" 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. (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, by using Google Search above, 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:

Ground Beetles
Order: Coleoptera. Family: Carabidae

Average Size: 1/8" to 1".

Ground beetles are usually found under rocks or other debris in gardens, fields and woods. You will also find them under a compost pile quite often. When disturbed they may give off a foul odor. They feed on other ground-dwelling larvae and insect eggs, but are partial to cutworms, gypsy moth larvae and root maggots.

The adults have a blue-black or dark brown hard outer shell with a bronze or green metallic sheen to it at times. To attract ground beetles, plant white clover as a ground cover or put down some stone or paving bricks as a path for them to hide under.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:


Insect-eating birds are one of the best pest controls around the garden, however, you have to keep them away from your fruit and berries by covering your fruit bushes and trees before the berries are noticed by the birds and usually before they are even ripe. A Chinese deterrent is to hang sliced onions in the tress to deter fruit-loving birds.

Birds such as purple martins are very beneficial to have around and encouraging them to stay close to your garden is a big advantage since they have to catch and eat flying insects constantly in order to live. Many people build martin houses to keep them around. Bluebirds also eat many insects and are not known for going after fruit.

Putting bird houses of all different sizes around your yard and garden will encourage birds to nest close by and return every year to catch many insects to feed their young with. Certain birds, such as robins and towhees love fruit more than insects, and will forego eating insects if fruit is easier to get to, so the key is not to make it easy for them by using bird netting, mesh or other materials that you can use to cover your fruit crops but still allow the sun to get to the plants. We find coverings are much more effective than anything you can hang in a tree to scare or throw off the smell, because eventually the birds will figure out how to get around anything that just hangs in a tree to deter them. Birds are clever.


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.

Black Nightshade (Solanaceae).

Members of the nightshade family draw the Colorado potato beetle away from potatoes because they prefer the weed, even though it is poisonous. The beetles eat it and die. It's also said that nightshade will grow when the soil is too exhausted or malnourished to grow root crops.

Members of the nightshade family include: eggplant, belladonna, bittersweet, capiscum, jimson weed, petunia, potato, snakeberry, tobacco and tomato.



Garden Circkles 2013 Back Issues: You can also find these in our Google Search at the top of this column 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 etc.

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EcoFirms.org Member

Root Cellars Making a Comeback.

By Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com

With the constantly rising cost of food and lack of certain organic varieties which are very seasonal, there has been a recent resurrection of the home root cellar. Most people have basements, which makes making a root cellar super convenient. If you feel a bit more ambitious, you can make a root cellar in the side of a hill or in a hole.

According to a September survey on consumer anxieties over higher fuel and food prices from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, 34 percent of respondents said that they were likely to raise more of their own vegetables. Another 37 percent said they were likely to can or freeze more of their food. The cousin to canning and freezing is the root cellar. In 2002, the close of the last mild recession, 29 million households bought supplies for freezing, drying, processing and canning.

Technically, a root cellar is any storage area that uses natural cooling, insulating, and humidifying properties of the earth and can be made from just about anything. However, using a barrel buried in the ground is not very convenient and if you are going to go to all the trouble to build a root cellar, it seems to us you would benefit more from putting a bit more into doing it right.

Ensure there is a ventilation system that allows cool, fresh air from the outside to be brought into the root cellar and stale air to be exhausted out. Besides a basement cellar, an option outside the house is to dig down into the ground or horizontally into a hillside. A third option is to bury suitable containers such as metal garbage cans or barrels, leaving about 4 inches exposed at the top. Heap earth around the circumference, then cover the lid with straw, mulch or a bale of hay and a sheet of plastic to keep everything dry.

To work properly, a root cellar must be able to hold a temperature of 32º to  40º F and a humidity level of 85 to 95 percent. The cool temperature slows the release of ethylene gas and stops the grow of microorganisms that cause decomposition. The humidity level prevents loss of moisture through evaporation and the spongy softness of vegetables that are stored a long time. Today, root cellars are often attached to houses for easy access, though it can take some effort to create a cold basement corner. The best method is to use the foundation walls on the northeast corner for two sides. Build the other two walls in the basement with stud and board. Insulate the interior walls, ceiling, and door (and any pipes or ducts) to keep the heat out.

What to consider when building your root cellar:

  1. Complete temperature stability is reached about 10 feet (3 m) deep.
  2. Don’t dig a root cellar near a large tree; the tree’s roots can be difficult to dig through, and they will eventually grow and crack the cellar walls.
  3. Inside, wooden shelving, bins, and platforms are the norm, as wood does not conduct heat and cold as rapidly as metal does.
  4. Air circulation is critical for minimizing airborne mold, so shelves should stand 1 to 3 inches (3 to 8 cm) away from the walls.
  5. For outdoor root cellars, packed earth is the preferred flooring. Concrete works well and is practical for a cellar in a basement.
  6. Every root cellar needs a thermometer and a hygrometer (to measure temperature and humidity, respectively), which should be checked daily, if possible.
  7. Heat is usually regulated using ventilation to the outside or an exhaust pipe—usually to allow cold air in, often on fall nights to get the temperature down.


