Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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If there’s an activity that seems as far removed from the tech world as possible, it’s gardening. There are few more relaxing things to do in the modern world than to unplug from the tech grid and spend a few hours tending to the garden. But in the 21st century, it’s a smart idea to modernize our approach to horticulture. Fortunately, there is a wide range of apps available on your smartphone and tablet devices that can help you get the best out of your cultivated garden. Here are five of the best ones.

Potted Plants
Image via Flickr by Seán A. O'Hara


This visualization tool is the first step to making the beautiful idea you have stored in your head a beautiful reality. Simply take a picture of whatever space you want to develop and start working on it. The iScape app includes a database of plants and features to transpose over your image, so you can decide exactly what you want to do with your garden.

TO BUY: Users of previous versions of the app reported problems with bugs, but these teething problems have been removed and iScape is now a handy app. The app is available for $9.99 on the App Store and Google Play.


Veronica’s Garden Tracker

One difficulty that gardeners often experience is keeping track of what they have planted, where it was planted, and when. Veronica’s Garden Tracker eliminates this by allowing you to store the data in a nifty little app.

TO BUY: You can make notes on the different conditions required for your plants, or on the pests you are battling, ensuring your garden runs smoothly. The app costs $0.99 to download and is only available at the App Store.

Veronicas Garden Tracker

Fruit Garden App

This is a simple app, but a useful one. Whether you’re growing fruit commercially or just for your own enjoyment, this eBook-style app is packed with information about the different species of fruiting plants and trees and their individual requirements.

TO BUY: Downloading this app for $1.49 at the App Store could be the difference between a bumper crop and some sorry-looking fruits when harvest time rolls around.

Fruit Garden App 

iGarden USA – Gardening Helper

This useful app turns your smartphone device into a pocket-sized gardening assistant. It contains extensive advice and information on the best conditions and care required for plants in your climate region. The app’s intuitive user interface makes all this information accessible with just a few taps on the touch-screen.

TO BUY: For $4.99 at the App Store, this app is a little expensive, but its information could prove invaluable.

IGarden USA 


As graduates with business degrees at Villanova University know, profit margins in the agriculture business can be fragile. If you are an experienced commercial grower or just a beginner in the trade, the GardenMinder app can help you maximise your profits.

TO BUY: Featuring comprehensive how-tos and informative guides, GardenMinder walks you through the whole process, from preparing the soil to planting, cultivation and harvesting. The app is free to download from the App Store.


These apps will help you create your ideal garden. With various features and tips, you’ll be well on your way to growing plentiful crops and plants. Are you a keen gardener or simply an enthusiastic amateur? Which app is your favorite? Get in touch and let us know.

Miles YoungMiles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.


There is something immensely satisfying about growing your own vegetables. In fact, two good reasons immediately spring to mind.

1. What you grow yourself always seems to taste better.
2. It’s cheaper than buying it from a store.

Saving money is what so many of us are all about these days. Whether it’s taking advantage of discounts and offers on sites like SumoCoupon or growing your own organic vegetables, it all helps to keep cash in your pocket for a little longer.

Here are five dirt cheap ideas for reaping great savings by growing your own vegetables.

eggshell planters
Photo by Fotolia

Plant Your Seeds

The price of seeds is creeping up due to the increasing popularity of growing your own produce, but the savings you make by growing vegetables from seed still beats buying them—by a big margin.

You don’t have to break the budget on fancy pots either. Egg cartons, yogurt cups and other small containers make good pots and you will be doing your bit for recycling at the same time by using what you already have around your home.

Clean the pots by soaking them in 1 part non-chlorine bleach to 10 parts water. Use a potting mix rather than soil to fill the containers. Seeds tend to do better in a soil-less mix and if you are a bit of a gardening novice, you will probably find it a bit easier to get started than if you use garden soil.

Make Your Own Compost

Plants and vegetables love compost, so use what is already available rather than spend money on products from the garden center that will do the same thing, but make your vegetables more expensive to grow.

Collect your yard and kitchen waste and before you know it, those dried leaves and half rotted items that become leaf mulch will attract worms and other insects that will do their job and give you decent compost within a growing season. Making your own compost is an absolute no-brainer.

Start with Easy-Growers

If you are just starting out, pick some produce varieties that are easier to grow than others.

