" 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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caper spurge euphorbia

Companion Planting: Euphorbia

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 well placed euphorbia (caper spurge) plant will deter moles and mice, so they are good to plant around young fruit trees. The milky juice has a poisoning effect, so keep it away from pets.


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

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 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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jerusalem artichoke planting

Take Another Look at Jerusalem Artichokes, for Health Reasons.

by Circkles.com.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much nutrition in Jerusalem artichoke roots, but recent studies are finding this plant's roots are a a grossly underrated health gem.

To read about all the newly discovered health benefits of this root, see this month's issue of Health Circkles, but here, we will discuss how to grow it.

Many people who have grown this plant in the past have possibly ended up cursing the day they did so, because once it gets going, it may be difficult to get rid of it since it will keep sprouting year to year from any small piece of the root that is left in the soil; much like potatoes will. If you love artichoke root, or are planning to use it for dietary health reasons, then the fact that this plant will readily propagate itself makes your gardening chores that much easier. Just keep in mind, it also can be invasive if not maintained.

Jerusalem artichokes, also commonly called sunchokes, are mostly grown in Northern climates for the roots as the flowers and seed heads will not mature unless this plant has at least 120 or more warm days of sunshine. Also, the artichoke heads or hearts that you see in grocery stores are not what you will get from planting Jerusalem artichokes. Those are called globe artichokes and only grow well in the South. However, the roots of Jerusalems are tender and sweet and make it just as worthwhile to grow artichokes for what's beneath the ground instead of above it.

Jerusalem artichoke strains vary by skin color, root shape and maturation time. Some common varieties, are ‘Red Fuseau,’ ‘Stampede,’ ‘White Fuseau,’ ‘Red Rover’ and a flowering Helianthus tuberosus plant.

Artichokes need the basic vegetable requirements, and planting them in a loose soil well amended with organic matter so that it does not become compacted. They will survive drier, poorer soils but produce better with enough water to stop the roots from drying out completely. The only real major consideration before planting them is to keep in mind they will get 5-6 feet tall and should be planted in an area you don't mind digging up every fall. In other words, don't plant them to close to other plants whose roots may be disturbed when you dig up your chokes for the fall. Also keep this in mind for years to come because if you keep a couple of the smaller artichoke roots in the ground for next year, they will continue to replant themselves for years and you could end up with quite a large patch. They can, in fact, become almost work and worry free as not many pests bother this root vegetable either.

jerusalem artichoke plantsPlanting Sunchokes.

Find an out-of-the-way area to start your artichoke patch. A 25-square-foot planting can produce more than 100 pounds of harvested tubers. Till it well and add about 50% compost to the area tilling it in deeply, at least 5-6 inches deep. Artichokes are started by root cuttings or small root remnanats. Place your artichoke root starters at least 2-3 feet apart because the root tubors can spread at least that far per plant as they grow. If you have clay soils, work in a little sand as well to keep the soil loose for easy digging and so the roots won't be choked out by the soil becoming too hard. Artichokes like regular waterings but do not like their roots to be soggy, so the sand will also provide better drainage in clay soils.

Artichoke love sunshine, the more the better, but they seem to do even better if the roots are kept cool. So for maximum production from this vegetable plant, plant it where it will get at least 8 hours of direct sun, but mulch the roots with a light, airy mulch to keep the soil around the plant cool and from drying out completely inbetween waterings. Artichokes can soak up a considerable amount of water, so keeping them mulched serves a dual purpose in that you won't have to water them as often either.

After you get your patch planted, mulch lightly and water on a regular weekly basis and it will take care of the rest itself. This is one of the most easy vegetables to get started and stays almost maintenance free if the right conditions are kept. The only thing these plants are not too fond of is competition from grass, they will usually choke out other weeds though. Keeping them weeded will yield a larger harvest. The upper plants are not all that unsightly either. If they get enough sunshine to bloom, they look like miniature sunflowers, and you can cut the tops for cut flowers if you like. You probably won't want to let them go to seed anyway. Replanting this plant from seed may not produce full artichoke roots the first year and you run the risk of them replanting themselves all over your yard. So it's best to just leave a few of the smaller tubors in the ground to resprout themselves next spring, and if they do grow long enough to produce seeds, which usually only happens in warm climates, be sure to clip the flowers before they set seed.

The edible parts of these plants are their knobby roots, which have a crisp texture like that of water chestnuts. The way we like them best is just to eat them raw or with a vegetable dip made with mustard or ranch dressing. When cooked, they become a soft, nutty alternative to potatoes and taste especially good in soups and stews. The best way to preserve any extra roots you have in the fall is to slice them and dehydrate them to add to dishes over the winter.

Jerusalem artichokes get their sweetness from a unique sugar called inulin, which the body metabolizes much more slowly than it does other sugars. That makes this veggie a preferred food for diabetics, and for anyone who wants to avoid eating simple sugars and starches. Jerusalem artichokes are rich in iron, potassium and a range of B vitamins. For more health benefits, read this month's issue of Health Circkles (link at beginning of this article.)


amaranth patch

Why Grow Amaranth?

by Circkles.com

Amaranth is not a plant most people think of growing. And in some areas, where it grows wild, most people do not even recognize it as something you can eat: they just see it as a nuisance weed.

