All posts by Gary Friis

What Fruits & Vegetables To Grow For A Low Maintenance Food Garden?

Are you looking to grow your own food garden, but you're hesitant because it's 'hard'? Don't worry! Once you know what you're doing, gardening is quite easy. And there are several great starter crops. Growing your own food is important for many reasons. Maybe you're concerned about knowing just where your food's come from. Or what chemicals commercial growers used on it. Or perhaps you're wanting to save (or earn) a little cash here and there.

​So How to Go About Your Garden?

If space is not an issue, traditional in-ground methods are always a great way to garden!

That all depends on you. Is space tight? Or are looking to do more patio gardening? You should consider container and square foot gardening methods. A personal favorite of mine that is both low cost and space efficient is 'bag gardening'. You can see a demonstration of this in this YouTube video: here.

We have had huge success with this method. But for veggies that need deep root systems there are better techniques. Once you have a level of comfort with any system, you can always tweak it to make it even more space and cost efficient.

What About Window Box Gardening?

You can grow a variety of edibles on your window ledges using window boxes or similar methods. Great candidates for these include berries like strawberries. Or try leafy greens like lettuce and spinach. Yummy salad additions like radishes and green onions are great too! You can also grow a variety of herbs, including basil, thyme, chives, oregano, sage, and parsley.

Window box gardening is quite easy. Most plants that grow using this method are both easy to cultivate and maintain.

Can Climate Affect Even Indoor Gardens?

Climate can come into play even when you choose to do your garden entirely indoors. This is because you have complete control over the temperature of your house. Cold temperatures may stunt the growth of some plants if you're like me and prefer to keep the house chilly. Others may become sunburned and wilt in the sunlight provided through a window if you have a hot summer.Always do research on the types of plants you're wanting to grow. And make sure that you have a suitable climate or can keep your home at a temperature for those plants.

So What Are the Easiest Veggies to Grow?

Think about anything to flavor your dishes or make an excellent salad. If you want to grow plants with deep roots like carrots, large container methods are best. Or you'll need to put them in the ground! But, it is possible to grow indoors or on a patio.

  • Perennials - Nature designed perennials for long term survival. And this means perennial fruit trees and berry bushes can be very low maintenance.
  • Strong Growers - For low maintenance is plant something that won't be overcome by weeds.
  • Herbs - You can't go wrong with just about any herb. Almost all of them are very hardy and easy to care for. You can save a surprising amount of money by skipping out on them at the grocery store. And they add tons of rich flavor to any dish you make!
  • Carrots - These hardy roots don't need too much TLC to thrive, and they have very little in the way of pests that want to get at them. They prefer loamy and sandy soils.
  • Beans - Bush beans are my personal favorite as they don't need any sort of trellis. This makes them especially easy for beginners. They come in several varieties, and they do well in a variety of soils. Don't be afraid to play around with them.
  • Leafy greens - There are a variety of leafy greens, from several types of lettuce to spinach to arugula. Most of them do very well indoors and even in small container gardens. One of the things I love so much about greens like lettuce is that you can continue to harvest off of the same few plants. You don't destroy the plant every time you use it.
  • Squash - Yes, you absolutely can grow squash as a gardening newbie, and in confined spaces. These vines can get big, but they're more than manageable with the right tools, such as a trellis. If you're worried about pests, you can also incorporate netting.
  • Cherry tomatoes - Out of all tomatoes cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow. This means they are perfect for new gardeners. They're great in most soils and in all climates - excluding cold climates. Pests can be a problem with this plant, but it's nothing that a pest net or light pesticides can't take care of.

So newbie gardeners, don't fret. You can start growing an edible garden on the cheap, regardless of space, right away. Just be aware of what zone you're in. Pay attention to any special soil requirements and you'll grow your own dinner in no time!

Have questions? Advice? Comments? Maybe you just want to brag about your latest crop, or share a recipe from your garden? Please leave a comment and let me know what's on your mind!

Hoverfly vs. Wasp: What’s the Difference?

People have a certain negative preconceived notion about some bugs. Most people don’t really trust those shifty insects with their wings and that menacing attitude. Of course, I’m referring to those insects that have the ability to cause us intense pain from those deranged stingers, like wasps!

We know you don’t like wasps. We feel your pain.Wasps definitely carry around a negative connotation; you always see them buzzing around in groups of angry peers plotting how to get their next victim.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little – just a tad. But, did you know that other insects resemble wasps but they’re not actually mean? I’m referring to little creatures known as hoverflies. In those months when your house seems to be swarmed with intimidating bugs, it’s important to understand that there are differences between wasps and hoverflies.

So, what exactly are wasps?

Wasps are insects that belong to the order Hymenoptera. While they are commonly confused with bees, they are not part of the bee family.

Well then, what are hoverflies?

Hoverflies, which are also called flower flies, are part of the insect family known as Syrphidae

In fact, hoverflies and wasps stem from two entirely different orders in the animal kingdom.

They look so similar… Are there any differences in their appearance?

Definitely! While they are often confused for one another, there are some noticeable differences in the appearances.

Let’s take a look at hoverflies first. The appearance of hoverflies varies by the species. However, some of the common traits include:

  • Bright yellow and brown bands
  • A single pair of functional wings
  • A “floating” vein
  • Short and stubby antennae
  • Large and round eyes

Wasps, on the other hand, typically have the following:

  • Bright yellow bands around the body
  • A defined “waist” between the abdomen and thorax
  • Two sets of functional wings – four total
  • Long and slim antennae
  • Smaller eyes with a pinched-in kidney shape

Do both insects sting?

It may seem pretty clear that insects need a way to protect themselves. They have evolved from their ancestors to live in today’s world with today’s stresses. That said, the wasp and hoverfly have different defense mechanisms.

Wasps have stingers, and many people will probably back that up with personal experience. Compared to other stinging insects that only produce one sting, wasps do not necessarily die after that one sting. The stinger is usually not left in the attack site, but there is venom present. While regenerating that venom does take time, the wasp can sting without dying as long as the stinger stays intact.

Hoverflies, however, do not sting. They are indeed harmless. Remember how their bodies appear with similar colors to the wasp? They’ve evolved to defend themselves with Batesian mimicry. These ladies and gents have adapted those bright yellow bands to alert potential predators that they mean business.

For example, if a bird is approaching a hoverfly and he sees that wasp-like appearance, he’s probably not going to bother the fly. Hoverflies use that mimicry to their advantage to survive.

I have a big and brooding nest of some kind outside, is it wasps or hoverflies?

The nesting may not be a dead giveaway as to what kind of pest you’re dealing with. We’ll address both types of nest though.

Wasps live in nests made from chewed wood which has a distinctive paper-y look. Wasps love to build their nests in locations such as behind shutters, porch ceilings, and roof eaves. The size of the nest can be pretty large, like the size of a basketball; the nest can contain thousands of wasps.

Hoverflies prefer to take shelter in compost heaps or old trees.

What do they eat?!

The hoverfly eats different courses throughout the lifecycle. The larvae eat pest aphids on crops. The adults, however, usually feed on nectar and pollen.

Wasps eat a variety of meals. Both adults and larvae are known to be on an omnivorous diet. They consume fallen fruits, other insects, and even nectar.

Wasps are annoying, but do we benefit from them?

In life, sometimes you have to just take the good with the bad.Wasps DO have a bad rep – that stinger – but it isn’t all bad. We just talked about how wasps like to grub on other insects. You can use that to your advantage! Instead of spending money on intense poisons to keep the other pests at bay, just let the wasps eat. While it may seem a little morbid, some wasps actually carry insects like caterpillars back to the nest to feed their growing young. They’re taking care of those babies and you’ve got crop leaves without those frustrating tiny holes!

What about the hoverflies?

Hoverflies help us out too!

From the name, we can incur that these flies are the best at hovering. Their unique design allows them to be excellent pollinators. They’re flying about searching for their own dinner and pollinating flowers and plants all over the place.


Hoverflies use their distinct hovering ability to attract mates as well as to pollinate.

Hoverflies are also a natural help to the gardener. Again, you don’t need to go out and purchase those toxic chemicals, because these guys are ready to control your pest population for you. The hoverfly larvae are hungry and ready to consume those aphids!

I don’t want really to deal with wasps OR hoverflies! How can I get rid of them?

If you’re absolutely sure that the nuisances outweigh the benefits, there’s a ton of different ways to get rid of both groups.We can certainly appreciate your desire for an insect free zone.

Since there’s so many, I’m just going to leave you a couple of links to check out.

If you have a wasp problem:

Hoverflies can also be shooed away!

