Plantain Cucumber Salve

For the past several years, I’ve been sharing a recipe with friends to keep bugs off naturally. I was inspired by my hatred of OFF! and Avon insect repellent products, I just couldn’t stand the smell, plus I didn’t love smearing chemicals all over myself just to keep mosquitoes away. I made a spray of cedar oil, peppermint and lemon eucalyptus that repelled ticks, fleas, ants, flies… pretty much whatever was annoying me. And it smelled like woods instead of flowery perfume or bug spray.

I’ve run into a similar issue finding something that works on insect bites. I’ve used ChiggerX, Benadryl cream and various over the counter things that were basically alcohol mixed with a little lidocaine to kill the pain/itch and had varying degrees of success with them. Tea tree oil works some, but it’s drippy and messy and the smell is really intense by itself. I’d used the Plantain herb before, just chewed up a bit of it and put it directly on a sting, which worked well, but isn’t very practical to throw in a handbag and take with you. I wanted something that would help relieve itch, pain, reduce swelling and help with healing too.

EtsyPlantainCucumber

I’m hoping this new salve will cover all the bases.

The primary ingredients are cucumber and plantain herb. Not to be confused with the plantains you buy at the grocery store that sort of look and taste like bananas- this is what most people consider an annoying weed. In fact, one of it’s favorite places to grow on our property is right out of the gravel in the driveway. I’ve used plantain before for a wasp sting, just chewed up a leaf and put the pulp right on the sting for about 20 minutes. It stops the pain and takes down the swelling pretty effectively. I’ve also eaten it before to help with stomach issues.
Studies have shown that Plantain may decrease inflammation because of the flavonoids, terpenoids, glycosides and tannins the plant contains. Studies on rats have even shown a reduction in cancer cell growth and protection against liver damage.
In this case, I was interested in it’s inflammation and soothing properties for topical use.

Cucumber is an all around good anti-inflammatory too. I’ve had both eczema and mild rosacea issues in the past and cucumber is one of the only things I’ve found that that can calm both without irritating my skin further. It’s also very hydrating and loaded with anti-oxidants. Cucumbers are packed with vitamin K, they also boast a fair amount of vitamins B and C (fight free radicals!) and contain trace minerals like copper, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Soothing was the primary characteristic I was going for here.
I made my own cucumber powder from the fruits I grew in the garden. For one thing, I grew WAY too many of them this year and I can only eat so many. I didn’t want to make pickles and the neighbors are inundated with my cucumber giveaways as well. Dried and powdered, I can fit 6-7 full size cucumbers in one little jar! Also, I know what has been on my plants (water) and that they haven’t been exposed to any chemicals, sprays or pesticides because I grew them.

Cucumbers

To these two plants I added a dose of pot marigold (calendula) which calms itching and organic tea tree oil, which is one of the best anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungals I’ve used. Just a word of warning- tea tree is not good for your dog. Don’t use use it on canines please.

Since tea tree has such as strong scent and I can smell that cucumber through the entire house, I probably won’t be adding anything smelly to the mix just for scent. I debated adding some mint, but on angry skin, it might burn, so I skipped it.

This formula should work well for insect bites, stings, diaper rash, heat rash and basically any wound that could use a huge dose calming, reduction of swelling and needs to be kept germ-free. It’s 100% all natural, the plants are all organically grown and chemical free.

To purchase Belle of Dirt’s Cucumber Plantain Salve, visit Cordes Farm’s Etsy shop.

I’m growing some lemon balm and yarrow to maybe use for the next batch of something…

-Belle

 

 

 

Dead Nettle Salve

Shameless product plug coming in 3, 2, 1…

I decided with all this garden that I have here at the farm that I might as well do as much with it as possible. I can only grow so much vegetable matter before things start to go to waste, so I’ve begun dabbling in herbs as well. It’s not my first foray into herbal preparations, but it’s the first time I’ve actually sold them to the public.
This spring the garden floor was absolutely covered with purple dead nettle. You couldn’t take a step anywhere without crushing some of it. I debated on digging it out or covering it with weed fabric, but the bees were going absolutely nuts over it and with so few other plants flowering at that point in the season, I was reluctant to destroy a good food source for them. I did some reading on what this weed was invading my garden and learned all about nettles.

