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March 1st, 2015 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Source: Modern Farmer

Strawbale garden beds can overcome significant challenges when it comes to growing your own vegetables, particularly if you have:

1. poor soil conditions
2. space restrictions



When I moved into my new Philadelphia rowhouse, I was determined to grow the vegetable garden that had eluded me all those years in a cramped Manhattan apartment. But reality struck with the first thrust of my shovel: my soil — a cocktail of concrete shards and construction debris mixed with a bit of sand and dirt — was useless.
Faced with the expense (OK, and effort) of building raised beds, I decided instead to go cheap and easy: a straw bale garden. So I called up Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, and lead authority on all things straw.
Karsten argues that straw is an ideal “container” for growing vegetables. “The hollow tubes are designed by Mother Nature to suck up and hold moisture,” he told me. And as the insides of the bales decompose, they provide a rich medium for vegetable growth.
You can put together a straw bale garden right on your lawn, your driveway (oh yes, your neighbors will love you) or anywhere that gets at least six to eight hours of sun. It’s especially good for growers who live in northern climes with shorter growing seasons — the bales heat up much quicker than soil, stimulating early-season root growth.
Here’s the method that has made Karsten the go-to guru for straw bale gardening:


 1. Source your straw

You can toss the dice like I did and purchase straw bales from your local garden center, but it’s best to source them direct from the farm. If you want to garden organically, the person at the garden center won’t likely know how the straw was grown. To help connect farmers with growers, Karsten has set up a user-generated marketplace, but it’s still too small to be useful to most gardeners. Remember, straw is easiest to come by in the fall. If you arrange your straw bale garden before the winter, you’ll be all set to plant when springtime comes.






2. Position your bales

Before you set up your bales, lay down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing up through the bales. Arrange the bales side by side in rows, with their cut sides up. The strings that bind the bales should run across the sides, not across the planting surface. The strings will help keep the shape of the bales as they start to soften and decompose.







3. Condition the bales

Two weeks before you plant, you have to get the bales cooking. This means wetting and fertilizing the bales for roughly 10 days to start composting the inner straw. For the first six days, put down 3 cups of organic fertilizer per bale every other day, and water the bales to push the fertilizer down and thoroughly saturate the straw. On the off days, simply water the bales. (Tip: try to ignore the neighbors staring suspiciously from their windows.) Days 7 through 9, lay down 1.5 cups of organic fertilizer each day and water. Day 10 put down 3 cups with phosphorus and potassium (bone or fish meal mixed with 50% wood ash works like a charm).
If you stick your finger into your bales, they’ll be hot and moist. You’ll start to see some “peppering” — black soil-like clumps that signal the beginning of the composting that will continue through the growing season. If mushrooms sprout up, rejoice — they won’t harm your plants; it means the straw is decomposing as it should.



4. Build a trellis and greenhouse in one

One of the coolest things about straw bale gardening is that it combines the best of container gardening with vertical gardening. Karsten recommends erecting seven-foot-tall posts at the end of each row of bales, and running wire between them at intervals of 10 inches from the tops of the bales. As your seeds sprout, you can use the bottom wire to drape a plastic tarp to create an instant greenhouse for those chilly early-season nights. And as the plants begin to grow, the wire works like a vertical trellis, supporting your cucumbers, squash and assorted viney vegetables.






5. Time to plant

If you’re planting seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw in the shape of a hole and add some sterile planting mix to help cover the exposed roots. If you’re planting seeds, then cover the bales with a one to two-inch layer of planting mix and sew into this seedbed. As the seeds germinate, they’ll grow roots down into the bale itself. While you’re at it, plant some annual flowers into the sides of the bales, or some herbs — it’s otherwise underutilized growing space, and will make the garden a whole lot lovelier.






