Survival Gardening: Squash Bugs and Borers

23 Jul

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

If you have a squash bug (SB) or squash vine borer (SVB) problem, it can be a big problem. Some areas have even greater trouble due to increased season length and mild winters.

Despite SB’s greater versatility, I hate SVB even more. It’s utterly devastating, and requires much more attention ahead of time, because once the plant wilts, it’s pretty much too late.

Even if you’re not growing yet and don’t have any problems, push through this one anyway, just in case. You’ll need the fixes and preventatives on hand ahead of time.

Recognize the Enemy

SVB is a moth larvae that chews into and then up through vines of susceptible cucurbits. The plant suddenly wilts, then dies. It limits its destruction to cucurbits and doesn’t usually bother thin-stemmed melons or thin-stemmed gourds.

The SB is a beetle, and spawns freakish little spidery babies that go through green and gray stages. In addition to munching all kinds of plants, they spread disease. There are similar-looking pests with very similar control and prevention difficulties.

The eggs are the best identifier ahead of time. SB lay tight, regular patterns. SVB lay fewer, more irregularly.

SVB usually lay on stems, as close to the base of the plant as possible, but I’ve found them upwards of 1’ above the ground and some trailing up under leaves.

SB wants to lay on the underside of leaves, but I’ve found those diamond clusters on stems, too.

Check other plants, too – It’s not as frequent, but SB will lay on beans, peppers, sunflowers, okra, etc. SB adults will be found anywhere, too.

Conventional Traps, Spray & Powder

In their early stages, SB is somewhat vulnerable to Sevin spray. Powder isn’t super effective and it doesn’t bother the eggs. If SVB larvae aren’t crawling across it as they hatch, it doesn’t bother them, either. Spray can be more effective on more of the life-cycle stages, but it’s “more” – it’s not total wipe-out.

Some find neem oil effective, particularly in the early life stages.

All of them have to catch the bugs to be effective. SB are active enough to evade that spray by leaping away. SVB are inside, so you have to fill those stems to catch them.

Big Ag may be able to blanket enough dust and spray to do so, but most home growers even with a tow-behind disburser are going to struggle to blanket a big enough area fast enough.

!!! – Pesticides aren’t super effective on SB and SVB, but they are wicked effective against pretty much every single beneficial bug in our gardens, from worms and fireflies and their slug-hunting larvae, to pretty much every single pollinator, bees to butterflies to hoverflies and wasps, and can even affect the gut microbiology of hummingbirds and bats. – !!!

Traps work well, but require specific attractants and have to be replaced or rejuvenated.

Conventional Prevention’s

Squash vine borers can pop up after years of not growing squashes anywhere within 200-500 yards. Squash bugs are the same, with an added problem: They like squash. They don’t need it.

That means crop rotations aren’t super effective in breaking this particular pest cycle.

The smaller our spaces, the less effective it becomes.

The mobility of the moths and adaptability of the beetles means that for most home-consumption and small-plot growers with less than an acre (‘bout a football field) per crop butting into another half- or full acre of clean, bare earth, the advice to keep a “clean” garden and avoid mulches doesn’t actually help much.

Without that space, there are too many other options for them: tree and shrub windbreaks, perennial crops and ornamentals, wood piles, overgrown ditches and fence lines, woods, lawns and pastures, straw and hay piles, gaps under sheds.

Weigh that against the values of mulches before going the bare-earth road.

Unfortunately, control once they’re established is difficult, too. Enough to make you fantasize about spraying gas and lighting a match.

Tried & True: Squish ‘Em

Good luck catching the moth. (If you find something that doesn’t affect good bugs, please share.)

To help lower the load for the beetle, carry a jar to the garden to flick them into, and a board you can squash them against.

That board is handy for collecting SB’s – so is cardboard. Lay a chunk near the plants, flip it, stomp.

Tried & True: Pluck Eggs

Attentively checking stems and leaves for little red eggs is the most effective way to control damage.

You can scrape with a butter knife or thumbnail, or try wrapping good, sticky duct tape or packing tape around hands or fingers. You’ll have to press pretty firmly.

I do not just let the eggs fall to the surface under the belief stuff will eat them there (maybe, but maybe not). Nor do I deliver them to birds (some may escape). They get carted to the trash – the trash. In a world without trash, seal them in jars/pails.

Tried & True: Stick Juveniles

I like tape for snagging itty-bitty, speedy SB babies, although you have to really stick them or they can wiggle free.

There’s also the theory of stabbing the SVB by sticking pins/toothpicks in the stems and base of squash either as a preventative or as soon as frass is visible. It has merit, especially if a plant is months into growing but isn’t anywhere near harvest, particularly in a situation where we need this food.

Squashes develop really wide bases, though, and may have more than one larvae, so make sure you’re thoroughly stabbing to kill. They can easily crawl out and chew in elsewhere otherwise.

Foil – Fail

I have tried full-sheet widths of foil in a ring around squashes from the time they pop up. I have interwoven strips around as much of the base of the vines as possible.

The foil at the base in a wide collar akin to brassica collars might be helping, but it’s limited. I have no luck with other materials, either.

Again, I see SVB eggs way up on stems, not only at the base – mama lays on whatever’s exposed, and babies adapt.

Conditionally: Sacrificial Hubbard

Yes, SB-SVB do like Hubbard. I have ringed lots with it, with 20-yard gaps to the nearest other squash, and thrown it in right beside the other cucurbits. Sometimes it’s the only victim or the damage elsewhere is limited, but it’s at best 50-50 and it does nothing to lower the pest loads.

In Big Ag, the Hubbard goes out early and farmers kill the bugs on it to lower pest loads for direct-seeded cash crop squash.

Otherwise, once they’ve killed the Hubbards, SB/SVB have plenty of time to leap over to other cucurbits and kill them, too.

Yellow Traps – Fail

This is where you hang something fairly smooth and happy yellow (cups, frisbees, painted canning lids, yogurt tubs), lightly coat it in something semi-sticky or clogging (kitchen and garden oils, thinned-down glues), and hang it so that itty-bitty munchers get snagged and stuck or coated and suffocate. Wipe, re-coat, repeat.

I have never actually seen hoverflies, fireflies, brown wasps, or striped and fuzzy bees attached, no big butterflies or moths, just the teeny-tiny stuff, so it’s not really hurting. However, I’ve only nabbed juvenile SB on versions stuck down into the dense sections of foliage or laid out in a ring under foliage, and it’s few and far between and mostly a waste of time and resources.

(Again, it can take significant pressure to snag those SB babies – you need a serious level of sticky, and for them to willingly crawl onto it to get stuck, or to fall/jump onto it; they’re not flying or leaping to it on purpose like white-fly.)

Cup Collars – Fail

These guys are effective against some types of pests for other types of crops, just like foil and cardboard collars, but, again, SB lays mostly on leaves and is not restricted to cucurbits – it just likes them – and SVB will lay well up on the mature stem, with the wormy larvae crawling down as far as possible to enter but in no way restricted to entry right at the base of squash.

In the time when the plants are small enough to fit in the cups, their vines aren’t actually vulnerable to borer larvae, still too skinny.

Too, those cups only reach a couple inches up. Any SVB that come by later are going to have nice, exposed stems and leaves protruding to lay on, with their young readily able to slide down and chew in.

Squash are big plants with wide bases and sprawling vines by type – you only contain them in a cup for a little while. Then, there are months of season left for SVB to lay on exposed, viable vines.

So… once again, while effective against some pests, it’s a waste of time and resources for SVB/SB. 

Semi-Helpful: Bury Nodes

There’s the belief that once the adventitious root nodes of longer vines is buried, the adult SVB moth doesn’t know it’s there, and won’t lay her eggs there to burrow in. The idea that she can find a seed-started stem but not a buried node… I don’t know how that even gains traction.

Plus, again, she’ll lay way up on stems. Where they are doesn’t matter.

However, there is a benefit: It creates another feed point for the plant.

If you can kill the larvae in the original stretch(es), active nodes can keep the plant alive long enough to mature any fruits further down the vine.

Tried & True: Row Covers

They work, but there’s some issues that come up, because you have to seal the edges.

SB require really sealing the edges. They’ll crawl under any loose sections. It’s a definite time and resource suck to bury-unbury-rebury every time we need access.

Mesh is my choice control for the consistent SVB problems all over my area, though. They’re not quite as small and tough, so it doesn’t require sealing to the same degree. (I wouldn’t bother if we only had SB.)

Second Hitch: Pollinators can’t get in. That means hand pollinating more than seed stock. It’s also totally devastating for squash bees, so plant some melons for them.

Combatting SB/SVB

It takes some attention and it can be laborious, but we can mitigate SB/SVB infestations. There aren’t many critters that prey on SB/SVB, so it’s all on us. Since the most effective methods require time and in some cases materials, we have to make some preparations so we can act immediately when they show up.

Be Safe out there and be sure to check out The Prepper Journal Store and follow The Prepper Journal on Facebook!

The post Survival Gardening: Squash Bugs and Borers appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Nutritious Food Plants You Can Harvest Quickly

19 Jul

Written by Guest Contributor on The Prepper Journal.

Editor’s Note: A guest submission to The Prepper Journal from Raymond Poole. Raymond Poole is an organic cooking and gardening fanatic. He spends his free time trialing and testing different growing techniques to make his beloved fruit and vegetable garden flourish to full flavor.

Admit it, we want things to happen fast. We’re a society of fast food, fast internet, and instant gratification. But when it comes to growing nutritious food, we have to be patient. Mother Nature usually needs time to work.

