" 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.

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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 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.


Beneficial Bugs:

Green Lynx Spider
Order: Araneae. Family: Oxyopidae

About 3/4 of an inch in size, transparent and bright green with small red spots and a red patch between their eyes. Their abdomen comes to a point with chevron-looking red markings on it.

This spider does not make a web, but they are very agile and can leap with precision onto their prey. Usually found in the southern U.S., you can see them on tall grasses, low bushes, herbs and they like wild buckwheat to lay eggs on. They eat a variety of insects.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:

Deer Repellents.

Most gardeners have heard of hanging a fragrant bar of soap from a tree to keep deer from eating it. Here are a few other things you can try.

Make a spray from a whole egg mixed with water. Strain out any big particles and put in a spray bottle. The egg mix will stick to the leaves and deer don't like the smell.

Bird netting can be used to keep deer away from your prized trees as well. It is virtually invisible from a distance so will not create an eye-sore if you have to cover a lot of trees or plants in your yard.

Urine: of course, nobody likes to use this remedy to keep all kinds of animals away from your trees, including bears. Collect a container of human urine just like you would get a specimen for a doctor. Pour it around the base of trees or gardens. This will have to be refreshed every time it rains.


Companion Planting: Cucumbers.

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.

Raccoons seem to find cucumbers offensive, so they are a good thing to plant among corn. The corn seems to protect the cucumbers against the virus that causes wilt.

Planting a few radishes in cucumber hills will protect against cucumber beetles. Cukes do better when planted with beans, peas or sunflowers.

Cucumbers do not like potatoes or aromatic herbs.



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hardy kiwi on vine

Growing Hardy Kiwi.

by Circkles.com.

Most gardeners are not satisfied with just growing the typical fruits and vegetables, we love to experiment. Some experiments work, some do not. Growing hardy kiwi is something worth experimenting with. One big advantage to what is actually labeled "hardy kiwi" versus the kind of kiwi you see in the stores is that cool climate growers can enjoy it as well.

Hardy kiwis, also known as baby kiwis, taste just as good as the store variety, and are often sweeter. You also do not have to peel them. They are about the size of a large grape or small apricot and have a smooth, thinner skin in comparison to tropical kiwi which is fuzzy.

Hardy kiwi is a catchall term for kiwis (Actinidia) that, when dormant, can survive temperatures as low as -40° F (USDA Hardiness Zone 3). These beautiful, vigorous natives of Russia, China, Japan, and Korea have deep green leaves and long whiplike vines that resemble honeysuckle vines in appearance and can grow to 20 feet long. Hardy kiwi have a vast growing range since they can handle cold temps and don't require a long chilling period to set fruit. Gardeners from Florida to Massachusetts can grow this prolific little gem.
However, don't let the name fool you. Just because they are called hardy does not mean they are indestructible. While they can withstand below zero temps when they are dormant, a late spring frost or cold snap after they have leafed out will kill any chance of fruit for that year. So if you see it leaf out and anticipate a frost, cover it with a cloth tarp.

Hardy kiwi can be grown in a greenhouse in severe climates as long as they get a period of at least 100 hours of temps below 45 degrees. Most varieties of Kiwis are dioecious, meaning you need to grow male and female plants in order for the female plants to set fruit. A single male will pollinate at least eight females. Space plants about 12 feet apart. If space is limited, place both a male and a female plant in one planting hole, or grow (A. arguta) 'Issai', the only self-fertile variety.
For A. arguta, A. cordifolia, and A. purpurea, select a spot with good drainage and at least half a day of sun. A. kolomikta 'Arctic Beauty' requires at least half a day of shade.

size of hardy kiwiThese heavy vines require a strong support as the fruit forms in clusters much like a grape. They are heavy feeders and do best with a good helping of compost in the spring and compost tea about mid summer. They also produce best with heavy pruning like grapes. The more they are pruned, the more fruit they will produce. The goal is to create an umbrella-shaped plant. In the first year, limit each plant to one vertical shoot, and direct that shoot to the top of its support. That shoot will become the plant's trunk. Wire or tie it loosely to the support. In the first dormant season, prune each vine back to the top of its support.