6. Look, ma — no weeding

If you lay a soaker hose over your bales, you’ve pretty much eliminated all your work until harvest. That’s because your “soil” doesn’t contain weed seeds. There’s one caveat, though — if you didn’t get your straw from a farmer (guilty as charged), there’s a chance your straw (or, worse, hay that was sold as straw) contains its own seed. If your bales start to sprout what looks like grass, you can beat back the Chia pet effect by washing the sprouts with diluted vinegar. If you don’t mind the look though, the grass shouldn’t harm your plants, and will likely die off from the heat produced by the bale’s decomposition.





7. The harvest after the harvest

When the harvest season ends, the bales will be soft, saggy and gray — but that’s exactly what you want. Because when you pile the straw together and leave it to compost over winter, you’ll have a mound of beautiful compost to fill all your pots and planters in the spring.




Nicole Cotroneo Jolly (@nicolecotroneo) is a journalist, filmmaker and founder of How Does it Grow?— a series of food education videos that trace our food back from the fork to the field.

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February 4th, 2015 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Author: Paul Wheaton

For many aspiring vegetable gardeners, meeting the needs of hungry and thirsty plants can be an overwhelming and time consuming exercise. But what if you could create a raised garden bed that feeds and waters itself for years to come and helps the environment at the same time! Too good to be true? Perhaps not…

Hugelkultur: the ultimate raised garden bed


raised garden bed
hugelkultur after one month



raised garden bed
hugelkultur after one year


raised garden bed
hugelkultur after two years


raised garden bed
hugelkultur after twenty years

Hugelkultur Raised Garden Beds In A Nutshell:

    • grow a typical garden without irrigation or fertilization
    • has been demonstrated to work in deserts as well as backyards
    • use up rotting wood, twigs, branches and even whole trees that would otherwise go to the dump or be burned
    • it is pretty much nothing more than buried wood
    • can be flush with the ground, although raised garden beds are typically better
    • can start small, and be added to later
    • can always be small – although bigger is better
    • You can save the world from global warming by doing carbon sequestration in your own back yard!
    • perfect for places that have had trees blown over by storms
    • can help end world hunger
    • give a gift to your future self

The Verbose Details About Hugelkultur Raised Garden Beds

It’s a german word and some people can say it all german-ish. I’m an american doofus, so I say “hoogle culture”. I had to spend some time with google to find the right spelling. Hugal, hoogal, huegal, hugel …. And I really like saying it out loud: “hugelkultur, hoogle culture, hoogal kulture ….” – it could be a chant or something.

I learned this high-falootin word at my permaculture training. I also saw it demonstrated on the Sepp Holzer terraces and raised beds video – he didn’t call it hugelkultur, but he was doing it.

Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water – and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.

I do think there are some considerations to keep in mind. For example, I don’t think I would use cedar. Cedar lasts so long because it is loaded with natural pesticides/herbicides/anti-fungal/anti-microbial (remember, good soil has lots of fungal and microbial stuff). Not a good mix for tomatoes or melons, eh? Black locust, black cherry, black walnut? These woods have issues. Black locust won’t rot – I think because it is so dense. Black walnut is very toxic to most plants, and cherry is toxic to animals, but it might be okay when it rots – but I wouldn’t use it until I had done the research. Known excellent woods are: aldersapplecottonwoodpoplar, willow (dry) and birch. I suspect maples would be really good too, but am not certain. Super rotten wood is better than slightly aged wood. The best woods are even better when they have been cut the same day (this allows you to “seed” the wood with your choice of fungus – shitake mushrooms perhaps?).

Another thing to keep in mind is that wood is high in carbon and will consume nitrogen to do the compost thing. This could lock up the nitrogen and take it away from your growies. But well rotted wood doesn’t do this so much. If the wood is far enough along, it may have already taken in sooooo much nitrogen, that it is now putting it out!

Pine and fir will have some levels of tanins in them, but I’m guessing that most of that will be gone when the wood has been dead for a few years.

