" 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.

About Garden Circkles:

Gardening is great exercise, relaxing and very therapeutic, that's why we encourage people to get your hands in the dirt, walk barefoot in the grass and grow things.
We created Garden Circkles to help people do that in a healthy, sustainable way, and to stay in touch with gardening even if they live in the city and for those times they cannot garden year 'round. The best tasting food and most nutritious will always be food you grow yourself. Recent studies are revealing that processed, commercially grown food is unhealthy for many reasons not to mention chemical contamination is high in commercially grown foods.

Use Us:


We've archived all of our articles, tips and recipes for our readers to access for future reference any time they want. It beats remembering all this stuff.

You can find these articles and more by searching by topic using the Google Search at the top of this page or go to our Garden Circkles Back Issues Page.
You can also take advantage of our many clubs where we also archive tips and advice from articles to use as a reference. See Clubs under the Hangout Menu.

See our Local Circkles pages under the Main Menu for Farmer's Markets in your state.

See our Green Circkles Page for homesteading suppliers, tips and information on living a more sustainable lifestyle at home.

Organic Non-GMO Seed Suppliers:

High Mowing Organic Seeds has just announced they plan to be the first non-gmo project certified vegetable seed supplier in the U.S. We have ordered from them and are very happy with their service and they seem to have fresh seed that has no problem germinating and a good variety of vegetable and grain seeds. highmowingseeds.com

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 agri-businesses that create most of the "food" on store shelves today.


tachinid fly adult

Beneficial Bugs:

Tachinid Flies
Order: Diptera. Family: Tachinidae

Large flies that are good against caterpillars. Ranging from 1/8 - 1/2 inch in size with coarse bristles covering their abdomens. They look similar to houseflies but are more of a mottled black, gray or brown instead of brightly colored. The adults feed on flower nectar, it's the larvae that prey on caterpillars, beetles, borers, stink bugs, sawflies and a variety of insects.

Female tachinid lies lay their eggs on the bodies of their hosts or where the hosts feed. When the eggs mature they kill the host. They then drop off and pupate in the soil.

To attract these flies, try spearmint, dill or tansy to attract adults.


potato leafhopper

Natural Insect and Disease Control:


A small grasshopper with white spots on the head and thorax. They will often be the first insects you will notice in the spring. When you walk over a grassy area, they will be jumping all over in large droves.

Leafhoppers cause a blight - like condition known as hopperburn on potatoes in which the leaves curl upward, turn yellow or brown and become dry and brittle. This causes the food-making capacity of the potato plant to be impaired and it will produce lower yields.

Leafhoppers like large, open, grassy areas. To protect plants, grow potatoes in sheltered areas rather than large, open spaces or cover the plants with light netting.


unripe coriander seeds

Companion Planting: Coriander

Plants that assist each other to grow well, repel insects or even other plants when grown next to each other is called companion planting and can be a sustainable and eco-friendly way to improve and protect your garden against unwanted pests and disease.

Chromatography has been used to explain why some plants like or dislike being planted with other plants. It is possible to make a specific chromatographic test to find out why, or if at all, a plant is helping or hindering its neighbors. Chromatography has also been used to prove that plants do significantly better with compost than without.

Coriander is the seeds of the cilantro plant. The leaves of the plant are known as cilantro and the dried seeds are known as coriander. So...plant cilantro and let it go to seed to get coriander.

Coriander has a reputation for repelling aphids. It helps anise to germinate but hinders the seed formation of fennel. When coriander blossoms, it's very attractive to bees. It also has four times as much carotene as parsley, three times as much calcium and more protein and minerals.




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Antique tiller old electric tiller

Rototillers Compared: Which ones will save your back and buck.

by Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com

Small or large? Rear or front tines? With or without reverse? If you haven't had a lot of experience with tillers, you may not be aware that the features we just mentioned can make or break your gardening experience.