But there are exceptions in the vegetable world where gratification, if not instant, isn’t far off. We only need a few weeks to produce some nutritious vegetables and enjoy them for a great lunch or dinner. Imagine having fresh spinach harvested four to six weeks after planting. Even better, a vegetable garden in your backyard will complement that verdant, green lawn and add some color and texture to your landscape.

There are many wholesome veggies you can grow, relatively quickly, a few steps away from your kitchen. Here are five vegetables to get you started.

Spinach

Spinach is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins, potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium. And you can harvest it as soon as a month after planting. Sow the seeds into good quality soil and then water.

This is a must-have vegetable if you’re living off the grid. Spinach improves eyesight and cognitive function, combats Alzheimer’s disease and gastric ulcers, and increases blood flow to the brain. Its high content of potassium and its lack of sodium helps maintain good blood pressure and its antioxidants strengthen muscles. It also reduces the chance of heart attacks and strokes.

Carrots

Carrots are excellent as part of a salad, as a snack, and taste great when cooked. They thrive in the USDA’s Hardiness zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. They do need lots of sun, and do well when planted about three to five weeks before the last frost. Select a thin fingerling variety and plant the seeds about 2 inches apart at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. Water at least 1 inch per week and fertilize four weeks after planting if the soil is lacking organic matter. Don’t use compost. In about six weeks, you’ll have your harvest — and some can be picked even sooner as part of the thinning process.

Carrots offer carbs and fiber, lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of cancer. It includes vitamin A, which promotes good vision and improves immune functions. Its Biotin enhances metabolism and vitamin K1 promotes bone health and blood clotting. It has potassium that improves blood pressure and vitamin B6 to convert food into energy.

Radishes

Another ideal food for salads, radishes are ready for your table in as little as 21 days after planting. This is a cool weather crop, planted in spring and autumn and two weeks before the last frost. It thrives in sunlight and well-drained soil with a pH level of 6 to 7, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. The soil should be free of rocks. Include organic matter like compost, manure, or leaf mold in the soil before planting.

Rich in fiber, radishes also aid the digestive system and help combat several forms of cancer. They improve cardiovascular health, relieve respiratory disorders, lower blood pressure, help manage diabetes, and protect the kidneys.

Lettuce

Lettuce grows in colder temperatures and is ready to begin harvesting 30 days after planting. Plant in the early spring when temperatures are between 45°F and 65°F. It thrives in moist, cool conditions and can tolerate a light frost. It will flower or bolt to seed if the weather gets too hot.

The soil should be loose, moist, well-drained, and fertilized. It favors acidic conditions. So include some compost into the soil. Plant seeds in rows of 12 to 15-inches long. Leave a space of 18-inches between rows. Thin the growing seedlings to 4-inches apart to prevent overcrowding. You can harvest over time, by cutting outer leaves as they mature, or take the full plant when leaves are full size, but still tender. If you wait until the lettuce is too mature, it ends up tasting bitter.

There are several types of lettuce. They include Romaine, which is sweet and crunchy. Crisphead or Iceberg, which has a crisp texture and mild taste. Butterhead (also known as Boston or Bibb) has large, soft, green leaves that are sweet tasting. Romaine has the greatest benefits.

Lettuce, in general, has only 12 calories for one shredded cup. It prevents the build-up of plaque. It includes relaxing and sleep-inducing properties. Its minerals improve energy. It’s an ideal food for anyone monitoring their blood sugar or wishes to maintain their weight.

Arugula

The green leaves of the arugula plant have a peppery taste and are ideal for salads. Once mature, cut the leaves off the plant and enjoy. Leaves will continue to grow back each year.

The plant thrives in well-drained, moist soil with a pH level of 6 to 6.5. Add compost to the soil before sowing. Do the composting in the fall. and plant the arugula in the spring. The plant tolerates cool weather and an occasional frost, so plant as early as April in daytime temperatures above 40 degrees. Select a sunny location for planting, although it tolerates some shade. The plant grows 1 to 2 feet tall and is ready for harvest about four weeks after planting.

You can either plant the seeds in rows or scatter them over an area. The seeds should be about one-quarter inch deep and 1-inch apart. Once the leaves develop, you can harvest.

Arugula includes vitamin K, which assures healthy bones and a better immune system. It also has cancer-fighting properties, increases metabolism, improves eyesight, and enhances mineral absorption.

Growing your own nutritious foods provides many benefits. You’ll save time and money with fewer visits to the grocery store. You’ll also be prepared if the store shelves are empty!

Be Safe out there and be sure to check out The Prepper Journal Store and follow The Prepper Journal on Facebook!

The post Nutritious Food Plants You Can Harvest Quickly appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Survival Gardening: Cutting Costs

21 May

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Starting, expanding and maintaining a garden can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. From developing and increasing soil tilth and fertility to what we grow in and the tools we use, there are plenty of ways to save money. Some of them are handy for saving time, too.

Free Fertilizers

Leaf mold and compost can be done in any sized yard, just about, even without turning to keyhole gardens, worm towers, or tumbling bins that speed the process and keep it compact.

Mow over leaves or rake them up whole, stick them in a bag, and in 3-15 months there’s rich organic matter full of nutrients to serve as powerhouse amendments and mulch. Composting can also be done by digging a trench right in our gardens, covering it as we go.

There are still easier ways to boost our gardens.

We can add coffee and tea right to the surfaces of pots or planters or plants out in larger plots. Leftover brewer’s mash also works, although there’s a bit of a smell. Algae is a powerhouse of nutrients, and can also be collected and spread right on the surface around our plants.

Mulches

Mulching helps us in numerous ways, making soils, crops and our time much more productive. Different types of mulching accomplish different things, but there are freebie and lower-cost options available for almost anyone.

Cardboard from liquor and appliance stores or newspaper and shredded paper we source from recycling bins are excellent weed exclusion barriers for both rows or beds and for walkways.

Grass clippings can form dense mats that also function as a weed barrier. I typically only use them around perennials (I don’t love the decomp and they typically have seed heads by the time I mow). However, others very successfully use them in the garden.

Just poke them with a hay fork or run a weasel over the top (just enough to puncture, not really stirring it), because that mat solidifies much like shredded office paper, and can create a rain/irrigation barrier and anaerobic conditions.

If we’re after lowered irrigation and evaporation, or the ability to water faster, straw, leaves, pine needles, and chipped wood all work well.

If you’re buying either straw or bagged bark mulch, comparison shop locations, and check out alternatives such as shredded and flake animal bedding.

When our local Big Box and smaller stores put “real” bark mulch on sale, it’s typically four or five for $10, working out to be about $1-$1.25 per cubic foot (some are doing bags of 1.75 cu/ft instead of 2 cu/ft now, so watch that, too).

Tractor Supply, Fleet Mills Farm, and others all carry animal bedding at about $6-$8 for 8-10 cubic feet, working out to well under $1 cu/ft.

That pine bedding is less likely to have odd bits of painted furniture and big chunks left in it, too, and is typically heat treated and animal safe, making it a good option for people who worry over chemicals in their gardens.

It’s also light to carry and haul, even though it’s tight packed, is less messy to spread with less dust/mud in it, seems less attractive to slugs and ants, and eliminates the big chunks that poke holes in the bags.

Buying in loose “bulk” loads by the bucket, pickup bed, tarp-lined trunk, or dump-truck drop-off can also help lower costs if no DIY options are available.

They’ll all last differing amounts of time by climate and soil health (the happier and more active our soil biology, the faster our mulches get incorporated into the O layer).

Woody types and whole leaves last longest; green leaves and grass clippings the shortest. Newspaper and cardboard typically fall in the middle. The depth we use also affects lifespan – deeper layers last longer.

Tool Shopping

Depending on what we already have, tools can really add to the cost of setting up a garden shed. Buying secondhand can significantly reduce outlay.

Many pawn shops have sections with our basic construction tools (see if you can get a 7-10 day if not a 30-day return/exchange/credit guarantee on power tools). Some thrift stores will also periodically carry garden-oriented and basic household-yard management tools, but it’s usually worth calling instead of popping in to find out

Flea markets, yard sales, and estate sales are even more likely to yield everything from our rakes and spades to clippers and pruners.

While shopping for wheelbarrows or garden carts and cultivators or watering cans, repeatedly scan the full materials list for anything we’re building, and stay open to suggestion.

Pre-owned step ladders, carpenter’s squares, levels, and somebody’s can/jar of mixed nails or screws can seriously reduce our Lowes/ACE/Walmart bill. High-test fishing line and rotten electrical cords can form trellises and plant ties instead of screws/nails or cord, sheets can be slit for plant ties or used as frost blankets, loose-woven curtains become bug barriers, and old hoses work as row cover supports or drip irrigation lines, further reducing the cost of our builds, expansions, and upgrades.

Internet Hunting & Gathering

We can source all sorts of materials for gardens without paying a penny. Check classifieds for yard sales, too – near the end of the day and the next day, many become open to deep discounts and there’s a fair chance of curbside pickups.

All sorts of furniture comes apart to help us build beds or serve as stakes. In other cases there are blankets, curtains, or clothing that works as mulch, hoses and tubing we can repurpose, or specific tools for breaking ground, building, or maintaining our veggies.

Bed frames, old bikes, and mattress springs become trellises or fencing. Canoes, bathtubs, sinks, and totes can be planters or rain “barrels”. Laundry baskets, clothing and shoe organizers, lamp shades, cookie jars, bookcases, and even boots can also serve as planters. 

