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Family Homesteading Advocate
Simple Living for the Urban and Rural Homesteader

More Organic Gardening Articles 
(back to main Organic Gardening Page)


On this page you will find.....
Gardening Notes - Gardening is a time to just have fun!
Growing Gourmet Garlic - Winter's the time to plant your garlic. This article will help you get it done!
This Spring: Dig a Pond! - Increase the enjoyment of your garden.
Container Herb Gardening for Beginners - You can grow
herbs anywhere - no matter where you live!
Prepare For Seed Starting - Get a jump on your gardening!
Home Remedies for Fungus Gnat and Damping-Off Control Great advice for a common problem.

Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects


Gardening Notes
So many things to do, so little time.  I'm just trying to put in a few vegetables this year. Looking back to past gardens, I have made the mistake of trying to put in too much. There are so many wonderful and different varieties that I just want to grow it all! So I usually end up planting more than I can keep irrigated and care for. 

By the middle of the summer the water level in our well gets low and
it can't easily handle the extra load of the garden, especially if i've planted all the different varieties I just had to have. So, what goes
in the ground must be monitored carefully. I usually end up becoming the "water dictator", a.k.a. "Don't Waste A Drop Tony".  Not a fun guy! It's not fun going without water and it's not fun having to cull some of my hard work in the garden.  Gardening should be fun! 

So, grow what you think is fun and what you have the resources for. My favorites are melons, garlic, cayenne peppers and peas. Grow what excites you. The thrill of growing your own produce, herbs and flowers can be extremely satisfying.

When planning a garden it's important to define both your long and short term goals with steps planned out on how to get there. One of my long term goals is to put in a large holding tank that is connected to our well to adequately supply all our water needs and hopefully eliminate my dissapointment of having to let certain plants go each summer. My short term goals are to get the garden planted and fenced. Towards the end of summer I plan to plant a nitrogen fixing crop of fava beans to overwinter in the garden. 

This year our garden will consist of a few tomatoes, peppers, green beans, radishes, lettuce, summer squash, cucumbers and a "fun" 
crop of Yellow Doll hybrid watermelon. I planted 4 varieties of garlic last fall which I will be harvesting in July. I plan to put together a report on the outcome of those 4 varieties and will post them on this website in time for your fall planting. I will also report on my experience with a natural deer repellant which I will be trying this year. Deer are a problem here! And finally, my pet project is patio gardening in containers.

We will keep you informed on our successes and failures, so stay tuned!
Keep the faith,   Tony
(Tony Frohnauer is the co-publisher of the Family Homesteading Advocate.)

Prepare for Seed Starting 
by Arzeena Hamir 

How do you satisfy the gardening itch in the middle of winter? Easily! Start plants from seed. Now is a great time to get a jumpstart on the gardening season. Just a little preparation will help ensure you seed starting success. Here is some of the equipment you'll need: 


Almost any type of container can be used to start your seedlings in, as long as it can hold moisture and is sturdy enough to handle a wet potting mix. Gardeners have always recycled yogurt & cottage cheese containers, milk cartons, & even egg cartons. Whatever container you use, make sure that it has a hole through which excess water can drain or is porous and will eventually drain. Any sitting water at the bottom of a container can rob growing roots of oxygen and encourage fungal diseases. 

Before filling your container with potting mix, wash it well to get rid of 
any food particles. This is especially important for containers that are 
reused year after year. Certain fungal diseases, such as Fusarium, can be spread through contaminated soil that is still hanging on to the sides of containers. If your seedlings succumbed to any diseases last year, make sure the containers are rinsed with a 10% solution of bleach to kill off any remaining spores. 

Soil Mix 

One of the most important factors when starting your seedlings is choosing your potting mix. It is often recommended to use a sterilized, soil-free starter mix to prevent diseases such as damping-off from taking hold of tender seedlings. I still recommend soil-less mixes to beginner gardeners but I, myself, have started to add compost and worm casts to my own mix. Here are a few reasons why: 

First, soil-less mixes are totally free of any nutrients whatsoever. While young seedlings don't require fertilizers until they develop their first set of true leaves, I find having to feed them solely through a liquid feed quite cumbersome. Organic fertilizers like compost and worm casts release their nutrients slowly and don't burn seedlings the way inorganic fertilizers may. Having these fertilizers already in the potting mix means I don't have to worry about feeding for at least 5-6 weeks. By then, I'm usually potting up the seedlings and adding fresh fertilizer anyway. 