Rototillers can range from $300 up to $1200 depending on whether you just want it to till between rows or for small beds or you need a workhorse for an extensive and large garden. Let me say, I have tried several brands and styles of tillers for various purposes, and while many people will go with a small tiller because it's easier to handle, if you think you may ever need it for a big job, you will wish you had the power of the bigger tiller. More powerful tillers can actually save you hard work and effort. The only time we recommend a small tiller, like say the popular Mantis tillers, is if you are limited in turning space. Meaning, for some reason you do not have much room to turn a full-sized tiller around in your garden. The name of the game in choosing a tiller is to make sure it's enough of a machine to make your job as little effort as possible, but not too much of a machine that it is tossing you around the garden and you find yourself wrestling with it more than tilling with it. After all, the point of buying a machine to do your tilling for you is it's suppose to make it easier on you, not harder.

Rear or front tines has been a question gardeners have tossed around for decades, and most prefer rear-tined. Why? Because they are better balanced and having the tines in the back of the machine help to guide it along, similar to the difference between a self-propelled lawn mower and one that is not. When using a front tined tiller, you will find yourself having to tilt it forward a lot to get the tines deep enough. Doing so puts your back and shoulders in an awkward and uncomfortable position that you will feel over time. Thus, rear tines also make less work or effort for you. Most gardeners say they can til deeper with a rear tine as well because you can put your body weight into the area that needs it the most when the tines are in the back. A rear tine tiller is just less work because its design is more self-sufficient.

Cub Cadet front tine tillerGet Reverse! Some tillers come with the most basic of controls: start, stop, forward and off; and that's it. These will get you by since you only til about once or twice a year and they are usually at least one hundred dollars cheaper or more. However, if you have a fenced in garden or any restrictions at all for turning the tiller around in a corner, you will be swearing up a storm every time you til up to a fence or corner and do not have reverse. Without reverse, you will literally have to wrestle with the machine to back it out of tight areas or turn it around and this can be very hard on the shoulders and neck. It's well worth the extra money to make sure your tiller at least has reverse. You don't need multiple speeds necessarily, but reverse is a very good feature for saving yourself sore muscles.

Engines and Mechanics: No matter the brand of tiller, they are basically all created the same and the quality of their construction is negligible. Except for the engine and gears. In our opinion, and over years of experience with various home garden equipment, you can't go wrong with anything that has a Briggs and Stratton engine. A Briggs and Stratton will rarely ever break down and will last for many years if properly maintained. They are powerful engines and quality made; buy one and that is one part of the tiller you will likely never have to worry about. Say what you will about Kmart, but they have carried lawn and garden equipment with Briggs and Stratton engines for years and are just about the only discount shopping store that does. The brand names of the tillers may be considered by many to not be as popular or subpar compared to name brands, but the engine, the most important part, is not. So checking out what Kmart has is worth a trip to their store.

The brand of tiller is where you will see a big difference in the quality of the gears, controls etc., and this is where the most money can add up. The tillers on the high end of the price scale are the ones that have a lot of bells and whistles and accessories but don't necessarily til any better than a $400-$500 tiller with a Briggs and Stratton engine and reverse controls. Things that will typically wear out first in the construction of a tiller are the gears (which are usually the first to go on cheaper models), drivetrain and control levers, belts, switches, tires will get weather-checked quickly if left in the sun etc. This is where your name brand tillers like Troy Built, Mantis, Yellowbird, Ariens, Husqvarna are worth the extra money.