Amaranth is one of the most nutritious, easy-to-grow, well-adapted and easy to maintain grain plants on the planet. There are several varieties and colors of amaranth, with different crop uses, so research which seed to buy according to what you want from this plant. Since you can eat the leaves and the grain, first decide if you want to use it for a grain crop or a leafy vegetable crop.

Wild amaranth is most commonly called pigweed. It has all the same benefits of commercial amaranth, but tends to be smaller. It will grow in drought areas and poor soil in open fields and the seed plumes are usually green and much smaller but look a great deal like the more ornamental commercial varieties. If you live in the West, you may have this nutritious weed growing in your backyard. In Colorado, we have it all over the drier foothill regions and open plains; not so much in the mountains. It can often be found with a reddish tint to the lower stems as a way to help identify it and is known as redroot amaranth with slightly more pointed leaves than the commercial plants, but the top seed plume is unmistakable.

In early summer, the young greens are a delicious addition to salads, with a flavor similar to spinach. As they mature, the larger leaves are healthful and delicious when steamed, sautéed or used in soups. During the heat of the summer, the commercial plants will mature into a regal garden display with some having very beautiful plumes when preparing the mature seed heads which will yield many ounces of protein-packed seeds that have a rich, nutty taste.

wild amaranthNot only are the seeds high in protein (about 16 percent compared to 10 percent in most whole grains), but the protein has a balanced amino acid profile especially high in lysine, which is rare for plant foods and essential to humans for protein synthesis. Combining amaranth with other grains complements their protein and boosts their nutritional value. Amaranth seeds also contain generous amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorous and fiber. The leaves are high in protein, as well as beta carotene, iron, calcium and fiber and are also said to improve eyesight.
All this nutrition and flavor comes from a plant that requires little water, can grow in almost any type of soil, and in some parts of the country, is considered a weed.

With its ease of growing and high nutritional value, it's a surprise more gardeners don't grow it. The Aztecs knew its value centuries ago when it was being widely cultivated as what they called “Huautli” and used as one of their staple crops.

Amaranth thrives in warm weather, but it is a versatile crop that grows well even in regions with shorter growing seasons, including Canada and Maine. Once soils have warmed up in the spring, around the time to sow corn, start by preparing a fine seedbed to accommodate the tiny seeds. A hundred square feet or so should yield a few pounds of seed, enough for a winter’s worth of cooking. While amaranth will tolerate almost any soil, yields increase with additions of compost or well-rotted manure. Plant one or two seeds per inch, one-fourth to one-half inch deep, in rows 12 to 16 inches apart. Row spacing can vary depending on the watering system and equipment you use. Keep the seedbed moist, but not soaked, through germination. For earlier or larger harvests, you can sow indoors four to six weeks before transplanting into the garden.

Thin young plants for salad greens and larger plants for cooking. You should end up with about one plant per square foot for a grain crop. Even if you don’t thin them at all, the plants seem to take care of it by themselves. Weed control is important for the first few weeks as amaranth is a slow starter, but once it gets going, it will out-compete most weeds.

Harvesting Amaranth.

By frost, your amaranth patch will likely tower over your head. Harvesting this plant is a bit of work, which is no doubt why it isn't more popular with modern gardeners, but if you find your own technique, it doesn't have to be any more work than harvesting any other garden plant. Catching and cleaning your grain crop can be done in a variety of ways. Amaranth seeds mature at different times, with some of the bottom ones “shattering” before the top of the plant is ripe. You can harvest early-ripening seeds by shaking the heads into a bucket, waiting for the rest of the plant to ripen for final harvest.

amaranth grainWind winnowing is done by shaking the mature seeds onto a cloth sheet like a bed sheet, and allowing the plant chaff to blow away in the wind, and keeping the grain behind. If you want to get fancy, you can do the same thing with seed-cleaning screens you can purchase from some garden supply or seed companies.
Some people like to strip all the heads from the stems and thresh the seeds before the crop dries to avoid dealing with the bulkiness and prickly nature of dried plants. If done this way, the crop will require less space for drying. This also eliminates the first step of threshing the seed — crushing and removing the larger dried plant material. The seeds will continue to mature until dry, so you can give them a good shake every once in a while over a large piece of cloth as they mature.

Sifting the seed from the unwanted flower and plant material can be time consuming unless you utilize Mother Nature a bit. The seeds are heavier than the dried flower heads and debris that will come with them, so you can shake them into a shallow pan, and carefully blow off the lighter, dried debris leaving the seed behind. You can use a slightly windy day to your advantage by doing this outdoors and letting the wind blow off the lighter unwanted plant debris for you, or, if you have a lot of wind yourself, you can do this indoors.

Using Amaranth in Everyday Life.

Once you separate the seeds from the rest of the plant, keep the dry seed in a jar with a lid in a cool, dry place like your pantry or refrigerator. When you want to add some of its nutrition to recipes like breads, or make your own yummy cereal, grind the seeds in a coffee grinder and throw them in while making your dough. You can soak the ground seeds in hot water to make a delicious porridge cereal as well.

Photos from top: 1.) Red amaranth. 2.) Wild amaranth known as pigweed. 3.) Amaranth seed or grain.

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January 2016
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