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Archive for October, 2016

vegetables-basketBeginning in Mid November, I’m going to add a YouTube series especially for New Gardeners. If you’re a first time gardener or homesteader, this will be your new home. Don’t worry, it will benefit you old timers, too.

I’m going to start with my Winter Clean up (Trust me, that will be a major undertaking) and take you through the process of getting a spring garden all started.

I know there is a lot of material out there, but there is also a great deal of misinformation, as well, so I feel compelled to do this. You deserve it.

Along the way, I’ll point you to some really trustworthy blogs and YouTube channels.

For Now, enjoy Halloween. My wife and I are still in Scotland, so I assure you, we’re having a blast.

 

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Gordon Castle's Walled Garden

Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden

Brittan and I are in Scotland at the moment. We’re halfway through a 5 week stay and it’s been awesome. I lived here for 13 years, a long time ago, and it’s wonderful to be back. It really is a most beautiful country.

One of my favorite things has been to visit places I haven’t been or don’t remember, especially gardens and scenic locations.  At the top of the list so far, has been the Walled Garden at Gordon Castle, in Fochabers, Moray.

Even if you’ve been to Scotland, the odds are you haven’t visited Fochabers, or any of the Moray district, for that matter.  Most tourists don’t get past Edinburgh, or Loch Lomond, unless they manage a train journey to Inverness in search of the Loch Ness Monster.

Make no mistake, you can see some awesome sights wherever you go in Scotland, especially if you love gardening. Let me mention two of them during this rambling introduction:

1.       The Royal Botanical Gardens in Glasgow. This is a Victorian garden and has some of the most interesting greenhouses I’ve ever seen. Many of the plants are very old and the aging architecture of the greenhouses will transport you back to before the turn of the 20th century. If you hit the mean streets of ‘Glesga’ don’t miss this treat.

2.       Inverewe Gardens near Ullapool on the West Coast. The drive from Inverness alone is worth the trip to Scotland. The views are breath taking. You will find yourself stopping to snap photos every mile or two. But when you get to Inverewe Gardens, you will swear you have been transported to Eden. I may write more about it later, but I promise you, you’d better take extra memory cards for your camera.

Earlier this week, though, I was introduced to one of Scotland’s best kept secrets, Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden at Fochabers, Moray. I lived within 10 miles of this glorious site for 7 years and never knew it existed. Mind you, it’s only been open to the public a few years, but still…

Fochabers is situated nearly halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen just off the main road between them. During my time here it was on the main road, but a bypass has been built since then. The area has always been one of my favorites. Baxters of Speyside, sort of the ‘Campbell’s Soup of Scotland’ is probably the primary tourist draw, but the Fochabers Woods trails and scenic overlook are also personal favorites. But when friends took Brittan and me to the Walled Garden earlier this week, my heart was stolen, along with my breath.

The castle itself is very nice, but the fact that the estate is still a working farm, made me giddy. The  round bales of hay still fresh and standing in the fields, lent an extra charm to the whole magic scene; open fields surrounded and divided by strategic strips of properly maintained hardwood forests, made for a gorgeous drive back to the Visitor’s Center and  the Walled Garden itself. 

The Visitor’s Center has the mandatory gift shop and café which are in themselves, very nice, if I say so myself, and I so say so myself.

walled-garden-2The gardens themselves stole my heart away. As you can see from the arial photos I downloaded from their website (I was too overwhelmed to remember to snap any), the garden is not overly large, maybe a couple acres, but it is spectacular. Even in mid-October, there were still flowers blooming and fall vegetables growing.

The walls were lined with trained apple and pear trees clinging to them with the garden laid out artistically in a series of beds, making up the centerpiece. At the parking lot end, a roomy chicken coop housed a happy flock of laying hens, which always makes me happy.

There were als a couple large well designed greenhouses, much more handsome than the ones we usually have in north Georgia.  In one of them, a couple dozen tomato plants were still in full production. I was extremely jealous.

In the other house, hundreds of onions (several varieties) and shallots were drying, probably to be used at the castle and in the café.

But, as you might guess, the main attraction for me, were the containers growing a wide variety of hot peppers. Some of the plants were still producing, outside, at this latitude. Scotland, because of the gulf stream is a zone 8, but here on the Moray Firth, plants must be protected from the harsh, cold winds. Gordon’s setting, combined with walls, buildings, and greenhouses provide just such protection.

I recognized Jalapenos, Habaneros, Yellow Ghost, Cayenne, and Moruga Scorpions. There were also some names and pods I didn’t know. On the whole, the pods were smaller than what we grow in Georgia, but they looked great.

I wanted to stay there all day. Heck, I wanted to apply for a job. Gordon Castle, and its walled garden, is my dream farm. I fell totally head over heels.

Scotland is full of gems like this for those who are willing to get off the beaten tourist track. But I warn you, if you are a gardener of vegetables, or flowers, your expectations will change forever. The bar has been raised. I need to start redesigning, now. After all, that’s what winter is for.

 

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first indoor set up. I moved the container off the aquarium and floated herbs in water

first indoor set up. I moved the container off the aquarium and floated herbs in water

For some reason, when the growing bug bites, it doesn’t take note of the weather conditions. The itch it produces wants to be scratched and no amount of Benadryl will help. My advice is, go ahead a scratch it. Start your growing indoors. It’s easier than ever to have an indoor garden, and it doesn’t have to cost the moon.

For obvious reasons, my first choice is always to grow outdoors, but most of us don’t live in an environment that promotes all year gardening. We have that dark, cold season, lovingly called, Winter, with short, cold days, and long cold nights. Brrr….

A hoop or green house will lengthen the growing season, but won’t necessarily extend it indefinitely. So, if you absolutely must keep growing in winter, or, if you have no outside space to grow at any time, then consider moving your garden inside.

