" 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.

How Safe is the Water from a Garden Hose?
You should not be drinking from a garden hose or watering your garden vegetables with one. See this month's Green Circkles Page for more info and what you can do to reduce your risk.

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 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 and diseaase control are in The Hangout.
But you must be a Circkles.com member to access these pages.

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:

Rove Beetles.
Order: Coleoptera. Family: Staphylindae

Average Size: 1/16 to 3/4 inch.

Very similar to earwigs, but the Rove beetle has pinchers in the front jaws where earwigs have their pinchers as their tails.

Usually black or brown in color, rove beetles eat insects, where earwigs eat plants. Rove beetle larvae dine on aphids, fly eggs, maggots, mites, nematodes and springtails.

Rove beetles are usually found under refuse such as leaves, grass or bark and can be found on fungi or flowers and are common in compost piles. To keep them around, maintain a permanent bed of mulch or a stone path they can hide in.

 

Natural Insect and Disease Control:

Kitchen Cures.

Salt sprinkled on slugs will reduce them to a glob of slime. Don't use more than a couple shakes as salt in garden soil will kill many plants.

Coffee: A cup of strong coffee spray on plants can prevent the red spider mite. Coffee ground are high in nitrogen and will also benefit most soils greatly.

Horseradish mixed in water and used as a spray will repel potato bugs.

Cedar chips or sawdust: A tea made by soaking the chips or sawdust in hot water will keep away Mexican bean beetles, potato beetles, spider mites, mealybugs, cucumber and squash beetles. You can also just work the cedar into the dirt around plants for the same effect. Sprinkled on lawns the sawdust works well against chiggers.

Wood Ashes: Sprinkled around the base of plants will stop beetles, mites and aphids. Some people in certain areas claim wood ashes also work to repel deer, mice, cutworms, slugs and rabbits, being almost 80% effective.

Flour: dusted on cabbage plants after a rain or watering will cause worms to get all gummed up in the paste and dry out in the sun.

 

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.

Cabbage.

All members of the cabbage family do well planted with aromatic herbs such as celery, dill, camomile, sage, mints and rosemary. Hyssop, thyme, wormwood and southernwood help to repel the white cabbage butterfly which lays eggs that turn into cabbage worms.

Do not plant members of the cabbage family with tomatoes, pole beans or strawberries. But they will do well with potatoes, beets and onions.

If cabbage or broccoli does not form good heads, it is a sign that lime, phosphorus or potash are needed in the soil.

Garden Circkles 2013 Back Issues: You can also find these in 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 - Making a Greenhouse Self Sufficient (Part two of two), Growing Winter Greens et

 

 

 

From the Farmer's Almanac:

Question: I read the term pleaching in a gardening book and couldn't figure out what they meant. What is it?

Answer: Pleaching is a method of shearing planted trees and shrubs very closely into a high wall of foliage. Generally, maples, sycamores, and lindens can be used for this effect. It's something not seem often in the United States because it's very time-consuming, but it has been a popular idea in some formal European gardens.

 

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Super Easy Potato Growing and Harvesting.

Potatoes are relatively easy to grow anyway; just save some that have sprouted (or produced eyes) in your refrigerator and use them as seed potatoes, or buy seed potatoes. Stick them in any good soil, water adequately, and they are sure to sprout and grow. Growing potatoes in containers is by far the easiest way to go about it, not only does it make for super easy potato harvesting in the fall - because there is no digging involved all you have to do is tip the containers over and reap your harvest - but growing in containers also eliminates many of the insect pests and diseases that plague potatoes.

Some people grow potatoes in bags or sacks, we tend to not care for this method as cutworms and other insects can still invade the bags and you will never know it until fall when you empty the bags and find they only made a nice housing development for insects. We have found the best containers for potato plantings is a double-walled, large plastic pot, we usually can find at Home Depot. Being double-walled - with an air space in between the inside and outside wall of the pot - helps to insulate them slightly from hot and cold temperatures. These pots (pictured below) are very large, ranging from 15 inches to 32 inches across the top and are very light for easy moving and tipping over in the fall to harvest. The 24 inch containers can cost around $50 and jump in price considerably to $100 for a 32 inch pot. The 32 inch were a bit too expensive and not cost effective in the least, so we purchased our 24 inch pots when they were on sale a few years ago for about $40. They may be a bit too expensive if you are planning a large potato planting however, but when you consider that we have had our pots for approximately 12 years, we have probably gotten our money's worth out of them in potatoes that were saved from insects, poor soil conditions or inclement weather. Double-walled planters cost considerably more than single-walled as well, so figure the price of your containers with the amount of potatoes you plan to plant and make sure you are still going to be saving money over the predicted lifetime of the pot. Cedar planters work well too and are much less expensive. You can purchase a 30" round cedar planter from Home Depot for about $25.00. Be careful when you tip them over to harvest your potatoes however, as they are not always built that sturdy and the weight of tipping them over may crack them or break them. Do not purchase stained wooden planters, make sure they are 100% cedar or redwood and not just stained to look that way. You don't want stained wood leaching chemicals into your soil where your potatoes will be growing.

When planting potatoes in pots, make sure to start out planting them about 1/3 of the way from the top of the pot to allow room to add more dirt to cover the potatoes as they grow. Just as you would hill or mound potatoes if planted in the garden, you must allow room to hill them in pots as well.

