How to Container Garden

Vertical Container Gardening

I strongly feel that everybody should learn how to grow their own food. While that might sound like a daunting task, it is really quite easy to start and even easier to maintain. And, space restrictions are a “non-issue” because you can vertical garden upright as well as garden from vertical hanging containers. You can also container garden indoors as well as outdoors, and even if you can’t supply all of your own fresh produce, you can certainly provide a lot more than you think you can. So, what does it take to get started?

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9 Skin, Health and Household Uses for Cucumbers

Cucumber Uses

Cucumbers are one of my favorite vegetables. Not only are they incredibly versatile in the kitchen, being an easy addition to cold salads, grain salads, raw food recipes and salsas, they are also incredibly versatile when it comes to other uses such as skin, health and household uses. Keep reading to see what surprising benefits you can put cucumbers to use for.

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5 Easiest Vegetables to Grown Without Gardening Skills

Grow Green Beans

(article by Christina Sarich)

If Monsanto, Dow and Dupont chemical companies won’t listen to our pleas for non-GMO, organic food, we’ll just have to take growing our food into our own hands. Following is a list of 5 of the easiest vegetables to grow, even if you’ve never even watered a chia plant. Make sure you get heirloom, organic seeds to avoid perpetuating GMO seed monopolies.

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4 Ways to Filter Water with Fruit

Filter Water with Fruit

(article by Mae Chan)
There is a cheap and easy way for any community in the developed (or underdeveloped) world to purify their water. The peels of some of the most widely consumed fruits in the world are remarkably efficient at absorbing a wide variety of harmful pollutants, including heavy metals, and they can be transformed into effective water filters with only minor preparation.

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5 Foods You Can Grow from Organic Store Bought Produce

(article by Christina Sarich)

Mother nature is right under our noses, along with the ability to grow our own food, even if we live in an urban area. Growing the following 5 foods in containers or a garden won’t feed your whole family, but it is a great way to start making your own food and developing food sovereignty in a world where the GMO monopoly seems to grow stronger every day.

If you would rather eat food without pesticides, and questionable ingredients, there is no better way than to grow your own.

Just be sure to buy organic produce since many conventionally grown crops won’t reproduce. Here are five foods that you can start growing the next time you go to the grocery store:

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Cooking Dinner – The Most Polluted Thing You Do Every Day

(article by Emily Main)

If you have a gas stove, you’re cooking up a lot more than just dinner every time you switch it on. Though prized for their efficiency and cooking qualities, gas stoves and ovens pollute your kitchen’s air with nasties like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, aldehydes and other gases linked to nerve damage and respiratory irritation. The levels are generally low, but if you have poor kitchen ventilation, they can build up in your home over time and cause long-term health problems.

 

The solution? According to researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, start cooking on your back burners and turn on your exhaust fan.

The point of their study, which was published in a 2012 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, was to analyze the efficacy of standard kitchen ventilation hoods, which sit above your stove and, theoretically, catch air filled with grease, nasty gases, and other particulate matter from cooking. The government’s Energy Star program certifies a lot of these appliances for their energy efficiency, but there isn’t a single standard that dictates how well they have to work or how effective they are at removing pollutants from your indoor air.

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The study authors tested seven of these hoods, ranging in price from $40 to $650, and found that none of the hoods performed as well as they should. The models that proved most effective at removing pollution weren’t very energy efficient or they were so loud, most cooks would be tempted to turn them off; the most effective hood was rated at the same volume as a standard vacuum cleaner. If the hoods were set on low, they’d be quieter, but also less effective at removing pollution.

 

But rather than put up with noise or live with pollution, the authors uncovered a simpler solution: Just cook on the back burners. Their tests showed that when the back burners were used, even the most inefficient hoods removed 60 percent of pollutants when foods were cooked on the back burners—the best-performing (but loudest) fans removed 90 percent—compared with just 25 to 30 percent when cooking on the front burners.

Run your exhaust fan when you use your oven, as well. Fans removed anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of pollutants from gas ovens.

 

In addition to sticking with the back burners, it’s a good idea to subject your exhaust fan to regular cleaning. Once a month, soak the filters for an hour in vinegar to remove grease and wipe down the fan blades inside the fan to get grease off of those, as well.

One last clean-air kitchen tip: Match your cooking oil to your heat level. A study in the journal Occuptional and Environmental Medicine found that heating oils not designed for higher heats can release lung- and heart-damaging compounds.

(article by Emily Main)

The Importance of Composting in Your Organic Garden

(article by Jonathan White, environmental scientist)

For many people, composting is just an alternative way of dealing with rubbish.  It prevents the garbage bin from getting full and smelly.  It’s also a way of disposing of grass clippings and leaves, which saves many trips to the garbage depot.  Whilst these things are valid, they are not giving compost the full credibility it deserves.  Compost can be very valuable when used in the right way.

I have a completely different way of looking at compost.  To me, composting is a way of building valuable nutrients that will, one day, feed me and my family.  I only use compost on my vegetable gardens.  The way I manage my vegetable gardens means that composting is an integral part of the whole food production system.  I create compost as a way of collecting nutrients in one form (waste), and turning them into another form (food).

The average person buys food from a shop, consumes it and then sends the waste away.  This is simply buying nutrients, taking what you need for that precise moment, and disregarding the remainder.  It’s a nutrient flow that only flows in one direction, like a fancy car roaring down the road.  You admire the car for a moment, but after a second or two, it’s gone.

My goal is to slow down the car and then get it to do a U-turn.  I want to keep the nutrients within my property where I can capitalize on them.  By doing this, I am able to use the nutrients again, so I don’t have to buy them for a second time.  Surely, that’s going to save me money.  It may seem strange to think of nutrients in this way when we can’t even physically see them.  However, all organic materials contain nutrients.  My goal is to get those nutrients out of the form they are in and into a form that is useful to me and my family.

To put it in a different way; composting is a vehicle in which we are able to create a nutrient cycle within our property.  We are part of that cycle because we consume the nutrients when they are, for a brief time, in a useful form.  Then they return to the compost and slowly make their way into another useful form where we consume them again.  This cycle can go on and on indefinitely.  Of course, there will be many lost nutrients that you will never see again, but with a little diligence, you will be surprised at how much compost you can create, and hence, how many valuable nutrients you can recycle.

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My composting system is large because I have a few large vegetable gardens.  I believe that the size of your vegetable garden should be determined by how much compost you can create, and not merely by the amount of space you have in your backyard.  To run a rich, high yielding vegetable garden you need to have some sort of soil conditioning plan, and the best thing for your soil is a generous layer of good compost on the surface a few times per year.

If you can create your own compost from the organic waste that you generate in your everyday life, then you can have a vegetable garden that is self-sustainable.  Once it is set up, it will never need nutrients in the form of store-bought fertilizers.  You will have established a flow of nutrients, and your nutrient-store will grow bigger and bigger, year after year.  Applying compost to your garden will have a very positive effect on your soil structure and fertility.  With good soil structure and plenty of organic material, you will be able to release nutrients that have been locked up and unavailable to your plants.  You will be speeding up the flow of nutrients, thus increasing your yield significantly.  Your soil will become alive and healthy with micro-organisms and soil bacteria that are beneficial to creating the conditions for proper plant growth.  Your vegetables will contain all the essential nutrients in the correct proportions, giving your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its best.

Composting is very easy once you make it part of your everyday life.  A small container on your kitchen bench to collect scraps and a daily trip to the compost bin is all it takes.  It’s a small effort for huge rewards.  The golden rule in making compost is never to have large clumps of a single type of material.  Thin layers of hot and cold materials work best.  Cold materials include leaves, shredded newspaper and dried grass clippings.  Hot materials include fresh grass clippings, manures, weeds, discarded soft plants and kitchen scraps.

If you make composting part of you daily routine, along with an effective method of growing food, you can literally save thousands of dollars per year.  This is possible simply because you won’t have to keep buying nutrients over and over.  You will buy them once, hold onto them and then convert them into useful forms again and again.  It’s that simple!

Ecological Gardening – What Is It?

(article by Jonathan White B.App.Sci. Assoc. Dip.App. Sci.)

The term Ecological Gardening seems to be gaining popularity.  But what is it?  My experience with Ecological Gardening started many years ago.  You see, I have always been a fence sitter.  As a teenager I could never make my mind up whether I wanted to be a horticulturist or an environmental scientist.  And sometimes I’m still a little unsure!

Fortunately, I have been able to gain qualifications in both.  My specialty is in growing food using ecological principles.  But I’m not talking about some sort of alternative hippie technique.  I’m talking about sound scientific principles.

In my experience, the study of natural ecosystems will reveal everything we need to know about growing food.  Natural ecosystems are generally diverse and there are a number of intricate interdependent relationships occurring between the living and non-living components at any given time.  Put simply, each component relies and benefits from its interaction with other components.  They fuel up on each other, causing the system to be able to sustain itself.  If one part of the system gets ‘out of whack’, the whole system is affected.

When studying a natural ecosystem, such as a diverse pristine rainforest we find that there are many living components co-existing in a given area.  Each of these components occupies a niche space.  If a component, let’s say a plant, is removed by an animal eating it, we are left with an empty niche.  An empty niche provides an opportunity for another life form to fill the space.  In natural ecosystems, nature does not tolerate empty niche spaces.  Once the niche becomes available, there will be a whole host of willing opportunists ready to fill that space.  Dormant seeds, sometimes decades old, will spring to life and quickly try to occupy it.

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The same thing happens when we are trying to grow food.  In any agricultural practice, such as a vegetable garden, there are always empty niche spaces.  And remember, nature doesn’t tolerate empty niche spaces.  So weeds will try to fill the empty niche spaces.  Weeds are very good niche space fillers.  They are the ultimate colonizing plants.  So as we can see there is no difference in the way nature works, whether it is in a pristine natural ecosystem or a vegetable garden.

Ecological Gardening aims to create a system where nature works for us, and not against us.  It is actually quite easy to have a weed-free vegetable garden.  You simply do one of two things.  Firstly, you avoid having empty niche spaces.  And secondly, you make sure there is something desirable to fill niche spaces, should they become available.  That’s just one simple example, but Ecological Gardening can easily prevent a number of problems from ever arising.

My experience with Ecological Gardening has been phenomenal.  I have been able to combine natural weed management, soil ecology, pest ecology and crop management into a very simple and easy method.  In fact, I have been able to create a garden that requires very little attention and produces far more than a traditional vegetable garden, simply by applying sound scientific principles.  And from the incredible results that I have achieved, I can say, with absolute certainty, that Ecological Gardening is the way we will be producing food in the future.

Candles – Romantic Treats or Health and Environmental Hazards?

(article by Kit Cassingham)

Has it occurred to you that all the festivity, relaxing and romancing you get from the candles you use could be harming your health and the health of those who frequent your hotel or B&B? The wax of most candles is made from petroleum, so burning it is like having a tiny diesel engine running right in beside you. And the wicks on standard candles often contain lead cores — not a good thing to breathe while your candle burns. Scents used in most perfumed candles have impacts on health too. Sorry to bring you down like that, however, I do have some healthy alternatives to suggest.

Environmentally friendly candles are generally a healthy candle alternative. The three options to consider are beeswax candles, 100 percent soy candles, and palm oil candles. You will love these candles for a lot of reasons including:

  • they burn clean(er)
  • when they drip of spill, the wax is easier to clean up
  • burn time is longer
  • brighter flames
  • renewable resources

Candles have provided light for over five thousand years. Originally they were made from animal fat and produced a lot of smoke and order (stench by today’s standards). Beeswax candles have been around for a long time. Beeswax candles made their entrance onto the scene in the Middle Ages and stayed popular until electric light took over the job of lighting the way in the early 1900s. It’s interesting to see how candles have evolved throughout the years.

