Woodchuck Gardening.com


For the past 15 years, I've been giving garden talks at libraries, book stores and community centers throughout Vermont and parts of northern New England. Here are the questions that have come up repeatedly. Some of the answers are long like the one on the most common weeds in the garden. Others are short, like comparing a wheelbarrow to a garden cart. One thing is for sure. I've learned as much as the people who have asked the questions as they have shared their own experiences in the garden patch.

A couple of the "Top Twenty" wander outside the vegetable patch to address topics about invasives like Japanese knotweed and wild parsnips. I include a question on Roundup, a dangerous chemical herbicide used with genetically modified corn and soybean seeds to kill weeds. You can buy Roundup in your local hardware store. The politics of growing food is part of life, including the garden.

* If you want to respond to any these questions and answers, please email me at woodchuck37@hotmail.com.

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Of course, an 8-to-10 foot high fence works but and there is always a but, especially when you leave the gate open or the fence has holes in it. And determined deer have been known to scale tall fences in a single bound.

I have used garlic clips for the past three years in my community garden to repel deer and rabbits. They are made with a concentrated garlic oil that is much stronger than garlic juice. I find them to be effective and the rain does not penetrate the clips. They are sold in garden centers for around $20 for a set of 25 clips. I purchase them at Gardener's Supply. Go online for more information and a picture of the clips. Garden's Alive also has an informative catalog on pest controls.

There is a product that some gardeners swear by from company up north in Canada. It's called Repellex and lasts 10 to 12 weeks. Their Web site is www.repellex.com, or you can call them toll free at 877-737-3548. Repellex sells a number of other garden products, in addition to their deer repellent. The company's Web site quotes a Rutger University study that found Repellex to be twice as effective as 36 other deer repellants. I haven't used this product personally.

When I spoke to Jeanne Prevett of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, she had some great ideas. She told me, "If year after year you try something new but the deer still chomp your chard, you might conclude correctly that "nothing" works. But a little of "everything" just might. Try hanging the aluminum pie plates again, but also suspend old socks stuffed with scraps of strongly scented soaps like Dial or Irish Spring. It's your choice. Surround your garden fence with clear fishing line and attach little jingle bells that tinkle unexpectedly when bumped in the middle of the night."

I have been told by a number of gardeners that the clear fishing line works especially well because the deer can't see it and they end up running into the plastic line. And speaking of tinkling ... - urine sprinkled around the perimeter of your garden also helps - yours or your dogs."

She continues: "Deer are highly suspicious of any changes in their environment. Place a lawn chair in a different spot every day, or leave plastic milk jugs on the ground between the rows. Try hanging those CD ROM computer disks that seem to arrive in the mail every week. They'll rotate in the wind, catching sun and moonlight, casting rainbows all about." Try setting tomato cages over the broccoli and Brussels sprouts (deer favorites) or tying on yarn, feathers, and other wispy things so they'll tickle any nose reaching in for a nibble." Finally she says, "Surprise their taste buds, Sprinkle cayenne here and there on their favorite dishes. Next time, make it garlic powder." Jeanne ends by saying, " Now only if we could get those deer to eat black flies..."

Wendy Coe, a gardener at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden in Burlington plants zinnias, cleomes, nasturtiums, asparagus, and uses clear fishing line as deterrents to deer.


You need to live in the country and have two dogs that live outdoors and love to hunt. They'll keep the coyote's at bay and certainly take care of the woodchucks. See The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening for more on deterring deer and woodchucks.

I have a dilemma when it comes to woodchucks. Woodchucks are something of a fat specialist. Excessive body fat is linked to diabetes and heart disease in us humans, but certain mammals that hibernate need a lot of fat, or they would be dead by spring. Between spring, when a woodchuck emerges, and late fall, when hibernation begins, the woodchuck doubles its weight. If you happen to trap a woodchuck and relocate it, this may doom them, as they will have to spend a lot of time and energy getting established in a new territory. The stress of moving and disruption can result in a loss of fat. And it's clear that fatter woodchuck's have a better chance of survival.

So if you're planning on protecting your garden from the ravages of these mammals - by catching them in a trap and moving them, you may just forgive their ravaging behavior and let them stay. On the other hand, and there's always another hand, you may choose to send them off to an enemy of yours down the road.

Moles and Voles

They are two of the most pernicious garden destroyers. Voles are vegetarians and moles are meat-eaters. Voles love to eat the roots of plants. My good friend, Deborah Stuart of Wentworth, New Hampshire told me she is up in arms over voles. She has used oyster shells to control the voles even though they're pricey. She's also heard that gravel works. Diatameceous Earth (ground up fossils), works but it's not cheap either. Deborah's latest trick is to place a hose down the hole of the vole and turn it on. She told me this works more often than any other technique she's used and is the cheapest of all the techniques.

Whirligigs work to deter moles but not voles even though I've had some friends that say they work and others that say they don't. Go figure. Perhaps, again, two dogs that live outside are the answer.

P.S. I've heard Castor Oil seems to work well. Check it out and let me know.


Hungry grazing rabbits cause damage to tender shoots in the spring garden, and can damage tree bark and shrubs in the winter. They can cause even vegetarians to commit acts of hasenpfeffer. However, trapping or removing rabbits won't stop their destruction of vegetable and ornamental plants. You can control rabbits without toxic chemicals by using powdered fox-urine concentrate. It's non-toxic, and is harmless to pets and children and works on squirrels, skunks, moles and voles. You need to reapply it after a heavy rain.

You can also make a homemade rabbit repellent out of a combination of mint, garlic and eggs: Place one cup of chopped fresh mint leaves, a head of garlic and six eggs in a blender. Spray until it is dripping from the leaves. The garlic and mint act as a taste deterrent and the animal protein from the eggs is repelling to herbivores like rabbits.

You can also erect a 2.5-foot wire mesh fence to keep the critters out. You need to bury at least six inches of the fence underground, in a trench that allows the fence to curve under the soil and move away from the garden. Some rabbit-resistant perennial plants are Irises, oriental poppies, daffodils, day lilies, lambs' ear, and sedum. Let me know if any of these work for you.


I would suggest spreading oyster shells around the plants. Cardboard collars also work. This is an old-time method that has been used for years.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered." I've been looking for the virtues of certain weeds for years, but the search has never borne any fruit for the likes of: Crabgrass, Small Flower Galinsoga (quickweed), Quackgrass and Nutsedge. I don't consider pigweed (red root - Amaranth) or lambsquarter to be weeds as they aren't that difficult to control and they pull out with ease. In fact, the young leaves of lambsquarters are rather tasty and healthy for you.

Perennial weeds not only reproduce from seeds, but also from regenerative vegetative growth - similar to a lily growing from a bulb or a potato from a tuber. Canada thistle and field bindweed grow from extensive creeping and quackgrass, sometimes called, Johnson grass in Vermont, propagates from underground stems called rhizomes.

For effective perennial weed control, timing is everything. Underground bulbs, tubers, roots and rhizomes contain carbohydrate reserves the plants need to grow. Planting cover crops that smother weeds, as well as pulling and hoeing - work best when the plants reserves are low. It may take a couple years of work to really rid of these weeds.


This warm-season annual weed, reproduced by seeds, is also known as fingergrass as you can pull it out with your fingers. Because it has a long germination period, crabgrass can germinate throughout the season.

I don't use harmful chemicals to get rid of it. I use a hand-cultivator to pull it out early in the season. I've seen some gardeners who simply use their hands to remove crabgrass. This is a very inefficient method that takes lot of time and doesn't work that well. Why not use a simple implement, such as a trowel or hand-cultivator to remove weeds?

Crabgrass can cause serious problems in lawns and gardens, even though I don't find it as troubling as quackgrass. On the other hand, it can take over a garden rather quickly. The key is to pull it early and keep up with it when it re-appears. In other words, if you want to win the war, you gotta fight the battles. By the way, in the fall when the plants die back crabgrass leave voids in the lawn.


This pernicious weed also known as "quickweed" and "chickweed" or what some call "gallant soldiers", is an annual weed that has an unfortunate lifecycle: its seeds need no cold or dormant period to thrive. This means you can have many generations of the plants over one growing season. If you pull up one generation of plants, another will follow as there are seeds in the soil ready to sprout. I suggest you use the old "woodchuck" principle of elbow grease.

Mulch also helps, as it will keep some of the weed seeds from sprouting. It will also make those weed seeds that do sprout easier to pull up. You must be vigilant in pulling or hoeing these plants from your garden the minute you see them for if you allow them to flower, they'll drop seeds and within weeks you'll have more plants, and the cycle will follow again and again. The good thing about this plant is that it's easy to pull out and you can eat it.


The Latin name for Quackgrass is a "sudden field of fire." Its also called witchgrass, Johnson grass, and devil grass. The plant is hardy in zone 3 and a native of Europe. It grows from under ground rhizomes to an un-mowed height of one to four feet. Each quackgrass plant produces about 25 seeds. It takes two to three months for a newly germinated plant to develop rhizomes. It's critical to eliminate this noxious weed before it reaches this stage. Never use a rototiller where quackgrass is growing because you'll be propagating thousands of new plants from white rhizome roots.

The "Chuckster" just piped in with, "Why don't you tell everyone how you fight quackgrass?" My response is "that I dig it up by hand with a trowel. I know, that's a lot of work, but I like to crawl around on the ground - and it works. I dig out the long rhizomes and let them dry in the sun. Then I compost the weeds. It takes me about two years to really disturb quackgrass enough so they aren't a problem. They show up in my neighbors gardens and unfortunately spread over to mine." You can also use a long-handled fork to turn over the soil. This method will lift the quackgrass up from the soil."

You can also plant a cover crop that will smother quackgrass. A rotation of winter rye and crown vetch followed by buckwheat the next year is a good way to clear an area of quackgrass and will add organic matter to the soil. Mulch can be used to smoother quackgrass, but it seems that the quackgrass finds a way to escape.

Winter rye produces several compounds in its plant tissues that releases biochemicals that inhibit the germination and growth of weed seeds. Allelopathy is the biological phenomenon by which an organism produces these biochemicals. Winter rye also has the ability to smoother weeds in the garden. However allelopathic compounds can also suppress the germination of small seeded vegetable crops if they are planted shortly after the incorporation of rye into the soil. Hmm! Large seeded crops are rarely affected.


Nutsedge (aka nutgrass) is a common weed in many home gardens. It's distinctive and very easy to identify. The stems are erect and

triangular-shaped and yellow-green in color. They remind me in some ways of early garlic even though the leaves are not the same. The shallow, fibrous root system often produces nut-like tubers, which are underground food storage organs. Each of the tubers can germinate and produce new plants, which can produce rhizomes that can give rise to additional plants.

Nutsedge is a warm-season perennial sedge, not a grass, even though it resembles grass. As the soil warms up during early summer, new plants emerge from the germination of tubers and seeds produced by plants from previous years.

You can pull them out Nutsedge by hand just as they are coming out of the soil, but you must remove the entire plant. It's easier to remove these weeds if the soil is damp. Pulling mature plants is more difficult because the plants will often break off which will allow for regrowth and tuber development. You must check often for regrowth. I would use a long-handled fork or trowel to lift the weed out of the soil. Let the weeds bake in the sun for a few days before composting them. If they have mature seeds, compost them separately in a hot, moist pile before using this compost in the garden.

