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7 Convincing Reasons You Should Be Making Compost For Your Garden

Composting has become red hot, and that’s an eco-friendly wave we should keep riding forever. But making compost out of yard waste and kitchen scraps isn’t just a feel good way to keep plant-based stuff out of your local landfill. Homemade compost is a really, really good soil amendment for your garden. Many would even argue that it’s better than anything you could ever buy in a bag. Any one of the reasons below would be enough to start composting at home, but add them all up, and it’s a home run.

1.Compost reduces the need for fertilizer because the microorganisms in compost convert nitrogen into a form that’s usable for plants.

2.Studies indicate that gardens amended with homemade compost consistently produce healthier plants, and have better soil fertility, than gardens amended with fertilizer alone.

3.Compost releases nutrients slowly, allowing new plants to become established and begin growing at the proper rate.


4.Compost nourishes earthworms and supports beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

5.Compost buffers toxins in the soil and helps maintain ideal pH levels, which maximizes nutrient availability.

6.Compost helps suppress many plant diseases, including fusarium crown and root rot.

7.Compost helps create soil structure with the ideal balance of drainage and water retention properties, which allows nutrients and water to be absorbed by plants more efficiently.





How to Make Brine-Cured Pickles

Dreaming about making sweet, sour, or spicy pickles out of that horde of cucumbers out in your  garden? Curing cucumbers or other vegetables in brine is the first step towards the satisfying snap of a homemade pickle, and the process is surprisingly simple and inexpensive.

Begin with whole cucumbers up to 7” long, and prepare them by first wiping away any dirt, then trimming and removing any stems and blossom ends.

Next, weigh the cucumbers and pack them into a clean container like a fermentation crock. Cover them completely with a cold brine solution made with one pound of pickling salt per gallon of water. Use one gallon of brine solution for every two pounds of cucumbers. 

Keep the vegetables submerged within the container with a weighted plate or lid.

The next day, add a half pound of salt for every five pounds of vegetables, placing the salt in a pile on top of the submerged plate or lid, so it won’t sink to the bottom of the container. This step is essential because as the salt begins to draw liquid from the cucumbers, the brine solution becomes diluted below 10%. At the end of the first week, and again for the next five succeeding weeks, add 1/8 pound of pickling salt for every five pounds of cucumbers. 


Remove any scum that forms on the surface of the solution, and add more 10% brine solution as needed to ensure that all of the cucumbers remain entirely submerged. 

The fermentation process will continue for up to eight weeks, ultimately depending on the storage temperature. Storing the container at a temperature of 68-72 degrees will help minimize spoilage. 

As long as the brining solution is kept at 10%, more cucumbers may be added to this recipe during the first week or two of the fermentation process. You can easily check this by placing a fresh egg in the solution; an egg in its shell will float on the surface of a 10% brine solution.

The curing process is complete when your cucumbers have an evenly translucent, olive green color. Soak the cured pickles in fresh water for 24 hours to remove the salt, changing out the water several times. A solution of equal parts water and vinegar can also be used to desalt the pickles. 

Will they become mouth-puckeringly sour, or delightfully sweet? The choice is now yours, so bon appetit! 


Not a Moment Too Soon ; The Weber Family's Garden Coop

The Weber family’s new home nestles into a quiet corner of the Myers park neighborhood like a chocolate egg in an Easter basket. Neighbors catch up on the sidewalk while kids ride past on two wheels. The strip of woods just beyond their backyard screens what would be a clear view of spandex clad joggers circling the lake and hopeful anglers casting their lines at Freedom Park. And if they could only see past the wall of elm and ash trees, they would glimpse the Weber family’s new Garden Coop.

Dan Weber is a long way from the farm he grew up on in Southern Illinois, but he and Jen still feel strongly about teaching their kids the value of growing their own produce, appreciating the seasons, and loving the outdoors. They had already been growing fresh produce from a large organic garden in the backyard, so why not have free-range eggs too? And once the idea of having backyard chickens came up, it wasn’t long before a large cardboard box with a heat lamp and lots of peeping appeared in the family’s basement.

Weber Family's Garden Coop from Microfarm Organic Gardens on Vimeo.


Soon the peeping got louder, and the box started to smell. Really smell. Elmo, Bama, JJ, Ruth, Hermione, and CJ Marshmallow needed a permanent home. Something attractive, sturdy, and outside

The Garden Coop was the answer. 

The clean, attractive design fit right into the neighborhood, and the coop has plenty of room for the growing flock to stretch out their wings. In fact, the Garden Coop is large enough for up to eight hens, which means extra space for a smaller flock. The more square feet of coop space you allow per bird, the less likely you’ll have to deal with bullying and other aggressive ‘peck order’ type behavior.

