Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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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



7/17/2013

Last year we moved into our house and I can’t tell you how excited I was—after living in rental properties for more than 10 years I finally had a piece of land where I could garden to my heart’s content. Our house is on a regular city lot, but to me it was a huge, wide-open space that I could fill with plants.

Unfortunately, we moved in during the worst drought our area had seen in 10+ years. Everything, and I mean everything, in our yard with the exception of the evergreen shrubs was dry, brown and shriveled. I figured I would just wait until next spring to begin gardening. (Okay, I didn‘t wait; I did manage to get a few plants and bulbs in the ground.)

Fast forward to this past spring: we experienced the coldest, wettest spring on record. Thanks to the weather I didn’t get nearly as much done garden-wise as I wanted to, but the one thing I did do was play plant detective or, as I like to call it, “Friend or Foe.”

Before we bought the house, it was a rental, so there wasn’t too much done plant-wise in the yard. Although, whoever lived here before us really liked columbine because I found a bunch of columbine plants in random locations around the yard. I also discovered a cache of hostas when we removed an overgrown shrub. Both the columbine and the hostas were easy to figure out. I‘d tried growing columbine at one of our other houses with no success. Others, like the Virginia bluebells that popped up by our deck I had to do a little detective work in order to figure out what they were.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a seasoned gardener as a friend or family member, just how do you figure out what that mysterious plant is? 

If you have some idea of what the plant might be you could use reference books. I know my library has a huge selection of gardening books and magazines. What is nice about the library is they will usually have books on specific plants for your region. In the case of the bluebells, I thumbed through my stack of library books (Perennials for Midwest Gardeners) until I found a similar plant.

Another tool is the Internet. Again, it works best if you have an idea what the plant might be. You just enter the plant’s name in the search engine and in seconds, you can view hundreds of photos of the plant for comparison. Keep in mind some photos could be mislabeled. Try to stick to reliable gardening sites. With smart phones, you can even take the photos out into the garden for a real side-by-side comparison.

What do you do if you have no idea what the plant could be? Try talking to a local garden center or a master gardener. I know our local master gardeners frequently have booths at the local farmers markets. You could also email a picture to the local extension office.

The extension office is a great resource, especially for invasive species. I found a cute plant in our yard and I was going to let it stay, but as it so happens a few days after discovering it, I was out for a walk and spotted what looked like that same plant running rampant in another house’s front yard.

Suddenly, I wondered if my cute little plant was an invasive bully. I Googled “Wisconsin invasive plants” and discovered the extension office’s interactive website. I entered a description of the plant from the drop down menu and found out that my plant was bittersweet nightshade vine, which is considered invasive in Wisconsin-. So out of the garden with him!

If you have any other tips or tricks for plant identification let me know.


Jennifer FlatenJennifer happily gardens away in Wisconsin where she lives with her family. When not gardening Jennifer is a freelance writer and jewelry designer. Browse her jewelry at Etsy or visit her website Dragon and Butterfly Design.



7/16/2013

They hang like twinkling diamonds in the ink of night. We lay on our backs upon quilts sewn by hands that were gnarled and divine, my grandmother’s hands. I can feel her love pressing against my back and my heart swells with the memories of summers past. I am 8 years old and I am lying in the pickup bed of the old red Chevy. My cousin's are wrestling around me and all I wish for is to be peaceful and look up into the stars. My grandmother is leaning over the bed with a cherry pie in her hands. The cousins stop rough housing as the scent of the crust, made with butter and the cherries, handpicked from the trees that afternoon are beckoning. I can't really make out her beloved face in the dusk but I can feel her breath upon my cheek as she whispers into my ear "Your favorite."

Trolley FarmThat summer was the beginning of many summers with my grandmother. Each memory becomes another layer of my heart for the country. Though I was raised a city mouse I was always eager for the country. Laughing with my grandfather as he taught me how to ride a horse and sitting on his lap I learned to drive a Chevy pickup. I can still remember the scents of his cologne and his pipe and the homemade biscuits and pies my grandmother made. The ranch was sold after their deaths, one at 87 and the other at 100. Amazing love between them and I am the bearer of the quilts that came before.

I have called my husband out to join me and we lay on our backs with our hands entwined and we look up into the expanse of sky with stars that are a constant. When generations have come and gone the stars will keep shining. We call out the galaxies we see as they appear. We watch the last vapor of a star streak across the night sky. It's a country tradition to just be still and count the stars. To know that from the beginning of time stars kept watch by night. These days we don't eat many pies, but we still watch the stars and court our love beneath them. Carrying on the country legacy my grandparents gave us.


