A Harvest for Halloween

10-27-2016 -- 3


We’re all familiar with October as being the month for Halloween. All month long, stores are awash in costumes, decorations, and candy. According to CNBC, Halloween captures 2.6% of total holiday spending. It ranks as the seventh in terms of holiday spending, behind Father’s Day and Easter. Some go so far as to claim that Halloween spending is even greater and that it actually ranks right behind Christmas in terms of dollars spent.

You’ll probably have to spend money on costumes and candy. But you don’t have to spend a lot on decorations. You can get much of that right from your own garden.

Pumpkins – probably the most obvious. But even here, you can be creative. Try growing one of the “warty” cultivars such as Warty Goblin or Knuckle Head. Carving one of these can give you a jack o’lantern that is extra scary.

Warty Goblin Pumpkin

Cornstalks – a traditional Halloween decoration. But once again, there is room here for creativity. Grow a variety such as Glass Gem, which has colorful translucent kernels, or Black Aztec, an heirloom variety with black, gray-black, or bluish-black kernels. Many of these cultivars can do triple duty – pick some of the ears in the milk stages and use them as sweet corn; arrange them around your house and yard as decorations; and when Halloween is over, grind the kernels to make corn flour or use them intact for popping corn.

Gourds – gourds make excellent Halloween decorations by virtue of the variety of colorful fruits they produce. You can also use them for Thanksgiving decorations. And when it comes time to scrub off all that Halloween makeup, a sponge made from the Luffa gourd will do that very well.



Miscellaneous – there are some non-edible plants that have a certain scare factor that makes them perfect for Halloween decorations. How about growing a Devil’s Tooth – a white fungus that secretes a blood-red juice from its tissues? Ghost Plant, Doll’s Eyes, and Black Bat Flower can add a touch of the macabre to your Halloween decorating.

So when it comes to Halloween decorations, don’t buy them. Grow them!

Blogs That Will Ace Your Winter Gardening Skills

Flower from Melissa Ann's From Scratch Blog

Allow me to introduce my first guest blogger. Melissa Ann is one of the editors of From Scratch Mag (https://www.fromscratchmag.com), your go-to place to learn more about beekeeping, poultry farming, gardening. In her post, Melissa informs us of the best blogs for winter gardening. After you read the post, please feel free to share your comments about it. And be sure to check out the blogs she recommends, and be especially sure to check out From Scratch Mag

Gardening is not for the fainthearted. You must get your hands dirty before expecting a
bumper harvest. And now with winter setting it, gardeners should pay close attention to
weather fluctuations that will likely affect crop yield. You should also note that there are crops that will not survive the frost. Thus, gardeners must choose the right plants heading into winter.

Moreover, because plants rely on light to synthesize food, another winter gardening hack you should take into consideration is the lighting. Because sunlight is often inadequate during this season, a supplementary lighting source, therefore, becomes necessary. You can choose to use readily available LED bulbs for your indoor grow garden or improvise one. The most important thing is that it should emit ideal light wavelengths for your crops.

In this post, we help you find the best blogs for winter gardeners. We understand that planting crops during this season is not going to be a walk in the park. Thus, sharing the knowledge of experts is the best way to go. On this premise, we sampled the best blogs to follow and watch your skills soar to greater heights. Take a look:

1. Green Talk
Apart from life on the balcony, green-talk.com is another website that will ace your winter gardening skills. It emphasizes eco-gardening tips that will turn your gardening into a beautiful place. If you are thinking about organic gardening or how to make great compost manure heading into winter, Green Talk is the right blog for you. The owner of green-talk.com is a consultant on sustainability and whose penchant for organic farming comes with valuable tips and practices.

2. A Way to Garden
With more than 25 years of experience in gardening, the author of awaytogarden.com provides readers will handy tips on crop selection for every season, including winter. Margaret Roach named this blog after a bestselling book she published in 1998. It is also noteworthy that being a member of The Garden Writers Association of America, A way
to Garden is a blog that you find worthwhile every month, year and season.