In the drawings above, the artist is trying to show that while the wood decomposes and shrinks, the leaves, duff and accumulating organic matter from above will take it’s place. The artist is showing the new organic matter as a dark green.



raised garden beds on top of sod –
the soil comes from somewhere else




raised garden beds dug in a bit –
note the sod is put upside down on the wood
and the topsoil is on top of that





raised garden beds dug in a bit –
plus paths are dug on the sides and
that sod/soil goes on top too


I find I most often build hugelkultur in places where the soil is shallow. So I end up finding excess soil from somewhere else on the property and piling it on some logs. Presto! Instant raised garden beds! This is usually the easiest/fastest way too. Especially if you have earth moving equipment.

For those times that the soil is deep and you are moving the soil by hand, I like to dig up the sod and dig down a foot or two. Then pile in the wood. Then put the sod on top of the wood, upside-down. Then pile the topsoil on top of that. Even better is to figure out where the paths will be, and dig down there too. Add two layers of sod onto the logs and then the double topsoil.

I have discovered that a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of raised bed gardens. They have seen the large flat gardens for years and are sure this is the way to do it. Some people are okay with raised beds that are three to six inches tall – they consider anything taller than that unsightly.

So this is gonna sound crazy, but I hope to convince you that the crazy-sounding stuff is worth it.

If you build your hugelkultur raised garden beds tall enough, you won’t have to irrigate. At all (after the second year). No hoses. No drip system. Anything shorter won’t require as much irrigation – so there is still some benefit. Imagine going on vacation in the summer without having to hire somebody to kill water your garden! As a further bonus, the flavor of everything you grow will be far better!

To go all summer long without a drop of rain, you need to build your hugelkultur raised bed gardens …. six feet tall. But they’ll shrink! Mostly in the first month. Which is why I suggest you actually build them seven feet tall.

Hugelkultur raised garden beds can be built just two feet tall and will hold moisture for about three weeks. Not quite as good, but more within the comfort zone of many people – including urban neighbors.

Some people will start out with hugelkultur raised garden beds that are two and a half feet tall and plant only annuals. And each year they will build the size of the bed a foot. So that after a few years, they will have the bigger beds and the neighbors never really noticed. And if they’ve tasted what comes from it – they might be all for it without caring about the big mounds.

Besides, isn’t this much better use of the wood than hauling it to the dump, or chipping it, or putting it in those big city bins for yard waste?

raised-garden-beds-standardstandard hugelkultur raised garden beds raised-garden-beds-narrowernarrower hugelkultur raised garden beds raised-garden-beds-peakpeaked hugelkultur raised garden beds raised-garden-beds-stone-borderhugelkultur raised garden beds with a stone border raised-garden-beds-log-borderhugelkultur raised garden beds with a log border

I usually build hugelkulture raised garden beds about five feet wide. This makes for some mighty steep beds. Just pack that soil on tight and plant it with a mix of heavy rooted plants to hold it all together. Quick! Before it rains! If you are going to build beds shorter than three feet tall, I suggest that you make the beds no wider than four feet wide. Unless you are doing keyhole style raised garden beds, in which case you should be able to get away with something wider.

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November 18th, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Author: Katrina Savell

Good old Epsom Salts, even being as youthful as I am (!) I do recall my grandmother and even my mother using it as an alternative to medicines for sore and tired muscles, and other common ailments such as insect bites. Passed down from generation to generation, many have made claims about its potent medicinal applications, as well as the usefulness of epsom salt for the garden.

In the garden, Epsom Salts has earned a reputation as a wonderful alternative to chemical fertilisers as well as an insect repellent. Or has it?

That depends on whether you are a gardener or a researcher! Gardeners for decades swear by it, saying it enhances the growth of their gardens, promotes green foliage and pest free plants, as well as luscious, tasty vegetables. Yet time and time again there are researchers that can find no scientific basis for these claims. Many even say that Epsom Salts can be detrimental to vegetables and gardens.

So who is correct?

Well, before we answer that question based on our own personal experience and research, let’s have a look at what this chemical compound comprises of – basically the two most important fertiliser compounds – magnesium and sulphur. Magnesium’s role is to support the growing process and assist in the production of the plant’s fruit. Sulphur accelerates the development of plant protein and therefore greatly enriches the nutritional value of your vegetables.