Second, I have found that growing seedlings with organic fertilizers in the mix tends to produce healthier seedlings. The organic fertilizers help to mimic conditions in the garden where there is a multitude of fungi, bacteria and other soil organisms. Seedlings have to extract nutrients from the organic fertilizers just the way they would in garden soil. In contrast, I find that seedlings fed solely with liquid fertilizers tend to be less efficient at extracting nutrients since the liquid feeds provide them in a highly soluble form. 

Third, the organic fertilizers help the soil mix hold moisture for longer 
periods of time. Most soil-less mixes are a combination of peat, perlite & vermiculite and drain very quickly. They require frequent watering, 
especially when seedlings grow their first set of true leaves and really 
begin to transpire. Both compost and worm casts retain moisture well and keep it available for growing roots. 

Lastly, adding organic material into the potting mix helps to stretch the mix and make it go farther. This can be quite a cost savings, especially if your make your own compost or raise worms yourself. 

One word of caution about adding organic fertilizers to your potting mix - remember that they will contain a wide variety of soil organisms and your soil mix will not longer be sterile. If you've had a problem with damping-off in the past, i.e. you tend to overwater your seedlings, you may want to only water your seedlings from the bottom or else stay with a sterile mix. 


Have you ever tried starting seeds inside on a windowsill and found that they grew spindly and kept falling over? Early spring light just doesn't have the intensity and duration that young seedlings need, forcing them to stretch for more and more light. Most seedlings require 12-14 hours of direct light in order to keep them short and stocky and producing healthy leaves. Therefore, artificial lights are required early in the season. 

Although you can purchase grow lights in your local nursery or garden 
center, I find a combination of warm and cool fluorescent bulbs just as effective at a fraction of the cost. Since seedlings need high light 
intensity, these bulbs need to be no more than 3-4 inches away from the top of the plant. I attach the light ballast to the underside of a shelf or even the underside of a table and place my seedling trays under the tubes. If the lights are still too far away, you can also raise the trays on boxes. As the plants grow, the boxes can be removed so that the leaves do not touch the bulbs. 


Last but not least, gather your seeds together and select what you're going to grow this year and how much of each variety. If you have left over seed from previous seasons and are not sure if the seed is still viable, do a quick & easy germination test between moist paper towel to see if the seeds sprout. Plant any seeds that do germinate and discard any mould. 

If you're really itching to do some kind of gardening now, you can start the following types of seed indoors near the end of January/early February: 

Vegetables         Flowers 
Celery               Aquilegia 
Celeriac             Myostosis 
Leeks                Perennial Alyssum 
Giant Onion       Pansies 
Arzeena is an agronomist and gardenwriter for Organic Living Newsletter. Subscribe to this free e-newsletter at 

Home Remedies for Fungus Gnat and Damping-Off Control
by Arzeena Hamir

Late winter and early spring is a great time to start seedlings and get the gardening season underway. Growing your own seedlings from seed is highly rewarding and can open doors to even more species that are not often found in garden centers. However, a couple of problems can sometimes curb the indoor green thumb and seriously affect the success of growing seedlings. Fungus gnats and damping-off are two afflictions that commonly affect gardeners. However, before you spend money on expensive chemicals, the
solution to these problems may actually be much more low cost that you suspect.

Fungus gnats

These tiny, black insects seem innocuous enough as they buzz over your plants. While the adults rarely cause any problems to plants, if the young larvae are in large numbers, they can damage your seedlings. Fungus gnats search out moist soil in which to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will feed on the roots of your plants. Healthy seedlings will often be able to withstand this feeding but any seedlings that have small root systems like onions and leeks and those that are showing symptoms of nutrient stress can be put back quite significantly.

The easiest way to prevent fungus gnats is to water your plants properly. Overwatering, which causes your potting mix to remain moist for extended periods of time, seems to attract fungus gnats. If your plants are already infected, allow the soil to dry out between watering. Alternatively, sprinkle a ¼" of sand on top of your soil to confuse the adults. Since the sand drains water quickly, it can sometimes trick the adults into thinking the soil is dry.