Lynn SchrinerLynn Schriner aka Organic Girl is a singer/songwriter and 2013 Independent country music associations Folk Artist of the year. She lives on Trolley Farm with her husband and animals and writes every day about the journey.



7/15/2013

Guerrilla gardening is a new trend popping up—by its very definition—in some of the most unexpected places. It’s the practice of planting in a public or private space you don’t own, and it can be a useful way to save space around the homestead while connecting with your local gardening community. It’s also a way to improve some of the less beautiful or neglected spaces in your neighborhood. But before you head out the door with a pocketful of seeds like some modern-day Johnny Appleseed, there are a few things you need to think about.

Selecting the right space

sidewalk treeWhere you'll plant depends on what type of guerrilla you'll be: are you a suburban or a city guerrilla?

If you live in the city, you'll have to get a bit creative. Take a look at those little dirt cutouts around sidewalk trees. Might they look better with a few companion herbs or flowers? Opportunities often exist in places we don't give much thought to. Untended areas such as small street medians and spaces between sidewalks and hedges can make good impromptu beds—just be careful not to plant during high-traffic hours, and make sure to select hardy crops that aren’t too invasive—California poppies, horseradish and some varieties of valerian are all good for these purposes.

If you're a suburban guerrilla, you’ll probably have more options when it comes to planting spaces, but that also means you'll need to be more selective. Try to identify low-impact spaces that aren't likely to draw the ire of nearby property owners or town officials—there are few things more upsetting than returning to a lovingly planted bed to find that someone has torn up all your hard work. Some of my favorite guerrilla plots have been roadside knolls that could stand to be improved with a few bursts of color. Violets, goldenrod and lavender are all great choices for these types of gardens. Just make sure you don't choose a busy road!

Some guerrillas prefer to plant not for food, but with the single objective of making their community a more beautiful and pleasant place to be. Whether you’re a city or a suburban gardener, installing flower beds and greenery near abandoned or neglected buildings or public spaces can accomplish this nicely.

Finally, whether you live in the suburbs or the city, remember to never plant anything in a state park or nature sanctuary. These places are contained ecosystems meant to preserve the area's native flora and fauna. Be respectful of that!

Know what you’re introducing

flowers on sidewalkThat mystery packet of seeds you've been holding onto for the past couple years? Best to save it for your personal garden beds or containers. When you set out to plant "in the wild," it’s critical you know exactly what it is you're introducing and how it will interact with the vegetation already present. Be conscious that you’re contributing to a broader ecosystem.

For example, fast spreaders such as mint and oregano might not be the best choices for small areas that bleed into nearby beds or areas where plants shouldn't go (like commonly used pathways or trails). These types of spaces are best reserved for more containable plants like basil, sage or even certain edible roots.

In the same way, consider local wildlife in the area. Make sure nothing you’re planting will do any harm to the birds and other native critters.

Learn to share

If you're going to be planting in public places, realize that you may not be the only harvester. Make sure you plant enough to share, and don’t be discouraged if you find that others have discovered your trove. Who knows, you might even stumble onto someone else’s secret garden! Guerrilla gardening can be a rewarding experience, but keep in mind, the space isn't as actually "yours." This adds an element of risk, but also one of excitement. Another gardener may perceive what you’re doing and decide to pitch in!

morning glories on chain-link fence echinacea and alyssum
Left to right: String morning glories along a chain-link fence. A "bed" of echinacea and alyssum borders a small patch of woods. Photos By Rebecca Lynn Crockett.

Have fun with it!

Take the opportunity to improve the neighborhood aesthetic. Create small borders with rocks or seashells, or give your spare garden gnome a new home. Just don't install anything you consider too valuable, as vandalism and theft are, unfortunately, still possibilities.

Guerilla gardens are a great way to share your passions with friends, neighbors and other members of your community. Talking to other adventuresome local gardeners can help you build a strong guerrilla network, and online forums can also amplify your efforts and enhance the experience. Even if you never meet your fellow guerrillas in the flesh, however, this connective community pastime can still be truly rewarding.

Photos above: Empty space around sidewalk trees creates a perfect opportunity for a small guerilla bed. A hint of color makes even the most dull spaces a little brighter. Photos By Rebecca Lynn Crockett.


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. 



7/5/2013

Summertime means outdoor living—and outdoor living often means putting up with mosquitoes. For many people, the only way to deal with mosquitoes is to use a DEET-based repellent. While the EPA has deemed DEET safe if “used as directed,” this chemical pesticide carries a number of risks with it. Some studies have found DEET to be toxic in excessive doses, and a 2001 review of 17 cases of suspected DEET toxicity in children concluded that the chemical should be avoided on children’s skin.