And because the coop essentially sits on the edge of a forest teeming with natural predators like raccoons, possums, hawks, owls, and coyotes, it has to prove itself nightly as pairs of eyes appear in the shadows. But that’s no problem.  The Garden Coop is one of the sturdiest designs out there. The burly cedar frame is joined with 3” exterior screws, and wrapped with 1/2” galvanized hardware cloth - buried up to a foot deep, around the entire perimeter of the coop to thwart even the most determined predators. 

One of the best things about the Garden Coop is covered run built right into the design. The durable, tinted polycarbonate roof panels help keep the hens dry and cozy in wet, winter weather, and cool and comfortable on hot summer days.

The human sized entry door and large hinged clean-out door on the roost box make it easy to refill food and water, and clean the coop. A double nesting box helps prevent squabbles, and little touches like the ladder with natural branch rungs and 4” diameter rustic roost branch make the coop more comfortable.

So how is the Weber family’s backyard flock settling into their new home? “They really seem to enjoy their coop and feel safe in it”, says Jen. “They put themselves to bed every night after getting a few hours to roam around the yard. The hens all have unique personalities and it’s been fun watching them develop over the past couple months. Ruth is definitely the “mother”, Bama is the most assertive and JJ is the friendliest and likes to be held.”




Healthy Fundraising with Seeds for Schools

Raise money for your school, and encourage healthy living in your community? How could anyone say no to that?! Especially when Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Seeds for Schools program makes it so easy to do both. Every time you sell one of their fun, easy to grow organic seed collections, your school keeps 50% of the price.

Just imagine the educational impact of earning money for school while integrating relevant class topics like agriculture, business, and sustainability. Plus, every buyer receives a beginner-friendly gardening guide - so even brand new growers can taste success in the garden. And Southern Exposure has also partnered with online fundraising platform, FarmRaiser, which has simple tools for accurate orders, excellent customer service, and offers several options for sales and receiving payments. Think your school would enjoy raising money by selling seeds? click here to learn more!


How To Detect and Correct Soil Nutrient Deficiencies

If only your plants could tell you what they needed. A droopy jalapeño pepper plant might shout, “Hola Amigo, how about a little agua over here? Mucho Gracias!” 

Or An overcrowded row of shelling pea plants might politely request, “ A bit more room, if you please. Ah, that’s much better. Splendid, tip top, right-O! 

An hungry eggplant might break in with, “Hey wise guy, when are you gonna come through with that blood meal you owe me? I’m starving over here!”

Plants can’t speak, but they can still tell us when their soil is nutrient deficient.. Once we understand some basic plant sign language, an off colored leaf or sagging stem might as well be a clear call for help through a loudspeaker, or an interstate billboard.


Nitrogen Deficiency
Feeble growth and yellowing of leaves - especially in older growth. 

Nitrogen is the soil nutrient in highest demand and, and levels must be maintained continuously for healthy plant growth. As the major component of chlorophyll, Nitrogen what gives plants their green color. Add blood or fish meal, along with compost to the soil, to increase nitrogen levels.



Phosphorous Deficiency
Stunted growth, purple tinted plant tissue. Frail, brittle leaves and stems.

Phosphorous is the second most important soil nutrient. It is released by organic matter and mineral particles when the soil is warm, moist, and well aerated. Add bone meal or soft rock phosphate to the soil to increase phosphorous levels.



Potassium Deficiency 
Yellow veins between leaves, brown scorching and curling of leaf tips and edges, purple spots on undersides of leaves.

The third most important soil nutrient, potassium usually occurs naturally. Potassium, or Potash, is essential for plant cell functioning. Add wood ashes or green sand to the soil to increase potassium levels.



Calcium Deficiency
Stunted or dying plants, hooked appearance of new growth. Blossom end rot in fruiting vegetables, tip burn in brassica family plants, interior browning in celery and rosette types.

Calcium helps plant rootlets absorb soil nutrients, and also raises soil pH. Even when adequate levels are present in the soil, Calcium uptake is often poor in heavy, soggy soil. Always take steps to ensure good soil drainage, and add Dolomitic lime and gypsum to increase calcium levels in your soil.



Magnesium Deficiency
Leaves display green veins with yellowing in between. Yellowing begins in younger leaves, followed by older growth.

With a good cation exchange ratio, even low magnesium levels are sufficient to grow healthy plants. Add dolomitic limestone or epsom salts to increase magnesium levels. 



Sulfur Deficiency
Yellowing of younger leaves, while older leaves stay green

The leaching action of rain sometimes depletes sulfur levels in deep, sandy soils. Add elemental sulfur or gypsum to the soil to increase sulfur - but use caution as it also lowers soil pH.