Baby pools, trampolines, buckets, and pallets have entire articles and whole websites devoted to their usefulness, many of which apply to the yard and garden.

Whatever we’re looking for, hit the internet to see if there’s a same-shaped item that can be had simply for detouring on our way to work or while we’re out shopping and running around anyway.

Trash to Tasty Treasures

While we’re poking around upcycling, don’t forget to eyeball recycling bins and broken goodies that can have a very different life. Hollow bed frames or busted lamps can the watering tubes for sub-irrigated planters, but so can plastic bottles. 

There’s a million and five ways to turn former food containers into both irrigation assists and small container gardens for herbs, companion flowers, strawberries, greens, and peas.

Everything from puppy-chewed wicker baskets to badly worn jeans can be planted in, and curtains, blankets, or badly stained and ripped towels or clothes all work as weed exclusion cloth in our gardens, or can be rigged to provide shade or frost protection, keep mosquitoes out of our water catchment, or serve as wicks and water sinks for our planters and beds.

Sticks & Saplings

If we don’t generate our own, chances are, somewhere nearby somebody is pruning trees or there’s a road verge, power line cut, or abandoned pasture in early stages of succession. Early succession means small saplings that are nice and straight, and pruning means smaller branches we can use to fill in around them.

With those offerings, we can build beds several different ways, provide supports for our plants, and fence it all in.

With smaller, supple sticks, we can also make squirrel and bird exclusions and frames to support netting around brassicas and berries, or form the hoops for season extenders.

(Bamboo is also a good one if you see any driving around somewhere – don’t plant it.)

Those freebie sticks can also be easily cobbled into frames for curbside pickup windows and storm door screens, creating cold frames and insect exclusions for beds and rows.

Cheap Out to Do More

There’s plenty to spend money on when it comes to preparedness. Starting, expanding, and maintaining gardens are only part of the draw on our finances and time. From our soil amendments to garden tools and equipment, taking a frugal route can alleviate some of the inputs required, so we can produce more groceries, faster, and with less stress to our budgets.

The “fugly” solutions can be of issue for some, although there’s usually a relatively inexpensive fix (just about anything can be painted and-or tied up in old Goodwill or yard sale sheets/curtains, or surrounded by old house paneling).

Sourcing lower-cost items and learning to see things anew has other advantages as well, especially for preppers. Both personal crises and national/international issues can upset usual supply lines. Training ourselves to accomplish our goals with whatever’s at hand is a pretty good life skill across the board, and even handier in tough times.

These are just a handful of ways we can apply that to our gardens, from secondhand shopping to freebies. Even just gardening, there are plenty of others. Before spending, run some searches to see how others are saving money on the same project.

Be sure to check out The Prepper Journal Store and follow The Prepper Journal on Facebook!

The post Survival Gardening: Cutting Costs appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Survival Gardening: Back and Body Savers

15 May

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Being able to produce food with minimal wear on the body has a number of advantages. One, it can keep more people gardening, allowing them to be producers within the family and group, not just babysitters and consumers, whether it’s age, injury or illness, now or something that develops later or during a crisis.

Avoiding those injuries by eliminating some of the wear and tear is another major benefit.

Many of the strategies also help save time, along with reducing the effort and exhaustion of producing. In times when stress is high and chores are piling up, that, too, has a lot of value.

General Strategies

Working upright, either sitting or standing, can reduce fatigue and pain all on its own. Particularly if we can avoid repetitive bending and straightening, and especially if there’s lifting involved, we can seriously reduce both the strain on our bodies and the potentials for injury. Maintaining a hip-to-shoulder work space is a big part of that, and applies to gardening along with other labors.

Choosing where we grow is also a factor in efficiency and how hard we have to work for our groceries. So are other methods that reduce the labor inputs for our gardens.

Happily, options abound for saving our backs and bodies.

Start at the Front Step

Our houses are the number-one source of inputs for our veggies. Roof lines for water catchment, kitchen sinks and outdoor spigots, preexisting structures we can piggyback off of for supports, waste products for composters of all times or surface amendments like used coffee grounds, and us (labor) all come from the house.

We’re also usually going to be hauling produce to the house.

Keeping at least some of our production and the tools we need most often close to us saves a lot of time and steps. If we can’t get it right by our doors and kitchens other excellent options are along our driveways or garages (or wherever we park), or near things we visit daily like birds, hares, or the mailbox.

Grow Up

Whether we stick our plants near the house or keep our gardens well out in the yard, elevation is a big time back saver.

In addition to small hanging or tower options that limit what we can grow, we can stack planters and pots of all sizes on block, pallets, or buckets to raise them to maintenance-easy heights.

We can also turn to all sorts of builds to gain height, from raw sticks and logs cobbled into beds, hugelkulture-style beds large or small, half-barrel garden trugs, and deep planters created out of things like filing cabinets.

Using fills from gardening methods like lasagna beds, African keyhole beds, or hügelkultur can reduce the amount of soil we need to start with, especially for large planters.

(Bonus: Those materials actually do all sorts of good things for our veggies, from drainage and aeration to moisture retention and slow feeding.)

Downsize the Orchard

Some fruit and nut trees will coppice into shrub forms, others take well to umbrella and inverse umbrella pruning, and there are dwarfs and super dwarfs and the option to espalier most fruit trees.

All of those options also give us perennial fruits we can harvest sitting or standing, with less effort even if we need kitchen tongs or actual harvesters.

Going small also eliminates ladders and long poles, decreasing the chances we injury ourselves or someone else. Risk mitigation is a good thing.

Container shrubs and trees are also an option.

On one hand, they exhaust soil fertility and water retention capabilities faster than a same-sized tree planted in the yard or a smaller plant in the same container, and thus need more care.

However, they allow us to further tailor heights to work at a comfortable level, and keep some of our perennials even indoors and on patios.

Simple Body-Saving Tools

To further save backs from bending, decrease steps, lower body wear, and evade numerous ladder-climbing risks, we can buy or DIY a couple of very handy tools.

Harvest baskets we wear free up a hand, which leaves one free for steadying ourselves or lets us work faster – which gets us finished and on to the next thing faster. It also lets us bear weight with our core and center of mass instead of with our fingers and increasing tilts as they get heavy.

Even with lightweight beans and lettuce, tied-up aprons and suspender-clipped pails keep us working in a smaller space and without dedicating a hand to holding our basket. We can even just clothespin supermarket bags to our belts.

Some string or tape, large-ish plastic bottles or PVC tubes or cans, and a tool handle can save us the cost of buying actual fruit picking poles.

Even if we can’t quite reach all of our trees or shrubs from the ground, it’s greatly increasing the number of people who can work the harvest, and decreasing the climbing we do.

We can make or buy some handy-dandy back-saving assists to limit bending and crouching in annual bed-prep and planting phases, too.

Personally, I’m into simple and inexpensive. I can use binder clips to attach sticks to a rake or slit tight PVC or stiff hose over the tines, then just drag planting lines.

We can also rig multiple triangle hoes (or screw hammer-shaped soup cans to a 1″ x 2” board) to more deeply furrow a whole bed at once.

Wheel hoes are expensive, but for walk-over gardens, they can make scooting mulch out of the way or furrowing seed rows fast and easy on the body.

Wheel hoes also let us fairly quickly and easily mound soil up around the base of crops. Make sure to get one with expansion options like seeders and stirrup hoes or weasel-like cultivators that aid in aeration.

To limit bent-over seeding time without the expense of drop seeders, just get a hollow tube – pipe, PVC, ABS, U-shaped electrical conduit taped together; anything goes. We can do more complicated builds, but mostly, a plain tube is sufficient to let us drop seed exactly where we want it from a comfortable height.

They’re not great when it’s muddy, and small seeds like lettuce and teff don’t work great, but it’s fantastic for beans, peas, most grains, beets, melons, and squash.

Once we’ve dropped our seed, just follow along with a broom or the back of a rake to close the holes back up.

Making seed tapes can also help decrease planting labor.

We use regular ol’ white glue and any tissue or paper that doesn’t run away fast enough, and handle all the spacing-out from the comfort of our favorite chair. It limits our crouched and bent time to dragging quick lines, unfurling it, and skimming soil back over it.

Buy/Build a Garden Cart

We can haul things by hand. We’ll usually take more trips to do it, and we’re usually putting more strain on our body than pulling a loaded cart.

Unless we’re regularly dumping loads, we’re better off with a cart than a wheelbarrow we have to lift or tip to roll and that takes work to keep level while in motion.

There are also a fair number of times we’ll be unloading as we go, or stopping to add to the load. A wheelbarrow requires crouching or bending to drop to its legs and then lifting again each time we do. Those kinds of motions are where accidents and overuse injuries occur.

They do make some nifty two-wheeled barrel trolleys and water bags for wheelbarrows now if you need a water solution. I still mostly prefer the many virtues of wagons.

Irrigation

Fast-fill, slow-release solutions such as olla and drip irrigators help reduce evaporation, runoff, and the time of standing around slowly soaking our gardens.

The simplest DIY method is just poking holes in the bottom of a bottle, sitting it beside our plant, filling, and moving on while the water slowly dribbles out. Other methods call for burying holey containers to soak root zones directly.

Other fast-fill options include using simple, inexpensive plumbing fixtures to attach holey garden hose or smaller drip/seep lines to elevated bottles or buckets. Water gets delivered exactly where we want, trickling out slowly enough to be absorbed.

Any of the variants are not only more efficient in water use – which lowers labor all on its own – but also the work it takes to water plants, and gets us on to the next task faster.