Some gardeners use chemical herbicides for weed control. I've heard of organic folks who get rid of it by "solarizing" the infected area. Though you will have to take the area out of production for several months, this is a solution for killing weeds as well as plant-damaging bacteria, fungi, nematodes and insects. Here's how:

Using clear plastic to solarize the soil, first remove weeds, plants, and crop debris from the area. Then wet the soil, because moisture will help the heat to penetrate the ground. Place clear plastic sheeting tightly over the soil. Anchor the plastic down and leave in place for a month in the heat of summer. You'll see no further growth under the plastic. Before planting, add compost Source: Using Clear Plastic, Mother Earth News, Carolyn Schretzmann-Jebally June/July 2012


The woman in a village I visited cleaned their clothes on a large table and kept them white by using the following process. They first soaped the clothes down with soap and water and placed them on a large table in the hot summer sun. Then they put a large piece of plastic over the clothes and let them cook. The clothes were the cleanest and whitest I had ever seen. The "Chuckster" just piped in with, "What does this have to do with anything." My answer: "not much, but I liked the story."

* In a great book, called, Weeds and What They Tell Us, by famed Biodynamic pioneer, Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, the author describes in detail what specific weeds reveal about the acidity, drainage, texture, organic matter, and mineral deficiencies or surpluses in the soil. Weeds want to tell a story. They read the condition of the soil. For example, buttercups tell us the soil is acidic. Stinging nettle represents a place where animals and humans associated with one another, like near a barn. The soil around nettles is rich and fertile.

Organic Herbicides

Organic herbicides contain natural ingredients to control weeds without toxic chemicals. Those that contain (eugenol) provide the best control of broadleaf weeds. Products containing acidic acid (vinegar), often in combination with citric acid, supposedly do well on young grasses. Some products contain clove oil and acetic acid. These organic herbicides work best on young weeds and provide a temporary setback to well-rooted weeds. It's best to spray on dry, still days. Too much spraying can lower the soil's pH, making it more acidic. Some folks use hot, boiling water to kill weeds on brick and stone walkways.

One fellow gardener used 50 pounds of cornmeal and dried molasses on their lawn. You can get dried molasses from a food store. It takes a short time to cover the whole damn lawn and it smells good.

There are two other products on the market. One contains corn gluten and the other vinegar and lemon juice. From what I've learned (I've never used them myself), they can be used in the spring on lawns to deal with weeds. They don't kill the weeds. What they do is keep the new weed seeds from germinating. The vinegar solution can be used on walkways in spring for controlling treating undesirable weeds. You can also use corn gluten mix. The timing is critical in using these products. Please let me know if it works as I'm not sure how effective they are. They probably need to be used more than once.

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Roundup, America's favorite chemical weed killer, can be purchased at your local hardware store. I'm sure you've seen those perfect lawn commercials on television in the spring. They come with a perfect-looking guy holding his container of Roundup and a sprayer. Roundup is a dangerous herbicide that should never be used in the garden or anywhere for that matter. I'll explain further.

Most commercial corn and soybeans are now grown with genetically modified seeds along with it sister companion, the herbicide Roundup. There are legitimate concerns when it comes to GMO's - Genetically Modified Organisms. Roundup, the pesticide that goes hand-in-hand with genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans, kills weeds but not the corn or soybeans, which have been altered in gene-splicing laboratories. Sales of these co-called "Round-Ready crop seeds have doubled in the last five years. Forty percent of surveyed farmers reported that Roundup resistant weeds increased by 34 percent from one year to the next, meaning they have to apply even more Roundup the next planting season.

Monsanto claims that Roundup-Ready GMO crops like field corn and soybeans would require fewer doses of the herbicide, but a new 16-year study indicates, that in fact, the opposite is true. Superweeds have sprouted in GMO corn and soybean fields, so more Roundup is being used to combat them. (88 percent of corn and 93 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. comes from GMO seeds.)

Sweet Corn

Unbeknownst to the majority of consumers, in the summer of 2012 large quantities of GMO sweet corn appeared on grocery shelves and roadside produce stands. In 2011, Monsanto announced plans to grow GMO sweet corn on 250,000 acres, roughly accounting for 40 percent of the sweet corn market. The sweet corn is being used for frozen and canned corn products, and is also available fresh across the country. The GMO os genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant (Roundup Ready0 and to produce its own insecticide (Bt Toxin). Bt stands for bacillus thuringiensis.

The Dangers of Roundup

High levels of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, are being found in breast milk. Rats fed a diet of GMO corn or exposed to Monsanto's top weed killer Roundup Ready, died younger than rats fed a standard diet. Rootworms in corn are becoming a problem in GMO crops along with concerns over superbugs, serious nutrient deficiencies in the soil and liver problems in fish from field runoff. These are all connected to Roundup.

Side Notes: Monarch Butterflies

In 2014, it was reported that the numbers of monarch butterflies was rapidly dwindling due to the herbicide Roundup being sprayed in the vicinity of milkweed from GMO corn, soybeans and cotton. USDA scientists have estimated that only 33 million monarchs remain - a 90 percent drop across North America.

Milkweed is one of the primary sources of food for monarch butterflies. The loss of milkweed is having a devastating effect on the life cycles of these large, fragile orange-and-black butterflies, which migrate through the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It takes several generations of the insect to make the round trip because each monarch only lives a few weeks in the summer. California's monarch population has fallen an estimated 80 percent over the last 15 years of urbanization, drought, weed abatement programs, pesticides - which include herbicides.

The larvae (caterpillars) eat only milkweed. The juice from the milkweed makes their bodies poisonous to predators. Monarch's have straw-like tongues they use to suck up food and juice. The adult butterflies feed on nectar, water and even liquids from fruits we consume like watermelons and bananas. They also feed on Indian hemp, wild carrot, alfalfa, and red clover, the Vermont state flower. The monarch is like the "Canary in the Coal Mine." If it's destroyed, it could be the beginning of the demise for many wildflowers. Lady Bugs are also being destroyed by the spraying of Roundup according to 2014 news reports. So folks, it's all connected. Should I go on?

The American Agriculturist reported on July 22, 2014 that farmers should plant milkweeds for Monarch butterflies. For decades, farmers have pulled, whacked and sprayed to get rid of milkweeds.

The Ernst Conservation has planted 120,000 acres of habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. You can order milkweed seeds through the Xerces national directory of seed vendors.

Is there any danger from the chemical glyphosate in the popular herbicides Roundup and Touchdown, another Monsanto product? According to tests done in Denmark and Greenland by the Geological Institute of those countries, glyphosate is sieving down through the soil and polluting the ground water at a rate five times more than is allowed for drinking water. It was previously believed that bacteria in the soil broke down glyphosate before it reached the groundwater.

The World According to Monsanto

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, is famous for the organic children's garden at the White House, as well as speaking out against childhood obesity and advocating for better nutrition in the schools. When Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds in Wolcott sent some organic seeds to her for the White House Children's Garden, Monsanto, the world's leading biotech seed company, sent a letter of protest to the First Lady.

In order to understand more about Monsanto, you need to go to California where there was a citizens ballot initiative voted on in November of 2012, called Proposition 37. It's was basically a right to know law. Prop 37 required the labeling of all food products containing genetically engineered ingredients, commonly called GMO's.

A huge war chest of over $30 million dollars was raised to defeat California's Proposition 37. Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Dupont - the same transnational corporations that brought us DDT and Agent Orange along - joined with major food processors like General Mills, Nestle, General Foods and CocaCola contributed to kill Prop 37. They filled the airwaves in an effort to persuade voters into thinking that genetic labeling of foods is a bad idea. The opposition - including Organic Valley and others raised only $3 million. Other major organic industry giants remained silent including Earth's Best Baby foods, which started in Vermont. Prop 37 was defeated as it was in Washington State in 2013 due to large infusions of money from the global food corporations.

Vermont tabled a similar bill as Prop 37 in 2011 because its representatives wanted to wait on the vote in California. By 2013, 37 GE labeling bills had been introduced in 26 states, including Vermont. Monsanto threatened to take the Green Mountain State to court. On April 16, 2014, Vermont passed H.112. the country's first no-string law requiring the labeling of GMO's in our food. The legal question will be one of free speech under the constitution's first amendment. Monsanto and food corporations have begun the legal process of taking Vermont to court. (Summer 2014) The proposed law would take effect in July 2016. Connecticut and Maine are waiting to see how Vermont proceeds in its "Right to Know" law. Stay tuned.

Lance Harvell, a republican state representative from Maine said, "God gave the seed to the earth and fruit to the tree. Notice it didn't say he granted Monsanto a patent."

I've heard it said before that families that sit down together for an evening meal have lots to talk about. When I was having supper with friends, the young daughter asked the question, "Why don't we have a right to know what's in our food." I wasn't surprised knowing how inquisitive she was and that she likes to ask questions. The fact is that her question is being asked today by many people across the country.

80 percent of the processed food sold in Vermont is a product of modern genetic engineering. An overwhelming majority of registered voters in the state want to know which 80 percent, according to an opinion poll in Vermont. The poll results show 79 percent of respondents support a law requiring the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

Earlier surveys suggest that 90 percent of consumers in the U.S. want GMO labeling law. Eighty percent of non-organic processed food on US grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients, mostly corn, canola, and soybeans. Today, nearly 50 countries around the world inform their citizens with simple labels if the food they eat contains GMO ingredients. This includes all of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Australia and even India.

In order to understand the question of just what's in our food, it's necessary to go back in time and study the history of the bio-tech giant, Monsanto. In the early days, Monsanto and Dow Chemical helped pioneer such toxic chemicals as DDT, PCB's, and Agent Orange (Agent Orange was the chemical defoliant used during the Vietnam War). Monsanto decided to diversify its portfolio by attempting control seed production and the world's food supply in the U.S. and the world. Monsanto seed covers 40 percent of America's crop acres with genetically modified seeds of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton and sugar beets. Monsanto's plan is to bring apples, alfalfa, tomatoes, salmon, and wheat onto the playing field.

Monsanto knew it needed more than genetically modified seeds to squeeze out competitors, so it began buying out the biggest seed businesses to the tune of $12 billion. The result was that seed prices soared. Between 1995 and 2001, the cost of soybeans increased 325 percent. A study by Charles Benbrock, a research professor at Washington State University, found that increasing seed prices and pesticide costs were lowering farm incomes.

While genetically modified seeds cost the farmer more, studies by the Union of Concerned Scientists have found only minimal increases in yield. Source: GM Watch daily, May 14, 2003.

Just like the young daughter asked at the dinner table - why don't we have a right to know what's in our food? This is called kitchen table democracy in action. As stated earlier, most Americans support for the labeling of genetically modified foods. Wazzup? The battle goes on.

*The Vermont non-profit educational group - VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Rural Vermont, an advocacy group, have championed the cause for the labeling of genetically modified foods.

*Most of the soybean and corn crops grown in Vermont to feed dairy cows comes from GMO seeds and Roundup. Atrazine, another herbicide, has been used to kill weeds in non-GMO corn fields for many years. Atrazine is used to prevent pre and post-emergent broadleaf weeds. As of 2001, atrazine was the most commonly detected pesticide contaminating drinking water in the U.S. The safety of atrazine remains controversial, especially in its connection to cancer, diseases of the nervous system, and genital birth defects.