3. The Happy Homesteader
Homesteading practices include gardening but that’s not the catch here. The question is, how do we ensure sustainable food production during winter? Well, with a top gardening blog like the Happy Homesteader (https://www.thehappyhomesteader.ca/blog) everything becomes a breeze. Whether you are looking to set up a garden for the first time or you want to ensure self-reliance even when the weather doesn’t favor it, this blog is the ideal place to be. Learn about setting up an orchard, winter mulching practices and more.

4. Down to Earth
Down-to-earth.co.uk is a very popular gardening blog. It is a product of gardening enthusiasm. The owners of this blog, Felicity and Alan once had a popular show. With more than 50 years in the gardening world, their knowledge is worth everything you want to learn. On this blog, you can ask as many questions as possible, including those that involve winter farming. Moreover, with vast knowledge in horticulture, Alan and Felicity are household names in flower and fruit gardening.

5. Vertical Veg
The owner of verticalveg.org.uk is a container gardening maverick. Mark Smith will walk you through the dos and don’ts of gardening, including how to ensure a bumper harvest during winter. Life in central London wouldn’t be easy to circumvent if it were not for Mark’s love for growing veggies, flowers and fruits the way he does. Thus, if you are thinking about going full throttle into container gardening in an urban setting with limited space, Vertical Veg is the blog to follow. You can always contact Mark and learn more. Soon enough, you will be having fun growing food at your doorstep even during winter.

6. Fromscratchmag.com
Everyone wants the best from their efforts. If you love gardening, then head over to fromscratchmag.com and learn more. The blog covers many topics on sustainable homesteading life such as attracting bees to your farm, winter gardening tips, DIY farming projects and more. Fromscratchmag features regular updates, taking into consideration, new trends and practices in the gardening world.

7. Growing Family
Another blog to follow if you are looking forward to planting crops this winter is growingfamily.co.uk. It features tips, ideas, and practices on how to get your family involved in gardening. The author of this blog, Catherine Hughes, opines that turning a small space into flourishing gardening teeming with life will ensure a continuous supply of fresh farm products into your home. Whether you choose to grow crops indoors or outdoors, nothing beats home-grown food.

8. The Enduring Gardener
https://blog.theenduringgardener.com/ is a blog through which the owner, Stephanie Donaldson, shares her love for home-grown food. Formerly an editor of Country Living Magazine and a freelance journalist, Stephanie’s blogs cover wide-ranging topics. Through this blog, you will learn about choosing the right plants for different seasons, winter included.

Final Words
With the right tips, gardening shouldn’t be a difficult ordeal. The web provides today’s gardeners with plenty of information that includes blogs and websites to help you get started. This post should help you set up a flourishing farm going forward into winter.

About the author
Melissa Ann Photo
Melissa Ann is a homesteading enthusiast, a published writer, and director at fromscratchmag.com. Her experience in areas such as brand management, graphic design, and photography are valuable additions to our writing team. When she is not writing or publishing anything, Melissa is out gardening in her small farm or cooking. She is also an herbalist, an experience she uses to spread the word about sustainable living

Pay Attention and Think!


When I was a graduate student at Purdue University, my major professor, Dr. Robert Elkin, was constantly emphasizing two important points about how I conducted my work. “Pay attention to what you’re doing,” he would say, “and think about what’s going on.” For me, that meant measuring out animal feed carefully, making sure that I put the correct treated feed into the correct trough, knowing how many test tubes I needed for a particular assay and why, etc.

For you the gardener, Dr. Elkin’s advice also holds true. When you garden, do you know how much fertilizer to add based on the size of your garden? Do you even know the size of your garden? Do you know what you’re planting and why you are planting it? Have you read the directions on the seed packet or the plant tag and do you know how deep to plant the seed or plant, how far apart to space them, and whether the plant requires full sun or part shade?