Permanent Beds

Even if we’re into tilling, by working only the space we’re going to plant in, we save labor – and thus, wear and tear on the body. Upping that into beds we only surface cultivate with no-till methods, we gain additional benefits that improve our labor-to-yield ratios.

Establishing those beds on contour to aid in natural water catchment and mulching walkways and-or our crops to decrease compaction, increase water retention, and decrease irrigation and weeding needs (and weeding effort) further improves the efficiency of those beds.

There are direct maintenance aspects, but there’s also a big boost in soil health that translates to healthier, happier, more productive plants that need fewer additional amendments throughout the season. Each factor in the equation saves our backs and bodies that much more.

Staying Productive

Manual labor isn’t a bad thing. It keeps us nice and fit. However, lifetimes of labor can end up limiting us, too, and accidents happen. So do illnesses. We’re also largely busy people, even now, and most expect to be busier yet in any crisis, A-Z, personal or widespread.

From practices that “only” save time to those that create a more suitable work space for us, give some thought to how, where, and what we grow.

Whether we’re hauling infants in slings, dealing with bad joints or spines from an injury or birth defect, working around arthritis, or perching on canes or crutches, arranging our veggie gardens around the many possibilities and our changing lives is just one more type of preparedness.

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The post Survival Gardening: Back and Body Savers appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

29 House Plants That Are Safe For Cats

9 May

Written by Wild Bill on The Prepper Journal.

Editor’s Note: Not your normal Prepper subject but I came across this excellent article by Anthony Duggan at Kitty Insight and was impressed with the detail and construction of the article and the useful information it conveyed. For the life of me I can’t figure out what I was searching for when I found this, I am not a cat person, perhaps it was child safety around the home, in any case I contacted Anthony and he graciously gave me permission to repost it here on The Prepper Journal, something I don’t normally do either. Think I’ll pick up a few Powerball tickets over lunch today, another thing I don’t normally do.

I went to check to see what house plants and garden plants were poisonous for my cat and got a bit of a shock. Turns out, by the looks of it, that most plants seem to be poisonous for my cat!

According to this site, there are literally hundreds of common, every day, flowers and plants that are poisonous. Now, obviously, some need to be totally eaten in huge quantities to have a negative effect – but some, just inhaling the pollen as your cat walks by could be life ending!

Well after reading through the seemingly never-ending list it occurred to me that it might be better to know which plants and flowers are not bad for my cat.

It might be easier to have a short list to work off and also to know what these harmless beauties look like for easy identification. Without further ado here are a bunch of completely harmless plants and flowers you can stick around the house and garden safe in the knowledge that kitty is absolutely safe :

Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium Nidus)

A great low light houseplant. Originates from South East Asia, Australasia, Polynesia & Hawaii. In the wild, this fern has a tendency to grow on trees, cliffs and other objects but you will probably buy it as a potted house plant. Comes from a tropical environment so likes humidity and moist soils but can put up with the odd dry spell. In the wild fronds would grow 20 to 59 inches long and up to 8 inches wild but domestically you are unlikely to achieve such good growth. Doesn’t flower but offers abundant greenery. An ideal bathroom plant.

Light Conditions: Medium to low indirect light

Watering: Likes humid environments and moist composts.  

Calathea Rattlesnake (Calathea Lancifolia)

A native of Brazil, the rattlesnake is not venomous to cats or humans! Likes Indirect bright sunshine and to be kept moist in spring and summer but not watered to soggy. Likes some humidity and grows large leaves up to 30 inches tall. Blooms yellow/orange flowers in late season. If the leaves wilt you haven’t watered lightly regularly enough.

Light Conditions: Bright but indirect sunlight.

Watering: Keep moist in spring and summer without making compost soggy. No watering in winter.

Spider Plant/Airplane Plant/Spider Ivy/Ribbon Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)

Very easy to grow as it loves a wide range of conditions. Bright indirect light and sporadic watering are all it takes for even the most useless gardener to keep this hardy plant alive and flourishing. A spider will give flowers in the right conditions and will send out tendril offshoots as it looks to become mobile and spread. Easy to separate and grow new plants from tendrils overall growth is inhibited by pot size.

Light Conditions: Bright but indirect light.

Watering: Regular or sporadic – just don’t over water.

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans)

A popular houseplant that can grow two to six feet tall indoors in pots. Originating from Mexico and Guatemala, this little palm is popular because it grows well in low light conditions and at lower temperatures. Usually potted in clumps, this palm produces narrow, long, green leaves similar to those used on Palm Sunday. Doesn’t produce any flowers but is safe for cats and humans.

 Light Conditions: Low to bright indirect light.

Watering: Prefers dry to being over moist, waterlogged or sitting in water.

Staghorn Fern/Stags Horn Fern/Elk Fern (Platycerium Bifurcatum)

Easy to identify by its stag antler/moose antler-shaped leaves. Native to Australia, these ferns tend to grow on trees rather than on the ground – although if you are shopping for one it is likely to come in a pot. In the wild, these grow to a mighty size, but in a pot or outside its normal environment growth is going to be small and manageable. Very distinctive looking plant make this a houseplant that is growing in popularity allied to the fact they are reasonably easy to look after.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light – doesn’t survive under just artificial light.

Watering: Won’t tolerate over-watering – likes misting and soaking – more light more water. Generally, water once per week.

Haworthia Zebra (Haworthia Attenuata)

A member of the succulent group of plants, this little plant, reminiscent of cacti, originates from South Africa. It has small and has striped leaves, occasionally flowers but rarely when kept indoors. Likes temperatures from 8 to 26 c and enjoys bright indirect sunlight. Related to the aloe plant without the latex that is poisonous to cats.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light.

Watering: Water when well drained soil dries out in summer, don’t over water in winter.

Xerographica Air Plant (Tillandsia Xerographica)

This remarkable little plant originates from Mexico, Salvador & Guatemala. It is remarkable because of its highly original looks and the fact it is an air plant – it requires no bedding – whatsoever! In terms of looks, it’s fronds/leaves wrap around itself like soft mossy leaves – very unusual but interesting to look at! It likes bright light and in the correct temperatures can reside inside and out. Watering – how to water an air plant? Misting and soaking. Soak for 15 minutes once every other week or literally submerge it once a month for a few minutes!

Light Conditions: Bright direct or indirect light – thrives in both.

Watering: Misting and occasional soaking.

Money Tree/Guiana Chestnut (Pachira Aquatica)

Believed to bring financial good fortune to its owner, the money tree plant is another popular house plant that is cat-friendly. Originating from the swamps of central and south america they are easily identifiable by their interlocking trunks (that lock in good luck – so the theory goes). Not to be confused with the succulent money plant, they like water once a week and bright but indirect light.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light.

Watering: Once a week in summer, don’t leave to stand in water.

Peperomia Green (Peperomia Obtusifolia)

Otherwise known as the baby rubber plant, this plant originates in Mexico and the northern jungles of South America. Identifiable by its cupped, fleshy, leathery leaves this popular houseplant grows up to 25 cms tall when potted and flowers sporadically.  

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light, sporadic direct light.

Watering: Allow soil to dry out then water thoroughly – don’t allow to sit in waterlogged soil.

Echeveria Lola

A small succulent plant that grows to 6 inches tall. Has a distinctive light purple appearance shaped as a single rosette. Uncomplicated to grow, don’t allow to sit in water, remove dead leaves at the base and provide plenty of sunlight and it should grow reasonably well.

Light Conditions: Bright direct & indirect light

Watering: Don’t allow to stand in water. Water regularly.

Boston Fern/Sword Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata)

If you have seen a fern indoors it was probably a Boston fern. These have been popular since Victorian times due to their interesting drooping fronds and easy maintenance. Generally reaching to 30 cm tall, they can grow much bigger if re-potted. Native to most tropical regions worldwide these are cat-friendly and a good looking house plant that reputedly cleans the air very efficiently. They like bright indirect light and humid conditions so work great in bathrooms. Need lots of watering during the summer period as they don’t appreciate drying out.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light.

Watering: Keep moist but not waterlogged, enjoy humid conditions.

Maidenhair Fern/Walking Fern/Venus Hair Fern (Adiantum)

Grows to about 60 cms tall and in diameter but can be kept small by limiting pot size. This fern has more rounded leaves on the fronds than the Boston fern. Usually grows in the wild on rock faces or rocky river banks. This is not an easy plant to keep indoors. It doesn’t like bright light but needs humid wet air. Making it a difficult plant to please indoors. These finicky plants are safe for your cat but you will end up having to mist them daily, monitor water/humidity conditions and cosset the damn thing to keep it alive.

Light Conditions: Shaded, out of bright light.

Watering: Mist twice daily, keep soil damp.

Bamboo Palm/Areca Palm (Dypsis Lutescens)

Our second palm on the list is a graceful, upright, easy to look at, clumping palm. Very popular due to its good looks and relatively low maintenance. Completely safe for your cat, these palms like bright indirect light, misting regularly and watering with soft rainwater once the top layer of their pot has dried out. Keep away from radiators and strong heat sources.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light.

Watering: Occasional misting, watering once top layer of compost has dried out.

Prayer Plant (Maranta Leuconeura)

A Brazilian rain forest native, this plant derives its name from the weird spectacle of its movement a day gives way to night and vice versa. The plant wilts and recovers with changes of light creating a praying period. The interesting coloration on the leaves make this plant a popular house plant – but they are not easy to maintain. They need moist and highly humid conditions to thrive and prefer bright indirect light.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light.

Watering: Keep moist, but don’t over water or they succumb to root rot.

Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus Australis)

A popular house plant, Swedish ivy is prone and grows outwards as a mat or cascades from high spots. Neither a true ivy or Swedish it is identifiable by its round, evergreen leaves that have a saw tooth edge. This plant is fast growing and easy to care for. It is not fond of overly bright areas and is often killed by over watering. Produces white flowers and sometimes creates an aroma when touched.

Light Conditions: Shaded areas, out of direct bright light.

Watering: Avoid over watering – under-watered plants can be revived but over watered are goners. Let the soil dry out before watering.

Cast Iron Plant/Bar Room Plant (Aspidistra Elatior)

A native of Japan and Taiwan the cast iron plant derives its name from the fact it can be neglected without suffering too much long term damage. Broad, floppy leaves that shoot upwards from the pot makes this evergreen a popular good looking plant. Able to withstand drought, pest and poor light means even beginner gardeners find this plant easy to maintain and keep looking good. If you want the nearest thing to an indestructible house plant this is it.

Light Conditions: Avoid direct sunlight.

Watering: Water regularly in summer, cut down in winter.

African Violet (Saintpaulia)

Bored of evergreens? Need some cat safe flowers with color? The African violet is your huckleberry. Obviously, they come from Africa. Specifically Tanzania. They come in a huge range of color to satisfy any taste and are pretty easy to take care of. They like bright light to come into bloom but dislike direct sunlight that might scorch fragile leaves. They like room temperature tap water once their compost dries out and regular fertilizing with plant feed.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light

Watering: Allow to dry out then water with tepid water, feed regularly.

Aluminum Plant/Watermelon Pilea (Pilea Cadierei)

An evergreen perennial native to China and Vietnam that grows to 30 cms tall. Perfectly safe for cats and humans. Usually has a wide pointed oval variegated leaf with a shiny wax finish. Produces flowers but they are not very impressive. The main beauty of the plant is it’s large green and silvered leaves. Handles low light conditions well and needs to be kept moist.

Light Conditions: Indirect light, shaded conditions

Watering: keep compost moist but not waterlogged.

Friendship Plant (Pilea Involucrata)

Native to Central and South America this plant is renowned for its easy maintenance and two-tone green fuzzy leaves. Likes indirect low levels of light and occasionally flowers with a pretty little pink flower. Called the friendship plant due to the ease with which cuttings can be grown at speed into plants that can be gifted. Grows to 6 to 12 inches tall.

Light Conditions: Low indirect light although needs some bright indirect light.

Watering: keep the soil moist in summer allow to dry out slightly in winter. Provide some humidity if possible.

Lace Flower Vine (Alsobia Dianthiflora)

As the name suggests this is a trailing vine offering loads of green soft leaves and in spring a wonderful white flower. A very decorative flower that can be moved outdoors in the summer. This is an easy-care houseplant that can take some neglect. Can be left to dry out between waterings. Favors bright through to shaded light making it easy to grow in most indoor locations.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect to shaded light.

Watering: Can dry out between watering without issue.

Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus Radicans)

If you like flowers and the African violet doesn’t do it for you then maybe the lipstick plant is a good candidate. Named after its red flowers that protrude out of darker red tubular sheaths this is a vine that will flower almost continuously in the correct conditions. Provide the vine with bright indirect light and plenty of water and you should get red flowers continuously. Avoid over watering.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect sunlight.

Watering: Weekly, avoid over watering or standing in water.

Phalaenopsis Orchid/Moth Orchid

If you want a cat-safe flower then the ubiquitous moth orchid is your first port of call. These are probably the most popular flowering house plant available. Popular as they provide wonderful flowers in multiple different color options all year round. Available from numerous outlets at incredibly affordable prices. These plants produce a wild amount of blooms for a prolonged period the go dormant. To restart blooming you have to subject them to cooler nighttime temperatures for about a month and water via ice cube. The temperature variation draws them out of dormancy and off the bloom again!

Light Conditions: Moderately bright windowsill or indirect light.

Watering: Water every 7-10 days or when it dries out

Polka Dot Plant (Begonia Maculata)

The polka dot plant is named due to the obvious pink spots on its broad green leaves. Native to Madagascar, it’s spots and dots can vary in colour from pink through to scarlet, lavender and white making these a highly decorative plant. Although they grow several feet tall in the wild potted versions are considerably smaller. These plants like bright indirect light, moist soils and require feeding monthly. In lower light levels they will go hunting for light.

Light Conditions: Wide range from shaded through to bright indirect light.

Watering: Should be kept moist but not over watered.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)

This cactus originates from southeastern Brazil. Usually found growing in humid environments on trees and rocks, they are notable for their flat cacti leaves and when flowering their red or white tubular flowers. Easy to manage and maintain, these cacti are a very popular house plant. Non-toxic to cats, humans and dogs you can safely grow them without fear of poisoning kitty!

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light.

Watering: Soak once the top inch of compost goes dry, don’t allow to stand in water. Feed regularly.

Wax Plant/Wax Flower/ Hoya (Hoya Carnosa)

Originating from Asia and Australasia this climbing plant has waxy leaves giving rise to its name the wax plant and produces scented flowers making it a very popular house plant. Non-toxic to cats this plant is relatively easy to care for as it likes northern facing windows where the light is bright but indirect. Keep moist during summer months and the plant should flourish and produce many scented flowers.

Light Conditions: Bright indirect light, Northern facing windows.

Watering: Keep moist during growing season – avoid over watering.

Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea)

The ponytail palm is a very distinctive palm that has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to its fantastic shape and display. Originating from eastern Mexico, in the wild, this plant can grow to 30 feet tall although indoors the best you tend to get is 4 ft! Although called a palm due to its long shooting fronds that resemble those of some palms, it is, in fact, a member of the succulent family. This makes an easy to care for houseplant as it can take periods of poor low light and can live in semi-dry conditions so is ideal for a lot of areas of the home and lifestyles.

Light Conditions: Low light with some bright spells preferred.

Watering: Loves dry conditions.

Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)

A member of the mint family, Basil is native to tropical regions from central America through to Asia. There are several well-known variations: Sweet, Thai and Lemon Basil. Each variation has a slightly different flavor. Well known for its uses in cooking, this herb doesn’t flower but produces large leaves that have a subtle aniseed flavor when used in cooking. Can be grown indoors or outdoors. Growing indoors is easy an requires good bright sunshine and moist well-drained soil. Completely non-toxic to cats and humans…

Light Conditions: Bright direct light preferred.

Watering: Kept moist but well drained.

Sage (Salvia Officinalis)

Originally from the Mediterranean but now distributed widely, common sage is widely used in cooking. Identifiable by its woody stems, grayish leaves and blue to purple flowers, sage gives off a woody, pine-like aroma and is used in numerous dishes as a flavoring from sausages through to being sprinkled on meaty dishes for added flavor. Easy to grow indoors and outdoors this herb is a must in any cooks garden or kitchen. It can be planted in direct light and needs well-drained soil but is very hardy and easy to grow. Non-toxic to cats and humans and useful too…

Light Conditions: Bright direct sunshine where possible.

Watering: Water regularly, avoid over watering – Sage is fairly drought resistant.

Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris)

Another Mediterranean herb that can be grown indoors that is popular with cooks and harmless to cats! Thyme is a low lying shrub that loves sunny dry conditions and flowers with small white or pink flowers through from spring onward. This is nice and easy to keep indoors due to its drought loving nature and love of sunlight – stick it on a bright windowsill and you are good to go.

Light Conditions: Bright direct sunlight.

Watering: Sparingly, do not leave in damp conditions.

Editor’s Note: So all bets are off if you put some catnip on any of these plants. The cats will survive, the plant, not so much! Same for Christmas decorations. I do have a number of friends who have barn cats and they, as you know, are every bit working animals serving a vital purpose.  

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The post 29 House Plants That Are Safe For Cats appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Backyard Self-Reliance: Luffa

26 Apr

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

The desire to be more self-reliant tends to strike all preppers here and there, regardless of location. While some aspects of self-reliance are hugely limited, others can be accomplished even in very small backyards. Some even apply to patios and balconies.

Luffa makes for an excellent self-reliance crop, whether we want to reduce reliance on commercial products and throw-away disposables, or just enjoy the “I made that” feeling.

Luffa Gourds

We typically see luffa, loofah, loufa, or whatever exactly we want to call it in bath and beauty sections of stores. Their usefulness goes beyond scrubbing our bodies, though.

We can use them in place of brushes and sponges all over, whole, sliced into sections, or cut into squares, from floors to dishes, bathrooms to barns.

Dry luffa can also be turned into boot scrapers, used as “bumpers” or “spacers” instead of sections of pool noodles, or provide rodents and chickens with some enrichment activities instead of using cardboard boxes and tubs or plastic bottles.

Fibers, chipped bits, ends, slices, and scraps from cutting all get used by some to embed in soaps. They can be dried, blitzed in a blender, and reduced to even smaller bits for adding texture to body and facial scrubs or working-hands soaps as well.

Depending on any chemicals it might contain from that first life, we can also hollow them out for seed starting cups that allow roots to pass through and later dissolve away.

Once we’re done with them, they’re compostable, creating not only a steady supply of household and homestead scrubbies, but also a zero-waste product. It can also be chopped/shredded and mixed into soil immediately to improve drainage, aeration, and soil retention akin to a tilth radish or tillage beets/turnips.

*Bonus Use: Any of the melon and gourd vines can have a second life squeezed in between producing harvests and adding biomass to soil.