*Monsanto is in the process of developing GMO tomatoes, potatoes apples, and salmon.

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What does compost do for health of the soil? Compost is nature's way of recycling. From the earth and back to the earth. Compost, especially composted animal manure adds nutrients, feeds the soil life (the microbiological activity in the soil), and helps to create the right balance of bacteria, fungus and microorganisms.

The greater the microbiological activity in the soil, the greater the amount of carbon from carbon dioxide that can be sequestered in the soil. If the whole country went organic, we could sequester one hell of a lot of carbon dioxide - almost half.

Organic soils have much more microbiological activity than soils treated with commercial water-soluble chemical fertilizer. Biodynamic soils have even more microbiological activity than organic soils. (See below under biodynamics for why this is true.)

Compost provides greater water holding capacity in the soil. It also provides natural antibiotics that which helps to prevent diseases. It also helps to maintain and even increase the organic matter content of the soil. The average organic matter content in the soil is about three to four percent, depending on whether the soil is made up of clay, sand, or silt, or in combination of these three. When you combine compost with grasses and nitrogen-fixing legumes, such as clover and alfalfa, you can increase the organic matter content of the soil. The prairie where the buffalo once roamed had a high organic matter content due to the heavy sod and manure from the bison.

Compost and green manure provide humus to the soil. Humus is the brown and black organic substance consisting of partially or wholly decayed partially decayed vegetable and animal matter, which provide nutrients to the plants and organic matter. If I was to go to Mars, I would take a bucket of composted manure. One thing's for sure: The healthier the soil, the healthier your food and the healthier your health.

Why does my homemade compost pile just sit there?

It probably is either too wet or there isn't enough nitrogen in the pile. And then there are those darn plastic compost bins. Many urban gardeners use them. You can keep the smell down in them with by adding wood ashes, and or lime and/or grass and hay mulch to soak up the liquids. The other reasons compost piles don't work is that they either aren't watered properly or have an incorrect C/N ratio. C stands for carbon, which comes from leaves, plants, and hay mulch. N stands for nitrogen, which is made up of cow manure, fresh grass clippings and kitchen scraps. Please don't put meat scraps into your backyard compost pile as this will attract animals.

A good ratio is 12 parts C to 1 part N, but then it depends on the quality of the materials. The more animal manure you add to the compost pile, the better the quality of the compost, especially when it comes to nitrogen. Here are some other tips: Incorporate phosphorous from bones for root growth, calcium from feathers and bones for stem growth, potassium from wood ashes for flower and fruit growth; and food waste and other organic materials for micro-nutrients.. Many of these materials come from farm-yard composting.

Compost Bins

In my estimation, the advantage of a plastic compost bin is that you have a place to place your kitchen scraps where animals cannot get into the bin. And in the cold winter months, you have a place to store your kitchen scraps. On the other hand, I have seen skunks and raccoons tear holes in the bins and in some cases, remove the tops. Raccoons have amazing dexterity in their paws. I've seen them open up a jar of peanut butter. It's best to add lime and or wood ashes to the bins as this will help to keep animals away and help to stabilize and sweeten the compost.

Use a compost and mulch fork for turning piles or a compost aerating tool or a tool to mix and aerate compost. These tools have wings that fold flat against a shaft for easy insertion, but unfold when pulled out again, providing lift and a stirring action. This assists oxidation, decomposition and helps to eliminate odors. If you have a bin where you can take the cover off, use a garden fork to dig down and turn the pile.

There are as many types of compost bins as there are compost.

Everywhere you look you see new compost companies and different kinds of compost bin made from plastic, wood and wire. A simple wire compost container can be made from ten feet of wire fencing (for a three-foot bin, some zip ties, and wire cutters. Lay the fencing on the ground to make it more pliable. Cut the cross wires flush so there are not sharp ends sticking out and shape the fencing into a round bin. Then fasten the ends together with zip ties and, anchor the wires firmly together in the ground. A sturdier bin can be made from wood and wire. You can also make a simple bin from wooden pallets, adding hinges to one of the pallets as the front door. You can add on wire fencing to keep the critters out.

The "Chuckster" just chimed in with, "Why don't you tell everyone how you plan on dying and using your remains as compost." "Okay, here she goes. Well, there I am lying on an incline plane waiting to croak and slide down into a grave. I call it Ron's Rube Goldberg Method. When I die, the change in weight will lighten my load and I'll end up in a large hole - pre dug of course. The movement will set off levers and will dump soil and grass clippings over me along with some flower seeds. Before you know it I'll be pushing up daisies."

Urine Luck

Can I put human urine in my compost pile or share it with others? Are you looking for a new source of fertilizer. Urine in luck. The Rich Earth Institute (REI) of Brattleboro collected 3,000 gallons of urine from 350 people in 2012. The REI Urine Brigade, made up of community members solicited volunteers throughout the community. Rebecca Rueter, a board member of Rich Earth invited members of the Brattleboro Women's Chorus to contribute.

Storage takes place in large receptacles along with lively conversations. The "ick' factor of collecting urine is a potential barrier for some folks, but many people seem willing to adopt new urine diverting technologies. Urine donors did not have access to urine diverting toilets and so they had to create simple devices to collect and deliver the urine. In the future, there will be toilets that separate the "pee" from the poop. Contact REI for more info.

On June 10, 2012, 170 volunteers provided and recycled 600 gallons of urine to Fair Winds Farm. The farmer, Jay Bailey, is using his farmland as a test site. The urine is collected, transported, sanitized and applied as fertilizer to the hay field. The project expanded to 3,000 gallons in the summer of 2013. The study found that the urine provided the same amount of fertilizer as synthetic chemical fertilizers to the strips of farmland.

Human urine contains large quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium more than human manure. Extracting nutrient-laden urine from our wastewater stream could greatly reduce potable water consumption as well as alleviate pollution to our waterways. It will also create a source of local, inexpensive and abundant fertilizer.

Since November of 2013, I have been collecting about two quarts of urine each day and depositing it in my compost pile. When I had a farm in Saxton's River in the 1970s, I had a two-seater outhouse that I used extensively and mixed the ingredients into my windrows of animal compost and organic matter. I know of families that had three-seaters.

- The average human produces 8 pounds of nitrogen and 1 pound of phosphorous in their urine each year.

- Americans produce 30 billion gallons of urine annually and use 1.2 trillion gallons of drinkable water each year to flush it away - that's or 4,000 gallons per person.

- Urine contains over 5,000 grams of fertilizer per person, enough to grow all the vegetables one needs for a year.

* For photo's of REI, go to the Brattleboro Reformer for photo's of the Rich Earth Institute. REI received the first USDA grant of its kind in the U.S.

Other Compost Tips:

I'm told it's good to layer the greens (nitrogen) with fresh grass and manure, and the browns (carbon) with hay mulch and leaves - in the compost pile. I don't have the time to layer. I just throw it all in together in one big heap in my backyard compost pile.

I turn my pile once during its lifetime. Commercial compost operations turn their piles a number of times, which is one way of loosing some of the nutrients in the pile. I guess you can turn your pile twice or maybe not at all if its not possible. In most cases, it takes from six months to a year for the pile to break down into usable compost.

Piles can be too dry, too wet, too green or too brown. Balance it out with water if too dry, add hay if too wet or too green and add fresh grass clipping and/or manure if too brown. If it gets too hot, you'll smell the ammonia, so open it up. If it just sits there and doesn't cook, it need some nitrogen in the form of manure or grass clippings. You can always add mix fish and seaweed concentrate with water to get it cookin' as well. By the way, you more you do it, the more you'll learn.

Let's end with the question - How much of the food that we buy ends up in the landfill? The answer is between 30 to 40 percent. A typical household wastes about 475 pounds of food each year. Most of that could be composted. Compost reduces the pressure on landfills and could reclaim nutrients that would otherwise be wasted. It's estimated that 16,000 acres of vegetables could be grown on Vermont fields if most of the food waste going to landfills would be composted.

Vermont enacted Act 148, a universal recycling law that mandates the diversion of organic wastes and recyclable materials from ending up in landfills. By 2020, all food scraps, leaf and yard debris, and recyclables from households and institutions alike must be diverted to a certified facility that will compost or process them.

* See more on composting in The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening. In the book, I call compost, Black Gold and include lots of information on composting, including the Biodynamic herbal/animal preparations used to inoculate the piles. I also include material on how there is a world of difference between compost that has a pleasant aroma and a crumbly structure and a poor compost that is stinky and messy. Check it out.

* There is a must-see film called, "Dirt." This insightful and timely film tells the story of the glorious and unappreciated material beneath our feet. It takes a look into the history and current state of living organic matter that we come from and will later return to. The film will make you want to get dirty.

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Canning and Freezing Tips

I took a canning workshop by Liana Krissoff on soft fruits and berries called Canning - A New Generation. I want to share what I learned. Putting Food By is just as important as Food Preparation and Growing Food. They are what I call, the "big three."
  • Make sure and check out the new Ball Blue Canning Book.
  • Add a little vinegar to tomatoes as tomatoes are not as acidic as they once were.
  • Alar is not used anymore.
  • Use chopsticks to get rid of bubbles in canning jars.
  • Don't screw the lid too tightly and only use new lids.
  • Listen for the pop of the lid.
  • The lid will sound dull when you tap it.
  • Pectin comes from sour apples. With pectin, you can use less fruit.
  • Be very precise when making jams and jellies.

I decided to purchase a Vacuum Sealer for $75. I've found it's okay for breads, meat, chicken, and turkey, but not for wet vegetables. You need to purchase special bags with the Vacuum Sealer. You can use freezer bags, but not zip lock bags. If you don't want to put out the gelt for a Vacuum Sealer, you can use the old "woodchuck" method of using a straw to take out the air in the freezer bags.

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  • Do a soil test on the soil in the fall. You may need to add lime or wood ashes to sweeten the soil. Spread compost on the soil. Use organic rock powders to feed the soil in the fall if needed.
  • Remove old berry canes and deadhead perennials.
  • Clean up the garden and rake up all the leaves and brush and place them into the compost pile or place some of the leaves in the beds. I've seen earthworms actually pull them down into the soil for a meal. The leaves will break down easier if you run the grass mower over them. My mower runs on electricity. I last time I mow grass for the year, I leave it three inches high and mow the leaves as the same time.
  • It's also critical to clean up debris from the home orchard especially apples and their leaves, which contain the scab fungus.
  • See Fruits for the Home Orchard for more information on cleaning up the home orchard.
  • See below for using cover crops in the fall.
  • See My Garden Journal during the month of October for more information on "Putting the Garden to Bed."
  • See "The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening" on more ways of "Putting the Garden to Bed."

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Fall is a good time to prepare the garden for spring. Add compost and sew cover crops such as winter rye, buckwheat and oats. Plant the winter rye in late September so that the grass can get a head start. You can plant it even before you harvest all the vegetables in your garden, one row or bed at a time. Winter Rye will survive the winter and will need to be turned and tilled into the soil come spring. If not, it will grow rather tall and you'll have a crop of rye grain. I've left a patch or two to grow out in the garden and it makes a lovely, tall grass that turns brown in the late summer. You can use the grains of the rye to bake breads if you have a way of grinding the grain. One of my favorite breads is a sour-dough rye.

