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3/18/2013

This spring become more self-reliant and reduce your exposure to chemicals by planting herbs in pots, building raised garden beds, creating a worm composting bin and making your own fence paint.

Planting Herbs in Pots

Herbs can be grown in a large outdoor pot, as long as the pot has good drainage, is at least 14 inches in diameter and 9 inches deep, and is filled with fertile soil. Purchase small plants and position them according to size (about 4 inches apart). Plant and lightly water. Sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, chervil, summer savory and lovage are readily available and can be used as single seasonings or in combination with one another. (I recommend using these herbs to create an Herbes De Provence season mix.)

Building Raised Garden Beds

While raised beds are not a new idea, they are still beneficial and very easy to build. Raised beds have been used for more than 2,000 years, ever since the Greeks first noticed plants sprouting in landslide areas where soil was loose and moisture penetrated easily. With this in mind, they started making their own raised beds. As it turns out, adding aerated, turned and amended soil with organic matter to raised beds loosens soil, which improves its texture and nutrient value. Spacing plants close together also creates shade and keeps the moisture in the soil by self-mulching, which helps produce growth.

Constructing a raised bed is simple, as you can make a frame with any solid material that holds soil. Just keep in mind that if you use wood it must be rot-resistant because the frame will be in constant contact with moist soil. Cedar and redwood are two types of wood that are resistant to decay; Douglas fir and pine can be used but may only last five years. Raised beds can extend above the ground from several inches to 12 inches, and the beds can be made to fit any size as long as the middle can be easily accessed for weeding and harvesting. Cut the wood to the size of your planned bed, drill three holes with a #30 bit at the corner boards and insert 4-inch weather-proof drywall screws. For more stability, attach brackets to the inside corners.

When deciding where to place the raised beds, remember that most plants need at least eight hours of sun each day. Turn the soil where the raised bed will be permanently placed. If there are critters underground that may nibble on your vegetables, line the bed with chicken wire. Fill the bed with a combination of soil, compost, peat moss and fertilizer 8–32–16. But the fun part is deciding what seeds to plant. A beginning gardener may want to start with a simple salad bed that consists of lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes and scallions.

Worm Composting Bin

Vermiculture, or red wiggler worm composting, is a way to recycle your kitchen scraps, tea and coffee grounds, and turn it into nutritious soil and fertilizer for your plants. Coffee grounds are an excellent addition as they add nitrogen, an element that bacteria needs in order to turn organic matter into compost.

To get started you need a container, soil, bedding and worms. You can use a dark plastic container or purchase one specifically for worm composting. Worms like dark, moist environments—just make sure the environment isn't too wet. Worms can be kept in temperatures of 40 to 80 degrees, but prefer temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees. After three to six months you should see a lot of castings (dark soil) that can be used as fertilizer in your garden beds. Although worms can be purchased online, it is better to buy worms locally so that they are already acclimated to your environment.

DIY Fence Paint

Family dogs are sometimes a nuisance when you have a garden. But this problem can be easily remedied by installing a simple picket-type fence. Build your own with recycled wood or install one with panels purchased from a home and garden store. Seal the wood with a paint that protects it from the elements and also adds a fun color to your yard. There are many eco-friendly paints on the market, but they may cost more than the conventional kind. Instead, make your own paint.

The oldest painted surfaces on earth were colored with a form of milk paint. In colonial America, itinerant painters roamed the countryside carrying pigments. To make paint, these pigments were mixed with farmer's or householder’s milk and lime. To make your own milk paint all you need is whole milk, vinegar, borax and a pigment. More information can be found at Milk Paint.

Plan now for the ultimate reward of herbs, vegetables and a yard that will give you a sense of pleasure and sustainability.


Desiree BellDesiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. Visit her blog Beyond A Garden.



3/26/2013

Air plants are a perfect low-maintenance option for the gardener who wants to add a unique flair to their home or garden.

What are Air Plants?

The Tillandsia genus includes more than 500 species and is part of the Bromeliad family. The most common name, Tillandsia, are also referred to as epiphytes, meaning they grow with no soil while attached to other host plants, thus the common moniker ‘air plants.’ (It is important to note that epiphytes are not parasitic plants and depend on the host for support only.)

air plant
Photo By Ciera Holzenthal/Flickr

Because they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves via trichomes (scales suited for suction), air plants require no soil. (In fact, do not ever plant them in soil!) Roots act merely as anchors to allow for adhering to trees, rocks, posts, fences and other objects, and can actually be removed if desired. 