A small packet of salad leaf seeds will be enough to produce the equivalent of about 24 bags of supermarket salad, and most varieties are easy to grow. Have a go at some growing zucchini or squash. A single plant will generally produce 30 fruits, which will amount to more big savings.

Tomatoes and potatoes are other easy-to-grow options and make regular appearances on the dinner plate, so you’re sure to get plenty of value out of each crop.

home garden
Photo by Fotolia

Don’t Forget the Herbs

If you don’t have a lot of room in your garden for rows of potatoes, carrots and other veggies, you can easily grow herbs in pots.

A pinch of fresh basil is easy to come by when you have a pot on the deck or growing in a sunny window. When you add up the cost of buying all the herbs you commonly use, you’ll soon discover that growing your own mini herb garden is a real money-saver.

Growing herbs in a container is also a good idea for engaging your children in your gardening exploits, and they love to see and taste the results of their efforts.

Maximize Your Return

There are a few simple things you can do to increase your crop yield and save even more money.

• Try using a trellis wherever you can as it greatly increases your yield per square foot. The sort of plants you can grow easily using a trellis include cantaloupe, cucumber, tomato and sweet peas.

• Aim to grow small leafy plants like arugula, leaf lettuce and spinach without walking aisles in-between as wide rows will give you more food per square foot.

• Consider using raised beds in your garden, as it will help to keep your garden organized and allows you to concentrate on the most productive items. The advantages of a raised bed are that it gives you the opportunity to almost-perfect soil, so your plants will be at their most productive.

• Another way of getting the best chance of a high yield is to start with transplants. Plants that are several weeks old when you put them into the ground will give you a head start. Although it is more expensive than starting with seeds, it’s still cheaper than buying your vegetables from the supermarket.

Growing your own vegetables can save you hundreds of dollars and will give you plenty of satisfaction when get to enjoy something you’ve grown yourself on the dinner plate.

Russell Matthews is a health enthusiast and personal finance consultant. He enjoys finding innovative way to save money while staying healthy. His articles mainly appear on wellness, health and lifestyle blogs. Keep up with the latest health discounts codes on Google+.


Having moved into a new house this past year, I’m facing unique decision: Where should I plant my garden?

I can’t keep my potted plants growing in my guest room all summer long and, yet, I have almost no idea where I want to plant them when I move them outdoors in a few weeks.

Before you can pick that first lovely vase of flowers or add your own fresh cucumbers to your salad, you need to make an important decision. Read on for advice on how to find the right spot to plant your garden if you’re starting from scratch.

Finding the Best Garden Location
Image by kaboompics

Figure Out How Much Space You Need

What does your dream garden consist of and how much of it do you hope to grow? A good beginner’s plot is 10 by 16 feet, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. A garden this size will feed a family of four over one season, with a little extra to can or give away. If you’re only looking to supplement your food supply, or have fewer people to feed, you can go smaller. A garden as small as 4 by 8 feet will have enough room for the basics and will give you plenty of fresh veggies throughout the summer.

What you hope to grow will also factor into your space considerations. Every plant has its own space requirements, so be sure to read the labels before you buy. Growing tomatoes will be different than growing herbs, for example.

Some vegetables can even be planted separately in containers, so if you live in an urban environment or you’re low on space, you can still make a garden with planters.

Consider the Soil

The kind of ground you build your garden in will determine what comes out of it. You want soil that’s rich in organic material and free of contaminants. If you live in an area where soil contamination is a possibility, you may want to get environmental testing done on the area you plan to plant.

Keeping the soil moist—not too dry and not too wet—is just one part of soil maintenance. You should also use fertilizer and compost to feed the dirt that nourishes your plants.

Keep the Water Flowing

Did you know plants can actually drown? It’s true! They need water but they shouldn’t just sit in it. That’s why drainage is an important factor in where you set up your garden. Planting your garden on a slope is an easy way to ensure proper drainage, but you can also add filler soil to any areas where water tends to accumulate.

Of course, make sure you choose a spot within reach of a hose or sprinkler. Plants need water every day and you can’t count on the rain to do the whole job for you.

Bathe Your Plants in Sunlight

The right kind of light, that is. You want your garden to receive a full helping of morning sun. That early light is like a cup of coffee for your plants—it gets them growing. Most plants need to receive at least six hours of direct light daily.