Oats is a favorite cover crop because you can sow it in the fall and it will grow quite luxuriously until winter kill. What's left leaves a thick mat of roots and plant material that will be easy to turn into the soil in the spring. Oats won't add much nitrogen to the soil, but will add organic matter and improve soil structure.

Moreover, oat roots will help pull up nutrients from deeper in the soil for next year's crops.

Johnny's Selected Seeds sells a fall green manure mix comprised of winter rye, field peas, ryegrass, crimson clover, and hairy vetch.

This mix, best planted in early September, provides winter erosion control. The peas, clover, and ryegrass will die over the winter and provide organic matter and soil cover. The hairy vetch and winter rye will regrow in the spring to provide nutrients for crops. Hairy vetch is a legume like clover that adds nitrogen to the soil.

Johnny's also sells a spring green manure mix made up of field peas, oats and hairy vetch, which can be sown in the spring and tilled in anytime it grows a bit. Mid-and-late summer sowings may be left to winter over and the vetch allowed to regrow some in the spring.

For many years, I've been planting buckwheat, annual rye and oats as green manures during the summer and fall. They all die back once the hard frosts come. Annual ryegrass is a fast grower and provides "quick green grass" and is also a good cover crop. Buckwheat is a lovely cover plant that the bees love. Oats also grow fast and add organic matter to the soil just like the other green manures.

In the fall, I've grown winter rye. Winter rye will grow quickly in the spring if sown in the fall. I wouldn't let it get taller than six inches if you plan to plant seeds and plants in the summer. Winter rye takes time to break down in the spring, so you need to turn it over and let it break down, hoe the clods, rake out the grass and roots, and prepare a garden bed. I take some of the roots and grass that haven't broken down and put them in the compost pile. Once you turn the rye over with a fork or spade, you'll need to wait at least 2 weeks before preparing the soil for planting. Winter rye can have what is called, an allopathic effect on weeds and plants, meaning it can inhibit the germination of small seeds.

Winter rye produces several compounds in its plant tissue that releases biochemicals that inhibit the germination and growth of weed seeds. Allelopathy is the biological phenomenon by which an organism produces these biochemicals. Winter rye also has the ability to smother weeds in the garden, similar to other cover crops.

However allelopathic compounds can also suppress the germination of small seeded vegetable crops if they are planted shortly after the incorporation of rye into the soil. Large-seeded crops are rarely affected. You can also use vetch and oats as cover crops; the oats will die back since they have less plant residue to deal with.

Pacific gold mustard is fast-growing and helpful for controlling nematodes and soil fungi. Other green manures are sudangrass, which is good for weed suppression, Oilseed radish, which alleviates soil compaction, and Idagold mustard, which also suppresses weed growth.

* See question on Weeds in the garden for allopathic principles of weed suppression from winter rye.

Side Notes:

P.S. The difference between the cover crops and green manures is negligible as they both replenish and maintain healthy soil. It comes to a matter of emphasis. Cover crops keep the focus on protecting the soil from erosion. With green manures, the emphasis is on adding organic matter and sometimes nitrogen to the soil, but cover crops may also do the same. The deeper and more lush the cover crops/green manures, the more the organic matter. They also suppress weeds by starving them.

Composted animal manures, cover crops and green manures hold the soil together and protect from wind and water erosion. Both return organic matter to the soil. The decomposing plant material provides food for trillions of microorganisms, which collectively digest this organic matter into a substance called humus. Humus is light and fluffy and has a pleasant smell. Its gummy quality helps to bind the soil particles together into what are called aggregates. A soil rich in humus has good soil structure or tilth.

Humus also absorbs and retains water and holds onto nutrients for the plants to use. Without a good supply of humus, these nutrients can be lost (leached out) from the soil. The more humus the better. The best way to add organic matter is with a combination of cover crops/green manures and composted animal manures. Source: Humus and Cover Crops, Hudson Valley Issue 53, Keith Steart

Compost or what I call Black Gold plus cover crops make an ideal combination for adding organic matter to the soil and suppressing weeds. Some gardeners leave their mulch and vegetable on the surface of the soil. See the Lasagna method down below.

The 19th Annual Cover Crop and Soil Health Conference reported in November of 2013 in Holtwood, Pennsylvania that a 20 year cover cropping/no-till experiment resulted in the formation of new soil overlaying the topsoil. Other experiments gave the same results. Brendon Rockey of Maine runs Rockey Farms, which specializes in incorporating multi-species cover crops and legumes into his potato crop. Brendon said, "We lost the art that our grandfathers and their fathers knew - and now we are relearning that." The growing movement of cover cropping and reduced tillage to "almost organic" is significant in terms of less herbicide and fertilizer use.

Will Brinton of Woods End Lab in Maine explained to the Holtwood audience that soil testing has traditionally relied on available nutrients, but now is the time to include biological soil functions. Today, commercial farming is dependent on heavy use of chemical fertilizers. Many farmers at the conference gave testimony about picking up 30 pounds of extra nitrogen due to cover crops with boosts in yields of an extra 5-8 bushels of potatoes. Woods End has developed the Solvita tests which include biological soil functions, soil respiration, compost maturity, ammonia emissions, and grain spoilage.

Brinton began his work in the 1980s. Woods End does testing of composts all over the country. Brinton, an old friend, is considered by many to be the "Compost King" in the U.S. He estimates that only 20 percent of commercial compost do what they claim - the reason being too much turning and poor quality materials. Check out his Website at Woods End Lab in Maine.

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What is the difference between a "raised bed" and a "row" cropping system?

For me, it's easier to grow some vegetables in raised beds and others in long rows. I have two 30-by-foot 30 no-till plots at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden in the Intervale in Burlington, Vermont. This means I dig the soil by hand versus using any mechanical means of tillage. One of the no- till plots is made up of "raised beds" and the other is "row" cropped. The "raised beds" are five feet wide and seven feet long. I grow lettuce, spinach, and other greens, as well as basil, garlic, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, summer squash, onions and berry plants in the beds. The width is just right for me as I'm able to reach across and cultivate and weed the beds from both sides.

The other no-till plot is made of long "rows" of root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. The "rows" are easy to weed by hand and cultivate with a hoe. I can, for example, hill the carrots by simply walking along the row and heeling the roots with a hoe. This would be harder to do in a "raised bed."

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I just read an article in a Vermont alternative newspaper, Seven Days, called Endless Summer. I was surprised that the information provided in the article extolled the virtues of hydroponics. I won't mention the name of the farming operation.

Most hydroponic operations use large amounts of chemical fertilizers in water to grow the plants without using soil. Some operations use liquid manure and seaweed/fish emulsion solutions. In my opinion, the use of water-soluble solutions - organic or chemical - to grow plants is questionable in terms of the health of the plant, us humans, and the planet.

*Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in nutrient solution. They can also be grown in an inert solution, such as perlite, gravel, minerals, clay pebbles or coconut husk. When the minerals dissolve in water, plant roots are able to absorb them and the plants grow. SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA

I think by now you know I have a bias. I've been an organic gardener for over 40 years and a garden writer. I prefer to grow my plants the old "el natural" way - that is, in soil with compost, rock powders and green manures. When I harvest my crinkly lettuce and spinach, I cut off the dirty roots and throw them in the compost pile. My greens are not silky and soft and perfect, but crinkly with lots of taste and perhaps a little grit.

I don't grow my fall plants in large, heated greenhouses, but in what some call "Woodchuck" greenhouses or cold frames. Large greenhouses are artificial environments where you'll never get the full taste of a sun-ripened tomato that you do out in the fields. The plants may look perfect using hydroponics, but that's about all. As they say in "Woodchuck" land, "Give us this day, our daily illusion." By the way, I don't need to have a hydroponic localvore salad from a greenhouse every other week while the snow is flying about, but will suffice with shredded beets, carrots and cabbage.

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If I had to choose my top five tools, it would a long-handed pointed shovel, hoe, rake, scuffle hoe and electric powered weed whacker.


Garden hoes were originally made from sticks, antlers, bones and stone. They vary in shapes and sizes and certainly in cost. A cheap hoe won't last - it will break. I can't tell you how many times. I like long-handled hoes because they cause less strain on my back. On the other hand, I like to use a short handled hoe when I am on my knees hoeing a raised bed as its easier to hill around the plants. I also have a short handled cultivator with tines to get rid of the weeds.

A sharp scuffle hoe works wonders on weeds, especially if you move the blade back and forth through the weeds instead of chopping. It cuts the weeds both on the push and pull cuts off weeds just below the soil line and it's easier on your back. Diamond or triangle hoes slice through weeds on all sides. These hoes are sharp so be careful. The stirrup hoe looks like a scuffle hoe on a saddle. They also work well and are lightweight.

The traditional American garden hoe is called a draw hoe because it cuts only on the pull. A well sharpened draw hoe about six inches wide is used to dislodge weeds, dig and mound dirt. For smaller gardens use one that is four inches wide.

The collinear lightweight hoe has thin, sharp blades that shave down young weeds and can get in between plants. They are good for onions and young lettuce seedlings. Field or grub hoes are heavier. They work best on larger weeds like on burdock, thistles and dock. There are other hoes such as Japanese draw hoes in a half-moon shape and circle hoes.

I've had the same hoes for over ten years. I sharpen them with a hand file or whetstone. I sand the wood now and then and oil the handles with linseed oil. Canola will work in a pinch.


I use a long handled pointed shovel. The handles come in wood, metal and fiberglass. The more you pay, the better they work. Fiberglass shovels break less than wooden ones.


I use a standard long handled rake. I use the back side for smoothing the soil and the front side for raking. And then there are garden spades, garden forks, edging tools, hand-tools for cultivating, trowels, dibbles or planting sticks, pruning shears and loppers.

Weed Whacker

One of my favorite new tools is an electric-powered weed whacker. It's not as powerful as a gas-powered weed whacker but works just fine in my small yard and garden and Anna's yard. I can use it for about 15 minutes before it needs to be re-charged. And it's not noisy.

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Mulch is a layer of organic material applied to the surface of the soil. There are many kinds of mulches - from grass clippings, peat moss, hay, straw, newspaper, cardboard, burlap, small stones, shredded leaves, tree bark, and pine needles. Some are free and others cost a lot of gelt. Some mulches are not organic, such as black and red plastics and landscape fabrics. (Red plastic is used to grow tomatoes.)

Mulches inhibit weed germination and growth. Of course, if your hay mulch is full of weed seeds - which many are, you gotta contend with that problem. Mulches hold soil moisture but it's critical that you don't lay it down until mid-June in the vegetable garden when the soil begins to warm up. Otherwise it will hold the coldness in the soil and the plants will grow slowly. On the other hand, spring mulch is best for pansies and permanent plantings, such as trees and shrubs.

When it comes to choosing and using the ideal mulch, timing is everything. Mulch applied at the wrong time in spring may actually slow the growth of certain plants as mentioned in the previous paragraph. If applied at the wrong time in winter, mice may overwinter in the mulch and munch on the bark or plant roots.

Mulches moderate soil temperature and fluctuations and are especially useful in colder areas because it protects roots from winter cold. During the summer, mulches help to keep plant roots cooler. They also add a little bit of soil nutrients depending on the kind of mulch you use.