In the second growing season, select two strong side branches near the top of the trellis and train them horizontally along the support. In the second dormant season, prune the side branches back to 1 to 2 feet long (12 to 18 buds on each). New branches will sprout from these side branches and become next year's fruiting wood.

From the third year on, prune female kiwis in the dormant season so that fruiting branches are at least 6 inches apart along the main branches. Cut out any dead or weak wood, and all tangled branches. Cut off branches that reach the ground or are so close that their fruit clusters could reach the ground.
In cooler areas, prune males back hard in summer. Prune as often as necessary thereafter to keep them tidy and to prevent them from overtaking the female vines. Restrict pruning to spring and fall in hot climates because bare branches are susceptible to sunburn. Whenever you prune, be sure to leave some of the previous year's wood so the plants flower and produce pollen.
Vines have a tendency to bleed if pruned too late in the dormant season, so do dormant pruning in the dead of winter.

Most hardy kiwis take about three years to bear fruit, though 'Arctic Beauty' and 'Issai' often bear the first year after planting. Depending upon your region, most 'Arctic Beauty' fruits ripen in early to mid-August, while fruits of the others ripen from late August through mid-October. Fruits are picked hard-ripe, then allowed to soften off the vine, like avocado and fuzzy kiwi.

Starting in late August, pick a few fruits and let them ripen on a windowsill or in a paper bag. Taste them when the flesh is soft and the seeds are black. If they don't ripen, wait several weeks and then test a few more fruits. When you notice the first fruit softening on the vine, pick all the fruit. Store hard-ripe fruit in airtight plastic containers or sealed bags in the refrigerator. Take out a few at a time to ripen. Eventually, all of the fruit on the vine will soften, but if you wait that long, you will have an overwhelming harvest of fruits that will last only a short time. Regardless of when you start to harvest, be sure to pick all the fruits before the first frost.
In Russia, hardy kiwis are made into jam, but they're also delicious simply sliced in half and topped with yogurt, raisins and raw oatmeal.


young plants hit by frost

Oh no. Late Frost. Can Plants Still be Saved?

by Circkles.com.

We've all had it happen, the one night we forget, or think we can get away with not covering our plants in the early spring, it hits. We tempted fate and our newly planted crops got nipped by a late spring frost. Is there anything that can be done after the fact?

Well, depending on how hard the frost was, maybe. A little known trick that can often bring back fruit tree blossoms and young leaves once nipped by a light frost is to spray them with a fine mist of water. This must be done before the sun hits the damaged leaves however. So if you suspect your tender plants may have sustained a little frost damage, check them before the sun has a chance to hit their leaves. If they look a little dark in color, or wilted and you even suspect they may have been damaged, find an empty spray bottle and fill it with cool, not hot, not warm, but cool water. Set the nozzle for a fine mist and mist the tender leaves thoroughly, all of them. If you can set your garden hose nozzle for a fine spray, it will make this tedious chore a bit less so. Something about the introduction of a fine spray of water can often retard or even reverse mild frost damage and preserve fruit blossoms and young leaves so the plant does not have to start all over again in leafing out or so you may not lose your harvest for that season.

If it looks as though your plants have sustained medium to heavy frost damage, try misting them and then cover them with a light cloth covering for 24 hours to keep the sun off the leaves. DO NOT cover them with plastic. If any heat builds up under the covering it will just do additional damage to the already compromised leaves and could cook the plant rather than restore it. If an entire bed of plants has been nipped, like the photo above of the beans, spray the entire bed with a fine mist and cover with a cloth tarp for 24 hours.
This technique is similar in principle to the phenomenon in nature that if there is cloud cover or high humidity overnight, often a frost will not do any damage as the moisture and humidity will prevent it.

They key to either of these techniques having any success at all is that you must do it very early in the morning before the sun comes up. Once the sun hits the frostbitten leaves or blossoms, it's too late to recover them. And it goes without saying, another frost will probably do them in, so you only get one chance at this emergency rescue usually.


truly purple potatoes

The Purple Veggie Craze.

by Circkles.com.