These unique and interesting specimens reproduce by seeds or offsets referred to as “pups,” with a single plant having as many as a dozen “pups” to assure reproduction. “Pups” can be removed for planting elsewhere or retained on the mother plant to promote clustering. 

Tillandsia will only flower once, though “pupping” will assure that flowers continue to grow as mother plants are replaced by the “pups.”   

How to Care for Air Plants

WATER

While air plants grow in air, they still require water. Watering them properly is one of the most important components of keeping air plants healthy and vibrant. Misting them 2 to 4 times per week may suffice, though proper watering is recommended, saturating until run-off appears. 

However, it is important to allow them to dry out completely before watering more, as they will rot if left wet for long periods. As the trichomes close once they’ve received enough moisture, it becomes fairly easy to get an understanding of just how much water is enough.   

LIGHT

For proper growth, Tillandsia requires as bright a light as possible without burning. Indirect light, such as from south-, east- or west-facing windows (within 8 to 10 feet), or fluorescent tube or other grow lighting in a room with good circulation, is ideal. It may also be necessary to move air plants (especially from season to season) to find the area most suited for proper sun exposure. 

Outdoors, air plants do well in partial-sun locations like under trees and shrubs, patios or shade cloths. Avoid placing air plants in direct sun for more than 45 minutes.

FERTILIZATION

Tillandsia do not necessarily require fertilization, though if one chooses to the results are generally favorable. As with any plant it is important not to over-fertilize or use one that is not suited for air plants.

Diluted, water-soluble, acidic fertilizers are optimal and should be applied no more than once per month. Ammonium or nitrate nitrogen (low relative to the phosphorus, at least half of the potassium), phosphorus (use all you want), and potassium (again use in large amounts) will do the trick nicely. Avoid those fertilizers with copper, boron or zinc.    

TEMPERATURE

From near freezing to scorching heat, air plants are generally tolerant of varying degrees of temperature. They do best in higher humidity and anywhere from 50 to 90 degrees (70 to 85 degrees is optimal) allowing for a 10- to 15-degree drop in nighttime temps. While a light frost may result in minor leaf damage, frost for extended amounts of time will kill Tillandsia.   

air plants
Photo By Narisa/Flickr

Mounting Air Plants

One of the coolest attributes of air plants is that they can be grown on practically any solid surface that doesn’t retain water, indoors or out.  

They can be glued (only if waterproof), tied, stapled, or wired (no copper, as it kills air plants) to stone and rocks, seashells, ceramic tile, pottery, wood (only if not pressure treated), cork, glass, in terrariums—the sky, for the most part, is the limit. The plant just has to be watered, receive ample light, and (for younger plants) mounted in a place that will allow it to grow. 

Keeping Tillandsia can be an enjoyable and fascinating pursuit, truly unique to other types of planting and growing. Their pre-bloom, vibrantly colored leaves, “disembodied” nature, and ability to be utilized in myriad ways makes them a winner.      


Mackenzie KupferMackenzie Kupfer has been a lover of all things green since the age of six when she began gardening with her Nana. She is currently an online publisher for the tomato cage supplier, Avant Garden Decor. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys attending garden shows, hiking, and collecting ceramic tea sets.



3/29/2013
Rain Roses

"It will never rain roses: When we want to have more roses we must plant more trees." —George Eliot

Spring is just beginning to bloom, which means it's the perfect time to start the garden. As we relish the feel of the earth in our hands and the breeze on our cheeks after a long winter indoors, we can take joy in the fact that the plants we sow now will yield food to sustain our families all season. Give yourself a little extra reason to treasure your time in the garden by perusing the gardening articles from our March/April 2013 issue. In this issue, we teach you how to have your earliest spring garden, give you tips on reducing your gardening resources, show you an unexpected source of nutrition, tell you which first-aid essentials you should store at home to ease gardening woes, and much more!

Spring Gardening Tips

Grow Salad Greens Now: Enjoy homegrown flavors in just a few short weeks by starting this simple salad garden now.

Zero-Waste Gardening: Save money and help the environment by reducing the resources that go into your garden.

The Health Benefits of Dandelions: Harvest nutritious, delicious dandelion greens for a slew of health and culinary benefits.

15 Uses for Mint: Discover 15 handy household uses for easy-growing mint.

5 Antioxidant-Rich Fruits that Grow Anywhere: These homegrown fruits offer superior flavor and nutrition.

The Gardener's Natural First-Aid Kit: Keep these healing essentials on hand for blisters, sunburns, or bumps and scrapes.



