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PLANT DISEASE- Limiting the Risk in Your Garden

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Bacteria, fungi and numerous microscopic creatures are just below the soil where your plants’ roots feed and grow. Although most are helpful and even essential to keeping your plant healthy, there are also some that attack the plants’ root keeping them from taking in water and nutrients, hindering their growth and eventually killing them.
Plant disease usually starts as spores in the soil and at some time in the stems of undeveloped plants and they wait for the right condition to incubate and develop into an organism that will cause havoc to your crops. And once this fungal disease establishes itself, only a few options are left for you to counter it, resort to using fungicide or destroy the whole infected crop.
Regardless of how much time and effort you spend on your garden pruning, you simply cannot protect them against plant diseases. But there is a way to keep bacteria and fungi from assaulting your garden. Not all hope is gone. By studying and being able to recognize the symptoms, knowing what causes them and by practicing some preventive measures, you will be able to avoid the damage it can cause to your garden.

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Why Save Your Own Seed?

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In the wilds, plants bear fruits and naturally would fall to the ground where some of the seeds from the fruit would sprout in springtime and the whole process starts again… It’s plant’s circle of life.
Saving seeds have been practiced by early humans for food security. In todays world, the more we need to save seed and there are a lot of good reasons why. Saving seeds help you have a consistent quality and grow better crops each time. Some want to keep the heirloom seeds passed on to them by their ancestors. Others do it for seeds security reasons as some big seed company has stopped producing numerous excellent plant varieties in favor of the highly profitable hybrid types. Saving your own seeds assures you of the steady supply of the more nutritious crops. For the more serious farmers and gardeners, saving seeds of their prized plants grown on their own land helps them develop a better variety that is adapted to their soil and climate. Another good reason is saving money. Business is all about making money, large seed companies are no exemption. To maintain good profit, some companies no longer discard inferior seeds, but instead mix them up with the good seeds in their packaging and this spells production loss for farmers. I for one save seeds to make sure that what I’m growing comes not from a genetically modified material.
Here are some of the basics in saving seeds. When choosing the type of seeds you want to save, the best practice is to choose open-pollinated varieties. These are non-hybrid plants whose seeds are true generation after generation. There are two types of open- pollinated varieties, the self –pollinating which are the easiest to save you seeds from, they will grow and yield the same plant like the original for generations. The other type is the cross pollinating varieties which need to receive pollen from other plants of the same type to produce a true seed as the original. The pollination process is usually done either by insects or wind and will require a larger population in order to maintain healthy crops.
The best time to harvest your seeds for saving is when you see the fruits housing the seeds has matured or when the seeds are well formed and drying. This takes a little time, practice and patience to master and get used to the process.
When storing the seeds, be sure that they are completely dry and this usually takes 5 to 7 days via air drying. Dry your wet seeds on ceramic plates by spreading them evenly on the surface. To keep them from clumping together and ensure even drying, stir them often. Never dry them on paper towels to speed up drying, they will stick so hard on the paper, it will be impossible to take them off. If the place is humid, you can use silica gel or desiccant to take the moisture off. You can keep the seed for a longer period of time by storing them in freezer inside a glass jar.
Seeds are given to us by plants free of charge, let us continue this wonderful tradition of saving nature’s gift in our garden.
Have fun gardening!

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POISONOUS PLANTS: Know Them, Avoid Them