Cut the dried-off vines into 6-12” sections and add them to bug hotels as burrow-in options for pollinators and predatory insects. Big or small, arty or simple, bug hotels can help decrease pests and improve our yields.

Growing It

First off, these are big plants, and they take a long time to grow. Then they need to season. There are workarounds, though, that make them viable for anybody with room for a multi-branching 6-12’ or larger annual vine.

Some cultures eat immature luffa in a cucumber stage. That’s not the cultivar we want for scrubbies, though.

It has larger internal pockets where seeds and the “meat” around them develop, and less of the fiber matrix. Even growing them to maturity, it’ll be more difficult to peel and clean them without tearing, they don’t slice into mini scrubbies as well, and they don’t hold up as well or last as long. 

Specific variety affects the shape, size, and total yield of the gourds, and the terminal size of the plants. Some will yield 8-20 luffa ranging from 8-12” to 24” long each. Others almost qualify as SOS pads right out of the pod.

Variety also plays into the textures each luffa will yield when harvested, although maturity at time of harvest and post-harvest drying and follow-on treatments also affect the texture and density of each sponge.

A household may only need 1-2 plants per year depending on how hard and often we use them, and how productive the vines are.

The seeds are even hardier than the average squash, popcorn, or bean, though, so don’t worry about only using a few from each packet at a time, or fret harvesting luffa at an immature “green” stage before the seeds develop.

If anything, you might want to plant in pairs and let a few fruits go all the way to on-the-vine brown husks every 3-5 years just to get improved pollination and maintain genetic variety.

Being squash (closer to cucumbers, but they behave like a squash), they’re heavy feeders.

The larger and heavier yielding they are, the more fertility they need. If you can source some of the red-clay African or older Deep South cultivars that haven’t been bred for super-high production yet, they tend to be a little easier on and more forgiving of soil fertility.

The vines of most cultivars are narrow, akin to melons, so while they’re vulnerable to squash bugs and other pests, they won’t play host to squash vine borers.

Like other squash-family plants, they do need pollinators, but they’re not as sensitive to humid heat. (Many squashes and melons are prone to only producing male flowers in some weather conditions.)

Luffa are, however, sensitive to drought and arid conditions.

The water needs for a squash cousin that size make them a prime candidate for buckets or totes turned into sub-irrigated planters or any of the olla-like fast-fill and root-zone-watering hacks.

Some growers have success letting them sprawl on the ground, or close to it. I typically see them on heavy-duty trellises, teepees, and fencing – which is how I grow them.

I do want to emphasize that “heavy duty” point.

Round wire tomato trellises from stores, unsupported coat-hanger twist-up’s, and 5’x1/2” cane poles aren’t going to cut it. Also, if there’s not a top rail on chain link or cattle/dog wire fencing, consider attaching a temp to that section, and definitely use a reinforcement on decorative carport/patio lattices (oops).

Happily, big as they are, we don’t have to worry about supporting the fruits as they grow and mature the way we would many melons or squashes grown up vertical patches. They can hang freely with no problems.

Ready for Harvest

As they grow, give the luffa a squeeze. They’ll shift from a ripe, firm cucumber consistency to a little bit softer.

In those first stages, if we peeled and cut it open, we’ll find a spongy white mass of squash meat inside. (It’s not tasty. At all. It’s a gourd.)

As they go along, the skin first yellows a bit and almost feels softer and looser. Then it starts to feel more leathery. (That stage is almost the way an acorn or spaghetti squash skin feels after it’s cooked, but the “squish” is different.)

As it matures, the skin becomes more brittle, with more springy give underneath it.

The earlier we harvest, the thinner that fibrous matrix we’re after will be, and the finer and tighter the weave of it.

Once the luffa matures further, those fibers get thicker and denser, and we’ll wind up with a looser, larger textured scrubby sponge.

When exactly it’s “ready” depends both on our variety and what we’re aiming for with our homegrown scrubbies.

Some will cure hanging right on the vine, even with staggered, indeterminate production.

Others really need to be cut off to finish up.

Once cut, some people prefer to husk them right away (especially in green or just-yellowing stages). Some will hang the naked luffa whole to start drying off, while others will split it and remove some of the pulp and seeds before hanging it to cure and dry completely.

Like summer squashes, if you’re aiming for seed collection, you do need to let at least some of them mature all the way.

That can be a challenge for some, because most luffa take at least 100-110 days to reach maturity, and might take 120-140 to dry off.

If that’s a problem, start them super early as a houseplant.

Planters made from buckets, totes and lined laundry baskets are all big enough to support a luffa if we fertilize and water. If we use a small frame trellis to get it started, we can grow it indoors for months.

Then we transfer it outside to a larger frame and space where it can sprawl, the way some transplant other large, long-growing melons, pumpkins, and squashes.

If a head start doesn’t buy quite enough time, stick the potted luffa somewhere near a house eave or garage (especially with asphalt to reflect and hold heat), or plant some posts that can be covered with garden fleece or poly at the autumn end of the season.

Another option for people with limited seasons and space is to stick with the smaller, shorter growing and the hardier wild cultivars. They don’t produce the same thick, dense sponges, but are plenty good for dish and surface scrubbers.

Finishing Touches

I’m typically after surface and dish scrubbers, boot brushes, and the ability to staple them to a dowel attached to a handle for scrubbing or sweeping concrete, wood, and CMU block flooring or siding, not a sea sponge replacement. That means I’ve never actually tried any of the dips and soaks used to soften luffas.

I’m not into parroting what others say without testing/seeing it, so you’ll have to do a web search if you’re interested. (Let us know how it goes, good or bad.)

Care & Maintenance

Like other natural products, luffas need a bit more care than synthetic sponges and brushes. It’s only a bit, though.

I will sometimes throw them in a laundry bag and then the washer. Usually, they soak and get squeezed around in a little dish detergent, pine cleaner, or bleach.

They do need to dry.

Even between uses, hang them somewhere, don’t leave them sitting in moisture like can be trapped by a dish, bucket or ledge.

Self-Reliant Crops

We may not be able to become truly self-sufficient, but we can all increase our self-reliance. From being able to take care of ourselves in short-term emergencies and disasters, to lowering our dependence on outside resources, increasing our ability to take care of ourselves tends to be a primary prepper objective.

Food production is regularly part of that, but don’t stop there. Growing our own can apply all over our supply and resupply lists.

Luffa with the many ways it can be used – then reused and returned to the soil – is a prime candidate for almost anyone interested in increasing self-reliance – all it takes is a big balcony, a warm summer, and the ability to water it.

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The post Backyard Self-Reliance: Luffa appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Mushrooms

25 Apr

Written by Wild Bill on The Prepper Journal.

Editor’s Note: Always a subject I wanted to know more about so I asked Cat Murphy to share on the matter for The Prepper Journal.  

Ready to join the mushroom movement? There are lots of good reasons to grow mushrooms at home. They’re tasty, nutritious and they may even be good for our brains. But they can be pricey at the grocery store. Mushroom hunting in a forest near you is fun but labor-intensive. It can also be dangerous because edible varieties often have poisonous look-alikes. Growing your own mushrooms could be a good alternative.

To get started, you need to make a few decisions. First, figure out which type of mushroom you’d like to grow. The experts say oyster or button mushrooms are the easiest for beginners. Shiitake mushrooms are also relatively easy. Second, you need to decide if you’ll grow your mushrooms indoors or outdoors.

You can grow mushrooms indoors year-round. They need a dark, cool place to grow, such as a basement or crawl space. A dark drawer or cabinet will also do the trick. Here are the supplies you’ll need (quick note: you can buy mushroom growing kits if you’d rather not assemble these materials yourself):

  • Plastic tubs or baking pan.
  • Mushroom spawn (these are mushroom seedings.) Purchasing from a supplier is the best route for beginners.
  • Growing substrate like compost, straw, sawdust or even coffee grounds.
  • Damp towel.
  • Spray bottle.

Place several handfuls of your chosen substrate into your tub or pan. If you’re using straw or sawdust, you may want to pasteurize it to kill off any contaminants. Mix the spawn into the substrate and raise the temperature to 70 degrees (placing the pan on a heating pad works well). After 2-4 weeks, the spawn will have taken root in the substrate. This is called mycelium and looks like white fuzz. Drop the temperature to 55-60 degrees (you can do this by moving the pan to a cooler area). Cover the mixture with about an inch of potting soil, then spray the mixture with water until damp. You can place a damp towel on top to retain moisture. Keep the mixture moist and cool, and you should see small mushrooms starting to grow in about three weeks.

If you’re growing mushrooms outside, you need to keep your local climate in mind. Mushrooms like cool, humid conditions, but it is possible to grow them in more arid climates. You just have to water them more often. Growing mushrooms outdoors also takes longer (six months to two years). Once they’ve started growing, healthy mushroom colonies can grow for years.

There are several ways to grow mushrooms outside. You can mix spawn with compost and let nature take its course. Another popular technique is the log method. Oysters and shiitakes grow especially well on hardwood logs. Finally, you can grow mushrooms in raised garden beds or in damp straw in shady areas in your garden. If you have pets, consider covering the plants, since some mushrooms can be toxic to dogs.

Whichever method you choose, you can grow your own mushrooms at home without a lot of fuss. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can advance to all kinds of mushroom varieties. Along with saving money at the grocery store, you’ll have the satisfaction of growing a tastier product yourself.

Cat Murphy is a gardening and landscaping writer, and outdoor extraordinaire. She enjoys cooking for family and friends and going on long hikes anywhere and everywhere in nature.

Be sure to check out The Prepper Journal Store and follow The Prepper Journal on Facebook!