Once upon a time, the lighting alone for growing indoors would set off alarms at the power company as well as your local bank. Grow lights were outrageously priced to buy, and extremely expensive to run.

Fortunately, those days are gone. With LED and full spectrum CFL options available, cost is no longer an impediment to indoor gardening.  Space will generally be the limiting factor.

If you have a garage, basement, spare room, or even an unused closet, you’re in business. Even counter or wall space in a studio apartment can be utilized to grow some herbs, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and more.  All that’s needed is a little creative thinking.

I highly recommend starting small. I would use two or three self-watering containers, like Earthbox, and grow some herbs in one, some lettuce in one, and a small cherry tomato like, ‘Tumbler’ in the third.  I might even grow a Jalapeno with the tomato plant. I’ve done that before and It works well. 

Get a grow light for each box, or build a bank of them for the whole set up. You don’t have to break the bank.  You might even make a reflector from some aluminum foil. 

Set the lamps about 4 or 5 inches above the plants and raise them as the plants grow. Keep the light fairly close without burning the plants.  LED and CFL bulbs don’t give off a great deal of heat anyway.

EzGro Hydroponics Unit another indoor option

EzGro Hydroponics Unit another indoor option

Your plants are going to want at least 12 hours of daylight, so either remember to turn the lights on and off, or invest $10 or so in a timer. One of the cheap Christmas light ones will do nicely. You might even have one of those already.

A couple alternatives would be a small hydroponic set up or an aquaponics system.  My first indoor garden was a combination.  I had a tomato and pepper in a self-watering container filled with coconut coir rather than potting mix.  I also had a 20 gallon fish tank with some goldfish.  I floated some basil and lettuce on a piece of Styrofoam in the fish tank, and pumped water out of the fish tank with a small aquarium pump for the pepper and tomato.  It worked really well. 

If you try something like that, you’ll have to top up your fish tank regularly. Make sure you dechlorinate your water first. I kept a 5 gallon bucket of water beside the tank. I would refill it and let it stand at least 24 hours to dechlorinate naturally. There are some excellent fish safe dechlorinating products on the market.

As you become more skilled you can expand your garden. Many people have some good sized systems in their basements or garages. Others just grow a few kitchen herbs on the counter. It’s your garden. It’s your call.

If you have  questions or testimonies to share, please send them via the comments sections. Feel free to include photos of your indoor garden. We’d love to see it. Let us know what your grow, and what doesn’t work for you.

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dozen_eggsThe incredible edible egg. We love them and we fear them. Should we eat more of them, or run from them? Are they giving us heart attacks or are they full of good things to make us strong and healthy? Where’s the truth? What should we do?

I want to cut through the propaganda, and give you a high level, short answer and hopefully clear things up for you a bit. If you want to know more, there are plenty of articles, stories and research papers out there to keep you reading the rest of your life.

The spark for this post was a Facebook poster showing the inside of two boiled eggs. One had a deep golden yolk, captioned, ‘organic’. The other was light yellow, with those familiar green hues we’ve all become familiar with from traditional boiled eggs, and captioned, “gmo”.

I will leave aside the photo manipulation and let you do your own homework as to how that was done. Let’s just say, it was extremely misleading.

My gripe is with the labeling. There is no such thing as a GMO egg.  And, in a sense, all eggs are ‘organic’. They are laid by living chickens and laid in a natural way, thus organic.

The organic vs. GMO argument is about the feed given to the hens.  And even then, the photo can be misleading.

In a confined, commercial chicken house, where thousands of hens are kept in tight, controlled conditions, if hens are fed grain based diets, devoid of sunlight, then even if the feed is ‘organic’ the eggs will have pale, lifeless, nutritionally lacking yolks.

Conversely, if hens are free ranging, and have access to fields of GMO corn and wheat, the yolks will be rich yellow, and still be ‘GMO’ fed.

It’s all about sunlight and chlorophyll. That color comes from access to real sunlight and omega 3 rich grasses (Remember, corn, wheat, barley, etc. are grasses when they’re at home).

Eggs from free range hens, are more nutritious, and attractive, than those from battery raise ones, because of the variety in their diet, and because of their access to sunlight and the chlorophylls in the green plants they consume.  These greens are full of omega 3s which are good for you.

The chicken house raised birds, generally produce paler, flavor reduced eggs that are higher in omega 6 fatty acids, which are the ones that block our arteries. 

And remember, chickens are omnivores rather than vegetarians. They eat all kinds of things when left to their own devices, so feeding them a restricted vegetarian diet, whether organic or GMO, is preventing them from the balanced, nutrient rich fare they really need.

So, looking for ‘cage free’, ‘vegetarian fed’, or, ‘organic’ labels on supermarket eggs, means very little. They are marketing gimmicks. Don’t fall for them. They don’t ensure anything for you, other than a higher total at the check out.  ‘Free Range’ is the label you’re looking for. And even that might be misleading.

Raise your own birds, if you can, or buy directly from a farmer or at a farmers’ market for the best results.

I know many of you are raising, or want to raise, birds, but don’t have the space to free range them. Perhaps your community has restrictions that keep you from doing so. If that’s you, don’t worry.  If you make sure you have a nice a roomy, dry shelter for protection from the elements, and a run where your chickens can get real sunlight you’ll be fine.  In addition to a good chicken feed, give them access to some table scraps, and include plenty of lettuce, kale, and other greens and they will reward you with lots of awesome, delicious, and nutritious eggs.  I promise.

Do you raise your own chickens or other birds? If so, tell us about your results? We’d love to hear them?  Got questions about how to get started? Then use the comments section to ask this awesome group of readers.  We’re here to help. After all, we’re all in this together.

 

 

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