7/22/2013

Summer is in full swing with victory gardens, community gardens and flowers in bloom. Even here in Florida with the humid summer heat plants still need tending and care. Did you know that according to a survey, almost a third of all American households intended to grow food this year? That's almost a 20 percent increase over last year!  Recent studies are also suggesting that exposure to friendly soil bacteria could improve your mood just as effectively as using antidepressant drugs. To quote Mohandas K. Gandhi, “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” Don't take for granted the fresh fruits and vegetables that are put on our tables. Growing a garden for food brings to light a healthy curiosity for what is safe and non-toxic for humans and the environment. To reap the benefits of a garden we must ensure the health of the soil and plants, while deterring unwanted pests.

So how does neem fit into this?

neem tree
Photo Courtesy Autumn Blum

For more than 4,000 years, the mighty neem tree has been providing healthy, safe and therapeutic solutions for people, pets and plants. The United Nations declared neem the tree of the 21st century, and neem is currently cultivated in more than 80 countries. Neem (Azadirachta indica) is fondly referred to as “the village pharmacy” and has been used by millions of individuals as a botanical panacea for health and well-being, and for protection and prevention against insects. Neem leaves are classically stored with grains and beans to protect them from insect infestations. Worldwide, neem oil is one of the more widely used and safe bio-pesticides, used in organic agriculture. Not only is it beneficial as a pesticide, it enriches the health and vitality of the soil, plants and farms and is also safe for bees and other pollinators.

neem leaves and neem products
Photo Courtesy Autumn Blum

Natural amendments and garden treatments like neem oil offer multi-faceted benefits over single active ingredients. When we use single active ingredients as treatments in our garden, we may throw nature a curveball for a short while and deter pests and disease, but there are often unwanted side effects to this method. Mother Nature is intelligent and will eventually outsmart a single active ingredient and create “super bugs” or “super bacteria” to combat these simple complexes. When we utilize botanical allies such as neem oil we are utilizing thousands of diverse molecules, each of which offers slightly different actions. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are transparently being linked to countless diseases for humans, pets, bees and the environment.

Neem oil is easy to use in the garden. Just mix about ½ ounce of quality organic neem oil to one quart of warm water and an environmentally safe dish washing detergent to emulsify the oil in a spray bottle. To apply, spray both on top and below the leaves so that rain doesn't immediately wash away the oil. Use the remaining mixture as a soil drench to benefit earthworms while discouraging undesirables. I have formulated a product called Neem for the Garden that accomplishes this end easily.

Neem oil is one of those little “natural” secrets that can make a huge difference when gardening while ensuring a greener and more sustainable outcome. Even indoor household plants can benefit from its protective properties. Happy gardening!


Autumn Blum, Organix SouthAutumn Blum is a formulating cosmetic chemist, manufacturing pioneer and expert on organic neem who specializes in incorporating natural and organic ingredients into healthy body-care products and herbal dietary supplements. Having a passion for product development that delivers quality and efficacy, she is the founder and chief formulator for Organix-South®, the world’s leading manufacturer of certified-organic neem products. Autumn holds a BS in chemistry from Eckerd College and is a member of the National Chemical Society, the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Products Association. To learn more about neem products, see www.organixsouth.com



7/23/2013

Compost is a vital part of any garden, but it can also be a considerable expense if you buy it at the store. For this reason, many home gardeners are opting to go the DIY route, because it is both efficient and easy to do.

When I first started composting, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Growing up, my town had a community compost heap where residents could drop off their leaves and yard trimmings and then pick up the resulting compost made from last year’s heap. It was a wonderful practice that, unfortunately, hadn’t been picked up in the next town I’d settled in. My first trip to the garden center left me goggling at the expense of, well, dirt.

I decided then and there I would never pay for the stuff again. Then a farmer friend of mine turned me on to home composting.

compost heap
Photo By mjmonty/Flickr

Why should I use compost?

There are a number of reasons to start composting, and not many why you shouldn’t. If you’re a home gardener, you need quality soil, and chances are, you already have all the ingredients you need. DIY composting allows you to use elements at your disposal to give your garden the chance it needs to thrive under your loving care.

Here’s a host of reasons DIY composting can benefit you and your garden:

Make richer soil, providing essential nutrients to your plants. This means hardier, healthier plants with higher yields for you and your friends and family to enjoy.

Curb your carbon footprint by reducing your waste. Composting your organic matter will cut down on the trash you leave out at the curb, which is especially useful if your town charges for garbage pickup by the bag as mine does.

