" 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.

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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Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematode

Beneficial Bugs: Nematodes.

Phylum: Nematoda

We usually think of nematodes as being a bad thing, but there are bad nematodes and good nematodes. Beneficial nematodes attack soil-borne pests. They kill their hosts by invading them and then releasing a bacteria that causes the host blood poisoning.

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic, so you won't be able to see them, but you can purchase them in a paste-like form from some garden suppliers. Add water to the paste and sprinkle it on moist soil around plants in the evening when the sun won't just bake them. One particular species of nematode called Steinernema carpocapsea is very effective against caterpillars, cutworms, webworms and billbugs. Heterorhabditis bacteriophora loves Japanese beetle grubs.

Good nematodes can also be used to control fleas, iris borers, cabbage root maggots and strawberry root weevils.


Natural Insect and Disease Control:

Devil's Shoestring: Tephrosia virginiana.

Devil's shoestring got its name from voodoo and witchcraft. It was used to "trip up" the devil and keep him from your door.

There are about 19 species of this North American native weed and much confusion over how they look with many being called Devil's shoestring and being described as a big clump of grass or more like a vine. This member of the viburnum family has a valuable natural insecticidal property to it. Although low in toxicity to animals, it is regarded as poisonous to fish. Wild turkeys however love to eat it.

Resembling a large clump of grass growing in the open and in light shade on limestone slopes and cliffs, the roots contain the popular natural insecticide ingredient rotenone and can be used by making a strong tea of them, straining it with a coffee filter and then spraying it onto infested plants with a spray bottle.

Also known as rabbit bean, turkey pea, goat's rue and hoary pea, Native Americans used it for medicinal purposes and to poison fish. It prefers well-drained sandy soils. The photo above is known most commonly as goat's rue.


dill plant as companion planting

Companion Planting: Dill.

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.

A good companion plant for cabbage, improving its growth and vigor. Dill does not do well planted with carrots and will reduce the carrot crop. It can be sowed with cucumbers and lettuce often deterring the pests that frequent these plants.


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

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.


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musk thistle

Those Nasty Thistles.

by Circkles.com.

Please keep in mind, many pollinators like bumble bees love thistle flowers, and many species of birds, such as finches, use the thistle seed as a primary source of food. So decide whether you have such an infestation of thistles that you must destroy one of the bumblebees favorite food sources or not. People hate thistles mostly because they are picky and for no other reason. It is usually only farmers and growers who have a big enough problem with thistles to honestly have to eradicate them. Can you live with a few thistles here and there? Probably. Musk or Bull thistle flower heads can actually be quite pretty; resembling purple sunflower-like heads. However, this article is to address sustainable and natural ways to reduce thistle patches that compete with grazing land or gardening space.

While thistles do grow in poor, dry soils, contrary to popular belief, they thrive more in moist, poor, vacant patches or soil. During a rainy spring, we will see thistles popping up all over the place, and in much larger numbers than during a dry spring. So when watering a patch for a garden or crop, keep in mind that thistle seeds tend to germinate better in moisture just like any other seed. Many gardeners have started to practice the no-till method of gardening to reduce weed seed germination because you are not tilling the weed seeds into the soil where they will germinate better. If left on the surface of the ground, mice and birds will eat the seeds more readily.

A single musk thistle plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds, some of which can remain viable in the soil for seven year. Musk thistle is a biennial, common mostly in the East coast regions and considered a problem in 45 states. It germinates in the summer and overwinters in the rosette stage, then bolting and flowering in the spring. It is adapted to a wide range of growing conditions and elevations. The seed has no innate seed dormancy requirement thus they can germinate as soon as conditions are favorable. Therefore, the key is to eradicate thistle plants before they produce seed. Seeds in the flower may mature even after the flower head has been cut, so try to control thistles before they bloom.

Canada thistle not only grows from seeds but also from roots, making it much more difficult to control. Young plants emerge from underground roots to make a denser patch. Even a half–inch piece of Canada thistle root can grow into a new plant. To control Canada thistle, you must not only take out the top growth but deplete the root reserves to prevent regrowth.

