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The Art of Pruning

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Pruning is essentially cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems to improve its growth and capacity to bear fruit. But there is a common mistaken belief that by cutting you’re just controlling the shape and size of the plant. In a way it’s true, but there is more to it.
Cutting or trimming a stem or branch alters the bodily process of plants. It’s not just about removing a part of the plant, but more about what happens to what is left of the plant. When you cut you actually induce branching and when properly done, you determine where the branching will occur. In order to do this, you will need some knowledge of plant anatomy, its growing process. Because if it’s not done properly, you may cause the plant to weaken.
Plants behave or react differently, but most of them benefit from regular pruning. A large number of plants, fruiting or flowering types, prefer to be pruned when they are inactive, like in late winter through early spring. Some needs pruning right after flowering as they start producing new buds right after the old ones has fallen off. And there are some types that just need continues pruning to keep them active and constantly flowering.  In short, you need to know the right time to prune and what plant to prune. Normally, the best time to prune is during February up to early April.
Although it’s hardly ever destructive, pruning at the wrong time may cause your plant a reduced amount of flower or fruit.  It is also essential to know about nodes of plants as this is where the cuts are usually made. A node is the part of the plant from which the leaves grow, and just underneath it is also where roots grows when attempting to propagate the plant.
It is important to note that in pruning, there are two essential types of cuts and each causes different response from the plant. The first type is called heading cut, where you cut back to an intermediate point. This is usually done to encourage growth of the stem to a desired direction, to stimulate growth of flowers or fruit, and to prevent snow and wind damage on long stems and branches. The second type is called thinning cut, which is often used in pruning.  This is usually a cut done to a strong node to take over its growth without shock.  Often used on ornamental plants and shrub for an artistic look, removing low branches for clearance,  for training, rejuvenating and selecting branches from hybrid flowers, etc.
A precise cutting is needed to enable quick healing and result in a vigorous growth of new buds. And to achieve this, proper pruning tools are needed like, secateurs, curved pruning saw, loppers, and pole saw. Make sure that your tools are sharp and are cleaned before and after each use with a disinfecting solution.
Pruning is an art which can really be rewarding and fun.

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SOIL BLOCK: The Pot-less Way of Seeding

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What could be better and easier than starting your seedling in soil blocks? It’s a very efficient method of starting seedlings. In Europe, a volume of research where made about soil blocks and has shown superior transplanting results than those in containers.
Soil blocks a basically blocks of soil made using a tool called soil blocker. Unlike seedling containers, soil blocks are delicate at first but becomes sturdy once the plant roots has established itself in the block.
Why grow seedlings in soil blocks? Primarily, the idea is to reduce the shock that seedling plants experience during transplanting. It helps grow strong, healthy transplants for a great start in the garden. It’s less expensive, you do not need to buy plastic containers for individual transplants which usually end up in landfills. The process is much faster. You save time during seeding as the blocks come ready with depression for the seed. Transplanting becomes easier and fun because there’s no pots to be removed.
Your plants will not suffer root shock as most transplants experienced grown in plastic and rough peat containers. In soil blocks, the roots grow to the outer part of the block and turn back inward to avoid the air surface of the soil blocks. In this way plants can gradually adapt to the garden environment with very minimal shock. And since the blocks were pre-wetted, you don’t have to water them for several days.
There is one disadvantage I find with soil blocks though, they lose their moisture quite rapidly because most of the parts are exposed to air. The solution…. Daily watering! And the trick here is to water from the bottom instead from the top. Fill the tray lightly with water, it will move around and up the block without disturbing the plants.
Here’s some simple steps to make your soil blocks. The first thing you need to do is find a good quality soil blocker and if possible in different sizes. (Let Google help you!) The initial cost may be a bit high, but you get your savings in the long run. Next is to make a soil mix recipe. Mix and wet the soil thoroughly until you have the right consistency and the best way of doing it is with your hands, and with gloves of course. Compressed the soil well in the blocker to make sure that they will hold properly and don’t fall apart when you dislodge them from blocker. Line them up in a flat pan or germination tray and start placing the seeds. When the seedlings are ready to transplant, just take the block and placed it in your garden! Really easy, there’s no shaking and cutting out the pots, but more importantly, there’s no transplant shock, and plants are able to adapt more easily to its new surroundings. Try using soil blocks on your next seeding project.
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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Gardening With Your Kids

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For children, gardens are enchanting and filled with so many wonders. Most of all it is fun. Kids love to play, especially in the dirt and that is why getting their interest in gardening can be very easy.
But gardening is not just all fun and games. Your kids can learn a lot from gardening. Garden is where you and your child can explore together and discover its invaluable gift… like finding a treasure chest.
You can nurture their appreciation for growing and handpicking fresh vegetables. Teach them the growth process of plants by planting seeds and watching them grow. Give them an idea about nature, recycling, nutrition and why organic gardening is the best way to grow food.
Show them the value of growing their own food and how they can be self-reliant. Caring for the plants will teach them responsibility and encourages physical activities as it involves watering and weeding. Both you and your kids can even learn patience in the garden.
It is worth noting some important ends about gardening and your kids. Start small and remember that kids has a very short span of attention. To sustain their interest, you have to combine gardening and play to keep them from getting bored.
Here’s how to make your gardening fun. A good 5 x 10 feet outdoor space can be a good start. Even a simple container gardening can be fun, but I’m sure that they would rather get down and dirty. Keep the kids’ garden simple and manageable for them. Better yet, work together with their ideas of how they want their garden to look like. Help them with the construction and show them how it is done, but do not do all the work by yourself. Involve the kids in the process and let them take ownership of the project.
Together, choose the appropriate gardening tools to use, not the toy tools. Show them how each tool are used and how to properly care for them. Select a few varieties of seeds or plants that easily grow. It is much better to start on a small plot and gradually increase it when your kid gardener can do it on their own. Explain to them the importance of sunlight, good soil, and a good drainage to have a productive garden. If you need to, use only organic materials. Do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides to treat the soil and the plant. Do not expose your kids to chemicals, but instead tell them the danger and the health risk it entails.
When it’s time, harvest with your kids the bounty of their garden and let them share with neighbors and friends.
So, why not make simple digging, planting and picking a lifetime of love and fond memories. Go out and spend quality time with your kids in the garden!… Have fun.

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PLANTAIN WEED- Your Backyard Medicine Cabinet

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Plantain, what is commonly thought of by many as a weed is actually an herb.
Native to Europe and in some parts of Asia. It was introduced to North America in the 1600s by European settlers. It has been used as a cure-all in some Native American cultures.
Plantains’ scientific name is Plantago Major. Along with grass and dandelions, plantain is a top lawn plant. There are in fact two types of plantain, the Plantago lanceolata or the lance leaved plantain and the Plantago major, the broad leaved plantain. They don’t have eye-catching flowers, but instead a uniquely compact green seed head that turns to brown when the seeds are matured. This plant can thrive in any climate and just about anywhere you can imagine- gravel roadsides, cracks in concrete or asphalt.
Plantain is a very nutritious plant. All the parts of this plant including the seed are edible and the leaves are similar to spinach but slightly bitter in taste. The young leaves are great in salads or boiling them until tender and sprinkling a little of apple cider to pep it up a bit. The seeds can be dried and grounded as flour to use in pancakes or bread.
Plantain has many active elements that display antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antitoxic properties. It has an amazing ability to draw out infections, even splinters!
Plantain is not just your ordinary, everyday herb. Its healing properties are phenomenal. You can make a tea out of its leaves to help indigestions, ulcers and heartburns. For centuries now, it has been used to cure coughs, bronchitis, sore throats and even tuberculosis. As a lotion, you can treat sunburn, stings, rashes, blisters, cuts and burns. You can make a poultice by simply chewing a leaf and putting it on wounds or affected areas. Plantain is great in relieving any skin problems like itching or pain caused by poison ivy or similar plants. It is also a soothing remedy for hemorrhoids.
It is very effective for insect bites and warding off mosquitoes, a favorite “bring along” of hikers. Do you know that the fibers within the leaves are so strong that they were used as fishing lines?
Make your own plantain oil, it’s so easy. In a dry clean jar, fill up with plantain leaves and pour olive oil to the top. Close the lid and let it sit at room temperature, away from sunlight for about six weeks. Take out the plant material after that and… Viola! Your magic healing oil.
As a warning, anyone with blood disorders should avoid taking plantain internally. When picking plantain, get them from areas not treated with pesticides or any chemical fertilizers.
Grow some plantain in your backyard now and instead of buying antibiotic cream, simply pick a natural healer.

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RAIN GARDEN: Preventing Flash Flood

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The ground does not absorb water overflow from house and building roofs including pavements and roads resulting to stress on the stormwater system, flash flooding and erosion. It also causes a long term loss of stream flow and lowering of groundwater tables. Garden and lawn are not getting the benefits of rain water.
One solution is by creating a rain garden. This garden system imitates water retention the natural way. The idea was conceived in the 1990s by a land developer who was working on a housing subdivision at Prince George’s county, Maryland. The process is to dig a surface depression in order to capture and soak up stormwater overflow from the roof, walkways, driveway. It is then planted with suitable shrubs, flowers, trees and other wetland vegetation which will absorb and saturate water into the ground. This will also protect water quality and add beauty to the community.
Rain Garden also offers other benefits like filtering of pollutants, reducing the need for irrigation, providing homes for wildlife. The plants will attract an assortment of butterflies and birds. It also gives an alternative to traditional gardening and it is very easy to maintain once properly set up.
When creating a rain garden, one should take time to assess the area as it is important to pick the right location. The garden must not be near a water supply or the septic system. It should not be very close to your house so that the water will not leach into the foundation. The garden should be built directly under the sun and not in covered areas or under a large tree. Remember that evaporation also plays an important role in this system. Pooling of water in the rain garden should only last for several hours right after the rainfall so as not to attract mosquitos and turn it into a breeding ground.
Equally important is selecting the right kind of plant. It should be able to tolerate both short period dry and soaking soil. To make the rain garden effective, use plants with large roots. The plant should also be non-invasive. It is best to use plants that already have a developed root system to keep the soil from eroding. The native species are the best choice which is very adaptable to such conditions. For the first year, regular watering may be needed during the dry period as the plants start to develop and establish itself.

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HUGELKULTUR: Gardening With Dead Wood

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Hugelkultur comes from two German words – “hugel” meaning  mound  and “kultur” is culture. It is an old farming practice that originated in eastern Europe, where a raised garden bed is made by burying stacks of rotten woods to create a quality soil ideal for planting.
So, why is this method remarkable? It’s because of the system wherein the woods break down after being buried for some time, creating a soil packed with nutritious organic materials, fungal, microbes   and leaving air pockets in the soil for the roots of the crops on top.  With a sufficient stack of woods buried, you may not need to irrigate or water your plant for a long time. The wood will help to maintain the excess nutrients from seeping into the ground and wait for the plant to feed on it later. After a year or two, the whole mound becomes extremely nutritious.
Huglekultur starts with collecting pile of dead or old trees and the ideal ones are those that will break down or rot in the shortest time. Some tree varieties decompose longer than others. Dead wood is much better as they absorb more water.  Dogwood, elms, pecan and oaks are acceptable. Watch out and avoid using cedar and pine trees which produces chemicals that may eliminate soil organisms, they are also known as allopathic trees. Some other toxic trees are the chinaberry and black walnut, never use them on your fruit and vegetable garden. Another important part is the leaves and twigs, they become additional nutrient and keep the top soil from falling through the cracks.
You can set up your hugelkultur bed either directly to the ground or have it above ground. When everything has been set up, you can sit back and relax a bit and let hugelkulture do its thing. Buried wood will start absorbing water like a sponge ready to release them to the plants. The height of the mound will drop a bit as some of the soil are washed through the logs due to rain or watering. The leaves, branches and twigs decompose and shrink coupled with the metabolic activities of numerous organisms. Inside the mound, the temperature will start to rise as the composting process starts. You now have a self-sustaining garden bed and at this stage, planting can be done. Hugelkultur bed normally takes two years to become well established and start producing nitrogen on its own.
It is interesting to note some other benefit you get from this system like growing a garden without the need for irrigation, starting it small or customizing your own raised garden bed and preventing global warming by recycling dead wood.
With hugelkultur, you can now take your vacation without worry.

