In the Garden
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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. 

Tips for Conserving Water While Maintaining a Thriving Yard

As winter morphs into spring, our focus shifts from indoors to outside as we look forward to spending time in the yard and garden. But our spring showers won’t last forever, and once summer sets in, our green spaces need water to stay lush and inviting. If you live in a drought-prone area, the watering restrictions could be frustrating. You don’t have to break the rules to keep your garden and yard healthy, even in a very hot climate. Follow these tips for conserving water, and maintain a thriving yard and garden all year long.

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Source

Invest in Healthy Soil

When watering your plants, imagine that you're watering your soil, rather than the plants. Healthy soil will retain water at a much higher rate than poor, depleted soil. In garden beds, always add a nice layer of mulch each spring to help keep moisture in the ground and neaten the appearance of your beds. You can lightly fork the mulch from last year into your beds. Over time, it adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil, increasing its overall health. Consider aerating your lawn every fall to help your turf “breathe.”

Get Your Timing Right

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Source

One of the simplest ways to water correctly is to do so at the right time of day. Water early in the morning to minimize the evaporation that happens midday. Never water in the evening, as this increases the risk of moisture sticking around all night, which encourages disease. If you have an irrigation system, set the timer so that all your watering is done before dawn and you’ll be right as rain.

Water the Right Amount

One big mistake people make when watering is watering lightly and too frequently. This not only wastes water but is less beneficial to plants. A better strategy is to water deeply, but less often. Deep watering encourages roots to grow deep into the soil, which promotes healthy growth and makes plants more resilient. Aim for watering about once inch per week during the hottest months of the year.

There are various types of irrigation systems, and choosing the most appropriate one will ensure not a drop of water goes to waste. Sprinkler systems and rotors are ideal for lawns, and drip irrigation lines are the most efficient system for landscaping beds. Make sure at the beginning of spring that your irrigation system is in good repair and the timer is set right.

Plant a Water-Wise Landscape

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Photo credit: Center for Neighborhood Technology on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Many cities have water-wise guides for native and adapted plant species to plant in a water-efficient landscape. Focusing on these plants can help to reduce your water usage in the landscape drastically. Native plants are those that grow naturally in your region without human intervention. They support local pollinators and wildlife and need little maintenance or water. The same goes for grass. Check with the Natural Resource Conservation Center or Extension office in your area to see which grass type grows best without much watering.

Harvest and Use Rainwater

Of course, one of the easiest ways to conserve water from the tap is to use the water Mother Nature provides. If you have rain gutters on your home, collecting rainwater is as simple as directing the downspouts to reservoirs. There are various ways to harvest rainwater, with systems ranging from small to massive. For small-scale projects, you won’t need much more than a barrel and a couple of essential tools and plumbing supplies.

With a little foresight and planning, you can keep your lawn and garden lush and healthy without racking up a huge water bill. But conserving water benefits more than your wallet, it’s also good for the planet. So go on, save some money, and save the world, one drop at a time.

How Hemp Farming Is Utilizing Engineering Technology to Conserve Resources

Hemp is an integral part of U.S. history: In the 1700s, farmers in many colonies were required by law to grow the versatile crop. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, and many of the nation’s founding fathers grew hemp, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But in 1937, everything changed for the hemp industry.

That year, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, which lumped hemp into the same category as its psychoactive cousin, marijuana. Both plants were strictly regulated and eventually classified as Schedule 1 narcotics, despite the fact that the hemp plant does not have psychoactive properties.

But in recent years, hemp production has made a dramatic comeback, and in December 2018, the plant was finally de-regulated as part of the 2018 United States farm bill. The bill removes hemp that contains less than 0.3% THC from the list of controlled substances and allows for the wide-scale production of industrial hemp.

spread of hemp leaves

Hemp’s new status as a potential cash crop is good news for farmers and environmental advocates alike. As it grows rapidly and can thrive even in poor soil conditions, the plant offers sustainable solutions and applications within a number of industries. Additionally, new farming technologies, including photovoltaic agriculture, can further expand the environmental and economic advantages of the hemp plant.