So let me start by saying that Purple Dead Nettle isn’t really a nettle, it just resembles nettle leaves, so came by that name because it looks like another plant. It is actually in the mint family- easy to spot by their square stems if not strong fragrance on many mints. Purple dead nettle’s scientific name is Lamium purpureum (Greek translation: the devouring purple monster. LMAO!) Good description of what it was doing to my garden though, it pretty much took over every inch of ground space from April into May when it started to die down and make way for the summer weeds and grasses. In warm climates, it can take over entire fields. All plants in the mint family tend to be invasive and this one is no exception.

The flowers are tiny, purple and filled with nectar. My daughter loved picking them off and eating them while I was harvesting the plants for salve. The leaves can be eaten too, but we didn’t find them nearly as palatable as the flowers- though they are in the mint family, they don’t taste like mint. There are no stinging hairs on this plant as there are on regular nettle, so boiling of the leaves to eat them isn’t required.

Purple dead nettle has multiple medicinal purposes. The fresh leaves have styptic properties (slow or control bleeding), so they are useful as a poultice on wounds or cuts. The leaves may also be used steeped as a tea to treat chills and promote kidney discharge (diuretic) and perspiration. The young leaf shoots are harvest-able for use in salads or smoothies, they are very high in Vitamins A and C.

The essential oil in the plant is characterized by high contents or germacrene D, which makes it useful in salves and tinctures as an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-fungal.

DeadNettleSalvePhoto

We cut and dried a huge batch of plants when other things started to bloom in the yard for the bees to eat. These we infused into sweet almond oil for several days, then added sweet orange oil, Shea butter and beeswax into the mix to make a salve. I store them in dark colored jars in a room that gets no sunlight, so keep the compounds from breaking down and preserve the plant’s strength and medicinal properties.

Tom had a rash on his legs that we had previously treated with two prescription creams, over the counter hydrocortisone creams and multiple kinds of antifungals… none of it to any avail. A couple of the antifungals helped some, but as soon as we quit doing it every single night, it came back with a vengeance. The doctor wasn’t sure what it was either- maybe some kind of contact dermatitis. Changing soaps or avoiding tight clothing didn’t seem to fix it either.
I decided to smear some of my dead nettle salve on there when we made it. I needed a lab rat and he was handy. I only wish I had thought to take before and after pictures! It never occurred to me that the salve would work as well as it did, since we’d tried everything else imaginable with little to no results. The purple dead nettle salve took the red out of the rash overnight. A couple days later it was half gone. A little over a week later and the rash was completely gone. Now I will tell you that it did come back after he hadn’t put anything on there for a month or so. BUT, using the dead nettle salve cleared it up again, so even though it didn’t CURE it, it is TREATING it, which is more than I can say for anything else we’d tried.

I also use it on my mild eczema, chapped lips, sore heels, cuts, etc. My biggest regret right now is that I didn’t make more! I have two small tins that we kept for personal use. I gave one of the bigger 1oz jars away to a friend. This was a single batch, so I only have 10 of those 1oz. jars left to sell. If you’d like one before they are all gone, visit Cordes Farm on Etsy. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of $9-11 sunk into these for materials and packaging costs- I only priced them at $15. If they go over, I may expand into other salves or tinctures and offer more stuff. I’ve got a recipe in mind for a good insect-bite relief salve.
I wish I’d taken more pictures of the process too, or at least the plants, as I had to stage pictures of the salve with a mint growing on my porch and some purple petunia flowers. All the purple dead nettle I made the salve with is now gone until next spring. Oh well, there’s always next round.

Ely keeps saying she wants a goat. Maybe later we’ll get into making goat’s milk herbal soaps or something… 🙂

-Belle

 

Tree Wells In Clay Soil

We’re now into that part of summer in Missouri where just stepping out of the air conditioning onto the front porch is like walking past the mouth of Hell.
Ok, I may exaggerate a bit, but July and August here can be insanely HOT.

When I lived at Lake of the Ozarks, I often found it funny how tourists from Texas, Arizona and New Mexico would complain about how hot and sticky our summer’s were, when they routinely saw temperatures upwards of 100’s in their own states. However, Missouri can easily compete with several of the southern states in terms of humidity. I think it’s all the vegetation here, it holds humid like the Amazon jungle.

So my point is, it’s hot. That means all attention in the garden now shifts from planting new things to just trying to keep the things I’ve planted alive. Every year I have the same conversation with my husband about this time.
Me: “I’m not buying a bunch of trees next year, there’s just too much to take care of!”
Tom: “You say that EVERY year. Then you order 50 more trees from the Conservation site.”
Me: “I know. But they take hours to water, this is just ridiculous.”
Tom: “You say that too.” To which I usually give a non-committal grunt and go back outside to haul more water buckets. He’s right, I know he’s right, but when those plant catalogs show up in my mailbox every fall and I’m already longing for spring before fall even really sets in, it’s hard not to get the trees and worry about the repercussions of my impulse plant buys later.

