" What is a weed?
A plant whose virtues have never been discovered."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Garden Circkles:

Sustainable, organic gardening and homesteading tips and techniques.

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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

We also cover small farming and homesteading articles in this section.

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elderberry bush

Companion Planting: Elderberry

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.

We've discussed the medicinal benefits of elderberry on our site quite often, but this helpful bush also has companion planting benefits.

Elderberry likes moist soil and will grow in areas that are difficult to drain. If planted near a compost pile, they will assist in fermenting the compost it is said. Elderberry bushes produce a very fine humus soil around their roots, so planting root crops near them that do not like compact soils, such as carrots, radishes, beets, may be a benefit


seed matters

"An insurance policy against climate change is breeding for diversity," Dillon says. "As we get a more chaotic climate, it's very important to have greater diversity in our food crops, so they are resilient enough to withstand unpredictable diseases that are already starting to appear." ~ Matthew Dillon from Seed Matters.

Seed Matters has partnered with Seed Savers Exchange to improve our Community Seed Resources programs. Free educational resource guides are available and you can apply for your own Seed Toolkit. You can also apply for a mentorship and get assistance for your community seed project from an experienced seed saver. For more information visit Seed Saver Exchange.


Organic, Non-GMO and Heirloom Seed Suppliers:

We have ordered from these suppliers and find them to be very reputable, reasonably priced and honest.

High Mowing Seeds. 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.

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.

Seeds Now. Grow Organic with Our Unique Collection of 100% Pure Raw Un-Treated Garden Seeds

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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 archive tips and advice from articles to use as a reference guide. See Clubs under the Community Menu.

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


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horse drawn sorghum mill

Growing and Making Your Own Molasses.

by Circkles.com.

The flavor of homemade molasses is quite different from that of store-bought molasses which is a sugar making by-product that has a strong aftertaste. You may also be surprised just how easy it is to grow and make your own molasses. Most gardeners think of molasses and sorghum as a Southern crop, but it doesn't have to be.

First, you'll need to grow the sweet sorghum in order to make your own molasses. Sorghum looks very similar to corn and will grow anywhere corn will with the same requirements and time from sowing to harvest.

When ordering sorghum seed, be sure to get "molasses" sorghum, not "silage" sorghum. You'll need about 5-10 pounds per acre depending on how you are sowing it and how dense of a patch you want. A quarter of an acre can produce 10-15 gallons of molasses. The seed can go into the ground around late May to early June, and by the time it sprouts, any hard frosts should be over with.

sweet sorghum plantsSow the seed 6 to 8 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep, in rows separated by 38 to 42 inches. If you keep it well-watered, it will germinate in just 4-5 days. The young sprouts look like thick blades of grass and do not like competition from weeds or grass until they get about 1-2 feet tall when they can shade nearby weeds and the roots can compete for water and nutrients.

Similar to corn, sorghum is a heavy feeder, so add plenty of compost to your plowed field or area before planting. When the crop starts to reach maturity, the stalks will form reddish-brown seed heads - which are excellent ground or whole as a cereal grain. When the seed plumes appear, cut a stalk near the ground, peel off the hard outer part of the stalk to reach the inner pith. If the inside of the stalk tastes slightly sweet, it's time to harvest it. Strip off the leaves with a knife, cut the stalks near the ground, save the seed plumes and take the canes to a grinding mill.

Sorghum should be harvested before the first hard frost or the sweet juice inside of the canes may start to ferment and ruin the flavor. The canes can sit up to a week after cutting without losing much, so if you cut them and can't mill them right away, you have about a week to get to it.

Sometimes you can find a used mill online for grinding sorghum stalks or you can take your sorghum to somebody who has a sugar cane mill, otherwise, you will have to make a mill yourself or use a grinder of some kind to squeeze the juice from the sorghum canes. You may find a grain equipment supplier that carries sorghum presses, but they generally will run about $2,200, so you might not get your money's worth out of it if you are just making molasses for your own family. Since sorghum cane is very similar to sugar cane, it has to be pressed rather than squeezed. Just keep this in mind when you are looking for something to extract the juice from the can with.

