DIY Dirt-y Underwear Soil Analysis

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Now, who says gardening can’t be fun – when you can use cotton boxers to diagnose the nutrients in your soil?  The Soil Conservation Council of Canada is conducting a fun campaign.  They are asking you to “plant” a pair of 100% men’s cotton underwear in the ground about six inches and leave them for two months. When you dig them up – the results will help you to analyze the health of up your soil.  Say what?  Yes, according to Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension Soils Field Specialist, science makes this work.  Why? Well, soil microorganisms require carbon to survive. Apparently, cotton briefs contain high quantities of yummy carbon that soil microorganisms love to gobble up.

When the briefs (wonder why just men’s briefs work?) are dug up, the level of decomposition can tell you how how many organisms have been eating the briefs.  The more they have eaten, the healthier your soil is.

Several extension services have conducted this experiment.  South Dakota State University Extension and Clemson and North Carolina Extension have more detailed data on their results, if you want to study the science in detail.

To conduct this experiment yourself, you will need a new pair of 100% white cotton briefs, a shovel and a marker flag. The steps are simple:

  1. First, dig a narrow trench about six inches deep
  2. Bury the underwear in the trench, leaving a little bit of the waistband out to mark the location
  3. Mark the place with a flag so you can easily find it
  4. Leave briefs buried about two months
  5. Dig up carefully and determine level of decomposition

OK – seriously, who isn’t going to go out a get a pair of briefs and try this?  If you do the experiment, be sure to let me know how it goes!!!!

THE BEST nail brush for gardeners: Beauty 360 Dual-Sided Nail Brush

Let’s face it – gardeners have dirty fingernails at all times of the night or day.  And, we need to clean them before presenting to the public. If you haven’t looked for fingernail brushes lately, you might be surprised to find they can be difficult to locate.  The bristles on the nail brushes that I could find were weak and would not hold up to multiple times daily deep scrubbing.

Then, I found the ultimate, excellent perfect gardener nail brush at CVS for only $3.60.  I got two!!!!

What makes them perfect?  The Beauty 360 Dual Sided Nail Brush has a regular nail brush on one side that is full and has stiff – but not too stiff – bristles that are great for scrubbing the dirt off your hands. They have held up to extremely vigorous use and showed little wear.

Nailbrush Front

But the magic part of this baby is the other side. On the other side you will find a perfect tool for cleaning all that wonderful dirt out from under your fingernails.  It has a single row of bristles that lay almost flat against the brush handle. You just slide the bristles under your fingernails and scrub away. I was dubious whether this would work or not – but it works like gangbusters!

Nailbrush Other Side
So – if you are a gardener – or work outside and get your nails dirty, then this is the perfect nail brush for you. Buy one for every sink – you won’t be sorry.

DIY Potting Bench in an Hour for Under $5

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As I am sure almost everyone out there knows from experience, it is hard to keep going when your back hurts. And even if you force yourself to keep going, at the end of the day it is hard to have a smile on your face and even harder to sleep. So, I am hugely in favor of creating work spaces that are back savers. If that can be done quickly and at little cost, then that is even better.

After one sleepless, painful evening following one full day of bending over transplanting, I had a greenhouse full of beautiful plants and the determination to not do that again. As it was in the spring, with loads more plants to transplant, I needed a quick (and painfree) solution.

So – you guessed it – I headed to my pile of pallets. As you know, I use those babies for everything.  Such a beautiful solution for so many things. I found a pallet that was (dimensions here).  Wow – that would be awesome space for a potting bench, I decided.  The slats were nicely spaced apart so pots could be set on it. No adjustments or additions to the slates needed.

The Pallet for the Potting Bench
Making the bench was easy as pie. I cut four 2×4 boards 32″ long. Then I used two 3- 1/2 star-headed screws to attach each leg at the corner. From previous work on greenhouse benches, I knew I had to attach a cross brace on the legs to stabilize the bench and I did so using scraps I had in my lumber pile.  I wanted to make things even easier, and since I made the potting bench lickety split, I decided to make a smaller one to put pots and supplies on. Now I can plant and transplant and work with plants all day long and my back is happy.

Potting bench
While this bench is in a temporary location, it will find a permanent home when things slow down. I will probably seal it so that it lasts longer, but for now, I am loving every sitting down moment with the plants and my potting bench.

I had spare 2x4s that I used for the legs, but if you had to buy the wood, it would cost around $5.00-10.00 depending on the type that you get.  The screws are about a dime each.  I used 16, so that would have been a total cost of $ 1.60 for the bench. Even if  you had to buy the screws and the 2×4 lumber, the cost of the potting bench would be less that $10.00. What a back saving deal that would be!!!

