" 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 the 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:

Mealy Bug Destroyers.
Order: Coleoptera. Family: Coccinellidae

Average Size: 1/8 inch..

Sometimes called crypts (short for their scientific name Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) look very similar to ladybugs, but with an orange-red head area and tips of wings.

Although they will also eat the occasional aphid and scale insects, their favorite food is mealybugs. You will find crypts in areas that do not have severe winters and can also be purchased through some gardening catalogs to place in greenhouses.

Ants tend to destroy crypts because they in turn destroy mealybugs and ants protect mealybugs for the sweet, cottony substance they excrete. The crypt larvae look like giant mealybugs so be very careful which one you are destroying when you spray plants or squash the bugs.

Photos from top: 1.) Adult mealybug destroyer or crypt. 2.) The white, stringy-looking object is the larvae of the crypt or mealybug destroyer eating an aphid.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:


Insecticidal dust is made from the seeds of this small perennial in the Lily family. The other parts of the plant lack any insecticidal qualities.

When pyrethrum and rotenone were in short supply during WWII, sabadilla was used. The toxic constituents actually become more powerful after storage; fresh sabadilla extracts have not proven to be a strong insecticide. Sabadilla is a broad spectrum contact poison, and may have some action as a stomach poison also. Sabadilla is toxic to honeybees, but you could use it in a greenhouse. It is most effective against leafhoppers and true bugs. It degrades rapidly on exposure to air and sunlight, leaving very little residual toxicity.

Apply sabadilla oils only in the spring over leafless trees. The oil makes a dense film over insect eggs and suffocates them.


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.


All members of the cabbage family do well planted with aromatic herbs such as celery, dill, camomile, sage, mints and rosemary.

Do not plant broccoli with tomatoes, pole beans or strawberries. It will do well with potatoes, beets and onions.

If you use pyrethrum spray on broccoli, do so before the flower heads open.

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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Birdhouse Gourds.

About this time of year - when it's still too cold to plant - many gardeners are thinking about ways to spruce up their yards or gardens. A very inexpensive way to get both decor and a rewarding planting is with birdhouse gourds. You can grow the gourds yourself, which makes them extremely inexpensive birdhouses; probably the most inexpensive around.

Since gourds are a member of the squash family, they are very prolific and easy to grow. The best varieties for birdhouses are the ones that have a short, stout body and short neck. Remember, it has to be big enough to fit a nest, a parent bird and baby chicks. Gourds are naturally waterproof, although it would be best to paint them so the sun doesn't make them brittle and they will last longer under the weather elements. You can get really creative and varnish them to really make them last.

When your gourd vines start producing, it's best to keep the gourds up off the ground so they don't rot before you get a chance to use them; you want the outsides to be nice and strong. Gourd vines tend to get very long, so it's best to pre-plan your location of them so you can train them to grow on a fence, arbor or trellis. Also, the vines will be around all summer, since you won't pick the gourds until fall when they have reached their full maturity; the larger they are the better.

There are many varieties of gourds, but the Chinese Bottle, Water Jug or African wine Kettle are the best varieties for birdhouses because they have a base big enough to accommodate a nest and a mother bird sitting on that nest, and they have a long neck for drilling a hole into so you can hang them.

Preparing Your Gourds for Birdhouses:

Once your gourds reach maturity, or the size you want them to be, pick them and hang them somewhere to dry. You have to let them dry so they get hard and before you can paint them. Cut your holes while the gourd is soft, because once it gets hardened, it will be too difficult to cut.

Cut a hole for the mother bird to get into in the front of the base, about an inch or so from the bottom of the gourd. You do not need to make it as large as you would think. Birds tend to prefer that the entrance hole to their houses be snug and not too large as to allow predators in.

Next, I always cut a drainage hole in the bottom as well so that the gourd does not fill up with water if it rains, and drill a hole through the neck large enough to put a piece of wire or string through for hanging. Some people like to insert a wooden dowel in this hole so the birds can use it as a perch. This is not necessary, because I've seen very few birds actually use the perch.

Scoop or cut out any pulp and seeds in the inside of the gourd through the main hole you made for the parent birds. Try to get the neck cleaned out as much as possible too, you don't want that pulp to rot the gourd later on.

Once they are fully dry, you can prep them and paint them. Using a primer is a good idea, then paint them the color you like. As mentioned above, you can varnish them, but we have found it doesn't really make the birdhouses last any longer than just using paint and it's an extra step and cost.

Hang your birdhouse gourds in a shady place in hot climates and a sunny place in cool climates. You may have to try several different areas to see what location your birds fancy. One location we found that worked wonderfully for keeping the birdhouses protected from the wind and added some extra color to the home is when we screwed the birdhouse gourds to the side of the garage. That way the wind couldn't whip them around, the birds seemed to like it, and they were protected from heavy rains by the eaves of the garage roof.

Photos from top: 1.) Finished and painted gourds are drying. 2.) A fully developed gourd still on the vine. 3.) Chart of various gourd styles.



Compost Tea.

Many of you are already familiar with the liquid gold gardeners call compost tea. However, I attended a farmer's market recently and heard several attendees ask a local compost tea supplier what it was. One person actually thought it was tea you could drink.

So those of you already familiar with this free gem of a fertilizer can skip this article and get on with your lives.

Compost tea is made by soaking compost in water for one to two weeks to get all the beneficial ingredients of the compost to leach into the water to form a liquid fertilizer. You may ask yourself why anybody would bother with this rather smelly, messy process, and the answer is that compost tea soaks into the ground much faster than compost, and there are some applications - such as for houseplants - in which the tea is much more convenient and takes up less space.

To Make Compost Tea:

A large container such as a 30 gallon garbage can works well. Fill the garbage can about 1/3 full of well-aged compost and add enough water to fill the garbage can to the top. Cover it and let it "cook" in the sun or warm area for about a week. Stir it about once a day while it is cooking to get the nutrients mixed around and distributed evenly.

You may notice the tea getting frothy during the first week. This is the gases escaping (also a good reason to stir it often) being caused by the breaking down of the organic substances. Give the tea at least 2 weeks to "cook", the longer the better, but up to a point, you will notice it isn't really doing anything anymore. Completely processed compost tea will lose it's foul smell when it is done and at the stage where you can use it. It will smell more like just dirt or mud. You don't want to apply it to plants before it reaches this stage or it could actually burn them.

Keep your liquid gold handy to use on houseplants and garden plants that will benefit from a quick boost of fertilizer and that cannot wait for dry compost to break down in the soil to be used. Compost tea makes a good mid-summer boost for vegetables and flowers as well as fruit producing trees.

Photos from top: 1.) Compost tea bubbling as it brews or cooks. 2.) finished tea loses it's smell and most of the organic matter is liquefied. 3.) You still may have to filter out some of the large debris after the tea is done brewing, or you can simply let it all settle to the bottom of the garbage can or container and when you get to the bottom, dump the sludge onto a nearby tree that could use it, or dump it in your garden.

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March, 2014