Save money. You’ll reduce or even eliminate the money you spend on soil and fertilizer.

compost bin
Photo By nancybeetoo/Flickr

Striking the right balance

So how do you go about making your own compost pile? First decide where you’ll do it. You can purchase a compost tumbler from garden retailers that will contain your compost while ensuring a good amount of airflow and, consequently, cutting down the smell. If you have enough space, however, a standard compost heap on the ground will allow you to make a greater amount in a shorter amount of time.

A healthy heap relies on the balance of moisture and organic matter, and its composition should be acidic in nature, as acid helps break the components down into quality soil. Generally speaking, you’ll want the pH balance to fall between 5.5 and 8. You can buy pH testing kits from your local garden supplier or hardware store.

What should I compost? Start your compost heap with yard waste you’d naturally dispose of anyway, such as leaves, weeds and trimmings. After you’ve established a good base, you can begin to include organic waste from your kitchen. The best rule of the green thumb: if it grows, it goes. Fruit and vegetable leavings that are easily decomposable will enrich the balance of your soil. Organic matter such as tea leaves and coffee grinds are also good additions, as are ashes and eggshells.

What shouldn't I compost? Food waste that doesn’t grow from the ground up generally does not make good additions to your compost. Meat products, which will go rancid, should never be added to a compost bin. Dairy products should be treated in the same manner, with the exception of eggshells.

What about water? Water aids the decomposition process and is essential to a healthy compost heap, but be careful not to overdo it. You want your compost to be just slightly moist to the touch, however it should not resemble mud—aim for the moisture consistency of a well-tended potted plant.

Turning your compost. To aid the decomposition process, you’ll need to “turn” your compost heap regularly. Once or twice a week should be sufficient.

If you have a standing composter (or “tumbler”), this might mean just a few quick cranks of the handle. If you have a pile, you’ll need to turn it manually with a shovel or pitchfork. Use these tools to bring the soil from the bottom of the heap to the top, allowing the freshly turned soil to be exposed while the rest quietly breaks down away from the sunlight. This also promotes healthy oxygen distribution, which aids in the decomposition process.

Making your own compost isn’t without its toils, but it can be an economical and invigorating decision. Try it for yourself and watch as your garden thrives!


Rebecca Lynn CrockettRebecca Lynn Crockett is an avid gardener, herbalist and writer. She inherited a love of the earth from her father at a young age, and has been cultivating it ever since. In her spare time, Rebecca pursues her passion for literature and folklore as a fiction writer for all ages.  



5/2/2012

PBHobson2Patsy Bell Hobson is blogging at Oh Grow Up! When not in the garden or on the road, find her in southern Missouri USA. Read more travel stories at Striped Pot. Find more garden, travel and random rants on her Facebook. 

Cutting leaf celery (Apium graveolens 'Amsterdam Seasoning') is a dark green European celery variety grown for its leaves. This type of celery does not have the thick stalks familiar to those of us in the United States.

5-2-12-celery-1 
Keep this herb close by the kitchen door. Once you try it, you
will find endless ways to use cutting leaf celery.
 

This herb was new to me until I tried growing it from seed (thanks to Renee's Garden). Now it grows on the patio outside my kitchen door, standing tall and ready for a quick trim whenever I am cooking. 

This biennial is a great plant for containers and a perfect addition to herb garden borders. Plant it where it can grow in partial sun and keep the soil moist. Unlike the more familiar thick-stemmed celery, this cutting leaf celery doesn't need to be planted in trenches, hilled or blanched. Grow the flavor of celery in less space. Also, leave a few plants in the garden to see if they over winter; next year they will grow big and fast, quickly blooming and going to seed.

As an Italian parsley look-a-like, cutting celery is perfect in soups and marinades. Trust me when I say that a little goes a long way—this variety has a stronger flavor than the stalks we are used to seeing.

Use chopped leaves as a garnish on a chilled bowl of tomato gazpacho. You can also add its leaves to a potato salad or slaw. Or, a tall stem with the beautiful lacy green leaves would be a pretty stirrer in a tomato cocktail.

5-2-12-celery-2 
Cutting leaf celery is a very mild version of  the the more common 
vegetable. Sprinkle a few leaves on potato salad or over tomato slices.
 

