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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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Effects of Synthetic Fertilizers

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The only good thing I see about synthetic fertilizer is its ability to give instant nutrient to plants and soil, nothing more. Actually, synthetic fertilizers do more harm than good to us and the environment. Its long term use has detrimental effect on both health and structure of the soil, which lead to compaction and erosion.
You see, our soil is a living soil… an ecosystem on its own. It is made up of mineral, water, air and organic matters that includes humus, earthworms and several millions of micro-organisms, like bacteria, nematodes, fungi, algae and actinomycetes. Organic matters live, eat and die in the soil, in various stages of breakdown. By converting nutrients into compounds, these micro-organisms are able to provide the plants the nourishment it requires to grow. We often fail to see just how significant micro-organisms are in keeping the soil healthy.
Chemical fertilizers are usually made up of synthetic nitrogen and phosphorous. Nitrogen is only present in the atmosphere and very rarely on soil. To make a synthetic nitrogen, anhydrous ammonia (NH3) was developed, which is salt based. And we all know what salt build-up in soil can do. The Romans knew that salt can permanently eliminate soil fertility and that is what they did when they conquered Carthage. They salted Carthage and turned it into a vast arid land.
Use of chemical fertilizers poses a lot of danger to the environment. The most damaging effect of synthetic fertilizers is the elimination of micro-organisms and the ability of soil to nourish itself. Without these micro-organisms, there’s, just no way plant will survive. Since the 1940s, close to 4.7 billion acres of soil worldwide have been degraded due to the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers. This resulted to poor crop yield.
It causes water pollution. With rain water or excessive watering, chemical fertilizers leach into rivers, stream or lakes and possibly our water supply polluting them in the process. This creates a widespread health hazard not only to us humans, but also to our wildlife. Synthesized nitrogen when converted to nitrates and presented itself to our drinking water can be a serious threat to infants. Have you heard of “blue baby syndrome”?… Well, nitrate is the culprit.
Over time, it becomes a serious threat as these harmful chemical accumulates in the bodies of humans and animals via ingestion, respiration or direct contact. Mercury and cadmium which are commonly found in chemical fertilizers are taken up by plants through soil and water or by animals in our food chain. Once this contaminant gets into our bodies, it stays around for a very long time. Take mercury, for example, it becomes a neurotoxin once inside the body which interferes with the brain and nervous system.
There’s always a better way, a natural way to feed the plant without depleting the soil and polluting the water.
Have fun gardening!

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Growing Bamboo in Your Garden

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Bamboo in your garden?… Why not? Create a Zen-like haven in your backyard where you can relax with bamboos rustling gracefully, making you feel very close to nature. Or you can use it as a screen if you want privacy from your neighbors.
Bamboo has a reputation of being invasive, that it’s hard to control because of its ability to spread rapidly. This is why some people are intimidated in growing them in their garden. It is therefore best to know more about bamboo, what they are and how to plant, grow and care for them. Once you know them, I’m, sure you will easily fall in love with this amazing plant.
To begin with, bamboo belongs to a subfamily of grass called Bambusoideae. Yes, it’s a grass, a supersize grass which can reach from a height of 2 feet to more than 100 feet. They are native to Asia with over 1,400 species. Bamboo is both perennial and annual and grows in colonies.
There are some few things you should know before planting bamboo. They are classified into two types, runners and clumpers. Runners are the hardy, aggressive and downright invasive type. And this is not the type you want in your garden. The clumper on the other hand, is a tender, slow growing and less invasive which make this the ideal type to grow.
You can plant the clumper type without worrying about them spreading like crazy. Their underground root system or rhizome, forms a tight U shaped cluster from a rather small root mass which spreads from 2 to 12 inches per year in a circular formation. Their canopy growth is also slow, usually a couple of feet per year. Mature height reaches to about 10 to 20 feet. Clumper bamboo comes in different colors and sizes. Some of my favorite clumpers are the Fargesia ‘Juizhaigou’; Fargesia ‘Rufa’and the Fargesia ‘Namping. They are very ideal for garden and they can be grown indoors in containers.
Growing clumping bamboo. Like all types of bamboo, they thrive well in neutral soil and can be planted at any time of the year. Those planted in colder climates needs to be harden off and protected with heavy mulch of organic compost. Normally, they prefer partially shaded environment and needs regular watering to keep them in good shape. Others that grow from 25 feet up need a lot of sunlight. Smaller bamboo does not need to be staked as the rootball will grow big enough to support the plant.
Bamboo requires very little maintenance. And your only main concern is to control them from spreading. This can be done by putting a natural barrier or by pruning the rhizome. You can fertilize them twice a year, preferably using organic compost. Signs that you should watch out, if the leaves are rolled up, that means the plant is dehydrated. Either from too much sun or needs watering. If they are falling off with no replacements, it’s standing in water.
I hope this article offers you a new outlook on garden-scaping possibilities of bamboos. Start some be amazed.
Have fun gardening!

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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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ORGANIC LABEL- What You Need To Know

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To ensure that what you are buying is really organic is to find an organic label in them.  Then again, you need to be absolutely sure as when it comes to organic label, a lot of deception abounds. It is very unfortunate, but reading labels on food is not easy as one might think. To add to the difficulty, determining what is contained in the food, one need to have an essential knowledge of how to translate certain jargon that is used to describe them which most of the time are misleading. A lot of companies nowadays hire advertising experts and even lawyers to create words to be placed on food packaging, but are they really being honest or just being on the legal side?  There are a lot of ways companies will hoax people into buying fake organics like using fake wordings, fake organic labels and using confusing labels like “ healthy”, “natural”, “sustainable” of which none means organic.
USDA Certified Organic label, it’s the only organic label now that gives the assurance that the product is really organic. What does it entail for a product to be certified as one?  For a farmer of organic produce to obtain such certification, they have to meet very strict standards. For a crop to qualify as organic, it must be grown using organic farming methods which are designed to encourage water and soil conservation and reduce pollution. Crops must be cultivated without the use of fertilizers using petroleum and sewage sludge, synthetic pesticides. They are not to contain traces of heavy metals or any contaminants in excess of tolerance set by the FDA. The crops must not be exposed or allowed to contain chemical preservatives or flavorings and are not genetically modified.
Organic producers who sell less than $5,000 a year are exempt of USDA certification to have their product labeled as organic, but they are still required to abide by the USDA’s standards for organic foods.
In the United States, it is most likely that processed food contains a genetically modified organisms specially if they contain soy or corn ingredients. It is also worthwhile to note that all processed food out in the market is sure to contain chemicals which will eventually end up in the body.
Keep in mind that organic doesn’t always equal healthy. Organic foods like baked goods and snacks are usually high in salt, fat, sugar or calories.  It pays to read food labels carefully.
Support local and organic!

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Why We Need To Go Organic

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A healthy diet involves getting the most nutritional value out of the food we eat. It is not just a simple matter of getting rid of junk foods from our eating habit. The truth is that you are what you eat and all the more reason to believe that organic food is good for you. To have a healthy body, you need to have good food and to have good food, there has to be good soil, good water, and good air. We cannot achieve this if we keep contaminating our soil, water and air with toxic chemicals. We need to have a healthy environment! So, why not go Organic?
Going organic means supporting farmers who believe in producing quality food to attain good health and applying sustainable agricultural practices and management that prohibit the use of GMO crops and seeds, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, including hazardous chemicals like pesticides, insecticides and fungicides.
We now have a much better understanding of the many diseases caused by chemicals from the food that we eat. Would you believe that a lot of pesticides were registered and approve by EPA long before extensive research were made? Exposure to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have been proven to cause asthma, infertility, birth defects, learning disabilities, different form of cancers and irreversible metabolic damages. It is believed that to banish toxins in our body will take seven to ten years, by then you would already have developed health risks. You say it’s a negligible amount, yes, but we eat them, our children eat them… everyday!
If we go organic, we gain access to good tasting and healthy food. Going to a farmer’s market is much fun and you get to select from a variety of incredibly fresh produce. Your kids grow healthy and well-nourished. Experience the thrill of eating your veggies and fruit without peeling them (where nutrients are mostly concentrated), saving you cash on food supplements and vitamins. Eating organic food increases your intake of vitamins and mineral by as much as 30%. It has also been known that organic produce has a higher levels of vital nutrients, including polyphenol and minerals like manganese and magnesium which are essential to healthy bodies and mind.
You also support practices that protect and replenish the soil, promotes biodiversity and preserve ecological balance. You also encourage a healthy and humane treatment of farm animals without the use of growth hormones and antibiotics. By going organic, you avoid 70 different toxic chemicals from entering your body courtesy of conventional farming practices.
Some say that organic food is more expensive, it is… but you have to understand that this farming practice is labor and management intensive. A small price for a better future.
I would rather pay organic producers rather than the doctor. What about you?
Choose Organic. Go Organic.

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Making A Lasagna Gardening Bed

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Why lasagna gardening bed for your garden?  Well, simply because there is less effort in making one! You do not have to work on the substrate. No tilling or double digging is required. Existing weeds will not be much of a problem as the materials you put on top will prevent them from sprouting. The compost or “soil” you build will be easy to work on because they are loose and easily breaks-up. No frequent watering is needed, the compost is better than garden soil in terms of water retention. And lastly, you do not need to add fertilizers. What can be more nutrient rich than layers of organic compost?
Let me share with you some knowledge that provides an advantage before starting your lasagna gardening beds. Let’s begin by taking notes on some good points. You have to remember that lasagna gardening bed is a raised bed and their edges may be washed away during heavy rain especially if you are making small beds. You need to provide them with edging to keep everything in the bed. Shred or chop the materials that you will be putting to prevent them from matting together. The material you put should create air pockets and space for water to move through.  To absorb and retain the water, include soil or compost in your materials. As time passes by, your lasagna bed will drop in volume as the organic materials breaks down. You need to continue adding shredded materials like leaves and cardboard. Keeping these in mind will help you create a productive lasagna bed.
Now, to start with, find a good location to build your lasagna bed and spread cardboard sheets or thick layers of newspaper on the area of the bed. Don’t worry about the grass or weeds underneath, the layers of cardboard or newspaper will suppress them. This dark space will also attract worms that will help convert the waste materials into soil. Spray water to the covered area to keep them in place.
The next layer to put are dried leaves or shredded papers. Spread them (about 6 inches thick) evenly across the bed followed by a layer of your green materials like kitchen wastes and grass trimmings. Do this layering several times until your lasagna bed is about a couple of feet high. This is not an exact science, what is important is to layer your “browns” and “greens” alternately.  Avoid placing food wastes like meat products and used cooking oil including pet droppings. Not Good!
Come planting time, simply dig down (right through the first brown layer) into the bed, place your seedlings and add a thin layer of mulch on top to protect them from too much heat.
Try making your own lasagna garden bed…you’ll be surprised how fun it is!

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Mixing Your Own Potting Soil

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When starting your own houseplants or seedlings, it is a wise choice to mix your own soil for some good reasons. First, some plants require a different type of soil, thus modifying your soil gives you flexibility in providing your plants the nutrients that they need to grow strong and healthy, especially true for gardeners who prefer not to use any chemicals to their crops. Second, it lets you save a lot of money from buying pretty expensive commercial potting soil.
Potting soil should be a simple nurturing means for growing healthy and organic plants.  Mixing your own potting soil give you a choice of using ecofriendly materials without hurting the environment, organic ingredients like cured compost.  This is far better than commercial potting soil which is made up of natural materials like vermiculite and peat moss that were mined and processed contributing to the degradation of land.
To have a good potting soil, it must be easy to handle, mixed with quality ingredients, well drained and will provide adequate air and water that the plant needs.
Start the basic mix with a garden soil to add density. If you’re buying garden soil, be sure that it’s free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, pathogens and weed seeds.
Next is the organic compost which must be fully decomposed. It will create air pockets which will help reduce the weight of the soil and add essential nutrient to the soil. This will also help the growth of plant roots and provide the micro-organisms the oxygen needed for them to thrive.
Then, to bulk up the mix, use coconut coir which contains more nutrients than peat moss. Coco coir has a good moisture holding capacity, which is essential to reduce unnecessary watering.
To provide vital nutrients and substantially reduce fertilizing, add worm castings. If needed, add calcium carbonate to adjust the pH of soil.
Mix all the ingredients in a large container or a garden cart using a hoe. To be sure that the ingredients are thoroughly blended, rake the mix in one direction first and rake it again in the opposite direction. Use screen mesh to remove lumps or stones. Unused blended mix may be kept in a plastic trash bag or a garden bucket and stored for later use.
A few thing to consider when choosing the right container, plants that like moisture will do best in plastic pots and terracotta is ideal for those that prefer good drainage.
Remember to use a face mask and hand gloves during the mixing process. Be safe and happy mixing!

