The Introduction of Earthworms to The US

earthworms
Red Wigglers

Most people don’t think much about earthworms, but gardeners do, and most gardeners think that worms have always been in our soils, but they haven’t.  Canada and the northern states of the US had no earthworms after the last glaciation until the Europeans showed up.

It is believed that earthworms first arrived in the US around the seventeenth century. It’s thought that they arrived in the soil that was used as ballast on the ships coming from England. Their arrival changed forest ecosystems forever as they chewed their way through the leaf litter on the forest floor.
Some forest ecologists blame these European earthworm immigrants for the demise of some species of salamanders and ground-nesting birds, animals that depend on the forest leaf litter for habitat. Continue reading The Introduction of Earthworms to The US

Fewer Nutrients in Our Vegetables

soilI recently learned of a study that shows we are getting fewer nutrients in our vegetables & fruits.  Compared to studies from the 1950’s, today’s vegetables and fruits contain less protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin C.  At the same time, carbohydrate levels have increased, and here’s why scientists think this is happening.

Rising Levels of CO2

Scientists believe that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing the loss of nutrients.  More carbon dioxide equals lower levels of essential minerals in the soil.  The higher CO2 levels are causing the plants to produce more carbohydrates at the expense of other essential nutrients.  So plants are growing just fine with these higher CO2 levels, but they now have lower levels of minerals.  Nice looking plants, little nutritional value. Continue reading Fewer Nutrients in Our Vegetables

Time To Start Growing | Seed Starts

It’s March and in the southeast part of the country, and that means it’s time to start growing, beginning with the decision on what to grow and what seed varieties to start.

Here are the steps to take and the supplies you will need to get started.  Make a list of what you want to grow, fruits and vegetables.

  • If you don’t have the latest seed catalogs, order them or go to the online sites of your favorite seed companies.  Some of mine are Johnny’s, Baker Creek, Kitchen Garden, & Fedco.  There are many more good seed companies out there.
  • Order your seeds or go to your local garden center and pick from their racks.

Supplies you will need for growing include:

  • Seed germination trays
  • A dome to cover your tray
  • Tray cell inserts.  Size depends on what type of plant you’re starting.  Recommended sizes are 72 cell for greens, 18 cell for brassicas, tomatoes, and peppers.
  • A heat mat.  Unless you keep your room very warm, say 70 degrees or more, a heat mat is essential for raising the soil temperature for better germination. The exception would be for greens, which do well in lower temperatures.
  • A seed starting mix.  This should be basic with no fertilizers added.  A mix of peat or coir, perlite, lime, and a wetting agent is all you need.  Save the fertilizing until after the seedling is planted and growing.
  • A sprayer to keep your seeds and seedlings moist.
  • Liquid kelp to help with germination and add minerals.
  • Possibly a portable greenhouse to place your seedling in, depending on your situation.  You want warmth and light.
  • And most importantly, a good germination light.  This is where most people fail.  Good lighting and heat are necessary for good germination and growth of most seedlings.  The light coming through your window won’t cut it for developing strong plants. The most economical lights are T5 Fluorescents. For best success, you need enough bulbs to cover the entire width of the tray your starting in.  For a 10″ x 20″ standard size tray, that means 4 – 2 foot bulbs over one tray.  You can get away with 2 but 4 works better.

How to set up:

  • Place your cell insert in your tray.  Fill with seed starting mix to about 1/2″ from the top.  Place your seeds. Cover them with 1/4″ to 1/2″ of starting mix, depending on the seed size.  Smaller seeds need less covering.
  • Moisten with your sprayer.
  • Put the dome on to hold moisture in.
  • Place the tray on the heating mat and put it under your lighting, with the light about 6″ to 8″ from the soil.

As your plants grow, keep moving the light up, keeping it about the same distance away.  The best device I have found to make this easy is a set of pulleys designed for adjusting lighting.  To close, you can burn your seedlings, too far and you’ll have spindly plants.

Now start growing for the best varieties of your choice and to save money by growing your own plant starts.

Permaculture Design Course in Ecuador?

cotacachiWould you like to take a Permaculture Design Course in beautiful Cotacachi, Ecuador at the base of 16000-foot Cotacachi volcano?  How about in temperatures in the 70’s with little humidity, in a USA winter.

I’m trying to get an idea of the interest in doing this 2-week intensive PDC in Ecuador next winter.  Prices and dates are still to be determined.

The location is incredible with mind-blowing vistas of the volcanos Imbabura and Cotacachi.

Garden beds are already in place and there is plenty of available space for course design implementations.  Participants could camp or stay in very inexpensive hostels close by in town.

Comment or mark “Like” on our Facebook page if you think this is of interest.

 

Hummingbird Feeders

hummingbird

Every year we put out our hummingbird feeders to attract these beautiful little birds to our homes. We do this both to view these little hummers in action, and to provide food for their long, impending trip south. We assume, that we are doing them a favor by providing difficult to find food.

The question is…are we really doing them a favor by feeding them what is the human equivalent of a Twinkie, for food? Hummingbirds are major pollinators of wildflowers, for one. If we’re feeding them sugar water, are we keeping them from seeking out nectar from the very flowers they are designed to pollinate?

There are arguments that they need both feeders and native habitat to feast on. If this is the case, then maybe we should be planting more hummingbird habitats, rather than putting out more feeders. This would be a more natural way of helping nature along.
I’m not sure what’s right, but for now, I’m going to continue planting more plants for hummingbirds and putting out the feeder. I do enjoy watching them right outside my office window. Another good reason for the feeder. If I discover that I am doing more harm than good, I’ll quit the feeders.

I do make my own sugar water using 1 part of plain white sugar to 4 parts filtered water.  I don’t put red dye in it and it is not necessary.  The birds have no problem finding it.  I also make sure that I keep the feeder clean and sanitary for the birds, mostly mold buildup.  Keep it clean and keep it healthy!