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Creating Eden… or something close

Nature is so powerful. The smallest drips of water can create canyons, a flea can catapult themselves up to 100 times their body length and dandelions can root themselves well, anywhere!

But when it comes to solving human problems with nature, we often think nature can’t help us. We spend trillions of dollars researching, developing, and using human-made options. And some of these are life-saving fabulous technologies.

But what if we open ourselves to the idea that nature could help us solve the challenges we face? How much less pollution would there be? How much less work would we have to spend on doing something nature can already do for us and put all that energy into other aspects of life? That’s exactly what one doctor did… and it saved an entire town.

The year was 1907 and malaria was claiming countless lives. Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Charles Campbell, who recently helped end a typhus outbreak in San Antonio by encouraging the town to line their water supply with cement, was now dedicating himself to solving the malaria epidemic. It was just ten years prior that the transmitters of the parasite causing malaria (the female mosquito of the Anopheles genus) had been discovered. While Quinine was recognized as being able to suppress the disease, it wasn’t curing malaria and it certainly wasn’t preventing it.

Inspiration struck and Dr. Campbell set out to partner with one of the most feared creatures on the planet associated with numerous superstitions that still influence us today—bats.

While his first attempts failed, Dr. Campbell eventually succeeded in colonizing bats in a small community just south of San Antonio where 89% of the small farming community w

as infected with malaria. Here at Lake Mitchell, the mosquito populations were so high that livestock would break down fences just to try to escape the swarms.

The structure built to provide the bat colony with a safe place to roost was finished in 1911 and within two nights of the roost being finished, 250,000 bats had gathered. All the insect netting, insecticides, and draining of marshes people tried to help control the mosquito populations couldn’t do near what this one colony did. The bat colony consumed roughly 750 million mosquitoes per night and by 1913, there wasn’t a single new case of malaria in the area.

That’s the power of partnering with nature. All we have to do is think outside the box, look past our fears and superstitions, believe that it’s possible, and experiment (and maybe fail a few times) to find the path where nature and humanity can walk together to create a healthy environment and a brighter future.

And it’s not just about what we get out of the partnership. While the benefits we receive are great, it’s also about the balance in nature that is allowed to exist when we resolve ourselves to become stewards of nature. In the case of the mosquitos in San Antonio, the mosquito population was completely out of control. And that infestation would have continued to be out of control had Dr. Charles Campbell not thought to walk with one of nature’s most feared and misunderstood creatures or had he given up after his failed attempts.

It’s also about what we learn about nature. Echolocation of bats wasn’t discovered until 1938, but Campbell had commented years prior about the mosquito flight tones impacting a bat’s ability to find their prey with such detail that he had even discovered which notes were in the range of attracting a bat’s attention.

But perhaps more than anything else, it’s about realizing what more might be possible? What kind of garden (metaphorical and literal) can we create if we entertain unconventional ideas and practice questioning all of our assumptions? Maybe not something quite as idyllic as the Garden of Eden, but maybe, just maybe, it could be something close. One thing is certain: there’s a deep partnership with nature waiting to be cultivated and a world of solutions yet to be discovered. Your garden is a whole frontier waiting to be discovered, recognized, and appreciated.

And, while already slightly less practical than our usual blogs, in keeping with the sentimentality, here’s a little shout out to Dr. Charles Campbell, whose life and work are an inspiration to how we can work with nature to create a happier, healthier, and a balanced planet.

Do you partner with nature in your garden? Share a time when you learned the power of partnering with mother nature in the comment section below!

Why You WANT Pests in Your Garden

That’s right, you heard correctly. You want to have some pests in the garden. It seems counterproductive to knowingly harbor these food criminal masterminds 😂. But there’s a good reason you might want to knowingly be an accomplice.

“…if you have no pests, then the beneficials won’t have any food. If there’s no food available, your garden protectors aren’t going to stick around and your garden will be left exposed to infestations.” 

When we think of the living creatures in our garden, we like to simplify them into two categories: pests and beneficials. This oversimplification can actually hurt our gardens and prevent us from reaching our goals. With a black and white mentality, there’s often only one goal: eradicate the pests.

But if you have no pests, then the beneficials won’t have any food. If there’s no food available, your garden protectors aren’t going to stick around and your garden will be left exposed to infestations. So a small pest population can help keep your beneficials around, minimizing crop loss.