Baby trees

Is there a rehab for tree addiction?

My biggest disappointment is that after all that work to get the trees and get them in the ground, it’s hard to keep them all alive until they get deep enough roots to mostly fend for themselves. New trees need consistent watering- at least once a week during normal rain, maybe every other day to daily during the hot, dry months of summer that we’re in now. I have trees scattered over 40 acres worth of land, so as you can imagine, I don’t have enough watering hose to reach them all. Our orchard is currently without a water-source also, so that leaves a lot of water bucket hauling all through July/August and sometimes September.

My second issue is our soil. The Farm at least has topsoil, which I didn’t have at our Lake house, unless I put it there, but dig down more than 6-7 inches and there is still clay. It’s deep clay with blessedly little rock (the Lake soil was layer on layer of rock), but still clay. I have yet to get a cherry tree to survive in this stuff. I’ve tried building the soil up so they get better drainage, I’ve tried adding composted material, manure, etc. to loosen up the clay. They do well for a bit, then just wither and die. Cherries apparently need their roots to be able to breathe well, they are not fans of dense, compacted soils.
Clay can be a blessing and a curse. It is usually not lacking in nutrients because it holds them in place, rather than letting everything just run through as sandy soil does. Conversely, it can turn to concrete when it dries out, making it near impossible for small, fragile roots to push through. It can also hold water TOO WELL, turning the ground into a boggy, sticky mess that fragile roots drown and suffocate in. Hence my cherry tree drama. I could just content myself to buy less picky trees, but that will never happen.

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A two year old plum tree

The cherry dilemma distracts me. For my less picky baby trees, I’ve found a way to use the clay to my advantage. It was a bit more work in the beginning and won’t keep me from having to water at all, but hopefully will cut down on the frequency of having to haul buckets and improve the survival of those tiny little trees.
Mulch helps. I can’t preach the benefits of mulching plants enough. It holds warmth during the cool months, keeps roots cooler in the hot months, retains moisture, blocks weeds and some mulches improve soil condition as they break down over time. If you’re going to spend money on something in your landscape, spend it on mulch.
It helped my little trees some, putting down weed barrier and mulch.

Still, every time I hauled buckets, I had to pour a little of the water near the roots, then wait. Pour a little more, then wait. Clay soil doesn’t immediately absorb water. It soaks in VERY SLOWLY, so if you just dump the bucket of water over your plant, 90% of that water is going to run off where you didn’t intend it. Soaker hoses are great for clay, but that’s if you can get a soaker hose to that spot.

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My weekly summertime routine.

An armadillo dug up one of the new redbuds I’d planted down by our pond. Luckily, the little tree didn’t die (redbuds are TOUGH), but even after I re-covered the roots, there was still a substantial dip in the ground next to my tree. I dumped the water in the hole and noticed something. The water filled hole drained very slowly, held a lot of water and was still slightly damp the next day when I went back to make sure the tree hadn’t been dug up again. I had a new willow that wasn’t getting enough water, so I dug a hole next to that tree too and filled it with water. A couple weeks of that and the willow was looking MUCH better. I also noticed the redbud that the ‘dillo had dug up was looking fantastic, while a couple others I’d planted were either dead or barely hanging on.

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Digging mini-wells

In clay soil, these little holes were acting like a well. The clay held the water in place for a long time, allowing it to s-l-o-w-l-y filter down to the tree’s roots, instead of 90% of the water running off down the hill. Our farm ponds were built from packed clay bottoms. Eventually the clay particles pack together SO well with all that water weight on top that the water stops seeping through altogether and POOF! You have a farm pond.
All of the baby trees I’ve dug wells next to have improved. With mulch added, I may only have to water them half as much, even here in the mouth of Hell.