I’ve said this on many occasions, both in this newsletter and in my classes, but it bears repeating. Gardening is a fun hobby, but partaking in it does not give you a license to let your brain fall asleep. You still have to exercise thought as well as sweat. If you want a successful garden with high yields of sweet, crunchy, and mouthwatering fruits and vegetables, you have to do a little homework. You must think about the previous years’ gardens (better yet, keep a log), and determine what worked and what didn’t so you can repeat the former and learn from (and not repeat) the latter. If using power tools, you must be careful and pay attention so you don’t damage your garden or yourself. You must know what plants (and what cultivars of those plants) work best in your garden. If you aren’t doing all of the aforementioned, then all your toil and sweat will be for naught.

The bible says that faith without works is dead. May I offer a similar directive for gardening? Sweat without thought yields a harvest of nothing.

There Is A New Book Coming Out, And Your Friendly Neighborhood Garden Troubadour Will Be Featured in One of the Chapters!

I’m happy to announce that a new book will soon be released, and I will be featured in one of the chapters. The book is entitled Mature Preneurs Talk – How To Have A Productive, Energized, Creative Life After 50. In this book, author Diana Todd-Banks interviewed a select group of people from all around the world who have created “a life after 50” where they are feeling younger, more vibrant and active, healthier, more mentally alert, and happier. They are also helping and showing others how to achieve the same, and your friendly neighborhood Garden Troubadour will be featured in a chapter of the book.

For anyone who has ever reached a point in their lives where they feel they need to make a change, this book is definitely for you! It will be released at in early October, and be available online, plus in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Australia to name just a few areas in the world.

Here is the press release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             CONTACT: Mark Lyons

DATE: September 21, 2019


Over 50 Mature Preneurs Show How To Have A
Productive, Energised Creative Life
Over 50’s Positively Changing The Face of Ageing


Palatine, Illinois, USA, September 20, 2019
The over 50’s are the largest demographic in marketing history, millions of baby boomers live in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Retirement is looming, yet for many they think their future looks gloomy but there is an emerging bright side to discover.

Often referred to by the younger generations and themselves as “the Over 50s,” this group of people, are facing challenges of a type, and on a scale, not experienced by their parents and grandparents.

Living longer than ever has them thinking “What do I do next?” “I’m not ready to retire!” “How can I make sure our finances will last?” and “How do I stay positive and healthy?”

To help these Baby Boomers and over 60’s plus, answer these questions, Mark Lyons, a.k.a. “The Garden Troubadour, Palatine, Illinois, USA was asked to join a select group of Over 50s by Diana Todd-Banks, an Entrepreneur & Int’l Best Selling Author, to provide insights and answers.

Each member of the group has created “a life after 50” where they are feeling younger, more vibrant and active, healthier, more mentally alert, and happier. They are also helping and showing others how to achieve the same.

Ms Todd-Banks invited Mature Preneurs from around the world to participate in the book ‘Mature Preneurs TalkHow To Have A Productive, Energized, Creative Life After 50.’  These contributors come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Many now live a life very different from what they envisaged before they turned 50.

But what have they done to achieve this?

How they reached this point of life energy makes fascinating reading, as does listening to their interviews on the podcast by the same name. All have been guests on Mature Preneurs Talk podcast to talk about their story and message.

Professor of Entrepreneurship Roxanne Zolin, who has written the Foreword for the book recognises their achievements, and says, “You may be asking, what does positive ageing have to do with entrepreneurship in general and Mature Preneurs in particular?”

Professor Zolin answers, “For some this may seem a natural connection, but I hope to interest you in the very deep and meaningful connection between starting a new enterprise after the age of about 50 and reaping the benefits of positive ageing.”

Importantly the contributors in this book write about topics important to them and significant for the mid life group, and at the end of each chapter are contact details for readers to connect and learn more.

For many over 50’s who feel at a loss in life, or who have lost jobs, pets or partners, this book Mature Preneurs Talk will reignite your enthusiasm for life and encourage you to take the path which these creative entrepreneurs have travelled.