Canada ThistleIn pastures, thistles take advantage of bare spots to get established. Bare spots are prevented by not overgrazing and providing adequate fertility and lime to assure a dense stand of forage. The weakest link in the thistle life cycle is when the seeds are germinating and getting established. This is the most effective and least costly point of attack for a long-term solution. Spraying adult thistle with herbicides will kill the adult plants but will do nothing to stop new ones from growing from seeds or roots already in the soil.

Although thistle seeds are wind-dispersed, it is important to avoid transporting them to new areas where they have not previously grown. Transportation is most common with contaminated hay, equipment that has thistle seeds on it, and flowing streams or irrigation that have thistle seeds in the water. Clean the equipment when moving it from a thistle-infested field to a clean field, and avoid bringing contaminated hay on to land without thistle populations. To avoid their spread, remove or treat small thistle outbreaks on previously clean land as soon as they become apparent.

Biological Contro

Several beneficial insects have been used to reduce thistle populations. Some have become naturalized and continue to provide control without reintroduction. There are commercial sources of beneficial thistle-control insects.
The adult thistle-head weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus,feeds and mates on musk, plumeless, and a few more thistles while they are in the rosette stage. Once the plants bolt, the females lay eggs on the flower heads and stems. When the larvae hatch, they bore into the seed heads to feed on developing seed. This weevil is the most widely distributed insect for thistle control in the U.S., being found in wild populations in most states from coast to coast where musk and plumeless thistle occur. These weevils can reduce thistle populations by 90 to 95% in 8 to 10 years.
These insects are not a quick fix. The best sites for these weevils to get established have heavy musk thistle infestation, are not currently being used for grazing, and are where the thistles are not going to be disturbed. The weevils must complete their life cycle in the thistles in order for the insects to damage the plants and reproduce. These weevils typically leave areas where cattle are present, thus they may not be a useful management strategy for controlled grazing situations.

The thistle rosette weevil, Trichosirocalus horridus, feeds on musk thistle during the rosette stage, killing first-year rosettes and stopping the growth of older plants. The thistle defoliating beetle, Cassida rubiginosa, feeds on leaves of Canada, musk, and plumeless thistles. Adult beetles lay an average of 800 eggs per female, and both the adults and larvae feed on thistle foliage throughout the growing season.

The thistle-stem gall fly, Urophora cardui, attacks the Canada thistle stem, boring in and causing the plant to form a gall. The gall lowers normal plant function and reproduction, causing the plants not to flower in some cases.
A flower weevil, Larinus planus, also attacks Canada thistle and reduces seed production much as the musk thistle-head weevil does. These larvae feed on the flowers, and the adults consume foliage. Being an accidental introduction, Larinus weevils are no longer permitted for interstate transport by USDA APHIS, but occur in the wild on the eastern and western seaboards of the U.S.
A stem-mining weevil, Ceutorhynchus litura, feeds on young Canada thistle plants. As the thistle plant bolts, the larvae continue to mine through the stem, eventually causing exit holes where they leave the stem near the ground. The larvae pupate in the soil, emerging in late summer to overwinter as adults.

Even though research has shown these beneficial thistle insects to be effective in reducing a stand of thistle, they are often slow to get established and would not be of much help in freeing fields of thistle in the first year. On the other hand, once they are established, and if they are not killed off by pesticides, they can provide long-term biological control of thistle. In general it seems apparent that some thistle plants will have to remain in order for these beneficial insects to retain their populations. In situations where all the thistles in an area are being hand cut or spot sprayed, and thus not allowed to complete their life cycle, most of the above mentioned biocontrol insects would not sustain themselves.

thistle root massLivestock Control:

High-intensity, short-duration rotational grazing reduces thistle populations by promoting a dense, competitive stand of forages. A dense stand of grass minimizes thistle’s ability to get established from seed. The young seedlings have great difficulty emerging from below a thick cover of grass or a dense mat of dead grass on the ground. Additionally, sheep and cows will nibble at thistles in the rosette stage. Goats eat thistles more frequently, especially the flowers, which eliminates seed production. Goats can be run with cattle to generate additional income and control weeds. Horses, donkeys, and llamas will also eat Canada thistle flowers.