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Wells dug into clay will slowly release water for hours

The holes I’m digging aren’t super deep and I’m mostly doing this on trees less than a year old. However, I did add a couple holes near our peach trees, which are 3-4 years now. If you DO add wells next to older trees, be sure to dig at the edge of the root-line. As a general rule, the roots of a tree will reach out at least as far as it’s canopy spreads. I dig just outside the shadow it makes on the ground. If you dig into the roots, you can risk damaging the tree or introducing insect damage or fungal diseases.
I put the shovel into about 7-8 inches or so and pull out a clump of earth. The resulting hole will hold about 2 gallons of water. It takes 15 minutes to an hour for mine to completely drain if it’s really dry out. Once the clay absorbs some water, it will absorb more water faster, so if I’m in a hurry I make a second pass on slow draining holes.
With wells dug, I don’t have to slowly pour water at the root of the plant and wait for it to absorb, I just fill the well and move on to the next tree. It cuts my watering time WAY down, which means a lot less time in that headache inducing heat.

Now if only I can resist the impulse when those tree catalogs arrive this fall…. 🙂

-Belle

O-Positive tastes great!

Amblyomma_americanum_tick

It’s that time of year folks, when every flying, creeping, crawling thing seems like it wants to dine on our blood. If you’re a lucky O-Positive blood type like myself, those mosquitoes find you extra tasty- it’s like they’re upgrading from Steak & Shake to Outback for the same price.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on social media lately about what to use to keep the creepy-crawlies at bay without coating yourself in DEET or mummifying yourself in bug netting.

I can’t help you AS much if you’re walking game trails in the woods… you’re GOING to get something on you if you’re wandering the path of tick’s favorite food. They’ll even dive bomb your head from the trees in the woods. I can offer a couple of tips that work well for me:

1) I don’t wear long pants. I know this goes against the common suggestion of “wear pants tucked into boots” but in late July/August, it’s just too damned hot for that!
I do wear knee-high boots if I’m walking through the woods, since I don’t want to go to the hospital for a snake bite, but I wear shorts with them. Yeah, it’s not very fashion forward, but in the shorts I can FEEL what’s crawling up my legs before it reaches my waistband or other objectionable areas.

2) Carry one of those sticky-paper lint rollers if you’re in the woods. If you’ve ever had the lovely experience of touching a plant or spot on the ground, only to have your hand come away crawling with hundreds of little black seed ticks, then you know how horrifying it can be. If you haven’t, count yourself lucky and hope you never need this trick. It’s impossible to brush, wash or pick all of them off before half of them make all the way up your limb. A sticky lint roller can be a LIFE SAVER. Carry it in a baggie, so you can put the wadded up, tick covered paper in something to take back to the house and burn. (Deer get angry if you litter in the woods and will come to your yard and eat your Hosta for revenge.) Roll the lint roller over your clothes or your dog a few times before you put it in the baggie, so it won’t stick to the baggie. Tear off a fresh sheet to capture ticks.

Finally, I don’t use OFF or any other DEET preparation anymore. The CDC published an article in 2015 that said, “Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a plant-based mosquito repellent that provided protection time similar to low concentration DEET products in two recent studies…”
I’ll be adding the lemon oil of eucalyptus to my current concoction when I get it in the mail. If you don’t want all the details, skip down to where it says RECIPE. If you want to know why I use this  spray and what’s in it, keep reading.

The CDC recommends use of one of these for protection against ticks and mosquitoes:

800px-Mosquito_Tasmania_cropOil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)

DEET (chemical name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide). Products containing DEET include, but are not limited to, Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon. There are rumors that DEET can cause cancer, although there is not sufficient evidence yet to classify it as a carcinogen. It does come with warnings that used improperly, it can cause seizures or have toxic side effects. It has been banned in some European countries. Can cause damage to plastics.

Picaridin (KBR 3023 [Bayrepel] and icaridin outside the US; chemical name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester). Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the US). EPA considers to be slightly toxic used directly on skin and warns you should keep it away from eyes.

PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE. Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off ! Botanicals. This recommendation refers to EPA-registered products containing the active ingredient OLE (or PMD). “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended; it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy and is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent.

IR3535 (chemical name: 3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester). Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart. May dissolve or damage plastics like DEET, eye irritant.

2-undecanone (chemical name: methyl nonyl ketone). The product BioUD contains 2-undecanone.

My current spray uses plain Eucalyptus oil, I’ll be switching to the Lemon Eucalyptus oil. I’ve been using this spray for years now, adding this, removing that. The current formulation keeps off ticks, fleas, chiggers, biting flies, gnats, mosquitoes, kills and repels spiders and ants. (It does not work great on Japanese beetles, unfortunately) I still get the occasional tick on me, but this was also true when I used Deep Woods OFF regularly.

Also, the OFF smells horrid to me and it didn’t seem to bother biting flies one bit.