There have always been issues around burning candles, not counting the open flame hazards. Environmentally friendly candles have their own issues of some sort or another. There are several issues that are important in this discussion.

  1. GM (Genetically Modified) crops: It is important to take into consideration the effects of genetically modified crops’ effects on the environment and agriculture. This is mostly associated with soy candles.
  2. Distillation Process: Are chemicals used, or steam?
  3. Plantation Crops: Plantation crops can threaten rain forests because they eliminate biodiversity, degrade soil, as well as bringing up issues of land rights and local peoples’ rights. Palm oil plantations can be culprits here.
  4. Chemicals: Are pesticides or herbicides used?

So it seems you change one issue for another — health of people versus potential environmental harm. Seems like a bad trade in a lot of ways, doesn’t it? In my opinion, no it’s not as bad as it looks if you make the right changes.

Beeswax candles are expensive enough that most hospitality venues probably won’t buy them, so I’m going to ignore them in the balance of this discussion. That leaves plantation (palm oil) and GM (soy) issues.

I believe that GM crops are a serious threat to agriculture and future food sources. When seeds of GM crops are sterile, not able to be used for future crops, this forces us to rely on the companies that created those plants, creating food monopolies and potential reasons for more strife. So I see GM as an important and easy issue to avoid — don’t buy things that are made from GM crops.

Most soy is a GM crop. I can reduce, even a little bit, the demand for that GM crop by not buying soy candles. And since most soy candles are a blend of petroleum and soy, it’s an even better reason to add soy candles to my list of products to avoid buying. I urge you to do the same. Palm oil, not being a GM crop, makes good sense here.

Then there is the distillation issue. Choosing steam distillation over chemical distillation seems like a no-brainer to me. Both cost and damage are increased by relying on chemical distillation, leaving steam distillation the clear winner in my mind. That again points to palm oil as the preferred ingredient for candles. Soy requires chemical distillation, making it again a less than desirable option.

What about plantations and the problems they cause? Indeed, this is a big issue. But it’s getting easier to support programs that don’t put pressure on people to cut down rain forests to monocrop plants that they think will make them more money. Saving the rain forests is vital for many reasons. So how can we avoid encouraging more damage?

In the case of palm oil plantations, it’s done through the Green Palm Sustainability program. This is a certificate trading program designed to tackle the environmental and social problems created by the production of palm oil, kind of like Carbon Credits help reduce carbon damage on the planet. It’s based on the principle that the best way to encourage people to work in a sustainable way is to reward them for doing so. The Green Palm Sustainability program is endorsed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

Another plus to using palm oils is that they are a highly efficient oil producer. About 50 percent of a palm fruit is oil, which means it takes less land (ten times less according to some sources I read) than other oil-producing crops. With soy and palm oils making up about 60 percent of the world’s production of oil crops, properly managed palm plantations can increase the supply of healthy candles without harming the environment and ecosystems where they are grown.

Pesticide and herbicide use is another concern with some oil crop production. Soy is a heavy user of these chemicals. Oil palms are not.

My research has lead me to believe that buying palm oil candles of certified sustainable palm oil are environmentally friendly. Certified sustainable palm oil is produced at palm oil plantations which have been independently audited, and found to comply with the globally agreed upon environmental standards devised by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Their standards have stringent sustainability criteria that include good social, environmental, and economic practices. The proceeds from Green Palm certificate sales encourage plantations to continually strive for improvements that ultimately lead to an increase in the production of sustainable palm oil with social, environmental and economic benefits to them and their communities.

Part of being a green hospitality business is paying attention to the 3Ps (People, Profit, Planet) of sustainability, at your property and with the suppliers you use and the products you buy. Buying palm oil candles from companies that have the Green Palm Sustainability seal is another easy step you can take toward your efforts of sustainability.