The ideal root cellar is dark, damp, and cold, preferably at a constant temperature . Even a variation of five degrees up or down can cause your root vegetables to sprout and start to grow, or cause your roots to rot.
Since temperatures are lowest near the ground, store your vegetables as near the ground as possible. Get old pallets from local businesses, and put them on the ground (you don't want to store your food directly on the ground because dampness can cause rot); a pallet will allow the air to circulate, keeping the vegetables dry.
If building a room is too extreme, you might consider using root boxes in your unheated basement. Basically, a root box is just a box filled with insulating material, such as sawdust, dry dirt or sand, in which you store your vegetables. Use sturdy boxes, of plastic or wood, and spread a layer of insulation on the bottom. Add a layer of vegetables, leaving two to three inches of space around the edges of the box, add another layer of insulation, and more vegetables. Continue until the box is almost full, then cover with two to three inches of insulation. Store the box in your unheated basement.

Root Cellar Basement Plans:

The following are simple plans for transforming a corner of your basement into a root cellar, with a minimum of know-how and readily available materials. Choose the coldest, most humid spot - usually a North corner. Locate it next to an exterior wall. You want, if possible, to build on a wall that’s below grade (underground), because you want the greatest contact with outside soil temperature you can get. If you need to use a wall that’s above grade, be sure it doesn’t get too much sun. (Use north or shaded walls.)

Allow for ventilation

This can be an elaborate step, or as our photo below shows of a much easier design, you can leave your cellar area partially open to the rest of the basement so you don't have to vent it. If you completely enclose your cellar and make it its own isolated room, you should vent it for safety (to eliminated harmful gases) and to reduce food spoilage.
If you opt for a more sophisticated, isolated design, you need to get two pipes through an outside wall—one at the highest point of the room. Both pipes should be about 3 inches in diameter. Try to pick a site that allows for this easily, such as one that includes a casement window or the like.

Your vents can be made of just about any pipe or ducting. Plastic (PVC)—3 inch—is durable and easy to work with, and the valves you'll need fit right into it. Cut a length of the plastic pipe to reach through the wall. Cut the end straight. Slide a closed blast gate (valve) onto the pipe until it fits snugly against the end of the pipe just tight enough to impart a slight resistance. Use 3 or 4 screws to secure the valve to the pipe.

Now cut pieces of pipe for the other vent. This one can go through the wall just about anywhere; just add an elbow and a length of pipe running down the inside so that it ends up about a foot from the floor. Add another blast gate in that pipe. These two vents create a siphon. Cool air is more dense than warm air, and will collect in low spots. Anytime the air outside your root cellar is cooler than the air inside, the siphon will allow warm air to be drawn out and cool air to flow in. As outside temperatures fluctuate, you'll get almost continuous air change while keeping the temperature as low as possible.

Which brings us to the reason for the valves. If the temperature outside goes below freezing, you should close one of the valves to stop the siphon. You'll get some venting while keeping things from freezing. If the outside temperature goes way below freezing, you'll need to close both valves (at least partially).

Seal the wall around the pipes with aerosol insulating foam. This will fill in any gaps and cracks and, once it sets, does a good job of holding your pipes in place, too.

Build the walls
You could build the walls out of just about anything, but, due to the moist conditions, you should splurge on a handful of 2-by-4s made of cedar or other rot-resistant wood for framing, and some moisture-resistant wall board (“green board” sold for use in shower stalls). Nail a 2-by-4 to the ceiling, fasten another to the concrete floor with a bead of construction adhesive (the kind in caulking gun tubes), and cut the studs to fit between them.

The photo to the right shows a cellar made from insulating foam board which saves on money because it serves both purposes: it's moisture resistant and insulating.

Cover the walls
Put your gypsum board on the inside surfaces first. Once the inside panels are glued and screwed in place, stuff the cavities with fiberglass insulation and cover the outsides. With all of the coverings in place, get out the aerosol foam again and shoot it into all of the cracks—especially between your new wall and the (likely) ragged edges of the old walls.

Add the shelves
Bear in mind that lower shelves will be cooler and wetter, while higher shelves will be warmer and dryer. Arrange you shelves and produce to allow for this. Some produce can handle damper, colder areas whereby other produce will need to be kept a bit dryer.

Hang a door
You can use a ready-made door if you want. Or you can make it simply from quarter-inch plywood and hang it directly on the studs. Also keep in mind that you have to keep mice out.


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





January, 2014