the greenhouse warm. Depending on the style of your main house, you may not have a wall large enough to attach a lean-to or that will be on a Southern exposure where it will get enough light. Unless your main home has the ideal location for an attached greenhouse, this style will end up being a waste of money if it does not get an adequate amount of light. For most vegetable plants, that's at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day and at least 6-8 hours during the winter months to maintain them.

Next month in Part Two of this series, we will discuss the best way we have found yet to make a solar-heated greenhouse for very little money and effort.

Photos from top: 1.) Redwood frame. 2.) Rion's heavy- duty polycarbonate frame in the dark green color that we advise against. 3.) An aluminum frame blown apart by the wind. 4.) A lean-to or attached-style greenhouse or sunroom that can be used as a greenhouse.

© 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
Search our Article Archives: