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Companion Planting For Cabbage

Fri, 09/10/2021 - 16:02

Companion planting is one of the very best ways to keep cabbage plants healthy and free from insect pests such cabbage loopers, cabbage root maggots, slugs, flea beetles, diamondback moths, and aphids. Cabbage is easy to grow in the homestead garden if you select varieties suitable to your United States Plant Hardiness Zone, enhance the soil, and control insects and disease.

In this post, I’ll tell you which companion plants grow best with cabbage. I’ll also tell you about some of my favorite varieties of cabbage, cabbage-growing tips, and share my favorite cabbage recipe.

Kat Sommers/FlickrManage Cabbage Plant Pests With Companion PlantingThese plants are good neighbors for cabbage:
  • Aromatic herbs: Chamomile, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, dill, peppermint, spearmint, sage, oregano
  • Garden edging: Yarrow, marigolds
  • Root vegetables: Onions, beets, celery

Sage and rosemary are also especially effective for deterring cabbage moths. Chamomile enhances cabbage’s flavor with sulfur, potassium, and calcium. Not only do these culinary herbs repel insect invaders, but they add a lovely scent to the garden. Planting pungent culinary herbs between cabbage rows helps control weeds, repels insects, and enhances cabbage flavor.

Plant a few clumps of Yarrow (Achiliea Milliefolium) around the perimeter of the garden. Yarrow is a super companion plant. It improves poor soil and the vitality of neighboring plants. Yarrow also repels unwanted insects and is a beneficial addition to the compost pile.

Marigolds (Calendula) planted around the base of cabbage plants is an effective companion planting trick. Marigolds are an attractive garden edging, and they’re most effective in repelling pests, such as aphids and cabbage moths, that love to feed on tender, young cabbage. Onions, beets, and celery are also helpful companion plants for cabbage. They enhance the flavor of cabbage plants and repelling insects that can spoil the crop.

These Plants Are Bad Neighbors For Cabbage:
  • Mustard plants
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Pole beans
Types Of CabbagePopular Types of Cabbage

The cabbage family is divided into two groups: hard-heading and loose heading. Most varieties of cabbage exhibit a firm round head, while others have a flattened or pointed head. There are many different types of cabbage in various shades of white, green, purple, and red, all of which are flavorful and fine sources of vitamins and fiber.

Savoy Cabbage

The majority of cabbage varieties have smooth, firm leaves. However, the Savoy types like Savoy Queen and Savoy King have leaves with a crinkly texture and contain higher amounts of iron. Napa cabbage is pale green and grows an elongated head and delicately crinkled leaves.

Asian Cabbage

Asian cabbage varieties include Bok Choy, China Express, Joi Choi, China Flash, Monument, and Mei Qing Choy.

Ornamental Cabbage

Colorful ornamental cabbage, which you can also use as an edging plant in flowerbeds, is also edible.

Ruby Cabbage

Ruby Ball, Ruby Perfection, Red Acre, Regal Red, and Red Meteor are red or purple cabbage choices. Red or purple cabbage is a colorful addition to slaws and salads and is excellent pickled.

Candice Stone/FlickrPick The Right Cabbage For Every Season

Before you plant your cabbage, consider when you want it to harvest it. Some varieties need to be planted during certain times of the year. When started from seed, cabbage will be ready for harvest in 90-100 days. If you start your plants from transplants you have grown indoors or purchased from a gardening supply store, cabbage is will be ready for harvest 70-90 days after you put it in the ground.

Both early-maturing and late-maturing types of cabbage are available. Cabbage can be planted throughout the spring and summer growing seasons. Avoid planting late-maturing varieties towards the end of summer.

Early varieties grow fast to early maturity and small size of 1-3 pounds per head. Market Prize, Rio Verde, and Marion Market are easy to grow early varieties for the homestead garden. Other popular early varieties include Primax, Parel, Dynarno, Tendersweet, Fargo, and Capricorn.

Mid-season varieties mature later and should be well established before the hot days of midsummer. King Cole consistently produces uniform, firm heads. Early Jersey Wakefield matures early and resists splitting.

Late season varieties produce large heads that weigh 4-8 pounds each. Late fall and winter varieties include Ballhead, Blue Thunder, Danish, and Charmant. Cheers is another variety that does well in most United States Plant Hardiness Zones and is resistant to black rot. These plants will develop a main head in the cooler weather of fall.

Cabbage Cultivation TipsCabbage plants are heavy feeders.

They benefit from an abundance of decomposed organic material, so the best environment for cabbage includes nutrient-rich soil. Fertilize your cabbage regularly with garden compost or well-aged herbivore manure.

Cabbage requires an abundance of moisture

Cabbage plants require an inch of water per week to develop firm, solid heads. However, don’t drown your cabbage. Make sure their beds drain well.

The ideal pH level for cultivating cabbage is 6.5 or less.

Before you plant, rake the garden bed to break up dirt clods and remove roots and debris. Level the soil and firm it down before planting.

Planting Depth And Spacing

Cabbage may be transplanted or seeded directly into the garden after all danger of frost is past. Cabbage started from seed germinates in 7-10 days. Keep soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Be sure to plant early enough in the season that cabbage heads mature before the intense heat of mid-summer, unless you’re planting a late-season varietal.

Plant cabbage seeds approximately 1/2″ deep. When planted shallow, plants tend to be leggy and do not develop properly. Cabbage requires room to grow. As seedlings grow, thin them to create plenty of space around each cabbage plant. When transplanting, space plants 18-24 inches apart, depending on the variety. If you plant several rows of cabbage, space each row 36 inches apart from its nearest neighbor.

If planted too close together, cabbage heads will not develop properly. The closer the spacing, the smaller the heads. If you are planting several rows of cabbage, consider covering them with floating row covers to control pests such as cabbage maggots and flea beetles. When selecting a location to plant cabbage, ensure that the site has excellent drainage. If it’s planted in garden areas that tend to be waterlogged or soggy, cabbage is prone to root rot.

Cabbage plants have shallow, delicate root systems. Cultivate lightly around the base of the plants to control weeds. Add mulch to retain soil moisture and help control week regrowth.

Keep in mind that crop rotation is crucial when it comes to successfully growing cabbage. As I mentioned earlier, they’re heavy eaters, and will damage soil by absorbing potassium and nitrogen if planted in the same spot for consecutive crops. Rotate cabbage with non-brassica plants for a minimum of three years before replanting again in the same garden spot.

Harvesting Cabbage

Harvest cabbage when the head reaches an acceptable size. Cabbage heads harvested before they’re ready can split. To savor the flavor of cabbage at its peak, eat it soon after pickling. However, if it’s properly stored at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 95 percent humidity, cabbage holds its flavor for up to 6 months. The crisper drawer in the refrigerator is ideal. You can also store cabbage in a cool-temperature root cellar. Do not store cabbage with fruits and vegetables that are active ethylene generators.

Harvest mature cabbage heads planted in the spring and reap a second harvest later of small heads or sprouts. Sprouts develop on the mature stump of cut stems. Cut off the main cabbage head as close to the lower surface of the head as possible, and leave the loose outer cabbage leaves in place.

Sprouts will form in the axils of the leaves and the stem. Sprouts grow to 3-4 inches in diameter. Pick them when they are firm. You’ll be glad you grew cabbage sprouts: some chefs claim that the sprouts have a sweeter and more intense flavor than the main head.

After harvesting sprouts, remove their stumps from the ground. They can become a breeding ground for unwanted insect pests.

Best Ever Cooked Cabbage RecipeIngredients
  • One large head of cabbage
  • Four tablespoons butter
  • One teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • Two cups apple juice
  • Two tablespoons freshly minced parsley
Directions
  1. Cut cabbage into quarters, removing the tough stem. Chop each quarter into ½” strips.
  2. In a large pot, add butter, sea salt, pepper, & chopped cabbage.
  3. Add apple juice and toss.
  4. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  5. Cover and reduce heat to low.
  6. Simmer for 8-to-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until cabbage is tender.

Avoid overcooking. Drain excess liquid. Serve with a dab of butter and minced parsley: enjoy. The recipe makes four flavorful servings. It’s a tasty side dish for pork.

Sources

15 Creative DIY Garage Plans And Ideas

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 18:12

Your garage can be one of the unique spaces in your home. Most commonly, a garage provides you a secure place to park your vehicle and acts as a catch-all for tools and yard equipment, but there is a wide range of possibilities to improve your garage and maximize use of this space. 

Why Build a Garage When You Could Buy One?

Organizing and modifying the space your garage provides can transform it to an enjoyable and productive workspace. Whether you’re adding a garage to your home or finding ways to better utilize the garage you already have, the costs of hiring builders can be expensive. 

DIY garage renovations are an affordable alternative to building a garage. Doing it yourself also means you’ll be able to make it exactly how you like it, plus you’ll feel a sense of pride every time you see the finished product. Ready to get started? Below you’ll find 15 free DIY garage plans in various projects, price points, and styles.

Important Details to Consider When Building a Garage

Before you begin, it’s essential to plan some of the details that affect which projects will be the right fit for your garage. 

Garage Size

Think about the size of garage you have or want to build. Knowing this will determine the kind of plan that will be right for your home or workspace.

  • Do you have a 1 or 2-car garage? Or larger? 
  • Is there room vertically to introduce tall cabinets with a step stool for extra storage? 
  • What about the layout? Is your garage flush with the entrance to your home or yard?
  • Which kind of garage doors do you have, and how do they open?
Types of Materials to Use

One of the best ways to keep costs down on a DIY garage project is to reuse, recycle, and upcycle materials. It reduces waste by finding creative uses for items that you may have otherwise discarded.

Check your local internet and social media classifieds for free discarded lumber, old furniture, or building materials that can be refinished or reimagined. Some thrift stores, such as Habitat for Humanity ReStore, sell these kinds of materials at a significant discount.

Garage Use and Purpose

Consider what the ideal use of your new garage space will be.

  • Will you continue to park multiple vehicles inside?
  • Do you want to make a dedicated workshop space?
  • Are you a gardener? Or passionate about your lawn?
  • What kinds of hobbies or projects do you hope to tackle in a workspace?
  • When you do home improvement projects, which tools do you want to access at a moment’s notice?
Other Considerations

Here are a few more details to think about as you plan your DIY garage remodel projects.

  • How much DIY experience do you have? Are you a beginner, novice, or expert?
  • Do you have any friends or family with home improvement project experience that can help you out?
  • Where is your garage located? How will that impact the use, and which projects will best suit its location? Is it in a barn or separate building, attached on the back of the house, or connected to the basement?
  • Should you invest in insulation, plumbing, electricity, or heating and air? 
Free Garage Plans and Ideas to Consider

Now that we’ve given some thought to the scope of your project, let’s explore which garage plans will be a good fit. 

We’ve compiled a list of 15 DIY garage plans for you to explore. Check these out and see which ones will meet your style, budget, and needs. 

Detached DIY Garage Plan 

If you don’t have a garage currently and want to build one on your property, you’ll need DIY garage plans to construct something new. These free plans include the blueprint and instructions for how to build a detached garage. This building is a great size to park one vehicle and still have some room for additional workspace. 

Find the plans at My Outdoor PlansGarage Cabinet Storage

If you and your family have loads of tools, toys, and outdoor and camping equipment, this is one of the DIY garage cabinet plans for you. It’s oversized, meaning it will hold lots of bulky goods, plus it hangs from the wall, keeping things dry and preventing mold. The sliding doors ensure your goods stay tidy from dust and grit.

Find the plans at Family HandymanDIY Garage Shelvesphoto courtesy of queen bee of honey dos

If you’re looking for DIY garage shelf plans that are simple to follow, check this one out. One of the most straightforward projects on this list, these shelves call for only a handful of tools and materials and can be installed by a near beginner.

Find the plans at Queen Bee of Honey DosDIY Garage Workbenchphoto courtesy of dream design diy

This DIY garage workbench plan is helpful to tackle frequent home improvement projects. The workbench creates ample counter space as well as additional storage. Best part? It is built on wheels so you can move it out to the driveway on a nice day.

Find the plans at Dream Design DIY

Related Post: Workbench Plans

Rolling Storage Shelvesphoto courtesy of hgtv

We love these rolling options so much that we included these storage shelves on wheels. They are an excellent option for sorting and storing all kinds of goods, and adding doors to the front could easily meet your need for DIY garage storage cabinet plans.

Find the plans at HGTVFunctional Garage Cabinetsphoto courtesy of simply aligned home

These garage cabinet plans offer both functional storage as well as surface space. Add the pegboard and lamps in this design, and we think your garage will be looking sharp.

Find the plans at Simply Aligned HomeDIY Wall Shelvesphoto courtesy of ana white

For another DIY garage shelves plan, these standard built-ins are a cost effective and simple way to get your equipment off the floor and easily accessible. You could get these shelves installed over a weekend.

Find the plans at Ana WhiteDIY Garage Door Makeoverphoto courtesy of Hammers n hugs

If you’re looking to transform your garage, don’t just think about the inside! You can alter the appearance of your home with these DIY garage door plans. This makeover uses magnetic hardware, so it’s easy to install. 

Find the plans at Hammers N HugsGarage Paint Boothphoto courtesy of hearts and sharts

For the home renovator, having a space for projects to paint indoors can be tricky. These DIY garage plans solve that problem, showing you an incredibly affordable way to create a painting space in your garage using PVC pipe and plastic liners. It’s not a permanent installation, so it would be perfect for “getting your craft on” at a rental property.

Find the plans at Hearts and ShartsDIY Lumber Storage Cartphoto courtesy of diy montreal

Builders need a way to organize their lumber, and this storage cart is the answer to your DIY timber garage plan needs. The free plans come as a downloadable PDF with instructions and lots of step-by-step images for stress-free installation.

Find the plans at DIY MontrealDIY Charging Station (and Other Ideas)

This cordless drill charging station is an excellent example of the projects you can implement in your DIY garage workshop plans. Free up counter space and ensure your drill will always be ready to use when you reach for it. 

Find the plans at The Handyman’s DaughterDIY Folding Workbenchphoto courtesy of just measuring up

This folding workbench is the perfect workshop solution in a tiny garage. If your space is limited but you still want a place to tackle projects, this workbench can be lowered when not in use and raised when you’re ready to get started. It’s cost effective and straightforward to put together and can be built using scrap wood.

Find the plans at Just Measuring UpYard Tool Organizerphoto courtesy of the owner builder network

Gardeners and green thumbs can find themselves quickly overwhelmed with piles of yard tools. This ingenious storage solution uses PVC pipes to get your shovels, rakes, and other equipment off the ground and within reach.

Find the plans at The Owner Builder NetworkDIY Pegboard Wall photo courtesy of the creATIVITY exchange

Pegboard is one of the simplest ways to create tons of storage options. Quick to install and easy to use, beginners can transform their storage space with this DIY pegboard wall. Use hooks to hang tools, and install baskets and buckets for small loose bits like nails and screws. The possibilities are endless! The shelves on the top and bottom of the board maximize usage of the space.

Find the plans at The Creativity ExchangeDIY Insulated Garage Door

Working in the garage can be a pain during extreme seasonal weather conditions. Whether you’re struggling to keep things cool in the summer or shivering in the winter, consider insulating your garage door to lower your electric bill. This project may be a little more advanced, but the step-by-step guide will show you exactly how to get everything installed.

Find the plans at Family HandymanFrequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about DIY garage plans.

How Much Would It Cost to Build a DIY Garage?

Building a brand new garage will cost more than renovating an existing one. Keep costs low by looking for free discarded lumber. Transforming an existing space with these 15 DIY garage plans could cost you as little as $100 — or less if you get creative with your materials. 

Can You DIY Build a Garage?

Building your own garage is the best way to save yourself some money and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. Follow the guides presented in this article to see just how many projects you can do yourself, even as a beginner!

What Is the Cheapest Way to Build a Garage?

See if your city has a local tool library, where you can check out items you don’t already have on hand. Using free plans instead of overpaying for complicated blueprints will also save you money. The best money-saving tip we have is to make sure your materials are reused, recycled, and donated items.

How Do I Decide Where to Start?

Start wherever your most significant stress point is. See if there’s a tool or item you’re always searching for, and assess which of these plans offer a storage solution for that kind of task. Maybe you want to do more home projects, in which case, adding a workbench might be a great place to begin.

Conclusion

Building a DIY garage can be easy and affordable with the proper planning and materials. We hope this list has shown you there are many ways to approach a DIY garage build or makeover, and you have seen a variety of options that will match your budget and skills. 

Consider your needs and skill level, make a plan, and have fun diving into your project!

Live Fencing: What Is It and How to Implement It

Wed, 09/01/2021 - 16:07

A few years ago, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa with the specific task of implementing agroforestry practices. Before this position, I was only vaguely familiar with agroforestry, but since then, my eyes have been opened to it, and I see it quite a lot. Whether done unintentionally through home gardens with shade trees or purposefully with live fencing techniques, it is a common and useful practice and a relatively simple concept to grasp.

Before we go further, let’s look at a brief overview of agroforestry as “… a mixture of trees, crops, and animals on the same parcel of land …” — Elizabeth Buttram, Insteading.

The utilization of crops and livestock is optional, but trees are an essential part of agroforestry. Trees usually provide multiple services when integrated with agriculture whether through shade generation, shelter, erosion prevention, natural borders, green manure, fodder for livestock, or windbreaks. 

Related Post: Introduction to Agroforestry: What It Is and How to Successfully Implement It on Your Homestead

This article will serve as a specific approach to implement live fencing, a very common agroforestry practice.

What Is Live Fencing?

Live fencing is the use of woody species that are planted in close proximity to create a natural, living border. 

Goals and Objectives

Privacy, natural borders, wildlife habitat, containment of livestock/keep out pesky wildlife species and other agroforestry functions such as windbreaks and soil conservation.

Pros of Live Fencing
  • It is durable for multiple generations (i.e., longer lasting), more economically feasible, provides wildlife habitat, may provide wood, and is more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
  • Living fences offer biological and agricultural functions that a manufactured fence cannot. It is a greener (both ecologically and aesthetically) option.
Cons of Live Fencing

It is time consuming and requires excess maintenance like pruning/watering and is sometimes hard to establish.

Your specific objectives behind live fencing will dictate what species you use. If your goal is to keep out (or in) livestock/wildlife, you will want to use thorny species. However, if you simply want a natural border, lower maintenance, or a privacy wall, your species choice will change.

Check this link for more ideas on what species to use for your live fencing a goals.

Live fence hedgerow // Elizabeth Buttram

After you have decided what species you would like to create your live fence, you will need to further decide if you would rather cultivate a tree nursery, or buy young trees that are ready to be planted. This decision depends on your time limitations and the amount of personal effort you would like to put into the project. If it isn’t obvious, creating a tree nursery will take more time and care than simply buying young trees. However, it will be more economically feasible to go this route. 

Creating a Tree NurseryRequired Items
  • Healthy soil
  • Grow bags (cloth or plastic)
  • Partially open-sun/shaded area
  • Water unit (automatic or manual)
  • Tree species seeds
  • Official grow bags (These can be purchased, however, most of the time you can recycle items to make grow bags. Old sandwich bags can be used. Just make sure you poke a few holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain. Old socks can be used in the same way and don’t need to have holes poked in the bottom.)

It is important to note that the size of the seeds you are planting will dictate the size of the grow bags you use.

It is also important to know the dimensions of the area you would like to live fence. It will dictate the amount of grow sacks that need to be filled/seeded, and the number of seedlings that will need to be outplanted. 

Steps

Steps to creating a tree nursery can dramatically differ depending on the resources you have available on your homestead. For example, if you have healthy soil at your disposal, you will not need to either amend the soil or buy more. If the soil you have available is not healthy, it is highly recommended to either amend or buy soil.

1. Locate a flat area that has partial shade and sun throughout the day.

2. Dig a shallow trench (1 to 2 inches) in which the grow bags will be placed after they are filled. Line the edges of the trench with soil that has been dug out to help create a small wall. This creates a designated area for your tree nursery and helps them stand in wind and avoid being top-heavy once they start growing. 

Tree nursery with walls of shallow trench pushed against grow bags to help keep them from shifting // Elizabeth Buttram

3. Ensure the soil you plan to use to fill the grow bags is loose (not clumped together) and moderately moist. A good rule of thumb to know that soil is moist enough is if it sticks to your hand a bit when squeezing it, but does not clump together from excessive wetness.

4. Fill your grow bags with soil, making sure the soil is firmly packed in the bag with no air pockets, but not so firm the soil is impenetrable — which will make it difficult to plant the seeds, for water to penetrate the soil, and for seeds to sprout and root.

When placing the filled bags into the shallow trench, pack them closely together within the trench to help prevent them from falling over or tilting.

5. Plant the seeds! Another good (really great) rule of thumb to follow to make sure you are planting the seeds at an appropriate depth is to plant them twice as deep as they are wide. For example, if you are planting avocado seeds (which for live fencing would be highly unlikely), plant them twice the depth of the thickness of the seed. 

Depending on the seeds you use, they may need to be presoaked and notched to help encourage faster germination, sprouting, and growth rates. Small, dainty seeds will grow easily without being presoaked or notched, but larger and thicker seeds generally will need at least one of these steps. 

6. Cover the seeded holes and water your tree nursery. Most tree nurseries (depending on heat and weather conditions) benefit from being watered twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. Push your finger into the soil within the grow bag about knuckle deep to see if you have sufficiently watered (it should be wet that deep if it has been watered enough).

Live Fencing // Flickr

How to Know if Seeds Need to Be Presoaked or Notched
  1. If the seeds have a hard, protective coating on the outside
  2. If the seeds are larger than a watermelon seed, they generally will benefit
How to Presoak Seeds

Leave seeds in a clean container and clean water for 24 to 36 hours, depending on the size of the seeds (the larger the seeds, the longer they should soak).

How to Notch Seeds (Also Known as Seed Scarification)

Notching seeds should be done with a clean tool, and the tool can differ from nail clippers to scissors to knife. After choosing the best tool, make as shallow a cut as possible on the seed. The depth should be just deep enough to cut through the seed coat, but not so deep as to penetrate the embryo inside the seed. If you cut too deep, it will damage the embryo and could prevent the seed from sprouting. Most seeds have a hilum (the scar left from where the seed was attached to the ovary inside the fruit/nut). Try to cut opposite and as far away from the hilum as possible to avoid damage to the seed.

Once your tree nursery begins establishing and growing, you will know it is time to outplant your seedlings when the grow sacks begin bulging from the roots trying to find more room. Usually, the seedlings will be about a foot high (this is not precise because it truly depends on the species you are using). You do not want the grow sacks to be so compacted from the roots that they are extremely firm and/or breaking the grow sack open, but firm enough to see the roots are trying to find more room and have begun expanding outward as well as down. 

How to Outplant Seedlings

1. Dig a hole 3 to 4 times larger than the grow bag or seedlings container 

If soil in your area is of low quality or arid, it can be helpful for seedling establishment to amend the soil where you will be planting the seedlings before the planting takes place. To do this, dig the hole as already described and add amendments. Mix the amendments, water the hole, and allow it to sit for a day or two before planting the seedlings (to allow amendments to absorb into the soil).

Soil amendments can include compost, tree ash, manure (cow, goat, bunny), silica, etc.

2. Carefully remove the seedling from the grow sack, ensuring the roots are not damaged or broken in the process.

3. Ruffle the soil around the rootstock to help decompact it and allow roots to easily grow outwards.

4. Place seedling in the center of the hole being conscious to not plant it too deep. The depth should be enough to completely cover the soil encasing the roots, but not so deep it covers more than an inch of the seedling stem.

5. Fill in the remainder of the hole and pack soil down enough to discourage the seedling from shifting within the hole.

6. Continue watering freshly outplanted seedlings until they have become adequately established.

The proximity/planting distance between the seedlings directly coincides with the species you decide to plant. This is personal research that should be done after you decide the species you would like to use for live fencing. Generally, the seedlings will be planted in a row about 1 to 2 feet apart (again, this depends on the species you use).

Live Fencing // Iyarkaiodu NaamAfter-Planting Care

After the live fencing seedlings have been outplanted and begun growing, the pruning and weaving process begins. Your objectives for having a live fence will dictate what exactly this process looks like for you in terms of the height, thickness, shape, etc., of your fence. Here’s a list of general steps for after-planting care:

  • Trim to the shape and height you desire with clean pruning shears (or a tool that works the same).
    • If your objective is to have a tall live fence that acts as a windbreak, leave the top of the seedling alone and only trim the side branches.
    • If the objective is to have a short, squat live fence that acts as a privacy barrier or to keep livestock in or wildlife out, trim the top of the seedling to help promote side branching, and therefore make the tree grow thicker, creating a natural privacy barrier and making it difficult for animals to break through.
  • Begin weaving branches between the live fencing trees. Weaving essentially allows the trees to grow together as one, without there being gaps and spaces between the tops of the trees. 

Some important things to keep in mind depending on your objectives:

If you desire a privacy barrier, ensure you plant evergreen species so you don’t have an unwanted surprise when winter comes, and your privacy barrier suddenly loses its leaves and becomes see-through!

If you want a live fence that is designed to keep livestock in and wildlife out, use a thorny species to discourage the animals from breaking through the fence and discourage animals from eating the fence!

If you’re are creating a live fence in an area that has a lot of animal activity, make sure you protect the fence during the establishment process so it is not mowed down via animals eating it and destroyed before it is established.

If planting the live fence close to a sidewalk, paved road, or driveway, make sure you choose a species with roots known to grow downward versus outward, otherwise you will deal with a cracking sidewalk, road, or driveway from the roots growing under it.

Have a plan in mind for entrances and exits for your live fence (you can’t move the trees in and out of place as you would a doorway).

Know your allergies! It would be terribly unfortunate to create a live fence with annual flowering cycles that trigger allergic reactions.

photo courtesy of bob vilaConclusion

After establishment, live fences are relatively low maintenance and beautiful to have around. They are long lasting and generally damage-resistant. The environmentally friendly aspect is a huge attraction, especially knowing you are providing wildlife habitat for birds and small critters.

10 Probiotic-Rich Foods That Are Even Better Than Yogurt

Mon, 08/30/2021 - 16:30


Chances are you have heard that probiotics are good for you. What are probiotics? WebMed.com tells us that: “Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.”

You need those good bacteria in your belly, and eating certain foods — fermented foods — can help your gut maintain balance. In fact, probiotics have been shown to help with serious gut ailments, like IBS and leaky gut syndrome. But, there are also many everyday benefits of probiotic rich foods that can help us all. Probiotic side effects include a range of things from supporting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, preventing inflammation, boosting immunity, reducing stress, improving your mood and alleviating conditions ranging from allergies to diarrhea.

Dr. B.J. Hardick, founder of the Centre for Maximized Living in London, Ontario notes: “Conventionally, when people hear about probiotics, they typically think of yogurt or supplements. Most people are unfortunately unaware of several other incredible — and typically better — sources of healthy gut bacteria.” Among those sources is a wide array of cultured and fermented foods.

First Rule of Probiotic Foods: Go Raw

As Kristina J. Campbell, MSc wrote in A Tale of Two Pickles: The health benefits of fermented foods:

A pickled product that does not list vinegar on the label is a good probiotic candidate, provided it has not been heat-processed during production. Since cooking kills off the good bacteria, be sure to consume probiotic foods raw.

Bottom line: Fermented foods — if not made with vinegar or heat-proceed (aka. cooked) — will be rich in probiotics.  That means you need to eat your probiotic foods raw.

How can you tell what is raw and what isn’t? The Healthy Economist has an excellent post, The Crucial Difference Between Pickled and Fermented in which they spell out what to look for. In short, as Alex Lewin, author of Real Food Fermentation explains not all fermented foods are pickled and not all pickles are fermented.

Foods that are pickled are those that have been preserved in an acidic medium.  In the case of various types of supermarket pickles on the shelf, the pickling comes from vinegar.  These vegetables, however, are notfermented (even though vinegar itself is the product of fermentation) and hence do not offer the probiotic and enzymatic value of homemade fermented vegetables.

Home fermentation of vegetables preserves without the use of any pressure or heat unlike supermarket versions of the same foods.   It  allows the ubiquitous and beneficial lactobacilli present on the surface of all living things to proliferate creating lactic acid which not only pickles and preserves the vegetables, but also promotes the health of those that consume it in the following ways:

  • Enhances the vitamin content of the food.
  • Preserves and sometimes enhances the enzyme content of the food.
  • Improves nutrient bio-availability in the body.
  • Improves the digestibility of the food and even cooked foods that are consumed along with it!

So don’t be fooled by unhealthy supermarket pickled versions of homemade fermented foods.  These modern foods are the product of high heat and pressure which destroys nutrients and do not in any way enhance health.   The one exception to this rule are the various fermented foods in the refrigerator section of many healthfood stores. These products are actually fermented and pickled. The only drawback is that these gourmet items are rather expensive compared to the pennies per ounce it costs to make them yourself.

My colleague here at EatDrinkBetter.com, Becky Striepe wrote a fabulous post 5 Best Fermented Foods for Your Health (and why you should eat them!) that pretty much covers it all. Becky points out that fermentation used to be all about preserving foods, but it turns out that this process also yields some great health benefits. Fermentation basically means letting beneficial bacteria digest some of the carbohydrates and sugars in food.

A few other things to consider. According to Harvard Medical School, “health benefits [of probiotics] are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, so you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options.”

So, how can you eat more fermented foods? Here are 10 probiotic-rich foods — other than yogurt — to try:

Raw Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, and like the name suggests, it has a pleasantly sour tang. Most store-bought sauerkraut is not raw, so make sure you read those labels carefully. The brands found in the refrigerated section of the market are likely to be raw so check the refrigerated section of your market for local and artisanal brands of sauerkraut. You can also ferment your own sauerkraut at home.

Of course, sauerkraut is the perfect accompaniment for pastrami, on a hot dog, or alongside beer-braised brats. But, it also is great on sandwiches (other than the obvious reuben). It’s like shredded cabbage but with a sour kick. Martyna Angell, author of The Wholesome Cook has a great blog post naming six things to make with sauerkraut other than a reuben that includes several raw sauerkraut recipes for sauerkraut kiwi smoothies, sauerkraut slaw and nori rolls.

Kimchi

Another fermented cabbage condiment, kimchi is both spicy and slightly sour. Bon Appétit Magazine has saved us all a lot of trouble by finding their 8 Favorite Kimchi Brands from Across America. Note: Not all are raw, so read the label carefully. Most Korean restaurants serve kimchi.

Stir a spoonful of kimchi into your soups, salads, or even pasta dishes just before serving. Or just take a fork, grab the jar, and go for it. In fact, you can swap out pickles for kimchi in most recipes. Bon Appétit Magazine suggests serving it alongside this ultimate Korean barbecue menu or with one of these 12 dishes that just taste better with kimchi.

Pickles

We all know what a pickle is, but, like sauerkraut, not all pickles are created equal. Most store-bought pickles are not raw, so make sure you read those labels carefully. Raw pickles will be well labeled and brands found in the refrigerated section of the market are likely to be raw. Or, ferment your own. Anna at Green Talk has a great video showing you how.

Of course, pickles are a great condiment for sandwiches, but there are so many other ways to enjoy them.  The ever hip folks at Thrillist.com have come up with 15 ways people are going insane over pickles that include places to find pickle juice cocktails and pickle and peanut butter sandwiches.

Miso

Miso is fermented soybeans. it is very salty and a little goes a long way. It is widely available in the refrigerator section of supermarkets and health food stores and Asian markets. It is available in several varieties, the most common of which are (in order of intensity):

  • White or kome miso, made from soybeans and rice, which has a light, slightly sweet flavor
  • Yellow or mugi miso, made from barley and soybeans
  • Red or hatcho miso, made from soybeans alone

A good way to use miso is as a base for soups and stews instead of vegetable broth. But, as the folks at Livestrong.com point out, it’s important to buy unpasteurized miso because pasteurization can destroy the live probiotic cultures in the paste. When using miso in soup, stew or another cooked dish, don’t add it until the end of the cooking process and remove the food from heat immediately since high heat can destroy the probiotic organisms.

That said, a simple and delicious way to consume miso is a simple homemade salad dressing of tahini, miso, lemon, and water (to thin it out). Also, this recipe for nutty Miso Sunflower Seed Sauce is fantastic on just about anything and makes a great dipping sauce for grilled tofu skewers and is also good tossed with pasta or roasted vegetables. For more good information, Andrea at our sister site Vibrant Wellness Journal wrote a great piece on the health benefits of miso.

Kombucha

You’ve probably seen bottled Kombucha, a fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drink, in supermarkets everywhere. This is thanks to GT’s Kombucha, a $600 million company in Los Angeles that has brought Kombucha mainstream. An Inc. Magazine article described Kombucha as:

If you’ve never tried kombucha, imagine drinking a sweet-tart cider vinegar that’s carbonated like beer and has a few little chunks swimming around in it. It’s made of slightly sweetened tea–green, black, or both–that ferments for up to a month while a mushroom-looking blob floats on top of it. The blob is the key ingredient. Known as a scoby (for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), it essentially eats the sugar, tannic acids, and caffeine in the tea, and creates a cocktail of live microorganisms that many believe to be beneficial. Scobys constantly grow and reproduce, and their offspring are something of a currency among kombucha devotees, who use them in homebrewing.

But, note, not all Kombucha is probiotic rich because some brewers use pasteurization to help control the alcohol content in their products. So, check labels carefully.

So, as mentioned you can get Kombucha in health food stores and major supermarkets around the country. If you can’t find kombucha on the shelf for some reason, try brewing your own kombucha tea. For the more adventurous, wholelifestylenutrition.com has a collection of 50 kombucha recipes that include kombucha BBQ sauce, kombucha mustard and a kombucha margarita.

A Note About Dairy

Dairy gets its own sub category since dairy foods are easily fermented.  Also known as cultured foods, they contain Lactobacilli, a type of bacteria that might help stop diarrhea and treat yeast infections.

Dairy is an excellent environment for bacteria because the live microorganisms feed on lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in dairy products. Hence, yogurt’s reputation as a great probiotic food.  But, as we said, there are many diary based probiotic food that rival yogurt in efficacy.

Raw Cheese

Cheeses are excellent carriers for probiotics — their low acidity and high fat preserve and nurture the bacteria while they move through the digestive system. Cheeses that are probiotic rich are either aged or made from raw, unpasteurized milk. If your wondering how cheese stacks up to other probiotic-rich dairy foods, cheddar cheese was evaluated as a food carrier for the delivery of probiotic microorganisms and it was found that mature raw cheddar cheese compares very favorably with fresh yogurt.

But… always buy raw and unpasteurized cheeses if you want to receive any probiotic benefits. Raw cheese — made from raw, unpasteurized cow or goat’s milk — comes in almost any variety. Cheddar, feta and Gouda are common probiotic cheeses as are provolone, Edam, brick, caciocavallo, Emmental and Gruyere. When purchasing cheese, look for the words “raw”, “probiotic,” or “made from raw milk” on the label.

And, remember, no cooking or melting if you want to preserve the probiotic benefits. 

Kefir

Kefir is another probiotic rich drink, thanks to its high levels of lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria. There are two different types of kefirs: water-based and milk-based. Water kefir is a fermented carbohydrate-containing, nondairy liquid. Milk kefir, on the other hand, is made from goat’s milk, cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and, even, camel’s milk.

Both water and milk kefirs are loaded with beneficial bacteria but have different characteristics. Milk-based kefir is loaded with tryptophan, an amino acid affectionately known as “nature’s Prozac,” because of how it soothes the nervous system. Milk sugars are broken down during the fermentation process, so kefir naturally contains less lactose than milk, and goat and sheep milk kefirs have even less.

Kefir also contains active lactase enzymes, which is why even some people with lactose intolerance can digest it with ease. Milk-based Kefir is also a good source of protein as well as calcium and potassium. Kefir can be found in health foods stores and major supermarkets as a fermented milk drink (typically in the yogurt aisle), you can also find products with kefir used in ice cream, cheese, popsicles, oatmeal and even veggie-based drinks.

Dark Chocolate

You might not think of chocolate as a dairy product, but it is.  And, if you needed any more reasons to eat it, the fact that dark chocolate can be produced to be rich in probiotics is a good one. Using low processing temperatures to keep them intact, manufacturers are able to add probiotics to dark chocolate at up to four times the amount found in other forms of dairy. The resulting chocolate is rich in both quantity and quality of probiotics. A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that probiotics in dark chocolate survived the passage through the stomach and small intestine better than those added to liquid milk.

Chocolate probiotic bars are often kept in the refrigerated section of your grocery store (in some stores, they are kept in the refrigerated yogurt aisle). Brands that can be found in health food stores, Whole Foods Markets and even Sam’s Club include Attune and Healthy Delights.

I’m sold. Who needs another reason to eat chocolate?

Green Peas

Green peas are one of the newer probiotic discoveries to come to light. In December 2013, Japanese researchers found that green peas contain Leuconostoc mesenteroides, a strain of probiotic bacteria. What does that mean? The good bacteria inside green peas may raise the level of antibodies in your immune system. These types of antibodies are often found in the lining of your airway and digestive tracts, according to the study. Translation: green peas may be able to help fight off infections and colds thanks to their inherent probiotic bacteria.

As before, do not cook your green peas. Add them raw to your salad, eat as a snack, try raw green pea and almond dip on crackers, with veggies chips, or on top of tacos or try this delicious raw food recipe for sprouted wild rice with pistachios and spring vegetables.

Umeboshi Plums

Umeboshi pickled plums have a long and impressive history. Samurai warriors used to eat them to stay strong during battle and okayu (rice congee) with umeboshi is a standard Japanese folk remedy for colds and flus.

This salty, sour treat, known for its supreme alkalizing ability, has become a common staple in bento boxes. Eat them in the traditional way, in small quantities as a side dish for rice or eaten on rice balls (often without removing the pit) for breakfast and lunch. Umeboshi may also be served as a complement of a green tea or a drink with shochu and hot water. Asian candy shops sometimes carry karikari ume, or prepackaged, crunchy pickled ume. For a modern twist, try them in a salad of pickled napa cabbage with umeboshi plums. “Consume 2 to 3 per week for optimal results,” says Apona Healing Arts founder and macrobiotic expert Lidia Kuleshnyk.

Ginger Ale

As our friends over at Wellness Mama note, soda hasn’t always been the high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavor concoction in an aluminum can that we know today.

For hundreds of years (and probably much longer) cultures around the world have made various forms of naturally fermented “sodas” from sweetened herbal teas or fruit juice mixes. These natural fermented drinks contained beneficial enzymes and probiotics to boost health and were a far cry from the unhealthy versions we have today.

Wellness Mama has a great blog post on making your own natural probiotic rich ginger ale (also called ginger beer). This natural recipe for ginger ale uses fresh ginger and a cultured ginger mixture called a ginger bug to create a naturally fermented and naturally fizzy ginger ale. Drink alone, with gin and juice or in a classic dark and stormy. Not a bad way to get your probiotics on.

Image Credit: Probiotic-Rich Foods photos via Shutterstock.com

How To Make the Most of Garden Failure

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 17:08

Oh, fiddlesticks! Another dratted hornworm has eaten a plant. How exceedingly grumpy I am.”

You’d correctly guess these were not my exact words as I plucked the corpulent caterpillar from the stick formerly known as a lush jalepeño pepper, but they’re close enough for this article.

Blankety Blank Blank Hornworms …

I felt an understandable wave of schadenfreude as I sent the larva to its doom in the chicken coop — as I had all the others that I found this summer. Backlit by sun, I saw the scuttling forms of squash bugs on the opposite of a browning zucchini leaf, and if I squinted through the grass starting to crowd the fall-planted kohlrabi, I spied one of my ducks having her way with my chives. After scaring her away from the nubbins that remained, I heaved a sigh and started to hook up the hose to the rain barrel — there had been no rain for the past week, and the garden was starting to look stressed.

Though it may sound so, this is no list of complaints. Perhaps I could just as easily write about the overwintered kale that produced lush greens well before anything I planted in the spring, or the gorgeously smooth beets that grew larger than the packet said they would, but you’ve seen those photos in every gardening book and read those humblebrags online all summer.

Instead, in this article, I want to talk about those unInstagrammable garden days. The failed plantings, the fruitless efforts, and the pest-riddled produce that tastes fine but certainly isn’t coffee-table material. Because this is realistic gardening — the kind that most of us experience. As you likely know, for every beautiful basket of bounty, there’s often a wilted vine somewhere as well.

What do you do with the inevitable failures? Make the most of them! Here are some hopeful ways to turn the frustration into motivation and education. And after each section, I’ve listed a potential remedy to the situation.

Figuring Out the Reasons

If you really want to learn how to garden, or to eventually be self-sufficient, the worst thing you can do with failure is to simply declare yourself a black thumb and call it a day. And don’t resort to hanging over the fence, seething with private jealousy over your neighbor’s unfairly lush veggies, allowing comparison to steal every ounce of joy from your efforts. Instead, put on your detective hat and see if you can find out the reasons for your underwhelming garden. Here are some common mistakes or problems that may have befallen your food plot … maybe the reason you’re looking for is here.

Timing TroublesI risked it and planted this corn too early … and it shows

Plants want to grow, but they want to grow when they’re good and ready. If you closely watch a wild field through the course of a growing year, you’ll see waves of different flowers and grasses pass through it as the seasons turn. They are perfectly suited to grow at their optimal time, and they’re pretty much left to themselves to do it at the appropriate moment.

But with a garden, we have an artificial situation. We, the gardeners, plant seeds and starts in the soil, and sometimes we get our timing off due to overzealous gardening or ignorance. My first year on the homestead, for example, I excitedly planted okra seeds in April. The poor things dutifully sprouted, but struggled in the spring cold and never grew taller than a foot. The seeds I replanted a full month and a half later (in the blazing heat that okra loves) thrived.

Other plants are very sensitive to day length. Chinese long beans, for example, only start flowering and setting seed pods after the summer solstice. Plant them early, and they very well may sprout and then stall in their growth until the shortening days give them the go-ahead to do their thing.

Bottom line: If plants seem to stall in growth or fruiting, perhaps you should suspect they were planted at the wrong time of year.

Remedy it with keeping a garden journal.

This is probably one of the more useful tools when it comes to knowing and growing your own food. Carefully recording what plants went where, when they were planted, and how they performed will give you a rich log of information to draw from when analyzing your successes and failures.

My garden journal is nothing fancy — a 3-ring binder with diagrams of the gardens to show where I planted different plants, and a log where I note every garden activity on a near daily basis. That log is probably the most important. I keep track of the day I planted every seed, and then, based on whether they grew well or not, I can try to decide if that was the right timing for my specific climate.

If you suspect a plant failed due to being planted at the wrong time of year, note it down. Then, do some further research into cultivating that specific plant, and see if planting it a month earlier or later would make a world of difference.

New Garden Nuisances

If you’re starting a garden from scratch, chances are the first few years will be underproductive. Read through any account from early homesteaders, pioneers, or back-to-the-landers. In almost all cases, they’ll relate the meager harvests of their just established food plots. Turning an area of wild grasses into a super-productive organic garden doesn’t happen overnight.

Bottom line: New gardens rarely, if ever, thrive to full capacity in their first few years.

Remedy it with patience, and maybe some raised beds.

Keep working at your garden. It will, after several elbow-greased seasons, come into its own. Keep adding compost, removing rocks, rotating crops, pulling out that stubborn grass and morning-glory, and eventually, you will start seeing real results, promise. Hang in there!

If you want to give yourself an encouraging boost in a productive direction, you can also try building some raised beds. They can give you well-shaped carrots, big beets, and perfect parsnips before you’ve gotten the soil in a new garden worked to a satisfying consistency.

Soil Chemistry Concerns

Why are those squash plants so small? Why are those leaves yellow-streaked? Why did my tomato make such huge, beautiful leaves and no fruit? And what in the world is causing those crispy, brown edges on the beet leaves? The soil’s chemistry may be the hitch in your gardening step. Certain nutrients or elements may be lacking or overabundant, and when plants don’t get what they need in terms of nutrition, boy do they show it.

Bottom line: Underproductive plants may be lacking essential nutrients or have a toxic overload of a single nutrient.

Remedy it with learning more about your specific soil and the specific requirements of the plants you want to put there.

You can send soil samples to be analyzed by your local university extension. You can also make a more old-fashioned assessment of your plants, and take a good look at their leaves — they’re a decent deficiency declaration.

Most soil problems can be slowly amended with consistent seasonal application of compost. If you detect a specific problem, however, you can sometimes give the soil a boost in the right direction with specific soil amendments. Wood ashes from untreated wood can boost potassium and lime. A careful sprinkling of borax can solve a boron deficiency. Bone meal adds phosphorous and calcium. An abundance of nitrogen — such as that found naturally from a seasonal application of manure — makes huge leaves in some plants. This is great news for plants that we grow for leaves, but not so much for plants that we grow for fruit. Nitrogen actually stunts fruit bud formation. You may have found that out the hard way.

Does keeping this straight make your head spin? Try not to be overwhelmed. It’s super unlikely that you will have all these problems simultaneously. And there’s ample soil-building resources here on Insteading to bookmark and reference if a weird situation raises its head … er, leaf.

Too Much (or Too Little) TLC

One inch of mulch? You lavished five. You water those plants with motherly affection every morning and night. You’ve sprinkled abundant fertilizer. You’ve given them above and beyond what the packages and books said! And that overly thick layer of attention may have resulted in plants that are positively underwhelming or dying.

Conversely, you may have remembered that you haven’t weeded or watered in a month. Oops!

Bottom line: Just as too little attention will obviously hurt your plants, too much attention may hurt them as well.

Particularly for you patio and container gardeners, know the signs of overwatering — rotting roots, yellowed leaves, and floppy, dying plants. Sometimes, though it may feel wrong to the new, attentive gardener, plants need to dry out before you water them again.

Mulch piled too thickly can also be detrimental to plant growth. It can stop rainwater from reaching the roots or cutting off oxygen supply, and provide a hiding place for gnawing voles to secretly destroy your shrubs and trees. Know what a mulch volcano is … and don’t make one.

And though I hope I shouldn’t have to explain this one too much, a neglected garden will perform as well as can be expected (not well). Grass competition alone sucks water and nutrients away from your garden, and alliums in particular can’t tolerate it. So, try to work a garden walk into your daily schedule. Any garden that’s out of sight is easily out of mind.

Shockingly Weird Weather

That out-of-the-blue May snowstorm? It had more long-term effects than hindering your morning commute. Your garden may remember it for far longer. Strange, sudden changes in temperature can shock young garden plants, especially new transplants, potentially stunting their growth for the entire season.

Bottom line: An unexpected shock can rob plants of peak productivity.

Remedy it with cold frames, leaf mulch, or row covers.

Obviously, some freak storms can’t be anticipated. But, if you get the tip-off that a strange temperature fluctuation is imminent, help your new plants through with some protection. You may have to run out in twilight with an old bedsheet to cover tender seedlings, toss handfuls of dry leaves, or get all fancy with some store-bought cloches. Pretty much any cover can help forestall disaster. We’ve got an article here all about frost protection, by the way.

Heat waves are a little harder to manage, but you can give those fall planted seedlings a helping hand by planting them on a cloudy day and providing some shade during the most direct sunlight. I’ve used fallen branches (with leaves still attached) as a super low-cost sun shade.

Pest Problemsthe Worst Family Portrait I’ve Ever Taken

If you are gardening organically, then you personally understand that trying to wage nonchemical warfare with the creatures intent on eating your food plants is a challenge. If you plant the same plants in the same plots every year, you’re giving up your home-turf advantage. The pests often overwinter in the soil, and if their favorite food is waiting for them when they come out of dormancy, they can get an unwanted jump-start on the season.

Bottom line: Planting the same plants in the same place year-after-year will lead to a buildup in pest populations.

(Partly) remedy it with crop rotation.

Remember your garden journal? It’s also a great way to keep track of what was planted where so you can rotate your garden beds every year. And I hope you know this isn’t just moving specific vegetables, but rotating plant families. Get familiar with knowing which plants are nightshades, brassicas, legumes, cucurbits, alliums and so on, and plant a different family group in the beds every year. By mixing up which family of plants are in a bed every season, the pest population can’t build up as easily.

This remedy is only one of many ways to thwart the bugs bingeing on your produce, but it’s an important practice to implement as you plan your garden.

Inexplicable Failure

Maybe your garden chemistry is ideal, your tilth is drool-worthy, and you have managed pests like a pro. Then the new plants you put in this paradise still died. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. Not every plant can live in every garden.

Bottom line: Some plantings are doomed to failure.

Remedy it with trying a different variety, planting something better suited to your climate, or focusing on the next season’s planting.

Gardeners in growing zones with short seasons well know that there are some plants that just don’t get enough time to grow in their areas. Thankfully, other northern gardeners have developed quite a few varieties of popular garden plants that race to maturity, giving you the best chance to haul in a harvest. You’ll have to do a little bit of digging and research beyond the link I gave, but you’ll likely find a cultivar that works well for you.

Gardeners in growing zones with long, hot growing seasons, on the other hand, know that there are some cold-loving plants that are out of our league. For example, I really, really wanted to grow rhubarb on my homestead. But after complete failure, and a little more research into what rhubarb actually wants, I realized that my patch of the Ozarks gets too darn hot for the poor thing to survive. So, I scrapped my rhubarb hopes and focused, instead, on what wants to grow here such as heat-loving melons, okra, and cowpeas.

Finally, if (for whatever reason) the spring planting was a bust, call your losses and focus on summer planting. Likewise, if the summer planting is just a big inexplicable nothingburger, turn your attention to fall planting. And if the fall planting gets frozen before it had a chance to thrive, mulch it well and dream of the spring. The nice thing about a garden is that you always have a chance to start over.

Sometimes, There’s Just a Bad Year

I’ll be honest with you all. This year, I’ve had the worst tomato harvest of my entire gardening life. Confidence shaken, I visited our local farmers market to stock up on what I couldn’t grow. There, one of the farmers confided in me that he didn’t bother with growing outdoor tomatoes. The luscious red fruits in his stand were all greenhouse grown. Curiosity piqued, I found similar stories from every vendor. As I continued my investigation over the next weeks, I heard stories of low yields and strange, out-of-the-ordinary problems with nearly every gardener I spoke with.

Collectively, we have no idea what is specifically going on. But the fact that the problems are widespread indicate, to me, that something on the environmental scale is affecting our crops. Is the freak snowstorm in April to blame? The unusually warm winter? Is there something in the water? Did some chemical from the nearby plant affect the air? I may never know.

Bottom line: Not everything is your fault.

Remedy it with “try, try again.”

An unproductive year happens every generation. Glance through the annals of history, and you’ll see plenty of unavoidable crop failures that broke the backs of Republics or sent waves of famine through a land. Consider the Krakatoa eruption of 1815. Farmers in the American south had to contend with July frosts because of the ash cloud.

So what do you do? Lick your wounds, and plant again with hope for the next season or next year.

Keep Your Chin Up!

One of the most encouraging lines I’ve ever read in a gardening book was an offhand comment about how to fit fall crops in the summer garden. In the fantastic book Root Cellaring, Nancy Bubel mentions she transplants seedlings into rows where an earlier planting is finished … or failed! Being able to hear a gardener that I respect admit that sometimes she has unsuccessful garden forays as well? It gave me a welcome sigh of relief, and at least for that day, I was a little less hard on myself when surveying my food plot.

Even That Chewed up jalepeño Didn’t Give up

So keep at it, intrepid cultivators and weeders, adventurous seed-sowers, and mulchers. Every failure really is an opportunity to learn how to do it better next time. And with a garden, the endless cycle of seasons gives you a fresh start every year — plus new spring and fall crops, twice a year — to remedy realistic gardening.

Companion Planting For Celery

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 17:09

You can help your celery crop thrive with companion planting. Companion planting is a centuries-old method of organic gardening that places plants that support the growth and development of each other, near each other.

Companion plants deter harmful insect pests, attract beneficial pollinators, provide support and shade, enhance the soil, suppress weeds, and conserve moisture. Companion planting—also known as good neighbor planting—adds color, scent, balance, harmony, and health to the homestead garden.

Companion planting is an environmentally friendly, integrated method of pest management, which allows the garden to flourish without the use of toxic chemical herbicides and pesticides.

As an example, celery is a powerful defender of cabbage plants. The white cabbage butterfly can destroy a cabbage crop. When cabbage is planted near celery, the cabbage butterfly is repelled by the strong scent of celery. The cabbage plant, in turn, provides a windbreak and shade for fragile, young celery shoots.

If you love to munch on raw celery, or enjoy the crispy vegetable as a crunchy addition to salads, stir-fry, salsa, sauces, and soups, but worry about the noxious chemicals found in supermarket non-organic celery, grow your own with help from companion plants that protect celery the way it protects cabbage.

Best (And Worst) Companion Plants For Celery

Pungent herbs attract pollinators to the garden while repelling insect pests that can damage the celery crop. Helpful herbs to plant near celery include thyme, sage, basil, hyssop, horehound, tansy, cilantro, and dill.

If you garden in a rural location, strongly-scented herbs also help deter rabbits and deer from grazing on the garden. The taller herbs provide shade for delicate celery shoots while thyme and sage help smother competitive weeds.

Celery grows next to an excellent companion plant, thyme. Zach Copley / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Experienced gardeners suggest planting bush beans, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, onions, spinach, and tomatoes as companion plants for celery.

Employ flower power to drive off insects that could harm your garden while attracting beneficial predators, such as parasitic wasps, that devour other harmful garden pests. Marigolds, snapdragons, daisies, lavender, and cosmos emit scents that act as a deterrent to while flies, aphids, ants, and cabbage moths.

Avoid planting parsley, parsnips, turnips, or carrots near celery. These plants fight vigorously for the same nutrients and moisture. They do not make the best of neighbors.

A Gardening Challenge

Cultivated since antiquity, celery (Apium graveolens) a stately green marshland plant with long fibrous stacks tapering into leaves, is a cousin of the carrot. It’s a part of the plant family formerly known as Umbellifera. There are three different forms of the parent Apiaceae species: celeriac, stalk, and cutting celery.

According to the USDA, “The many cultivated varieties now in use have been derived from the wild celery, which is a native of the marshes of southern England and many parts of the Eastern Continent. This wild celery was for a long time considered poisonous, a very natural supposition, as it belongs to the same family of plants as Cicuta and poison hemlock.”

Celery leaves growing up from the garden. Andy Roberts / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Celery cultivation began in Mediterranean coastal areas. Highly prized for its medicinal properties, the Romans and the Greeks used it only as a medicine. It was not until the early 1600s that historical records note celery’s cultivation as a food crop.

For hundreds of years, celery was considered an expensive delicacy, reserved only for garnishing and flavoring purposes. Today, celery is no longer a luxury item and is a significant ingredient in a wide range of dishes worldwide. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of celery.

As long-season crop, celery can be rather difficult to grow. Many experienced gardeners say it is the most challenging vegetable to cultivate in the homestead garden. Celery cannot tolerate heat. Celery requires nutrient-rich soil, consistent uniform moisture, high humidity, cool evening temperatures, and a long growing season of 130-140 days.

“Celery has a reputation for being a fussy, hard-to-grow vegetable,” writes the National Gardening Association. “There’s a lot of truth to that, but with the right climate and some care, you can grow large, tender plants. A dozen plants will take up five or six feet of row, and it’s worth trying.”

Celery Growing Tips

In southern climates, celery is cultivated as a winter crop. In the far north, celery does well as a summer crop. It’s a fall crop in most other United Plant Hardiness Zones. Celery roots normally grow about 6-8 inches below the soil level but can extend as deep as two feet. Celery requires loose, well-tilled soil and won’t flourish in areas with compacted clay.

Celery grows best in nutrient-rich, medium-textured mineralized soils enhanced with a generous application of organic matter. Amend soil with well-aged herbivore manure (e.g. cow, sheep, goat, horse, or llama.) Adding peat moss to the soil helps aid in moisture retention.

When preparing an area in the garden to cultivate celery, turn over the soil to a depth of at least 18-inches: breaking up dirt clods and removing rocks, roots, and debris. Add equal parts of peat moss, well-aged manure or garden compost, and landscape sand. Work them well into the soil.

Celery growing in a garden. Br3nda / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Celery grows well in soil with a pH of 5.8-6.0. After you have prepared the garden plot, test soil pH and amend as needed. Soil pH testing kits are available online or at local home and garden centers, or you may take a soil sample to your local county extension office for testing. If your soil sample indicates the soil is too acidic, you can raise soil pH by adding a generous amount of wood ash or liming material.

Celery requires lots of water and thrives in a garden plot where a drip system of irrigation can be established. If celery does not receive adequate moisture, its stalks will be tough, stunted, and bitter.

Celery can be grown from seed or transplants available from local garden nurseries. Favorite varieties include:

  • Tango
  • Venture
  • Golden Boy

Because celery requires such a long time to mature, unless you live in a region with an extended growing season, celery seeds should be started indoors 10-12 weeks before the last frost of the season.

  • Celery seeds are quite small and rather difficult to handle. For ease in planting, mix 10 parts landscape sand with 1 part seeds.
  • Lightly sprinkle the seed-sand mixture over a tray of potting soil. Cover with a thin layer of potting soil. Celery seeds need to be planted shallow. Keep soil evenly moist. It should about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. Use a spray bottle to mist the potting soil, as direct watering will disturb the seeds.
  • Patience is required: celery takes up to three weeks to germinate. Be sure to keep seed trays in a warm area where the temperature does not fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, If the seeds receive a cold chill, they will fail to germinate.
  • Once seeds have sprouted and are sturdy enough to handle, transfer seedlings to individual pots. When seedlings develop 4-6 leaves, they are ready to be transplanted to the garden.
  • It is wise to delay planting celery seedlings outside in the garden until soil temperatures rise to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Celery is very temperature sensitive and cold soil will weaken or kill the delicate seedlings.

Celery plants require at least six hours of full sun daily to reach optimum flavor and size at maturity. However, celery plants prefer shade during the hottest part of the day. Tomatoes, bush beans, and leeks, when planted as companion plants, provide noontime shade for shorter celery stalks.

Blanching Celery Before Harvest

Experienced gardeners recommend blanching celery before harvesting. Celery that is not cultivated in this manner has a tendency to be bitter. Blanched celery plants have a much lighter color.

Blanching is accomplished by wrapping the plant with multiple layers of paper or cardboard to block harsh direct rays of the sun from reaching the plant. Secure covering with landscape twists or cords. Another method of blanching involves gradually mounding up soil around the base of the plant until soil reaches the leaves.

Although blanching involves a bit more work, the result will be sweet, succulent, and tender celery you will be justifiably proud to share with family and friends.

Harvesting And Storing Celery

Stored in the refrigerator crisper, celery will keep well for up to two weeks. Celery can be canned, dehydrated, pickled, or frozen.

“Celery stores really well – you can keep it for many weeks with no trouble,” writes the National Gardening Association. “Dig up the plants carefully, disturbing the roots as little as possible. Replant them in boxes of sand in your root cellar or set them close together in a trench in your cold frame where you can keep them from freezing. As long as the roots stay moist and the stalks dry, they’ll really keep. Temperatures in the range of 35F to 40F are best for good storage.”

Harvested celery at the grocery store // USDA / Lance Cheung>References:

Growing Celery, The National Gardening Association

How To Grow Celery, Library Of Congress

Celery, United States Department Of Agriculture

19 DIY Duck House Plans

Fri, 08/20/2021 - 15:59

Ducks differ in their needs from backyard chickens, and it can be straightforward to create a DIY duck house with some readily available, basic materials. When starting your flock, making your own duck house instead of purchasing an overpriced product from a retail store, can save you time and money. 

If you want to add waterfowl to your current flock, they will require adequate living space to protect them from predators and extreme weather conditions. However, if your existing barn or chicken coop is not ideal for ducks and would be too difficult to modify, it is easy to find simple DIY duck house plans and get started right away. 

Important Details to Consider When Building a Duck House

Before you rush out and select a duck house DIY plan, you should consider some important details. With careful planning, you will end up creating a structure to suit your birds and fit into your outdoor living space. 

As mentioned, ducks will have different needs than chickens, so using a DIY duck house can be the best solution to ensure all of your birds are healthy, happy, and protected. 

Duck House Height and Size

Ducks do not roost like chickens do when they retire for the evening. Instead, they are content lying on the floor in warm, dry bedding. Because of this behavior, you do not have to create a tall DIY duck house containing various levels. 

How large their entrance door is will depend on the type of duck you own. The door should be wide enough for two ducks to fit through at once since they often will not wait their turn and like to push and shove. 

These birds can be quite clumsy since their bodies are heavy, and their webbed feet are often wet and slippery. Therefore, the structure should not be far off the ground, making it easy to go in and out. If there is a height difference between the ground and the opening, you will want to include a wide ramp. 

Domestic waterfowl require at least 4 square feet of space per bird to ensure they are comfortable even at a mature size. Before you begin constructing their new home, you must determine the number of ducks you want to shelter. If the duck house does not have enough space for the number of birds you own, problems can occur. 

Types of Materials to Use

For a simple DIY duck house, you can use various materials, including plywood, two-by-four lumber, vinyl flooring, and welded wire. 

You will want a sturdy wood or cement floor to keep any predators from getting into the duck house and using your pets as their next meal. 

Since ducks are messy eaters and drinkers, there will be water and wet feet everywhere. Installing an inexpensive, vinyl flooring material will keep the wood from rotting due to excessive moisture. You can also use flooring tiles (or a tarp that will lie over the bottom) which you can remove for easy cleaning later. 

Installing sticky vinyl tiles along the walls approximately a foot above the floor will help with cleanup since these waterfowl are notorious for splashing and throwing water and mud around. 

Using traction strips or a mat can be a terrific addition to their entrance ramp to ensure your ducks have secure footing as they travel up and down. Again, duck feet can be wet or muddy, and you do not want them to slip and fall off the ramp as they go into the duck house. 

Duck House Type and Purpose

When choosing the best DIY duck house, deciding on the type and purpose should be your first step. Many of these structures will vary in size and where they will fit in your yard. There are several types of duck houses you will find.

  • Completely predator-proof styles to lock up your ducks at night
  • Protective homes enclosed inside a predator-proof pen
  • Floating duck houses for ponds or lakes
  • Plans that reuse old building materials
  • Houses that add onto existing runs or enclosed yards
  • Portable duck houses to move around your yard 
Other Considerations 

When finding your duck house DIY plan, ventilation is a critical factor for waterfowl. Ducks can get wet, track in water and mud, and even their breath is moist. Proper ventilation will ensure that the environment will remain dry and comfortable. 

Some pet owners will remove the ducks’ food and water dishes in the evening. They do not need it during this time anyhow, and if it is there, there is a good possibility they will make a mess. Ensure the coop plans have easy access to the inside to remove dishes whenever you wish and for proper cleaning. 

Ducks do not need nesting boxes as chickens do, so many duck house DIY plans will not include it. If you prefer to supply them with an area in the house for a nest, ensure there is still enough space for all your feathered friends. 

Related Post: 10 Considerations for Your Backyard Duck Coop

Free Duck House Plans to Consider

Let’s look at 19 of the best DIY duck house ideas we found.

4-by-4 Standard Duck House From My Outdoor Plansphoto courtesy of my outdoor plans

This standard DIY duck house plan will not take long to complete. It is a nice size to house several ducks but is not too large for anyone with a smaller space. 

Find the plans at My Outdoor PlansDIY 6-by-8 Duck Hotelphoto courtesy of backyard chickens

This hotel plan is a unique choice for duck owners looking for a personality for their DIY wood duck house. This structure has ample space for several birds and can be easily modified from a chicken coop to a duck house by removing the roosting bars and the additional nesting boxes. 

Find the plans at Backyard Chickens3-by-4 A-Frame Duck House photo courtesy of diy diva

This A-frame structure is simple to construct and will give your ducks ample space to curl up for the night. In addition, the compact design makes it easy to customize your ducks’ home with wood or asphalt shingles, exterior paint colors, and personal touches, like shutters. 

Find the plans at DIY Diva4-Foot Cable Spool Duck House photo courtesy of instructables

These DIY duck house plans use 4-foot wooden spools. By placing this house into a predator-proof pen and duck run, you will not have to worry about adding a door to keep your ducks safe. 

Find the plans at Instructables2-by-6 Portable Quaker Box Duck House photo courtesy of tyrant farms

This 2- by 6-foot Quaker box duck house has wheels and a handle to quickly relocate your ducks to another section of the yard. Move it daily to cut down on cleanup and keep your insects and pests at bay. 

Find the plans at Tyrant FarmsUpcycled DIY Duck House Planphoto courtesy of bepa’s garden

If you have spare building materials around your shop or yard, your structure can be as large or small as you wish, depending on the materials. Keep waste out of the landfill and reuse old building materials to create a perfect home for your waterfowl. 

Find the plans at Bepa’s GardenPallet Duck House and Run 

With some pallet wood and a few extra supplies, including some roofing material, predator-proof welded wire, and latches, you can have a complete house and run finished in just an afternoon. 

Find the plans at Tactical House WifeSpacious Duck House and Pen photo courtesy of hip chick digs

The setup gives several ducks 4 square feet of space each, along with room to roam outside. The roofing material will keep their house dry and warm, as well as protect them from predators. 

Find the plans at Hip Chick Digs4-by-4 Square DIY Wooden Duck House

These plans are simple to follow and will have your ducks in new living quarters in only one day. This 4- by 4-foot structure will house up to 16 ducks without problems. Choosing DIY duck house plans larger than you need will allow your flock to grow in the future. 

Find the plans at HowTo SpecialistRecycled Wooden Packing Crate Duck House

Packing crates are sturdy, and you can modify them easily to add charm and personality with only a few additional materials. Remember to add ventilation holes and waterproof roofing material to ensure the new home will last for years. 

Find the plans at Poultry KeeperDIY Wood Pallet Duck House photo courtesy of yellow birch hobby farms

You can purchase pallets from companies, but many businesses will give them away to anyone willing to take them. With some imagination, you can turn leftover pallets into a terrific duck house that will provide shelter from the elements and predators. 

Find the plans at Yellow Birch Hobby FarmRustic Duck House photo courtesy of the cape cod

If you want to add ducks to your existing flock of chickens, this rustic duck house is the perfect solution. Using scrap wood and leftover building supplies, you can construct a suitable habitat for your waterfowl while still keeping their wet messes away from your chickens. 

Find the plans at The Cape CoopSimple 4-by-4 Cottage Duck House 

These DIY plans make constructing your next duck house easy. It contains a removable floor layer for easy cleaning and a food cupboard to help secure it from predators. 

Find the plans at Yellow Cottage HomesteadFloating DIY Duck House photo courtesy of goods gome design

If you want to spoil your pet ducks and have a large body of water they can access, this floating duck house is perfect. The plans do not require complex supplies or tools and add charm to any garden pond or duck pool. 

Find the plans at Goods Home DesignConvert a Chicken Coop Into a Duck House 

If you have a small chicken coop that you do not use anymore, you can easily convert it for ducks. All you need to do is widen the door opening, install a small ramp, add extra ventilation, and remove any roosting bars or nesting boxes. 

Find the plans at Modern FarmerTiny Waterfront Pallet Oasisphoto courtesy of the homesteading boards

If your ducks are lucky enough to have a pond, this tiny waterfront pallet oasis is ideal. You can create it in no time and have your birds resting comfortably after a day of swimming. 

Find the plans at The Homesteading BoardsConvert an Old Dog House for Your Ducks photo courtesy of fresh eggs daily

An old dog house can be the perfect house to protect your ducks from predators. Add some ventilation for proper airflow and ensure that it sits within a predator-proof enclosure, and you and your birds will be happy. 

Find the plans at Fresh Eggs Daily Simple Barnyard Duck Housephoto courtesy of needles and nails

Anyone who can use hand tools can make this simple barnyard duck house for their birds. Added touches include nonslip mats and a small pool to splash in while staying safe from predators. 

Find the plans at Needles and Nails BlogAccessible Slanted Roof Duck Housephoto courtesy of the project lady

This DIY duck house uses a slanted roof to ensure water runs off instead of inside. The top also lifts for easy cleaning and to retrieve eggs.

Find the plans at The Project Lady

Foraging for Wild Spinach

Wed, 08/18/2021 - 15:44

“Eat more healthy! Eat organic leafy greens!” The bleached-smile exhortations of the nutritional elite ring out from websites and health shows. So we trundle over to the grocery store and are greeted by the sight of an $8 bundle of organic spinach that would barely feed a rabbit — much less a whole family. Then we grumble to Twitter, repeating the common line that it’s just not financially possible for us to buy those health foods. We mumble through mouthfuls of “food” from a Burger-World paper sack that it’s not our fault we can’t afford ridiculously priced, real food. Not everyone has an organic farm in their backyard; not everyone has a 6-figure salary that can support a green smoothie habit. Not everyone can eat healthy.

Hold up! This whole story, familiar as it may sound, is a fallacy embodied. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Watch the Video

Yes, we need to eat more leafy, organic greens. Many of our American dinner plates are painfully, tragically devoid of nutrition and the tradition of cooking greens as a daily part of our diet. And yes, we need to eat organic ones — as the pesticides coating the surfaces of commercial veggies are nothing to ignore. But no, they are not prohibitively expensive — not all of them. And no, your only other option for a full stomach is not prepackaged garbage masquerading as nutrition. Real food is not more expensive than fast food. You just have to think outside the takeout box (and outside the grocery store box) because some of the best, most nutritious, and widely available foods are right outside your door, absolutely free for the taking.

Enter wild spinach.

Wild spinach is a weed that knows no socioeconomic bounds. It grows among the fancy cultivated tea roses in the gated community and fills the abandoned lots of the city. It’s probably growing in your garden or next to the sidewalk right now. When I lived in a poor city neighborhood, I allowed this wonderful plant to take over much of my postage stamp of a backyard, and in return, it fed me and my family countless meals for free. Now, when I find it on our homestead, it’s a familiar friend … even when (annoyingly) pushing past my seedling corn.

I’d like to introduce you to this abundant weed. I bet you’ve met it before, but had no idea it was food. Let’s fix that!

Finding and Identifying Wild Spinach

Chenopodium album is a plant of a dozen common names — this is one of the many reasons why knowing the scientific name of a plant is imperative when it comes to identifying it correctly. I’ll be referring to it as wild spinach for the purposes of this article, but you’ll also find this plant called lamb’s quarters, goosefoot, pigweed, bacon weed, melde, bathua, frost-blite, or fat hen, to name a few. I take its multitude of titles as a marker of how useful this plant has been in the past for humans and animals alike.

Chenopodium album is found pretty much anywhere across the United States. Though C. album, the feature plant of this article, is listed as a debatably European weed (it’s been in cultivation so long nobody’s really sure of its origin), it is very closely related with C. berlandieri, a native plant that was used as a food and grain source by Native American Nations for thousands of years. These plants also hybridize and have incredibly diverse forms. So all that to say — it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and you’ll not need to worry about overharvesting when you find a decent patch of it. Pluck those leaves at will.

wild spinach // wren Everett

Wild spinach is a summer plant, growing in abundance as the mercury rises and the sun blazes. It endures, too, growing all the way until the leaves start to fall. In my personal foraging calendar, it graciously takes up the greens-for-dinner mantle once pokeweed has started to mature. It’s typically found in sunny places where the soil has been disturbed. This is a huge list of areas including river bottoms, sun-soaked slopes, construction sites, any garden plot, crop fields, backyards, semi-arid areas, pastures, abandoned lots, and areas disturbed by recent floods.

striped Stem of the wild spinach // wren everett

In appearance, I find the plant to be distinctive. The leaves alternate, growing on a striped stem that often has a bit of red where the leaves join with it. The leaves grow in a vaguely arrowhead shape with wide teeth or lobes along their edges. As with most plants, those growing in direct sunlight will have more sculpted edges than those growing in partial shade. And most distinctively, the undersides of the bluish-green leaves are coated with an unmistakable whitish powder — it will rub off on your fingers if you touch it, giving the leaves a distinctively gritty feeling. The powder is harmless and rubs off when you wash the plant for consumption, but it’s a key characteristic. You’ll especially find this white powder on the leafy tips of a branch where new growth is forming. Aside from helping with identification, this powdery layer makes dew drops bead beautifully on wild spinach leaves. Grab your macro lens and get some gorgeous early morning photography, if you happen upon it.

If you catch the plant growing in early summer, it may be only a foot tall. That’s usually when you find it peeking between the tomatoes in your garden. But left unmolested, it will easily grow between 3 and 5 feet tall, and up to 7 feet in optimal growing conditions.

As the plant matures, it branches out and begins creating its underwhelming flower stalks. The flowers are tiny and unremarkable, but they produce tons of little black, shiny seeds. Upon close inspection, some people may notice that they bear a remarkable similarity to quinoa. And in fact, that recently popular Andean grain is also part of the Chenopodium genus.

In the fall, the plants turn a lovely fire red before they die. This is usually when the seeds are ripe and falling. Grab a handful of the abundant, bitty grains and spread them where you want to find a haul of wild spinach next year.

Look-Alikes

To my knowledge, there aren’t any problematic look-alikes for wild spinach. The only plants I’ve found that have a similar appearance are other just-as-edible members of the Chenopodium genus. Though C. album is probably the most widespread, those who live in the eastern United States will likely also encounter C. hybridium, the maple-leaved goosefoot. This species is more tolerant of shade, often growing in hardwood forests. It also lacks the distinctive whitish powder on its leafy undersides, but is nonetheless, just as edible and useful. There are many other members of this genus that are locally abundant across the United States. As you grow in botanical literacy, check your local flora guides for the Chenopodium plants that grow in your region.

Note: Samuel Thayer mentions in his book The Forager’s Harvest, that Mexican tea and epazote may be unsafe to eat in quantity. Apparently, they have a strong smell and look quite different from other similar plants (and have been reclassified as Dysphania ambrosioides).

Harvesting Wild Spinach

In the late spring and early summer, you can harvest the entire plant. The stem should be tender enough by that point to not pose a problem in your finished dish. Once the heat of summer sets in and the plant really takes off growing, however, the main growing stem will quickly become way too tough to eat, or even break easily. The leaves, no matter what stage, however, are always prime pickings.

Plucking individual leaves from 5-foot plants is incredibly tiresome, however. So, I’ll share my method of harvesting buckets of greens in short order. If you want to leave the plant standing to produce seeds later on, hold the tender growing tip in one hand to keep the branch taught, then, skipping that first tuft of leaves, run your closed hand down the length of the stems. The leaves and tender little branches will snap off effortlessly.

If you’re cleaning out plants from the garden and already ripped them out, you just need to run your fist against the grain of the plucked stem — laying them on a picnic table will make it easy to get things organized. After you’ve twisted off the tender growing tip as well, place handfuls of greens in your bag or basket, and throw the cleaned stems in the compost pile. Within minutes, you’ll have a heap of food for dinner.

The one safety note I have concerning wild spinach has nothing to do with the plant itself, but with its growing environment. As a mineral-rich green, this plant uptakes all its abundant nutrition from the soil. This fascinating feature makes wild spinach a useful plant in bioremediation experiments, as it is able to remove heavy metals from the soil naturally. But it also means that plants growing in contaminated ground are, themselves, contaminated. When you gather your wild spinach, therefore, vet the environment and make a judgement call about whether or not it’s polluted. Plants growing in your garden or yard are fine, and plants growing in an abandoned lot in the city are probably alright too, but plants growing around a dump, parking lot, or otherwise industrialized area are probably not safe for consumption.

I should mention that the seeds, being quinoa relatives, are edible as well. I should also mention, however, that I’ve never gone through the process of collecting enough to merit cooking them. The seeds of C. album are tiny and a bit fiddly to free from their calyxes — at least with the methods I’ve tried. My inexperience in this department should not stop you, though. There are archaeological records indicating that different Native Americans did gather and consume the seeds as a grain. I would love to have known their process.

There are also different species of Chenopodium plants that have different-sized seeds. The maple-leaved goosefoot in particular, has much bigger seeds, but since it doesn’t grow in my area, I haven’t gotten to mess around with it. If any of you have experience with using this underutilized food source, please share your know-how with us below! And in the meantime, you can check out Ashley’s endeavors using water to winnow C. album grain at her website: Practical Self Reliance.

Cooking Wild Spinach

Wild spinach is a perfect spinach substitute, and you can use it in any and every way that you would the conventional stuff. Raw, wilted, or fully cooked, it is as versatile as it is delicious. I actually prefer wild spinach to cultivated spinach, as I find it doesn’t give me that minerally weird, tooth-squeaky feeling that I often get when eating store bought leaves. Instead, the flavor, while mild, is unmistakably green and hearty with a very wild floral note. And the nutrition can’t be beat. I don’t give much stock to nutritional analyses of wild greens as they vary so widely according to their environments, but if these numbers here are anything close, it’s safe to assume that wild spinach is full of good stuff your body needs.

If you’re accustomed to cooking wild greens, you’ll not have any trouble coming up with ideas for this abundant food source. But if you’re feeling a little unsure, here are some easy ways to use one of my favorite, summer wild foods.

One of the easiest is to throw a handful of cleaned leaves into whatever you’re cooking at the time. The first handful of this summer’s wild spinach harvest, for example, was washed and tossed into an Italian-style stew, and served alongside eggs and corn pones. The leaves cook down quickly, adding their color and nutrition without swerving the flavors. Wild spinach is also amazing stir-fried with ginger and garlic or thrown into an omelet with cheese.

A simmered and blended wild spinach paste is also an incredibly versatile ingredient. Add it to soups, blend it with eggs and spices and bake it in a pie crust, or add tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic to make a verdant and bright pasta sauce.

My absolute favorite way to use wild spinach, however, is in a wild version of palak paneer — those delectable homemade cheese cubes swimming in a fragrantly spiced green gravy. I’ll be detailing my recipe (along with others) in an upcoming article, so stay tuned!

And true to its name, “fat hen” wild spinach is relished by chickens. But once you figure out how tasty and useful it is, you may have a hard time sharing it with them.

Most people have seen this weed and having it growing somewhere nearby, and I’d wager that a majority of them have no idea it is food. Can you imagine the healthful impact of adding this one, healthful, easy-to-identify and easy-to-cook green to everyone’s knowledge base? That pile of overpriced spinach at the grocery store would stop holding so much esteem, that’s for sure. And maybe the misconception that healthy food is the privilege of the well-off would lose its edge as well. Good food is everywhere, and available to everyone who has the eyes to see it. I hope that you make acquaintances with Chenopodium album. It’s a good friend to know!




Homestead Stories: Japanese Knotweed

Fri, 08/13/2021 - 15:00

“It’s so pretty.” I heard the comment of a nearby, daily walker. “Why is she pulling it?”

I wanted to stop what I was doing and explain, but I was making progress — well, sort of — and I didn’t want to lose momentum. It was a nasty job, pulling invasive weeds and this weed was one of the worst. It threatened to extinction everything that tried to grow in the general vicinity.

nz_willowherb // flickr

You’re probably wondering what weed could possibly be worse than dandelions, which have medicinal purposes and nurture the pollinators, particularly honeybees and wild parsnips. It may have once been a source of edible root vegetables, but it’s now considered toxic on many levels.

The current purge I was working on was the invasive Japanese knotweed. Pretty as it is with its delicate flash of white-green flowers, Japanese knotweed is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species by the Global Invasive Species Database. And, with good reason.

Japanese Knotweed Appearance

To describe it as tall when fully mature is an understatement. The Japanese knotweed can grow as tall as 9 feet (3 meters). Its stems are thick and tough like bamboo and its leaves are broad and shaped like teardrops. The plant grows densely and overtakes native vegetation. The stems of new growth are reddish or purplish. As the plant matures, the stem color turns green with red or purple specks. Small, greenish-white flowers appear in late July or August and produce a white fruit that encases the shiny, brown, triangular-shaped seeds. Wind and water help spread the seeds.

It’s a woody-stemmed herbaceous perennial, also classified as a rhizomatous plant due to its massive netting of rhizomes. The Japanese knotweed is part of the buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family. The naming of this family is apropos with its origins being from the Greek words, “poly” which means many (and Japanese knotweed definitely grows many) and “goni” which means knee or joint (probably referring to the bamboo-like stalks that dry out and die in the fall, but remain standing tall and strong all winter).

Natural Habitat

This invasive Japanese knotweed grows everywhere: wetlands, riverbanks, roadsides, ditches, utility rights-of-way, fence lines, and of course, my garden. In North America, it’s found in Canadian provinces from Ontario to Newfoundland and in parts of British Columbia where it’s not too arid (the interior regions of British Columbia can be very dry) and it’s found in 42 states outside arid regions like the Southwest and several of the Gulf states. It also doesn’t grow well in the highest areas of the Rocky Mountains in Canada or the United States.

cuthbert25 // flickr

With its invasive nature, it’s quite literally spreading across the continent. As it grows and aggressively takes over an area, its dense thicket of bamboo-like stalks has a negative impact on the native plants. Since it grows in dense thickets, it literally crowds out all the other growth. It has an extensive rhizome root system which is a particular concern when it affects building foundations and other infrastructure. The root system is particularly destructive as it can grow through asphalt and concrete.

 Old homesteads are often overgrown with this weed which was probably once introduced as an ornamental plant. The wind spreads the seeds and the rhizomes spread unrelentingly underground. The rhizomes can be dug up, but not necessarily eradicated. And even forces of nature, like flooding, can’t diminish its spread. It’s a highly persistent species.

Edibility

Interestingly, the new growth that appears in spring has the appearance of asparagus spears, purplish in color before fading to green as it matures. If eaten, Japanese knotweed (which is considered by aboriginal peoples to be a medicinal herb) actually tastes something like asparagus. Some people describe it as a cross between asparagus and rhubarb. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It can be sautéed or pickled or even baked in a pies or crumbles. In fact, there is such a thing as knotweed beer! However, it’s best to peel the tough, outer layer in the more mature shoots. When eaten raw, it’s juicy and tastes tart like rhubarb, and it’s crunchy like both rhubarb and asparagus. The leaves can also be eaten like spinach — in a salad or cooked.

jo zimny photos // flickr

Whilst the weed is edible at any time during the growing season, the best time to use Japanese knotweed as an edible plant is April and May. The first shoots of spring appear at this time, and when they are about 8 inches in height, they are tender for eating. Later in the season, they become stringy (like rhubarb) and will definitely need to be peeled.

You can pretty much substitute Japanese knotweed for any of your savory asparagus dishes, or your sweet rhubarb desserts. Either way, peel it if the outer layer is tough and springy, and then chop the shoots into 1-inch pieces. For a savory dish, you may either boil until soft or sauté in butter for about 10 minutes until tender and light beige in color. Add salt and other herbs to taste and serve as a side dish or add to casseroles.

For a sweet dessert, boil in water and sugar (more sugar than water, usually 1 cup sugar to 1/4 cup water) until completely soft and most of the water has been absorbed. Add to pies or sweet sauces and serve like any other sweet dessert.

Sweet and savory as it may be, as an invasive species, it is illegal to transport or sell it in most parts of the country. Yet, gourmet restaurants everywhere have added Japanese knotweed to their menu in various forms, from raw to cooked, in all variety of dishes. It adds a unique flavor and makes for a great conversation piece. Know the plant if you tend to hike in the wild, as it makes for great survival food if stranded somewhere.

To Grow or Not to Grow?

Although it’s classified as an invasive species, there are no restrictions imposed (yet) to curb the inclusion of this plant in private gardens. If the plant appeals to you and you want to add it to your garden despite the fact it might totally take over, there is no reason to prevent you from doing so. The choice is yours, but beware of the risks should you choose to include it. There really is no way to contain it effectively, especially if the rhizomes worm their way 30 feet from your original planting!

That said, should you choose to grow Japanese knotweed for any of its positive benefits and edible qualities, it’s easy to start and will thrive in any garden area where it’s planted. It prefers full sun, but it will grow just about anywhere, as long as there’s moist soil. The plants spread well along riverbanks. The roots can split and be spread downstream by the current to easily establish new growing areas. As mentioned, these underground rhizomes have the ability to spread 30 feet or more from the parent plant. Its voracity makes one cringe at the destructive nature.

On the other hand, if (like me) you want to get rid of this invasive weed/herb/plant (whatever you want to call it), there are some herbicides like Roundup that work well. Best to apply in the late summer when the plant is past its prime. However, if (also like me) you don’t want to use chemicals, you can tackle the problem the old-fashioned way: Dig it up and burn it, or discard it safely and effectively so it doesn’t take root elsewhere. I’m good at the digging and discarding process as I’ve tackled everything from brambles to weed trees and so much more. My shovel and my back are always getting a good workout in the garden.

Today’s post is brought to you by award-winning author and artist, Emily-Jane Hills Orford http://emilyjanebooks.ca When this author isn’t writing, creating collage paintings, working on her needlework or composing, you’ll find her in the garden. Even in the winter, gardening is not far from her thoughts as she plans and prepares for the next season and the next growing adventure. Using pressed flowers from her garden, this author/artist/composer, is gardening indoors with multi-faceted garden ideas re-created on canvas.

15 DIY Carport Plans

Wed, 08/11/2021 - 16:39

Anyone living in an area dominated by harsh elements understands the importance of carports. Apart from protecting the car from the harshest weather, carports also provide additional and versatile space. They ensure your asset enjoys enhanced protection.

The good news is you don’t have to hire professional contractors to build a carport for you. You can do it yourself. Building your own carport proves you’re a responsible car owner and saves you tons of money. A DIY carport is a great option for anyone looking to get inexpensive cover for their vehicle.

This article shows you what you need for a DIY carport including materials and tools. You will also learn about 15 DIY carport plans worth considering.

Important Details to Consider When Building a Carport

Building a carport is intense work requiring plenty of preparation. You should think about a few important details first — which you will find below. Before starting, confirm that you have all the appropriate tools. Apart from tools, there are a few other things to consider.

Carport Height and Size

How much space do you have for the carport? Is the space enough for the carport and your vehicle? Before you lift the first tool, confirm whether the height is enough for the car. Otherwise, you may have a carport cover that’s too low for your vehicle.

Types of Materials to Use

Next, you need to select your tools carefully. The construction of a carport requires a unique set of tools and materials. It’s worth mentioning, however, that you can recycle or reuse some of these materials to save even more money.

Here are the tools you need for a carport DIY project.

  • Drills (cordless or power)
  • Screws or TEK screws
  • Hammer drills
  • Grinder
  • Tin snips
  • Tape measure
  • Sockets and spanners
  • Rivet gun
  • Spirit level
  • Laser level
  • Ladders, duct lifts, scissor lifts, scaffold, trestles
  • Safety gear
  • Concrete

Apart from these tools, you should also consider whether you want to build a DIY metal carport or DIY tarp carport. You need metal sheets for the former, while a tarp is mandatory for the latter. Additionally, get whatever materials you need if you decide to construct a DIY solar carport.

Carport Location

The location of the carport is another critical detail. For location, you need to evaluate your property carefully to determine the ideal spot for the carport. It’s best to erect the carport in a flat and level area. Secondly, confirm if the surface is suitable for building such a structure.

Avoid areas with utility lines for gas, electric, and water services.

Other Considerations

There are several other factors worth examining before proceeding with the construction of a DIY carport. For example, you should build a carport that matches the style of your entire property. That way, it won’t look out of place.

Don’t forget to check or apply for local permits, too. For this, you may need assistance understanding the local building or zoning codes to avoid falling foul of the law. You could visit the offices of the local authorities to learn more about the regulations.

How much labor do you need to install the structure? In some cases, you could build it alone, while in others, you will need a team — even amateurs such as friends and family — to help you with the DIY project.

Free Carport Plans to Consider

Before dashing outside to start constructing your DIY carport, determine whether to choose paid or free carport plans. This article delves into free plans that are just as effective as the paid alternatives. Let’s look at the top 15 free DIY carport plans.

Attached Carport Plans

This simply means the DIY lean-to carport is attached to your home rather than standing alone. To build it, you need to make sure it has right-angled corners. Typically, it takes a day (depending on your skill level) to build the attached carport as a DIY project.

Find the plans at My Outdoor PlansFreestanding Double CarportPhoto courtesy of How-to specialist

A freestanding double carport is an excellent option for a household with more than one car. It’s also suitable for families with snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles. Before proceeding with construction, get an engineer’s input before pouring the footings.

Find the plans at How-To SpecialistDIY Carport Cheap

With some lattice panels, roofing tins, support poles, and lumber, you have almost everything needed to build an inexpensive DIY carport. As cheap as it is, the carport will let you enjoy the protection it offers your car for years.

Find the plans on YouTube10-by-16 DIY Lean-to Carport

Are you wondering whether a carport is worth building for that small car you own? In that case, the 10-by-16, DIY lean-to carport is what you need. For such a structure, invest in cedar or any other kind of weather-resistant lumber, as that will give you a carport that lasts years.

Find the plans at My Outdoor PlansDIY Carport With Storagephoto courtesy of how-to specialist

It’s possible to build a DIY carport with storage. Such a structure is impressive for its ability to protect the car while providing enough space for storing small garden equipment. Because of its double function, this option might be best if you have one car.

Find the plans at How-To SpecialistDIY RV Carport

The 20-by-40 DIY RV carport is worth your time and energy because of its ability to protect large cars or multiple vehicles. With its gable roof, it would have no difficulty sheltering your boat as well, and sturdy trusses make it even more special.

Find the plans at Garden Plans FreeRecycled Shipping Container Carportphoto courtesy of I save a to z

It’s possible to make a DIY carport from recycled shipping containers. That’s right. You can transform a shipping container into a one-car carport that can also serve as a storage unit. One of the attractions of this option is its ability to remain standing in the face of fierce winds.

Find the plans at I Save A to ZPVC Carport

If you want to save even more money, you would be better off going for the DIY PVC carport. A PVC carport is more affordable than a DIY metal carport and all types of DIY wood carports. Apart from costs, it’s pretty light and thus needs reinforcement to protect it from flying away when strong winds blow.

Find the plans at HunkerDIY Solar Carport

A DIY solar carport is a wonderfully inexpensive addition to your property. Its sustainability and ease of assembly are worth the construction time. Additionally, it offers you the option of portability, and you can install it as a freestanding structure or a DIY lean-to carport.

Find the plans at InstructablesDIY Tarp Carportphoto courtesy of bootstrap farmer

Why should you pay more for a carport when you can save tons of money with a DIY tarp carport? With this option, you don’t have to dig footers or lift huge, heavy posts that threaten to break your back. On top of that, you can install it in a single day without any additional help.

Find the plans at Bootstrap FarmerThree-Car Carport

A three-car carport is an excellent option if you have a large family or own up to three vehicles. Feel free to customize it according to your preferences and the property’s appearance. Consider gable roofing to make everything sturdier and better in appearance.

Find the plans at How-To SpecialistDIY Carport Kit

A DIY carport kit comes with everything you need. You would only need a few additional tools and equipment to make your work manageable and effective. More impressively, you can order a kit that’s to your specifications.

Find the plans at Home DepotFlat Roof Carportphoto courtesy of fair dinkum builds

The simplicity and functionality of flat roof carports make them the most popular. Added to that is the fact they are quite easy to install. Visually, they are clean and open while not requiring any additional reinforcement.

Find the plans at Fair Dinkum Builds Carport Pergola

A carport pergola is attractive for many reasons. First, it is cheap to build. Second, you can finish building it within a day to create a half-shady area to park your car. Then you only need to plant vines at the foot of every support post to make it eco-friendly.

Find the plans on YouTubeDIY Wood Carport

DIY wood carport plans are not complex. This type of DIY carport is the most customizable, too — you can make it suit your entire house easily. This plan is the best if you want to stay away from fancy garages that cost a fortune to erect.

Find the plans at How-To SpecialistConclusion

Building a DIY carport is not a complicated procedure that only rocket scientists can perform. You can do it with some of the most basic tools and materials. Moreover, recycling or reusing some materials and structures, such as an old shipping container, will save you time and money.

At Insteading, we advise our clients to embrace the DIY culture. It is an excellent way of saving money and learning new skills. Building a DIY carport offers you a chance to put your creativity to the test not only when it comes to the type of DIY carport plan you select, but also in matching its design to your property.

What Is Fruit Tree Grafting?

Fri, 08/06/2021 - 16:43

Do you have an orchard or a beautiful fruit tree you would like to see produce more fruit? Are you interested in growing more fruit varieties but not necessarily planting more trees? And would you like to produce fruit quicker on younger trees?

If the answer was yes to any of the above, you might want to look into fruit tree grafting.

Fruit Tree Grafting

Grafting is the process of joining two different plants together to grow as one. It is accomplished by joining an upper section of one plant with the lower section of another. 

Fruit Tree Orchard // Andy Rogers on FlickrWhy Graft?

Grafting is extremely common when managing and growing fruit trees because it is a fast and reliable way to propagate fruit. Grafting can allow multiple varieties to grow from a single tree, as well as getting younger trees to produce fruit faster.

Terminology

Before we continue, we need to cover some basic grafting terms.

  • Graft point/union: point that the graft is made
  • Scionwood: everything above the graft point
  • Budwood: alternate word for scionwood generally used for bud grafting techniques
  • Scion: scionwood before grafting, the cutting one selects for the graft
  • Rootstock: everything below the graft point, what scion is grafted to
  • Cambium: layer of tissue present on branches/stems/trunks, located beneath the bark layer 
Cambium Diagram // MIT OpenCourseWare on FlickrRecommended Tools

What do you need to successfully graft? Of course, there are tools made with the specific intention of grafting, but grafting can be accomplished with basic items found in the kitchen.

1. Knife

The best knife design to create grafts is a single sided, sharp, non-serrated blade. 

Grafting Knife // Elizabeth Buttram2. Pruners

Any type of pruning tool can work for grafting. The size of the pruners may differ depending on the relative size of what you are attempting to graft.

3. Bandage

After the scion has been successfully inserted into the graft point, it needs to be bandaged to help hold it in place and allow it to successfully heal, keeping out excess moisture and bacteria or infection.

4. Cellophane

This is a perfect material to bandage your graft. When selecting the bandaging material, anything plastic (waterproof) can work, and it’s ideal to use something clear or see-through so you can see what’s going on under the bandage without removing it. Plastic bags can be used as well. The bottom line is, it doesn’t have to be fancy or top-quality material to work.

5. Grafting Tape

If you find yourself having difficulty tying off your bandage, you can use tape to hold it. Tape is not a 100% necessary material to have, but can be helpful. 

Bandaged Grafts6. Disinfectant

Any type of rubbing alcohol or antibacterial soap. Disinfectant is for cleaning the knife blade before and after cutting your scion and rootstock (and any additional graft cuttings you make) so infection is less likely and will not spread.

7. Shade Cloths or Paper Bags

This is not a mandatory material but can be helpful and important if you are grafting in an area with direct sunlight exposure. Any type of paper or cloth bag can be used to help reduce sun exposure.

Deciding on Rootstock and Scionwood

When choosing a rootstock and scion to graft, there are a few factors one may want to consider. 

Rootstocks are generally chosen for their vigor, disease resistance, and hardiness. Different rootstocks will produce different qualities, so when deciding on a rootstock, consider what qualities you would like to promote. Some rootstocks grow dwarf trees that are easier to harvest in the long term due to the short stature of the tree. Other rootstocks are chosen for their resistance to damp conditions. Most often, however, rootstocks are chosen with the specific purpose of being compatible with pre-existing soil conditions in your area. 

Scionwood/scions are often selected with intentions of promoting specific varieties or selecting a tree that is a vigorous fruit producer. Scionwood may also be selected for the purpose of cloning a fruit tree. 

Compatibility

It is extremely important to ensure the scion and rootstock that you wish to graft are compatible. Oftentimes, grafting varieties of the same species will be suitable, but when trying to graft different species, compatibility issues can ensue. With the infinite possibilities of grafting, it would be impossible to include here which species are compatible for grafting and which are not. So when you are making your rootstock and scion choices, be sure you research whether what you are trying to accomplish is possible. 

If you find no prior research or answers on compatibility for your grafting choices, try it anyway. Grafting experiments can be beautiful, interesting, and fun.

Grafted Fruit // Malcolm Manners on Flickr

Related Post: 15 Weird and Wonderful Tropical Fruit Trees for Tropical Homesteads

Techniques

There are many grafting techniques. Here we will be covering the three most common (and simple to accomplish), but before we dive into them, the appropriate practice for harvesting and collecting scions needs to be explained.

Scion Harvesting Methods

Scions are typically taken from the tips of young branches with dormant or swelling buds. It is important to harvest scions from the tips of young branches. Younger branches have more resilience and the capability to adapt to a stressful environment (after all, being cut off the mother tree and transported to a foreign tree can be quite intense — imagine how you would feel). Also, younger branches are more flexible and have less chance of snapping or collecting additional wounds through the transport process. Knowing where you intend to graft the scion before selecting it is important. It allows you to know what size and width would be appropriate for your graft. In general, scion width should be similar, if not slightly smaller, than the section of rootstock you intend to graft it to. When cutting your scion, make sure you make a clean, smooth cut (ragged scion ends aren’t good for successful grafts).

Clef or Wedge Grafting

This is the most common grafting technique as it allows one to be less picky about the relative sizes of scions. You can use this method to graft onto side branches or graft directly onto the top of the rootstock.

  1. Choose the scionwood you would like to graft onto your rootstock. Use the steps noted above.
  2. Take the branch of the rootstock you would like to be grafted and trim it square/flat at the graft point. Use your pruners.
Rootstock Branch Graft Is Intended For // Elizabeth Buttram

(Note: It is extremely unusual to be grafting fir or pine — I did not have a fruit tree available when doing this demonstration so bear with me.)

  1. Using your grafting knife choice, make a split cut in the end of the trimmed rootstock branch.
Split Cut on Rootstock Grafting Branch (1) // Elizabeth ButtramSplit Cut on Rootstock Grafting Branch (2) // Elizabeth Buttram
  1. Cut a wedge into your scion, exposing the cambium.
Wedge Shaped Cut in Scion // Elizabeth Buttram
  1. Carefully insert the scion into the split cut of the rootstock.
Scion Inserted Into Rootstock (1) // Elizabeth ButtramScion Inserted Into Rootstock (2) // Elizabeth Buttram
  1. Wrap the new graft in preferred bandage. Ensure it is properly insulated from outside weather conditions and wrapped in a manner that allows minimal shifting.
Veneer Grafting 

This is a similar method to cleft grafting, but instead of being grafted to the end of a branch or the top of the rootstock, the graft is made in the side of a branch. It’s a personal preference for which method you use, but sometimes this method is selected because it can be strategically grafted where there are leaves above the graft point (to help allow additional shade for more sensitive graft species). 

  1. Begin by selecting and harvesting your preferred scion.
  2. Make a cut into the side of the rootstock branch you want to graft. The cut should run down the branch toward the roots and expose the cambium layer present underneath the bark. The cut should be long, smooth, and clean, with the depth of the cut remaining consistent. Ensure you leave the flap of bark you are peeling back in place (in other words, do not remove the bark you are cutting back — allow it to remain attached).
Rootstock Cut // Elizabeth Buttram
  1. Cut a wedge on one side of the scion. Ensure the wedge is the same length as the cut on your rootstock branch. 
Scion Wedge Cut // Elizabeth Buttram
  1. Insert the scion into the rootstock branch at the cut. The wedge should fit snug in the cut with the cambium of your rootstock and scion touching. The most difficult part of this grafting technique is ensuring the wedge cut is shaped so the rootstock and scion match up well.
Wedge Inserted Into Rootstock Cut // Elizabeth Buttram
  1. Apply a bandage to the graft, ensuring it allows minimal shifting and protects the new graft from outside weather conditions. 
Bud Grafting

This technique uses buds to graft instead of scions. The scion bud is grafted directly to a point in the rootstock where a bud was already present. This method is usually quicker to accomplish, and easier for beginners.

  1. Begin by selecting your scionwood. Harvesting scion buds is a slightly different process than the scion harvesting method. Using your grafting knife, remove the scion bud and a small section of the surround cambium layer. This step can usually be accomplished by making a wedge cut around the bud.
  2. Make a wedge cut (approximately the same size as the scion bud) in the rootstock. The best place to do this is where you would like your graft location, and at a cleft or edge in the rootstock branch.
  3. Tuck the scion bud into the wedge cut in the rootstock. Ensure the bud is facing up.
  4. Bandage the new graft to ensure minimal shifting and protection from outside weather conditions.
Characteristics of a Successful Graft

Good cambium alignment and pressure between the scionwood and rootstock (this is to ensure successful healing and help the rootstock and scionwood take to one another). After the graft is complete, check the bandage within 12 to 24 hours to see if there is humidity/fog/dew collecting within the bandage. They are a sign the graft is healing.

Advantages
  • Quicker fruit production – Selecting a younger rootstock and pairing it with a scion from an older tree can allow for earlier production of fruit. For example, a seedling avocado tree may take 10 or more years to produce fruit, whereas a grafted avocado tree may be producing fruit at the 2- to 3-year mark, or simply, whenever the rootstock is physically capable of supporting fruit production. This essentially allows one to skip the juvenile growth phase of a fruit tree.
  • More fruit production – Selecting scionwood from a tree that is known to have excessive fruit production can ensure production.
  • Stronger tree production – Selecting a rootstock that has good compatibility with the soil type and conditions present, can ensure a strong, rigorous tree in the long term. 
Difficulties
  • Tedious – Peeling back the bark to expose the cambium can be difficult, as slicing too deep will kill the scion, and cutting too shallow will do the same. Aligning the rootstock and scionwood appropriately can take time, patience, and a few adjustments to get it right. Wrapping the bandage around the grafting point after this step can throw off the alignment, as you’re moving the two around to try and bandage correctly. Sometimes this step sets you back to realigning the scion with the rootstock. I actually find it to be the most difficult of the entire process.
  • Aftercare Short-term aftercare involves monitoring of the graft location, prevention of excess movement and exposure to extreme weather conditions, and keeping the rootstock well watered. If the grafting location is in direct sun exposure, a shade cloth or paper bag keeps the scion from drying out. If the scion dries due to excess sun exposure or lack of watering to the rootstock, your graft will not take. In addition, long-term aftercare is needed to ensure removal of suckers and shoots that begin growing below the grafting point. These are offshoots of the rootstock and can often out compete the scionwood. 
Overview

Fruit tree grafting can be successfully accomplished with limited experience, patience, and basic kitchen items. If you’re looking to increase your fruit production, encourage fruit growth on younger rootstocks, produce more fruit varieties, or simply try something new and exciting, grafting could be a lovely endeavor. 

How to Start a Compost Business (and Why)

Wed, 08/04/2021 - 16:03

Since 2015, I have owned and operated a fully-permitted Tier 2 composting facility in Johnson City, Tennessee. We have grown every year and our future looks bright. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to build a greener America, I encourage you to consider starting your own compost business.

This article will give you an overview of why you should consider this industry, how to get started, and what a compost business looks like.

mpca photos // flickr

This business will be good for your world and your life! Let’s take a look at the many benefits of a compost business.

Climate and Economic Benefits of Diversion

As a Tier 2 composting facility, we are able to compost food scraps in addition to leaves, woodchips, and the like. Food scraps are an especially important material to keep out of our communities’ waste streams. They not only take up valuable space but also generate methane in the anaerobic environment of a landfill. Moreover, food scraps represent a potent soil amendment and plant nutrient resource that we should not squander. The amount of food scraps that we throw away every year is huge. Get this from the EPA:

EPA estimates that 63.1 million tons of food waste were generated in the commercial, institutional, and residential sectors in 2018, which is 21.6% of total municipal solid waste generation.

[Food: Material-Specific Data | Facts and Figures About Materials, Waste and Recycling | US EPA]

Diverting food scraps and other organics from landfills to beneficial use also confers economic benefits on the community. Our local landfill charges $44.13 per ton as a tipping fee. With surcharges and fees, that comes to $50.54. At my composting facility, I don’t charge a dime for leaves or woodchips, and people who drop off relatively small amounts of food scraps don’t have to pay. Large shipments are charged a flat $20 per ton tipping fee. So our operation gives the residences, businesses, and local governments an economical option for their organic waste disposal needs, and the finished product supports local farmers, landscapers, and garden centers.

Soil Health Benefits

The most important things my agronomy training taught me were the complexity and the impact of soils. I was amazed to learn that healthy, biologically-rich soils with plenty of organic matter promote water quality. You see, the greater number of chemical binding sites and microbial diversity in a healthy soil enable it to hold nutrient compounds in the root zone where plants can get them and prevent those same compounds from becoming pollutants in our groundwater. Moreover, soils with compost have been shown to improve surface water quality and lessen flooding by slowing down runoff, eliminating runoff, and even filtering.

The Natural Resources Defense Council states that “increasing soil organic matter by 1% allows soil to hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre.”

[Composting 101 | NRDC]

In the last decade, scientists and the general public have realized that increasing a soil’s organic matter content with compost will re-establish the soil’s capacity to act as a carbon sink. That’s right! Compost has been shown to help a soil pull carbon out of the air.

Compost Processing Infrastructure Is Needed to Enable Organics Landfill Bans

Knowing the benefits of compost and the need to keep organics out of landfills, some states and municipalities have enacted organics landfill bans. Many more are studying this option. Years ago, a grocery store chain executive confided to me that he had no problem with such a ban. He said that as long as his competitors also had to separate their organics for composting, he’d be glad to do the same.

But what chance does such a ban have of succeeding if there is no composting facility nearby? That’s where YOU come in! We desperately need to increase our compost processing infrastructure in this country to enable widespread adoption of the practice for food scraps recycling.

Benefits to You, as an Entrepreneur

I’ll be blunt. Another reason you should consider this business is that it will be good for you. Let’s see how.

Good Income

Compost businesses can be highly profitable. Don’t think it is a charity or just a labor of love. Yes, there will be a significant startup investment and ongoing expenses. And there is always great risk in starting a business. Our own journey to profitability has been a long slog, but we’ve made it and are continuing to grow. You can get this business started for a lot less than many other types, and you can scale up as revenue increases.

Meaningful Work

You will be tired and dirty. You will feel the stress of being an entrepreneur, and some of your days and weeks will be very long — but what you’ll be doing is extremely important. That sense of mission is sustaining, and the accompanying sense of meaningful accomplishment will be gratifying. Besides, being dirty and smelly is fun!

Community Involvement

A lot of us are looking for ways to make our own corner of the world a better place. And we crave a deeper connection with the people around us. I didn’t realize it when I started this business, but being a compost business owner has done exactly that for me. I have so many interesting and involved conversations with people who drop off food scraps, participate in our residential or commercial food scraps collection service, or come to buy compost. Of course, we talk about the environment, waste issues, gardening, and soils … but the conversations inevitably move to the personal. I’m so grateful for them.

Get to Work Outside

Before I started my compost business, I didn’t realize how much I didn’t like working inside all the time. It’s always something I mention when people ask if I’m happy I started (I am). I tell them that working outside — even on blisteringly hot or bitterly cold days — is really good for me. And I love getting dirty every day. A friend of mine once kidded that he didn’t recognize me when I wasn’t dirty from the chest down.

The Business of Compost Business

As fun as this business is, never forget it is a business. You absolutely must treat it as such and develop your abilities as a business owner. This means, among other things, learning about financial statements and bookkeeping. A few words on revenue streams and material streams as they relate specifically to compost businesses follow.

Revenue Streams

This business has two revenue streams: inbound and outbound. Inbound revenue includes money you make for collecting or accepting material. For my facility, inbound revenue sources are the tipping fees I charge to large deliveries of food scraps, and the collection fees I charge to residents and businesses that have us come to their location for pickups. Outbound revenue includes the money you make when people buy your finished product. For my facility, it includes compost sales and delivery charges.

Our experience during the pandemic revealed something important. In times of uncertainty, your inbound revenue will suffer and your outbound revenue will hold or strengthen. Some residential disposal customers decide to quit because of financial worry. Some commercial disposal customers close or suffer a drop in business. On the flip side, many people will start or expand gardening to establish greater control over their food supply, particularly higher-priced items like bell peppers and tomatoes.

Material Streams

Another concept that you will need to understand for your compost business is material streams. Your compost facility will always have some material that can be stockpiled as it comes in such as wood chips and leaves. It will also have material that must be mixed and covered upon reception like food scraps. You will also have material that is in different stages of processing and curing. Your site layout, workflow, and overall throughput all depend on material streams. Make sure you have dependable and timely sources for all the materials you need. 

For a point of reference, I keep several hundred cubic yards of wood chips and leaves stockpiled on a couple of acres. Mixing and initial processing takes place on a half-acre. Curing takes up a couple of acres.

How to Get Started 

Getting a compost business started is a process. Here is a brief rundown of the steps you’ll need to perform.

Assess Local and Regional Situation, Markets, and Regulations

Before you embark on getting and preparing a site, you must find answers to a series of questions

Are There Composters in the Region?

If so, what feedstocks do they use? What prices do they charge for disposal and finished product(s)? 

Where Do People Currently Get Compost or Topsoil and What Prices Do They Pay?

Are they gardeners, landscapers, farmers … all three? Do they require that it be bagged or will they come by in a truck or with a trailer?

What Are the Characteristics of the Compost That Is Currently Available?

Color, texture, contamination with plastic, coarse material like stones and twigs, and lab analysis.

What Are the Local and State Regulations I Must Comply With?

These regulations will mostly deal with buffer zones and prevention of liquid release. The regulations and the process to become permitted are intimidating for many people, but you can do it! Here are the regulations that I must comply with (pages 132 to 142): 0400-11-01.20210308.pdf (tnsosfiles.com).

Related Post: Sustainability 101: Building A Compost Pile

Determine Startup and Operating Costs

Using the answers to these questions and some knowledge of available real estate options, it’s time to come up with some numbers. Estimate the startup costs for getting your facility ready (especially land purchase, site preparation, and equipment costs) and what you’ll be spending each week (especially loan payments, fuel, labor, and maintenance). 

Now estimate your revenue. This is the time to be realistic. What production you can expect to achieve each month? How much can you sell? Up to 80% of your sales will be in March, April, and May so budget for many lean months. Make a pro-forma profit and loss statement. Now you can decide whether it makes economic sense to proceed.

Site Selection, Purchase, and Preparation

Your site will largely be determined by the limitations imposed by regulations. A property may seem great, but if a neighbor’s residence is close or there’s a stream running through it, your potential processing area may be too small. Use Google Earth to eliminate unusable properties before you waste a lot of time walking them all. Of course, you want a property that is as close to your customers as possible, but not so close to highly populated areas that it will be prohibitively expensive or have neighbor complaints.

Once you pick a property and buy or lease it, money will be flying out the door. You need to get it prepared and permitted as soon as possible so you can start to get some revenue. Line up as many contractor commitments and go through as much of the permitting process as possible before your purchase. Then, the race to opening day is on!

The biggest site preparation chores are grading, on-site roads, and surfaces. The food scraps reception area and initial processing area will need an impermeable surface such as concrete (expensive) or asphalt (also expensive, but less so). Stockpiling of chips and leaves and curing of compost can probably be done on somewhat level bare ground, but be sure to check your regulations.

If there is a composting facility nearby, you’ll have to determine the feasibility of an additional one in the assessment phase of pre-launch. If you can access enough feedstocks and differentiate your operation via price or some characteristic of the disposal service or finished product, you can compete. It’ll be more difficult, however. There are many areas that have no facility at all. That’s the key purpose of my website and this article — to increase the geographic range of composting services and products to new areas.

Equipment

Acquire any necessary equipment while the site is being prepared. The regulations will probably require you to have all equipment onsite before you accept any material. So again, be ready to start as soon as possible. I was able to get up and running with a truck and a skid steer. That’s about as lean as you can expect.

Operations

Here are the general operations that you’ll be performing on a daily and weekly basis.

Stockpiling

Keep plenty of bulking agent (woodchips) and carbon (leaves) onsite at all times. Be careful not to pile them too high because doing so will run the risk of fire. Keep your piles under 14 feet and have plenty of 15 feet wide spaces between piles. This will prevent the piles from overheating and in the event of a fire, will allow the fire department to get in there and save the day. We have never had a fire at our facility and plan to keep it that way!

Reception

Reception of putrescible waste (food scraps) will need to be on an impermeable surface such as asphalt or concrete. Within an hour of reception, mix that material with at least twice as much bulking agent, and carbon and cover with a layer of leaves a few inches thick.

Mixing and Forming

Mix the material every day until you have enough to form an aerated windrow. To do this, assemble a perforated 4-inch diameter pipe on the processing surface. Connect this to a blower on a timer. Cover that with 8 inches of coarse wood chips, and cover that with 6 feet of mixed material. Then, cover the windrow with 6 inches of leaves to insulate it.

Processing

Have the blower kick on for about a minute every 25 minutes or so. Adjust this over the course of a month to aim for an internal temperature that holds over 131 degrees Fahrenheit for three days, and then stays between 110- and 120-degrees for the rest of the month. It won’t always be so precise, but that’s the range you want. Every week, re-wet the material with about 100 gallons of collected rainwater to 25 feet of windrow.

Curing

After a month of processing, move the material to a curing area. It does not need as much oxygen anymore, but you should turn it weekly. Let it cure for about four months. When mature, its internal temperature should match ambient temperature or be slightly (about 5 degrees Fahrenheit) elevated.

Screening and Sale

Your material is now compost and ready for screening and sale. Screening is a very satisfying step. If you are operating on a limited budget like we are, it is also time consuming. Note that screening may spark a short-lived temperature spike so you should wait a week or so after screening before you sell the compost.

About the Writer

Joe Hoffman is the owner and operator of Hoffman Composting, a Tier 2 composting facility in Johnson City, Tennessee. He has a BS in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin. In March 2020, Joe launched the website CompostBusiness.com with the mission of supporting current and aspiring compost entrepreneurs. The topics in this article are more thoroughly examined there. Feel free to contact him with any compost or business questions or comments at mrjoehoffman@gmail.com.

17 Comfy DIY Hammock Plans

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 15:30

Relaxing in a hammock offers a quality way to enjoy the great outdoors. Suspended in air, the swaying motion is soothing and puts you right to sleep. 

A DIY hammock that you create yourself — maybe out of recycled, everyday materials you already have laying around — could be more fulfilling than buying readymade. A comfy DIY hammock is also easy to make. 

If you’ve come this far, you’ve likely decided you’re going to try and build a hammock. Let’s explore some options and get ideas for where to start. 

Important Details to Consider When Building a hammock

Before you can build a DIY hammock, you have to consider the details of how you intend to use it, where you will use it, and what you will use to make it. 

Hammock Height and Size

Before you start, you have to determine the hammock height and size. That isn’t always easy to do, but you can figure it out pretty quickly if you stick to a few fundamentals. 

Hammocks are usually between 9 and 15 feet in length (off the shelf), so that is a good range for your DIY planning as well. The width of a hammock is customarily between 4 and 10 feet, depending on if it’s for one or more sleepers. Wider hammocks are suited for more people to enjoy at once. 

But even a wide hammock is fine for one individual to use. 

Hammocks need anchors at either end, so you need to measure that distance first if you plan to fit one into a predetermined space between two trees. The best hammock size for any span is one that is just about a foot shorter than the space where it’s going to hang.

So if you have two trees that are 12 feet apart, an 11-foot hammock would be ideal. Ideally, a hammock will be about 18 to 24 inches off the ground when it is unoccupied. 

Types of Materials to Use

You could use almost anything to design a DIY hammock. 

When it comes to the sleeping surface of a hammock, as long as it is stretchy, can bear your weight, and is lightweight, anything will do. Some favorite hammock sleeping surfaces are canvas, drop cloths, rope, ripstop nylon, and even towels or blankets. 

Once you have a sleeping surface in mind, you’ll have to figure out how to fasten it to a stand, post, or tree at each end. That will take some ingenuity, but the materials you can consider are common and readily available. Ropes, chains, clotheslines, carabiners, eye bolts, or paracord are all favorite materials for store-bought and homemade hammocks. 

Keep in mind that hammocks aren’t really designed to be permanent. So if your design doesn’t incorporate clips, snaps, or hooks, good knot-tying skills will be essential. 

If you don’t have trees, poles, or a stand, consider making a DIY hammock stand

Hammock Uses and Purposes

Hammocks are a favorite of campers for their easy setup and the ability to let you sleep outdoors. But they are also a fun and relaxing diversion near your backyard pool or on your patio. Read a book and relax as you rock on the breeze. 

But hammocks also serve some purposes that go beyond pure relaxation. If you’re sleeping in the elements, you don’t want to be on the ground where it may be wet, dirty, or packed with insects and critters. Getting up off the ground is essential for outdoor sleeping. 

And hammocks are usually easy to fold or roll up and bring with you on an adventure. With the addition of a tarp overhead, you can remain protected from the rain or even light snow. Just make sure you pack your sleeping bag to keep you warm.

Other Considerations
  • Think outside of the box when it comes to DIY hammock design. Make it work for you and your surroundings.
  • Keep it simple. The more complicated your design, the more difficult any repairs will be.
  • Stay light. If you are traveling with or planning to move your hammock around, the last thing you want is something bulky and heavy. Light, portable, foldable, and water-resistant are good traits in a hammock.
Free Hammock Plans to ConsiderDIY Simple Canvas Hammock photo courtesy of Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart offers this simple canvas hammock fashioned entirely from materials you can buy at your local hardware store. You’ll need two sturdy trees and a sewing machine to build it, but with a canvas drop cloth, some grommets, rope, and O-rings, you can be swinging and relaxing in no time at all. 

Find the plans at Martha StewartDIY Ripstop Nylon Hammock photo courtesy of instructables

Ripstop nylon is a common material in jackets, sails, and kites. This build also requires a sewing machine, but it is easy to make without much sewing experience. The hardest part may be sourcing a few yards of ripstop nylon. But once you have your nylon and some paracord, you can build a supremely lightweight hammock with its own storage bag too.

Find the plans at InstructablesDIY Hanging Dock Hammock Plans

If you’re located on the water, there is likely a dock nearby. By taking advantage of the standard design features of a simple dock, this design will suspend you over your favorite body of water with nothing else below you. You will need some lumber, carriage bolts, nuts, and washers to complete the design. And for the construction, you’ll need a circular saw, impact driver, and reciprocating saw.

Find the plans at DIY NetworkDIY Hammock Chair photo courtesy of life sew savory

Sometimes you might not want a full-size hammock. Maybe you just want to swing and read a book or enjoy a view. If you don’t want to fully recline in your DIY hammock, this hammock chair is ideal. All you need is a sturdy piece of wood, some fabric suitable for the outdoors, a bit of rope, and a single carabiner. 

Find the plans at Life Sew Savory

Related Post: Hammock Chairs

DIY Beach Towel Hammock photo courtesy of design sponge

Beach towels are perfect for adding a splash of design to your DIY hammock. They are usually bright colored and fade resistant, so adding them to the palette can turn a drab DIY project into a work of art. You will need a sewing machine, additional canvas, zip ties, and strapping made of leather, nylon, or canvas, to pull off this design. 

Find the plans at Design SpongeDIY Hammock Swing 

This DIY hammock swing will also require you to build a hammock stand. The directions are straightforward, and completing the work will bring years of hammock swinging to your backyard. Designed more for upright rocking than supine sleeping, this is not a travel hammock. Instead, this project will build a permanent relaxation station for your home.

Find the plans at InstructablesDIY Lazy Day Hammock photo courtesy of camille styles

This hammock is a little bit tricky to make as it requires some good, knot tying skills. But with a little bit of patience, rope, a few other common materials, and a sewing machine, you can have your very own hammock. This design also shows you how to incorporate some trim or lace as a fringe. 

Find the plans at Camille StylesDIY Baby Hammock Swing 

If you want to bring the relaxation of a hammock into your baby’s life, this design is perfect. 

It is simple, durable, and easy to make with household tools and materials. It’s not only cute, but a few minutes of the soothing, rocking motion will help put your baby to sleep.

Find the plans at Wonderful DIYDIY Multicolor Rope Hammock photo courtesy of design milk

This design uses two different colored ropes to fashion a modern hammock between wooden dowels. The design requires a lot of rope weaving, but the end result is a stylish, modern, 2-tone hammock that is sturdy, light, and perfect for hanging out. 

Find the plans at Design MilkDIY Double Layer Hammock photo courtesy of diy gear supply

This is one of my favorite DIY hammock designs. Its double-layer construction is stronger and less failure prone than a single-ply design. It will accommodate a pad between the layers for comfort, or you can nestle yourself between them to avoid mosquitoes and other creepy crawlies. 

Find the plans at DIY Gear SupplyDIY Deluxe Hammock System 

Gear heads, get ready. Here’s one for you. This DIY camping hammock is infinitely customizable, relatively inexpensive, and offers a really cool look, but it can be time consuming to construct one. 

The result is awesome, but the designer is upfront explaining that it took him many hours to make it. This project might be better for the winter before your camping trip, as opposed to the morning of that trip to the mountains. 

Find the plans at Gear ReportDIY Canvas Hammock photo courtesy of the merry thought

This canvas hammock is a no-frills option. You will need a sewing machine, rope, and grommets to complete it, but when it’s done, it is a classic hammock design, and its simplicity is elegant. 

Find the plans at The Merry ThoughtDIY Quick Hammock Tree Straps

If you already have the makings of a hammock, the hard part could be figuring out how to mount it to posts, trees, or a stand. With this quick tutorial, you can turn a few dollars’ worth of materials into a set of tree straps. And when you’re done, you can either reuse an old hammock or fashion your new DIY hammock.

Find the plans at InstructablesDIY Fabric Hammock photo courtesy of miss lovie creations

This DIY hammock is one of the easiest to make, but it does require a sewing machine. Suppose you have some leftover fabric from another project. In that case, the only other thing you will need is a couple of tree straps (easily fashioned from sturdy webbing) and a couple of carabiners. Old backpack straps might work well as repurposed webbing.

Find the plans at Miss Lovie CreationsDIY Navy Hammock Plans

Hammocks are part of the history for the naval service. Sailors could easily take down and stow a hammock during their daily work details. But when it was time to sleep, they could quickly deploy and hang a hammock. Now you can enjoy a traditional, World War II-style navy hammock. It’s up to you if you want to rock on the sea or in your backyard or campground.

Find the plans at Brilliant DIYDIY Beginner Hammock

This video tutorial will teach you how to make a cheap hammock that stows away easily. It will fit into a small space when secured, so it is very portable. And the video is a quick watch — only six minutes long.

Find the plans on YouTubeDIY Hammock Tarps and Extreme Hammock

This is a hammock build that’s suitable for outdoor use even in the winter. It features multiple layers, quilting, and a hardcore design intended to keep you warm even in extreme conditions. 

Find the plans on YouTube

Healthy Homemade Homestead Snacks

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 16:36

Sometimes, you just get a hankering for something salty and crunchy. Usually, that itch is scratched with a snack from a shiny, throwaway bag that has more multisyllabic chemical ingredients than there should be. But on a homestead seeking both a healthier lifestyle and a less wasteful existence, those Bag O’Salt crunchies really shouldn’t have a place on the pantry shelf.

So what to do? The same answer for most everything on the homestead — do it yourself! I contend that satisfying snack-making should be an important tool in anyone’s culinary bag of tricks. Because as good as homegrown tomatoes or zucchini may be, they’re not snacking material for most of us, especially if we’re in the middle of a workday and need a quick boost.

In this article, I want to share three easy-to-make, crowd-pleasing, and homestead-approved snacks that store well, scratch that snacky itch, and are made with real food.

Waste-Free Popcorn

Popcorn is simple, good food. At least, it used to be. If you grab a microwaveable bag, an ingredient list that should read “popcorn kernels, oil, and salt” reads instead like a sci-fi horror roster. Let’s dial back the unnecessary modernization of this basic snack and strip the cellophaned, chemical-coated bag from our shelves. To make the best possible popcorn, all you need is a covered pan and a bit of finesse. Then see if you can choke down another bag of artificially buttered pops after tasting the real stuff.

IngredientsSteps

In a large saucepan, place the oil and 5 to 10 kernels. Cover and heat over medium high, and listen. Once the first kernels pop, add the rest and cover. By shaking the pan back and forth, you’ll soon be serenaded with a lively percussion of fluffy, exploding kernels. Once the staccato beat slows down, remove from the heat and leave covered until the pan is finally quiet (if you open it too soon, some will fly out). That step is where the finesse comes in handy. If you wait too long on the heat, you’ll end up with burned kernels. Pull the pan off the heat too soon, and you’ll have a layer of unpopped missed opportunities on the bottom. Keep making popcorn, and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Dress with a drizzle of olive oil or melted butter and salt, and then flavor to your heart’s content.

Here are some of our favorite combinations.

  • Smoked paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder
  • Cinnamon, cocoa powder, cayenne, salt, and a sprinkle of sugar
  • Ground cumin, pepper, ground coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, and cayenne
Crunchy Beanshelloshortbus // flickr

“Crunchy beans” is an underwhelming name that doesn’t do justice to these endlessly pop-able bits of tasty goodness, but it’s the name that stuck in our kitchen. The crazy part is, you don’t need to cook the beans — merely soak them, and they’re ready to transform into an amazing snack. Who knew the humble garbanzo bean could pack such a satisfying punch?

Ingredients
  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans, soaked for 24 hours
  • 2 tablespoons oil of your choice
  • Salt
  • Spices of your choosing
Steps

Toss the soaked garbanzo beans with oil, salt, and whatever spices suit your fancy. Bake in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven for an hour or so, tossing ever so often to make sure they’re toasting properly. They’re done when toasted a nice light brown, shiny, and perfectly crunchy.

As a side note, if you decide to flavor these sweetly (and yes, nutty garbanzo beans do handle being sweetened amazingly well), add your sprinkle of sugar AFTER the roasting process so they don’t turn to burned caramel and glue the beans to the pan.

Related Post: High Fat, High Protein Vegan Snacks

Infinitely Customizeable Crackers

With the recipe for these crackers up your sleeve, you can turn out a satisfying snack that won’t leave you with orange fingers, more garbage in your bin, or that I-ate-the-whole-dang-bag feeling of regret. As a bonus, if you keep sourdough starter, they’re a great way to use up extra starter when you need to reduce and feed it but aren’t planning on making a whole loaf of bread. These crackers are a more involved snack to prepare than the first two, but they’re worth it if you make a huge batch.

Basic Dough Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole grain flour — if you grind your own flour, a tasty mix is 1/2 wheat, 1/4 rye, and 1/4 cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons butter or oil of your preference
  • Whatever extra sourdough starter you’ve got (no more than a cup, though)
  • 1/2 cup of yogurt (if not using sourdough starter)
  • Water
Additional Flavoring Ideas
  • Seedy Option (my favorite): 1 cup of combined millet, sesame, flax, and nigella/kalonji seeds
  • Sweet Option: 3 additional tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and a drizzle of honey during the last five minutes of baking
  • Cheese Option: 1/2 cup of shredded cheese of your choice, plus parmesan for sprinkling on top
  • Herbed Option: 2 teaspoons each of your favorite herbs like black pepper, rosemary, and oregano, or a different combination of cumin, red pepper flakes, and dill (seeds or leaves)
Steps
  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Crumble butter or oil into the flour mixture, and blend with your fingers until it looks like fine sand.
  3. Add wet ingredients, mix well.
  4. If necessary, add water a little bit at a time, until the dough holds together in a pliable, but firm mass. It should not be sticky at all. When in doubt, err on the side of too dry, rather than too wet.
  5. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. VERY IMPORTANT: Now, allow the dough to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This resting step makes the all difference between an easy to work, easy to roll thin dough, and an annoying, fall apart mass of frustration. Don’t skip it.
  7. Sprinkle flour or cornmeal over a work surface, and roll half the dough out as thin as possible. I like to mix whole millet seed in my crackers for both the flavor and their surprise utility at this step — the ideal dough thickness is the width of a millet seed. When you roll the dough thin enough, the rolling pin will start making gritty sounds against the millet.
  8. Roll the thin sheet around your rolling pin and carefully transfer to a dry baking sheet.
  9. Using a butter knife, score the dough sheet into square cracker shapes (you can use cookie cutters to make these crackers in whatever shape you want, of course, but I find that far too fiddly. Square crackers taste the same and take far less time to roll out and bake).
  10. Prick each cracker in the dough sheet with a fork
  11. Follow the same process for the other half of the dough, and pop it all in the hot oven.
  12. Bake the crackers for 8 minutes, then start checking them for doneness every few minutes after that. The speed at which they cook is dependent on your oven and how thin you were able to roll them, so it’s hard to give an exact time for this step. Basically, you want them to be bone-dry, but not browning. Once they start changing color, they start tasting burned. And they cook fast (!) so don’t walk away for too long. I find that my nose is my best guide. As soon as I start smelling that nice, toasted bread aroma, I pull them out and check to see if they fracture easily. If they shatter, they’re good to go.

Note: If you find that the edges are cooking faster than the center, rotate the sheet halfway through cooking to help speed up the process,

  1. Once you remove the crackers from the oven, transfer the sheet to a drying rack to let it cool enough to handle. Then, merrily crack it into individual crackers. If any don’t break along the scores you made, and if you feel they’re too ugly to serve, it’s your right to snack on them right then and there.
  2. Serve in basket lined with a nice cloth napkin, or store in an airtight container. Pair them with soup, salads, cheeses and pickles, dips, or eat them on their own. They’ll last pretty much indefinitely, but you’ll never know that because they’ll get eaten well before then.

Now, those are just three of my family’s favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comments below!

17 DIY Pool Deck Ideas for a Sunny Day

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 15:56

Setting up above-ground pools is pretty simple. They don’t require excavation, and they cost around a quarter the price of an in-ground pool. Although most people believe that an in-ground pool is more beautiful, an above-ground pool with a pool deck is just as lovely. 

For your DIY pool deck, you’ll want a freestanding deck that reaches the edge of your pool but isn’t attached to it. Your deck can be designed to border a part of the pool, half the pool, or ring the whole pool.

Important Details to Consider When Building a Pool Deck

We’ll go through some of the most important details to consider while choosing materials and planning your pool deck. The design isn’t the only consideration. We will provide you with a list of lovely pool deck ideas that you can use as inspiration, but you have to consider other factors. “What are these factors?” you may ask. Keep reading to find out.

Pool Deck Size

What is the size of your pool? What is the size of the area around it? What is the maximum size your decking can be? It’s all right if you can’t build a big deck because small decks can be just as fun. 

No matter how small, you can still design the pool deck so it appears roomy and is functional. Large decks are great for people who prefer to party in the pool or spend pool time with their loved ones.

The deck’s surface should be wide enough to walk safely — about 3 feet or more — and beyond that, it’s up to you. You can also include a peaceful sitting area to sunbathe, relax, and keep an eye on children. 

Types of Materials to Use

Pool decking comes in a variety of materials. Wood, plastic, composites, unglazed tiles, vinyl, stone, aluminum, and concrete are all popular decking materials. If you’re going to use concrete, make sure to give it some texture, so it doesn’t get too slick. 

Wood decks are the easiest and most popular decks DIYers build. Some of the best options are cedar, redwood, and pressure-treated wood, but you’ll have to refinish it every year to preserve your wood deck from frequent wetness and chlorinated water. 

Waterproof decking materials such as aluminum and composite decking, can withstand splashes. The best type of decking to choose is one that is textured with anti-slip properties.

Many people prefer plastic and composite decking because they are long-lasting, easy to install, and low maintenance. You will notice that some modern decks are made of stone, and tiles are also extensively used (owing to their clean appearance).

Keep in mind that decks that are more than 30 inches above grade need railings to keep you safe. Balusters should be at most 4 inches apart, and railings should be 36 inches high at the very least. To prevent access to the pool, a lockable gate should be installed on the deck steps.

Pool Deck Location

You can’t just pick any material for your pool deck. It must withstand temperature changes, wind, and sun exposure, or you will have to replace your decking regularly. If you live in a hot climate, wood may be the best option, but if you live in a rainy climate, stones or composite decking may be a better option.

The place you’ll build your pool deck also determines the type of material you’ll use. A pool that isn’t exposed to the elements can have a wood deck. 

Pool Usage

Your deck’s functionality is also determined by how you want to use it. You’ll need a larger deck if you wish to add lounge chairs to entertain guests.

However, if you have a separate location for hanging out, such as a gazebo, pool house, or patio, you can have a smaller deck. It all depends on how you intend to use the pool deck. 

Type of Pool

Pool decks are available in a variety of styles, depending on the sort of pool you have. If your pool is above-ground, you’ll need to allow a link to the deck using stairs.

Some decks are built with multiple levels, while others have partial decking where a portion of the pool has a deck, and the rest of the pool is undecked.

Free Pool Deck Ideas to Consider

Here is a list of 17 hand-picked DIY pool deck ideas for a sunny day, a summary of how to build them, and the materials needed.

Above-Ground Circular Pool Deckphoto courtesy of Do it yourself

Above-ground pools are a convenient way to enjoy a pool at home without the exorbitant costs associated with installing an in-ground pool. But without a deck, are you really getting the full enjoyment of a pool? 

Fortunately, this plan is relatively straightforward, walking you through every step (with pictures to help guide you) to building your own above-ground pool deck. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a product that looks professional while giving you a place to relax poolside with your family.

Find the plans at Do It YourselfOctagonal Floating Pool Deck

One of the easiest ways to create a poolside deck is to use a free-floating model. Depending on the shape of your pool or yard, you may want to do something a bit different from a traditional circular or square deck. 

Instead, consider an octagonal deck. Plus, this design shows you how to build cabinets for some added storage to your deck. It’s the perfect place to store extra lounge chair cushions or some pool towels.

Find the plans at How-To SpecialistEasy Pool Deck

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to putting in a pool deck is ensuring safety for everyone, especially for any kid tempted to use it without supervision or your approval. With this plan, you can put in a fenced-off pool deck, surrounded by guardrails, that gives you peace of mind and is easy on the eyes, too!

Find the plans at Popular MechanicsPallet Wood DIY Pool Deck Plansphoto courtesy of coastal creators

This deck offers an interesting way to use pallet wool as a pool deck. Essentially, this means you may be able to source the base materials without spending a dime. That’s because pallet wood can often be found by visiting local businesses or heading online to find options on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. If pallet wood isn’t readily available for the steps, then wood crates can be a viable stand-in. 