Plus, trying to eliminate pests is exhausting! If you’ve ever seen a grower weaving in and out of the garden waving a dust buster in the air, then you know exactly what I mean (not that I’ve ever done that… 🤫😂).

So instead of trying to eliminate the pests all on your own and ending up exhausted and feeling like you have no choice but to result to sprays and dusts (yes, even organic ones are harmful), it can help to switch your mindset. Instead of asking how to get rid of the pest, ask yourself what beneficial species would love to be invited to a feast! Then your garden doesn’t just feed you, it feeds the garden protectors too.

By approaching your garden journey from a space of sharing, you’ll be honing in on what it means to be a steward of the land and your chances of getting the abundance you want from your garden increases. Meanwhile, the effort you have to put in to get all that fresh food decreases. That’s a win for everyone! The pest population is allowed to eat a little, the beneficials have plenty of food, and you can cross dust busting the garden off your list! You’ll be utilizing the laws of nature to benefit everyone.

Now, this doesn’t mean never taking action if you get an infestation. On the contrary, if you notice a crop competitor coming for your food, you’ll absolutely want to act. But if the action is just you having to directly deal with the pest, you’re putting more work on yourself than you need now, and in the long run. Because you can dust bust those pests all day long, but eventually, they’ll be back. When they come, you’ll want to have a strong ecosystem in place so that you don’t have to do all the work by yourself. So you’ll want to take actions to create a strong ecosystem.

It takes diversity in a garden to create a strong ecosystem and abundance in the garden. Diversity helps establish a balanced ecosystem. Less diversity encourages imbalance and fragility of the whole system. Mono-crop farms are a perfect example of this. In mono-crop farming, only one crop is planted. This then draws the pests that attack that specific plant. With no plant diversity or crop rotation, there’s nothing to deter that pest population. So you’ll want more than just one or two species of beneficials to help ensure you’re always ready if a pest decides they’re going to try to overpopulate and take over.

Which beneficials you’ll want will depend on what’s happening in your garden. That’s a topic for another blog. The important thing to remember is that the first step in getting more fresh food with less effort is to switch your thinking from pests being something bad you have to eliminate, to them being an offering for your beneficial guests.

Have you ever used beneficials successfully?
Have you tried to use beneficials but failed?
Are you new to the gardening world and want to create a healthy, thriving ecosystem?

Share your beneficial stories, comments and questions in the comment section below!

Keys to Partner with Mother Nature

The single most profound statement my garden mentor, Stacey Murphy, ever said to me is so simple that it’s easy to dismiss as obvious. But the impact this simple tip can have on your garden journey is massive.

She said, “Let nature do the work for you.”

At first glance this seems like a no-brainer. But once you begin to apply the information to your garden decisions, you start to realize how to live more and more in line with nature. Because the reality is, nature will do the work for you… if you let her.

The keyword is let. It’s very easy to think you’re letting nature do the work for you, because you believe in the concept. But often, growers are actually acting in a way that is trying to get nature to do the work. The difference between operating from the force of ‘getting’ and the support of ‘letting’ can be subtle, but through conscious practice, you can begin to see your place in the garden in a whole new light.

Key #1: The first key to letting nature do the work for you is to keep going.

For example, maybe you’re planting a perennial herb in the same place in your garden and every year it just keeps dying. You realize that while you want that herb there, it doesn’t like being there. Far too often people end the conversation here and simply give up. But if you keep the conversation with nature going and ask why, then you’re opening the door to deepening your partnership with nature, learning how to work with her. Because quite often, the solution is something simple: maybe the drainage wasn’t good enough in that area, maybe it needed just a bit more light or maybe it needed just a little less water. The important thing is not to give up! The more you cultivate your partnership with nature, the more fresh harvests you can get and the less effort you’ll need to put forth!

Key #2:  The second key to letting nature do the work for you is to listen, get still, and observe.

Let’s say you want to grow organically but you keep losing your food to pest and disease infestations. You spend money and bring in the beneficials to take care of the crop competitors, but it doesn’t work and the following year they’re nowhere to be seen!

This happens to growers a lot and, being disappointed, they often give up on the idea that beneficial insects can help them in their garden. More often than not, beneficials fail to do the job because of some small aspect that we overlook. Maybe the temperatures weren’t right when we released them. Maybe we don’t have enough perennials for them to overwinter. Or maybe the beneficial species did do the job, but the crop competitor population was just too high for the one beneficial species to do it all on its own. Whatever it is, you won’t know unless you observe and employ your curiosity to find out.