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Mushrooms appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Productive & Easy Container Gardening

18 Apr

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Some of us are restricted entirely to small spaces, and some of us have either clay, rock, or sandy soils that are easier to avoid than to mitigate. Some of us keep container gardens going for convenience, enjoyment, and mitigating seasonal threats from pests to cold, high winds or thunderstorms to dry conditions, even when we have some elbow room and decent starting soil.

On a windowsill or a bookcase, up on a balcony or down on a patio, and even out in the yard or lining our driveway, there are some practices that can make our container gardens more productive, more efficient, and easier to maintain.

Mulch Containers

Even small containers can benefit from mulching. Indoors or out, it limits evaporation, and it prevents compaction from overhead watering and rain.

It also reduces the number of weeds with immediate access to soil for outdoor containers, both decreasing competition with plants we want and making them easier to pull and with less disturbance to our plants and the soil.

Mulching also has significant value in providing an insulating barrier. That insulation protects tender seedlings just starting roots from drying out, and can help mitigate both heat and cold.

That’s particularly valuable when it comes to containers, because they’re prone to drying out and vulnerable to weather extremes.

Go Big

We’re talking container size here, not leaping whole hog into a massive investment of time, energy, and resources by lining every possible vertical and horizontal inch with plants. 

Even when provided with nutrient-rich soils and liquid feeds, plants do better with some room to groove. In the ground or larger beds, roots are able to spread readily. Smaller containers limit not only the depth, but also the width roots can expand into.

(The really tiny tabletop strawberry planters are notorious for problems due to overcrowded roots.

The relationship between square- and cubic footage, total volume and surface area, all factor in when it comes to planters and beds.

The ability to access additional root space and water from the soil under each successive tier is what makes some types of herb spirals, stair-step planters, and pyramids so successful and efficient when square footage is limited.

We can get away with a little bit more for short-lifespan plants that are being harvested as baby leaves, but for perennials and larger plants, adequate root space greatly impacts success over the season.

When eyeballing planters, don’t forget to decrease the usable space by about an inch at the top – soil will settle, but containers that are filled right to the rim will overflow quickly and we’re likely to lose soil as we dig in there.

Pot Mods

When selecting a container, evaluate it on not just the soil volume and dimensions, but also the ability to add additional drainage holes.

Ideally, we’ll be able to put in those extra holes 1-4” up the sides of the pots, providing both adequate drainage that many pots lack, but also the ability to do a fill with rock, sand, mulch, flake animal bedding, pine cones, branches, or empty soda bottles peppered with holes.

The junk-filled space creates a reservoir area that limits how often we need to water, much akin to sub-irrigated planters and still-water hydroponics/aquaponics methods.

While we’re at it, we might also consider adding a PVC tube, soda bottle with holes drilled, small clay pots epoxied together, a small transplant pot buried to ground level, or similar to create ollas or a chute that will help us deliver water directly to the root zones. 

Doing so limits evaporation loss, some pests, and can make watering faster – we can dump and go, rather than slowly soak.

Watering & Washout

Water creates two of the biggest challenges to both raised beds and container gardens. Material selection can factor in, increasing evaporation like clay pots – which isn’t always a bad thing – or exasperating heat issues like many metal and dark containers – which, again, has benefits in some seasons and climates.

The greatest factor is usually just the soil-to-plant ratio. There’s just not much water-holding capacity in many planters.

That means we’ll typically have to water more often, versus plants that are in bigger beds or the ground.

In addition to creating reservoirs for our plants, if we can, try sinking containers in the ground – even partway. It can provide not only additional access to water and decreased water drainage, but also some temperature regulation.

Nutrients washing out of pots during heavy rains is also a common issue.

It can be combated by using plastic or poly covers, or by adding fertilizers in small increments to the top of planters, rather than mixed into the soils, whether that’s coffee grounds and Epsom salts sprinkled on top, feeder sticks, in-situ composting, or liquid fertilizers applied as we water.

 

Add Amendments

No matter how we combat things like irrigation needs and washout – or if they’re even factors that affect our containers – we have to revitalize the soil in our planters, just like in beds and in-ground plots.

Some containers are large enough for compost chutes/tubes or even “trench” composting methods.

Intensive Spacing

We can absolutely use individual planters to mimic the tight spacing we see in intensive gardening methods like square foot gardening and bio-intensive or bio-dynamic gardening.

Buckets, troughs with at least six-inch soil depths, and similar shapes make conversions easy and simple and can maximize the typically square worlds we inhabit. Storage totes and lined or plastic drawers share similar benefits, but even smaller containers like cut-down soda bottles can work.

However, it requires the same super-rich soil mixes we’d use in beds.

That means additional amendments and the ability to re-mix soils, which we need to plan for in our spaces.

Be Ruthless

While we can congestion plant our containers, we do have to give plants the space they need. Many gardeners both large and micro scale are prone to overcrowd or skip thinning, for a variety of reasons, to the detriment of their yields.

Finding the happy medium between wasted space and bare soil, and overcrowding plants – stunting them as they fight for root space, sunlight and nutrients – requires a little practice. Our exact soil mixes, feeding, irrigation, and the humidity, wind, and heat of our environments affect the exact spacing.

Ruthlessly selecting our “keepers” can start even earlier, particularly if all we have are small-space containers. We have to be realistic about not only what will grow – productively – in that space, but how many plants it takes to harvest usable amounts at a time.

While there is value in any growing – both mentally and the practice it provides – planning worthwhile plantings will help us better assess in the long run.

When we’re restricted, we might skip the large, long-growing plants that may offer only 1-2 harvests, such as ball cabbage, broccoli, corn, or some large winter melons.

Instead, we might focus on the indeterminate, cut-and-come-again, and staggered crops that give higher total yields at faster rates, such as smaller summer or acorn squash, lettuces, peas that offer greens as well as pods, and cherry or grape tomatoes.

Cover Crop

Container gardens benefit from cover crops just like raised beds and large plots. The fumigant, disease-cycle breaks, revitalization, soil loosening, aeration, and drainage benefits all apply even at micro-scale.

To get the most out of a container cover – especially with limited space – aim for those that also offer culinary or medicinal uses, or will provide small-animal feed or mulch for our planters.

Some can also provide early- and late-season flowering for beneficial insects, birds, and bats that are as useful on skyrise balconies as they are for rural gardens and orchards.

Companion Plant

In some cases, like inter-planting onions and lettuce, companions are possible even in small containers.

Other times, like keeping marigolds or basil near tomatoes instead of sharing a tote, we might not get the full benefits companion planting can produce, but their presence still offers some assistance.

Flowering culinary herbs, nasturtium, echinacea, and flowering wild edibles can commonly do double duty.

They aid pollinators early, late, and during flowering gulfs, encourage the predatory and parasitic insects that lower our pest loads, serve as camouflage and “bug breaks” between our edible crops, and help repel human-munching bugs and crop pests, while also providing a direct harvest for spicing, medicinals, or greens. 

Cluster Containers

Interspersing our veggies nets more than the benefits of essentially companion planting.

Keeping planters together instead of spread out can help shade the containers and any bare soil in summer, reducing heat and evaporative losses that lead to extra irrigation.

It also provides a larger mass, which aids in temperature regulation in both summer and on the cooler fringes of spring and autumn.

Ready, Set, Grow

Container gardening fits into almost any lifestyle. Whether we’re restricted to a windowsill or a shelf with a lamp, or have acres to play with, there are numerous benefits to adding some pots or trays to our production.

The local garden club or Master Gardener association and sometimes even our ag extensions can offer additional suggestions for improving yields and making our planters as productive and easy to maintain as possible. So can locals with blogs and YouTube channels, and sites like GrowVeg or seed suppliers.

Wherever we source our information, get started this season. However big or small our production, whatever our motivation for growing, the learning curve is too steep to put it off.

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Seeding Indoors Now For Your Spring Garden

5 Mar

Written by Wild Bill on The Prepper Journal.

Editors Note: Another timely contribution from Cat Murphy to The Prepper Journal.

Spring may seem like its eons away, but it will be here before you know it. Starting your seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump start on your growing season — and to keep your green thumb busy. It’s also a fantastic gardening alternative for starting plants when you have limited space and are restricted to your patio or balcony. Consider these tips as you begin seeding indoors now for your spring garden.

Pick the Right Containers

You can start your seeds in just about any kind of container. It needs to be about two to three inches deep and have proper drainage. If you’re looking for an inexpensive option, you can use empty yogurt cups or milk cartons. Make sure you poke holes in the bottom to allow water to escape. If you prefer a more formal approach, you can also buy seed starting trays.

More important than the type of container, is the potting soil you use. It should be designed for growing seedlings. Soil from your garden or reuse potting soil from houseplants can spread diseases to your seedlings. Because many potting soils do not contain nutrients, you may need to add fertilizer once your seeds have germinated.

Chose the Perfect Plants

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to extend your growing season. It allows plants that need warm soil and even warmer temperatures, like tomatoes, peppers, and most herbs, to mature into seedlings before transferring them outdoors.

 

Although starting most plants from seed is an affordable, viable option, some plants do not transplant well. For example, leafy greens like spinach and lettuce, as well as most root vegetables, are not good candidates for indoor seed starting. These crops can usually handle lower soil temperatures, so you can sow them outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.

Keep Things Nice and Toasty

Place your seedlings in a south-facing window that will provide your plants with at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Your seeds need temperatures of around 70 to 75 degrees to germinate. Usually, the indoor temperature of a room is warm enough. If not, you can always use a heat mat or grow light to provide extra warmth. Most plants will germinate in a week or two.