Instead of slathering your skin in neurotoxins, opt for a safer, natural approach to fending off mosquitoes. In this video, Mother Earth Living Editor-in-Chief Jessica Kellner demonstrates how to make a bug-repellent spray using essential oils know to repel mosquitoes, such as citronella, as well as a few tips on choosing carrier oils and where to find good spray bottles.

For a full list of bug-repellent essential oils, plus more tips on how to ward off mosquitoes, check out the article Natural Mosquito Control Methods.



4/15/2013

Now that the weather in southwestern Pennsylvania has finally turned the corner and is more like spring, gardening has been on the forefront of my mind. Today I hope to inspire you with some herbal thoughts about community gardens while the weather here (and in other places around the country) warms up. Read on for more garden inspiration.

Benefits of Community Gardens

Community gardens do so much good. They are sponsored by public entities and private organizations. If you are an apartment or condo dweller, or have a house in the city, community gardens give you your own space to garden in. If you have a parent or another loved one that needs help gardening, you could share a plot with them to enhance their lives and give the both of you good food to eat. You see, I think gardening is good for your body, mind and soul, and if it means gardening in a smaller space, a community garden plot may be just the right size for you.

I am going to introduce you to three of my favorite community gardens I have visited in my herbal travels. And if you are even more interested in community gardening, the American Community Garden Association website will help you find a community garden in your area. Just submit your zip code and/or location. This is a great starting point.

The Cascade P-Patch Community Garden - Downtown Seattle

When I was out west several years ago, I got to see the Cascade P-Patch Community Garden in downtown Seattle. The P-Patch association is a group of community gardens all over the Seattle area. There are various sizes and prices for plots. The Cascade Community Gardens is a very popular community garden and you may have to be on a waiting list to get in.

Cascade P-Patch Community Garden Sign
A colorful sign welcomes you to the beautiful Cascade P-Patch Community Garden located in downtown Seattle.

It was in September and the gardens were lush and full of veggies, herbs and flowers. 

Cascade Community Gardens 
September brings an abundant harvest to the garden.

I am always impressed by the size of the herbs in these gardens and this particular rosemary is no exception.  It was very happy to be surrounded by the concrete of the sidewalks.  I need to put some pavers around mine in my herb garden this season.  The reflective heat of the concrete is what helps the rosemary to flourish.

Rosemary In Seattle
A happy rosemary plant is surrounded by concrete.

Pine Street Community Gardens - Vancouver, British Columbia

Another region that has a great growing climate is the Vancouver area in British Columbia. To find a community garden in the area, the City of Vancouver's website lists all of the community gardens in the Vancouver area.

A couple of years ago, The Herbal Husband and I went up to Vancouver. While we were there, we visited a couple of community gardens in the area. One was called the Pine Street Community Gardens and is located along the abandoned railroad tracks on west 6th Street between Fir and Burrard. It is only a couple of blocks in length, but it has made a positive impact on the community. It also has an urban orchard as part of the garden. They were having colder than normal May weather when we were there in 2011.

Poppies
Poppies decorated this gardener’s plot in the Pine Street Community Garden.

Rosemary
A big blooming rosemary makes a fragrant addition.

Small Herb Garden
A small herb garden in a bigger plot.

Community Garden
An espaliered fruit tree.

It is so important to mix your vegetables, fruit and herbs to get the best use of your space and planting time.  Jim Long came up with a lovely plan for a kitchen garden in five years called "Step by Step Your Garden Grows: Design an Easy Kitchen Garden." You could use just part of his design for your community garden space.

Cypress Community Garden - Vancouver, British Columbia

We visited a second community garden while in Vancouver called the Cypress Community Garden. It is located in the Kitsilano neighborhood and is easily accessible from the bicycle routes or the buses so you don’t necessarily have to have a car to garden in the community garden setting. It had a good mix of ornamental gardens with seating and traditional raised beds for vegetable gardening space.

Community Garden
This beautiful garden is a peaceful sanctuary for quiet reflection.

Raised Beds For Vegetables
Organized raised beds are perfect for growing vegetables and herbs.

Rosemary Plant
What a glorious hedge of rosemary!
All Photos By Nancy Heraud

I know I don’t have to say much more about the benefits of community gardens. As long as you are able to do the work in the garden, it will be a wonderful benefit to both you and your neighborhood. There are lots of good ideas for starting a community garden in your area on the American Community Garden Association website. I hope I have inspired you to start your own community garden, or at the very least you can't wait to start gardening on the plot you are waiting for or already have (share your experience with Mother Earth Living).

As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my e-mail at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.com and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.


Nancy Heraud

You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden.  



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.





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