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Thursday
Jul282016

Benefits of Drip Irrigation : A Tale of Two Gardeners

Your morning routine has always been rushed. But during the hot summer months - when your organic garden requires more frequent watering -  the race with the minute hand really gets underway. Between your second cup of coffee and running that blouse from the dryer to the ironing board, you wade through a gauntlet of holly bushes to the nearest spigot, and eventually wrangle water from a perpetually kinked up hose.

And it’s been extra hot this summer, so your garden is thirstier than a Las Vegas golf course. Minutes fly by like your twenties as it it guzzles water. By the time the soil is fully saturated, the sun is soaring high above the tree tops, and text and email alerts from work vibrate your phone right off the back porch. 

 

Meanwhile, your neighbor never seems to water her garden. And not that you really noticed or anything, but her garden doesn’t just look healthy, it looks like a professionally lighted product photo from a fancy organic gardening catalog. And there she is, sipping coffee on the patio, while writing poetry in her journal.

Perhaps she might dedicate a verse or two to the low pressure drip irrigation system that makes her mornings so pleasant. True, the humble plastic tubing may never ask how your day was, but it can give you more time, which is really better anyway, and improve the success of your organic garden.

 

Besides the obvious time saving convenience of having an automated watering system, drip irrigation has several big advantages over supplemental watering by hand or with sprinklers 

Drip irrigation tubing buried in the top six inches of soil makes water immediately available right in a plant’s root zone. As water is passes slowly through each drip emitter into the surrounding soil, it moves through the soil in all directions ; downward by the force of gravity, upward and outward by capillary action. This slow delivery of water below the soil surface allows the plant to absorb more available moisture through its roots.

 

Even when special care is taken to avoid surface evaporation by watering in the morning, a substantial amount of water directed from overhead will still be lost to evaporation. Wind, surface runoff, pressure, and other factors can result in even more wasted water from larger overhead sprinkler systems.

 

Another advantage drip irrigation has over hand watering and overhead sprinklers is that it keeps plant foliage dry. This helps prevent fungal diseases like powdery mildew, that thrive in conditions with wet foliage and poor air circulation.  

 

But surely drip irrigation must have its weak spots, right? What if you forget the drip line is there, and accidentally puncture it with a trowel? Or what if the drip emitters get clogged by soil particles or roots grow into them?

 

Sure, your irrigation system won’t bring in the groceries, or turn the compost pile for you, but the high tech drip emitters are designed not to clog, even when buried several inches below the soil surface. If a line is severed, which can happen, the leak is easy to spot by the puddle that forms above the cut, and the repair is as simple as connecting the severed line with a barbed plastic coupling.

 

Best of all, a simple low pressure drip irrigation system for your organic garden can be connected to a nearby hose bib, and controlled by a battery powered timer. There’s no need to hire a contractor to install an expensive irrigation system with multiple zones and a complicated control panel.

Just make sure you have plenty of room in your journal, because you’ll want to write a lengthy ode, or perhaps even a love ballad to your new flame - drip irrigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jul282016

Cool Down Your Greenhouse This Summer

 

On a sunny winter day, your greenhouse can feel like a magical refuge inside, where the signs of life provide a welcome diversion from the cold weather ouside.  

On a bright, summer day, your greenhouse can feel like an overcrowded sauna on the planet Mercury.

 

By design, your greenhouse allows sunlight to pass through and then retains that energy inside in the form of heat. This is what it is supposed to do, of course. But your greenhouse doesn’t have to be demoted to a tool shed just because it’s summertime. With thoughtful planning, and a few simple steps, you can cool your greenhouse’s environment so that it’s productive all year long. 

 

Shading Your Greenhouse
An excellent way to shade your greenhouse in the summer months is to site it where it will lie in the shade of a deciduous tree for part, or even most of the day - preferably during the afternoon, when daytime temperatures peak. This isn’t always possible of course, and many a hardworking greenhouse only dreams about the luxury of a shade tree while earning its keep out in an open field. If you are able to site your greenhouse near a shade tree, remember that your plants will still require a minimum of four hours of sunlight. 

Polyethylene shade cloth is another effective, low cost way to cool your greenhouse environment, and is sold in densities that block anywhere from 25% to 70% or more of light transmission. Greenhouse growers in warmer climates will almost always benefit from shade cloth designed to block more light. While shade cloth can be secured to either the inside or the outside of the greenhouse glazing, it cools the greenhouse environment more effectively when placed on the outside where it can prevent heat from passing inside the glazing. Some professionals even position the shade cloth just above the glazing, with a small space of a few inches between the cloth and exterior of the greenhouse. This design allows air to flow between, and help vent away heat. Remember to securely fasten exterior mounted  shade cloth so that it stays in place during extreme weather.

