In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden


A Guide to Mulching

Homeowners know a beautiful yard doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of tender care — and sweat — to grow a thick, green lawn surrounded by brightly colored flowerbeds. Mother Nature is ready to lend a hand in preserving lawns and gardens, especially with mulch from cut grass, dead leaves, and fallen trees.

If you can't compost it yourself, there are a few things to consider when selecting mulch from garden stores: cost, durability, texture, color, nutrients, and most importantly, origin. Knowing where the wood came from and how it was cultivated helps to determine if it is free of pests and disease.

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Grass Mulch

Natural mulch is the best way to go, especially when cutting the lawn. When mowing the lawn, bagging clippings not inconvenient, but depriving your lawn of a natural source of nutrients.  According to Wikilawn, the grass clippings from mowing provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil. Be sure that whatever lawn mower you buy comes with a mulching blade.

When mulching clippings, some worry about thatch, a carpet-like layer of vegetation that builds up between the soil and actively-growing grass blades. Leaving the grass clippings after mowing does NOT increase the likelihood that your lawn will develop thatch. If the thatch is already present, that’s a different issue.

There are times when bagging the grass clippings is a better idea. Remove them if the lawn is full of diseases like rust, dollar spot, or leaf spot. 

Grass clippings and dead leaves are great for mulching around shrubs, vegetables, flowers, and trees. They help the soil stay moist and warm, but there are some rules to keep in mind. Use 1 or 2 inches of dry clippings; wet grass will clump together and prevent oxygen and moisture from getting to the soil. You also don't want to apply grass clippings if the lawn was recently treated with herbicides for weeds, dandelions, and crabgrass.

Just like synthetic fertilizers, mulched grass clippings and foliage provide nitrogen and potassium, and the best part is … it won’t cost you a thing.

Wood Mulch

The next time you check out your local garden store, consider these types of mulch for flower and shrubbery beds.

  • Pine bark from evergreen trees has a deep brown color.
  • Cypress is cut from wood and bark. It's used in flooring, furniture, lumber, fencing, and other woodworking projects. Mulch is cut from cypress tree scraps.
  • Eucalyptus mulch from Florida and South Carolina. The trees are grown specifically for the scented mulch they produce.
  • Melaleuca mulch comes from invasive tree species. The product is treated so that unwanted seeds die and won’t germinate in a garden or flowerbed. 
  • Scrap lumber from recycled pallets, wood framing, and other projects are turned into mulch when the sources are too small for anything else. 
  • Fallen leaves that decompose quickly make a great mulch since it's a source of nutrients. Pine straw which comes from fir trees also works. The pine needles “knit” together to create a covering. The mulch is often given away by utility companies after trees are cut back from power lines.

mulch

Wood Chips

Bags of chips and shreds are typically available at garden stores, nurseries. The mixes stem from various softwood and hardwood species and contain high carbon and nitrogen. 

Wood chips can lose their color over time, fading from brown to gray. Do not try to enhance the color by adding more mulch each season. Too many wood chips can suffocate shallow roots. and cankers may develop around the trunks and roots of shrubs and trees.  It is best to replace mulch in the landscape every two or three years.        

Stone Mulch

Gravel, stones, volcanic rock or tiny pebbles may be used as mulch for small landscapes but doing so prevents the soil from absorbing nutrients or natural organic compounds. When using stony mulch, first lay a woven ground cloth over the dirt to keep the small grit and gravel from soaking into sandy soils. A good thing about this kind of mulch is that it's durable. It can withstand inclement weather and won’t get tossed about by high winds. But you’ll want to rake it to remove any debris.  Mineral mulches are suitable for walkways, shrub beds, and rock gardens.

When Mulching …

  • Provide 1-3 inches in a layer of wood chips around trees, plants, and shrubs. A cubic yard of mulch should spread over 324 square feet if you are only laying a 1-inch cover. 
  • Mulched areas around trees should be 8 feet around.
  • Clean up the old chips by raking them out of the bed. Matted, rotting wood chips can attract pests, molds, and disease. They usually don’t smell very good, either! 

The Ideal Mulch

The ideal mulch is cost-effective, easy to apply and remove, stays in place, and provides organic nutrients to the soil. Mulch that protects against insects, diseases, and noxious weeds is a huge plus!

A Pest Free Veggie Patch

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Got ya there! Nope, won’t ever happen. As long as we garden (i.e. manipulate the environment)—even in a kind and gentle way—we'll have pests. For a peaceful life it helps if you adjust your mind to this fact. We can however, minimize pest numbers. Here's my tried and true pest prevention plan.