The Implications of Hemp Production

The versatility of hemp is somewhat unbelievable: The plant can be converted into biofuel, biodegradable plastic, clothing and paper fiber, and CBD oil, which is used to treat a number of medical conditions, including anxiety and depression. Hemp is also used as a food additive, as it’s rich in protein and amino acids and contains healthy fats.

However, the U.S. relies heavily on foreign hemp imports, especially from China and Canada. The 2018 U.S. farm bill opened up new horizons for hemp production, but the plant’s potential is still being realized. At the 2019 Industrial Hemp Summit, held in Danville, Virginia, researchers, businesspeople, and farmers gathered together to discuss the future of industrial hemp and the technological innovations that are set to change the industry.

For years, U.S. farmers have struggled to turn a profit, and the situation became direr in the wake of President Trump’s export tariffs on agricultural goods. The tariffs led several countries, most notably China, to turn elsewhere for their agricultural needs. Soybean exports alone have dropped by 90 percent, reports NBC News, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out $7.7 billion to struggling farmers since the tariffs were put in place. Hemp advocates, including Industrial Hemp Summit attendees, believe that the plant could help reinvigorate farming at a national level, as well as boost profits.

Hemp and Water Conservation

Only about 4 percent of water on the Earth is freshwater, and that water is rapidly consumed by humans and the agricultural industry alike. In fact, agriculture utilizes 70 percent of global freshwater, according to Ohio University. And by 2050, that number will increase by 19 percent as the growing global population will require 60 percent more food than is currently produced.

In light of these numbers and increasing pollutants that contaminate the world’s freshwater supply, conserving water is more important than ever. And industrial hemp is poised to become part of the solution to the global water crisis. The Ministry of Hemp reports that hemp uses half the water required to grow cotton. Further, one acre of hemp yields the same amount of paper fiber as four acres of trees, and it only takes about 100 days for hemp to fully mature. By harnessing the potential of hemp, farmers can drastically reduce water consumption.

Modern technology also provides numerous sources from which farmers can tap into a freshwater supply. Desalination processes, which remove salt from seawater, are becoming more mainstream and cheaper to implement. In the realm of civil engineering, researchers are also developing smarter irrigation techniques, including soil moisture readers that allocate water only as needed and the use of wastewater as a source of irrigation.  

Poorly built irrigation systems are prone to evaporation and seepage, and even the best traditional irrigation systems are between 50-60 percent efficient. This has led farmers to search for eco-friendly solutions to water conservation. One of these is the process of rainwater collection. A rainwater collection system is one that uses gutters, barrels, and specially designed tubs that collect and store roof runoff. This excess water can be filtered and used for everything from irrigation to human consumption.

Benefits of Crop Rotation

Along with water conservation efforts, farmers are embracing sustainability on a large scale, and hemp is at the forefront of their efforts. Hemp naturally resists most pests, effectively negating the need for pesticides and herbicides, many of which are hazardous to the environment. The large root system of the hemp plant keeps weeds at bay, and encourages better soil tilth.

Farmers worldwide have seen positive results when hemp is factored into crop rotation. In England, hemp grown in rotation with wheat produced an increased wheat yield of 20 percent. And Canadian farmers reported a significant decrease the in cyst nematode parasite, which can devastate soybean crops, after hemp was rotated with soybeans.

Industrial hemp has the potential to significantly impact sustainability efforts across the world, especially when technology is factored into the equation. By growing hemp and rotating it with existing crops, we’re likely to see a decrease in water consumption in the farming industry, as well as a reduction in pesticide use. Further, farmers are likely to see improved crop yields and a boost in profits, which could be a huge leg up for America’s struggling farming professionals.

April Fruit Tree Tasks: Boost Fruit Production and Manage Leaf Curl

Here’s a quick and easy spring task that'll pump up your fruit production. This neat trick is best suited to apples, apricots, peaches, plums and pears.

Now that the sap is rising and branches are flexible, new branches can be tied down. Tying them down changes their direction from up to out, making them easier for you to reach and best of all, it inspires your tree to produce loads more fruitful wood.

