In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

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.


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.


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


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


  • 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


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.


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.


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


After Thin


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.


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


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

Photo credit: Center for Neighborhood Technology on / 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.

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