Beneficial Insect Power

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Beneficial insects are your go to smart solution.  There’s an army of insects on your side - parasitic wasps, hoverflies, ladybirds, praying mantis, spiders, dragonflies, assassin bugs, lacewings, various beetles, frogs and earwigs. They’ll manage pests, pollination and recycling of debris in return for a spray free home and a years’ supply of food. Fill your garden with a year round supply of nectar- and pollen-rich flowers, provide a simple source of water, an undisturbed 'wild area' for habitat and the beneficial insects will move in.

Be Strong

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What a difference to our pest levels when we garden in a steady, robust, natural way.

  • Look after your garden well by watering and feeding properly. Artificial fertilizer, too much manure and overwatering creates sweet, soft, sappy growths that sucking pests adore.
  • Meet all the needs of your plants. Plant with the seasons—heat lovers when its hot and those that prefer cool when its cool. Don't fertilize legumes and do fertilize heavy feeders. Happy plants (like happy people), have a heap less problems.
  • Keep your soil covered with mulch or crops.
  • Grow resistant varieties. Talk to gardeners in your area. Experiment with varieties until you find ones that the pests don't bother.
  • Save seeds of crops that perform well at your place.

Be Cunning

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Pests hunt by either smell or shape, so get cunning with a bit of disguise, camouflage and distraction!

  • Disguise vulnerable plants by growing among different shapes and smells. Eg: carrots with spring onions and calendula or tomatoes with nasturtium, marigolds and parsley.
  • Distract pests away from your veggies with plants they prefer close by. This is called catch cropping. Eg: Seduce shield bugs away from beans with mustard or cabbage whites with nasturtium.
  • Regular seaweed or fish foliar sprays not only boost your plants, but disguise scent.

Spray Free Solutions

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Halt pests at the earliest point. A couple is easy, an epidemic is not. A daily walk about is one of my top pest strategies.

  • Use your fingers. Pests like snails, aphids and shield bugs are easily managed by picking off and squashing.
  • Cover vulnerable crops with fine insect mesh. I use this to prevent psyllids in potatoes, cabbage whites in brassicas and carrot fly in carrots.
  • Make traps. Yogurt traps for slaters, beer traps for snails and yellow sticky traps for whitefly.

Unsafe Spray

  • Be careful of natural sprays which knock everything both good and bad - dead. Beware Pyrethrum, Rhubarb, Garlic and Derris Dust (which is by the way a neurotoxin).
  • Don't use chemical sprays. Even in the driveway. Spray drifts, going far further than you think. I was pretty bummed last week judging school gardens to see herbicide damage on vegetables in children's gardens.

Safe Spray

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When all else fails and a pest is getting the upper hand I reach for one of two sprays—Neem for all sucking/ chewing insects, or a spray with the active ingredient Bacillus Thuringiensis for caterpillars. Neither of these are contact killers. They must be ingested to work, making them safe as houses for bees and beneficial insects.

Culinary Lavender Delights the Senses

Lavender fields are in full bloom this time of the year. For the past two years I have attended the Red Chair Lavender Festival here in Idaho. When entering the farm, you see hues of purple flowers with bees and butterflies.

Red Chair Lavender Farm Entrance
Photo by Annika Hardin

Swallow Tail On Lavender
Photo by Annika Hardin

The lavender fields have hidden art collected from the surrounding foothills. There are stations of lavender lemonade to drink for hydrating in the heat and a garden area with a pond to rest.

This year when I will attend and focus on cutting or purchasing lavender for culinary use. There are so many ways you can delight the palate with a small amount of lavender infused into a recipe. Download three culinary lavender flower recipes and make one for your next summer barbecue.

Lavender Field
Photo by Annika Hardin

Lavandula x angustifolia is the best species for culinary purposes. The following species are full sun perennials that grow in zones 5-11 and have heights between 12 and 36 inches. The plants below can be purchased online at Valley Mountain Growers.

  • English Lavender: Medium Purple, 24 to inches
  • Hidcote Lavender: Dark Purple, 18 inches
  • Jean Davis Lavender: Pale Pink, 18 inches
  • Lavender Vera: Purple, 18 inches
  • Munstead Lavender: Medium Purple, 18 inches
  • Royal Purple Lavender: Dark Purple, 24 inches
  • Sachet Lavender: Purple, 18-24 inches
  • Sarah Lavender: Purple, 12 inches

Spring is the ideal time to plant cuttings. Fall planting is best in harsh climates.