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It’s not easy to identify if plants are poisonous or not just by looking at them. You need to study each one until you become very confident. Before putting your skill of poisonous plant identification, try to learn as much as you can. A lot of poisonous plants may look like their edible counterpart. Some contain both edible and poisonous parts, others are edible only when they have ripen or in a certain stage of their growth and later becomes poisonous. Gather as much information or do cross referencing just to be sure. Or you can search the internet for an app that can distinguish poisonous plants.
There are three ways that plants can poison us.
By inhalation that can cause respiratory problems. Breathing the smoke of a burning plant can be as dangerous as the plant. Leaves of poison ivy and poison oaks contains urushiol. Burning and inhaling the fume can make breathing extremely painful.
By contact, which can cause different types of skin irritation. This is the most common problem encountered in the field. When contact is made, the symptom may show after a few hours and others may take several days. Person affected may suffer from itching, swelling, blistering, and burning sensation but normally the victim recovers.
By ingestion or eating the plant which can cause serious illness or kill a person. Never attempt to eat any plants unless you are 100% absolutely sure they are edible. Some plants are so poisonous that even a small amount consumed can be fatal. Persons who have ingested a poisonous plant experiences nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, abdominal cramps, shortness of breath, low heartbeat and eventually results to unconsciousness, coma and death.
Some basic ways to identify them is by their leaves. Take poison Ivy and poison oaks for example, you can easily recognize them as they have a cluster of three leaves at the end of a stem with the middle leave having a longer stem than the two side leaves. Another way is through the milky sap they produce. Poinsettia, a well-known Christmas flower, produces milky sap in their stem that causes skin rashes.
Some of the plants that skin irritation are Poison Ivy, Poison oak, Trumpet vine and Cowhage. And those that may cause serious illness or death are Rosary pea, Strychnine tree, Oleander, Lantana, Death camas, Cantor beans and mushrooms.
Keep in mind that with regards to poisonous plants, little knowledge can be deadly. So, when in doubt… don’t!
Stay safe. Enjoy life.

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Sewer Sludge Fertilizer: What You Need to Know

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Early in the 1990s, close to a million acres of America’s farmland have been covered with apparently toxic sewage sludge as food crop fertilizer, about a million tons were used. And this has been favored by the government as a program for disposing byproducts gathers from municipal waste water treatment plants.
Just what are sewage sludge? Well, they’re toxic wastes taken from a lot of sources like homes, hospitals, chemical manufacturers, other businesses, and storm water drain which are flushed or dumped into wastewater systems across the nation. And the kind of waste includes human fecal, pathogens, heavy metals, and several hundreds of contaminants. These wastes undergo a process in the wastewater treatment plants where it tries to remove as much contaminants as it can from the water. The water is later discharged and the solids that remain are sludge or “biosolids”. Except for some handful of contaminants, most has not undergone tests for its effect to human health and the environment.
Despite its obscurity, sewage sludge continues to be used as fertilizers, some are even mixed with other materials and bagged as “biosolid compost” for use in farm and garden landscaping. But why not use them, they are given free anyway, right?… Big mistake! The use of sewage sludge is under-publicized and with so much hidden threat. Before the 1980, these “biosolids” were dumped in the ocean, and after they realized that it was an environmental and human health disaster, some PR experts came up with a brilliant idea… apply them to farmlands under the guise of “biofertilizer”… and give them out legally for free! Wow!… I want some for my farm!
Just how perilous is sewage sludge as fertilizers? To give you an idea, past analysis conducted on sewage sludge resulted in the discovery of a large number of dioxins and synthetic compounds like toluene and phthalates. There was also a good number of heavy metals in high concentrations and various pesticides.
When applied to the soil, some of these chemicals will bind to the soil, and others will leach into the groundwater. Some chemicals are really not filtered out in the process, like heavy metals, flame retardants, and other carcinogens which accumulates in the soil. And a good question to ask is, have these “biosolids” actually been treated at all?
While hundreds of individuals have fallen ill due to exposure sewer sludge fertilizers, the application to farmlands and gardens continues. As consumers, the only way we can be sure that what we are getting are not grown in sewage sludge is to buy organic foods from trusted suppliers at farmers markets. Your local grocery stores are definitely not the ideal place to buy safe, fresh food.
Support family farm. Go organic.

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TRAP CROPPING – Pest Control the Natural Way

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In the recent years, interest in the use of trap crop in farms and gardens has increased along with the rising attention in organic gardening. The reason behind is the mounting awareness and concern in the potential harm of pesticides to humans and animal life including the environment.
Trap cropping is a technique of using decoy plants in luring pest away from the main crops you are growing. Once the decoy plants are infested, they are then treated or destroyed to eradicate the pest.
Trap cropping is ideal for farm use where planting is widespread, but can be reduced to scale to meet the requirement of smaller farm or garden. There are two ways of using Trap crops. First is by planting several decoy plants of the same species completely surrounding the main crop. This is called perimeter trap cropping. In this way, pest attacks coming from all sides of the field are averted.
Second is by planting the decoy plants in alternating rows within the main crop. These decoy crops, also known as a sacrificial crop, protect the valuable main crop and serves as the food plant for the destructive insects. Once these insects have settled well, the decoy plants are then treated with organic pesticides or mechanically removed.
There are several benefits in using trap crop for pest control. Seed price of trap crops is low, will cause a significant reduction in the use of harmful pesticides, preserves the balance of biodiversity, have a better crop production, conserve the soil and the environment.
To be successful with trap cropping, you need to plan a layout of your farm or garden to guide you on how your decoy crops will be planted. You must study the specific pest in your area in order to learn its food preference. Pick the right decoy crop. Do regular monitoring. And respond quickly in ridding the pest found in the decoy crops. Remember that with trap cropping, timing is important. You have to make sure that everything is in place once the invasion of insect starts which always happens at a specific time of year.
Here are some trap crops you can use on your home gardening. Mustards attracts harlequin bugs. Radishes attract cabbage maggots, flea beetle and harlequin bugs. Dill attracts tomato hornworms. Cucumber beetle loves amaranth. Sunflowers are haven for stink bugs. Japanese beetles go for zinnias. Tomato aphids like okra. And squash bugs prefer millet. Other plants can be used to repel insects. Marigold repels both cabbage moth and nematodes, basil repels tomato hornworms, and tomato deters asparagus beetle. To balance it off, you also need to attract beneficial insects by planting flowers.
Trap cropping will not totally eliminate destructive pest, but will definitely help in reducing the use of pesticides which should be our main objective.
Have fun planting!

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Making Compost Tea For Your Garden

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There are a lot of good reasons using compost tea in your garden. Aside from putting back organic matters into the soil, it’s an ideal fertilizer to use in your garden plants and especially for seedlings to stimulate growth and prevent diseases. It is natural, low-dilution and effective.
Spraying compost tea directly makes it easy for plants to absorb and distribute nutrients to produce greener leaves and a bigger yield. It wards off pest, fungus and prevents pathogens from infecting your plants. When applied to soil, fast acting nutrients and minerals are quickly absorbed, which improves the biological activity of the soil. A healthy soil will then produce a healthy crop.
Compost tea brewing is basically extracting the goodness in a compost with water to produce a “tea” solution. When brewing compost tea, one very important factor to consider is the use of the right compost. It should be matured with a sweet earthy smell. If it’s not, don’t use it.
To have a good quality compost, you need to have a sustained pile in a 135° to 150° temperature for at least a week or more, turning the file as often as possible. If you are maintaining a compost pile for more than a year, you have a tea ready compost you can use straightaway. It is important to note that E. coli can be present in raw ingredients used in composting and maintaining a hot compost will eliminate or at the least minimize them.
Let me share with you a simple way of making your own compost tea for your garden. You will need a 5 gallon bucket; a good quality, matured compost; an aerator or aquarium pump; compost catalyst (to help encourage the microorganisms in the compost to multiply); and water. If you’re using tap water, it needs to be de-chlorinated by letting it stand for a day before using it. The reason: chlorine will kill beneficial microorganisms. Water from deep well or gathered from rain can be used directly.
You can start with a 5 gallon bucket by filling it up about 1/3 full with matured compost. You then add water to the top of the bucket and let it steep for 5 to 7 days, you may add some molasses to feed and boost up the microorganisms. Stir the mixture regularly. At the end of the process, strain the mixture using a fine plastic screen mesh or cheesecloth to another bucket. You now have your compost tea ready for use. Don’t throw away the remaining compost solids, you can top them on your garden plot or put them back in the compost bin. Nothing is wasted!
That was quite easy… Right? So, start brewing compost tea instead of using chemical based fertilizers in your garden and save some money.
Have fun gardening!