Nearly all plant chemical fertilisers will have these two compounds mixed in with a whole bunch of other ingredients, which to be honest, may not even be required for plant health.

In answer to the question, we do believe there is a role for Epsom Salts in the garden. From our experience, there are signs when vegetable plants are magnesium deficient, particularly if there has been depletion in top soil or erosion from the elements. These signs include:

  • Leaf discolouration (yellowish) or curing
  • Stunted growth
  • Decrease in the production or size of fruit

We have found that if your plants show signs of magnesium deficiency, then Epsom Salts are a safe, cost effective and organic way to complement your vegetable garden, if applied properly. Like manysupplements, if you do not follow the directions for attending to your plants with Epsom Salts, it can be harmful.

Application of Epsom Salts for Your Vegetable Garden

It is recommended when establishing plants to mix in one tablespoon of Epsom Salts into the soil at the bottom of the planting hole.

For ongoing maintenance, dilute 1 tablespoon of Epsom Salts into one gallon of water and spray the leaves of the plant when it starts to flower. This is a time when additional magnesium is highly beneficial.

It has been reported that the key vegetables to benefit greatly from the application of Epsom Salts are tomatoes and peppers (capsicums). Feedback suggest it takes the “bitiness” out of them and produces larger, sweeter and luscious fruits!


Look for signs of magnesium deficiency in your vegetable garden or times of flowering/fruit bearing before applying Epsom Salts. Please ensure you follow the dilution requirements, and you should be very happy watching your vegetable garden flourish with a safe, effective and economical organic fertiliser.

Feel free to post your comments on any experience you’ve had with Epsom salts in the garden.

Katrina Savell is a freelance writer and Director of The Word Depot, a media and communications consultancy.

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August 21st, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Author: Katrina Savell

You could be forgiven for thinking the word Zeolite is the name of the next Hollywood hero out to save the world, or an ancient Greek god. The reality is that when it comes to improving your vegetable garden, this fascinating mineral supplement is actually a bit of an organic superhero. Therefore using zeolite in the garden will significantly improve the health and vitality of your vegetable plants.

What is a Zeolite?

Zeolites are naturally occurring porous minerals that look like honeycomb in structure and act like tiny sponges. They can absorb and modify some harmful or unwanted elements from soil, water and air.  In the garden, they are well known for their ability to absorb heavy metals such as lead and chromium. Interestingly, however, they can simultaneously absorb beneficial nutrients, especially nitrogen and ammonia for soil, and then release them back at a rate more evenly and effective for plant root development. Due to their anatomical structure, they do not lose nutrients easily from leaching.

What can Zeolite do for my vegetable garden?

Zeolites have become a common and useful additive to garden and agricultural fertilizers. They are prized for their role in both releasing nutrients for plant use and absorbing free nutrient particles which prevents leaching.

In short, they can:

  • Act as a natural wetting agent (Zeolite is used as the major ingredient in high quality wetting agents) and as a distributor and moderator of water – they are very effective in helping to distribute water around dripper lines and are particularly effective in sandy soils. Zeolites have the ability to absorb up to 55% of their weight in water and then can slowly release it under plant demand. This prevents root rot and moderates drought cycles.
  • Increase the effectiveness of fertilizers – also termed a fertilizer ’battery charge’ Zeolites store nutrients, prevent them from leaching and then release them to your vegetables when they feel the plant needs them.  This aids in long-term soil quality improvements and better yields.
  • Act as an effective odour eater, and is useful on any kind of manure, including that of your pets.

How do I apply Zeolite to my vegetable garden?

Zeolite usually comes in a powder of granular form. When applying Zeolite, wear gloves and goggles to protect the eyes especially in windy weather.

Whether you are applying Zeolite to detoxify your soil, prevent leaching, or as a fertilizer boost, as a rule, measure 250-500 grams of Zeolite per square metre of soil, together with fertiliser (if it’s required) and water in well.