On the other hand, you need to shield your garden from the light that falls hot and heavy later in the day. Like exposure to solar radiation can damage equipment and gadgets, plants also need protection from the scorching afternoon sun.

The best way to accommodate both these concerns is to plant your garden facing east in a spot that receives direct sunlight. You may want to first spend a day or two watching the sun move across your yard. Then put up a barrier on the west side to protect your garden from the too-hot sun. This barrier can be an existing building, such as a house or barn, or a homemade solution like a trellis.

However, if you don’t have any direct sunlight available, look for plants that do well in partial sun or shade. There are many flowers, such as pansies, that can thrive in indirect light. There are vegetable options too, including leafy vegetables like kale.

Protect Your Garden from Hazards

Ultimately, the location you choose for your garden should keep it out of harm’s way. Avoid setting your garden too close to a driveway or sidewalk, so it doesn’t get trampled by wayward vehicles or curious children. Fences and row covers are additional steps you can take to protect your garden from animals and insects.

Now that you know how to find the right spot to plant your garden and keep it healthy, you’re ready to begin. Gardening may be hard work, but the rewards are many. Anyone who’s ever bitten into a ripe tomato, fresh from the vine understands why all the planning and sweaty effort is worth it.

Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.


With identity fraud statistics still on the rise, people are turning to shredders to minimize their troubles. Unfortunately, this leaves the owner with a bag full of paper particles and another problem to solve—how best to recycle the leftovers. Sure, there are recycling plants which will accept shredded waste, but they aren’t always as accessible as you might hope. Often there are rules and regulations that must be followed before the paper can be reused.

The solution could be closer to home than you imagine. Shredded paper is an ideal substitute for a variety of items used in horticultural chores. Put those fingers to an even greener use and give your old receipts a new lease on life.

shredded paper


People often forget that paper comes from a natural resource. Mixing equal parts of shredded paper and grass results in an easily composted blend. This will be broken down in the same manner as any other garden waste, providing nutrition throughout your ecosystem. Remember to keep the mixture free of moisture, as this can cause the paper to mat together, restricting oxygen diffusion (find more tips in Compost at Home). Try stirring the paper deeper into the heap to avoid this problem.

bean trench

Bean and Pea Trenches

Paper’s water retaining qualities can actually aid the growth of small crops. Peas and beans are conventionally grown in trenches, which promote the formation of longer roots. Shredded paper can be added to the pit of these trenches, as a means of water distribution. The plant’s roots absorb water from this layer and allow the produce to thrive. This technique, whilst making the most of your shredded waste, can also reduce the chances of over-watering. As long as the paper is wet, the plant will have a sufficient supply.

paper mulch


Shredded paper is as effective in seed protection as many organic mulches. Spreading it around a new flower bed can suppress the growth of weeds, regulate soil temperature and generally improve fertility. Many newspapers have switched to organic inks in light of this use, but it is always best to check the dyes used in your documents. Start by wetting the strips to encourage the decomposition process and lay them carefully around newly planted crop. The paper will allow fertilizer and water to reach the soil, whilst starving weeds of sunlight and nutrition.

seed starting

Seed Starters

If you want to give your seeds a little more TLC, offer them a helping hand with the construction of homemade seed starters. Blend together water and paper to create a pulp which can then be set in a device such as a cake tray. The molds should only take around 24 hours to dry if left in a warm, dry place. These can be transferred directly to soil, the paper fibers providing the perfect first meal for your seedlings.

Avoid Harmful Materials

Whilst most paper is beneficial to your garden, materials such as cellophane and gloss can be extremely dangerous. Be sure to remove these before you begin mulching or composting so your plants can mature undisturbed.

Galvo Shredders is a shredding retailer offering a vast range of machines for all intents and purposes. Its founder, Piers Chapple, has a wealth of experience in the industry, offering quick and efficient service to all his customers.