Get greener by buying unscented, palm oil candles and improve your health and that of your guests. Use dinner candles, and candles for any situation that you and your guests want to be more special.

Kit Cassingham, Founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Sage Blossom Consulting, is a hospitality consultant to the B&B and hotel industries, and has been since 1988. Her focus includes market niche, and sustainable and green operations. Kit is the “go to” person when you want to improve your hospitality business. Learn more at http://www.SageBlossom.com

10 Valuable Vegetable Tips for Indoor Gardening

(article by Taylor Shillam)

When you’re selecting vegetables to grow in an indoor garden, your best choices are usually smaller cool-climate and early-season plants. These include tomatoes, peppers, root vegetables, leafy greens and herbs.

While your thinking about all those great veggies, don’t forget the proper light source. Here are some helpful tips when it comes to vegetables, and later on I’ll show you a couple of good websites to go to for information on choosing the proper grow light.

    1. Lettuce and spinach are two leafy green vegetables that are very easily grown in indoor gardens. They’re easily cultivated, especially the smaller lettuce varieties like miniature Tom Thumb head lettuce, because smaller varieties tend to grow more quickly. Most of the various types of lettuce will be ready to eat after about 25 days.
    1. Loose-leaf lettuce varieties such as Boston and Bibb can be picked about 4-6 weeks after you begin growing them, and continue to grow up to 3-4 weeks after picking.
    1. Leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, as well as kale, can be harvested over time. You can plant them every couple of weeks and pick off the leaves as you need them. Plant as much spinach as you want, because it can be boiled and kept frozen (a procedure called blanching) for up to six months for an even longer-lasting supply.
    1. Certain root vegetables can also be planted and harvested regularly. Radishes, beets and miniature carrots are great examples of easily grown root vegetables. Their roots don’t require pots as deep as other root vegetables, making them easy to grow in pans and boxes.
    1. Radishes don’t require a lot of time or attention and grow quickly. Most types of radishes will be ready to eat in about a month. You can plant a new batch every ten days, and harvest them as soon as they grow to be about one inch across in size. Icicle and cherry belle radishes are best for easy indoor growing.

    1. Because peppers grow to be healthier in warmer climates, they are another great vegetable for indoor gardening. Thin-walled peppers are the most easily maintained types, such as cayenne, sweet banana and long red peppers.
    1. Cherry tomatoes are another excellent vegetable for indoor gardening. Each plant can produce up to half a bushel of tomatoes. There are many different types to try out and they don’t require a lot of care. However, they do need warm temperatures and sunlight, so make sure to keep them near a window or under fluorescent lighting.
    1. Mushrooms can be easily grown indoors at any time of the year. You can buy bags of prepared compost with mushroom spawn. They only need to be watered and left in a dark, draft-free place at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. It will only take a few weeks for them to start cropping up.
    1. Growing herbs in your indoor garden allows you to always have flavor on hand to add to any dish. Herbs can be grown in small, separate containers or planted together in one large pot, depending on their size. Cilantro, thyme, parsley and basil are a couple of basic, easy-to-grow herbs that provide plenty of flavor.
  1. Be sure to provide your vegetables with the proper lighting, nourishment and fertilizer to ensure they become as healthy as possible. Choose pots and containers with holes at the bottom for drainage, and use a lightweight potting mix.

With plenty of water, fertilizer and the proper grow light, you’ll be on your way to a rich garden of easily grown vegetables in no time!

Taylor Shillam has been a student at the University of Idaho where she excelled in journalism and public relations. Ms. Shillam is also a veteran of the Disney College program and is studying nutrition at Eastern Washington University. To get started with indoor gardening, you need to know some basics, and that usually starts with the proper light source. Taylor would like you to use the following websites as a resource to help you if you are new to indoor growing: cfl grow light and 600 watt grow light.