Potting mixes containing peat seem to be particularly affected by fungus gnats. If the problem is reoccurring for you, think about switching from a peat-based mix to one that only contains perlite and vermiculite. Lastly, if the adult fungus gnats are bothersome, trap them by making your own sticky trap. The adults are attracted to the color yellow. Make your own sticky trap by smearing Vaseline or Tanglefoot on a yellow surface and hang it up close to where the adults congregate.


Not only will controlling your watering help to prevent fungus gnats, it
will prevent the second most common problem, damping-off. This condition is caused by several fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. These fungi live at the soil line, just where air meets the moist soil surface. When your potting soil is kept continuously moist by overwatering, the fungi attack your seedlings. The telltale symptom is a constricted stem, just at or below the soil surface. Once seedlings are infected, they tend to fall over at the soil line.

As mentioned, allowing the soil surface to dry out will go a long way in
preventing this problem. If, for some reason, your potting mix remains wet for an extended period of time, look to your kitchen cabinet to help prevent the disease. Cinnamon powder is a natural fungicide and has been shown to be particularly effective against damping-off. In addition, Weak chamomile tea (after it has cooled) is another natural fungicide.

Ensuring seedling success need not be complicated or expensive. Controlling your watering and a few home made remedies will go a long way to guaranteeing healthy seedlings.
Arzeena is an agronomist and gardenwriter for Organic Living Newsletter. Subscribe to this free e-newsletter at


Growing Gourmet Garlic 
by Arzeena Hamir

Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to plant yet by this time of 
the year, most gardeners are so tired that they often don't bother
to plant this gourmet delight.

In the garden, garlic makes a wonderful companion crop and tends to repel most bugs.  Planted among members of the cabbage family, it helps repel imported cabbageworm.  Many gardeners have also found using sprays made from garlic to be very effective in helping to control plant diseases such as powdery mildew, bean anthracnose, and brown rot in almonds, apricots and peaches.

Garden Preparation
Garlic prefers well-drained, moderately-fertile soil in a sunny spot of the garden.  Raised beds are ideal so that water drains quickly and the soil warms earlier in the springtime.   If the soil is too fertile, you will end up with lush leaf growth and smaller bulbs.

Before planting, loosen the soil with a rake or hoe.  You may want to amend the soil with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus (the middle number) like bone meal or rock phosphate.

Just before planting, break apart each bulb of garlic into its individual
cloves, trying to keep as much skin on the cloves as possible.  Next, simply poke your finger into the soil until about your third knuckle (2 inches), drop the clove in pointy side up, cover the hole, and pat firmly.  Space the next garlic 5 inches further down the row.  Each row of garlic should be about 15-18 inches apart.  After planting, water the buried cloves well.

To form cloves, garlic must be exposed to temperatures below 41 F  (5 C). Thus, if planted too late in the spring, garlic will tend to form large onion-like bulbs instead of  individual cloves. In the North, 
garlic is normally planted in October so that it can establish roots before winter and really take of in the spring.  Southern gardeners
can only plant garlic if they know the temperature will dip low enough.  Often, they can wait until November or December to plant.

Growing & Harvesting
In springtime, the green tips will start to emerge and the garlic 
should be side-dressed with fertilizer again by placing the fertilizer 
2 inches away from the row and lightly scratching it into the soil.  During the growing season, keep garlic keep a mulch of grass 
clippings or similar material around the garlic to help conserve water and suppress weeds.

When the tops turn yellow in early summer, stop watering.  Allow 
the bulbs to cure in the soil for 2 weeks and then harvest the garlic by pulling the whole plant out of the soil and tying the leaves together.  Allow the bulbs to dry on a rack in a warm, dry spot.

Garlic types
Silverskin - This type of garlic is the one most often seen in grocery stores.  As the name implies, the skins are silvery-white and the 
taste is mild & garlicky. Silverskin garlic, often referred to as 
soft-neck garlic, stores incredibly well and is the type used for 
making garlic braids.

Rocambole - Also known as serpent garlic, rocambole is classified as
a hard-neck.  During the growing season, this type of garlic will form flower heads which need to be cut off so they do not drain the resources of the bulb.  Most rocambole-types have a very pungent, almost hot flavour and are often identified by the purplish tinge to their skin.  Although this is a much more gourmet garlic, it does not store well, usually just a couple of months.