Find the plans at Coastal CreatorsRedwood Deck for Square or Rectangular Pools

While you could theoretically make this deck design with any wood, redwood works well. It’s sturdy and stands up against water damage, as long as you take the time to seal it properly and regularly. You’ll want to be sure, however, that you use noncorrosive metals as you work, like aluminum or stainless steel. Otherwise, you may see some rust develop over time.

Find the plans at Get RedwoodBeginner-Friendly Detached Pool Deck Plans

Are you considering constructing a pool deck for the first time? Do you have any doubts? Do you want a deck that isn’t attached to your house? 

This design might be what you want. This pool deck is a separate structure that allows people to congregate around the pool. It comes with a step-by-step plan for building the deck, which makes it great for beginners.

Find the plans at Hunker

Related Post: This DIY Pool Heater Requires No Electricity

Poolside Island Deckphoto courtesy of Family Handyman

An island deck is like an island in your kitchen: It floats (unattached to anything) similar to the floating pool deck but smaller in scale. You can use hidden fasteners for this deck, but if you choose to, you’ll be adding to your construction time. It gives you a nice finish, so I think it can be worth the extra effort.

Find the plans at Family HandymanAbove-Ground DIY Pool Deck With Lockable Gate

No one loves pools more than kids do, which is why it’s so important to ensure their safety. After all, they may try to take a swim when no one else is around, which is a clear danger. Because of that, this model of the pool deck is perfect. It goes to an above-ground pool but contains a gate that you can lock, thus ensuring no wayward child sneaks into the pool when no one is looking.

Find the plans on YouTubeSmall Pool Deck

If you have a small pool, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a pool deck. This plan was designed from the outset to be quick to put together, so the deck covers only a small section of a pool. It features guardrails and steps with enough decking for someone to take a big jump into the blue. Of course, that may mean there won’t be enough room to sit back and relax while watching others take a refreshing dip. 

Find the plans on YouTubeKiddie DIY Pool Deck Plansphoto courtesy of DIY network

There’s no reason that your kiddie pool can’t have a pool deck. With these designs, no matter how small the pool you have, you can have a nice deck to go beside it. Because of its size, it’s probably the easiest DIY pool deck on this list. If you’re looking for an easy place to start, this is it! Your little one will definitely enjoy having a deck of their own next to their little pool.

Find the plans at DIY NetworkEasy DIY Pool Deck Design

Not quite as easy as the kiddie pool design, this set of instructions shows you how to make one of the most basic pool decks possible. It has no steps for you to worry about, so don’t fear any complex joining when building this deck.

Find the plans at How-To Specialist2-Level Pool Deck Plans

For a variety of reasons, building a deck around an above-ground pool is a great idea. Not the least is the convenience that some pool decks offer, such as this plan for a 2-level design that is directly connected to the home. By taking advantage of this design, you’ll be able to immediately step onto your deck without ever touching a blade of grass.

Find the plans on YouTubeNear-Slope Pool Deck Plans

If your pool is near a slope, making a deck can seem an impossible task. Not so with this set of deck plans! Because you’re building to compensate for the slope, this may be one of the trickier decks on the list.

Find the plans at Do it YourselfConcrete Pool Deck Plansphoto courtesy of sephaku cement

Pool decks are a fantastic way to express identity and creativity, so it isn’t surprising that no one pool design is the same. With that in mind, why not go all out and do away with the conventional use of wood? There are many different materials out there perfectly suited to pools, including concrete. While it may not be a familiar sight, plans that feature a concrete pool deck can be elegant and sleek. Most importantly, they offer up a high degree of durability and are well equipped to withstand extreme weather conditions. 

Find the plans at Sephaku CementFreestanding DIY Pool Deck

This elegant pool deck plan features handy guardrails for extra protection, particularly when getting out of the water. It’s a relatively simple, free-standing design with a basic staircase to ease climbing onto the deck, but it doesn’t make any sacrifices when it comes to its appearance or functionality. 

Find the plans on YouTubeMultiple Level Deck Plans

If you want something that has steps leading up to your above-ground pool, this design may be your best bet. The step-by-step may be a bit difficult to follow, so I recommend this design for those who are familiar with woodworking.

Find the plans on YouTubeSimple DIY Pool Deckphoto courtesy of handyman tips

Simple doesn’t mean less functional or less aesthetically pleasing, and this deck is a testament to that fact. This pool deck may be what you need if you’re a DIY novice. It is a nice place to relax and socialize around the pool.

The tutorial for building the pool deck is quite detailed. It provides numerous photographs to demonstrate every step of the procedure, and the construction intricacies are properly detailed.

Find the plans at Handyman Tips

Introduction To Integrated Pest Management

Wed, 07/21/2021 - 15:30

There’s one major challenge that applies to all levels of agriculture, from starting a garden to running an orchard, and everything that falls between.

It’s a shared challenge that growers face regardless of location, climate, or economic resources.

It’s pests – whether it’s weeds, ants, beetles, caterpillars, goats, sheep, cats, or even other humans (the last one being the peskiest of all), pest management is a universal problem for farmers, gardeners, ranchers, and more.

Caterpillar // Elizabeth Buttram

Regardless of the pest that plagues your garden (let’s go with garden for simplicity’s sake, but keep in mind this applies to nearly any outdoor growth project), integrated pest management (IPM) practices can most likely be applied.

So, What Is IPM? 

Economic treatment of pests is the goal of IPM. In order to accomplish this goal, IPM practices sustainability, practicality, and environmentally safe pest control methods. It focuses on a step-oriented model to effectively manage pests independently at home. Here are the general steps followed for IPM.

photo courtesy of Farm Biosecurity

Related Post: Why Pesticides Are Actually Important for Agricultural Sustainability

Benefits of IPMSelf-reliance and Independence

As previously mentioned, IPM helps cultivate feelings of self-sufficiency and independence. How/why?

To best answer that question, let’s first take a detour: many people get roped into the idea that to manage a garden space, they need the “latest and greatest” tools, pesticides, herbicides, etc, and without these, they can’t effectively garden. It also appears to be the easiest option to go this route because it’s quicker and requires less research/thought to apply. However, as already discussed, the “latest and greatest” options are typically not economically affordable, and likewise, not environmentally friendly.

In short, it comes down to what your objectives are:

  1. Fast, easy, potentially environmentally degrading, and not cost effective
  2. Slower, increased thought/care, environmentally friendly, and cost efficient

With this small detour now successfully routed through, let’s go back to the question, how/why does IPM increase feelings of self-sufficiency and independence?

IPM encourages these feelings because you are creating the solutions to your pest problems yourself. You are not going to buy the quick-fix at the store, but instead utilizing materials at home, learning about the local environment, and therefore pests existing within it, and knowing the decrease in your pest problem is a direct result of personally cultivated actions you took. You physically create your pest control methods, and in doing so, save money and the environment.

Master farm with intercropping methods – Senegal // elizabeth buttramBetter Relationship With Land

Hinted from the previous section, IPM cultivates a deeper relationship with the natural world. By engaging with land directly (i.e working, observing, and learning from land), you develop a powerful connection, respect, and gratitude as you begin understanding better how land communicates and what land needs. It’s a reciprocal relationship in which both you and land benefit as you interact with one another. You receive quality crops that you personally helped sew, as well as promote physiological benefits.

In Robin Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, she explains that recent studies have shown that playing in soil (i.e. gardening) releases the hormone oxytocin as a physiological response to the smell of soil humus. As Kimmerer puts it, “Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between mother and child, between lovers.”

The physiological benefits of interacting with land on the intimate level that gardening offers, and more specifically, IPM’s approach to gardening, allows the release of oxytocin which is responsible for warm, fuzzy, comfortable feelings and has been documented to decrease anxiety and stress.

Increased knowledge of local pests and treatments

By engaging in IPM, you become informed through self-research on local pests and at-home control methods. Aside from helping solve your personal pest issues, a great benefit of this is that you become someone who can help friends/family manage their pest problems!

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, I was able to be this person for my local community in Mankono Ba, Sedhiou. I identified a spider mite issue the local women’s garden was experiencing and quickly found economically feasible and locally available options for these women to implement to help alleviate this pesky problem. I suggested using both chemical and mechanical controls.

  • Chemical: Soap/milk washes! For less invasive spider mite ridden areas, I suggested spraying/hand-washing crops with either a soapy water solution, or with milk. The slight acidity revolted spider mites, and it was an extremely affordable and practical option.
  • Mechanical: Unfortunately, in areas the spider mite infestation was severe, physical removal of the affected crop was necessary.

The knowledge I was able to impart to these women about how to treat their spider mite issue empowered them, and through that, empowered me. It helped instill feelings of independence and self-sufficiency in both me and the women. It cultivated a deeper relationship with the land as we observed the issue and watched it resolving itself through our intervention. Lastly, it allowed us to be able to identify this pest in the future and help those we may stumble upon who are experiencing spider mite issues.

Spider Mites // elizabeth buttramWhat is the IPM Process?1. Knowledge
  • Learn About Local Pests
    • Identification
    • Preferred habitat/food
    • Mating/reproduction behavior
    • Life cycles (boom/bust cycles — refer to image below)
    • Natural enemies
Predator-Prey Oscillations2. Prevention
  • Site Selection
    • Garden locations to minimize pest impacts
    • Avoiding pest-ridden places
  • Variety
    • Intercropping/polycropping to minimize widespread pest plagues.
  • Time of Planting and Rotation
    • Understanding pest life cycles for planting and rotation outside peak pest boom cycles.
  • Water and Nutrition Management
    • Healthy crops make plants more resilient (in case of pest attack).
  • Garden hygiene
    • Sanitizing tools helps prevent the spread of pests between plants and across land.
Farmer practicing maize-pigeon pea intercropping // Icrisat on Flickr3. Observation
  • Crop Monitoring
    • Keep records of pest species present, timing of appearance, location, and what pests were consuming.
  • Sticky Traps
    • Bug identification
    • Also beneficial in helping to decrease pest populations
  • Camera Traps
    • Animal identification
    • If camera is unavailable, identify tracks
animal Tracks //DOug Mcgr on Flickr4. Intervention
  • Mechanical Controls
    • Physical removal of pests through pulling weeds, cutting plants, or hand picking insects.
  • Biological Controls
    • Use of natural pest predators or plant diseases that inhibit weed growth.
  • Chemical Controls
    • Application of herbicides or insecticides (for purposes of IPM, generally plant-based).
5. Evaluation and Planning
  • Review Records
  • Talk/Think/Write/Consult and Adapt Accordingly
IPM is Sustainable

Economic actions against pests often mean environmentally safer actions. Because of higher prices for chemical pesticides and herbicides, home remedies (nonchemical options) are often implemented to help cut down pest management costs. 

Low cost is a big reason to like IPM. It creates self-reliance and capability while utilizing pest control tactics that are environmentally safe and friendlier for our wallets. 

Butterfly // Sunny m5 on FlickrWhat are Common IPM Program Methods?Weeds

Mechanical: Weed by hand or do scuffle hoeing.

Chemical: A natural and home-available way to treat weeds is by removing the top of the plant and pouring vinegar on the exposed root system.

Bugs and Insects

Biological: Attracting songbirds to your garden space is a great tool for reducing bug populations. Here’s an article with tips on how to do it.

Chemical: Spraying neem oil is an excellent natural insecticide to ward off unwanted visitors.

Animals

Mechanical: Trapping and relocating techniques work the best. Using live traps (i.e., Sherman traps) is important to minimize harm against animals in need of relocation. You can also create barriers around your garden space with a fence or natural barriers like bushes and shrubs.

6 Reasons Why I Chose Clover as a Living Mulch

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 17:08
White Clover – This is what my living mulch should soon look like. Photo by Martin LaBars

I mentioned in my post about building raised beds that I chose to add New Zealand white clover to the edges of the raised bed to act as a living mulch. First off, I should explain what a living mulch is, and how it differs from a cover crop:

“In agriculture, a living mulch is a cover crop interplanted or undersown with a main crop, and intended to serve the purposes of a mulch, such as weed suppression and regulation of soil temperature. Living mulches grow for a long time with the main crops, whereas cover crops are incorporated into the soil or killed with herbicides.” 

Definition from Wikipedia.6 Reasons Why I Chose Clover as a Living Mulch:

So essentially, what I’m doing is allowing the clover to grow on the edges of my raised beds initially.  If it travels its way into the beds, that’s OK with me.  Here’s why:

  1. Less Weeding: It will prevent most weeds and grasses from forming on the walls of the raised bed
  2. Retains Moisture: Just like normal mulches, the clover will retain moisture in the soil by absorbing all of the sun before it hits the soil
  3. Withstands Traffic: It should be able to withstand the occasional traffic involved in reaching into the garden beds
  4. Nitrogen Fixer: It will fix nitrogen into the soil, which in turn benefits the plants in the raised bed
  5. Improves Soil Tilth: Clover’s root system improves friability of soil almost immediately
  6. Attracts Pollinators: Clover attracts bees, who will hopefully stick around and pollinate my fruiting vegetables as well as my nearby fruit trees & bushes

(These 6 reasons are also a great example of the permaculture concept of stacking functions – more on that later.)

But Isn’t Clover a Weed?

I have had a few people ask me why I would add clover to a yard, because they thought it was a weed.  First off, clover is only a weed if your goal is 100% grass.  If that’s your goal, read this article on how to have a beautiful organic lawn.

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I personally like the appearance of clover better than grass.  Clover does have aggressive tendencies: it spreads quickly and can block out other growth.  My clover will be used in a place where it is surrounded by a wood chip pathway on one side, and a garden bed on the other.  If the clover gets into the garden bed, that’s OK with me.  I can always pull back the area of clover where I want a plant to be and then plant.  In the meantime, all of the area covered with clover will be getting a dose of nitrogen and will be relatively protected from weeds.

Also, I mentioned in my post on raised beds that much of my current garden bed soil will eventually be moved around.  When that happens, the clover will get mixed in as a normal cover crop would, and will improve the soil than as well.

Doesn’t It Compete With Other Plants for Nutrients?

Yes, a little bit, but that’s OK. First off, I take good care of my soil with plenty of organic materials and other natural amendments throughout the year, so the soil shouldn’t be lacking for nutrients.  As mentioned above, if the clover ever gets in my way, I can just rip it out by the handful and whatever I’m planting will have plenty of space. Furthermore, I’m a firm believer that planting polycultures (many plants all grouped together) will always do better than monocultures (think big corn fields with nothing else growing).

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A post shared by Flowers of Life Organic Farms (@flowers_of_life_farms)

On a side note, here’s a good read about polycultures being more productive than monocultures from a recent study at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science:

“…analysis shows that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn), and ongoing research finds even stronger benefits of diversity when the various other important natural services of ecosystems are considered. Diverse communities are also more efficient at capturing nutrients, light, and other limiting resources.”

(Source: ScienceDaily.com via Virginia Institute of Marine Science)How to Plant the Clover:

I used a broadcast method (aka scattering the seeds) to add them to my raised bed walls.  If you use a broadcast method, be certain to do it (A) in your rainy season when the heat is gone or (B) cover it with a light layer of soil. If the seeds dry out or sit in the sun to bake, they won’t germinate well.  In my picture, you can see the seeds that fell into soil cracks were the only ones that performed well.

White Clover Seeds Germinating – You can see that the seeds that fell into cracks in the soil were much more likely to start. I seeded right before a hot and dry week unfortunately, so I learned this the hard way – Keep Your Clover Moist While It Germinates!Where Did I Get This Idea?

There’s nothing new about it.  People have been using clover as a cover crop for a long time. Masanobu Fukuoka wrote extensively about using white clover specifically as a living mulch, so he gets full credit for what I’m doing.  Here’s a good article by permaculturalist Larry Korn (the man who translated Fukuoka’s book, The One-Straw Revolution, into English) about Fukuoka’s farming method.

Where Did I Get The Clover Seed?

I purchased 1 lb of it with my seed order at Territorial Seed Co. this year specifically for this purpose. The exact type I bought was New Zealand White Clover, which cost $11 per pound of seed.

More Information about New Zealand White Clover:

Territorial Seed Description: Trifolium repens – Growing to only 8 inches, this low perennial clover has a growth habit similar to White Dutch Clover but will stand drought conditions better, is more vigorous, and tolerates a wide range of soils. Used for both a spring and fall cover crop, New Zealand White Clover can be sown between row plantings or as a solid seeded cover. A terrific green manure as it fixes up to 170 pounds of nitrogen per acre and attracts beneficial insects. Sow 1/4 pound per 1000 square feet; 6–10 pounds per acre. Pre-inoculated.

Interesting White Clover Factoids:
  • Initial taproot may grow to 3 feet deep.
  • Regenerates itself both by seed and by spreading vegetative growth.
  • Grows on a range of soils, but better on clay and loam than on sand.
  • Decent tolerance of shade, heat, flooding, and drought (all important here in Seattle).
  • Depending on moisture availability, can produce about 1 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre, containing 80 to 200 lbs of nitrogen per acre.
  • When growing white clover, farmers should see immediate improvement in the top soil. White clover’s extensive root system make the soil more friable, improving tilth and water infiltration.
  • Susceptible to potato leafhopper, meadow spittlebug, clover leaf weevil, alfalfa weevil, and lygus bug. Slugs will also attack white clover.
  • Competition with your primary crops can be reduced by mowing and hand pulling back the clover. Competition may be higher during drought periods.

(Source: University of Hawai’i PDF, See Below)

For More Information on White Clover:

Excellent PDF Download from University of Hawai’i about White Clover: (Download Clover PDF)

Great Article on White Clover by Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education: (White Clover)

Photo Credit: Martin LaBar

Building With Hempcrete 101

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 16:31

Hempcrete is used as a highly insulative wall material. It is a carbon negative, natural, and lightweight construction material that provides highly efficient temperature and moisture control. It is also formable, dynamic, one-seventh the weight of concrete, and cures within hours.

PHOTO COURTESY OF HEMP HOME AUSTRALIAWhat Are the Benefits of Hempcrete?

The benefits are manifold. It is highly insulative, regulates humidity to safeguard against asthma, is fire resistant, termite resistant, rodent-proof, and prevents mold and rising damp. It never rots. It preserves the timber house frame, generates zero landfill, sequesters carbon, and is nontoxic.

Related Post: Earth Sheltered Home: An Eco-Friendly, Passive Housing Alternative

What Is Hempcrete Made From?

Hempcrete is made by mixing the inner woody core of the stalk known as the hurd with a natural, lime-based binder, and water.

To separate the hemp fiber from the woody core, the plant stalk is left to rot (a process called retting) for 4 to 6 weeks. Microbes break down the pectin in the stalk to facilitate separation. After retting, stalks are dried and then passed through toothed rollers which crush and break the woody core into smaller pieces. 

Hemp hurd is simply a byproduct of hemp fiber production. What was found (by the French) is that hemp hurd could be used as an aggregate for construction, and its addition dramatically improved — in several capacities which this article will endeavor to cover — the performance of the structure.

When and Where Did It Come From?Pinterest

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling to France, you might have seen the many old, oak-frame colombage buildings. Between the oak, mixtures of lime, straw, rubble, sand, and clay are stuffed. No matter how hard you search online, you won’t find the name of the genius who swapped out straw for hemp hurd. But since then — at some point in the 1980s — the idea spread across France, into the UK, and all through Europe. Today, there are thousands of hemp houses on every continent.

Is Hempcrete Better Than Concrete?

Hempcrete may be one of the most Googled phrases in the industry. Perhaps it was a mistake to fix “-crete” on the end of the word, because, even though it does roll off the tongue, hempcrete is very different from concrete.

Concrete is a material used to create foundations and load-bearing structures. It’s heavy, cold to the touch, and has zero insulative qualities.

Hempcrete, on the other hand, is super light. In fact, it is one-eighth the weight of concrete. It is non load-bearing and best described as a masonry infill material with a porous, airy, fibrous composition. It is currently in the spotlight for several reasons: It’s a high-performance insulator, able to regulate the moisture content of the house (providing a sense of comfort and relief from allergies), and so eminently carbon negative it can mitigate the carbon footprint of the entire house building process. For those who want to delve deeper into the building science behind the performance of hempcrete, I’ve written more extensively here.

What Is in Hempcrete and Can I Source It Myself?

Hempcrete has three constituent parts: hemp, lime, and water. 

Hemp, and Where to Source It

Here in Australia, hemp shiv is only beginning to be farmed and brought to market. (A couple of notable enterprises being Hemp Homes Australia and X-Hemp in Tasmania where 80% of the hemp in Australia is currently farmed).

In Europe, a large industry is established and growing, with processing facilities in France, Holland, and Germany. The last house I built — working in Scotland — was made with Lithuanian hemp.

Over in the US, hemp production has exploded since the Agriculture Improvement Act or Farm Bill of 2018, finally allowing hemp cultivation after many, many years.

The Binder

As you might assume, the binder is what binds the hemp shiv into a solid mass. The binder consists of either hydrated lime or natural hydraulic lime. Hydrated lime (or air lime) has no impurities and is made by kiln-firing limestone. The firing process removes the carbon molecules from the limestone and converts it into a dry powder. When you want to use lime as a binder or mortar, you introduce carbon dioxide again, essentially converting the lime back into limestone as it absorbs surrounding CO2. This is what’s known as the carbon cycle. 

The other lime, hydraulic lime, is also kiln-fired using the same process. The difference being hydraulic lime has added or existing impurities known as pozzolans.

Why Add Impurities and Why Give Them Such an Exotic Name?

The addition of pozzolans causes lime to set in what’s known as a chemical set — whereby the lime returns to limestone in the presence of CO2 and water. This set is quicker and stronger. The set can also occur deeper in the hempcrete wall where an air or hydrated lime may not have an abundance of CO2 to set in a convenient time frame. And the name? Pozzolans were originally quarried by the Romans 2500 years ago in Pozzuoli, next to Naples, and under the watchful gaze of Vesuvius. 

One tremendously interesting fact is that hemp hurd has a high silica content. And silica just so happens to also be a pozzolan. So the actual hemp itself serves not only as an insulative aggregate, but to increase the strength and set speed of the lime. 

There are many benefits of using a natural lime mortar as opposed to modern portland cement. One only needs to look at the Colosseum or Pantheon to see the benefits of a binder that is more flexible and vapor open. This reason is one of many that natural builders are so passionate and vocal about their methods. They’re often preindustrial, tremendously reliable, have a fraction of the carbon footprint, and the buildings they build stand longer.

Lime is very common across the globe. Depending on your country, you may only be able to source either hydrated or hydraulic in their natural forms. But you can always add a pozzolan if needed.