1. Treasured Trowel

A garden necessity, this forged trowel is made of Swedish boron steel and sustainably forested European ash wood. It also has the Mother Earth News stamp of approval.
To Buy: $20, Mother Earth News store


2. Dig In

This shovel-spade features sustainably sourced Appalachian hard wood, a recycled steel blade and a plastic-minimizing handle design. Plus, it’s specifically designed for a woman’s center of gravity.
To Buy: $65, Green Heron Tools

vintage signs

3. Sign of the Times

Whether you’re advertising your wares or just decorating, these painted aluminum signs, handmade in Washington, will attract attention.
To Buy: $26 to $36, Bainbridge Farm Goods

paper pots

4. Paper Pusher

Recycled paper pots are a perfect eco-friendly, compostable alternative to plastic. Made from 100 percent recycled paperboard, these pots are manufactured using low-water and low-energy methods.
To Buy: $3 for six, Botanical Interests

compost bin

5. Scrappy Box

This compost bin is made of FSC-certified, sustainably harvested spruce that is resistant to rotting and insect attack. Its wide-slatted design promotes airflow, making for a dependable, sturdy place for compost.
To Buy: $180, Clean Air Gardening


Let nature provide everything you need to feel satisfied, healthy and energized by growing your own garden. Photo by iStock.

Our health is the result of a diverse list of factors—which begins with what we put into our bodies. Nature provides all we need to stay satisfied, energized and healthy, and we can grow much of it right outside our doors. Whether you live on a farm or in an apartment; grow a few culinary herbs or your own apothecary garden; enjoy a couple of tomato plants or grow food year-round, use the tips in this issue to step up your garden and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with creating our own food, medicine and well-being.

These simple tips will have you transplanting your seedlings with ease. Photo by iStock.

Transplanting Tips

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to save money. Use these tips when it comes time to move baby plants to their outdoor home.

Handle with Care: Always handle seedlings by their leaves to avoid harming plants’ delicate stems, their main lifeline.

Hardening Off: Hardening off gradually introduces seedlings to the conditions in your garden. Bring seedlings outdoors and expose them to a steadily increasing amount of sun, wind and varying temperatures, starting with a couple of hours a day. Do this every day for about two weeks before permanently planting seedlings outdoors.

Prepare your Soil: While your seedlings are hardening off, prepare the planting space by adding a handful of compost to the bottom of each planting hole.

Preparing the soil a week or so in advance of transplanting will ensure the compost is integrated with the surrounding microorganisms in the rhizosphere.

Know When to Plant: If possible, wait to plant until the weather is overcast. The extra moisture in the air and soil will ease the transition into the earth.

Keep them cozy: Plant seedlings in the ground at about the same depth that they were in the container. Planting too deeply could rot the stem. Check that the soil is firm around the plants so that no air pockets dry out the roots. If your seedlings seem delicate, temporarily shield them from wind and cold with upturned flowerpots, cardboard boxes or even buckets. In hot weather, you can use a piece of lightweight cloth as a sun tent.

The Best Free Fertilizers

You will find an array of fertilizers at garden stores, but think twice before you buy: A survey of soil testing labs across the U.S. revealed that garden soils have too much fertilizer more often than too little, and too much can be bad for crops. Opt for natural fertilizers instead. These free fertilizers break down so quickly they can’t be bagged and sold, but they enrich garden soil with nutrients perfect for plants and helpful soil microorganisms.

Grass Clippings: Pesticide-free grass clippings make a great organic fertilizer, and help prevent weeds and conserve garden soil moisture when used as mulch—two things other fertilizers cannot do. Just a half-inch of clippings each spring (about six 5-gallon buckets per 100 square feet) mixed into garden soil, or a 1- to 2-inch layer used as surface mulch, will provide all the nutrients most crops need for a full season of growth.

Compost: Compost releases nutrients very slowly. Adding compost encourages many strains of fungi and bacteria to form partnerships with plant roots, helping them absorb and actually manufacture more nutrients, and keeping the soil moist. Each time a crop is finished, spread a half-inch layer of compost over the soil. (Make your own compost and, if you don’t have enough, contact a municipal compost center for more.)


Ah, winter. It can be a welcome break from all of the hustle and bustle of the growing season…until the holidays wear off and plain old winter, sans glitter and glam, settles in. The seeds catalogs start to arrive, and occupy our bedside tables and our dreams, as we plan and scheme and imagine all of the things we can’t wait to do, just as soon as springtime arrives.

But the catalogs only take us so far. Once the pages are dog-eared and torn, and the highlighters have run dry, what’s a gardener to do in the dark days of winter? Never despair, there is always something for an industrious planner to do!