Zeolite can also be added to soil for potted plants before applying liquid fertiliser: for your potting mix, add 5% of powdered Zeolite to the mix volume. For example, 50kg of zeolite per m3 or approx 2.5kg of zeolite to a wheelbarrow full of potting mix (approx 50L mix).

Even better – it’s environmentally friendly too!

Worth mentioning again, not only does Zeolite detoxify your soil of harmful heavy metals, recharge your plant fertilizer, prevent leaching, absorb odours AND act as a natural wetting agent, it is a natural and cost effective alternative to chemicals in your garden.

We’ll keep you posted on more great ideas to help your vegetable garden flourish with organic applications soon.

Katrina Savell is a freelance writer and Director of The Word Depot, a media and communications consultancy.

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August 18th, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

By Jonathan White, environmental scientist

Traditional vegetable gardens require an enormous amount of hard work and attention – weeding, feeding and strict planting schedules. There is also the problem of seasonality, allowing beds to rest during the cooler months producing nothing at all. Then we are told to plant green manure crops, add inorganic fertilizers and chemicals to adjust imbalanced soils. It takes a lot of time, dedication and a year-round commitment to grow your own food the traditional way.

But does it really need to be that difficult?

Let me ask you this question. Does a forest need to think how to grow? Does its soil need to be turned every season? Does someone come along every so often and plant seeds or take pH tests? Does it get weeded or sprayed with toxic chemicals?

Of course not!

Traditional vegetable gardening techniques are focused on problems. Have you noticed that gardening books are full of ways to fix problems? I was a traditional gardener for many years and I found that the solution to most problems simply caused a new set of problems. In other words, the problem with problems is that problems create more problems.

Let’s take a look at a common traditional gardening practice and I will show you how a single problem can escalate into a whole host of problems.

Imagine a traditional vegetable garden, planted with rows of various vegetables. There are fairly large bare patches between the vegetables. To a traditional gardener, a bare patch is just a bare patch. But to an ecologist, a bare patch is an empty niche space. An empty niche space is simply an invitation for new life forms to take up residency. Nature does not tolerate empty niche spaces and the most successful niche space fillers are weeds. That’s what a weed is in ecological terms – a niche space filler. Weeds are very good colonizing plants. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be called weeds.

Now back to our story. Weeds will grow in the empty niche spaces. Quite often there are too many weeds to pick out individually, so the traditional gardener uses a hoe to turn them into the soil. I have read in many gardening books, even organic gardening books, that your hoe is your best friend. So the message we are getting is that using a hoe is the solution to a problem.

However, I would like to show you how using a hoe actually creates a new set of problems. Firstly, turning soil excites weed seeds, creating a new explosion of weeds. And secondly, turning soil upsets the soil ecology. The top layer of soil is generally dry and structureless. By turning it, you are placing deeper structured soil on the surface and putting the structureless soil underneath. Over time, the band of structureless soil widens. Structureless soil has far less moisture holding capacity, so the garden now needs more water to keep the plants alive.

In addition to this problem, structureless soil cannot pass its nutrients onto the plants as effectively. The garden now also needs the addition of fertilisers. Many fertilisers kill the soil biology which is very important in building soil structure and plant nutrient availability. The soil will eventually turn into a dead substance that doesn’t have the correct balance of nutrients to grow fully developed foods. The foods will actually lack vitamins and minerals. This problem has already occurred in modern-day agriculture. Dr Tim Lobstein, Director of the Food Commission said. “… today’s agriculture does not allow the soil to enrich itself, but depends on chemical fertilisers that don’t replace the wide variety of nutrients plants and humans need.” Over the past 60 years commercially grown foods have experienced a significant reduction in nutrient and mineral content.

Can you see how we started with the problem of weeds, but ended up with the new problems of lower water-holding capacity and infertile soils. And eventually, we have the potentially serious problem of growing food with low nutrient content. Traditional gardening techniques only ever strive to fix the symptom and not the cause.