This can be one of the hardest keys to practice. Because while observing is easy, finding time to observe can be a huge challenge for growers. Luckily, you don’t have to sit for hours in your garden (though that is quite enjoyable! 🙂) or set up a 24 hour camera. The easiest way to observe is to do it while you’re performing your other garden tasks. This means you have to be present with your garden.

If you’re thinking about your kids’ homework, a huge project due date at work, or the thousand other things you have going on in life while you’re pruning your tomatoes, watering, and performing all your other garden tasks, then you aren’t being present with your garden. Not only does that make for a less enjoyable experience, you won’t be able to observe and might miss something that later could have helped you save your harvest.

Key # 3: Practice being present in the garden.

This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. It can be as simple as setting your clock for two or three minutes before going into your garden to clear your mind, set your intentions, and to remind yourself that all the mental clutter will still be there after your garden time. It just might save your harvest.

If you practice the 3 Keys to letting nature do the work for you—#1: keep going, #2: listen, get still, and observe, and #3: practice being present in the garden, you’ll be well on your way to forming a long-lasting partnership with nature and discovering how to support nature so that she can do the work for you!

What have you learned form listening to Mother nature? Share below!

Grow Your Own Immune Boosting Garlic For Improved Health & Vitality

Summary:

Store bought garlic is bred for shelf life, not flavor or nutrient density. Luckily, growing nutrient dense garlic varieties takes very little time and effort. You can grow enough garlic for a whole year in just a 4’x 6’ (1.2 x 1.8 m) garden bed. Discover how to grow your own garlic, bursting with flavor and nutrients for your health and vitality. Plus, get the pro tips on how to maximize your garlic nutrition.

Garlic is an ancient remedy

Garlic is one of the world’s oldest cultivated agricultural crops and has been used for centuries to treat a vast number of diseases and ailments. From malaria and meningitis to tuberculosis and typhoid fever, garlic has been recognized as a powerful healer throughout time in cultures across the globe.

There was a time when people hoped to cure misunderstood ‘evils’ with garlic and other alliums. Today, scientific studies are confirming many of these ancient medicinal remedies. More on the allium family and some of their benefits here.

Of all the alliums, garlic single handedly wards off more ‘evils’ than any other vegetable or herb. It’s no wonder it was revered to have magical properties.

Why Grow Garlic When You Can Buy?

Flavors You Can’t Find at the Store: Grocery store garlic is bred for one thing: shelf life. While this is helpful for food being transported hundreds and thousands of miles, the cost of breeding for shelf life is a loss in flavor. In addition, there’s not a lot of variety at the grocery store. They carry one of three typical varieties. However, when you grow your own garlic, you can choose from over one hundred different varieties and flavors.

Health and Disease Prevention You Can’t Buy: Studies show a direct correlation between flavor and the presence of nutrients for many foods. That great garlic flavor is an indicator of more nutrients and therefore more health for you. Allicin is just one of the many active compounds in garlic that supports your health. You can read the amazing benefits of allicin here.

You don’t need to settle for less. Enjoy superior flavor and health when you grow your own garlic. Plus, it’s easier than you might think!

How To Grow Flavorful and Nutrient Dense Garlic

When inviting plants into your life, it’s important to remember that plants want to thrive. They do whatever it takes to grow strong and turn to seed for the next generation of plants. Your role as a caretaker is to provide the best conditions for your plants to flourish. Here are the eight considerations when growing garlic.

1. Growing Garlic: A Great Choice for Busy Growers

Unlike other annual garden veggies and herbs, most garlic grows from fall, through winter and all the way to summer. Growing garlic takes very little maintenance so it’s great for busy people. Once garlic is in the ground, the only thing you may need to do is mulch before temperatures freeze. Then curl up with a cup of hot tea and take the entire winter off. That’s right, nothing left to do but wait until harvest in late spring, early summer!

2. Choosing the Right Garlic for Your Climate 

Hardneck and softneck varieties can be grown in colder climates, but if you live in a warmer climate, you’ll want to choose a softeneck variety.

For more on choosing the right variety, grab your complimentary printable Garlic Growing Guide here.