Elephant - The cloves of this garlic can weigh an ounce and will usually give up to 3 tablespoons of chopped garlic.  Elephant garlic 
is actually a member of the leek family and thus, has a much milder taste.  If your growing conditions are cool & damp, this is the garlic 
to choose.  The bulbs of elephant garlic should be spaced farther apart, usually 10 inches, to give the plants enough room to grow.

Sources of bulbs
The best source of bulbs would be local growers who sell seed garlic at local markets.  These varieties are well adapted to your growing conditions.

A second best, or to get more variety, try mail-order catalogues 
such as Territorial Seeds or Garden City Seeds.  The best selection I've seen by far, however, is Salt Spring Seeds.  Dan Jason, the owner, keeps about 40 different varieties.

If it's getting late, as a last resort, I would buy organic garlic from a
health food store and plant it.  Normal garlic is often sprayed with
sprouting inhibitors which  prevent the cloves from sprouting in the store. No good if you actually want them to sprout for you in the garden.

A great resource:
Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron L. England - an in-depth look at the history of garlic evolution and a how-to guide on planting, growing, and harvesting garlic. (see review here)

Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and garden writer for Organic Living
Newsletter. Subscribe to this free e-newsletter at

This Spring: Dig a Pond!
This is the time to plan for spring gardening projects and a water
feature is a wonderful addition to any garden. This article is meant to help with the planning and building of the garden pond.

The first consideration is the location of the water feature. It will become a focal point of the garden and should be easily viewed from as many angles as possible and be visible from inside the house (especially during the winter months).

The next step is deciding the shape of the garden pond. Almost any shape is acceptable, but care has to be taken that the chosen shape does not include small corners where the water cannot circulate properly. The basic shape of the pond can be determined by using a garden hose; it is flexible and can be moved easily until the final 
form of the water feature is determined.

Breaking the often hard packed clay of the garden is often the most difficult part of installing a pond. This task can be made easier by using a tiller to loosen the dirt a layer at a time, before shoveling it out.

Unless the water feature is going to be a very formal fountain it should incorporate shelves for plants. These shelves should be 10 to 12 inches deep, 6 to 8 inches below the surface of the water and slope very slightly to the outside of the pond (this prevents plants from sliding into the deeper parts of the pond). The top edges of the pool need to be absolutely level so the liner will not show on any side when it is complete.

The minimum depth of the pond should be 18 inches. The
recommended depth for ponds that will be home for Koi is 3 feet. The bottom of the pond should slope in one direction, so accumulating
organic waste can be more easily removed. 

Many materials are available to line the pond; EPDM rubber is one of the most durable and yet is relatively easy to work with. Here is the formula for sizing the liner:

Length = Length (of the pond at longest part) + 2 times the greatest depth + 3 ft.
Width   = Width  ( of the pond at widest part)  + 2 times the 
greatest depth  + 3 ft.

The liner should be cushioned by a 2 inch layer of sand or other soft, protective material. The liner is more flexible and easier to install if it is warm, so it is a good idea to let the sun shine on it for a few minutes before unrolling it.

Excess liner should not be cut off until it is well anchored all around the perimeter and the pond is filled with water.

This is a project that can easily be accomplished in a weekend or 
two and will add much enjoyment of the garden for the whole family!

Courtesy of, THE site for Pond and Water Garden Information on the Internet!
Sign-up for our fun and fact filled FREE Water Garden newsletter at:
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Container Herb Gardening for Beginners
Have you been dreaming of growing and using your own fresh, organic herbs but don't have a garden? Maybe you live in an apartment with no yard at all, only a balcony?

Well, don't despair! There is hope! Help is just a click away! Heather Jackson of Magickal Garden will walk you step by step to an herb garden of your very own. Her helpful website will tell you how to grow herbs in any container!

Heather has listed many different herbs that are container friendly and includes their individual growing and soil conditions, harvesting times, uses and how to preserve your harvested herbs. You will also find instructions for making tinctures, tea's, oils, soaps and gifts with your freshly harvested plants.

Even a beginning gardener, especially one with no gardening space, can grow herbs. Visit this site and you will soon be sipping your own homegrown teas!
For ideas on creative containers to grow your herbs in see Heather's article click here.

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