Types of Mulches

Wood and bark chips - This type of mulch looks good and breaks down slowly. Don't apply it too heavily - especially around trees as the tree roots need to breathe and rodents love to hide in the mulch and can damage the trees. Keep mulches away from the base of the tree - do not mound it up around the tree.

Landscape fabrics used around trees and shrubs or on pathways between beds can use as a base mulch and then topped with layer of a natural mulch, such as wood chips. The two together will provide more protection against weeds that either one along. Wet newspapers also can be layered around new plantings and then covered with a top mulch.

Grass clippings

These are readily available, cheap and full of nutrients. Don't use grass that's been sprayed with weed killers like Roundup or heavy nitrogen chemical fertilizers. Don't apply it too thickly as it can turn slimy. You can always add it to compost piles or make a grass and weed tea in a barrel. Try to use grass clippings that's haven't gone to seed if possible.

Decaying leaves

They're used best ground up - for example, after being run over with a lawn mower or composted for a couple of years. I know of one fine Vermont nursery, Cady's Falls, that uses shredded leaves as their main mulch in their perennial beds. Ground-up leaves are plentiful, cheap and even look good.

I love to use a pine-needle mulch in the fall on my garden paths between the cold frames in my front yard. They add fall colors to the paths. I use burlap bags that are given out free from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters over the paths in my no-till community gardens. Its best to first lay down newspapers and cardboard and then cover with burlap bags. The weeds will have a harder time making it through the burlap with the newspapers and cardboard barriers. They will eventually come through and then you will need to re-cover with burlap bags.

I take after Fred Schmidt, my neighbor at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden. He is the supreme mulch scrounger going after cardboard and newspapers for mulch and fresh grass clippings from neighbors and old hay for more mulch to cover his beds in the fall and raspberry patch. Fred also uses burlap bags for the paths between his garden beds.

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These include invasives like Purple Loosesrife, Japanese Knotweed, Mustard Garlic. Giant or Common Reed, Honeysuckle, Buckthorn, Japanese Barberry, Wild Parsnip, Hogweed and Multi-flora Roses. . These invasives grow in pastures, woods, along banks, in wetlands and sometimes spread into gardens like Mustard Garlic.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife is considered to be such a noxious weed in many states that it is illegal to purchase and plant it. This non-native plant produces a bounty of seeds, many of which germinate in waterways, marshes and bogs, taking over native vegetation. It pushes out other native plants and over-runs its competitors in wetland areas.

The plant was inroduced both as a contaminant of European ship ballast and as a medicinal hern for treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, bleeding, wounds, ulcers and sores.

Purple Loosestrife originated from the temperate regions of Europe and Asia where it grows in wetland vegetation. Control methods include hand-pulling, cutting, burning, water level manipulation, and herbicide treatment. Most of these methods kill plants but not the large seed banks that allow rapid reestablishment. That's why breaking off the flower heads before they go to seed is helpful. Put the discarded seeds into plastic bags to decompose. In Vermont, there has been some success with two leaf-eating beetles. I haven't noticed as much purple loosestrife as I used too. Perhaps that's the reason. What do you think?

One herbalist uses the loosestrife flowers mixed with honey for an herbal remedy. The flowers appeal to bees and can be a valuable source of nectar. Todd Hardy, a beekeeper for 49 years, said that when there are droughts, purple loosestrife is one of the few plants whose nectar is available. He said that he has removed the stalks after the bees visit and dries the leaves and flowers to mix with alcohol and propolis to make a tincture.

Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)

This Class B noxious weed is non-native and poses a great threat to the environment. It came to America from Japan. It can be harvested when its young and tender for your dinner plate. It has a stronger more astringent taste than rhubarb. So you guessed it, the shoots needs lots of sweetening. The culinary use of knotwood could help with its control because the young shoots are harvested in spring and used like asparagus. The worst that might happen would be for it to spread in the harvest. The excess should be disposed off where it cannot spread.

Knotweed has an extensive underground horizontal rhizome system that can extend up to 60 feet. When its disturbed, it sends up new shoots, as when Hurricane Irene hit Vermont with a vengeance. In the fast-moving streams, little bits of the stem germinated into new plants with ease, so if you are going to disturb it by cutting/removing it for three years, you gotta get it all and then pray. Whatever you do, don't throw it onto a compost heap.

Knotweed is a bamboo-like member - but not a true bamboo - of the Smartweed family. It's a native of Japan. The plant can grow to 12 feet high. Japanese Knotwood was introduced as an ornamental into the United States in the late 1800s, and has naturalized throughout eastern North America along the coastal area of Oregon and Washington and in much of the Midwest.

The most promising method of control may be the repeated cuttings of these Polygonum stalks up to three or four cuts a year or more. This many cuts are needed in a growing season to counter rhizome production. This along with stream bank restoration may help. Chemicals (glyphosate - Roundup) and machinery can also be used, but I don't recommend it. Digging up the plant is not recommended as it will likely fragment the rhizomes and lead to further spreading. I'm not sure there is an easy answer.

Knotwood needs to be cut once a month to reduce its vigor and eventually wipe it out in a specific location. The Vermont Nature Consevancy suggests piling the cut stems under a tarp where it can thoroughly rot.

This invasive thrived in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene (late August, 2010, because it spreads quickly in disturbed soils. The floodwaters from the tropical storm spread portions of the stems and woody rhizomes of the knotweed on riverbanks, floodplains and roadsides, choking out native plants with deeper roots, degrading fish habitats, birds, and insects and weakening stream banks, which led to erosion and flood damage. Efforts are underway to restore those bare banks with native trees and shrubs that will shade out knotweed.

* Check out recipes for knotweed in Euell Gibbons book, "Stalking the Wild Asparagus." Why not try out stir-fried burdock or knotweed chutney?

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard is a biennial herbaceous plant with single stems and white flowers. Its white taproot smells like horseradish. Its numerous leaves and stems smell like garlic when crushed. You might say it's a very unwelcome guest in our gardens and forests, as it produces chemicals with anti-fungal properties.

Garlic Mustard is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America in the 19th century as a culinary herb. It can produce allelochemicals that suppress mycorrhizal fungi in the soil and therefore can disrupt a healthy relationship between hardwood tree seedlings and soil fungi, with results that can disastrous for a forest. (Micorrhizal fungi provide beneficial relationships with the roots of young forest-tree seedlings and garden plants and help with the uptake of water and nutrients. They do this with an elaborate network of filaments thoughout the soil - by connecting to the fine feeder roots of trees and plants.)

The leaves contain natural freezing elements, which allows the plants to overwinter in Vermont. It is easy to see in April and May with its white flowers. Garlic mustard was first planted on Long Island in 1868 as an edible garden plant.

The flavor of its leaves are true to its name as the young tender leaves can be used as a tangy salad green or in pesto. The Richmond, Vermont Floodplain Forest Restoration Project issued a page of recipes titled, "If You Can't Beat It, Eat It." Recipes included garlic mustard pesto, baked knotweed, garlic mustard and spinach ravioli, and garlic mustard cornbread. On the Rise Bakery in Richmond serves up garlic mustard pesto. I think we're going to need to make tons of garlic mustard pesto if we're going to combat this nasty weed, but it will take more than that to remove this harmful invasive.

In 2006, garlic mustard was identified as a noxious weed. Once it comes into a new area, it spreads and becomes the dominant understory species in woodland, fields and flood plain environments where eradication is difficult. It can take over native herbaceous plants and alter the native insect population.

Pull the plants in the spring before they flower-grasping them at the stem base to get the full root out. Put all the plants in a plastic bag and let them decompose at the dump. Do not compost as the plant fragments can re-sprout. In my neighborhood, garlic mustard has taken off - invading many niches and corners. It shows up anew in places you've never seen before.

The Giant or Common Reed (Phragmites)

The Common Reed is found everywhere. Paleoecological studies in Connecticut have found 3,000 year old fragments of Phragmites.

Cutting the reeds can control this invasive, but they need to be cut at the right time and for a number of years. The plants should be cut before the end of July, when most food reserves are in the aerial portion of the plant. Glyphosate herbicide has been used along with prescribed burns and the re-establishment of native plants. There has also been some success with the use of black plastic. Healthy, stable, natural plant communities are the best defense against the invasion and spread of the Common Reed.

For any of these invasive plants, check with your State Department of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Wildlife Department or The Nature Conservancy.

Common Buckthorn; Glossy and Tallhedge Buckthorn

Birds love the berries of the buckthorns. In fact, they do such a good job of spreading the dark seeds in the fall with their droppings that buckthorn has become a terrible weed species, running wild and taking over many natural wooded areas. It can grow up to 15 feet in the northern woods and is considered a shrub like tree. It came into its own after the great ice storm of 1998 when many of the woodlands were decimated. This provided an opportunity for Buckthorn to find a place called home. The hope is that deciduous trees will eventually take over and crowd out the Buckthorn.


Honeysuckle is another invasive which is having a hey day. It grows along roadsides and abandoned pastures. Since honeysuckle produces lots of fruit and seeds, the birds again are spreading the bad news through elimination. Not all honeysuckles are invasive. You can tell if the honesuckle you've indentified is invasive by cutting the stem. If it's hollow it's an invasive.

Japanese Barbery

The Japanese barberry is not the traditional New England barberry -often seen in abandoned pastures. It's making its presence known throughout New England. It was brought in by nurseries as a landscape plant and is thriving in our gardens as well as every other place where it can get a foothold. Again it's the birds that eat the berries and drop to the seeds to the ground in their dung.

Wild Parsnip

What is Wild Parsnip and why is a dangerous plant?

Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, is the hobo brother of the garden parsnip. It is a large, tall herbaceous plant. Other members of the parsley family (Umbelliferae) are carrots, celery, and parsley. The difference with the wild parsnip is that its sap causes severe skin problems. When the juice of the leaves, stems and flowers is absorbed by the skin and comes in contact with sun, it causes medium to severe sores that are similar to burns. This is called a phytotoxic reaction. In mild cases, the skin may turn red and feel like sunburn. In more serious cases, the skin reddens, then forms blisters.

* Some folks are even allergic to the leaves of the sweet parsnip.

Wild Parsnip, native to Eurasia, is rapidly becoming widespread in abandoned fields, pastures and roadsides throughout northern New England. You can look it up on the web at google.com. It grows along roadways, in ditches and abandoned fields. Unlike benign weeds, it can take over an area with ease, out competing native plants.

If you get a passing burn from exposure to one of these plants, cover it with a cool, wet cloth and call the doctor. It should be treated like a burn, which means it needs to be kept clean with the application of an antibiotic cream.

A Mystery Plant

Can I grow a mystery plant that I can fool my friends with?

Being that I just mentioned wild parsnip, I want to describe a most interesting plant, the common sweet parsnip. Parsnips, like beets and Brussels sprouts, are not grown as much as they once were. And yet they are one of the most tasty roots vegetables in my garden universe. The key is to leave them in the ground over the winter and dig them up in the spring when the garden soil begins to thaw. Make sure to throw a little mulch over them in late fall and mark there whereabouts. As far as a mystery plant is concerned, leave two or three parsnips in the ground in the spring and let them grow up over the summer. Give them lots of room to grow. They will form huge, humongous plants which will produce parsnip seed. Very few of my gardening friends have ever been able to identify them. Try them out and "Stump the Chumps."


The sap from this tall noxious weed, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness. Contact between the sap and the skin occurs either through brushing against the bristles on the stem or breaking the stem or leaves. Hogweed can grow up to 14 feet high.