Husqvarna rear tine tillerHusqvarna CRT900-CA Counter Rotating Rear Tine Tiller, 14-Inch 

- 208cc Briggs & Stratton Engine
- 14-Inch Tilling Width
- Counter Rotating Rear Tines
- Includes drag bar and counterweight
- CARB Compliant
- Price: $599

- Engine Make: Briggs & Stratton, 3 HP
- Accessories: power cultivator, furrower, front weight, drag bar
- Drive System: worm gear
- Price: $529

Ariens Series 901000 
- Engine Make: Tecumseh, 5 HP
- Accessories: tine/hood extension, engine guard, furrower, front blade, more
- Drive System: belt/worm gear
- Price: $764

Troy-Bilt Horse
- Engine Make: Kahler, 7 HP
- Accessories: dozer blade, hiller/furrower, tire chains, three tine types, more
- Drive System: belt/worm gear
- Price: $1,039

Sears Task Handler
- Engine Make:  Briggs & Stratton, 8 HP
- Accessories: snow blade, v-bar cultivator, depth stake cultivator
- Drive System: gear/chain
- Price: $1,299

Our recommendation as the best tiller as far as price, quality and power is the Husqvarna. This is the best tiller for the money as far as we are concerned and many other people. German made Husqvarna is known for good quality equipment that usually lasts and at a fair price for what you get. Plus, it has our favorite Briggs & Stratton engine. What model you chose depends solely on features that you like or don't need. Cub Cadet also makes rear tine tillers comparable to Husqvarna but usually a bit more expensive for basically the same machine as the Husq. and with a Honda engine instead of the Briggs. Lowes sells Husqvarna, Home Depot sells Cub Cadet.


grass clippings as mulch around tomatoes

The Best Mulch is Grass Clippings.

by Redstone Promotional Communications / Circkles.com

Growing season is well on its way in most areas by now. Images of Brandywine tomatoes dancing in most gardener's heads. So now, all that's left is to keep everything watered, protected from bugs and hail storms and rodents. No small task. However, you can get a grip on keeping your plants happier by mulching them. Mulch not only helps hold in water so you don't have to water as often, plants like it because it keeps the dirt around their roots at a more even temperature.

Many gardeners don't know that plants do not like their root zone to be baking in the hot sun all day and cold at night. While the upper parts of most plants are adapted to taking these extremes in temperatures, the roots are not. In the wild, plants rarely ever grow in a nice, neatly groomed, clean garden bed with no leaves or other plants to shade their roots.

Many gardeners and home owners use mulches such as bark, ground wood chips, small stones because they are what is most readily available in garden centers, but they overlook a very beneficial and even more available mulching material: grass clippings.

All that is required to have an endless supply of mulch that also adds needed nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, green manure and ammonia to the soil is a bagger for your lawn mower. You mow your lawn anyway, and so many people just toss those highly nutritious bags of grass into a pile and forget about them or they don't collect the grass clippings at all.

lawn roots depend on mowing heightGrass is the highest source of nitrogen, which is why so many gardeners use manure in their garden: it's just grass that has passed through a grazer's system first. But why not bypass the animal the manure came from and that took most of the nutrients out of it, and use the grass directly. When grass breaks down in the compost pile, it adds not only nitrogen but many nutrients and ammonia - which most gardeners don't realize is a chemical plants like in small quantities. However, to use it as a mulch, spread a thick mat of the clippings around your plants and as it breaks down over time, it will release these nutrients and nitrogen right to the root base of your prized plants. A thick layer of grass, once watered down with your garden hose will create a very effective weed barrier as well.

You may have to replenish your grass mulch with new clippings about mid summer or late fall as they will biodegrade over the summer. Keep a pile handy for winter mulch as well to protect roots from freezing temps.

Considering most of us have to mow our lawns anyway, it's surprising more people don't use this readily available, easy mulch and green manure. Remember to only cut about 1/3 off the top of the grass when you mow though, to ensure your lawn maintains deep roots so you don't have to water it as much either. If you cut your grass too short, it will not only require more water to keep it looking nice, it will develop a very short root system. Even grass likes its roots to be cool from the shade of the grass blades. This shade also prevents the soil from drying out so quickly.

Photos from top: 1.)Put a thick mat of grass clippings around plants to choke out weeds. Water it down and it is one of the best weed barriers. Replace it as needed 2.) Grass that is kept taller will develop a stronger root system than grass that is cut with more than 1/3 of the blade removed.

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April 2015
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