Eight gallons of juice will equal a gallon of molasses after it is boiled down. Boiling down molasses is the same process as cooking down maple syrup, so if you already have a huge vat or evaporating pan for that, you can get a dual use out of it. Otherwise, you will need to purchase a large, galvanized steel pan for boiling over an open fire pit, or you can make one yourself out of 3-4 foot sheets of galvanized sheet metal, bend up the sides to make them at least 6 inches deep, and bend over the corner pieces so they don't leak.
I know some people who use huge cast iron kettles that look like a giant witch's pot. These are great for boiling down syrups, but you have to ladle the finished syrup out of the pot as most of them do not contain a drain spout in the bottom. Finding one of these witch's kettles can be a challenge as well, but they work great for both molasses making and maple syrup.

When a few gallons of juice have been squeezed out of the sorghum, strain the liquid — first through burlap, then twice more through a finely woven cotton sack — and pour it into the pan. Then build a fire in the furnace or an open pit and boil the juice. Any seasoned hardwood will provide an even-burning source of heat.

Some molasses makers use a multi-compartment pan, starting the green juice at one end and advancing it as each successive batch is drawn off. This system makes good sweetening, but also requires four or more people to dip the cooking liquids from section to section and careful control is needed to keep the syrup from scorching as one lot is exchanged for another. A single batch or pan method allows one person to monitor the process even though it may be a bit slower.

boiling down molassesAs the juice boils, a film rises on the surface of the syrup and must be skimmed off. You can do this with a skimmer that looks like a big, stiff fly swatter and which is easily made from window screen. You'll be adding fresh liquid occasionally as the batch cooks down, and will find that impurities continue to cook out.

Continue boiling and skimming as necessary until the juice has been reduced to about an eighth of its original volume. At this point the product is a rich brown color and has a molasses-sweet smell.

As the syrup becomes thicker and darker, allow the rate of boiling to diminish by slowing the fire. Then take up some of the hot juice in a dipper and pour it slowly back into the pan. When it begins to form strings or drip off the spoon in sheets, the liquid's viscosity is at the right point and the cooking must be stopped. Quickly put out the fire, remove the drain plug, and strain the contents one last time as the syrup runs into a metal container. (Don't use plastic, which will be melted or deformed by the heat of the molasses.)

If the molasses has been overcooked, grains of sugar will form and settle to the bottom of the containers. In that case, a little water may be added and the mixture heated gently once again to get the crystals back into solution. When you're sure the sweetening is perfect, store it in a cool dark place. It'll keep for years, if necessary.



white potato onionPotato Onions. No, this is not a Typo.

by Circkles.com

Onions can be difficult to grow. They require a certain length of daylight in order to grow well enough to make them worthwhile in the home garden and that can usually only be achieved in long-day Southern climates.

Also known as multiplier onion this variety of the Aggregatum Group of Allium cepa, is similar to the shallot but comes in white and yellow varieties and produces larger bulbs. It is remarkably easy to grow, keeps better than almost any other variety of onion, and is ideal for the home gardener with restricted space. It was very popular in the past, but--like many old varieties--it has been passed over in favor of types more suitable for mechanical harvesting and mass marketing.

Generally planted from bulbs, not from seed, the potato onion should be planted in the fail in southern and moderate climates. They can be planted in the spring as early as the ground can be worked in northern climates to at least the most northern limits of zone 5, and require about 250 days to mature.

White varieties are about the size of very large shallots. The yellow potato onions are a bit more winter-hardy, and some varieties have yellow skins and white flesh tinged with purple. With proper nutrition and good conditions, you can expect a cluster of 10-12 or more mild and sweet-flavored bulbs to form from a single bulb. Multiplier onions keep for 8-12 months in good storage conditions. Plants can be used as green bunching onions if pulled in the spring.