So in conclusion, wasps and hoverflies are two totally different insects with totally different appearances, lifestyle choices, and defense mechanisms.

We’ve covered some important differences between these two bugs, but we’d love to know what you think!

If you are experiencing issues with wasps or hoverflies, we encourage you to take notice of the differences between them and act accordingly. Bottom line: wasps have stingers with venom – hoverflies do not!

More useful links:

What Is A Fruit Cocktail Tree? (AND HOW DO YOU GROW ONE)

First off we need to come clean. The image above is a mock up and isn't possible. But fruit cocktail trees are real. This post explains what they are and how you might be able to grow your own.

Many gardeners wish that they could grow different varieties of fruit on the same tree because they simply don't have enough space to grow more than one variety.

While it is still not possible to grow different species on the same tree, fruits within the same family can grow well on the same tree. Growers call this a fruit cocktail tree!

For example.... it's possible to grow different varieties of apples on the same tree.

Gardeners can also grow different varieties of stone fruit such as peaches, plums, and nectarines on the same tree or various types of citrus like oranges, lemons and limes on the same plant.

If this sounds like fun, then you can buy one commercially, or you can create your own.

Growing Your Own Fruit Salad Tree

The first and most important decision that the grower needs to make is which rootstock he will choose. You need to pick a tree that does well in your gardens soil conditions.

You will want to choose a rootstock that is known for being disease free in your area, and that has a great root structure.

Allow the Tree to Become Established

Before you begin any grafting, you need to plant the tree and give it time to get well established in its environment. The tree should have five to six main branches before you begin any grafting.

Get a Scion

You will then want to get scions. These are tree limbs that have borne fruit the previous year. You can cut your own from a friend’s tree in the winter when the tree is dormant, or you can buy scions commercially. Choose varieties that self-pollinate when selecting scions.

Storing Scions

If you are cutting your own, then keep them in moist sawdust in a cool place during the winter. If you are buying them commercially, then follow the nursery’s directions.

What Are Elderberries and Where Are They Found?

The elderberry is a fast-growing, nitrogen-loving shrub, indigenous to North America and Europe, that prefers forested areas, farms, or rural areas with lots of organic waste. They're often used as hedges in Europe because they are easily shaped and spread quickly. It's related to the honeysuckle and its creamy white and yellow flowers emit a sweet, heavy scent.

Feathery, dark green, ovate leaves cover the stems, which branch off frequently and give the plant a rather sprawling appearance. Flowers emerge in late spring, and at summer's end, they will have developed into small, deep purple berries. Depending on the variety of elderberry, the berries can also be bluish black, red, or yellow.

The elderberry easily adapts to poor soil conditions and spreads quickly as long as it receives ample sunlight. Left untrimmed, some elderberry bushes can reach a height of up to 30 feet. Pictures and a more detailed tutorial on their appearance can be found here.

Variants of the Elderberry

The elderberry has several species, all of which have edible berries but poisonous roots, leaves, and stems. Variants of the elderberry include:

  • S. canadensis
  • S. ebulus
  • S. nigra
  • S. racemosa

S. canadensis is commonly referred to as sweet elderberry. its deep purple berries are nearly black and the plant is indigenous all along the East Coast, from Florida to Nova Scotia and extending west from Manitoba, Canada to Texas. It grows well in both wet and dry soil conditions and has been used thoughout the ages for medicinal purposes because it has a high vitamin C content.

S. ebulus is called dwarf elder and is the smallest of the species, attaining a maximum height of about 5 feet. White and purple flowers appear in late spring and the small, shiny black berries of S. ebulus are the least popular berries of the species.

S. nigra is mostly native to Europe and has the darkest berries, which are the most popular for food and medicine. S.nigra attains a maximum height of about 20 feet so reaching the top berries might require climbing the tree.

This variant has some close relatives, such as the Mexican elderberry and others that are indigenous to Asia. The S. nigra is also used as an ornamental plant in Europe and the U.K.

S. racemosa is indigenous to the Western U.S. and Canada and a subspecies of it comes from Northeast Asia.

id="History-of-the-Elderberry">History of the Elderberry

The name elderberry comes from the Anglo-Saxons and it was originally called the elder tree.

Eldertrees were thought to be inhabited by a spirit who would protect those who cared for it, so it was planted profusely on the farm and around the home.