Mark Lyons worked in the corporate world for many years in a wide variety of careers in a cornucopia of industries. But it took a career crisis to finally convince him to forever turn his back on full time corporate employment and strike out on his own. Combining his love of gardening, cheese making, and mushroom growing along with his skills as an entertainer, Mark founded Green Thumb at Your Service, a business whose mission is to inspire people to become independently healthy by coaching them on how to grow their own food. Through one-on-one consulting, hands-on classes, and group presentations, Mark teaches people how to grow their own vegetables, make their own cheese, and grow their own mushrooms. Mark is also a musical entertainer who performs at folk festivals, children’s parties, assisted living centers, and farmers markets. It is this combination of music and gardening which led Mark to brand himself as “The Garden Troubadour.”

Mature Preneurs TalkHow To Have A Productive, Energized, Creative Life After 50,’ will be released at in early October, and be available online, plus in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Australia to name just a few areas in the world.

To listen to Mature Preneurs Talk podcast go to http://maturepreneurstalk.com and select any podcast platform.

One final quote by Diana Todd-Banks from Mature Preneurs Talk Book:

“We all have the opportunity to create our own key to longevity and more and more research is showing this is happening today opening new ways of thinking and with that comes new potential ventures ones that perhaps haven’t existed before. That’s the exciting part! This is why it’s time to let your subconscious take subtle action.”

For media interviews, and to learn more about Mark Lyons go to:

Website:  http://www.greenthumbatyourservice.com
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/GreenThumbAtYourService
Google:  http://www.google.com/profiles/marklyons64
Blog: https://thegardentroubadour.wordpress.com/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/gardntroubadour
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/garden_troubadour/
LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/markllyons

 To contact Diana Todd-Banks, the Producer of Mature Preneurs TalkHow To Have A Productive, Energized, Creative Life,’ go to https://dianatoddbanks.com or diana@dianatoddbanks.com – 3X Int’l Best Selling Author & Author of 7 other books.

They Are Our Friends — Welcome Them

Spiders and Snakes

I do like spiders and snakes
They are just what it takes
To stop insect pests
You fooly-fool!

— with apologies to Jim Stafford

When I talk to my students about pest control in their gardens, I always mention that one of the best ways to get rid of the insect and animal garden marauders is to encourage their predators. Yet when I mention helpful pest control animals such as spiders, snakes, bats, frogs, and toads, these same students (especially the women) look at me as though I’m one cucumber short of a cornucopia. People have an unnecessary fear of these creatures, thanks to literature and cinema. So before I go any further, let’s get a few things straight.

  1. Bats will NOT get caught in your hair! Their natural radar or echolocation lets them know of an object in their way before they get near it, enabling them to veer off from any object they might collide with or become entangled.
  2. Bats will not bite you, suck your blood, and stamp your membership card in the undead club. On the other hand, none of them are going to save your life with their utility belts either.
  3. Although bats can be infected with rabies, this is a rare occurrence. The vast majority of them are fine.
  4. Snakes are not evil, loathsome, slimy creatures. Nor do you have to worry about one tempting you to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. That ship sailed a long time ago.
  5. There are only four species of poisonous snakes in the United States – the rattlesnake, the copperhead, the cottonmouth or water moccasin, and the coral snake. Unless you live where these species are prominent, you probably will never encounter them. Furthermore, you will not be squeezed to death by a snake. The only two snakes capable of doing that – the python and the boa constrictor – are not native to the United States. Although the reticulated python is an invasive species in the Florida Everglades, unless you live there, you are unlikely to encounter one.
  6. Spiders may be scary looking, but I seriously doubt that any of them have a personal vendetta against you. There are only three species of spider – the black widow, the brown recluse, and the hobo spider — that are venomous enough to do serious damage to a human being. Yet once again, unless you live in an area where these species are prominent, you are unlikely to encounter them.
  7. Frogs and toads will NOT, I repeat, NOT give you warts!