Potato Onions are most often only shipped in the fall, so you may not be able to purchase them until then. 

Sources differ about planting depth, some saying shallow planting is appropriate and others calling for deeper planting. This onion does tend to grow very close to the surface and a planting hole perhaps an inch deeper than the diameter of the bulb seems to work well. The onions vary in size from half an inch to three inches in diameter with onions up to 4 in. in diameter under good conditions, and 3 in. in diameter under average conditions. Flavorful, yet not strong.

yellow potato onionThe yellow potato onion has good drought resistance, pink root resistance, and is widely adapted for different growing regions, except Florida and southern Texas. Especially valued for the keeping quality of the small and medium-sized bulbs, which keep 8-12 months under good conditions. We’ve kept small bulbs up to 18 months under ideal conditions. Some old-timers grow this heirloom onion exclusively because it provides all the onions they ever need.

Allium cepa, Aggregatum Group, form a cluster of underground bulbs from each single bulb planted. Once established in your garden, multiplier onions will improve in size and quality, and their bulbs can be replanted year after year. A great garden staple for the self-sufficient homeowner.

Plant multiplier onions in the fall as you would garlic. Plant individual bulbs 6 inches apart in the row and at a depth that allows the very tip of the bulb to lie even with the surface of the soil. A few inches of mulch or compost spread over the bulbs completes your planting. The following spring the onion will send up leaves. Be sure to remove any seed head that may want to form. Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as Bio-fish 7-7-2 in March and again 8 weeks later. Well-drained fertile soil and regular watering during the summer produce larger bulbs.

Harvest typically occurs from July to August. Bulbs should be dried on racks or screens, out of direct sunlight. Select and save the biggest and best bulbs for replanting in the fall. Store bulbs as you would globe onions; inside a mesh bag in a cool, shaded, dry location.

Why are they called potato onions? Because the clusters grow underneath each other in a hill similar to potatoes. So don't just pull this onion thinking you have it all, it should be dug up similar to potatoes so you don't miss the bulbs underneath.



hand seedingSeed Matters.

Today, there are reasons to worry about seeds. due to the increasing lack of seed diversity. Only 4 companies are said to control 50% of all commercial seed supply, and certain crops are highly homogeneous genetically speaking. American corn is widely thought to come from just three or four parent lines.

Matthew Dillon, who leads an advocacy group called Seed Matters, says there's nothing wrong with that on a good day. The issue is what happens when you get an outbreak of disease, or pests, or extreme weather. The lack of diversity makes us more susceptible to widespread crop losses.

"An insurance policy against climate change is breeding for diversity," Dillon says. "As we get a more chaotic climate, it's very important to have greater diversity in our food crops, so they are resilient enough to withstand unpredictable diseases that are already starting to appear."

The problem is many farms rely on heavy chemical inputs to keep their yields up, and have forgotten traditional techniques that offer effective alternatives. That includes types of plant breeding, and crop rotation practices that break the cycle of pests that fix to particular plants.

"Too many crops are planted in ways that were genetically uniform," Dillon says. "That's really good for production agriculture. But hidden in that uniformity are hidden genes that are weak or susceptible to certain types of disease."

Seed is the first link in the food and fiber chain. And the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The Clif Bar Family Foundation created Seed Matters to improve the viability and availability of organic seed to ensure healthy, nutritious and productive crops.

Across the country, people are reclaiming seed as a public resource for local food and gardening communities. We encourage you to start your own seed project, and keep the momentum growing.

Seed Matters has partnered with Seed Savers Exchange to improve our Community Seed Resources programs. Free educational resource guides are available and you can apply for your own Seed Toolkit. You can also apply for a mentorship and get assistance for your community seed project from an experienced seed saver. For more information visit Seed Saver Exchange.


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December 2015
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