Hogweed is a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family. The stems grow two to four inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. Its large compound leaves can grow up to five feet wide. Go online to identify the plant under "giant hogweed identification." Other plants that look similar are also shown.

Moonflower and Other Toxic Plants

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have recently stated that teens are trying to get high on the moonflower. Some are ending up in the hospital from eating the seeds or drinking the tea from the seeds. They experience dilated pupils, a rapid heart rate, hallucinations and an inability to urinate. The moonflower is a datura plant, Datura inoxia. It blooms at dusk. Thousands of reports have come into the CDC about toxic plants.

*Another plant that has become a real pest are multi-flora roses. They can take over a field with ease.

*Check with your State Department of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Wildlife Department or The Nature Conservancy for more information on these invasive plants. It's important to point out that some species are considered invasives in certain states and not in others. Go online for pictures of all these plants.

Tips on Fighting Invasives:

  • respond quickly to a sighting of an invasive before it spreads
  • educate yourself on ways to control the spread
  • introduce no new species unless they are known to be non-invasive
  • become `invasivores' - take the invasives to the plate

* While you're removing and in some cases, using invasive plants like mustard garlic and Japanese knotwood for your dinner plate, why not spend time collecting many non-invasives plants for the dinner plate? Here are just a few you can gather: fiddlehead ferns, pheasant cut mushrooms from downed trees, wild purple violets, dandelions, stinging nettles, wild ginger, and ramps. This is one way to learn about sustainable foraging. Go to The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening for more on gathering wild plants.

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The Lasagna gardening method is an alternative system where you build up the soil with organic materials. It's a no-dig, no-till, unconventional method that results in rich soil with little work from the gardener. Begin by covering the sod or poor soil with newspapers, leaves, mulch, grass clippings, cardboard, manure and whatever organic matter you can come up with in. It may take more than a year to prepare the soil for a raised bed. Some gardeners plant perennials directly on top of the soil, however, when it comes to vegetables, you need to turn over the soil and mix in organic matter like compost and soil amendments.

One of its attributes is that you don't have to remove existing sod or double dig. The first layers consist of corrugated cardboard and or three layers of newspaper laid directly over the sod. Wet down this layer and smother the sod. Then add layers of grass clippings, leaves, fruit and vegetable waste, manure, weeds, compost, and seaweed. You want to alternate these layers, such as the browns from fall leaves with layers of green from vegetable scraps and grass clippings.

Lasagna Tips and Benefits

  • The layers will provide good drainage.
  • Your goal is a two-foot layered bed.
  • The fresh materials provide a source of food to microbes, earthworms and beneficial nematodes that aerate and fertilize the pile.
  • The pile will shrink down quickly.
  • You may want to add soil and compost to complete the pile.
  • When its time to plant, simply dig down as you would any garden and dig through the loose soil underneath. With cardboard you will need to cut through.
  • The layers of organic materials will "cook" down over time.
  • One drawback is that the lasagna garden will dry out more quickly than the surrounding soil. You may need to water it now and then. In time, that will change.
  • There will be fewer weeds, better water retention, and less need for organic fertilizers. This will result in soil that is loose and crumbly.
  • I think its best to build it in the fall as the materials will begin to breakdown and become softer by spring. Some gardeners put in plants the first year and seeds the second.
  • You could use the Lasagna method for a future raised bed.
  • You still need a green thumb but you won't work as hard.

The Lasagna method is similar to sheet composting and the Ruth Stout method of gardening. Stout believed that after years of mulching, the soil will become rich from rotting organic and vegetable matter. You can also plant much closer than you ever dared to. Stout said, "the labor saving part of my system is that you never need to plow, spade , sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or spray... and I don't go through the torturous business of building a compost pile." Stout started with an 8 inch mulch layer. Her book was called, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book. She was born in 1884 in Girard, Kansas and lived to be 96. In 1923, she accompanied the Quakers to Russia to assist in famine relief.

The Chuckster just chimed in: "I like this method of gardening because I wouldn't have to do as much work as you do in your garden. "My response was it didn't surprise me at all that you would say that. After all, a "work" ethic is not in your lexicon."

Deborah Stuart of Wentworth, New Hampshire is a master grower of ornamentals and designer of gardens. When I asked her how she grows perennials on poor soil, she said the key is to apply mulches and organic materials over the poor soil along with compost. She refers to the Lasagna method as her savior.

Stuart said, "in this method, it's not necessary to first dig down deep in the soil. The key is to make mounds and raised beds with the organic materials: mulches and compost and after thorough watering, plant your ornamentals (annuals and perennial). Once the plants take hold, just water and add compost now and then."

Fred Schmidt, my neighbor at The Tommy Thompson Community Garden, continues to receive the "Lasagna of the Year" awards. He's the ultimate scrounger and I've noticed how well the plants grow in his lasagna beds.

Garden Waste - An alternative to the Lasagna method.

You can put garden waste in your raised beds in the fall and spring or you can use it for the Lasagna method. Personally, I think its better to compost the waste in the fall and then add the composted waste some six months later.

In the summer, I brew up a barrel of weeds, garden waste, stinging nettle, lawn clippings and water and let it sit for about a week. It will do wonders in helping the plants to grow. You can also use the brew on top of your Lasagna garden or in your raised beds.

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First off, a garden cart is not a wheelbarrow. Instead of having a single tire, a garden cart has a large body boxed by wood, sometimes aluminum or plastic, flanked by two, heavy-duty bicycle size tires.

The size of the tires and the fact that they're centered along the wooden box makes the garden cart much more useful than a wheelbarrow because you can lift heavier loads - up to 400 pounds if it's a large cart. A wheelbarrow requires more strenuous lifting and can tip over much easier. With a garden cart, you can move rocks, soil, compost, hay bales and other bulky materials - even refrigerators.

A wheelbarrow is useful when there isn't room for the garden cart.

I have one in my community garden plots. You can lay out your garden with the garden cart in mind or a wheelbarrow. When I was a commercial vegetable grower I used the garden cart extensively to cart vegetables after harvesting. I've had my cart for close to 30 years - having replaced the tires and some of the plywood. I should let go of my cart as it is ready to retire to the other world, but I can't because it still rolls with its sturdy wheels and high-quality plywood. You can even pick up wheels and tires at tire companies. All that and you don't need to get it inspected like my car.

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Come honey bee
with your busy hum.
- Anon

If honeybees ceased to exist, one third of all the foods we eat would disappear. Most flowers produce nectar to attract insects, primarily honeybees, so that pollination can take place. Honeybees make honey from the nectar and in so doing pollinate the plants. The worker bees transfer the nectar into a beeswax comb made of six sided cells. Some worker bees also carry pollen. In terms of economic value the workers that collect the pollen are most important to you and me. As she travels from flower to flower the bee brushes off some of the pollen onto a special pollen-receiving structure called the stigma in the center of the flower. This process of pollination allows all flowering crops to reproduce.

The value of pollination is 100 times greater than value of honey. The value that honeybees provide to both cultivated and wild plants is inestimable. Some estimates are between $18 to $27 billion or about one in three mouthfuls of food and drink we consume every day. Most crop pollination is done by the European honeybee. With the advent of large, commercial farming over the last several decades, the need for a reliable, easily moved pollinators has increased.

The healing properties of honey have been known worldwide for millennia. Researchers in the Netherlands have found that a molecule called defencin-1m a protein involved in the bee immune system, is the principal antibacterial component in honey. And when it comes to inflammatory diseases, bee stings can be effective. I used to get stung by bees for arthritis in my back. I would take a glass jar into Bill Warnock's backyard and collect about six bees from the hive and then Bill would place the bees on my low back. They would sting and within minutes the pain from both the bees and my arthritis would be gone. I iced my back to cut down on the pain.

Most of the honey in Vermont comes from clover, basswood, goldenrod, apple, blackberry, raspberry, sumac, vetch and aster. Because of this variety, no two honey's have the same flavor. While lighter-colored honey is milder in flavor, dark-colored honey is not only stronger in taste but has a higher mineral content and more antioxidants. My favorite honey comes from buckwheat. It's a dark strong honey with a nut-like flavor that's hard to find these days. To stand in a field of buckwheat with thousands of honey bees humming is like nothing else you'll ever experience. I call it, "Serenity Now.'

Honeybees are critical to a good apple harvest in Vermont. The insects go from apple blossom to apple blossom in May to pollinate the trees. They don't do their work well when the weather is wet and cold and the relentless cold rains drive many of the honeybees into their hives. Some orchardists believe that local bumblebees have a much better work ethic and put in more overtime in spring than honeybees. In fact, it's often said that the European honeybees are like Jewish princesses. Again, they are very sensitive and cannot take cold, rainy conditions like bumblebees and other pollinators.

Bumblebees and other pollinators like butterflies, moths, bees, flies, wasps, and beetles provide the same function as honey bees, pollinating more than 85 percent of flowering plants. A book by Stephen Buchman and Gary Nabhan called The Forgotten Pollinators, mentions the thousands of species of bees, wasps, ants, butterflies and moths, flies, beetles, birds and bats contribute to pollinating flowering plants. Some of the unsung heroes in my garden besides the honeybee are bumblebees, the Squash Bee and the Blue Orchard Bee. In Vermont, there are 21 species of bumblebees. Native bumblebees and other pollinators are more important than honeybees for crop pollination.

A Model

At The Farm Between in Jeffersonville, Vermont, John Hayden says that without insects to pollinate their trees and berries, they would have no fruit businees. In order to build pollinator populations, Hayden says they've been cultivating a "pollinator sanctuary," between beds of gooseberries, elderberries, red, pink and black currants and apples. They also raise strawberries, raspberries, black chokeberries (aronia), honeyberries (haskap), service berries, sea berries, and beach plums. Interspersed are milkweed, wild roses, mustards, white and red clover, buckwheat, and comfrey - insect favorites.

Hayden said that while non-native honey bees do a lot of the work, there are many species of bees native to Vermont that are important players, especially the bumblebees - the real workhorses. Around the farm are bird-house like structures. John Hayden said they try and avoid use of all pesticides, including organic ones. Not all organic pesticides are harmless. Some broad-spectrum organic pesticides harm pollinators and predator insects.

Colony Collapse Disorder

The ailment (Colony Collapse Disorder) that is decimating the world's honeybee population seeds is also affecting bumblebees. In December 2013, it was reported that Vermont's bumblebees were in serious peril. Three of the bumblebee species are thought to be extinct and at least one other species is in decline. Bumblebees pollinate crops such as apples, blueberries and tomatoes, making them critical to Vermont's economy. The ongoing spill-over of EIDs - emerging infectious diseases, could represent a major cause of mortality in wild pollinators like bumblebees, wherever managed bees are maintained.

Colony Collapse Disorder - One of the main causes of the decline of honey bees and bumblebees comes from neonicotinoids, an insecticide sold in lawn and gardens stores. These pesticides (insecticides are part of the family of pesticides) are also connected to the loss of honeybees. The pesticide, Clothianidin, popularly known as Neonicotinoids is widely used to treat seeds like corn and canola and expresses itself through the plants' pollen and nectar - the honeybee's favorite source of food. There is increasing evidence that habitat loss due to pesticide use on lawns, gardens and around our homes is on the rise especially due to Neonicotinoids - produced by Monsanto and banned in Europe.