 

 

Ventilating Your Greenhouse
While ventilation systems vary, the idea is the same : replace hot air leaving the greenhouse with new air from outside. Because heat rises, exhaust vents are almost always placed at the apex of the greenhouse roof, or high on an end wall, where trapped heat can easily escape and rise into the atmosphere.

Intake vents are best placed near the floor, which allows fresh air from outside to pass over plants, helping to prevent fungal diseases and mildew from damaging the plants. Size recommendations vary, but at a minimum, exhaust vents should be at least 10% of the Greenhouse’s floor area. 20% or even 30% is better.

Remember to screen vents placed near the floor with hardware cloth to keep out wildlife. Exhaust vents can be fitted with automated solar openers that open ad close vents based on the temperature inside the greenhouse. In winter it may be necessary to remove these to avoid venting supplemental heat.

 

 

Evaporative Cooling

Evaporative cooling systems use the heat in the air to evaporate water from leaves and other wetted surfaces, and can cool the greenhouse as much as 10-20° F below the temperature outside the greenhouse. Portable, self contained evaporative cooling units also called swamp units, are common used with smaller greenhouses.

The pad and fan evaporative cooling system has been used by commercial greenhouse growers for decades, and relies on a system that circulates water through a network of cellulose pads. Air drawn through the wetted pads by an intake fan placed at the opposite end wall, becomes saturated, and cools the air inside the greenhouse.

Thursday
Jul282016

5 Edible Plants That Love Hot Weather

It’s summer. Out on the patio, your daughter’s barbie dolls have melted into a curious looking puddle of hair and plastic. The neighborhood yard of the month is golden brown. Out in the garden, your leafy greens look like props from Jurassic Park, and your scarecrow spontaneously combusted. 

Luckily some of the most fun edible varieties to grow are also the most heat tolerant. In fact, they don’t just tolerate heat, they crave summer rays like a Sao Paolo volleyball team, and say bring it on to those summer scorchers that get local news stations all worked up. 

Peppers

Colorful stir Fries. Spicy curries. It’s easy to imagine that peppers were discovered on a steamy Chinese hillside, or on the sultry plains of India, but in fact all pepper species originated in South and Central America. Packed with vitamins , especially vitamins C and A,  peppers are also low in calories and have considerable levels of beneficial antioxidants.

Chile peppers have long been used for a variety of medicinal and and therapeutic remedies. When cultivating peppers, remember that not only do they crave heat, but they’re very sensitive to cold, and should be planted at least two weeks past the last frost date - when soil temperatures have warmed up to 65 degrees. 

 

Summer Squash & Zucchini
Summer without squash and zucchini? That’s like a day at the beach without sunglasses and a paperback. Moschata varieties cruise through hot summers like the ice cream man, plus they’re more resistant to pests and disease than other varieties.

Regular watering in the morning will help your squash plants better tolerate hot weather and avoid powdery mildew, and if space in your garden is tight, try climbing varieties that can be trained along a fence or trellis. 

 

Okra
When most of the garden has tapped out and withered away, okra stands tall like a Baton Rouge Debutante, waving proudly in the homecoming parade. Right at home in the hot steamy summers, okra was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians as early as 1200 B.C. The heat loving cousin of cotton and hibiscus  soon spread throughout other hot locales including north Africa, India, and the Middle East, and most likely arrived in the Caribbean and southern US from West Africa in the 1700’s.

Grown primarily for its edible seed pods, okra soon became a staple ingredient in Southern, Cajun and Creole recipes.  When cultivation okra allow at least 2’ between plants and harvest seed pods while they’re young and tender.

 

Eggplant
This lovely, tropical native of India has only recently earned a toehold in the kitchens of the US, and is still frequently passed over for sweeter summer varieties like tomatoes and peppers. The tasty cultivar has built a following among Southern gardeners, though, and Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing the exotic, if somewhat bitter eggplant to North America.

Still, a reputation for bitterness isn’t the end of the world. In fact, eggplant’s image has come a long way from the days when folks in some corners of Europe accused the humble nightshade of causing maladies like madness, leprosy, cancer, and even… bad breath

 

There’s no advantage to setting seedlings out early, as fruit will not even set if temperatures fall below 70 degrees. Wait until three weeks after your last frost date, and space plants about 2’ apart.

