" 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:

Tiger Beetle.
Order: Coleoptera. Family: Cicindelidae

Average Size: 1/2 to 3/4 inch.

Varying in color from metallic blue to a bronze color, green or purple, tiger beetles can run pretty fast with their long legs. Their prey of choice is ants, smaller beetles, grasshoppers and aphids. Because they run so quickly, you will probably not be able to spot one in the garden or elsewhere.

Tiger beetles are attracted to lights and warmth. They will sun themselves along roads, the edges of well-warn pathways and bare patches of soil or sand.

The larvae are shaped like an "S" and have a humped back and strong hooks on their abdomens that allow them to anchor themselves in the soil to seize prey which they drag back to their burrow to eat.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:

Weed Control in Your Lawn.

Low soil fertility is the number one reason weeds will take over a lawn, so using a good organic compost distributed over your lawn will help a great deal. Weeds do not typically like fertile soils and thrive more in exhausted soils with little organic matter.

Also weed seeds tend to lose their viability sooner in bacteria-rich soil than in one poor in bacterial life, " Says Rodale Institute.

Do not cut your grass any shorter than 2 inches tall or a good rule of thumb is do not cut off more than 1/3 of the green leaf or blade of the grass. Cutting grass too short will not only encourage weeds to get established, it will hamper the growth of the grass. Keeping your grass a bit longer may mean having to mow it a bit more often, but the shade provided by the longer grass will cut down on watering, weeding and brown patches thus eliminating lawn care in the long run.


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.

Calendula or Marigolds:

Very beneficial when planted with potatoes, strawberries, roses and many bulbs to discourage nematodes. Marigolds produce a chemical that they release into the soil which kills nematodes. In order to be effective, marigolds should be planted for a long enough period of time in one spot since it takes a while for them to produce this chemical. Grow them all season in an area where you intend to plant one of the plants listed above. You may not notice immediate results after the first year, but you should notice a dramatic reduction in nematodes in subsequent years. The effects of marigold planting will last 2-3 years after they are no longer growing in that spot.

Marigolds planted with beans will protect the beans against Mexican bean beetles.



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.


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 etc.



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Planning a Cottage Garden.

Cottage gardens are more informal in design, use traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, and almost synonymous with what many call the "English garden", the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur, formality or rigid structure. In the cities, some residents transform their entire front or back yard into a cottage garden and have little to no grass at all. Before you do this, make sure to check with your city zoning department to make sure they will permit a cottage garden. Some will not because of the wild and unkempt look of cottage gardens, or any large areas of very tall plants that can look too untidy.

Just because you live in an apartment or have a very small area to work with does not mean you can't have a cottage garden; you just have to plan it to optimize what space you have to work with.

The whole point of a cottage garden is that it should look more natural and wild than a fussed-over and primped garden. That doesn't mean you shouldn't put any planning into it however. The most effective, visually pleasing and stimulating cottage gardens are well thought out in advance. They are planned to maximize color, size of plants, be low maintenance, and if using edible plants, which ones and where so they will not compete with or be shadowed by nearby plants.

Using native plants in a cottage garden fashion has been increasingly popular over the last 20 years due to the fact that they require much less time and water than exotic, finicky plantings with highly ornamental plants that may not be well suited to your area. Some good plants for cottage gardens are poppies, echinacea, cornflowers, cosmos, marigolds, hollyhocks, creeping or bush roses, colorful foliage bushes and trees such as Japanese maples, burning bush, birdsnest spruce, rosebud trees and vines like clematis, trumpet, morning glory. Interplant vegetable plants with colorful-flowering and aromatic herbs to ward of insects, such as suggested in our Companion Planting column to the left. Look in the Circkles.com Hangout Page for archived companion planting articles to get ideas of what benefits they offer to which plants.

Adding garden accents such as birdhouses, garden ornaments, old wheelbarrows, chairs and tables, birdbaths, unique pots etc., lend themselves very well to the concept of a country cottage garden and add points of interest and uniqueness. You can shop for such treasures at rummage sales, barn sales, thrift stores or antique shops.

The best way to plan out your garden in advance of planting so you know what plants to order or shop for and where they will go is to draw out a picture of what you want and where you want it. If you can do this on your computer, you can easily move elements of your drawing around to best satisfaction. Keep in mind shady areas of your yard for shade-loving plants, sunny, dry areas for appropriate plants and maybe even cactus - which can also be pretty and a visual point of interest.
Some people think all there is to a cottage garden is to buy a pack of wildflower seed, throw it out in their lawn and water it. This can work if you want your garden to look like a wildflower field, but cottage gardens look much better when a bunch of the same plant are planted in one area rather than scattered all over the place. For example, do a grouping of poppies next to a group of irises or hollyhocks. Be sure to put large plants in the back of the garden where they do not shade smaller plant groupings that should be planted in the front of the garden so they will be seen.

Color can make a garden spectacular, while lack of it will make it just barely memorable, so try to visualize your color scheme. Your preliminary drawing will help a great deal with this. Complimentary colors are colors that are direct opposites on the color wheel and so compliment each other. Such as planting orange poppies next to something blue or purple. Yellows and oranges look spectacular next to blues and purples, with both colors making the other just pop out at the view. Reds go well with whites, pinks or yellows. You could also go with a pastel color theme if you like and plant groupings of plants next to each other that are all from the reds, pinks and purples, or all different shades of blue. Whatever you prefer, just plan your color theme ahead of time and make sure that the plants you pick all bloom at the same time if you want to see them all side by side and you won't be disappointed. Some people prefer to have a little color year 'round, so they pick plants that will blossom for different seasons of the year.