Here’s what’s in my home-made spray : Cedar oil, Lemon Eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, water. That’s it. Simple, natural insect repellent. (The cedar oil I use contains Ethyl lactate as a carrier, a chemical compound found in alcohol, cabbages, peas, vinegar, bread… ) This stuff also smells awesome! It’s earthy because of the cedar oil and fresh/clean because of the mint and eucalyptus. I’ve sprayed it on myself, the dogs when they’ve been in the chigger and tick ridden hay fields, around the yard before we have friends over, around the patio and on plants that are being chowed on by insects. I even use it in my daughter’s hair when there is a lice breakout at school.

RECIPE>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I buy a big bottle of this stuff from Amazon.com: It’s  called Wondercide and has two ingredients; cedar oil and Ethyl lactate as a carrier. The bottle I have has lasted over 3 years now. (I linked the picture to Amazon). I have an old Windex bottle that I add about 3 capfuls

wondercideof this, 6-7 drops of Eucalyptus oil and 6-7 drops of Peppermint oil. I used to use Lemon Balm, but couldn’t tell that it did much. I added the Eucalyptus oil when I found that spiders hate it- I was bitten by a brown recluse last year and did not want a repeat experience. Fill the rest of the bottle with water and shake it up to mix everything well. Then just spray on all the things!
I would avoid getting this in your eyes, since the peppermint oil will burn if you get it in eyes. The spray doesn’t taste all the fantastic either. Best to just avoid mucus membranes period. Otherwise, spray away.

FYI, I do use this in the house to kill insects too, as cedar oil is toxic to many of them. I don’t spray it on the cats, since they lick themselves A LOT more than the dogs do. When I spray the dogs, I usually just put it on their back where they don’t do a lot of licking. I’ve read on Wondercide’s site that it won’t hurt dogs because it’s properly diluted and we always had cedar bedding in our dog’s houses that never hurt them… still, I wouldn’t want them drinking the stuff, regardless of how safe they say it is. They do have formulations on their website for animals and other specific uses. If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, obviously don’t use it… or play around with the formula and find a substitute. Many people itch or get a rash from touching cedar leaves, this isn’t formulated from the leaves, it’s made from the woody part of the tree, but some people and animals are also sensitive to the oils from the wood. Use your best judgement.
If you can’t use cedar oil, I’ve seen a couple commercial organic formulations from OFF and Avon Skin So Soft that may work for you, using just lemon eucalyptus. They’re starting to embrace the plant-based, chemical free movement, at least as a side-line.

*I would avoid the use of ANY of the chemicals listed on this page around aquatic life. Several of the commercial chemicals above warn that they will kill aquatic animals and/or amphibians. I couldn’t find anything about cedar oil being toxic to marine life, (One study I read stated little or no effect) but I still wouldn’t spray it on you hands and stick them in your fish tank. 

PS. If you DO wind up in a nest of chiggers in spite of using sprays you STILL itch all over, we use Dr Bronner’s soap  and take a shower in it from head to toe. It smells a bit strong, but it will get rid of the itch and any residual critters that are lurking on your skin. It’s also the best stuff in the world for acne- particularly the cystic kind. The bottle is covered in religious writing (which is why we’ve nicknamed it “God Soap”), once I got one covered in political writing instead… anyway, it’s wonderful stuff, weird writing on the label and all.

PPS. My site and myself are in no way affiliated with Amazon, the CDC or any of these products linked on here. I’m not selling anything, just sharing what has worked well for myself and my family. I don’t earn anything from your clicking on these links. Also, I’m not a medical doctor. If you use this stuff, you do it at your own risk and your own discretion. If you come to my house, be warned, I might spray it on you. (I usually ask first.)

 

Sources:

CDC Adopts New Repellent Guidance For Upcoming Mosquito Season:  https://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r050428.htm

Juniper’s Toxicity on Marine Life https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20033284

Repellents for Use on Skin and Clothing https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

Peppermint essential oil 

Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil 

DEET free OFF Formulation 

Dr Bronner’s Soap

Layered Acidic Garden

I’m going to keep this short and sweet with lots of pictures for those of you that just want a quick reference and then are off with your shovel and to shop for plants. If you’d like a more detailed explanation of layered gardening, see my post on hugelkultur mounds.