I hope this encourages you to come up with solutions that will make your life more enjoyable and your gardening less painful. You don’t have to build something complicated, expensive and time consuming. Problem solving can be as simple as slapping four legs on a pallet for a new potting bench. If you want to take the time to paint it – then by all means, do so. But, look for solutions that will allow you to re-use and re-cyle. It makes for a better life, better world.  Let me know what exciting solutions you have come up with re-using and re-cycling. And, if you make a potting bench, let me know how much you love it!

As always, be sure to use pallets that are safe for you and your environment. If you are not sure how to make sure your pallets are safe, this post is short and very clear.  In a nutshell, look for pallets that have the “HT,” heat-treated label.

Quick and Dirty Guide to Propagating Perennials

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Yep – propagating is quick and it can be dirty. But it is always rewarding and can save you quite a bit of money. The previous post discussed WHY you should propagate. If you are here, I believe that I convinced you to try your hand at making more of what you already have in your yard. I am going to briefly describe how to propagate and then you go to the picture tutorial that gives you a step-by-step description of the process.

First things first. Gather all your materials and make a place where you can work. Things will get dirty, so if you are using your kitchen table (like I do sometimes), you might want to put newspapers down or even a sheet of cardboard.  The materials you will need are: pots, potting medium, scissors or pruners, rooting hormone, a small paper plate or cup, the plant you are going to propagate.

Potting medium:  You want something that will hold moisture in and that is sterile.  I like to use a mixture of 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 perlite available at any garden center or online. There are other mixes that can be used – the main thing is that you do not want to use soil because it may carry soil-borne diseases that will hurt your attempts at propagating. While you are at it, be sure to clean your pots with soap and bleach to disinfect them, too. I like to fill my pots with potting mix first and make sure the potting mix is nice and moist. You will probably want to put many cuttings in one pot so estimate how many cuttings you are going to take, figure to put 3-5 cuttings per pot depending on the size of the pot and the size of the cuttings. It seems to me, when they are trying to grow roots, the cuttings like being in a pot together.  That is not scientific and it may be my imagination – but that seems to happen to my cuttings.

To begin, cut 4-6 inches off the tip of your  plant at a slanted angle. One strong recommendation is to snip off many cuttings so that some will live. To be a propagator, you can’t be afraid of killing plants. A wise presenter at one of my Master Gardener classes said this: “To learn how to be good at gardening, you have to kill more plants.” Since then, I don’t feel as bad when a plant dies – I just remind myself that I am learning to be a good gardener.  And remember, when you propagate your own plants, it also makes it a lot less painful financially when plants die.

If you have large perennials that need to be cut back in the fall, you can stick the ends in water until you are able to propagate. I have brought tons of clippings home that were going int the compost bin at my Master Gardener site when they were cutting back in the fall. I fill my sink up with cool water and put all the cuttings in the sink until I could get to them later in the day. They stayed nice and fresh until I was ready to propagate. And I had an excuse for not doing the dishes. Win, win.

After making cuttings, you have to do the most painful procedure in propagating. Strip off all the lower leaves and cut off any blooms or buds.  The blooms or buds can drain the energy from the plant for forming roots. In fancy terms, removing leaves and buds reduces transpiration and increases success in propagating.

Pour a small amount of rooting hormone in a small cup or on a paper plate. You do not want to contaminate the rooting hormone by dipping the stem into the bottle. Lightly dust the bottom of the plant with rooting hormone.  You can either dip the end in water, then into the rooting hormone or gently scrape a little off the stem, then dip it into the rooting hormone. This ensures that more hormone stays on the cutting.

Using a pencil, pen or dowel, make a hole in the potting medium, then stick the stem into hole. Press the soil around the stem to hold it into place. Continue doing this until the pot is full of cuttings. Water carefully.

At this point, you can put a plastic bag around the cuttings and close it with a twist tie.  This will retain the moisture around the plants. In the spring when it is fairly cool, I don’t put the cuttings in a plastic bag because it is very humid here and the plants retain moisture from the air.  If you do not use a plastic bag to cover the cuttings, be sure to mist them frequently.

After a couple of weeks, roots will begin to grow on the cuttings. You can tell when the cuttings have rooted by gently pulling up on the stem. If you get some resistance, then there are probably roots starting on the cutting. If you feel no resistance and you pull the cutting out of the soil, just push it back in and try again in a few days.  You can also tell that something is happening when you see new growth on the cutting. The salvia cuttings below were put into 3″ pots just five days ago. Almost all of them “took” – but salvias are very easy to propagate! You can see that they are hydrated and look fresh. Although you won’t be able to tell (since you didn’t see them when they were planted) some already have new growth.

Propagated Salvias
Once your cuttings are well rooted, they are ready to be moved to individual pots to continue growing. In moving to individual pots, you might lose a few plants. Remember, plant lots of cuttings so some live. The success of the transplanting process can depend on how well rooted the cuttings are, how hot it is outside when you transplant, or the difficulty of plants to propagate. For example, for me, salvia is a lot easier to propagate than turk’s cap. So I make sure that I take many turk’s cap cuttings. In the photo below, the turk’s cap plants look robust and healthy.  But be forewarned – these are the survivors. Many little cuttings died – and these lived. I am so excited about the live ones that I am ready to make many more little cuttings to see how many survive this time. I tell you, propagating is addictive!

Pink Turk's Cap
One last tip – different seasons are better for propagating.  The spring is great because plants are in a big growth cycle anyway. Summer, especially in hot Texas, is harder because it is just way too hot for the plants to overcome the shock of being cut and stripped of leaves. Not to mention being too hot to be outside trying to propagate. Ensuring that the plants are always moist through misting can increase your success in the summer, but that can be quite time consuming. In a future post, I will be sharing information on building your own home misting system that will really help you improve your propagating success rate, especially in the summer. Fall works great, although, plants root a bit slower than in the spring. If you can propagate in the fall and keep the plants above freezing in the winter, they will grow to a rather large size for planting in the spring. To propagate in the winter, you might need to bring plants indoors and possibly get a warming mat to keep the soil warm and encourage roots to develop.

And that’s about all there is to propagating perennials.  You might make some mistakes – and that is OK. The more you work on propagating, the more you try, the more successful you will be. And the bigger  your beautiful garden will be, too. If you like to see the action in photos, some step-by-step directions on propagating with photos of each step are available on this post.

I really can’t stress enough how much you will benefit from learning to propagate. It is incredibly fulfilling when you see the fruits of your labor. Propagating saves money as compared to buying all your plants. It will also provide you with a stock of plants that you can trade or give to others.  I never knew how much I would enjoy it, but now I just can’t stop.  Let me know when you successfully propagate your first plants!!!!!

Why You Should Save Buckets of Money by Propagating Your Plants

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Gardening and landscaping can be incredibly satisfying, but if you aren’t careful, it can also be incredibly expensive. If you learn how to propagate your own plants, however, it can not only be fulfilling but also save you buckets of money. You can further save money by growing your own plants from seeds, but that will be covered in another post.  One of the best times to propagate is in the spring since plants grow incredibly fast and you will feel accomplished in a very short period of time.

This is the first year I have been really focused on growing perennials but growing them can be quite expensive. When I found out I could have loads of plants basically for free by propagating plants I already have growing in the yard, I enthusiastically started propagating.  Many of the fast growing perennials will be large and very showy once spring is in full force so I have propagated, propagated, propagated like crazy.  It is s-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o fun to look at all the new plants you have growing just propagating the plants in your yard.  It is even more fun to start adding up all the money you did NOT spend on all those plants.

The trumpet plants (brugmansia) below are an example of plants I began propagating in the fall before the first frost. Just a few months later,  they really took off.

Trumpet Plants

How Propagating from Cuttings Increases Your Plant Population
Propagating from cuttings is probably one of the easiest ways to propagate and most perennials can be easily propagated this way. Once you start propagating from your yard, the good thing is that you can start to share – and grow your plant population even more (pun intended).  For example, just this morning, I took two yellow trumpet plants I had propagated to my chiropractor. In return, he is giving me a plant he ordered from a trip to South America.  The plant he is giving me is not only pretty but I can make a delicious and very healthy green drink from its leaves. Win, win, WIN.  Another friend is going to order a tri-color trumpet plant and I am going to order a double leaf lavender and a pink one.  Guess what we are going to do – that’s right.  Propagate and trade!!!

So how difficult is this propagating, you ask.  Well, not difficult at all.  I will admit that I used to believe three incorrect things about propagating. First, I thought I couldn’t do it.  Me, a brown thumb – no sir – not me. They will just die!!!  Second, I thought it would take FOREVER for the plants to get big enough to even see.  OK – I am exaggerating a little there – but you get the idea – too long to get big, so I would be better off just spending the money to buy a big plant in a pot.  And third, I thought I had to spend a bunch of money on specialized equipment to propagate.  ALL my beliefs – ARE WRONG.

Salvia, Tomatoes and Mexican Sage

The photo above shows the plants I propagated this fall from cuttings off of the “mama” plants (and a few tomatoes grown from store-bought tomatoes).  Part of the trick is not being afraid to try. Another part is to propagate many, many cuttings and realize, that even if a bunch die, you will (almost) always have some that live. Keep in mind, also, if a bunch of cuttings do die, you haven’t spent/wasted a lot of money. You can always re-use the soil or mix it into your compost pile.  The cuttings that did not take (died) can also be a contributor to your compost pile.  And you can try again.  The good thing is, that the more you do it, the better you get and the higher success rate you have.

Yes, it is sad when some plants die.  But that is okay, because some or many will live, too. Remember, focus on the ones that live.

Non-survivors

I also suggest starting with plants that are easy to propagate. You can find which plants are easier to propagate by visiting university agricultural websites. Two great sites are the Texas A & M Agriculture Extension site and the University of Georgia Extension site, both of which contain vast information on all things green. I also highly suggest Dave’s Garden for information on almost any plant in the universe. They have articles and videos on many, many other garden topics as well.

You can also find “easy to propagate” plants by talking to your friends who now propagate. This is where being a member of your local Master Gardeners organization can be beneficial. Also, you can talk to others in your area of the country (and believe me, it matters where you live as far as propagating goes) and find out what is easy to grow there.  You might even be able to use cuttings from the Master Gardener demo gardens (ask first!), your friends’ gardens, or even a plant you see on a country road to further expand your plant supply.  Having said this, start off your adventure propagating “easy” plants and once you have a few successes under your belt, try some of the more challenging plants to propagate.

Second, many perennials do grow fast – some very fast. So in a matter of months, you can have a nice sized bush or vine that will continue to grow bigger each year from a tiny cutting that began in a 3” pot. For example, here are the trumpet plants that I propagated in the fall.  It is still in the early spring and they have grown!  You can imagine how large these will be by the end of the summer.

So, to encourage your propagating endeavors, be sure to research information on which perennials grow quickly and which take longer to grow.

Third, no expensive and special equipment is required. Generally, propagating a perennial requires scissors or pruners, rooting hormone, pots and potting soil, a small plastic cup or paper plate, plastic bags or plastic wrap. Most of these materials are readily available to anyone already gardening. The tooting hormone can be purchased online or at a garden center for very little money.

So, is it really worth the trouble, you ask? Well, on the left below, a little brugmansia plant was given to me. I planted it in the yard and it grew all summer. Then, in the fall before the first frost, I made cuttings. And all those beautiful plants on the left were propagated – from what started as one little plant. They will be one of my contributions to the local Master Gardener plant sale. Yes, it is worth it!

Brugmansia and cat

For more details on how to propagate, go to this post or view this step-by-step picture tutorial on how to propagate. While propagating can sound very scary at first, I encourage you to jump in there and try.  If you try, you will succeed! It is that easy!  Propagating can be very cost efficient for those who want more in their garden/landscaping and don’t want to spend a lot of money. And it is incredibly rewarding (and addictive).  Like the old Nike commercial said, “Just do it!” And let me hear about your successes.

Arch Trellis for Cukes, Melons, and Squash

Trellises are really critical in gardening if you want to grow up.  As discussed on a prior post, there are several reasons for growing up. One is the space saving aspect of growing up instead of growing horizontally.  In the same space, if you garden vertically, you can often harvest several times as much as you can spreading out. So, for those who are tight on space, vertical gardening is the way to go.  For those who live in the country and are subject to visits by wildlife, you can use trellises to keep your veggies away from those wild things looking for an easy snack – like your delicious cucumbers. And, for those not especially fond of reptiles, you can avoid reaching down for a cucumber and coming up with a wiggling snake. Sooooo, if you are gardening, consider growing up for your veggies and fruits.

We decided that growing up made sense for cukes, beans, and melons. So, we built an arch trellis that was patterned after the one on this post.  While we liked the trellis a great deal, we made some changes to the design, some of them mid-way through building the arch.  You can go here to see the original idea.  I will discuss the changes that we made in this post.

MAKING THE AREA LEVEL FOR RAISED BED FRAME
Our land slopes down and we wanted our trellis with raised beds to be level. So, we had to dig out ground at one end to make sure the frame was level at the other end.  Or relatively so.  Since we have red clay that can be really hard to dig and an abundance of iron ore rocks sprinkled throughout the soil and we were making several raised beds, at the end of the project, we decided being off by 1/4 inch was indeed A-OK.  In the photo below, the first bed is done with a 2x6x12 box stacked on a 2x8x12 box.

First Bed

We decided to make the boxes 12 feet long x 24 inches wide. The two cattle panels will take up 8 feet with a 4×2 foot section at the ends of the bed that will be open (with no trellis). Rationale:  I wanted to have a little extra space at the end of the beds to plant non-climbing vegetables. Since we were building raised beds anyway, I decided to give us the extra growing space in the arch-bed rather than building a separate raised bed. In addition to the extra four feet at the end of the raised bed, we built the frames 24″ wide rather than the 12″ wide used in the example. The climbing veggies will be planted in a one foot space closest to the trellis. This gives us an additional 1×8 foot section on each box for planting non-climbers. Don’t know if this will work – time will tell.

Once we built the beds and dug the spaces for both raised beds, we attempted to put up the cattle panels. This is the second BIG change we made from the example arch trellis. Thirty six inches was just not enough space between the two frame boxes.

Frames with Cattle Panel

If you look at the photo above, notice how small the space is between boxes.  Too close. In fact, when we put the panel in place, I noted that only a giant could reach to the top of the arch to pick veggies because the arch was so high. In addition it kinda bowed out on the sides so it looked like a giant pear sitting on the frame. The arch that looked best was actually how the panel is placed in the photo above. Notice that the box needs to be moved to achieve that arch.  Soooooooo, “we” decided to spread the boxes an additional two feet apart, so instead of a three foot spread, we would have a five foot spread.  This will make it much easier to reach the top to pick veggies and fruits and gives more space in between to walk comfortably. Or sit inside and read a book, I think. Hubby was sooooo pleasant about this little change, moved the box over and dug some more.  Not only did the sides have to be dug, but we had to dig out the inside of the box to get rid of Bermuda grass before planting. Yes, we could have used Round-up but we like to avoid using as many chemicals as we can. So – I really appreciated his willingness to move the box!!!!

Cattle Panel Stapled

Once the boxes were in place, we lifted the first cattle panel and placed it against the outside of the box on the right placing it on the ground. We secured the cattle panel on the right box with eight-1 1/2″ cattle panel staples. Next, we grabbed the other end of the cattle panel and placed it against the outside of the box on the left and secured it with another eight staples. Perfect arch!!!!

We did the same thing with the second cattle panel.  Hubby very nicely wired the two panels together for a more secure arch. The arch trellis beds are ready for action.  I filled them with soil from the forest out back and topped them off with compost and then straw and the plants are happy in their new home.  I can hardly wait to see the arch filling out.

Arch Planted

Materials needed for this project:

4 – 2x6x12  treated pine (We actually got the 16′ boards, but we are going to be using it on other projects. If there is no difference in price and you don’t want the extra boards laying around, go for the 12′ boards.)

1 – 2x6x8 treated pine (cut into four  2′ sections for the ends of the boxes)

4 – 2x8x12 treated pine (Same as above)

1 – 2x8x8 treated pine (cut into four  2′ sections for the ends of the boxes)

2 – 4’x16′ cattle panels (I accidentally called them hog panels and the cashier at Tractor Supply promptly corrected me.)

1 – 2x4x8 treated pine – for bracing the sides (we actually used scraps we had on hand – if you don’t have those you will have to buy this)

3 1/2″ exterior star-headed screws

32 – 1  1/2″ cattle panel staples

Tools needed:
Impact driver
Saw (of some type)
Hammer (for staples)
Shovel (if you have land that slopes and want a level raised bed or just want to make sure your raised bed is perfectly level)
Level (if you have land that slopes and want a level raised bed or just want to make sure your raised bed is perfectly level)

 

Benefits of Gardening are Beyond Just A Delicious Harvest

Salad Greens
For everyone wondering whether it was worth it to go through the hard work of gardening, this bowl of greens should be a good answer. Those who do garden know that home grown produce just tastes better in ways that can never really be understood if you have never done it. Home grown produce is fresher – literally you can walk out the door, pick it and go in and enjoy its wonderful flavor immediately. This is why I go through all the trouble of gardening. Because at the end of the day (or the middle for that matter), nothing is better than walking outside and picking your meal fresh off the plant.  In addition, fresh picked produce has more nutritional content. However, recently, scientific research has confirmed that the health benefits of gardening are enormous physically as well as psychologically.

According to a meta-analysis of 22 case studies on gardening (published in March 2017), those who participate in gardening can potentially be healthier than those who do not garden. In the US, approximately 117 million people, one in three, participate in gardening and it seems like to more are interested in joining the gardening crowd every day.  In what ways can gardening help?

INCREASES LIFE SATISFACTION
Nothing feels better than a satisfying day of gardening. I mentioned the joy of eating fresh produce, but there are other joys that can be found in gardening.  It is very satisfying to propagate, make more from some, as I mentioned in the propagation post. Whether you are increasing your blooming plant stock or increasing your edible plants, taking a plant from one to many is extremely satisfying. When you see your plants growing throughout a season, budding out in spring, turning beautiful in the fall, you have a sense of peace and satisfaction. I always thought this – now science agrees with me.

Onions and Garlic

INCREASES STRENGTH AND STAMINA
When I was on limited activities, my heart doctor said I could exercise daily by walking. I asked him if gardening was OK – and he said, “Even better.”  Now, I was banned from digging at first, but there were many things that I could do. And everyday, I felt stronger and had more endurance. While gardening is not exercise, per se, it is exercise because you are physically working in the soil, lifting plants, pulling weeds, stooping, bending and standing. When you first get started – or you begin again in the spring after a long winter inside, your muscles will tell you that you have, indeed, been exercising.

REDUCES STRESS, ANGER, FATIGUE, DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
And with no drugs to boot. I mentioned earlier that you get a sense of peace from gardening. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t always go out and feel like I am in Eden. There are days that I work really hard and build up a pretty big sweat. I often come in dirty and tired, wearing a lot of dirt on my clothes and in my shoes.But, at the end of the day, I feel a healthy exhaustion, sense of accomplishment, and not in the least stressed. So, I would have to agree with science. Gardening can reduce stress, anger, fatigue, depression and anxiety – without any toxic meds.

One recent study looked at the impact of gardening on stress. In this study, thirty gardeners were asked to perform a stressful task. They were then randomly assigned to 30 minutes of outdoor gardening or indoor reading. Levels of stress were measured throughout the 30 minutes through salivary cortisol levels and self-reported mood. Both post-gardening activities led to decreases in cortisol during the recovery period, but the decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. After gardening, positive mood was fully restored. After reading, mood further deteriorated.  While both reading and gardening reduced stress, gardening reduced it significantly more.  In addition to gardening, you might want to grow a garden that contains plants that can reduce stress and improve your mood.

INCREASES SENSE OF COMMUNITY AND COGNITIVE FUNCTION
As mentioned in other posts, joining a local Master Gardeners has been a great way to meet very nice people with like interests. It has also given me the opportunity to learn something new everyday.  How much fertilizer do I need to add, is my soil pH high or low, do I need to add more nitrogen, home much lime do I need to add to soil for veggies, what is my square footage for gardening, what is my yield, what do I want to grow and where are just some of the calculations I have to make through the going season.  Yep, my cognitive function is stretched. In a good way.

HELPS PREVENT HEART DISEASE
Gardening would be considered moderate to high-intensity exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adults need at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (gardening counts!) per week. In fact, according gardening burns more calories per hour than lifting weights.  Since it burns calories, gardening can be helpful in weight maintenance as well as controlling blood pressure.

GARDENING IS EARTHING IS GARDENING
What the heck in Earthing ? Well, Dr. Sinatra of the Heart MD Institute considers earthing to be the most impressive breakthrough in heart health. That is pretty important in my book. Earthing is, quite simply, getting your body into contact with the Earth – much as you used to run outside barefoot as a child. Remember the feelings you had coming into contact with the ground as a child? This contact with the Earth provides the body with a natural, but subtle energy.

You are a bioelectrical being living on Earth, an electrical planet. Your body functions electrically – your heart and central nervous system for example. According to Dr. Sinatra (and many others), emerging science finds that direct contact with the ground gives you an energy infusion from the Earth.  The energy infusion is powerful, restoring and stabilizing the bioelectrical circuitry governing your physiology and organs, harmonizing your basic biological rhythms, boosting self-healing mechanisms, reducing inflammation and pain, and improving your sleep and sense of calmness. As you can imagine, when these things happen, you feel tremendously better. The discovery of these benefits, and the dynamics behind them is discussed in a book Dr. Sinatra co-authored in 2014 called  Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever!  Says Dr. Sinatra, “We humans live on a global treatment table…but don’t know it.”

So, what does Earthing do for you ?

  • Defuses the causes of inflammation while improving or eliminating the symptoms of many inflammation related disorders.
  • Reduces or eliminates chronic pain.
  • Improves sleep in most cases.
  • Increases energy.
  • Lowers stress and promotes calmness in the body by cooling down the nervous system and stress hormones.
  • Normalizes the body’s biological rhythms.
  • Thins blood and improves blood pressure and flow.
  • Relieves muscle tension and headaches.
  • Lessens hormonal and menstrual symptoms.
  • Dramatically speeds healing and helps prevent bedsores.
  • Reduces or eliminates jet lag.
  • Protects the body against potentially health disturbing environmental electromagnetic fields, EMF’s.
  • Accelerates recovery from intense athletic activity.

What are the basics of Earthing? Making sure your body has direct contact with Earth will equalize your body to the energy of the Earth. In fact, if any part of your body is in contact with the Earth, all of your body becomes equalized with the energy of the Earth. As far as I can tell, you simply can’t garden without touching the Earth.

Obviously I like gardening. But as you can tell, increasingly gardening is being recognized by the scientific and medical community as a critical component in your health. You can walk, or run, or lift weights or any number of other exercises, but I can’t think of any that have the vast array of health and psychological benefits that gardening does.

So, if you are an avid gardener – keep doing it. If you haven’t tried gardening, there is no better time to start than now!

Three Section 10′ x 33″ Compost Bin for Next to Nothing

Completed Compost Bins

Compost bins can be beneficial in so many ways for your health and the health of the world. I looked at all the models out there, and most were too expensive for me to justify purchasing. But, the plans all looked pretty similar. I mean, basically compost bins are boxes – right? And a highly functional one is three compartments so that you can more easily turn the composting piles regularly.

The compost bins basically look like the below diagram:

Compost Bin Diagram
Now, what does this diagram remind you of?  Yep, me too! It looks like seven pallets put together.  So, I went out to my trusty pallet stack and looked for seven pallets that were the same size and hauled them to my “compost pile home” and began assembling them as per the diagram above.