 


Melons & Watermelons
Like other heat craving plants of tropical origin, melons require warm, long summers to thrive, and yield fruit. Muskmelon varieties, which are commonly misrepresented in the US as ‘Cantaloupe’ and ‘Honeydew’, originated in the lowland valleys of Southwestern Asia, while watermelon and other melon types were first grown in the Nile Delta.

By the 15th Century, Europeans had discovered the delight of a plate piled with watermelon slices on a hot summer day. Most cultivars are trailing types, so choose a site with full sun and room for your melon plants to ramble. An open, raised area with good air circulation will help minimize fungal diseases like powdery mildew.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Feb232016

Herbal Remedies from the Dark Ages

A snip of dill to go with the salmon.  A sprig of rosemary to jazz up the pork. Fresh mint for mojitos. Today, herbs might seem like a luxurious enhancement to a life already filled with modern accoutrements.

But in medieval times, herbs were more than just seasoning. They were powerful medicines that could stave off an embarrassing burst of flatulence, heal broken bones, or even save mom  from burning at the stake.

 

 

Aloe
Today, aloe might be your answer to scorched shoulders after a day at the beach, but once upon a time, aloe was prescribed for hemorrhoids, ulcers, and even hair loss. Does it really work? Perhaps, but bring your soothing medicated pads on that flight to Australia, just in case.

 

 

Angelica(Wild Celery)
Life in the middle ages was hard enough for a stay at home mom, and the last thing you needed was rumors about witchcraft flying around town. Medieval women wore Angelica leaf necklaces to protect against illness, and because  Angelica was the only herb witches never used, growing and using it at home  made an airtight alibi against accusations of witchcraft.

 

 

Cinnamon
Having a cold or the flu in the middle ages is tough. But ‘inner decay and slime’? That’s serious, and according to Hildegard of Bingen, one should make haste in reaching for the cinnamon.

 

 

 

Lemon Balm
Marauding barbarians. The plague. Fire breathing dragons. There was plenty to be anxious about in medieval times, and not a single bottle of valium to be found in all the land. Instead, frazzled nerves were soothed with lemon balm and bee balm in the form of Eau de Melisse.

 

 

 

Comfrey
It took a few swings with your iron spiked mace, but you finally brought down that enormous Saxon with the flashy new suit of armor. But before he fell, he managed to deliver a hard blow to your shield arm, and now your ulna and radius are all mixed up. Time for break from the battlefield and a compress made with comfrey paste.

 

 

 

Dill
Without Snapchat and Tinder, dating in the middle ages moved slower. And once you finally did land a chaperoned walk through the countryside with a cute milk maid, the last thing you needed was an untimely bout of intestinal gas to scuttle the budding romance. Back then, dill was the go-to herb to soothe indigestion and was even reported to cure hiccups.

 

 

 

Fennel
There are plenty of products in the toiletries aisle to help you smell good, but how many can also treat colds and aid digestion? According to Hildegard of Bingen, Fennel was like Old Spice, Nyquil, and Pepto Bismol all rolled into one versatile, easy to grow herb.

 

 

 

Fenugreek
For that persistent medieval cough or fever that just won’t go away, it’s time for fenugreek. And crushed snails. According to Gilbertus Anglicus,  a plaster using fenugreek  along with a gargle made of other interesting  ingredients could cure a variety of ills:

 “Good for every postem both within a man's body and without: Take the root of hollyhock and lily roots and seep them in water. Then crush them with fresh grease and butter and add meal of flax seed (linseed) and fenugreek and snails and crush them together. And give him a gargle of vinegar that barley has lain in and water that pomegranate or sumac or roses or oak galls or lentils have soaked in.”

 

 

Garlic
While the Greek and Roman physicians hailed this remarkable allium as a cure for everything from cancer to leprosy, by the middle ages, it had become as passé  as a Roman toga party with the upper classes. Medieval peasants still had no problem with it, though, and continued to use garlic as a preventative and cure-all remedy for a variety of ailments.

 

 

 

Hyssop
Sure, it was easy to be depressed  back then - it was the ‘dark ages’ after all. But there was no time to lie on the couch with a bag of potato chips and watch ‘Golden Girls’. Chicken stewed with hyssop and wine was the medieval answer to the blues, and hyssop was also used in teas to treat respiratory ailments.