Lavender requires well-drained soils. Sandy, or gravel soils are preferable. Mix bone meal with soil as this is a source of phosphorus and protein.

When planting space plants 30 inches apart.

Trim off flower buds the 1st and 2nd years to speed up establishment of plants. 

If you would like to grow lavender plants from seeds Botanical Interests has Lavender Vera and Hidcote varieties. Growing instructions are as follows:

Sow outside 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date or as soon as soil can be worked, or late fall in any climate.

Start inside, which is recommended, 10 to 12 weeks before your average last frost date. Transplant seedlings after average last frost.

Days to Emerge: 30–90 days

Seed Depth: Surface to 1/8 inches

Seed Spacing: A group of 3 seeds every 10 inches

Thinning: When 1 inch tall, thin to 1 every 10 inches

Everything You Need to Know About Organic Pesticides

Going green can pose some problems. Namely, the high cost of organic products. But if you care about the environment, why not grow your own food? That way, you know your fruits and veggies will be chemical-free. 

Before you tackle a huge garden project or make changes to your yard care routine, you need to learn a few things about the definition of “organic.” 

Organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. It simply means the produce was grown according to USDA guidelines. Those guidelines regulate the kind of pesticides, herbicides, and farming practices that can be used when growing organic produce. The terms “free range,” “natural,” and “hormone free” are often used to allude to safe farming practices, but they don’t mean a product is organic.

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Source

Understanding the definition of organic when it comes to pesticides is important for a number of reasons, one of which is local regulations. Florida, for example, requires a professional license to apply non-organic pesticides and has several regulations when it comes to using chemicals. Additionally, understanding organic pesticides can help you make more eco-conscious decisions when eliminating pests.

Organic Pesticides

Pesticides made from biological and botanical substances such as soap or neem oil are considered organic. The USDA has a list of ingredients that can and can’t be used in organic pesticides. For example, pyrethrin, which comes from chrysanthemums, is OK. 

Just because something is natural doesn't mean it’s non-toxic or safe. Many natural bacteria, fungi, and plants, for example, produce toxins you don’t want to be sprayed on your food. Arsenic is also natural, but off-limits for organic farming.

Farmers and ranchers who meet the federal requirements, including specific land-use-management practices, may label their products with the USDA Organic certified logo you see in stores.

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Source

Packaged Pesticides Vs. Homemade

Like produce, pesticides with the organic label are more expensive. The products cost more to produce, and the demand is higher than the supply. But you can cut back on the cost by making your own. Some simple recipes include:

  • Vegetable oil mixed with dish soap.
  • Neem oil mixed with dish soap.
  • Citrus oil and cayenne pepper.
  • Chili pepper and diatomaceous earth.
  • Eucalyptus oil.
  • Garlic and onion spray.

Companion Planting

You can save yourself a lot of time and money by practicing companion planting and letting Mother Nature control the pests for you. Nearly every vegetable has a companion plant that will drive away pests and discourage disease. Some plants will add nutrients to the soil that will benefit neighboring vegetables. Plants that grow well together include:

  • Tomatoes and basil — (Also great together in a sauce!) The basil repels flies and tomato hornworms. Petunias will also keep the hornworms away.
  • Peppers and basil — This herb also repels aphids, mosquitoes, flies, and spider mites.
  • Green beans and corn — Beans add nitrogen to the soil, which is good for the corn. They’ll also use the cornstalks to climb, so you won’t need a trellis. Cornstalks also give a vertical boost to zucchini.
  • Onions, lettuce and, carrots — Onions are great companions for most vegetables since they repel carrot flies and aphids.
  • Garlic and lettuce — Garlic does more than keep the vampires away! It repels aphids that feed on lettuce and other leafy vegetables.

The list is endless, but you get the idea. Farmers and gardeners were using these symbiotic relationships long before insecticides were invented.

While more scientific study is needed, many people believe that organically produced foods are better for the environment and pose fewer health risks than foods produced with chemical pesticides. The jury is still out on whether foods produced organically are more nutritious or safer than conventionally produced foods. 

When it comes to landscape plants and lawn care, there are some stunning statistics about home pesticide use in the U.S. and its impact on the environment. Switching from chemical to organic fertilizers could help protect earthworms, which are essential for the health of the soil. If you have more questions, the National Pesticide Information Center is a great resource, and every county within the U.S. has a Cooperative Extension office that works closely with university-based specialists. They can answer questions about gardening and organic pest control methods and regulations in your county.