As you can see, there are many things to consider when planting even a wild cottage garden if you want it to look spectacular. You must consider plant size, color, what time of year it blooms and if it will be low maintenance by requiring little care and water and is it sun-loving or shade-loving. If you want to attract the honeybees to support them, than you must plan to plant some flowers specifically for them that will bloom at different times of the season so they will be supplied with continuous food.

The most important part of a cottage garden is the preliminary planning; without it, you may end up very disappointed with the results. So hone your drawing skills and start sketching out your layout, what plants go where and what your color goals are and you will surely enjoy the outcome.



Edible Weeds (Part of a series on common edible wild plants).

Pigweed, also known as Amaranth, is an annual great leafy green vegetable that many gardeners love to hate as it tends to grow everywhere it is native too. This wild edible can be a beneficial weed as well as a companion plant serving as a trap for leaf miners and some other pests; also, it tends to shelter ground beetles (which prey upon insect pests) and breaks up hard soil for more delicate neighboring plants.
Because of its valuable nutrition, some farmers grow amaranth as a crop, mostly for the seed to be ground into amaranth flour. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, sautéed, etc. Pigweed has a mild flavor and is often mixed with stronger flavored leaves. Fresh or dried pigweed leaves can be used to make tea. The seed is very small but easy to harvest and very nutritious. The flavor is greatly improved by roasting the seed before grinding it. Pigweed seed can be ground into a powder and used as a cereal substitute, it can also be sprouted and added to salads. The seed is very small but easy to harvest and very nutritious.
The lower part or the stem is thick and smooth, upper part usually rough with dense short hair, greenish to slightly reddish but usually red near the roots. This "weed" can grow as tall as 4 feet and you will recognize it by the bristle or bottlebrush-type seed head that will be present most of the summer.
The seeds are the most prized part of this wee, however, you would have to allow quite a lot of it to grow in order to collect enough seeds to grind into the very nutritious flour.

Milkweed flower buds first appear in early summer and can be harvested for about seven weeks. They look like immature heads of broccoli but have roughly the same flavor as the shoots. The flower heads can be fried in batter and eaten. These flower buds are wonderful in stir-fry, soup, rice casseroles, and many other dishes. Milkweed pods are delicious in stew or just served as a boiled vegetable, perhaps with cheese or mixed with other vegetables but be sure you eat only immature pods. Boiled young shoots, unopened flower buds, flowers, and young pods are said to taste as good as asparagus and other cooked greens. The only way to eat milkweed is as a young shoot (under 7-8 inches).
Milkweed is an herbaceous, tall perennial that got its name for its milky sap that contains latex, alkaloids and other compounds. It is important to be sure on identifying the milkweed because it has a poisonous look alike, dogbane.
You will find them growing in fields and along roadsides. Most people can recognize them immediately once they develop their rather large seed pods.

Pickerel weed is a valuable food source for large variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals. The large leaves and clusters of stems provide an excellent sanctuary for fish, birds, swimming mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Pickerelweed has a dense root system and stems which provide a wave barrier for protecting shoreline sediment from erosion. Pickerelweed received its name from the pickerel fish, with which this plant is thought to coexist.
Pickerelweed grows in shallow freshwater that includes lakes, streams and in wetlands. Pickerel seeds are tasty when roasted but they can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best collected when they fall into your hand right off the plant. They can be ground and made into flour or toss some seeds into your bread recipe. The young leaves can be eaten as greens; boil older leaves before ingesting. Young stalks are also edible. Be sure that the water source you harvest pickerel from is not polluted.

Prickly pear cactus is found all over the Southwest. The fruits and pads are edible but you must be VERY careful when working with a prickly pear. Handle it with a tongs only, gloves will only end up covered with the prickly spines forever. Once you pull the fruits from the cactus with the tongs, slice the skin down the middle of the fruit, and with a knife, peel away the skin almost like you are filleting it. Discard the skin in a safe place so animals don't get stuck with the vicious thorns. Once you have the inside of the fruit, you will find it is so full of seeds you really cannot eat it. Most people juice it to remove the sweet, tasty fruit from the seeds. Makes you wonder if all the trouble is worth it doesn't it?
You can also eat the prickly pear "pads" or "paddles" as they are called. Covered in nasty thorns as well, you scrape the thorns off with a sharp knife. Once you cook the pads, you will find they are very gelatinous. Some say cooking them in salt water helps, but you will probably end up rinsing them several times to get rid of the gooey gelatin substance.
Researchers from the University of South Florida have found prickly pear cactus’s mucilage to be a natural water purifier. The thick gum produced by the cactus could capably filter 98 percent of the bacteria Bacillus cereus from the polluted water, as is revealed in their research. The gelatinous extract causes the sediment and bacteria to settle at the bottom.

Pineapple weed is often mistaken for chamomile because it looks and smells a great deal like it, but is a close sister and is an annual plant. It grows from May to September. Pineapple weed may be confused with young mayweed chamomile; however the mayweed does not emit a pineapple-like odor when crushed. Additionally, mayweed chamomile grows much taller than pineapple weed. Pineapple weed likes to grow in gravel, dry soils with good drainage such as along roadsides and in driveways.
As with chamomile, pineapple weed is very good as a tea, and the feathery leaves and flower heads can be used in salads as well. Pineapple weed flowers may become bitter by the time the plant blooms, but are still good to eat.
Pineapple weed looks like chamomile only without the flower petals. It is a low-growing plant only reaching about 4-6 inches in height, with finely divided foliage that gives off a pineapple smell when crushed. In place of actual flower petals like chamomile gets, pineapple weed's flowers look just like round, greenish-yellow heads that never blossom.

Photos from top: 1.) Wild amaranth or pigweed. 2.) Milkweed without the very recognizable seed pods formed yet. 3.) Pickerel weed. 4.) Prickly pear cactus that has fruited. 5.) Pineapple weed.

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May, 2014