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URBAN FARMING – An Eco-Trend

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Having a connection with the plant is important and people find a lot of reasons why.  Certainly, there are those who will do gardening for health reasons or just for the fun of it. Others simply want to grow their own food because they want them fresh and safe.

Urban gardening or farming has been around for some time now.  The “Hanging Garden” in the ancient city of Babylon is one fine example. People In the medieval time would create their plots around the edges of their town which many think is where “allotment gardening” has evolved. During World War II, fresh fruits and vegetables in this country were produced in the Victory Gardens.

Urban farming is an offshoot of organic farming which helped city dwellers and consumers with foods that are grown locally.  It improves the health by lessening the risk of obesity and heart disease of residents and at the same time keeping them safe.

With urban farming people (especially the children) get to appreciate how our foods are grown and where they come from. Just imagine having your own vegetable patch in your backyard and grown organically.  There’s nothing better than freshly picked veggies straight to your kitchen. If everyone has an access to food with good quality, nutritious and affordable, the problem of hunger and obesity in most of our states would be reduced or perhaps eliminated.

With the increasing demand for organic foods by local grocery stores and restaurants, urban farming is definitely the way to go. Do you know that farm produce is laden with chemical preservatives when transported over long distance?  Their nutritional value is lost so you really don’t get them fresh anymore. What is good about having locally grown food is how the local economy is stimulated.  Energy usage is reduced together with the cost associated with the packaging, storage and in transporting the goods. More significantly, the money spent on local farming stays only within the local economy.

Urban farming also provides a sense of community and pride to local residents. It adds greenery to cities attracting tourists and bring jobs to the underserved areas. Urban farming also helps reduce stress on the sewer system usually caused by storm water runoff. It is an ecological program that is giving rooftops and unused space a new purpose and meaning. Some city planners and architects are now incorporating urban farming in their designs like vertical farms and rooftop gardens. Soon, city dwellers will be seeing more birds, butterflies, bees and other insects again.

Try growing organic tomatoes in containers today! You’ll be surprised how easy it is! Enjoy!

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Mulching – Why It’s Good For Your Garden

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Mother Nature invented mulch. We only adopted it after realizing the great benefit it gives in reducing waste and thereby improving the environment. Mulching can be traced as far back to prehistoric farmers using stone as a protective covering for their plants. For centuries gardeners have realized the value of mulch in reducing evaporation, preventing erosion, maintaining soil temperature and controlling weeds.
Mulching is one of the keys to conserving the most precious resource, our water supplies.
Let me show you one interesting fact. Here in the US, each household uses an average of 240,000 liters of water a year and an estimated 36% of that is used on gardens. That’s almost twice the size of an average swimming pool! This is where mulching can help us reduce the water we use for our garden. Do you know that by merely integrating a mulching plan in our garden activity, we can save around 75% of water?
But mulching is more than just saving water. It is the secret to a low garden maintenance and here are some of the reasons why:
√ It is an incredible weed suppressant.
√ It attracts micro-organisms and earthworms into the ground.
√ It provides plant growth elements and nutrients.
√ It conserves moisture in soil.
√ It keeps the soil temperatures warm at night and cool at daytime.
√ It helps plant’s roots to push deeper for food.
√ It protects and shades seeds from sunlight.
√ It prevents pest from laying eggs near the plant roots.
There are some factors you need to consider in order to know how much mulch to use and when to apply them, factors like the type of soil, type of mulch to use, amount of rainfall and how much weed / pests is under the ground.
Although non-organic mulches are readily available, Organic mulches are still the best to use because of their eco-friendly properties. They come in wood barks, cacao hulls, compost, hay, fresh leaves and more.
There are also some negative effects when covering your soil with mulch. Without sunlight, it’s impossible for seeds to germinate and the sprouts will have difficulty pushing through the mulch. Now you’ll definitely need some planning here. Heavy rain can make the ground soggy for several days and let the soil dry, you need to rake off the mulch. And there are the slugs, cutworms and bugs that love moist and dark places, in this case you only use a thin layer of mulch. You need to consider these positive and negative effects to get the result you want. Try doing your homework first before you start mulching.
You want to improve the “look” of your garden? Try decorating it with mulch. It’s a good exercise too.