Whatever name you give it, ‘compost gardening,’ ‘layered gardening’, ‘hugelkultur’, ‘lasagna gardening’, ‘no till gardening’ they all employ basically the same methods and mean the same thing. You’re building a raised bed garden out of several layers of material that compost in place over time. The idea has gained a lot of popularity in recent years because of how incredibly low maintenance these gardens can be. A properly built hugelkultur mound is said to even be able to sustain a garden in the middle of the desert! If you’ve had a traditional garden in the past, you know that the digging, planting, hoeing and watering can become an exhausting chore and eat half of your summer. Lasagna gardening gets it’s clever name from the multiple layers of material you build into your raised bed. You can build a lasagna garden in just about anything. A raised bed of wood framed walls, a plastic tub, on the ground surrounded by bricks, cement blocks or just rocks you’ve picked up in the woods. The container really just depends on how formal, or informal you want it to look and how high you want it off the ground… or of course if you live in an apartment or a neighborhood where you can only garden in a container.
In hugelkultur, you dig below the ground itself and your layers begin there. The base is a bit different, the results pretty close to the same. I believe if you CAN dig into the ground at all, hugelkultur is the better method, since it requires less watering and improves itself over time with little or no interference from you after the initial build. lasagna gardening
I got this picture from the City of Cuyahoga Falls website.

So here we go, layered garden in a tractor tire. T’s grandpa had most of his garden in tires, using them simply as mini-raised beds. I’m just going to improve on what he’s done, not re-invent the entire garden.

HG00

First I dug all the dirt out of the center of a tire, just scooping it right next to it, because I’ll be putting it back at the end. I dug down almost 3 feet, until I hit the clay layer. I couldn’t do this in our previous yard, because the soil WAS clay and rock. Lots and lots of rock. I just dug it down as far as was possible to hold the logs in place. Deeper is better if you can manage it.

HG01

Next, I raided a wood pile that had been sitting for at least 2 years. There were good sized logs, already half rotten. Perfect! Don’t use logs that don’t rot or that give off chemicals to slow rot- avoid woods like locust, cedar and cherry. These logs were birch and oak and already breaking down, so they are fine.

HG03

Hugelkultur mounds are usually just free-form on the ground. I’m building this one inside the tire, kind of like combining hugelkultur and lasagna gardening. Add your logs to the hole, to the level of the soil (or in this case, almost the top of the tire). I threw in the bark that fell off and all the chips and pieces as well.

HG04

An old bale of straw or hay works for the next layer. You can also use chopped up leaves or grass clippings, shredded cardboard, newspaper, etc. I have a barn full of old rotting hay that I need to get rid of, so I used that.

HG05

Dump the leaves, hay, grass clippings on top of your log layer.

HG06

This is the layer you’ll vary according to what you’re planting. In this case, I’m planting strawberries, which are acid-loving plants, so I want the bed to stay fairly acidic. My neighbor was kind enough to send me home a load of aged cow manure; if you don’t have access to a friendly farmer, you can buy manure at most garden centers by the bag. Mushroom compost will also work well, you just want something that’s high in nitrogen so that as the logs break down, they don’t leach all the nitrogen from your soil.

HG07

For a little extra heat, I added some blood meal to this layer. It’s a big nitrogen boost too. Blood meal AND manure is really going to lower the PH of your soil and make it highly acidic, so if you’re planting things that need a bit higher PH- such as watermelon, cantaloupe, peas or lettuce you might add lime or wood ashes here instead of blood meal if you’ve already used manure. If you don’t want to guess, get a soil tester and test.

HG08

On top of the manure, I’m putting back all that dirt I first dug out of the hole, mounding it up in the center and packing the sides down a bit so it will stay in place until the plant roots can take hold and keep it there.

HG09

Add your plants… and a pinwheel if you are so inclined. 🙂

HG10

I just used more straw to mulch in the plants and then watered everything really well.
First mound finished! The best part is, there will be minimal weeds, once the logs underneath are saturated, I will seldom have to water because they will maintain the soil moisture beautifully. There’s no tilling, even in the next season, you just dig and plant again. If your plants are perennials, like strawberries, you just add more mulch on top. No fertilizer is needed, the logs underneath break down and provide nutrients.

HG11

For a cleaner, or more formal look, you could edge the planting bed with blocks, bricks or stone and use a commercial mulch from the nursery.
My cost on this mound was about $3.00 for blood meal and another $4 or so for plants. Everything else was sourced from our property or our neighbor.