Now, everyone repeat after me. Spiders are our friends. Snakes are our friends. Bats are our friends. Frogs are our friends. Toads are our friends. These are not just feel-good, new-age mantras. These are the facts. Spiders entangle many an insect pest in their webs. Snakes eat mice, voles, moles, and other rodents that might otherwise feast on your fruits and vegetables. Bats are voracious eaters of moths and mosquitoes.  And unlike bats, mosquitoes really do suck your blood, and can also carry disease. Frogs and toads will eat just about any kind of insect pest they happen to encounter in your garden. These predators should be welcomed into your garden, not driven away. And for God’s sake, stop screaming when you encounter one of them! Save your screaming for something worthwhile – like seeing that Japanese beetles have destroyed your grapevines, or discovering that squirrels have eaten all your corn. I know I want to scream when I see that.

Let Them See You Sweat


A popular commercial for a brand of underarm deodorant implores the user to “never let them see you sweat.” Meanwhile, in a gag from an old Three Stooges short, Moe does a mock commercial for Gritto, the soap that gives your hands that dishpan look. “How,” he asks, “will the old man know you’ve been working if your hands don’t have that dishpan look?”

So what does all of this have to do with gardening? Both of the above can be viewed as two different philosophies. If you don’t want people to see you sweat, then it probably means that you don’t do very much labor in your garden. Because if you were, then believe me, you’d be sweating! Gardening is not easy. It requires liberal amounts of muscle power to dig, plant, cultivate and harvest. And all of this activity is just naturally going to bring on sweat. So if you can’t stand the idea of people seeing you sweat and get dirty, yet you wonder why your garden isn’t yielding very much, guess what? If you want a garden that yields a bumper crop of sweet, crunchy, nutritious fruits and vegetables, then you’re going to have to sweat to make that happen, and occasionally people are going to see you sweat.

On the other hand, if you are willing to sink your hands in the soil and it doesn’t bother you that your hands occasionally have that dishpan (or should we say garden trowel?) look, then more often than not, your labors will bear fruit and vegetables, and lots of them.

So if you’re a brand new gardener and you’re worried about getting dirty and sweaty, then you may as well stop before you start. If you garden, then you will sweat and your hands will, on occasion, become rough and dirty. But if occasionally getting sweaty and dirty is no problem for you, then your dream of fresh nutritious produce is very much within your grasp.

Don’t Throw it A-Whey


Those of you familiar with the cheese making process know what happens to milk when we make cheese. Broadly speaking, when me make cheese, we call upon the activity of bacteria (to chew up lactose and turn it into lactic acid, thereby lowering the pH of the milk), acid (direct addition of substances such as citric acid, tartaric acid, or vinegar (acetic acid)), rennet, or some combination of all of the above to cause the milk protein (casein) to unite with the milk minerals (mostly calcium) to create calcium caseinate (curd). The curd is then separated from the liquid portion (whey) and then is compressed and aged to create cheese, which we then serve to our family and friends, or eat it all ourselves. But we’ve forgotten about that liquid portion of the milk – the whey. What are we supposed to do with that?

Many years ago, the answer would have been “dump it down the sewer.” But then in the 1970’s the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency came along and said, “Bzzzzzzzzzp! Wrong answer! This caused much consternation and head-scratching among commercial cheesemakers as they attempted to figure out what they were going to do with this stuff if they couldn’t toss it. Then someone discovered that if you spun the whey down in a centrifuge and concentrated it down to 85% protein, you now had a substance that they named whey protein concentrate. If you further concentrated it down to 90% protein, you had a substance that they named whey protein isolate. Food processors then discovered that you could use these substances to make a diverse array of products such as sports beverage mixes, baby food formulas, baked goods, salad dressings, emulsifiers, etc. Food processors liked using these substances because whey lacks the strong beany taste of soy protein. As a result, these food processors didn’t have to spend money on flavorings to cover the beany soy taste. Whey is also a good source of the branched-chain sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, as well as many of the other essential amino acids.

You, the home cheesemaker, however, probably do not possess a centrifuge. But there are still many things you can do with that whey.