You may have noticed recently the purple vegetables invading your super market. Vegetables that were never purple before are now popping up all over sporting a new look. Purple potatoes, purple kohlrabi, and now, even purple asparagus. So what's the deal with all the purple? Well, purple, red and orange vegetables are considered higher in beta carotene and vitamin A, so with the recent health craze, seed suppliers and growers are taking advantage of the new, more-educated-on-nutrition consumer, and propagating purple varieties of vegetables to entice them. What makes them purple? Cancer fighting phytochemicals called anthocyanins are responsible for their purple hue which also makes them higher in antioxidants. So overall, the thought process here is that if you are going to eat a vegetable, why not get the most nutritional value you can out of it. Problem is, that pretty purple color and additional nutrition is usually also extra expensive. All the more reason to grow them yourself. Right?

Growing purple potatoes you may find worthwhile since they are so expensive in the stores. Up to $3.39 per pound for organic in some health food stores now, a good dollar, to a dollar and a half more than any other kind of potato. Make sure if this is something you are considering that you get a variety of purple potato that is purple all the way through the flesh, not just has purple skin. Otherwise, there is not much nutritional benefit. Growing truly purple potatoes is no different than growing any other kind of potato except that you may find it difficult to get truly purple potato slips or eyes from seed catalogs. If you have found them in your local grocery store, your best bet may be to let them sprout in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator until spring, as this may be the only way you will get them for seed potatoes. Purple potatoes basically taste like any other potato, but they have more texture to their flesh and it tends to be a bit drier. Not in a bad way at all, their taste is very good, especially baked or sliced into chips. Their skin is something between a red and a russet, so a bit thicker and it gets a little crispy with baking or frying.

Purple Kohlrabi is also just like growing any other kohlrabi, but it has a bit more bite to it. Almost like a radish, purple kohlrabi can have a bit of a kick, a more pungent taste than white kohlrabi for sure. They also tend to take a bit longer to mature, so give them a good head start by starting them indoors first so you can transplant them to the garden as soon as the frost is done. One additional benefit, slugs don't care for their pungent taste as much as white kohlrabi.

purple asparagusMost recently, even purple asparagus has made an appearance in seed catalogs. Is there any benefit to growing it really? Well, it will have a bit more vitamin A than it's green counterpart, and it also tastes a bit sweeter. It does tend to be hardy as well. Plant it with lots of compost and loose soil like regular asparagus. Water well and that's about it.
Asparagus is known for its medicinal properties, a diuretic and laxative with a beneficial effect on the kidneys, liver and bowels. Nutritionally, asparagus is rich in vitamins C & E, folate, potassium, and fiber, but don't eat too much of it, especially raw, since it does contain high amounts of oxalate. Calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stone, formed when calcium crystallizes with oxalates. Diets high in oxalates can increase kidney stone formation, so controlling intake of high oxalate foods may help prevent kidney stones.

Purple sweet potatoes: To grow sweet potatoes, begin with rooted stem cuttings, called “slips,” which sprout from the ends of stored tubers. If you want to grow your own slips, move parent potatoes to a warm room in early spring. A month before your last frost date, soak the tubers in warm water overnight, and then plant them sideways or diagonally in shallow containers, covering the tuber only halfway with sandy potting soil. After danger of frost has passed, move the sprouting sweet potatoes to a warm spot outdoors and keep them moist. When handled this way, stems (the slips) will emerge from both ends of the sweet potato, with each potato producing six or more. When the stems are more than 4 inches long and the weather is consistently warm, break off the slips from the parent sweet potatoes and plant them. Purple sweet potatoes taste much like regular sweet potatoes with a bit of a drier texture.

Purple tomato varieties have been around for a while, but since all red tomatoes are also high in antioxidants and vitamin A anyway, the only real benefit to a purple variety of this vegetable/fruit is if you like the taste or want to experiment.

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June 2015
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