Sow garlic at the beginning of your cool season. Hardnecks need the first four to six weeks of growing to be between 32-55°F (0-12°C). Softneck and warmer tolerant garlic varieties can be planted in warmer temps, but need to be below 80°F (23°C) for the duration of their growth. 

Garlic sprouts should be at least 6-8” (15-20cm) tall before temperatures drop below freezing. When sprouts are at least 6” tall, mulch the garlic bed with a light material, like organic straw to protect it through the winter. You can also use mulch to keep the soil cooler in warmer climates.

3. Your Garlic Plants Want 6-8 Hours of Sunlight  

Without proper sunlight, your garlic plants cannot photosynthesize properly. Because sunlight hours change through seasons, you’ll want to make sure that wherever you plant your garlic it is getting 6-8 hours of full sun from fall through summer and up until harvest time. 

4. Quality Soil Means Nutrient-Rich Food 

Health starts underground. If growing in a container, choose a high quality, organic potting mix. If growing in soil, ensure it is well draining with plenty of fertility. Keep your fertility levels up by adding a 2” layer minimum of organic compost on the top of your potting mix or soil each growing season.

5. How Many Garlic Plants in How Much Space? 

You don’t need a lot of growing space for garlic. You can grow enough garlic to savor year round in one 4’ x 6’ (1.2 x 1.8 m) garden bed. And that one garden bed can give you much more of that cherished garlic flavor beyond the bulbs. 

Before your garlic head fully matures, grab an early harvest with hardneck varieties. Hardnecks produce edible shoots on the top of the plant called ‘scapes.’ Simply cut the scapes when they are between 6-10” (15-20cm) long and enjoy them raw or cooked. They make a delectable addition to sautees!

PRO TIP: in the early spring, plant lettuce between the rows of garlic. Your garlic and lettuce will be ready to harvest at the same time, so you get two crops out of the same space. Plus your planting bed will be clear to plant summer crops.

6. Watering for Perfect Garlic Harvests

When you first plant your garlic, water 1” (3cm) per week until leaves emerge. Then, reduce watering. No need to water once temperatures go below freezing.

When the ground thaws, water 1” per week in temperatures of 60-70°F (15-21°C) and 2” per week in temperatures of 70-80°F (21-26°C). 

PRO TIP: Watering less often and more thoroughly is best. 

7. Harvesting and The Secret to Getting Superior Garlic Harvests

Harvesting garlic is easy! Your garlic is ready for harvest when lower leaves turn brown and papery. Using a digging fork, gently insert the digging fork into the soil and lift the garlic heads from soil. 

But you don’t have to wait until the garlic is mature to start harvesting. Aside from the scapes of hardneck varieties, you can enjoy delicious fresh spring garlic by harvesting before maturity and cooking immediately.

Important Tip When Growing Garlic: The secret to getting superior garlic harvests is to save the largest, healthiest bulbs for planting next year.

8. Curing and Storing Your Garlic 

Once you’ve harvested your garlic, gently brush off the excess dirt. Never wash harvested garlic or get the bulbs wet as this can cause your garlic to mold. Hang your garlic or lay on a wire rack out of sunlight for 2-4 weeks in temperatures of at least 80ºF (26ºC). In colder climates, curing can be done indoors. 

Once cured, cut the stems off and peel the very outer layer of skin off the bulbs. Store in a ventilated, dark, dry area at 60ºF (15ºC). When garlic is cured properly, it will store for anywhere between 4-12 months, depending on whether you’re growing the hardneck or softneck variety. 

Limited on space? Container growing can help you see opportunities instead of limitations. You can customize your container garden to fit your space, budget, physical abilities, and lifestyle.
Check out our NEW Container Gardening Micro Course

Are you a garlic grower? Share below your garlic tips, recipes and growing experience.

Getting Started Growing Your Own Vegetable and Herb Seedlings

Seedlings are the baby plants you see at the nurseries, ready to be transplanted into your garden. But you might want to grow your own instead. While there are many benefits of starting your own vegetable and herb plants from seeds, there is one BIG reason why you might consider purchasing instead. Here’s the most important considerations for growing seedlings at home. 