Drink it – pour yourself a glass of whey and mix in a powdered beverage mix (lemonade, Kool-Aid, Tang, etc.) You now have a flavored beverage that is healthier for you than if you used just plain water. Remember that the whey still contains protein and minerals. Just be careful if you use Kool-Aid; you don’t want that smiley pitcher guy to come crashing through your walls. (Note: those of you under forty may have to ask your parents or grandparents to explain that one to you.)

Bake with it –the 30-Minute Mozzarella Kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company comes with a recipe for Italian Feather Bread. One of the ingredients used in the bread is whey. The bread is very tasty, by the way; I recommend making it.

Feed it to your plants – remember that whey contains protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids contain amine (NH2) and carboxyl (COOH) groups. Plants will use the amine portion of the whey as a source of nitrogen. One hundred gallons of whey contains approximately 1.22 pounds nitrogen (N), 0.40 pounds phosphorus (P), 1.46 pounds potassium (K), 0.29 pounds calcium (Ca), 0.05 pounds magnesium (Mg), 0.42 pounds sodium (Na) and 1.00 pound chlorine (Cl). In addition, certain plants such as azalea, rhododendron, and blueberry require more acidic soils (pH 4.5-5.5). They will not grow if soil pH is higher than this. Whey is an excellent substance for lowering the pH of alkaline soils, with the whey from making cottage cheese being most effective.

So use it, don’t lose it. It’s the whey to go!

Beware This Deadly Trio

Skull and Crossbones

Ah, summertime. A time to picnic in the park and hike through the woods. We want to get out in nature and enjoy the beauty around us. And we especially want to do it safely. A great part of doing it safely involves protecting ourselves from mosquito and tick bites, bee, wasp, and hornet stings, and encounters with noxious plants. It’s this latter topic that I want to deal with here. We’re all familiar with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. We all know to avoid coming in contact with these. However, there are three plants that are highly noxious and will cause some very serious harm if touched. I’m referring to giant hogweed, wild parsnip, and cow parsnip. All three contain furanocoumarin toxins. These are phototropic toxins which, when exposed to sunlight can cause severe burning that can last for months and leave permanent scars.

Here is some more information about this noxious trio.

Cow Parsnip

Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) – Cow parsnip is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae). It is native to the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. Like carrots, cow parsnip is a biennial – it produces root and leaves the first year, then flowers and seeds the second. The flowers attract a wide variety of insects, and are an important source of pollen and nectar for many of our native bees and other pollinators. In its first year, the young stems and leafstalks can be eaten and were actually used as a food source by indigenous North American tribes. However, in its second year, the stems and leaves produce those phototropic toxins which can do serious damage to your skin. (Source: Anchorage Daily News (https://www.adn.com/adventure/outdoors/2016/06/16/hikers-beware-cow-parsnip-can-inflict-pain-on-those-who-dont-take-precautions/) and Illinois Wildflowers (https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/cow_parsnip.html))

Wild Parsnip

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) – Wild parsnip is a fairly common plant (considered by some to be an invasive) that can be found growing in city parking lots, along roadsides and river banks, and near railroad tracks. It has also been found invading prairies, oak savannas, and fens, and has even been found growing in soccer and baseball fields. It can grow 2 to 5 feet-tall and looks similar to Queen Anne’s lace but with yellow instead of white flowers. Like, cow parsnip, it is a biennial and the leaves and stems produce the phototropic, skin destroying toxin. (Source: Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/ct-sta-wild-parsnip-st-0727-20170728-story.html) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/invasives/fact/wildparsnip.html))

Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed (Pastinaca sativa) – Giant hogweed is a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae) which can grow 14 feet in height or taller. Its hollow, ridged stems grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. Its large compound leaves can grow up to 5 feet wide. Its white flower heads can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter. Native to the Caucasus Mountain region of Russia, it was introduced into Europe and the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century and the US in the twentieth. In some states such as New York, it is a federally listed noxious weed and it is illegal to possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport, introduce or propagate. (Source: Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/ct-sta-wild-parsnip-st-0727-20170728-story.html) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/39809.html))

Should you have the misfortune to come in contact with any of these bad boys, wash the affected area with soap and water and keep it away from sunlight for 48 hours. If you think that you’ve been burned by any of these plants, then run, do not walk, to your doctor or the nearest emergency room or treatment center and have it attended to pronto!