The pallets that I use often for projects come from an office machines company that sells those big copiers to businesses. These pallets are great because the nails are easy to get out and the wood is hard and durable. And heat treated – so they are safe to use.

Pallet

I wanted the sides of the compost bins to have more gaps to allow air into the composting materials.  So, I knocked two of the slats out.  This is where it comes in very handy to have pallets that have “easy to remove” nails.

Slats Removed for Air Circulation

I used those two slats from each pallet to secure the pallets using 2 1/2″ exterior star-headed screws and my fav Makita impact driver to attach the pallets.  The pallets were attached at the top and on the back of the pallets.

Attached Pallets

After the pallets were attached on the top and the backs, it was a very secure compost bin that should last for some time. I even use it to make my hoops out of electrical conduit – and it doesn’t even jiggle.  All told – it took me about two hours and cost less than $5.00 since my only cost was the screws.

Pallets Nailed at Back

I have been considering fixing something to go over the front – but haven’t really needed it so far. The compartments are big enough that the piles work with the front open.

Ain’t she a beaut? Does anyone out there have any other ideas for a quick and inexpensive compost bin?

Finished Compost Bin

 

Recycling Natural Materials & Getting Dirt From the Woods

If you are using raised beds for gardening, then you know that getting the dirt to fill them can be expensive. I know that once you have them filled, you can use the dirt each year just adding compost to the soil. However, always looking for a way to save money, I wondered if the soil on the floor of our woods could be scooped up and used for filling the raised beds. I noticed when I was working to get rid of some of the invasive vines (greenbriar) overtaking the woods and trees that the soil was rich and extremely full of earthworm castings. It seemed it would be an ideal soil to be added to our raised beds and the cost would be free – except for the labor of collecting it.

My friendly and very helpful extension agent said absolutely, the soil could be used for our raised beds. I began researching on the Internet and had no idea that the subject could be so incredibly controversial. There are basically two sides, those who say it is OK to collect soil from the forest floor and it won’t hurt the forest or woods, and those who think that anyone who does that is destroying the natural Earth.  It seems that both sides are adamant and spent hours and hours arguing their case. Neither side seemed to want to change their viewpoint. But, I don’t  want to get into the issues or take sides.

I do believe that finding ways to save money while using natural products is good for your health and good for the world. Let me explain why we used soil taken from our “forest” and did not feel guilty about it. This is our situation – we have 12 acres of land that had apparently been cleared sometime in the past – probably for the pine. It has grown out and is full of hardwoods and pines, lots of red cedar and an incredible amount of invasive Japanese privet and greenbriar.  If you do not know what greenbriar is, then you do not know evil plants, yet.  Roundleaf greenbriar is a very invasive, very thorny vine that in the past, was called “the devil’s wrapping yarn” because of its thorns and tendrils. Twisted in among the horrendous roots of the greenbriar are the roots of the highly invasive Japanese privet. They must have some sort of communication going on to protect each other because they are entangled so much that digging them up is a backbreaking chore.

The vines and privet are overtaking the natural wooded area and strangling the trees and natural shrubbery. While getting rid of the invasive plants, we gave the trees some breathing room and we scooped up the soil and hauled it to the raised beds.  Seems like a win-win to me.

Why am I bringing this up – not everyone has a woods for their back yard. But everyone an find ways to use the resources that are available.

For example – don’t burn your leaves in the fall, and don’t bag them up in those horrid black bags or paper bags to be hauled to the landfill. If you must get them out of your yard, put them in a bin for compost.  Composting will help you dispose of a large quantity of leaves and grass clippings efficiently and cost-effectively. The Iowa State University Extension provides detailed information about composting oak leaves for the home gardener.

 

In a nutshell (no pun intended), oak leaves are slightly acidic but using them as mulch shouldn’t really affect the soil pH. And shredded oak leaves are great for mulching your veggies, perennials. and even around trees and shrubs. Oak leaves are beneficial for increasing the organic matter content of the soil.  The mulching lawnmowers available to day are great at shredding the leaves to make them more usable.  Shredding the leaves will accelerate decomposition.

Speaking from experience, using a thick mulch of oak leaves on top of dense clay soil will encourage earthworms to gather and party down, leaving an incredible bounty behind. We raked all our oak leaves into a thick layer and topped the area with spoiled hay, planning to turn it all into the clay soil. Things came up – as they sometimes tend to do – and we left the layer of leaves and hay sitting there through the summer and winter. We were amazed this spring when we found a thick layer of beautiful compost. When tilled into the clay, it made the clay less dense and more beneficial to growing plants. No longer is that area of the yard impenetrable to shovel or root.