To preserve for later, dry its leaves. The celery flavor holds up better than dried parsley or basil. Dry in a food dehydrator, air dry, or dry in a solar dry; do not use the microwave. I put cutting leaf celery leaves in plastic ice cube trays, top them with broth or water and freeze. Later, I put the cubes in a plastic zipper bag and keep them frozen. Next winter, I can grab a cube or two and drop it into a pot of soup, sauce or a stew. The possibilities are endless!

Seed Packet Giveaway

Find cutting leaf celery in garden seed catalogs. I got mine at Renee's Garden. Read Renee's Blog, or go to Renee's Garden to order seeds. There are great how-tos and gardening tips on Renee's website. Renee's Garden is giving away cutting leaf celery seed to three lucky Herb Companion readers. Winners will be selected randomly from comments. Good luck! 

HOW TO ENTER  

• Post a comment telling us how you use or plan to use cutting leaf celery.

End date: June 4, 2012 (12:00 a.m. Central Time) UPDATE: Time's up!

The winners have been contacted. They were chosen using Random.org. Thanks to everyone who entered my Garden Giveaway! Watch out for even more giveaways.

Thanks again to Renee's Garden



7/25/2012

J.HeinzelFreelance writer, community herbalist and medicine maker, Jennifer Heinzel hails from the cold city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jennifer is an avid writer, especially for anything folklore or myth-related to herbalism. She has written for the Chequamegon co-op, United Plant Savers journal, and NorthPoint Health & Wellness center. Visit Thymes Ancient Remedies to read more from Jennifer. 

I previously wrote about the history of purslane, a well-traveled herb renounded for its medicinal properties. This is part two of my purslane profile. 

Purslane Illustration 7-25-2012

In Europe, purslane enjoyed a respectable social position, with several strains of it being cultivated in vegetable gardens as a green. It couldn’t naturalize in England like it could in China, Mexico or the Middle East, but it was still enthusiastically added to salads with oil, salt and vinegar to cool the blood and encourage appetites.

As with any herb that was used historically, purslane comes with many interesting, as well as bizarre, uses and folk names. This herb was believed and used to guard against evil spirits—provided it was strewn around a person’s bed. It was also used to cure "blastings by lightening or planets and burning of gunpowder,” according to Just Weeds: History, Myths and Uses by Pamela Jones. Distilled in water, purslane was traditionally used to ease toothaches, fasten loose teeth, and treat sore mouths and swollen gums. It is beneficial to eat purslane raw when “one’s teeth are set on edge with eating of sharpe and soure things,” according to British herbalist John Gerard. Its juice, when taken with honey, may treat dry coughs, shortness of breath and immoderate thirst,according to Jones. Jones also says that when purslane seeds are bruised and boiled in wine, and given to children, it soothes “heat of the liver” and head pains caused from “heat, want of sleep, or the frenzy.” Lastly, when applied crushed externally, purslane also reduces inflammation of the eyes, according to British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper. The gypsy herbalist Juliet de Baiacli Levy again greatly recommends this herb. Internally she used the entirety of the plant as a refrigerant and soothing herb, treating blood disorders and fevers very well. Purslane is also a mild laxative (the seeds are vermifuge), and useful in the treatment of headaches, anemia, rickets, blood pressure and diabetes. Levy recommended eating up to two handfuls of purslaneper day. For skin ailments, she also recommends applying purslane as a pulp externally bound with a cotton cloth. Lastly, in the 1930s, a United States Department of Agriculture botanist stated that purslane is very palatable when cooked and heartily recommended it.

Herbalists tend to love weeds. They can survive harsh conditions, are very prolific, and also happen to be extremely nutrient- and mineral-rich. Purslane is high in vitamins A and E, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. Also, as one of the only vegetables in the world to be super-rich in omega 3s, it's no wonder why so many native cultures ate purslane so enthusiastically! Purslane is also very good at treating circulation and overall heart health: vitamin E is one of the best in the world for circulation and improving heart function, and omega 3s significantly help reduce cholesterol. If you are wary about eating purslane for its slightly slimy consistency and are interested in more omega 3 sources, try flaxseed, soy beans, wheat and oat germs, radish seeds, rapeseed (canola) oil and nuts (especially walnuts).

Purslane is also a good antioxidant, antibiotic, hypotensive and diuretic. This small potherb is a refrigerant, and soothes heat-related ailments such as fevers and blood disorders. Its juice treats skin ailments such as caterpillar stings, inflammation, sores, eczema and abcesses, among other skin diseases. In modern-day China, the entire plant is used to treat diarrhea and urinary infections, and to reduce fevers. In Indonesia, it is used to treat cardiac weakness and breathing difficulties.



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