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DRIP IRRIGATION: A Clean–Water Friendly System

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Ancient people have used drip irrigation for thousands of years. They knew the importance of having water in their plants and even found a way to collect rain water in pots. Tiny holes were made into the pots to let the rainwater escape slowly to the crops.
Eventually, after years of research, farmers were able to come up with a much better and efficient watering system… the drip irrigation.  With this system, water can be released through tubes with holes and thereby distributing water to the plants evenly.
Drip irrigation is a very effective way in watering plants. It helps conserve our clean water supplies and not to mention, the saving you get from water bills. It makes gardening easier, saving us time and effort. You don’t need to drag your hose around or transfer your sprinklers every time. Would you believe that with this system, you can save up to 50% of clean water as compared to using sprinklers and other watering practices?  That is money well spent!
This is how this brilliant system works. By using hose, water is delivered straight to the root area of plants. Each drop leaches slowly into the soil until finally reaching the root. Practically no water is wasted through evaporation and surface overspill which is also the main cause of soil erosion. Since water is delivered directly, nutrients seep through the plant roots and not away from its reach. Plants also grow faster and become more productive because they get the right amount of water they need to develop.
There are some other benefit you can get from drip irrigation system. The plant’s foliage does not become wet, thus making them less vulnerable to fungi and diseases like mildew. The system is great for row crops as it can be easily modified to suit your garden’s layout. It inhibits weed growth. You don’t want to waste water on weeds, you want them on the plants that you want to grow.
Setting up your own drip irrigation system in your garden is really easy and cheap. You just need to buy a soaker hose and the length will depend on your intended planting area. Then, you just lay the soaker hose next to the plants and connect one end of the hose to a garden hose and turn the water on. You can then transfer the soaker hose from different areas of your garden bed if needed. But if your budget will allow, you may buy two lengths of soaker hose so you can leave them in place and will keep you from moving them all the time.
If you are a busy gardener, you may want to try drip irrigation to save time and effort. All you need to do is turn on the water and watch your garden dance with joy!

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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.

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The Advantages of Foliar Nutrition in Propagating Organic Farming

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Organic gardening is the most beneficial method that most farmers follow today. It has been an alternative practice for farmers who want to practice the natural way of propagating food crops without the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemical aids. There are a lot of processes that can be followed in setting up an organic farm – one of these is the foliar nutrition.

The basics of foliar nutrition
The foliar nutrition is the process of providing the plant crop with a liquid organic fertilizer via its leaves. Basically, there are times that some of the nutrients from the soil are not absorbed by the plants due to several factors like weather or the pH content of the soil. Without the process of chelation, these minerals will be turned into waste and washed out in water during rain or flood. Fortunately, foliar nutrition fosters effective supplementation as highly concentrated ground fertilizer for improved plant growth.

Soil analysis and its importance will not be further reiterated in ensuring precise crop nutrition. Before the application of the nutrients, farmers should learn the exact micro-blogging component of the soil in order to know any deficiencies. For instance, a tissue sample of the plant can be essential to learn accurate determination of the nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately, not all plants don’t show any kind of deficiency when the conditions at their optimum levels.

Why organic farming needs foliar application?
Soil analysis facilitates planning for foliar application of nutrients. However, farmers should exactly know how to apply. There are some of the general guidelines to follow when performing foliar application. Application of foliar nutrition is only feasible:

When soil analysis reveals poor aeration or the presence of nutrients and minerals in the soil;
When there is a disturbance in the root uptake, especially during the reproductive phase;
When there are presence of damage spot in the road, thereby affecting its capacity in absorbing minerals; and
When the vascular system sustained certain damage during nematode attacks.

Moreover, some plants need direct feeding on the leaves during the fruiting season. This is essential to enhance yield during harvest. For instance, organic farming in South Africa is quite sophisticated in terms of their application of foliar nutrition technology, including the accurate application of organic-based soil inputs. Minerals are not only absorbed by the roots, but also through the stem, leaves or even the flower. Finally, amino acid chelation is effective in maximizing the potential of the nutrients in the soil.