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Knowing Your Garden Soil

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Before working on your garden, knowing the type of soil you have will help you in finding out how well plants will grow and what crops will actually grow well on it. The most important rule in gardening is soil preparation, abide by this rule and you’re on your way to having a successful garden.
Plant roots need air and water in order for it to develop and grow. If the roots have difficulty in extracting the essential nutrients from the soil and transferring it to the plant body, the whole plant is compromised and eventually dies.
There are three basic types of soil which you can tell by their particle size and one way to tell what type you have is to have a feel of it.
Clay:  This type is sticky when it’s wet and smears up when you rub it between your fingers. The soil particles of this type are the smallest, it is compact and does not work well with plants. The soil absorbs much of the water and eventually cause drainage problem. And because it is compact, air will almost be impossible in getting to the roots, thus hindering its development.
Sandy Soil: This one feels gritty and will not hold together because the soil particles are large, it’s the opposite of clay soil.  Since the particles are loose, water and nutrients will simply drain from the plants root zone. This type is not a good storehouse of nutrients.
Silt soil: This type is a medium texture of fine particles. It feels like flour or velvety which can create loamy soil. It holds water like the clay type, but has a better drainage and can hold nutrients. This soil type is best for most plants to grow on.
Each soil type presents their own particular weaknesses. They are measured by a pH number (a scale from 1-14) and the more the extreme the pH scale they are the more difficult they are to garden. The more it becomes extreme the lesser nutrients there is for the plants to absorb.  It is equally important therefore to know the pH level of your soil and it is very easy to find out by using soil testing kits available at most garden stores. Each pH level can be identified by a color, if it turns green, your soil is neutral, if it turns dark blue, it’s alkaline and yellow-orange means it is acidic.  You’re lucky if you have a pH level between 6.5 and 7 because this level is where nutrients and mineral naturally abounds, plants will be very happy here.
What to plant? There are plants that need to be planted on a particular soil type only.  But most plants are comfortable in just about any soil type, be it acidic, neutral or in alkaline condition. Knowing the type and condition of your garden soil will open up an array of plants for you to grow, you will be surprised as to what you can grow.
Have fun gardening!

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Companion Planting in Your Garden

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You may not be aware, but planting the same crops in the same place every year can deplete your soil, encourage pest build up and causes plant disease to become widespread. Doing some pre- planning and thought as to what crops will planted at which plot, would be a wise thing to do. Your soil and plants will largely benefit and you can attain a better harvest by doing a simple crop rotation and companion planting. There are plants that can benefit from each other by planting them close to one another. Usually these are the plants that cook well together. And there are other plants that should be kept away from each other.
There are several things you can achieve with companion planting: You can create mutual benefits for the plants. Certain vegetables grow better when they are planted together. Taller plants give shade and protection to other plants. Plants with nitrogen fixing ability can promote growth of nearby plants and thereby increasing your crops overall production; another thing is that companion planting maximizes your garden space so you can produce a very large amount in a little space. Especially true if you have a very limited space in your garden; lastly, it is a safe and effective way to control pest. There are herb and vegetables that can cause disorientation to pest when planted with some other crops, preventing or at least reducing the damage that the pest can do. One classic example is planting leeks and onions around your potato patch, this will keep potato beetle at bay.
The first thing to do is to decide the kind of vegetable you want to plant in your garden. Once you have the list, you need to find out what the preferred companions of the plants are and how you need to plant them together.
For your “Love Garden”, here are some lover plants you may want to try…. Lettuce, it goes well with radishes and carrots. Onion, beet and tomato love each other’s company. Tomatoes enjoy being with garlic and carrots. Other companion plants that can help in controlling pest are herbs and certain flowers. Herbs like mint and thyme are hated by cabbage moth and worms. Rosemary discourages carrot flies and bean beetles. Basil wards off mosquitoes and flies. Planting flowers like marigold, around the edges of your garden will fend off nematodes and many other insects.
If I may add, another beneficial use of companion planting is to enhance the flavor of your crops. Herbs are the typical flavor enhancing plants to use.
To learn more about companion planting, I suggest you get hold of a book by Louise Riotte entitled Carrots love Tomatoes, The Secret of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening, published by Storey publishing. This book is a great introduction for gardeners. Have a wonderful time gardening!
Love Organic. Love Life.

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What Future Do You Envision for Organic Farming?