Now I only have a 1/4 acre of garden left to do something with…

-B

Critters

I am getting closer to being able to post something of substance, promise! Until then, I have some pictures to share with you of all the critters that have come to visit lately. Just this past week I saw quail by the front fence, deer in the back field, a coyote playing in our yard and chasing mice, a flock of eight turkeys, loads of cardinals, a red tailed hawk and a blue heron. I’m hoping for a bald eagle soon, since it’s January!
I’ve been doing a lot of painting and little house remodeling things, but nothing worth blogging about. The garden is covered in cardboard boxes from our move and resting until spring, when I’ll be digging it up to build some HUGE hugelkultur mounds. I’ve ordered an insane amount of elderberry bushes to plant this spring and possibly wild plum, if they aren’t sold out at the nursery. We’re going to be rebuilding the orchard here. Re-stocking the fish pond and I’m hoping to get the barn cleared out and have a use for it besides storing junk soon. Lots of plans. Lots to show and write about… but right now, it’s cold, it’s icy, and I can do none of it. If only humans could hibernate until spring!

Patio visitors

We try to keep our yard as toad and frog friendly as possible. My daughter loves them. She loves to catch them and take them to a “safe place;” she loves to watch them swim in our little pond. Every summer we wait for our annual visitor under the Amaryllis pot on our front walk.

Creating habitat for toads and frogs in your landscape is pretty easy. Toads and frogs need a water source near their home. This can be anything from a small garden pond to a birdbath saucer placed on the ground near their habitat. Keep the water changed fairly frequently if it isn’t running or moving- you don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 003.JPG
If you have pets, keep them away from the area your toad house is in. Don’t put the house somewhere that outdoor pets frequent. One of our cats was an adept toad and frog hunter, when we brought her inside the population of toads and frogs in our yard tripled!

Broken flower pots, crockery, old dishes, buckets, etc. make excellent toad houses. You can put a wet rag or some wet moss inside the house, under some leaves to keep the house cool and wet for toad friends. They LOVE those self-watering pots with the bottom taken off. There is just enough room for them to squeeze under, it stays moist and cool from watering the plant above and it’s fairly safe from most predators- ours especially, it’s sitting up high on a trellis rail. Since I’ve been putting this pot out on the porch, we have had a toad living under it all summer without fail.
It gets sun in the early morning, but is in shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.

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If you have kids, get creative! Toad houses are even better than those fairy houses kids love to build, since they can watch the actual animal living in the house. I Googled “Building a toad house” and pulled up TONS of great photos and ideas. Clay pots are often featured because they stay cooler and hold moisture better than plastic. If you can half bury the pot in the ground, it also gives your toads and frogs a place to dig in a bit and stay cool and safe.

Toads are great little insect eaters and I encourage as many as possible to hang about the garden. The more predators on plant eating insects, the better!
Share your toad house pictures! I love to see other people’s creative ideas and projects.

PS. Forgive my long hiatus from Dirt. I was busy all the month of June painting this mural for my daughter’s school. The posts will probably still be spare for a while. There is a possible move for us in the works, so I’m not doing many new projects here right now, mostly maintaining what’s already here. I’ll share some pictures and things though, because I still HAVE to be outside! 🙂
-B

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Shiny New Toys

It’s seedling time!

I spent a good part of today getting seeds started in the table top greenhouse Mister bought me for Christmas. Together with the HUGE greenhouse he gave me for Valentines’ Day, I’m SET for the season. A man who truly knows where my heart lies… in the dirt. LOL

We’ve been saving up our plastic water bottles for a couple of weeks. Had a whole box full under the kitchen sink- they were starting to overflow the box and roll out on the floor. I’d have to punt water bottles at random while doing dishes or making dinner. I cut the tops off about half-way down and use the bottom portion for planting seeds.

If anyone has any brilliant ideas for a use for these cut-off tops, I’d love to hear it. You can only keep so many about for funnels.

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Mister was kind enough to mount a bracket under the cabinet where my table-top greenhouse sits, to hold the grow light in place. It wasn’t a have-to thing with this set up, the photo on the box shows the light sitting directly on top of the greenhouse itself. I feared that it would wind up melting the plastic when left on for a long time or get knocked off and wind up broken. Those grow lights can be expensive! It gives TONS of light, even mounted a couple inches above the box. Much more than the light through the window or the grow bulb I had rigged up the previous year. This was a nice kit- the lid sits up almost a foot high, so the seedlings have plenty of room to grow, there are vents in the top that can be opened and closed. I’m not sure exactly where he got it, but I found one on Amazon that looks very much like this one for around $50, light included: Table Top Seed Starter Kit

There are some really pretty Victorian style ones if you’d rather have something elegant that isn’t plastic. I’m happy with this, it gets the job done, it’s washable and it will do a fabulous job growing strong seedlings. I’ve always had issues with not enough light in the past. Our only window with southern exposure is in our office. It’s tiny, the cats love to knock off the few plants that are in there, it’s not the most optimal place to start seeds. No cats here, it fits on the counter and did I mention… I really love the light. There’s something really inviting about it, like with real sunlight.