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For easy to reach apples, open structure for good health and lots of fruit, tie young branches to horizontal. Artwork by Steve Howell

The more horizontal the branch, the more fruitful it is. The more horizontal the branch, the less inclined towards lush unproductive growth it is. That’s how a tree’s hormones roll. All the fruitful energy in a vertical branch happens at its tip. Tie that branch down and the energy shifts. Laterals pop up all along a horizontal branch and where there was one, now there are many fruitful tips.

By the time autumn rolls around, the wood has thickened, the year’s growth ring has locked the new angle in place and the tie should be removed.

Here's How

  • Using soft stocking tie, tie a loop around the end of the branch. Make the loop twice the diameter of the branch to prevent it cutting into the bark.
  • Tie the other end back to the trunk or to a rock or tent peg in the ground.
  • Keep an eye on the ties over the growing season to ensure they stay in place.

Easy-peasy!

Air and Light

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A mature apple showing great open structure. Young branches were tied down. Photo by Kath Irvine

Tying branches down has the added bonus of opening your tree for better airflow and light. Air is such an important player in overall fruit tree health, especially if your tree is prone to fungal disease like leaf curl. Light’s a no brainer! There is no more important asset to a fruiting tree than to be bathed in light. 

How to Manage Leaf Curl

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Peach leaves infected with leaf curl. Photo by Kath Irvine

Leaf curl will be showing up now. By time the fungus is in full flight and the leaves are blistered and curled – it’s too late for cures, you just have to let it play out.

Though you cannot fix it, it’s important to support your tree through this time because it’s going to have to repeat the mammoth task of growing another set of leaves. Seaweed, with its mineral richness and cell strengthening gifts is excellent tonic support. Spray weekly if you can. 

Hanging strips of kelp in the branches will give your leaf curl affected tree a nourishing liquid feed every time it rains. You could also lay kelp beneath the mulch. Don't feed it rich stuff like manure, at this stage.

Collecting all the dropped funky leaves and burning them up will help break the cycle. If you've got the time then this is excellent housekeeping. If like me, there is not even the remotest chance of this happening, pile mulch on top to prevent the spores splashing back up into the canopy.

Improving airflow around and through your tree is the final bit of the puzzle. Do this by thinning out (completely removing) shoots that are cluttering the tree. My general rule is to leave a 20cm gap between laterals. Slash long grass beneath your tree or pile mulch on top of it to knock it back.

Learn more about pruning in my book, Pruning Fruit Trees.

 

 

4 Composting Tips for Smaller Space Gardeners

As a small-space urban gardener, composting was a practice I long though was "off the table" for me.

Turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

Not only am I composting successfully in my small urban space, but I'm producing more than I need in my garden! Here are four of my top tips for composting well in a small space.

Choose the Right Composting Method For You

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When you don't have much space, you're looking for composting methods that either:

  1. Don't take up much space
  2. Create compost faster than normal

For me, there are two main ways to accomplish these objectives: using compost tumblers or worm bins.

Compost tumblers take up a bit less space than your average hot compost pile, but they also create finished compost much quicker, because you can turn and aerate them more efficiently, leading to quicker breakdown of your organic matter.

Worm bins, as their name suggests, use worms (usually Red Wigglers) to process food scraps much faster than a hot compost pile. They also take up a smaller footprint.

If you have primarily green waste to process, I'd recommend dipping your toes into vermicomposting. If you have both greens and browns, a compost tumbler is an efficient way to generate rich, "black gold" for your garden.

Use a Compost Thermometer

Compost-thermometer

If you decide to go with a standard hot compost pile, make sure you are checking the temperature with a compost thermometer at least once per day.

In a perfect world, keeping your compost pile at around 140°F for 3 days is the goal. After 3 days, it'll start to cool down, at which point you'll turn your pile to move finished compost out to the sides and bring unfinished materials into the center where they can break down.

The better you track the temperature in your pile, the quicker you'll be able to turn your greens and browns into dark, nutrient-rich compost for your garden. And the faster you can make compost, the quicker you'll be able to amend your soil and grow incredible amounts of fruits and veggies.