 

DIY Raised Bed using Recycled Corrugated Roofing Material

Harvest in Raised Bed

Raised beds are quite the gardening rage these days and they are beneficial for a variety of reasons. If high enough, they can save your back from constant bending over. This can be beneficial for the elderly or those who have back issues.  The type of soil you have can dictate the necessity of raised beds. As you know, my red clay soil requires raised beds for growing fruits, veggies – and, well, anything. One thing about raised beds is that they can be expensive to build and expensive to fill.  So, always looking to save money, I am always on the hunt for cost effective (cheap) raised bed ideas. I have tried several different ways to build raised beds, and one of my favorites is the one I built using (slightly rusted) corrugated roofing that for some obscure reason was left laying around in multiple locations on our property when we bought it.

I was frustrated with it sitting all over the place and was getting ready to ask my husband to haul it off.  I had really been delaying asking because I kept thinking I could surely do something with it  – old signs, bird house roofs, ????  That’s when I ran across an interesting raised bed idea from Two Peas & Their Pod.

Spark!!!  I could do the same thing – but use the rusted corrugated roofing sitting all over the property for a very inexpensive raised bed. So, that is what I did.

If you have read other posts, you know that the area I use for planting has a pronounced slope. The first semi-raised bed that I built was not sloped and I just didn’t like all the water running to the end of the bed. Since that first bed, I have built them level – which means there is a wide variance between the front of the bed and the back.  There are several ways to do raised beds on a slope including digging down on the high end or raising the end of the bed on the low end. I chose not to dig and adjusted the depth of the boards at the corners to achieve a level bed.

The first thing that I had to do was figure out where the top board would be on the front and on the back of the raised bed. For the first step, I hammered a stake at each corner of the bed and (since it was to be a 16′ bed) and in the middle as well. Using a line level, I marked the position that would be level at each corner and in the middle.  Then, I  measured each stake. To give you an idea of our sloping land, the front side of the bed is 15.5″ and the back side is 23.25 inches.

Using 4×4 treated pine, I cut the corner and middle boards.  Using 1x4x8 treated pine, I screwed the boards at the top and the bottom of each 4×4 “leg” using two 3 1/2″ star head exterior screws on each leg. I used two 8′ sections instead of a 16′ board for two reasons. First, I was planning on making two 8′ beds – but once I  got started, I decided making one 16′ bed would save resources, ie. less wood and less wasted space between the beds. And, I really don’t have a good way to get 16′ lumber home.

Corrugated Bed Frame

You can see from the slant of the top board how much our property slopes. I used a  standard and line level multiple times as I was building the frames.  It was very frustrating, actually, but I finally got the top boards level and screwed into the legs.

Next, I used 2×4 treated lumber every two feet to support the 1×4 frames. I screwed them into the 1x4s with 2 1/2″ star head exterior screws.  I also decided to put a cross brace at 8′ because it seemed a bit wobbly. You can see one side complete below.

Side of Raised Bed

In case you are wondering, I set the side boards on top of the soil. As mentioned before, I have hard red clay soil and I don’t think the bed will sink.  My husband was a little concerned when he first saw it, but decided that we would just put some braces under the supports if it does sink. So far, it has remained true despite multiple rain events.

After completing the supports for each side, I dragged the corrugated roofing material over to the raised bed. The sheets were in varying lengths and widths.  I had to decide whether to make the ridges run vertically or horizontally.  After much deliberation, I decided to have the ridges run vertically because it seemed more cost effective and easier cutting the pieces to fit. At first, I cut the pieces to match the slope of the land, but after several pieces, I realized cutting them straight worked just as effectively and was a ton easier.

I used my circular saw to cut the roofing material using a Diablo 48-tooth Steel Demon Ferrous Metal Cutting Saw Blade.  My husband didn’t think it would work, but it cut through the roofing like butter. However, make sure you wear safety glasses and preferably a long sleeve shirt because the sparks fly!!!!!

I tried to line up the corrugated sheet to the top of the board, so I ended up having to dig down a bit in some places to align the corrugated sheet to the top of the top rail.  I secured the corrugated sheet metal to the 1×4 frames with #9 x 1″ fine steel hex-head roofing screws and my fav impact driver.  The hex head made it easy to “grip” the screw as it went through the roofing. Even though they said the hex screws are self-drilling, I found it easier to pre-drill a hole first since the corrugated roofing was super thick – must have been industrial grade.

Once all the roofing was in, I decided it would be nice to be able to sit down and work in the bed, so I used 5/4 deck boards along the top.

Raised Bed with Corrugated Steel
And there she is, ready to be filled with soil. Lots of soil. She isn’t shiny and new, but using materials that I had on hand, I was able to inexpensively build a 4’x16′ raised bed for 64 square feet of gardening. And, I think it has a lot of personality – a statement that I like to re-use and re-style to save money and save resources. And, as you can see at the top of the post, the raised bed was finished and filled in time to get a nice spring harvest.

What do you  have laying around that can be used in a different way? What can you re-use to save yourself money and the world resources.  Shiny and new is not always better and I urge you to look for creative ways to renovate the past.  Let me hear from you!!!!