I’m doing several different sorts of tomato this year, as I couldn’t decide which I liked best. I have a yellow cherry, a roma, a beefsteak and a roma grape that we’re going to try. I’ve been saving up bell pepper seeds from the peppers we get from the grocery store, they worked fine last year. They aren’t quite true to the original, but actually had a stronger (but still sweet) flavor. Peppers LOVE heat, so I may keep some of those plants in the greenhouse this year and see how they do. We also have a package of carrot seeds that Burpee sent as a free gift. We’ll be starting cucumber and snow peas, but I direct sow those into the garden at planting time instead of starting them in the house. Peas don’t mind a little chill and cucumbers grow extremely fast and produce long before other plants that are direct-sowed.

I use a basic seed starting mix (which is mostly made of peat) to fill the bottles. The reason you use this instead of potting soil is that it’s sterile- meaning there shouldn’t be weed or grass seeds sprouting in it and competing with your plants. Also, it’s very light, fluffy and holds water well, so those frail little starter roots don’t have to fight through heavy dirt to get moving. I filled  over thirty bottles with a single bag.

The Popsicle sticks I saved from ice cream bars. I love these things, they are great for stirring paint, apply glue or plaster, scraping sticky things and work great as plant markers. I just write on the ends with a permanent waterproof marker. The last time I started seeds, I used bendy straws. Whatever you have handy is fine, so long as it’s waterproof and you can write on it. I’ve used bits of foam egg carton, plastic bottle, straws, peeled tree branch, you name it.

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This is the final set-up, all planted and sunning on my counter. I noticed that the the light spreads quite a bit past the sides of the greenhouse. I think I may add a couple more bottles on one side with a  pear and cherry tree seeds I want to play with. If I don’t cut the tops all the way off, they’re like single mini-greenhouses. Might as well take advantage of that light! 🙂

I’ll post more progression pictures as things start to sprout. One note on water- don’t drown your seeds! They only need a bit of a drink to start with, then check them every day to make sure they don’t dry out, but don’t let them just sit in water. It can rot delicate roots very quickly if they get too wet. I don’t have a heat mat under mine, so they don’t get quite very warm and dry out quickly. The clear bottles aren’t organic like peat pots, toilet paper rolls or as convenient maybe as plastic cell flats- but they are really nice for checking on whether the plant needs water at a glance (the peat is darker when it’s wet) and how the roots are coming along. If there are seeds near the side, you can even see them break through the seed coat and sprout. My daughter loves to watch this happen, she thinks it’s amazing.

She helped plant and water all the seeds. She even tagged a couple of the sticks for me. 🙂
She’s a wonderful little garden helper.

I was serious about those water bottle tops. I would love to hear your ideas or suggestions. I hate putting useful stuff in the trash!

-B

 

 

What to get girls that play in dirt

For years I’ve told my husband that I don’t want a vase full of dead flowers for Valentine’s Day, or jewelry that will likely gather dust in a box somewhere. Instead, he has always bought me plants with the roots attached or some other garden-related gift. One year it was a little pond, one year a bunch of hyacinths, daffodils, etc. in a bowl. Those I still have and they are over 10 years old.

This Valentines he didn’t get me plants with roots. So what’s better than plants to get a Belle of Dirt? A place to PUT plants into DIRT, that’s what! He spent this weekend putting together a new greenhouse, just in time for seed starting and spring planting.

It’s freaking huge! He added a couple of fold up tables for me to use as potting benches. I have a place to keep my tools now, and store bags of mulch or dirt until I use them and pot plants. Plant potting has been one of those thing that I’ve always done on the back porch, balancing things on the railing and dropping my trowel in the yard AT LEAST 3-4 times.
I’m hoping this greenhouse will give me a great place to rehab a couple things that need a little extra help, I may even try growing my peppers in it this year instead of in the garden. (Peppers LOVE heat)

Thank you Mister Man. You made her entire spring! 🙂

Loves him,

Girl who plays in dirt