Jack Malone is a farmer and freelance writer who prides himself being eco-friendly. He enjoys finding new ways to practice green-farming with no chemicals.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

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Summer is a good time to pause and ponder the usefulness of your lawn.

If no compelling reason other than tidiness comes to mind, let me suggest you plant it up or let it go. Either way you're adding to your home-grown mulch stash, improving the overall health of yours and your neighbor's garden, and have one less job on Saturday. 

Indulge me here and my homegrown mulch addiction — because there is no goodness like it. Today I’m looking at homegrown hay mulch and the multitude of benefits that come your way when you let your lawn go.  

Nuts and Bolts

Everywhere you weed-eat, mow or (god forbid) spray is fair game. Leave these areas alone until you next need mulch, at which point lop it down in your chosen way, leaving a good 10cm stub behind for best health.

There are a surprising amount of opportunities for homemade hay once your mind shifts its focus from tidy gardening to the wild-side. Let little bits around the edges, here, there and everywhere go wild and you'll be amazed at how much mulch you reap.

Benefits Abound

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  • Bees, butterflies and insects adore this kind of stomping ground.
  • Soil life explodes too. Beneficial fungi and their companions gather beneath trees and spray free, wild areas and spread out from there developing a nutrient exchange network that boosts production and health 100 fold. This diverse community of miniature life forms keeps soil in good heart and is the wellspring of everyone's (crops, animals, humans) good health.
  • Longer lawns prevent many weeds like Onehunga taking grip 
  • Growing your own mulch means there is one less thing to buy and along the way providing a pesticide free mulch for your garden - yes!

Blaze a Trail

Cut tracks through the long grass to where ever it is you roam - the washing line, the chook house, the veggie patch, the driveway. Tracks make getting about easier and keeps legs dry when it rains.

My Garden is Too Small

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Many of you in small-space gardens dismiss this idea of growing your own mulch, thinking you have no room. The thing is there is no difference — small or large, the amount of space to grow the mulch is relative to the size of garden needing the mulch.

Fly In the Ointment

You may have one — another half with firm ideas of lawn management. Fingers crossed you can meet halfway.

A good next step is to mow a bit higher and get used to a more rustic look. Or have a play with leaving the lawn as long as possible before mowing. I feel a prize coming on for every centimeter!

When Meadow Lawn Doesn't Work

  • Hayfever is no fun and if one of your beloveds gets sneezy and itchy this wont work for you. In this instance turn your lawn into a garden instead.
  • Bee allergies are compelling reasons to cut the lawn and lop off clover flowers.
  • High fire risk areas
  • Young kids at play. We used to play cricket on the lawn but the kids are nearly all grown and flown so we no longer need it. I'm gradually planting it up. Life is change and gardens evolve alongside our needs.

10 Plants to Grow That Help Your Brain and Memory

Just like your body needs good nutrition to stay strong and healthy, your brain is also in need of some foods that will keep your synapsis firing at capacity. Your brain is very particular about its diet, and believe it or not, there are foods that you can eat that helps your brain function and develop.

There is a strong correlation between the food you eat and your memory. So, getting to know some of the foods you could ingest to keep your mind sharp and improve the memory power is as good an idea as eating healthy to keep those unwanted pounds away.

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1. Peppermint

This is not just an ingredient that you put in sweets. Peppermint has some amazing brain-boosting powers. One study on Edu Birdy showed that just smelling this herb improves memory.

The freshness and strong smell of the herb gives a person a sense of being refreshed. You don’t even have to eat it, hanging a couple of bushels in your home will already do the trick.

2. Rosemary

This herb is easy to grow and goes great with any meat dish. However, if you don’t eat meat, don’t worry, it makes a great companion in a basil pesto. Rosemary has been used as a brain booster for years. However, only in recent studies have they found that it helps one’s long term memory and increases one’s alertness.

3. Thyme

Thyme is another versatile herb that can be added to many dishes. It contains high levels of luteolin which is believed to help the brain boost its antioxidant levels.

It also boosts the levels of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids which is associated with higher levels of brain function. Thyme is also easy to grow and requires very little maintenance.

4. Ginger

One should have no problem in finding ways to get a daily dose of ginger. This root plant has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and is specifically known for combatting neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease.

Ginger has also been found to boost reaction time and attention in young and middle-aged adults. If that is not enough, your working memory also gets a boost.

5. Beans

Beans are underrated in the nutrition world, but that is because of the stigma that it gives you gas. However, most beans are high in choline which is essential in the creation of new neurotransmitters in the brain. One can almost say that it is the muscle building food of the brain. The best part is that you can have almost any bean for the same effect.

6. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo is another one of those foods that have been used for ages to boost brain function. It is a powerful food that is associated with the healing and regeneration of brain cells. It is also used to boost attention span and improve memory.

It has recently gained big popularity as a superfood. Ginkgo isn’t as common as it used to be, so you might want to check with your pharmacist to see if it’s okay to take with your other meds.

7. Reishi Mushrooms

In many cases, brain function is disturbed or lowered due to external factors like depression or stress. Foods that combat these conditions then also boost brain function indirectly. Reishi mushrooms won’t lower your levels of anxiety or depression, but it will combat the symptoms and in return, you will be able to think straight.

8. Ginseng

When you exercise, you feel revitalized and as a result, you concentrate much better. Ginseng is an amazing natural energy booster and when your vitality s boosted, so is your brain function.

Ginseng is like nature’s multi-vitamin as it is used to improve overall mental health and vitality. It’s said to activate neurotransmitters and improve memory as a result.

9. Blueberries

Blueberries are one of the most common berries and that is mainly due to the ease with which it is grown. However, blueberries are known to have compounds that improve decision making power, comprehension and it improves memory and reasoning abilities. It is one of the best plants to grow for your brain.

10. Periwinkle

Periwinkle is one of the lesser known plants that improve memory and the overall brain function. It is also one of the better ones. Periwinkle improves blood and oxygen circulation in the brain and as a result, will improve your memory and memorizing skills.

There are many plants that you can grow that will help you improve your memory and the best part of it all is that you don’t need a farm’s worth of land to grow your plants. Most of these plants are herbs that you can grow in pots, so even if you stay in a small flat, all you need is a sunny windowsill and a couple of pots and you could be on your way to a smarter you.

Give Your Fruit Trees Some Spring Love ā€“ Get Thinning!

Thinning is one of those jobs that grew on me. It took me many years before I began to understand it’s value. I used to hate plucking those sweet little baby fruits off, but now I love it! Such a peaceful job among the trees, and the fringe benefits are many.

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A huge crop of fruit is an exciting moment for humans, but not so fab from the trees point of view. A young tree's growth is set back, fruit doesn't ripen fully, codling moth and other pests flourish in the close quarters, branches break under the load and because next year’s spurs don’t get a look in, you run the risk of setting up a biennial bearing pattern (an enthusiastic big crop followed the next year with an exhausted little crop).

The time to thin is when the young fruits reach marble sized. Wander your fruit trees regularly in spring to catch this moment.

How to Thin Fruit Trees

Work your way systematically branch by branch. Use seceteurs to cut pip fruits and your thumb and finger to twist stone fruits. Pulling is disastrous!, you risk taking the whole spur (next years fruits) off.

 Remove deformed or stunted fruits. Leave the best.

 Leave only fruit 1 per cluster. For some of you this'll be oh so hard! I can but encourage you.

  • One fruit receives optimal sunlight and nutrition.
  • One fruit is not as enticing to codling moth (there is no cosier bug hotel than 3 apples squashed up together!)
  • One fruit is not as conducive to fungus. Think of spaces between fruits like a firebreak, preventing wild fire like spread of disease.   
  • Feeding one fruit per cluster leaves the tree resources for spur development, ensuring good production for the future. 

Either leave enough space so each fruit can grow to its full size without touching its neighbor, or use this guide to help you decide how much space to leave between each fruit.

  •  Peaches and nectarines  10 - 15cm
  • Apricots 10cm
  • Plums 5 - 10cm
  • Apples 15 - 25cm
  • Pears 10 - 15cm

Before Thin

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After Thin

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Drop the thinnings on the ground beneath the tree, and return all those hard won carb’s.

Thin Young Fruit Trees

Thinning takes the pressure off young trees and speeds them on their way. Without fruit development to concentrate on, trees can pour all their energy into building a robust frame and strong root system, creating a far better tree in the long run.

Completely remove all the fruits from 1 – 2 year old trees and if your tree is still not up to scratch, do it in year 3 as well. If you need more patience, you’ll learn it here!

From year 3 onward, let your tree carry as many fruits as its canopy and frame can support. This is one of those “less is more” moments.

Thin Struggling Trees

For the same reason we thin young trees, its a big support for poorly trees to have their fruit thinned or completely removed. 

Roll With It

Be aware that each variety produces in different way. Some tend towards biennial bearing, some produce huge loads every year and some produce consistently just the right amount, steady as a rock. Each year is different too. As trees grow and expand they can carry greater loads. 







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