We've been losing honeybees in record numbers since 2006 due to what is called, Colony Collapse Disorder, in which the worker bees suddenly disappear. In 2010 alone, about 34 percent of honeybee colonies were lost. In 2013, it was reported that beekeepers had record-breaking losses of 40-90 percent, with some beekeepers losing 100 percent of their hives.

Other Factors: Environmental pollutants and viruses also weaken the immune systems of honey bees and contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder. No definitive cause has been identified but it is thought to be a complex interaction between parasitic mites, diseases, nutrition, pesticides like neonicotinoids, viruses, bacteria and genetics and stresses due to migratory beekeeping. The final threat to honeybees may be the beekeepers themselves. That's what some beekeepers say. Keeping clean hives and healthy sanitary conditions makes a difference.

Hay Fields - In Vermont, the loss of hay fields is a new factor in the loss of bee habitat. A change in agricultural practices is having an unintended consequence limiting food for bees. Since the 1980s, Vermont has lost more than 100,000 acres of hay fields that used to be full of bees friendly to alfalfa and clover. What this means is that bees are not finding as many flowering plants to feed upon. Hay is being cut before it blooms, making it more nutritious for cows but not available to bees.

Also, many dairy farmers are growing more corn and less hay. Corn isn't a good crop for bees because it doesn't produce nectar and is pollinated by the wind. Without blooms in lush hay fields to attract them, bees often don't have other options but to turn to corn pollen, which is often treated with pesticides and fungicides. The pollen is damaging to the bee hives.

*The number of commercial beekeeping operations in Vermont has been cut in half since 1987. In Vermont, honey is considered one of the many artisan goods, selling $1.5 million annually.

As I've made clear, pollination if critical to life on our planet. We need to provide better habitats for bees and insects that provide pollination. So how can we assist. Here are some tips for your home garden: Make sure you have plants flowering from late spring into fall in order to provide nectar and honey season-long in your garden habitat. Include in your garden habitat the surrounding landscape. Have plants that are tall and short with different shapes and sizes and a diversity of colors. Plant dwarf conifers and evergreen shrubs as a refuge for over wintering insects. Put in some bird baths for water and have some shade, not just sun in your garden.

Don't be too neat and tidy so that birds can forage among the mulches and dead plants over the winter. Allow asters and goldenrod to last long into the fall. Plants such as serviceberry and false Indigo attract native bees as do sunflowers, lavender and black-eyed Susan. Design parts of your garden in clumps so that the plants can be seen by the pollinators.

In April of 2014, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, finished planting her sixth-annual White House Kitchen Garden, but this year, she's doing something different. She planted a pollinator garden to support to support 70,000 bees already gracing the presidential lawn as well as monarch butterflies and other pollinators. I wonder how they estimated the number was 70,000?

* Fedco Seeds in Maine provides a beneficial insect mix of annuals and perennials for bee pollination.

* Check out these three great Bee films: "The Vanishing Bees," "Queen of the Sun," and "Nicotene Bees."

* Honeybees are now being trained in Croatia to find land mines. It will take time to see if they can be effective.

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
We need Bees,
And Bees need You.

Mead - The Preferred Drink of Poets, Heroes and Adventurers

Beekeepers and vintners are rediscovering mead, the nectar of the Gods. This alcoholic wine-like drink is made up of a fermented solution of honey, yeast and water and can be infused with fruits and berries, herbs, flowers, spices, flavors and carbonation. Mead sometimes called Honey Wine, can be sparkling or still, sweet or dry. It's starting to undergo a renaissance just like homemade beer and wine and other craft-made spirits.

There are now about 250 mead makers in the U.S. Artesano is creating mead in the back of a old renovated general store in an out-of-the-way village in Groton, Vermont close to Groton State Park. , Vermont, close to Groton state park. It's a great place to canoe and stop afterward for a sip of mead. I've canoed there a couple times but haven't yet tasted the mead.

Another Vermont commercial meadery called Grodennfell Meadery recently opened. Wildflower honey plus yeast and water is fermented in three 1,000-gallon steel tanks. Ricky and Kelly Klein produce their flagship fizzy mead called Mannaz. Another mead called Fenberry Draught is more tart and includes cranberries.

I met a beekeeper from Bath, Maine this past fall. His business, Fiddler's Reach, includes Maine's first meadery, which combines Maine wildflower honey, water and, a champagne-style (neutral) yeast in stainless-steel tanks. I made mead once more than 30 years ago and still have a small bottle hidden away. I take one swig a year and share swigs with special friends. Hmm!

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Having a worm bin is great for composting kitchen scraps in your home and the kids love to get involved. It also makes for interesting projects in the classroom. I once taught children how to take care of a worm bin at the Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton, New Hampshire. They went wild running their fingers through the dark rich soil.

Castings are produced by earthworms after going through the composting process. Some call it worm poop. Whatever you call it, the nutrients in worm castings are rich in humus. These premium- quality worm castings are by far the best source of plant food. They contain unusually high populations of beneficial microorganisms crucial to root systems. Worm castings are superior to regular garden compost because the worm's digestive systems excrete beneficial microorganisms that you won't find in any compost. The worms create the casts after slurping their way through rotting food that would normally be thrown into the compost heap. A worm bin will never replace large outdoor compost piles, but worm castings are helpful in establishing plants, dressing perennials and caring for houseplants. And worm castings don't smell.

Worm bins are easy to build. Just put together a simple wooden bin about two feet by two feet lined with a few inches of bedding such as peat moss or composted manure or other organic matter. The environment needs to be damp and dark that when the worms are placed inside, they feel at home and start eating. The more worms there are, the faster the composting will take place.

There are three classifications of earthworms: litter, topsoil and subsoil worms. Those big fat worms you dig in the spring are sold as fish bait. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are also known as manure worms, stink worms, fish worms, and trout worms. They thrive in the topmost layer of the earth's decaying material, such as leaf litter Red wigglers don't burrow through the organic matter, but rather eat their way through it.

The Red wigglers food is mostly kitchen scraps like rotting potatoes, banana skins and cantaloupe. Don't use meat, oils or dairy and keep the scraps moist with a mister. As the worms eat through the scraps and make compost, add more scraps but don't overfeed them. Just make sure they've eaten what they were given before adding on more food scraps. After the worms are done, thousands of tiny white insects called, Springtales, come in to break down organic matter.

And don't use plastic containers. Keep the temperature between 55 and 85 degrees F. That shouldn't be a problem in your kitchen. The wooden worm bin needs to have a base with a screen so the worm castings can fall through. It takes about three months to build up a reasonable supply of worm castings that would be enough to feed your houseplants. The castings need to be put through a larger screen to separate out the larger lumps - leaving a fine dark soil that looks like coffee grounds. You can make a worm casting tea that you can feed your houseplants. Use about one quarter cup of castings to two quarts of water.

You can order red wiggler worms from many companies including Down To Earth Worm Farm in Vermont in Greensboro Bend. The two women that run the farm, Carol Schminke and Lynette Courtney, are known as the Wacky Worm Sisters. By the way, the worms aren't cheap. You can also purchase pre-made worm bins with screens. Its recommended that you start with between one and three pounds of red wigglers. A pound of worms is about 1000 wigglers. One pound of worms will eat a half-pound of scraps a day. I wouldn't pay more than $50 to get started. A thousand pounds of worms should double in three or four months.

*Vermiculture - The raising and production of earthworms and worm castings.
*Vermicomposting - the process of using worms to convert organic waste into nutrient-rich compost.

In the Vermont forest, earthworms break down organic matter and spread carbon throughout the soil. This changes the basic layering of forest floor, the trees and understory species. (There are 16 earthworm species in Vermont and none are native. The first European immigrants brought us the earthworms.) The worms release carbon dioxide as they eat, adding to the forest's carbon emissions. But when they "poop, they provide what's called an aggregate. In other words, they ingest minerals along with organic matter and make "poop." The question is - is this a positive or negative in terms of the "carbon footprint" on the landscape and air quality? In some places earthworms are abundant and other places, you don't find them. It depends on how the land has been used. Much research needs to be done to answer these questions. Source: The University of Vermont Quarterly Fall, 2013 Josh Brown

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Biodynamics (BD) farming and gardening came into existence in 1924. The year 2013 marked the 75th year of the founding of the biodynamic movement. Historically, it came about much earlier than the organic movement, which began in the 1940s and became popularized in the 1950s by J.I. Rodale in the U.S. with the publication of the "Organic Gardening" magazine.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was the founder of biodynamics in the 1920s. He was a trained scientist, herbalist and philosopher who grew up in Austria. Steiner was dedicated to developing a new science that accounts for all aspects of life - both the material and the spiritual (supersensible). He came to the conclusion that western civilization would increasingly bring destruction to itself and upon the earth because of its reductionist methods. These are in direct opposition to Steiner's holistic, spiritual insights. Steiner was also the founder of the Walforf School Movement and the Camphill Movement for the care of the disabled.

Biodynamic gardening and farming includes companion planting; the use composted animal manures and of animal/herbal preparations; crop rotations, planting by the stars, and seeing the farm in its totality as a holistic "organism." The "farm organism" should produce all the needed materials it needs from animal manures to nourish the plants and feed to nourish the animals.

Steiner said that the main issue we faced was one of nutrition. He offered a series of eight lectures entitled "Agriculture." In these lectures, he stressed the need to enliven the soil with special herbal/animal preparations and animal manures. He said that food grown biodynamically brings in the cosmic forces necessary for the spiritual development of the individual. Why in our world of materialism is our will to action and imagination so weak? Steiner believed it boiled down to poor nutrition.

He gave these eight lectures in 1924 to a group of farmers who were concerned about deficiencies in the soil, poor animal health (e.g., lack of vitality in bull semen) and the decline in the protein quality of grain. His teachings in Koberwitz, Germany (now Poland), encompassed the fundamental principles of biodynamics along with practical suggestions.

The Biodynamic Herbal Plant/Animal Preparations (BD Preps) have a healing effect on compost and the soil and in turn, provides us with more wholesome food for our health. They focus more on forces than material substances. Please have an open mind to these ideas. They take a lifetime of work to experience and understand.

Side Notes: The Biodynamic Preparations (500-508)

Each of the BD plants used in the preparations has a signature - a purpose - and each plant has a dynamic effect on vitalizing the forces in the soil. The preparations work on the activities of potash, phosphorus, calcium, sulphur, and nitrogen in a homeopathic dilutions. Again, they work on forces rather than material substances.

The BD Preps (500-508) are most effective after the soil has been enriched by composted cow manure and crop rotations. The BD preps include cow manure, powdered quartz, yarrow blossoms, chamomile blossoms, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion flowers, valerian flowers and horsetail. They have a healing effect on the soil and the plants and thus provide us with more wholesome food.

500- cow horn manure - This prep stimulates microbiological activity in the soil along with root growth and humus development. It is sprayed on the garden beds and compost piles in the fall and in the spring. It's called the cow horn manure preparation and comes from the collection of fresh manure of a mother cow in the fall. The farmer or gardener fills a cow's horn with cow manure, and buries it in the soil at the end of September. The manure should not be wet when collected, preferably in the barn. (The cow horn differs from a bull horn in that it has a series of calving rings at the base and has a solid tip.) The horn is buried in a pit about 18 inches deep and covered with enriched, composted soil. Avoid weeds and tree roots around the burial site. The horns should be buried open end down so that they will not become water-logged. During the winter months life forces breathe into the soil. These forces are absorbed into the manure in the horn just as we also experience these inner forces in the deep part of winter.