Mowing or Cutting:

Musk and other annual or biennial thistles reproduce only by seed. Tilling, hoeing, or hand pulling should be done before flowering. Cut the plant below the ground or as close to the ground as possible to prevent regrowth. Cutting or mowing is more effective later in the season when the stem core is hollow, but before flowering. At that time, the plant is least likely to regrow. If cut in the rosette stage, they will regrow easily. Mowing can wait until two days before blooming to prevent seed production. Mowing or hand cutting only four days after flowering will allow some seeds to mature. Plants cut after the flowers open should have the flowers removed. Put the flowers in a tight container and bury or otherwise destroy them. Timing a mow can be difficult since thistles don’t all bloom at the same time. It’s important to reestablish desirable forage or crop plants with adequate fertility soon after thistle is controlled, to provide competition to future thistle plants. Appropriate grazing management that eliminates bare ground and produces a dense stand of forage goes a long way toward good thistle control.

Canada thistle, being a perennial, requires repeated removal of the top growth to weaken or kill the plants.


U.S. Department of Agriculture Researchers in Maryland tested various strengths of vinegar on Canada thistle. They found that either a 5% or 10% solution of vinegar burned off the top growth of Canada thistle. The plants, however regrew from the roots. Acetic acid in vinegar kills plant tissue by dissolving the cell membrane, which causes the plant to dry out. Vinegar works best when used in the sun. A word of caution, however: vinegar in concentrations greater than 5% acetic acid may be hazardous—burning the skin or damaging the eyes—and should be handled with care.

Thistle head weevilPasture Management:

Some farmers report that thistles grow where soil calcium levels are low, iron is high, and phosphorus is low or complexed. (Anderson , 2001) Thistles seem to prefer soils high in anaerobic bacteria, where residue decay is poor, or the soil is compacted. Virginia farmer, writer, and speaker Joel Salatin offers his experiences with thistles in his book Salad Bar Beef. He discusses the poor soil quality on his farm when the family first moved onto the place in 1961. The pastures were nothing but dewberries, briars, other weeds, and broomsedge. The farm grew so many thistles that it looked like a snowstorm when they baled hay. After several years of controlled grazing and applying compost, Salatin’s pasture is lush with red clover, white clover, thick grasses, and a healthy smattering of forbs. Fewer than a dozen thistle plants can be found on the whole farm.

Photos from the top: 1.) Musk thistle flower head and bee. 2.) Canada Thistle is smaller but much more intrusive once it goes to seed it will be everywhere. 3.) Canada thistle not only reproduces from seed but roots as well, so tilling will make the spread of Canada thistle worse because it breaks up the roots and spreads them around.



edible daylily

The Edible Daylily.

by Circkles.com

Yes, you read that right: there is an edible daylily, and it happens to be the variety you see most frequently,the common daylily, Hemerocallis fulva. We are definitely NOT referring to the common lilies like the Easter lily, which if eaten even by pets is poisonous. Unlike "true" lilies, day lilies do not sprout from a bulb but a tuber that looks like a fingerling potato and tastes like jicama. No kidding, they are just as sweet if not better than jicama.

You can also eat the young, unopened blossoms like you would squash blossoms. Add them to soups, stew,s or we have several recipes for using edible flowers in our Recipe Club. They will thicken soups much like okra or filé powder do. Italian and Chinese cooks dip the flowers in batter and deep-fry them. They are sold dried as “golden needles” in Chinese grocery stores, for use in traditional hot-and-sour soups.

Edible daylily partsYou can stuff the fresh flowers with dried fruit, nuts or sweetened vegan cottage cheese with sweet herbs, or herbed goat cheeses, close them with toothpicks, and serve these stuffed daylilies as a fancy dessert at parties. Cook the larger unopened flower buds in recipes that call for green beans. The flavor is similar, and they cook in about 15 minutes.

Don't eat the green base part of the blossoms as they tend to have a strong acrid flavor.

Chop and use the young shoots raw in salads or sandwiches, or steam, sauté or stir-fry them. Add them to soups, stews or casseroles. Virtually any cooking method works with them, and their tasty, string bean/onion flavor always shines through, no matter what other ingredients or spices accompany them. They cook in 10 to 15 minutes. Use shoots under 8 inches tall. Larger ones become coarse, unpleasant to eat, and hard to digest.


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October 2015
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