To help your containers retain heat — and to encourage your seeds to germinate more quickly — you can cover them with a layer of plastic wrap. This will create a miniature greenhouse effect inside the containers, producing seedlings in half the time required otherwise.

Take Care of Your Fragile Seedlings

Water your containers every day, spritzing lightly with a spray bottle. Using a spray bottle instead of a watering can will make sure you’re hydrating your plants instead of drowning them in the soil.

Once your seedlings have grown two sets of leaves, you’re safe to transplant them into pots. This will provide them with more room to grow without becoming root bound. Fill small pots with soil and then gently remove the seedling from its starter container. Whatever you do, don’t damage the stem. Place the seedling in the soil and press down lightly before placing your seedlings back in a sunny location.

Get Ready to Transplant

Although you can technically transplant your seedlings as soon as all danger of a frost has passed, you should wait to do so until you have appropriately hardened them off. This is the process of moving plants outdoors for portions of the day (increasing gradually over time) so they are acclimated to the conditions of the outside world. You need to give your plants plenty of time to adjust to the wind, direct sunlight, and fluctuating temperatures.

Start your plants off on the right foot by putting them outside for just a couple of hours a day. Make sure they’re in a sheltered location and increase their exposure to the outdoors by an hour or two every day.

Ideally, you should plan ahead with your seedlings, so they’re ready to go outside as soon as the weather is favorable. You can determine the best time to start your seeds by looking at your seed packets and counting backward. Often, the packets will tell you when to start seeds inside — no intensive arithmetic required.

Cat Murphy is a gardening and landscaping writer, and outdoor extraordinaire. She enjoys cooking for family and friends and going on long hikes anywhere and everywhere in nature.

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Raised Beds – Pro-Con Fact -check

19 Feb

Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Before we get started, I want to say that I’m a huge fan of permanent and raised beds. They don’t need any exaggerations to be an incredible gardening method, but sometimes that’s exactly what we run into. People start touting the benefits of raised beds and end up airing overeager and possibly even unwitting exaggerations.

There’s actually only a couple benefits specific to raised beds, even versus till systems.


Reduced soil care & maintenance

It applies to any permanent bed: Less area is being as actively worked than a full plot even if we’re essentially tilling our soil. Too, even when we feel we must churn our beds with our rakes and clawed cultivators, that “tilling” is regularly just scuffing the top 2-4” (“shallow cultivation”).

Healthier soil structure and composition

It’s a biggie, although other no-till systems also reap the benefits that come from active, living soils. However, both raised beds and container gardens are still at risk of soil compaction depending on soil fill, planting, and mulching practices.


Throw Most Other Claims Out the Window

Some of them rely on specific types of bounded bed construction and specific soil fill. Some of them are actually a management practice, with no difference in that practice’s contribution between raised beds, other permanent beds, or tilled-plot systems.

“Raised beds limit bending.”

They do, but how much varies greatly. Beds that are only 4-9” tall aren’t saving backs all that much.

“It’s better for kids/pets and reduces pests.”

It depends on height again. It only takes 8-12” to discourage some critters. However, kids’ soccer balls, rodents and rodent-chasing terriers, and Labrador tails are still threats even at 16-24”, slugs don’t care how high you go, and unless it’s lined, mole/shrew invasions are still an issue.

“You only have to amend/fertilize the beds, not a whole plot.”

Fertilizing is based entirely on what we use for fertilizer – finished compost that gets spread across planting spaces or the whole bed/plot, permanent or seasonal/annual composting trenches or tubes, or granules and liquids (or coffee grounds) that are typically applied directly to or around plants, not broadcast.

Amending is only an advantage over tilled plots where the entire garden area is tilled, versus permanent ground-level beds or growers who only till strips with paths between them.

“Less water gets used irrigating because you’re not watering a whole plot, just the beds/plants.”

Nope. I can move around with a hose, fill ollas, or lay drip lines exactly where the plants are for tilled rows and in-ground beds, too, and I see as many people whose sprinklers waste water on pathways with raised beds as with tilled-row gardens.  

“Less water gets used with raised beds, because it doesn’t run off.”

Total nope. Cover crops, mulch, drip lines, and applying compost can negate the irrigation-runoff issues that get attributed to tilled gardens.  

True Con: Raised beds and containers are actually more likely to need watered if they have bottoms roots can’t penetrate, especially when they’re densely planted and aren’t mulched and-or olla-irrigated.

Beds and containers can be very efficient in water use, using specific construction like sub-irrigated planters and beds, and carbon-rich layers such as we see in hügelkultur and African keyholes. However, versus an in-ground plot of the same design, beds and containers dry out faster.

That doesn’t mean more water use, necessarily (although water conservation has as much to do with other practices than beds vs. tilled plots). Most raised beds just aren’t deep enough to keep dense plantings happy. The soil only holds so much at a time, so we have to water more often.



“There’s less weeding.”

It depends entirely on soil source and construction. If the bed doesn’t have a weed barrier at the bottom, weeds will readily grow through 6-12” of soil. Once weeds have started – blown-in, from below, or preexisting in the soil – it’s just as much work to remove them.

(Planting density and mulching practices have far greater effects on weeds and weed-pulling effort.)



 “It’s easier to put up trellises/row covers.”

Only if your raised bed was built with infrastructure for it. Otherwise, raised bed, permanent ground-level bed, or recently-tilled plot row, I’m doing the same work.

*There are some cheats/hacks that make it faster and easier for in-ground beds and tilled plots, too.

“It extends the season.” & “There’s better drainage.

Combo, because the answer is the same: It does, although height factors in there, too. Elevated soil beds warm up and dry out faster (which can admittedly be a draw or loss instead of a win). However, I can push a tiller or tow an ATV attachment that lets me mound beds to warm and drain earlier, too.  

*Fleece and plastic covers usually have equal or greater impact on season extension.

True Con: Raised beds and containers are more vulnerable to nutrient wash-out in heavy rains due to that increased drainage … Unless you have sandy base soil, in which case, raised beds are totally your “best of both worlds” fix for retention and drainage.

Psst … If you do deal with a lot of sand or have a high-heat environment, try a shallow plastic lining and-or use African keyhole, lasagna garden, or hügelkultur fill layers like tree limbs, cardboard, and leaves. They’ll all hold and slow water to give plants more chance at it, but let excess pass through.

“Raised beds grow more per square-foot.”

Nope. Big Ag to backyards, we can till and create the same 30-36” or 40-48” bed surface, fertilize that area just as heavily, and use the same congestion planting that produces more plants per square foot.

“Companion planting is possible with raised beds.”

Same deal: It’s also readily possible in ground-level beds and till systems.

I can even do it full mech … in a single pass down each bed, even, with the right equipment. It takes only an extra 2-15 minutes to fill each hopper with different seed and adjust the drill or drop seeder plates to plant them at their individual density and depths.

With planning, I can even do mid-season replanting around/through the companions, keeping those in place for the full run of my rotations, from beets and cabbage through tomatoes and squash and back to kale and spinach.

Raised Bed “Con” Myths

There’s also a couple of “cons” passed around as all-time gospel about raised beds, too, compared to digging a garden out of the backyard dirt. Usually it’s that “Raised beds are costly/time consuming to set up compared to tilled gardens”and “They’re costly to fill.”

They can be. They don’t have to be.

We can do an elevated raised bed that we mound up out of the surrounding soil, unbounded. (It’ll grow in elevation as we add mulches, compost, and mow/crimp cover crops.)

Bagging neighborhood leaves will produce leaf mold (compost) for us, to serve as either the primary planting media (to be added to annually with mulches and cover crops and more leaf mold) or to top our beds as a rich mulch that will perform a number of fabulous functions.

Construction and filling … Poof, done.

Setup Costs: Same as a tilled bed – Rake (stiff-tined gravel/hay/garden), gloves, & bags

Setup Time: Same as a tilled bed

Caveat: You have to wait for that leaf mold if it’s your planting base or a major amendment. It can take 3-12 months depending on temperature and the amount of microbial life and little critters that were in there to start.

Admittedly, unbounded beds slope at the sides, so we have to be careful as we plant/weed near edges and they’ll need periodic shaping, even a couple of times per season if we grow with high turnover or have lots of hard rains.

*If we want “pretty” or need the boundary, we can use free materials like pallets or even raw branches and logs for bounded beds. Time goes up. Costs don’t.

I am, actually, a fan of raised beds.

I even believe in raised and permanent beds for mid- and large-scale vegetables and some calorie-crop production. However, I also believe in honest assessments.

Too, when we inflate things, they’re easy to pop. Once popped, people are less likely to believe any of the “rest” about that thing or from that source. It’s human nature, and the healthy skepticism is justified at that point.

That’s particularly tragic in this case, because the results from healthy, living soils and the time/labor reductions in managing only the soil we need to work are huge.

They’re bigger yet if we’re interested in self-reliance.

This article wasn’t inspired by the fact that raised beds don’t need the exaggerations to be valuable and viable, though. All the ways we can reap the same benefits, with any production method, at any scale was.

Container gardens on balconies to tilled acreage, they save soil from compaction, provide microbe habitat, reduce irrigation and reduce water waste, help with pest control and nutrient deficiencies, increase disease resistance, and save time and labor.

Especially combined, those practices help us get the most out of our space and resources, regardless of whether we apply them to long, skinny boxes or mounds of elevated soil, or churn whole squares with a tiller or plow. End of Days or daily life, that’s huge, too.

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