In early summer, the horns with the fermented/composted manure are dug out. The manure should have a sweet smell. If it's still wet or greenish, it's not potent and cannot be used until its more stable. The contents of the horns are placed in an open barrel with fresh rain water and stirred for one hour - making a vortex in one direction and then reversing the movement to create chaos and then creating a vortex again and again and again. Certain forces enter the mixture while it's being stirred. I've found it's like a meditative experience that one looks forward too - after doing it a number of times.

Preparation 500 is then sprinkled with a whisk broom over the land. A large handful of the prep in a bucket of water will cover close to a quarter of an acre. It is sprayed in the late afternoon when the earth is contracting. This earth preparation helps to stimulate the biological activity in the soil as well as humus formation, crumb structure, retention of water, earthworm activity - basically the life forces in the soil. I spray this homeopathic solution in the spring and fall.

501 - the horn silica preparation - This prep stimulates the photosynthesis of the plant. It is made up of ground-up crystal quartz (silica). The original substances came from the distant planets. 501 brings flavor, aroma, structure and form to the plants. The crystal quartz are ground up into a fine powder and inserted into a cow's horn over the summer. It is then mixed like 500 in a barrel and sprayed in mid-morning when the sun is rising. Imagine billions of silica-glass like crystals sprayed into the air - using the sun forces to increase the growth of plants. It is best sprayed after the young plants have begun to sprout and grow a little. For example, it does best with carrots after they have just begun to form their roots.

502- Yarrow (Achillea millifolium) - Yarrow blossoms work in the compost heap the same way they are used medicinally in the human body; that is, to sulphur and potassium. Yarrow has a strong connection to the cosmic forces in its sensitivity. It is connected to the planet Venus.

The roots are mainly at the surface, they are not deeply connected to the earth. You can feel by the feathery lightness of the leaf and its affinity to the light forces. Yarrow has been found to contain measurable amount if potassium and selenium even when the soil in which it grows lacks these minerals. The flowers of the yarrow are put into a stag's bladder. The stag has a strong connection to the cosmos through its antlers and urinary system. The antlers are in fact are similar in form to the yarrow leaves.

503- Chamomile (Matricaria chamomile) - Preparation 503 is made from the flowers of German chamomile. This preparation promotes a healthy breakdown of the proteins in the compost to humic plant nutrients, and prevents the protein breaking down into ammonia which would be lost to the atmosphere. Its blossoms connects with calcium processes in the body just like chamomile tea helps with an upset colon and has a calming effect on digestion. It contains some homeopathic sulphur. The flowers are placed in the intestines of a cow.

504- (Urtica dioca) Stinging nettle is the greatest benefactor of plant growth. If you find some nettle growing near your garden, you will notice how healthy the soil is. Nettles contain more iron than any other plant. It also contains sulphur. Nettles show strength and uprightness and perfection of form. Their form, particularly that of the stings, is shaped by silica. It has a double spiral in its form similar to Mercury, - the medical sign. The forces of Mars that influence nettles also bring iron, magnesium and other minerals, such as sulphur.

505- Oak Bark Quercus robur) - Oak Bark works on the element of calcium. It brings harmony to the compost and doesn't allow excesses of rampant growth. This condition arises when the moon forces are working too strongly during and after a wet period. Thus, oak bark acts as a mediator between the plant and earth.

The bark is put in the skull of a goat and buried in a watery environment. The skull is seen as a vessel of the moon.

506- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinate) Dandelion flowers act as a mediator between the fine homeopathic silicic acid in the cosmos and the plant. Silica makes up 40 percent of our earth. This interaction must take place between the silicic acid in the plant and potassium. They are needed to draw in the cosmic influences. The dandelions are placed in a cow mesentery, which is the `skin' that holds all the digestive organs - a very sensitive part of the body.

507- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) - Valerian is a beautiful leaf with unusually patterned veins. Its triangular form makes it look detached from the earth. This form is an indication of light forces. Valerian has the medicinal effect of phosphorous for strengthening the plant and stimulating the phosphate activity in the soil. Notice the connection between phosphorous, which burns with white light, and the white Valerian flowers. Thus, it is involved in attracting the light used in photosynthesis. Finally, valerian holds the warmth element together in the compost. It brings the Saturn influence of warmth. It does not have a sheath.

508- Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Horsetail is not applied to the compost heap. It has high amounts of silica which if sprayed on the plant reduces excessive water forces, which reduce fungal diseases. It complements 501 and works well with 500 in moderating rampant growth and rot. I've used it for years with potato and tomato blights and cucumber fungal diseases.

* According to Rudolf Steiner, preparations 502-508 should be used in compost piles, not sprayed directly on the soil.

Biodynamics is not just a holistic system of gardening and farming but a movement for new way of thinking and practices in all aspects of life connected to food and farming. Today, the BD movement encompasses thousands of successful gardens, farms, vineyards and agricultural operations of all kinds and sizes all over the world.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was pioneered by biodynamic farmers in Germany. The first CSA started in the U.S. in the Wilton/Temple area of New Hampshire in 1980 by Trauger Groh, a biodynamic farmer from Germany.

Two Studies: A carbon sequestration study by the Rodale Institute found that organic soils have greater biological activity than conventional soils and thus are able to hold more carbon in the soil. It was projected from the study that if the whole country went organic, we could deal with half of the carbon dioxide emissions. A 21-year-old study at the FiBL Institute in Switzerland study found that biodynamic soils had more microbial diversity and activity than organic soils. This refers to soil aggregate stability, soil pH, humus formation, soil calcium, microbial mass, and faunal biomass (earthworms and arthropods).

* Hugh Williams of Threshold Farm describes the biodynamic methods and principles he uses on his fruit farm in the state of New York on the Organic Fruit Growing page.

* You can learn more about biodynamics (BD) in "The Woodchuck's Guide to Gardening." There is a chapter called, "Let the Force Be With You" on Companion Planting and Planting by the Stars, two of the basic methods used in biodynamics. For more information on biodynamics, go online. You can order the herbal/animal preparations, the planting calendar plus the many BD books and pamphlets and you can join the Biodynamic Association.

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Permaculture is the conscious, holistic design of your garden, which includes the principles of diversity, stability and sustainability. Some of the other principles include reducing both labor and energy so that scarce resources are used to their max and waste is minimized. The different elements in the garden interact in mutually beneficial ways.

Here are some examples. If you had a chicken coop, you could use the manure to make compost along with other organic materials from the garden. This would feed the soil and provide nutrients to the plants. You could grow greens for the chickens in your garden and allow them free range after the growing season. If you had a small pond, the scum (beneficial algae) could feed the chickens as well and provide nutrients to the garden when watering. The garden could include a small fruit orchard where the chickens could scratch and feed.

Permaculture for the home garden reminds me of Biodynamics more than any other garden system and philosophy, as it too seeks to create a self-sustaining system. It includes the growing of herbs, vegetables, flowers, fruits, berries, and nut trees in your garden. It was started in the 1970s with a collaboration between Bill Mollison and David Holmgren at the University of Tasmania. Mollison offered courses in Texas in the 1990s, including classes in Gardening, Garden Design and Green Homes, and Restoring Nature.

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Mosquitoes go from eggs to adults in about a week. They love stagnant water so if you have any in your garden, either cover it, drain it or dump it. There have been reports of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus in Vermont.

To control adults, use carbon dioxide emitting traps to lure them in to be killed. Avoid the bug zappers, as they kill many beneficial insects. Burn citronella candles or use a strong bug repellant. When I work in the garden in the morning, I wear long pants, a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a light raincoat with a hood and a cap with some repellant on it, Some folks have success with rubbing garlic, cloves, cinnamon oil on their clothes and skin or using - Skin so Soft - lotion on their skin and clothes. I wear the same clothes for a week in my garden.

Mosquito Barrier is a very strong garlic made from garlic cloves. The garlic used in Mosquito Barrier is a variety that is more potent that garlic found in grocery stores. Garlic juice can be deadly to mosquitoes and the odor chases them away. Additionally, Mosquito Barrier with canola oil coats any standing water with a thin film of natural oil. I can't vouch for it as I haven't used it. You can also try out mosquito control rings.

Deer Ticks

- In the mid-70s, It was found these parasitic blood-sucking members of the arachnid family were transmitters of Lyme disease. This debilitating infection closely resembles a chronic flu. The bacterial infection is called a spirochete. Deer and rodents harbor the disease in their stomachs after being bit by the ticks. Victims usually have a slow-spreading bull's eye rash where the tick attached, but not always. If antibiotics aren't used, patients can develop a variety of health problems, including facial paralysis, health palpitations, arthritis, fatigue, severe headache's and neurological disorders.

Lyme disease is one of the fastest-growing vector-borne diseases in the U.S. It had on average more than 14,000 cases reported in the last couple years and the numbers are growing. Because the symptoms resemble the flu, many cases go unreported. There are blood tests for Lyme diseases, but they aren't always reliable.

Deer ticks live in wooded or brush areas. Its favorite hosts are deer and rodents. Female deer ticks are smaller than dog ticks - about the size of sesame seeds with reddish hind bodies and black dorsal markings. Males are smaller and are solid dark brown. The ticks seek larger hosts like rodents, dogs and deer.

When working in the garden or taking walks, make sure and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pant legs into your socks or boots if walking through tall grass. Have your partner and/ or friend check your body and clothes after a walk.

Don't take any chances. Lyme diseases is very debilitating.

Yellow jackets

- You can make an inexpensive homemade trap with a large plastic bottle. Add 1/4 cup sugar water, one cup apple cider vinegar, one old banana peel and 4 cups of water. Mix all the ingredients together, then add more water until bottle is half full. Cut a 3/4-inch hole in the top and hang it close to the hive with a wire. The yellow jackets will be drawn to the solution in the bottle.

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No, I don't use this method as it's too small a space for me to work in, but I'm glad to describe it the best I can. As I stated earlier, I have two no-till raised beds and row crops, - each 30 by 30 feet, in my community garden plots.

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is a new way to garden in less space. The garden is based on a grid of 1-foot by 1-foot squares in a 4- foot by 4-foot area - with single seeds or plants placed in carefully determined spaces. Climbing and sprawling crops like cucumbers, pole beans, squash, and tomatoes are grown vertically to save space. This type of garden supposedly takes one-fifth the space and work of a conventional single-row garden and is easy to maintain so the garden stays neat, weedless and uncluttered all season. The book, "Square Foot Garden," by Mel Bartholomew, is a good source.

The "Chuckster" is chuckling. Hmm! He just said to me, "I can't imagine you doing Square Foot Gardening. My response: "The Chuckster is right on. I'm afraid I can't comment on Square Foot Gardening because I've never done it and probably never will because I need more space. What I mean is that I'd probably trip over myself with my big feet. When Bartholomew says you don't need heavy duty tools, scuffle hoes, watering cans, sprayers, a wheelbarrow or a garden cart - it raises lots of questions, but each to his own. If all you need is a trowel, spade and water bucket, I wish him the best but my big feet won't handle his tiny garden space. So be it."