However, there is a solution! We must use a technique that combines pest ecology, plant ecology, soil ecology and crop management into a method that addresses the causes of these problems. This technique must be efficient enough to be economically viable. It also needs to be able to produce enough food, per given area, to compete against traditional techniques.
I have been testing an ecologically-based method of growing food for several years. This method uses zero tillage, zero chemicals, has minimal weeds and requires a fraction of the physical attention (when compared to traditional vegetable gardening). It also produces several times more, per given area, and provides food every single day of the year.

My ecologically-based garden mimics nature in such a way that the garden looks and acts like a natural ecosystem. Succession layering of plants (just as we see in natural ecosystems) offers natural pest management. It also naturally eliminates the need for crop rotation, resting beds or green manure crops. Soil management is addressed in a natural way, and the result is that the soil’s structure and fertility get richer and richer, year after year. Another benefit of this method is automatic regeneration through self-seeding. This occurs naturally as dormant seeds germinate; filling empty niche spaces with desirable plants, and not weeds.

Unfortunately, the biggest challenge this method faces is convincing traditional gardeners of its benefits. Like many industries, the gardening industry gets stuck in doing things a certain way. The ecologically-based method requires such little human intervention that, in my opinion, many people will get frustrated with the lack of needing to control what’s happening. Naturally people love to take control of their lives, but with this method you are allowing nature to take the reins. It’s a test of faith in very simple natural laws. However, in my experience these natural laws are 100% reliable.

Another reason that traditional gardeners may not like this method is that it takes away all the mysticism of being an expert. You see, this method is so simple that any person, anywhere in the world, under any conditions, can do it. And for a veteran gardener it can actually be quite threatening when an embarrassingly simple solution comes along.

I have no doubt that this is the way we will be growing food in the future. It’s just commonsense. Why wouldn’t we use a method that produces many times more food with a fraction of the effort? I know it will take a little while to convince people that growing food is actually very instinctual and straightforward, but with persistence and proper explanation, people will embrace this method.

Why? Because sanity always prevails…


Jonathan White is an Environmental Scientist and the founder of the Food4Wealth Method. For more information Click Here!

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August 9th, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Author: Katrina Savell

Did you know Diatomaceous Earth is a highly effective organic alternative to pesticides?

In its food grade form it is completely safe for humans, pets and the environment, but is actually a potent killer of aphids, white flies, snails, slugs, fleas and ants. Further, is it rich in nutrients which is beneficial to micro-organisms and earthworms, so it doesn’t just protect your vegetable garden, it helps it to flourish.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous Earth is composed of tiny fossilised shells of algae-like marine plants (diatoms). When these are ground up, they have the look and texture of talcum powder, which is safe for us, but has razor sharp edges that cut through the protective coverings of pests. As one of the major components of Diatomaceous Earth is air, it rapidly absorbs liquid, which leads to the dehydration of the pest, and is therefore an ultimate pest barrier.

What grade of Diatomaceous Earth to use for the vegetable garden

Firstly, you will require food grade not pool grade Diatomaceous Earth for the garden. Pool grade Diatomaceous Earth contains crystalline silica and is extremely hazardous to humans and animals. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth can be purchased from online retailers or alternatively, from a livestock feed store.

When best to treat your vegetable garden with Diatomaceous Earth

It is important you apply Diatomaceous Earth when it is not raining. As it is a powder, the rain will wash it away easily. You will also need to ensure that the soil around the vegetable plant is not too wet. Damp is okay. If you do have rain, you will need to reapply it afterwards.

Ongoing, after very light rain or dew is the ideal time to apply the Diatomaceous Earth.

How to apply Diatomaceous Earth to your vegetable garden

You will need to shake the powder in a ring around the plant on the soil, as well as dust the plant itself.

In terms of the actual applicator, there are a couple of ways you can make a Diatomaceous Earth “powder shaker”.  Personally, I went to my local pharmacy, bought a cheap talcum powder, cleaned out the container and reassembled it with the Diatomaceous Earth as its contents. I have found this to be very effective.