Pre-Compost Your Food Scraps With the Bokashi Method

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To really super-charge your small-scale composting, try out bokashi composting. It uses an inoculated bran to start to ferment your food waste before it even makes it into the compost pile.

In fact, many gardeners will use the bokashi method and then directly bury their fermented scraps in their soil, where they'll break down in a matter of days or weeks instead of the usual months.

You can also throw your bokashi compost scraps into a vermicomposting system or your compost pile for even quicker breakdown and inoculation of beneficial microbes.

Store Your Food Scraps in a Countertop Compost Bin

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Surprisingly, one of the things I hear from fellow small space gardeners is, "I have the space, but I don't really feel like taking all of my scraps out to the garden every single time I cook."

Makes sense! It can be a hassle. The solution is to get a simple countertop compost bin for your kitchen, so you can store a few days worth of scraps and then transfer out into your composting system all at once.

This streamlines your cooking and composting processes, and believe me when I say that we humans like to take the easy way out. So why not give mind and body a little break by making the composting job easier? I like to collect about 4 days worth of scraps - any more and they start to rot in the container, which is no good for the smell in my kitchen!

Well, there we have it: Four creative ways to make the most of a small urban space, and yet still maximize the amount of compost you're producing. If you do your job right, you won't need to buy too many amendments for your garden, because you'll be creating almost everything you need from materials you'd have otherwise thrown away!

How to Grow Paw Paw Trees in Your Backyard

Have you ever eaten a paw paw?  This unique fruit isn’t commonly seen in stores, because they don’t ship well.  However, they are a great fruit tree for urban yards!  These handsome trees have a pyramid shape and large tropical-looking leaves in addition to their tasty fruit.

Paw paws are similar to a banana in both nutrition and use, but they grow in a much wider variety of climates.  If it’s too cold where you live for bananas, it’s likely that you can grow paw paws instead.

The paw paw tree has few pests and diseases and other problems.  Plus it’s versatile.  Not only does it produce fruit, but it is also a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.  Another advantage is that they are deer resistant and they can grow in partial shade.

paw paw tree and fruit
Photo by Jadom on Pixabay

One interesting fact about paw paw trees is that they are pollinated by flies.  Paw paws do need a second tree to pollinate each other.  Plant the two trees within 10-15 feet of each other.  If you don’t have flies or if you plant them too far apart, it is possible to hand pollinate your paw paw flowers using a paint brush.  (Although, just because something is possible doesn’t mean we necessarily have the time to DO it!)

When deciding where to plant the trees there are a few things to take into consideration.  First, the trees can reach about 20 feet tall when fully grown.  Look up and make sure to site your trees away from any overhead power lines.

Next, check to make sure there are no power lines or pipelines where you are planning to plant to the tree.  If you’re not sure where underground pipes are on your property, you can usually call your city and they will send someone out to mark it for you.

Third, consider shade and sun.  Paw paws do well in partial shade or full sun, but you’ll want to avoid complete shade for them.  Also consider where they will cast shade once they will grow.  Will they shade other sun loving plants?  Block solar panels?  Or perhaps you can use these attractive trees to passively cool a warm west wall of your home or add to a small garden oasis.

If you know someone who has a paw paw tree, you can grow your own tree from the fruit.  The seeds will require 100 days of cold before they will sprout.  If your climate is too warm for that you can stash the seeds in an unused corner of your fridge.  (Am I the only one with a seed shelf in my fridge?).  Just don’t let the seeds dry out during this time.  A good way to store them is in a Ziploc bag with a damp paper towel.

If you are growing your tree from seed it will take a few years before your paw paw tree will bear fruit.  If you plant transplants you will be able to harvest sooner.  Paw paws tend to ripen near the end of summer or beginning of fall. The fruit grow on the tree in clusters and may become lighter when ripe.

The best way to tell it’s time to harvest the fruit is your paw paw fruit should smell pleasant and fruit and be slightly soft (think of a ripe peach).

Once you harvest them you can use them as you would bananas.  They can be added to smoothies or other desserts.  You can eat it straight with a spoon or even make a cream pie!  Being able to harvest this unique and yummy fruit is one of the benefits of growing your own fruit trees!







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