DIY Plant Markers 

Make Plant Markers

I always have great plans for orderly, clearly labeled plants. And every year I end up with barely labeled planting beds, having to make educated guesses on which varieties are which. If you leave the planning too late, making cute and well-organized plant markers will be the last thing you do. The onslaught of spring brings on a host of much more important tasks—starting the seeds, hardening off the seedlings, and getting everything in the ground and well-cared for before it’s too late.

Now is the time to think ahead and make plant markers. This year, I’ll finally get around to properly doing my paint stick plant markers by painting them a cheery red with spray paint, and writing the plant names on them with a white paint pen. You could also make similar markers with wooden spoons, or repurpose used canning lids or lids from canned goods. If you’re the type of person who likes to have the seed packet handy in the garden, you can always turn clear plastic jewel cases from CDs into a weather-proof sleeve—just tuck the seed packet inside and place it at the end of the garden bed.

Homemade Trug

Build Wooden Garden Helpers

If you’ve got some indoor workspace—like a garage or basement, or even just a corner of the living room with a tarp thrown down—winter is the perfect time to build small projects for the garden. Make a window box or wooden planters. Create your own square foot gardening planting template. Or build a tool crate for toting your hand tools and supplies around. Craft a harvest trug from wood pieces and hardware cloth. If you have the space, you can even build (or repurpose an Ikea bookshelf) your own seed starting shelf—with some hooks, florescent lights and seed starting trays, you’ll be ready to start all of your seeds for spring in no time.

DIY Seed Tapes 

Make Seed Tapes

Seed tapes are great for planting tiny seeds. They’re also really useful for minimizing waste from thinning plants—ensuring you get the most bang for your buck and your time spent in the garden. All you need are a thin paper, a flour and water paste and your seeds. Some paper options you can use are newspaper, toilet paper, paper towels, tissue paper or crepe paper streamers. I’m partial to newspaper, since it’s a great way to recycle it after you’ve read it. The flour paste is easy: Just take about a 1/4 cup of flour and mix in enough water to form a paste (it should be about the thickness of glue). Simply dab the paste onto the strips according to the spacing directions of the seeds you’re working with, and drop one or two seeds onto each paste dot. Let the strips dry thoroughly overnight, then gently roll up the strips and store them in Mason jars until planting time. Don’t forget to label your strips—unless you like surprises in the garden!

DIY Herb Planter 

Gather Supplies

One of my favorite tricks for getting supplies on the cheap is to buy after the season when everything goes on clearance. The best time for gardening supplies is generally late October through November, but you can still find some deals this time of year too. Most stores start to stock their garden centers around Valentine’s Day, and prices start to climb. So if you need start starting trays, potting soil or tools. Try to get them now at a good price so you don’t have to pay full price later.

Also think about the things you can make yourself—a dollar saved can be better than a dollar earned. Large metal cans are great for gardening. With a coat of spray paint they make a great little pot for herbs or flowers. Just use a nail to poke some drainage holes in the bottom, and paint the outside your color of choice. If you buy a lot of milk in gallon jugs, now is the time to start saving them. They’re great cloches for protecting plants and getting a jump start on the season. Just cut the bottom out and you can place it right over your plant.

Cold Frames
Photo by Paul Gardener

Extend the Season

Speaking of cloches, you can get a head start on spring by using season extenders to grow cool weather crops even earlier. Kale, cabbage, peas, broccoli and lettuce are all great choices. If you don’t have milk jugs on hand, think about other things that can be repurposed. The classic option is to build a cold frame from an old window or door. If you don’t have any of your own, check out architectural salvage or second-hand home improvement stores. Fish tanks can also be a great ready-to-go option, and these are readily available at thrift stores. Smaller scale cloches can be fashioned from glass cake domes, fish bowls, terrariums, or glass cracker jars. Keep your eyes peeled at second-hand shops—they are loaded with glassware, so finding a collection of unique cloches at a good price should just take a single shopping trip.

So even if there’s snow on the ground and temperatures don’t climb very far above freezing, there’s still plenty of work to do in the garden. And besides, planting season isn’t too far off—in about six weeks we’ll all start thinking about getting the tomato and pepper seeds started so they’re ready to go when the ground finally warms up!

Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.

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