Aphids are probably the biggest potato pest, along with the Colorado Potato Beetle. Planting potatoes in pots cuts down the number of potato beetles that can get to them considerably; so there are many ground-dwelling pests you already eliminated. Another big advantage to growing in pots is that you can more easily cover the top of the plants with very sheer covering that will still allow light in but prevent aphids from getting to the plants. We like to go to a discount store and buy the cheapest curtain sheers we can find, cut them to the size we need and wrap them around the plants to stop aphids from ever getting to them. This works infinitely better than sprays or dusting powders to prevent or kill insects because once covered, you're done for the season; you don't have to keep spraying the plants every couple of weeks to control insects, once covered, they will be protected from every insect for the entire growing season. The sheers still allow enough light in, and keep the bugs out. Make sure to cover your potato plants as early in the spring as possible to get them covered before the aphids find them.

Covering with sheers and planting in pots will take care of most late blight spores that blow around in the wind as well. To avoid early blight in the spring, make sure to use well-composted, new soil in your pots or planters every year. Also make sure the soil you use is high in organic matter that potatoes love, but also has good drainage so as not to make the potatoes rot in the pot if you over-water or get a lot of rain. A good 50/50 mix of compost and light soil works great. Potatoes do not need a heavy, compact soil, but do require the extra nutrients in the compost, which will also keep the weight of the pots down so they do not become too heavy when you want to tip them over to harvest in the fall or move them for storage.

Storage: The best way to store potatoes is in a cool, dark place with the right humidity levels. We found keeping the potatoes right in their pots in a greenhouse over the winter, a root cellar or garage works great. Once the top of the plants die back in the fall, get someone to help you lift the pots, potatoes and all, into a cart and haul them into your garage, basement, greenhouse or cellar. Container planting makes instant storage bins as well, just dig out the potatoes as you need them, or, to save room, dump all the potatoes from all your plants into one container with some dirt. Potatoes keep much longer and better in cool, dry dirt over the winter than in the refrigerator.

Growing potatoes in containers may be a bit more expensive initially due to having to purchase the pots, but if you watch your budget in comparison to your predicted harvests over the years, you can save more money in the long run by planting them this way because you will guarantee much more successful potato production. On average, we have been able to get 5-7 pounds of potatoes from each container. At $2.99 per pound for organic purple potatoes from the store, our pots paid for themselves in 3 years, and having always been well taken care of by storing them inside in winter, these pots have lasted 12 years so far and are still going strong. We predict they will last another 5-10 years at least.

Photos from top: 1.) Yukon Gold potatoes grown the conventional way in the garden. 2.) Purple potatoes grown in containers. Notice that we left about 4 inches at the top of the containers to add more dirt and mound the potatoes as they grow. Purple potatoes are the highest in vitamin A and tend to be almost twice as expensive as any other variety, which makes them a good choice for growing yourself so you can save some money on them in the long run. Make sure to get the ones that are purple all the way through. Some so-called purple potatoes only have purple skins and the inside flesh is still white, thus they are not as high in vitamin A.

 

 

Growing French Tarragon.

French tarragon is a bit of an acquired taste and not one that can be used on just anything for flavoring. It's good on chicken, fish, and if you are an experimental cook, it can add an interesting flavor to soups and other dishes. It can also make for interesting herbal teas. The flavor is a bit difficult to describe if you have never used it before; a little like anise, but not as sweet. Some varieties other than the French tarragon, such as Mexican and Russian tarragons, tend to be more bitter.

French tarragon is a rather large, woody plant, usually growing to about 3-4 feet tall and equally as wide, and looks quite similar to rosemary. It is extremely difficult to start from seed, and if you ever get one started, or purchase a potted plant, the best way to start more is by root cuttings.

Being a very hardy plant once established, it does well in a garden area that doesn't get severe frost. If planting it in a pot or planter, make sure to bring it inside during the coldest winter months so the roots do not freeze. Originally, tarragon is a Mediterranean plant, so does not take a hard, frozen ground very well. In the Southwest or Southern states, you can get away with just mulching it well over the winter.

French tarragon is rarely, if ever, bothered by pests of any kind. It does well in poor soil, drought conditions, and sunny or partially sunny areas. The only pest we have found to bother it at all are mice who dig up the roots and can kill the plant if they dig up too much of it and cause the roots to dry out. If you have a problem with mice, try growing it in a pot or putting wire mesh around the base of the plant and roots, or small stones to stop the mice from digging it up.

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Easy Garden Art: Wire Alliums.

These easy works of art were made by spray painting chicken wire purple and then wrapping it around in a circle and wiring it to a metal stake, rod or a thin piece of rebar. Cut the wire into the sizes you think you will need, lay it on a piece of newspaper and spray both sides with any color paint you like for your wire flowers. Purple was used here to make them look more like the blossoms, or alliums, of the onion family. Be sure to use outdoor enamel paint so it will last longer. To get a perfectly round shape, or close to it, wrap the wire around a ball.
You could get really creative and make wire leaves as well just by cutting some wire into leaf shapes, spraying them green and wiring them to the metal stakes.

 

 

 

 

 

April, 2014