Another popular method is to make a shaker out of an old coffee can by punching holes in the bottom of the can with a nail. Simply cover the end with the holes and fill with Diatomaceous Earth.

Even better – it’s environmentally friendly too!

Worth mentioning again, not only does Diatomaceous Earth kill pests and form a protective barrier to your vegetable garden it is a natural and cost effective alternative to chemicals.

We’ll keep you posted on more great ideas to help your vegetable garden flourish with organic applications.

Katrina Savell is a freelance writer and Director of The Word Depot, a media and communications consultancy.

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July 31st, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Want to grow vegetables the organic way but feel a little daunted?

The truth is, growing vegetables using organic methods is in many ways easier than relying on chemical products to control the health of your vegetables. In fact organic gardening is not about control at all – it’s about balance. It is a holistic approach to plant health, which fundamentally means: get the foundations of your garden right and the rest will take care of itself…

Which is why we are creating a series of articles written by Katrina Walsom over the next few weeks on four of the most valuable supplements in organic gardening. Check out the first article on Hydrogen Peroxide in the previous post and stay tuned for the big three in the coming weeks.

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July 28th, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Author: Katrina Savell

When I think of hydrogen peroxide, a few things come to mind – hospitals, blonde hair, a white shirt’s best friend. Of course, there are also the old fashioned tales about it healing scratched knees and elbows… That was until I did a bit of research on this so called chemical and found some amazing uses for hydrogen peroxide in the garden.

Did you know that hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is actually in its anatomical make up, very similar to water? The only difference being that it has an additional oxygen atom. It is actually this extra oxygen atom that gives H2O2 its useful properties.

Many disease causing organisms, pests, algae, fungus and spores are killed by oxygen, which is why the additional oxygen in H2O2 is so handy in the garden. It is actually an oxygen supplement for plants. It is great for both in ground plants, as well as potted varieties, greenhouses and raised garden beds, and of course – VEGETABLE GARDENS!

What are the general uses of Hydrogen Peroxide in the Garden?

There are various ways to incorporate hydrogen peroxide in the garden, including, general fertilising, pest control (especially for vegetable gardens) plants with root rot, to treat sprouting seeds, as an infection preventative on tree cuts or even as a spray to control mould and mildew in damper areas.

What strength hydrogen peroxide do I require for my plants?

As a guide, the answer is VERY little. You will need the lowest strength of H2O2 (3%) and this will need to be diluted (please see below). There will be some variance depending on the need of application – but as a rule less is more.

For general fertiliser used around the roots of plants, for pest control, or misting leaves from a spray bottle, use 1 teaspoon per cup of water. This would also be the case for sprouting seeds to assist with prevention of mould and fungus which is always a challenge when establishing plants.

For sick or unhealthy plants with root rot or to fix fungal problems, use 1 tablespoon per cup of water. A general rule is that if the application is used as a preventative treatment, it would require less than half the strength of H2O2 required for correcting problems in the garden.

Getting started and the correct application for hydrogen peroxide in the garden

To get started with treating your garden with H2O2, you will require:

• 3 percent hydrogen peroxide

• Plant misting bottle

• Measuring cup/spoon

• Water

If you do make up a solution and wish to store it for periodic watering and treatment, please be sure to keep it in a cool, well ventilated space away from light, as light affects its potency.

How often should I treat my vegetable garden with hydrogen peroxide?

For pest prevention and general fertilizing, you will need to spray each vegetable plant with your made up solution till they are drenched on their leaves and around their roots. Repeat this after every rainfall episode or as required. For plants with problems, you will need to be guided by the appearance of the plant itself. Once you see a significant improvement, you can cut back to just after rainfall.

Even better – it’s environmentally friendly too!

Now that you have established your use for hydrogen peroxide in the garden, the strength required and application (via spray mist bottle) of the H2O2, you can feel confident that you are using an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides, anti-fungal and fertilising treatments.

You can watch your plants grow just like after a good rainfall all year round!