 

 

Mint
‘Stinking of the mouth’ wasn’t something to be taken lightly – even in the dark ages. In his Compendium of Medicine , Gilbertus Anglicus suggests the following treatment for bad breath :

 "If there be no rotten flesh, let the mouth be washed with wine that birch or mint has been soaked in. And let the gums be well rubbed with a rough linen cloth until they bleed. And let him eat marjoram, mint and parsley til they be well chewed. And let him rub well his teeth with the herbs he chewed and also his gums.

 

 

 

Oregano
In the middle ages, oregano stayed busy treating coughs, colds, arthritis, and chest congestion, yet  it still made time to liven up the occasional pepperoni and mushroom pizza.

 

 

 

Pennyroyal
For the young medieval miss seeking the attention of a brave knight, having fleas might as well be a nasty case of leprosy.  He would sooner fall on his sword than bring an itchy, flea-ridden maiden home to mom and dad. Savvy gals in the dark ages rubbed Pennyroyal rubbed on their skin to repel fleas, and it was also mixed with honey and taken to help clear up lung congestion.

 

 

Rosemary
Everyone knows rosemary brings magic to the kitchen, but the cure for the common comb over? Legend has it that rosemary soaked wine cured Queen Elizabeth of Hungary of paralysis in 1235. Tinctures made with rosemary then became known as ‘Queen of Hungary's Water’ and were used to treat skin rashes, dandruff, and baldness.

 

 

St. John’s Wort
In the middle ages, evil sprits always seem to show up at the worst times. Not only did burning St. John’s Wort drive away those pesky ghosts, but it also ensured successful crop harvests.

 

 

Vervain
Pimple riddled medieval teenagers didn’t have it any better than today’s pizza faced dweebs and dorks navigating  the cruel hallways of high school USA. Luckily they had vervain - an herb prescribed for many ailments from acne to toothaches and fever.

 

 

 
 

  

 


 

 

 

 

 

Friday
Feb192016

Erica Hanks : A Gardener with Style

At first glance Erica Hanks’s southeast Charlotte home seems as quiet as a Chic-Fil-A on Sunday morning. A sweeping front lawn sets the family’s handsome two story home well behind the tree lined street.  A small brook ambles across the property like a hedgehog on a country road, while a gentle breeze carries the chatter of cardinals and blue jays. Off in the distance a tennis ball is served. Inside, it feels more like Monday morning on the trading floor.

As a mother and professional wardrobe stylist with celebrity clients peppered across the country, a typical day might include preparing pancakes with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit for the kids while packing for a mid morning flight to a photo shoot in New York.

Erica’s work has made big waves - from advertising corporations to professional athletes – And she stays busy.  Her clients have been featured in the Huffington Post, Vogue TV, Marie Claire, ESPN, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Forbes Magazine, Southern Living Magazine, and the UK's Daily Mail.

With a schedule this hectic, most people would send a well-heeled personal assistant out for groceries, or get really cozy with local restaurants.

But Erica wanted her family to share the experience of growing their own organic produce at home. 

Her requirements were simple, but firm :  A smart looking raised bed design, tall enough to keep hungry rabbits out, and made with wood that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals. Her organic garden needed to have enough area to grow a fun assortment of the family’s favorites : kale, spinach, lettuces and chard, and, naturally, she wanted a smart looking border filled with glacier pebbles that would tie the design together nicely for a clean, elegant look.

Sturdy raised bed design? Untreated, cedar? Organically grown spinach? Now you’ve got our attention.

The centerpiece of Erica’s organic garden is an L-shaped Kitchen Garden design increased to a height of 25”. The 4’x4’x25” square bed nestles nicely with the L, allowing 2’ of space between the beds. The Microfarm Kitchen Garden design is made with locally milled red cedar, and filled with a blend of pine fines, mushroom compost, and Stalite PermaTill.

This soilless grow medium maintains the perfect balance of drainage and aeration, allowing plant roots to thrive and absorb water and nutrients more efficiently. Our organic nutrient blend of blood meal, bone meal, kelp meal, rock phosphate, and dolomite lime provides plants the ideal range of slow, medium and fast release sources of macro and micronutrients to deliver harvests that wow.

And because Erica’s schedule isn’t going to slow down just because she has a new organic garden, our maintenance team will be making weekly visits to ensure that the family’s fresh organic produce is always just a few steps away from the kitchen.