Too Much of a Good Thing

Dr. Earth Fertilizer

Our vegetable crops require the absorption of specific elements in order to survive and thrive. However, our garden soil may be lacking in one or more of these nutrients. That is the reason why we apply fertilizer to our gardens. A fertilizer, by definition, is a substance that improves plant growth directly by providing one or more necessary plant nutrients.

When applying fertilizer, take care to apply the correct amount. More is not better. In fact, overfeeding can do more harm than good.

Applying too much nitrogen (usually in the form of manure) will cause the plants to produce an overabundance of leaves and a dearth of flowers and fruit. Plants need phosphorous to produce flowers and fruit. That’s why, if you use manure in your garden, you should also provide supplemental phosphorous.

Many fertilizers are also salts. Overfeeding of fertilizers can cause a build-up of salt in the soil. According to Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, when the soil absorbs too much salt, it eventually loses the ability to absorb water. In addition, overfeeding can cause an over accumulation of boron and chloride, which can result in slowed or stopped plant growth, yellowing foliage and even the death of the plants.

So how do you avoid overfeeding? Probably the best way is to test your soil before applying anything. You can purchase soil test kits from local nurseries or from gardening catalogs. You can also send samples of your garden soil into a lab for testing. The results of the test will show what nutrients are deficient, optimum, and in excess. This will establish a baseline that will guide you in choosing the right fertilizers and applying the right amounts to insure that your plants get all the nutrients they need – not too much and not too little.

Aging in Place – the Right Place, That Is



When it comes to making cheese, the making portion – heating the milk, adding the starter culture and rennet, cutting the curd, etc. is only part of the process. If you’re making a hard cheese, then once it comes out of the press, all you have is a block of curd, which is edible, but rather flavorless. In order to turn that block of curd into cheese, you have to age it. Aging is what gives cheese its flavor and character. When you age cheese, you set that block of curd in an environment that will allow the bacteria in to roam throughout that curd block chewing up lactose and other material and expelling waste products. It is these waste products (a.k.a. bacterial poop) that makes cheese look and taste so good.

But what exactly is this “environment” of which I speak? Simply put, cheese must be set in a place where the temperature is 46-60oF and the relative humidity is 75-90%. If it’s too cold, the cheese won’t develop the proper level of acid and flavor. Too warm, and the cheese will develop a sharp and pungent flavor and/or undesirable microbial growth.

So how do you create this environment? There are several ways.

Caves – In Europe, where they have been making cheese for centuries, there exist various caves where the conditions are just right for aging cheese. Here is the United States, cheesemakers will build warehouses where they can artificially create the proper conditions. But since most of you who are reading this probably do not own or have access to a cave or have the time, money, and materials to build your own warehouse, there are other ways of creating the proper aging conditions

Basements – Many home basements, since they are below ground, are often much cooler than the house and land above ground. Temperatures in most home basements are usually right in that 46-60oF range. Moisture levels can be increased by hanging wet towels or using a portable humidifier.

Wine coolers – Wine coolers are ideal for aging cheese, because they have controls for both temperature and humidity.

Small, dorm-sized refrigerators – These work well for aging cheese, however, the built in temperature control dial is often not very precise. Turn it a notch one way or another, and the temperature is either too high or too low. You may have to purchase and hook in a thermostat that allows you to control temperature with more precision. Humidity can be maintained by setting a bowl of water on the bottom shelf and/or placing wet paper towels at the bottom.

Though the aging requirements for cheese are precise, they are not impossible to attain. With the proper equipment and locale, be it basement, wine cooler, or dorm-sized refrigerator, you too can age cheese in your very own home. A homemade Cheddar, Swiss, or Manchego can be a reality!