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Right now, the phrase “organic farming” is kind of a buzz word that calls to mind a lot of positive images. Cleaner food, a healthier environment and better food farming practices are just a few of the images that come to mind when thinking about organic farming.
This is what many of think when we see the organic labels on food, but how many of us actually know what goes into organic farming and what is classified as organic farming? I would like to explore this issue so that more of us understand how food becomes classified as organic, which will then allow you to make more informed choices when you are at the grocery store.We can begin to define organic farming by saying that it is food that is grown and processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. However, farmers may still use pesticides that are derived from nature, otherwise known as biological pesticides. The process of growing organic food is highly regulated, and farmers must be certified by a USDA-accredited agency to sell, label, or represent their products as organic. Most organic farmers follow sets of similar guidelines:

Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
Support animal health and welfare
Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
Only use approved materials
Do not use genetically modified ingredients
Receive annual onsite inspections
Separate organic food from non-organic food

Farmers who follow the USDA guidelines for organic farming do receive monetary benefits for helping to preserve the environment, and consumers benefit by knowing that the food they are consuming is highly regulated, which presumably means that it is safer to consume.
However, we need to push the USDA to be a bit more transparent in the way that they handle organic farming. Although the farmers are being paid more for their organic products, they are not able to produce as much food. This means that some farmers may actually be earning less money by going organic. This is problematic for the smaller farmers that may only have one or two tractors since it is already difficult for them to afford the equipment and materials necessary to become a licensed organic farmer. We don’t want the little guys to pushed out just because the corporations are better suited financially to take on the responsibility of organic farming.
Not only are smaller farmers struggling with keeping up with the corporations, the natural pesticides that organic farmers are allowed to use can still be harmful to consumers. To better explain this idea, it is helpful to look at the way that Vitamin C can be derived. Vitamin C can be derived naturally from an orange, or it can be derived synthetically from glucose. Just because one is natural, does that make it any better or worse than the synthetic version? We need to make sure that the USDA is being more specific with what pesticides they are allowing growers to use on the products that we consume.
These are all interesting points to keep in mind as you move through your grocery store and consider what products you should, or should not buy for yourself and your family. While we know that organic farming is a healthier and more environmentally friendly option for growing food, we also need to keep in mind that sometimes the government doesn’t always have our best interest at heart. Do your part to push the government to keep organic farming in line with our goals for the future of farming.

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Know and Control Garden Pests

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In any garden, harmful pest is ever present and can be found chewing on plants even in the healthiest garden. To come up with an effective control, we need to identify these pests and some of top garden pest you should know are:
Aphids. These are tiny pear shaped pest with long antennae and tubes projecting rearward from the abdomen. Although small they are very visible as they congregate underneath the leaves of the plant they are infecting. They come in a variety of sizes, colors and shape. They are not choosey and will attack fruit crops, roses, ornamentals and different sorts of vegetables. All aphids are female born with babies already inside their body. That is how they multiply overnight. One way to control them is by washing the infected leaves with strong spray of water or spray them with neem solution.
Scales. The adult female looks like a bump on leaves, stems or fruit and the male flies around. There are two types of scales, the armored scales with hard outer shell that targets fruit trees like citrus and the soft scales with soft bodies. They don’t usually kill the host plants. Scales feed by sucking plant juices. To get rid of scales the natural way, introduce beneficial predators like lady bugs and lacewings or you may spray them with insecticidal soap.
Whiteflies. They are tiny flying insects and swarms up in clouds when their host plant is disturbed. Whiteflies are related to aphids and feed the same way by sucking plant juices. Their target plants are tomato, sweet potato, citrus and ornamental plants. Whiteflies on their immature stage is the best time to spray them with insecticidal soap which are on the underside of leaves. Easy on the spray as it can burn the leaves and make sure that there are no friendly bugs around. Another way is to pull take away infected leaves and burn them. Treat whiteflies early to prevent them from spreading.
Japanese Beetles. Adult beetles have a metallic blue-green color and are about an inch long. They have long legs with large claws. The beetle larvae are fat with C shaped grubs and with brown heads. Very damaging plant pest and can be very hard to control. They attack just about any plant, both edible and ornamental. You can control the adult beetle by hand-picking them in the morning and drowning them in soapy water. As for the larvae, you may spray them with insecticidal soap.
Grasshoppers. These are incredible insects that can catapult themselves using their hind legs to a distance 20 times the length of their body. Grasshoppers come in shades of green and brown. They are herbivorous and have very effective chewing jaws. These insects are not picky and will eat weeds, ornamental plants. During drought seasons, they will target garden plants. To control them, inviting their natural enemies can do the job, but the best way is to control them on their nymph stage.
Pest such as these can cause serious damage to your garden, but by being vigilant and smart, you can put them on check. Most garden plants are tough and can tolerate pest damage to some degree and spraying insecticide is not really the only way to get rid of them, there is always a natural way.
Happy gardening!