It is our recommendation that you do not attempt to use more than a 3% strength hydrogen peroxide in the garden as it can easily burn your skin and cause irritation. Please remember you only require a very small amount of H2O2 diluted, to make your garden and vegetables flourish.

Katrina Savell is a freelance writer and Director of The Word Depot, a media and communications consultancy.

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March 18th, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

Fruit Fly: Public Enemy No. 1

Fruit Fly: Public Enemy No. 1

It’s been a relatively short fruit fly season here in the Southern hemisphere (where water spins clockwise in the sink – I checked before writing this post). I put it down to an unusually cool and wet summer which has also meant issues with pollination but that’s a story for another post…

If you live on top of the world, however, you will be heading into into fruit fly season in the next few months so now is the perfect time to prepare for the onslaught (and I don’t mean mixing a cocktail of chemicals to nuke them with). There are alternatives!

The solution: fruit fly bags

Bagging Fruit

Bagging is by far the simplest and probably cheapest organic option for stopping fruit fly from stinging fruit. Bags are easy to make and cost almost nothing. As you can see in the photo, I make my bags out of (chux) cleaning wipes by folding them in half and sewing up the sides. One of these bags will easily cover a truss of tomatoes – just gather the top of the bag around the stem (where the truss meets the main stalk) and secure with a large peg or a piece of string. I tend to put the bags on as soon as all of the fruit has set on the truss. Fruit fly stings green fruit as well, so don’t wait until the fruit starts to ripen. Alternatively, if you’re not a sewer, gather the bag as best you can around the fruit truss and secure any openings with pegs. The thing I like most about these bags is that you can set them and forget them and reuse them. Just be sure to check them occasionally for ripening fruit.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is perhaps one of the most useful organic means of pest control for the vegetable garden. It is fossil shell flour sourced from the bottom of the sea or fresh water reservoirs. A fine, powdery substance, it’s innocuous enough in appearance but deadly to most insects and pests. The reason being, that under magnification, the powder structure has very sharp edges that pierce the insects’ outer protective layer, then rapidly absorb all the moisture inside the insect. Effectively, it’s death by dehydration! Apply by mixing it with water into a slurry and then painting it on the trunks of fruit trees or dust over the leaves of plants after every rainfall.

Eco Naturalure

Eco Naturalure is an organic product that is sprayed either on bushes or fruit trees or on a piece of wood located in close proximity to the fruit. It contains a protein bait to encourage the female fruit fly to feed on it as well as a natural insecticide that kills the fruit fly as soon as it enters the gut. The good thing about this product is that it will control fruit fly numbers in your garden. For it to be effective, it’s advisable to set pheromone traps as an early warning system to identify when fruit fly is present, then start spraying. Repeat spraying is needed after rain.

The Sting

Practice Good Garden Hygiene

In conjunction with any organic means of controlling fruit fly numbers in your area, one of the most important things you can do both for you and your neighbours is to practice good garden hygiene. In other words, keep your garden clear of any fallen and rotting fruit that will attract even more pests. If any or all of your fruit has been been stung, it has to go. Suck up your tears and throw it away. Dispose of any infested fruit by placing it in a garbage bag, twisting the top to keep it closed and putting it out in the sun to stew and kill any pests. If you just put it in the garbage bin, the larvae will hatch and add to the fruit fly population.  NEVER put infested fruit in the compost.

Companion Planting

Insects navigate via their sense of smell so the more smells you can put in the way of your crops to confuse them, the less chance fruit flies have of attacking them. So plant companion plants and flowers throughout the vegetable garden. Doing so will not only act as a decoy to fruit fly and other pests, it will enhance your garden and attract other insects that prey on pests (the more you have of these in your garden the better). In the end, it’s all about balance.

Keep Plants Healthy

Fruit flies are like a predators – they tend to pick on the weakest plants first. So ensure you keep up water and nutrients to plants that are prone to fruit fly attack to give them the best possible chance against this relentless pest.

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March 17th, 2011 Author: 15 Minute Vegetable Garden

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