Benefits to growing your own:

  1. You know exactly how the seedlings were grown. Ensure your plants are grown organically without any toxic chemicals entering your garden. When purchasing ask whether plants have been treated. 
  2. You ensure your plants immunity is high for a healthy life. Temperatures and conditions are important to baby plants, and stress at a young age can cause transplant shock or a weak plant that doesn’t yield well. Sometimes you bring home a seedling, plant it, and it dies. And you’re not sure if it’s something you did. But it could just be a plant that wasn’t cared for properly.
  3. You have complete control of when you put plants in the ground. When purchasing transplants, you are relying on what’s available at the stores. And what you want is not always there when you need it. Growing your own means you can plan ahead for your most abundant harvest.
  4. You have access to hundreds of varieties of vegetables. There are so many varieties of mustard greens and tomatoes on the planet that nobody could even tell you how many there are. And that’s true of most vegetables. Choose exciting varieties for flavor, yield, what grows well in your climate. 
  5. You save money. Once you get the hang of growing HEALTHY plants and you have all the supplies, you will save money. However, the first few years, planting your own can actually be more expensive than buying transplants. This is the one BIG reason you may want to purchase instead.

Three garden supplies essential to growing your own seedlings

You’ll need 1) growing medium (not soil), 2) containers to put it in, and 3) grow lamps if you’re growing indoors. We’ll focus on containers in this article. But real quick, our favorite growing medium is Fox Farm Ocean Forest, It’s got everything your plants need in one bag, from earthworm castings, bat guano, sea-going fish & crab meal to forest humus and moss. This mix will not disappoint!   Click here to get it on Amazon. And here is a bulk order option

This article is too short to include recipes for making your own mix. A couple key ingredients to include are perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or Canna Coconut Coir and Wiggle Worm – Worm Castings. For small gardens choose the 4.5-pound size. For larger gardens choose the bulk 30-pound option.

This is not a complete list, just some of our favorites to get you started.

Reusable Containers for Starting Vegetable and Herb Seeds


Generally, plastic trays are flimsy and end up in the landfill after just one or two uses. However, one farm is changing all that and helping to redefine our relationship to the Earth. Bootstrap Farmer offers durable trays with a one year warranty against warping and breakage… that’s amazing! Clean trays between use to prevent disease spread.

These are the best, longest lasting trays on the market. And they have different cell sizes available. Get cells for smaller varieties like lettuces here and get larger six cells for your larger transplants like tomatoes and cucumbers here.

Containers You Plant Right in the Ground

Avoiding plastic altogether?, Consider Fertilpots over at Arbico Organics which compost right into your soil. Plant the whole thing in your garden and avoid any transplant shock from handling the plant. Unlike many similar compostable products, they are OMRI listed meaning the ingredients have been tracked as organic. Fertilpots are breathable and help prevent roots from getting root bound, too. However, the downside is that you have to keep buying more.

“Soil Blocking” Eliminates the Need for Containers

Soil blocking is a process where you press your growing medium together into squares that hold together without the need for containers. Once you have the right equipment for this process, you never have to buy containers ever again. However, you do have a higher initial investment to get started.

There are benefits to this method: no cleaning trays, conserving growing medium, and providing optimal root health. The details of how to soil block effectively is the topic of another post. NOTE: You’ll need to mix your own special growing medium (not one that you can buy at a big box store), and a bit of time to get used to the process. 

Soil blockers are for anyone who wants to get away from plastic, has a little extra time and money, wants the healthiest seedlings and plans to garden long term. 

20 Cell Soil Blockers come in a hand held and stand up  versions. The stand up soil blocker is much easier on your wrists, shoulders and back. 4” Soil Blockers are the largest blocker available and are perfect for your larger transplants like tomatoes, gourds, cucumbers, eggplant, etc.

How do you make your garden decisions?

Ultimately, there are many garden choices you will make. Some questions to consider: What do you really have time for? What feels like the best environmental choice for you? And what amount of investment feels good right now? Whatever suits you and your lifestyle is the right choice for you. And that goes for making decisions about seed starting at home, too.  

Check out our NEW Garden Freedom Series Micro Course for more information and instruction on successful seed starting. In this course, you’ll find resources for setting clear goals that reflect your values and make gardening everything you need and want it to be…

 

NOTE:  This article contains affiliate links and Grow Your Own Vegetables, LLC may be compensated when you click and purchase through the links above. By purchasing through these links, you’re supporting our mission to help green the planet and create food stable communities across the globe. We only recommend products we LOVE and that help growers on their quest for a fresh food lifestyle.