Understanding lime is beyond the scope of this introduction as the chemistry and interactions between hemp and lime are complex (and tremendously interesting). Various lime choices exist and are on a sliding scale of sustainability and utility. Amusingly, lime is a contentious subject in the natural building community. Have a read here http://www.stastier.co.uk/nhl/topics/mineralogy.htm

How Is a Hemp House Built?

Hemp houses are often made using the standard timber stick frame that you’d see in a new build or renovation. The stick frame serves as the load bearer and skeleton which the hempcrete encases or shrouds. In the UK, studs are called out as 6-by-2 or around 150mm x 45mm. In Australia standard 90mm x 45mm studs are used and actually work to benefit a hempcrete build. This works because as hempcrete surrounds the frame, you want as much meat or expanse of hempcrete on each side of the stud — the wall mass to the inside of the wall and the wall mass to the outside — with the stud being in the center.

In other words, the more mass of hempcrete you have that is unbroken by timber stud work, the stronger the hempcrete, which is why you want the stud frame in the dead center of the wall detail. You generally want more than 80mm of hempcrete on either side of the stud frame which is easy to achieve as most hempcrete wall thicknesses are called out between 250mm to 400mm.

Formwork or Shuttered Hempcrete 

The most common method of construction is to create formwork or shuttering, and to pour the wet hempcrete mixture into the form from buckets. It has the lowest barrier of entry in terms of skill, and often homeworkers and the community can jump in and ferry buckets under the guidance of a skilled hempcrete contractor. The formwork itself doesn’t have to be super strong as it isn’t a liquid in its workable form. Hemp as a material has quite a lot of friction, so as it is poured into the forms it does not suffer droop. In fact, once poured, the outside edge of the wall is tamped to create more compression and solidity. The tamper job is a premium, sought after, and satisfying role on the hempcrete worksite. 

Spraying Hempcrete

Here you can see the hempcrete sprayer in action.

(Kane, I’ll have to send you the video I’m assuming).

This process is essentially run by two pumps: A conventional concrete pump for the lime, and a specialized, hemp dry pump (premixed hempcrete still hasn’t been successfully run through a single line as so much friction is encountered). The two are shot separately through the lance and converge on the wall with the lime binder battering and coating the hemp upon impact. This method is great for creating curves and infilling hard to hand-place spots, such as where the wall meets the ceiling or spots you might have missed during hand placing. Toward the end of this video, you can see how a horizontal batten is attached with the leading edge being the reference point for the finish line of the hempcrete. From this batten, a straight edge is hung, allowing the wall to be flattened, and shaving off high spots on the fly. 

Hempcrete Blocks

Many companies are racing to bring hempcrete blocks, bricks, and panels to market. Some see it as a kind of holy grail of mass-produced, industrialized, and affordable hemp housing. Bricks can be freighted to the site and laid by masons with a lime-based mortar. This method is still in its infancy and great attention must be taken to detailing because bricks cannot shroud the frame as spray-applied or formed hempcrete. With air gaps around the timber frame, the opportunity for cold bridging can occur, causing loss to the insulative abilities of the wall.

Which Method Would Work Best for Me?

Some prefer the sharp lines and modern look of hand-placed shuttered walls. Others prefer the rounded and blended look of sprayed hempcrete. There is a fair amount of crossover I would say, and you can achieve modern and classic styles employing either of these methods. In terms of efficiency and quality, some say spraying is quicker. Others say spraying is too messy because you have about 15% that doesn’t make it onto the wall. Still others say hand-placing can be limited. Both methods have their pros and cons, and the jury is out as to which will eventually come out on the top as the future industry standard.

When you add up all the benefits of hempcrete: health and respiratory, environmental, energy savings, safeguarding against rodents, rot, molt, and termites; and the actual comfort factor of a finished hempcrete house, you find it hard to argue against the fact you’ll be seeing a whole lot more of hempcrete in the future.

Will Brain is a hempcreter based in Melbourne, Australia. You can find more of his writings and documentation of his work as a contractor at www.brainbuilt.com.au

16 Cozy DIY Dog Houses for Your Dogs

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 16:28

We all love our animals. We want to give them the best homes, comfort, and shelter possible. When they’re outside, it’s nice to provide them shelter so they can be protected in their outdoor space. That’s why it’s so essential to build your dog a comfortable, functional, and stylish dog house.

By making a DIY dog house, you have the power and the flexibility to develop the dog house however you like. You’ll get more satisfaction out of building your dog house than simply buying one.

But a lot of dog owners are hesitant to build their own dog houses. For one, the task itself seems daunting. For another, people think it can be more expensive than purchasing one.

We’re here to tell you that’s not true. Building a dog house can be cost-effective, easy, and a much more rewarding experience than purchasing one online. 

If you’re in need of a dog house but don’t know where to start, read on to learn more. 

The Basics 

Whether you’re a new dog house builder or an experienced vet, it is still necessary to review the basic elements for building a successful dog house. 

What Is the Best Material to Build a Dog House With?

Many of you may be wondering: What is the best material to build a dog house with? 

The answer depends on a lot of various aspects. For example, if you live in an area with colder weather and plan to keep your dogs out for lengthier periods, you’ll need sturdier materials instead of flimsy designs with cardboard and boxes. 

In these cases, hearty materials such as wood, metal, and added insulation are optimal, and good tools are needed to build the dog house. 

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Dog House?

Sometimes buying a dog house can cost a lot of money for materials, assembly, and hiring people to help. Luckily, the DIY dog houses featured in this post are either very low cost (in the $100 to $200 range) or entirely free.

Another great tool to cut down costs on your new dog house is to reuse materials. For example, by using spare plywood and extra wood from other projects, you’ll be saving money and the environment. 

That’s why it’s so great to find beat-up furniture on the side of the road (or from your house) to reuse for a great dog house. 

What Can I Put in My Dog House to Keep Him Warm?

The best part about creating your dog house is to decorate it. Decorating the interior of your dog house is enjoyable, and when you add more cushions and blankets, you help keep them warm. 

Stick to soft, comfortable materials such as blankets, quilts, and pillows, to keep them warm. If you live in a frigid climate, you may want to build insulation into your dog home to keep them warmer during those winter months. 

How Big Should I Build My Dog House? 

The first step you always want to do before you start building your DIY dog house (or even before you buy materials) is to measure your dog. 

Each dog is different. Big dogs need bigger accommodations than small dogs, so it’s important you tailor your dog house to your pet’s specific needs based on breed, size, and so forth. 

Try to keep the shelter to roughly twice the size of your dog. Dogs like smaller spaces, so you don’t need to make a house that’s much bigger than them. Besides, by creating a smaller space, you allow their body heat to quickly and easily fill the area so it’s a comfortable and effective shelter for your pet. 

Related Post: 7 Tips For Raising Animals In A Tiny House

Free Dog House Plans to Consider

Continue reading to learn more about the different types of dog house plans available. 

Roof Deck Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of goods home design

Just because you’re designing a dog house on your own doesn’t mean that you have to compromise style. With this dog house, your animal gets to lounge on the roof of their very own dog house. 

To get instructions on how to make this roof deck dog house a reality, go to Good Homes Interior Design. You and your dog will be all set with easy building plans, cost-effective design, and plenty of styles to choose from. 

Find the plans at Goods Home DesignLowe’s Beginner DIY House 

Kick off your DIY dog house plans with something easy and straightforward like this construction plan from Lowe’s. It’s a great beginning for your DIY dog house. And if it is a beginner dog house, there’s no better place to start than Lowe’s. It’s an easy DIY project. 

Find the plans at Lowe’sSnoopy House PlansPhoto courtesy of two men and a truck

Are you a fan of Snoopy and want to make your dog a fan, too? This Snoopy Dog House is the perfect DIY dog house for you. Not only will it be a replica for your dog to enjoy, it’s also incredibly low cost. All you need to get started is a couple of old moving boxes, a utility knife, and some spray paint.

Find the plans at Two Men and A TruckDog House With Porch Plans

If you’re feeling a little fancy, check out this cute dog house plan with a deck included. Simply sign up on their website to access free PDFs and get the building plans. 

This sweet dog house comes with a deck, and a place to put toys as well as a bowl of water. Your dog will undoubtedly know this is the place for them. 

Find the plans at Woodshop DiariesModern DIY Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of the awesome orange

If you’re a bit more modern, you may be turned off by traditional DIY dog house designs that are floating around online. Look no further than this sleek, edgy, modern dog house design. 

Brought to you by The Awesome Orange, this modern dog house has deep Scandinavian roots and a clean, fresh design. It’s easy and low cost to build, and because the design also includes a reasonably large porch, it is a great DIY large dog house for bigger breeds. However, this shelter may only be a good fit for owners looking for more of a design aesthetic — not actual protection from the elements. 

If you live somewhere with extreme weather and temperatures, you may want to find a more functional house than this one. 

Find the plans at The Awesome OrangeInsulated Dog House Plans

The problem with dog houses is that many owners worry about their furry friends and want them to be okay in extreme weather. For those living in colder regions, you may be concerned about exposing your dog to the harsh winter elements. 

That’s why the Ron Hazleton Home Improvement website created this custom, insulated dog shelter so you can rest assured your dog will stay warm even on the coldest nights. 

He provides a step-by-step guide on how to build your dog shelter from top to bottom to ensure warmth, protection, and privacy for your beloved dog.

Find the plans at Ron HazeltonTropical Resort Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of iwanebe

Bringing a tropical vacation to your dog? This tropical resort DIY dog house may be an excellent fit for your yard and pet. This design is sure to bring a smile to your face as you see your dog lounging in their tropical oasis. With shelter, a porch, and easy-to-use instructions, this design could be a top contender for any dog owner. 

Find the plans at ImgurClassic A-Frame Dog Housephoto courtesy of hgtv

If you’d like to keep your build a little more traditional, this classic A-frame may be an excellent design for you and your dogs. This project is a tremendous DIY house for a small dog and a good option for medium dogs, too. Sorry big dogs, this one may not be the size for you. 

Find the plans at HGTVLog Cabin Dog Housephoto courtesy of diy network

Nothing spells cozy like a log cabin. With five simple materials and a few tools, you can construct a DIY dog house for a snuggly log cabin. The unique design will surely wow any neighbors and guests.

Find the plans at DIY NetworkDog House on Wheels Plansphoto courtesy of Instructables

This is a great dog house to build if you often need to move your dog’s shelter from place to place. For example, if you split ownership with someone else, you move frequently, or your dog just wants to move their house, you can be sure your dog has their own space wherever they go. 

Find the plans at InstructablesPallet Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of DIY craftsy

The pallet design is a style that’s always current and fashionable. A pallet dog house has everything your dog needs. Sturdy and spacious, it is an excellent project for large breed dogs. Get started with a DIY yard dog house with this beautifully styled, pallet dog house. 

Find the plans at DIY CraftsyBreezy Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of shanty 2 chic

The Breezy Dog House is an exciting spin on a dog house. Because the walls are cut out, it does not provide much shelter, if any, so if you’re looking for a dog house design over function, this one may be the fit for you. Since this dog house has open walls, it is an excellent fit for dogs who may get freaked out by small spaces. This dog house is also a great design if you live in a hot climate and need lots of airflow to keep your dog cool and shaded. Check out the Breezy dog house now. 

Find the plans at Shanty 2 ChicBig Dog House Plans

It can be difficult for all you owners with Great Danes or German Shepherds to find a dog house design to accommodate your big dog breeds. That’s why this big dog house is such a great find. It’s wonderful for larger breeds. 

As you may have guessed by its name, the Big Dog House’s top feature is the sheer size that can accommodate any large breed. Check out this helpful video that breaks down how to build this structure step-by-step (but if you have a small dog, this is not the house for them as they would not fill this space with their body heat). 

Find the plans on YouTubeWooden Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of dear Lillie studio

This house looks like a house where you or I could live. Its shingles and shutters make it a sweet little spot for your puppy to fall asleep on a hot summer day. And it’s easy and low cost to build. Check out this cute DIY house to get started on your small dog house. 

Find the plans at Dear Lillie StudioMid-Century Dog House Plansphoto courtesy of diy inspired

This dog house is sure to wow any friends and neighbors with a stylish design and functionality. While this is undoubtedly a more in-depth dog house to create, it is worth it when you’re done because it looks so mod. 

Find the plans at DIY InspiredBarrel House Plansphoto courtesy of lady lee’s home

Are you looking for a dog house that looks a little different? Try building one from a barrel. That’s right, you heard us correctly. Cost-effective, visually intriguing, and cozy, this dog house is sure to make your furry friend feel completely snuggled up and entirely at home. 

Find the plans at Lady Lee’s HomeFinal Thoughts

When it comes to dog houses, there are many choices, and you have to design the perfect dog house for your favorite member of the family. With so many cost-effective options available, we know you’ll have fun experimenting with different designs and styles to find the right fit for you. 

Swimming Ponds: A More Natural Approach to Swimming Pools

Mon, 07/12/2021 - 15:46

Let nature clean the water…

Chemical-free water garden and swimming pool. The plant portion, or regeneration zone, is separated from the swimming area by the wall seen a few inches below the water’s surface. naturalswimmingpools.co.


The pools have skimmers and pumps that circulate the water through the regeneration zone and back into the swimming area. The aquatic plants filter out contaminants and use nutrients from the water as food, which helps prevent algae. Then rocks, such as granite river rock or haydite, to which friendly bacteria attach, act as biological filters. More questions answered at gartenart.co.uk


There are many design options. Beneficial bacteria (micro-organisms and microbes) colonize the rock and help cleanse the water. (clear-water-revival.com)

This video from natural pool expert David Pagan Butler is an introduction to what he calls “wild swimming at home.” His pool or pond costs a fraction of traditional construction. It requires no special contractor to do any of the work. And no chemicals are needed to keep it clean.

In the video, he shows his homemade innovations: insulating the swimming zone to keep it warm, building a noiseless pool filter from scratch, and the solar-powered circulation system. The wall of the pool is made of sandbags and wood. Beyond is the “planting zone,” which is an equal area to the “swimming zone.” Animals and plants in this zone act as natural filtration to keep the water clean.


A gradual slope contains the plants, gravel, and loamy sand, a wall keeps them separate from the swimming area.


Vacuum but twice a year and tend to the plants as needed. The plants will need to be cut back in the fall so they do not die in the pool. (naturalswimmingpools.com)


The regeneration zone can be along the perimeter of a natural pool or a pond unto itself, as long as it’s connected to the swimming area. (gartenart.co.uk)


For a true natural pool with no help from ultraviolet light or other such technology, the requirement is a half-swimming area and a half-regeneration area. (Originally found at biotop-natural-pool.com)


Plants steal the nutrients away from invasive algae. (gartenart.co.uk)


This time-lapse video shows the construction of a natural pool on Nantucket Island, off of Cape Cod. Once the barriers of the pool are staked out, a machine digs out all the dirt. Then the liner is laid around a temporary wood frame. A barrier is built to separate the swimming area from the natural plants’ area, and forms laid out for the pouring of concrete.

The sides and bottom of the pool are concrete. Once the concrete is poured, the forms are removed. The filtration and water pumps are arranged. The earth is filled in around the pool, and stones are placed along the exterior for a more natural look. A lining is applied to the bottom and sides of the pool. Then, it is slowly filled with water. At the end of the video, the final product is shown with the landscaping. Beautiful.

21 Amazing Natural Pools

There are so many different ways to incorporate a natural pool into your yard, whether it is a clean-cut modern style or an aesthetic natural design.

1) Hidden Oasis

Half regeneration area, half swimming pool (living-pool.eu)

2) Woodhouse Demonstration Pool

Natural predators such as water striders and dragonflies will come to live in the enrichment area and feast on mosquitoes. If you chose to have a skimmer installed this will keep mosquitoes in check as well. Woodhouse demo pool from naturalswimmingpools.com.

3) Oxfordshire Natural Pool

Use your pool as an ice rink in winter, as there is no need for a cover. (gartenart.co.uk)

4) Clear Water Revival Pool

A first year pool will need at least 60 days to self-adjust, but installing an ultraviolet sterilizer in the pump area will have you swimming almost immediately. (clear-water-revival.com)


Andy Marsh of Georgia shows off the natural pool he built. He says he did all his research online. His pool is lined with gravel, the water circulates through the gravel, and microbes in the gravel help filter it. It looks really clean! He shows the divide between his swimming area and planting area.

As he’s in Georgia, with a warm climate, his planting area is the same size as his swimming area (in colder places you might get away with a smaller planting area). Under everything is a rubber membrane. Most of the stone lining the pond is a gray granite he was able to get 10 tons of for $300! He used 18 tons of gravel for the pool.

5) French Natural Pool

Note the plant pond to the right in the natural pool in France. (bioteich.fr)

6) Les Vans Pool View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Laurence (@o.lau.gram)

A great example of how a natural pool can be a fun addition to family gatherings.

7) Natural Swimming Pool Ecological

The pools are most popular in Austria, where a company called Biotop has been designing them for residential and public use since 1986. (homeexteriorinterior.com)

8) Two-Tiered Pool

The two-tiered waterfall helps oxygenate the pool. (naturalpoolsnz.com)

9) Cottage At Home PoolPhoto by Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes Inc.More pool photos

Though this project was difficult for the builders, the end result is truly breathtaking! Combining the aesthetic of a pond with the functionality of a natural swimming pool.

10) Hybrid Natural Pool

A hybrid natural pool usually has two circulation pumps. One where water is circulated through the plant and rock filters before being discharged back to the bottom of the pond. The second surface circulation system pulls water through one or two skimmers filtering out floating debris. Water drawn through the skimmers passes through a filter system, such as a UV filter and/or a biofilter—essentially a box filled with bacteria-laden bio-media—before returning to the pool. A waterfall helps with oxygenation. (naturalswimmingpools.co.za)


This natural swimming pond was built in Central Illinois, along with 400 meters of hugelkultur beds—in just 10 days! The walls of the pool are giant cinder blocks, with tamped sandbags adding extra height. Gravel was poured along the sides of the pool for future landscaping.

The designer, Zach Weiss, explains that adding oxygen is very important for natural pools, so he built in a waterfall, fed by a water circulation device. The stones blocking the water also help release oxygen. The material Zach excavated to form the pool, he used in the hugelkultur bed. No waste! The property is going to be a bed and breakfast.

11) A Sustainable Homestead Natural PoolPhoto by Devore AssociatesLook for pool design inspiration

This homestead pulled out all the stops, including a natural pool to their sustainable property.

12) A Gesamtkunstwerk Natural Pool

Love the deck amongst the water plants. An original Biotop pool (biotop-natural-pool.com)

13) A Large Natural Pool

Access through an enrichment area. (clear-water-revival.com)

14) Natural Pool For Demonstration

Love the diving boards. (naturalswimmingpools.com)

15) English Natural Pool View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Joanne Paddon Design (@joannepaddondesign)

In this English backyard, the modern design of the natural pool steals the show.

16) A Long Natural Pool

Natural pool in the UK. (clear-water-revival.com)

17) Pierce Lanucha Swimming PoolPhoto by Robins Nest AquaticsBrowse pool ideas

These designers used a large regeneration zone to create a beautiful waterscape.

18) Castle Rock Natural Pool

Convert a pond into a swimming pond. Mother Earth News says there are a few options for liners—bentonite clay to seal the soil or a synthetic liner. If you choose synthetic, they recommend ethylene propylene diene monomer rather than PVC. (gartenart.co.uk)

19) Growing Plants For Regeneration Zone

Close up of a pond built by Biofermenta.

20) Building Up The Natural Wall

Western Massachusetts Water House Pools (waterhousepools.com)

21) Construction Of A Natural Pool

New free-form construction. (clear-water-revival.com)

How To Convert A Traditional Pool To A Natural Pool

See pics of a conversion process here: clear-water-revival.com

Conversion with an added beach. bionovanaturalpools.com


Here is a conversion in Australia from a 1980s style brick-pool to a natural pond. The conversion was done by the homeowner, but with help from the company that produced the video. He explains that the “power-hungry” pumps of traditional pools are replaced by low-power pond pumps. They used the existing skimmer box to run lines for circulation and to add oxygen.

Even in the offseason, the water quality stays good. They don’t have to pump chemicals in to keep it clean in winter. The pond has biofilters that are incredibly clean even after 18 months of use. The equipment is small and practically noiseless. Low maintenance and self-sufficiency = inexpensive and simple life.

Plants For Your Natural Pool

Every pool needs to be cleaned. A natural pool is cleaned with plants instead of chemicals—have you ever thought about how many pounds of chemicals go into a typical swimming pool?

A range of aquatic plants is used—submerged (oxygenators), floating, shallow marginals, deep marginals, bog/marsh, and waterside species. Whenever possible, use indigenous plants. Some examples of typical water plants: cattails, bulrushes, sedges, duckweed, and water lilies.

How To Build A Natural Swimming Pool
  • Schwimmteich-Selbstbau: this article has many links embedded within, giving you even more resources then the article itself. The site is in German, but there is an option to translate the information.
  • Woodhouse Natural Pools: If you don’t know where to start, this site has a lot of pictures for inspiration.
The Best Natural Swimming Pool BooksNatural Pool Builders

If you don’t have the time to make your own natural pond, you can hire one of these companies to help!

Natural Pool Builders in Europe
  • Biotop has been in business since 1984 with more than 3,500 satisfied customers. Their partner network covers 17 countries. (Austria)
  • BioNova is a global network of partners on 6 continents who work synergistically to push the state-of-the-art of natural swimming pool design, construction, aesthetics and maintenance. (Germany)
  • Bioteich Baignades Naturelles (France)
  • GartenArt has naturalistic options, making swimming ponds for your enjoyment. (United Kingdom)
  • Woodhouse Natural Pools with BIOTOP have been developing and building naturally filtered swimming pools in the UK since 2000. (United Kingdom)
  • Clear Water Revival are builders who also sell kits to the more daring. (United Kingdom)
Natural Pool Builders In The US
  • Total Habitat works with all kinds of clientele, including contractors, individuals, and zoos. (Kansas)
  • Expanding Horizons not only constructs pools, but can remodel your pool as well. (California)
  • Water House Pools will help you design your natural pool, even managing the construction. (Massachusetts)
  • Rin Robyn Pools can build a relaxing natural pool, building for both individuals and spas. (New Jersey & MA)
  • Kane Brothers, make beautiful swimming ponds, they can also be hired for maintenance. (Illinois)
Natural Pool Builders In CanadaNatural Pool Builders In OceaniaNatural Pool Builders In Africa
  • EcoPools have many great designs, ranging from modern to urban styles. (South Africa)

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