Locating and Identifying Elderberry Trees

Elderberry trees thrive in more rural areas and close to areas with a high nitrogen content in the soil. Since they are so prolific, if you find one elderberry, there's sure to be considerably more of them. Elderberries are often confused with water hemlock so it's essential to know which plant you have.

Although elderberries can tolerate drought, water hemlock needs moisture, so if you're in a very dry area, the plant is most likely not water hemlock. However, The Definitive Guide to the Elderberry is a helpful resource to print and take with you when foraging for elderberries until you become very familiar with the appearance of each type. Since their appearance is quite similar to other highly toxic plants, it's best to have a picture handy for comparison. The link under "Eating Elderberries" also has a pictorial comparison of the elderberry and water hemlock.

Elderberries don't have thorns. If yours does, it's probably a Hercules Club, commonly called a prickly elder, although it's not related to the elderberry.

Cleaning Elderberries

It's probably best to use shears to clip the bunch of berries from the branch and then remove the berries at home. Make sure to wash the berries thoroughly and to remove all traces of the leaves, stems, and bark, since they are poisonous and you don't want to ingest them.

Elderberries can be stored in the freezer and don't have to be cooked first.

Eating the Elderberry

The berries of the S. nigra are used for medicine, wine, jams, sauces, and pies, and are a favorite of the local birds. In northern Europe, the flowers are also made into a drink known as an elderflower cordial.

Although the ripe berries are not toxic when cooked, eating too many of them raw may upset your stomach. The seeds of the ripe berries are poisonous so be sure not to eat any of them and all of the unripe berries are mildly toxic.

Elderberry leaves, stems, and seeds contain glycoside, a toxin, which can build up in your system and make you very ill. The roots are poisonous and will kill you if you eat them. If you have any doubt about the species of the flowers you're going to eat, don't eat them! Elderberry trees resemble other plants that are toxic to humans so be sure you're eating elderberries!

Although elderberry flowers are edible, they are often confused with the flowers of the water hemlock, so be sure which flower you're collecting if you plan to eat them; this may help in determining which plant you have. The flowers can be battered and fried for tasty elderflower fritters; Germans and Scandinavians make a very tasty soup from the ripe elderberries.

Should I Consume Elderberries?

Elderberries are full of antioxidants and vitamins, they've been used in a variety of applications throughout history. They've been comestibles, beverages, and medicine, as well as aesthetic ornamentation. Berry picking expeditions are great outings for the family and all will enjoy the fruits of their labor in one of its many tasty forms.

Print out the guide above and take it with you, then go find some elderberries and enjoy them!


11 Incredible Elderberry Recipes (SYRUP, WINE, JUICE, TEA & MORE)

Coming soon…

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Stevia: grow this natural alternative sweetener in your garden

On many market trip occasions I have purchased a variety of brands for sugar substitutes. Faced with the decision between flavor and nutrition, I became happily accustomed to stevia, an alternative to sugar derived from the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.

Stevia has gained a great deal of popularity as current health concerns drive food companies to include this sugar substitute in their formulas to offer a more natural form of sweetness. Who wouldn't want to experience the delights of sugar without its downsides? But I decided to take my sweetener to the next step, au naturel!

The stevia plant is a wonderful and handy addition to almost any garden. If your have a hankering for growing this splendiferous plant, a few questions might pop up in your head.

  • How do I grow stevia?
  • Is it hard to nurture this plant?
  • What the heck am I supposed to do afterwards?
  • Can I actually use my stevia to sweeten my food?

Hey, relax! Growing and harvesting stevia is far more easy than you might think. There a just a few simple tips and tricks you might want to keep in mind.

More About Stevia

Stevia is native to South America where the locals would traditionally use the leaves to sweeten foods, medicines, and teas. Unlike sugar, stevia does not contain calories and the body does not digest it, making stevia a go-to for those dieting or concerned about lowering their sugar intake. Stevia can taste seventy to four hundred times sweeter than sugar and can be used in baking and cooking due to its heat stability. However, it will not brown like sugar. You can purchase processed forms of stevia, typically found in liquid and granulated concentrates that may vary in sweetness.

What You Will Need To Grow Stevia

  • A pot that drains properly or a nice, warm spot in your garden. Allow plenty of space for your plant.
  • Stevia seeds or a baby stevia plant.
  • Loose, rich, and well drained soil.
  • Water and sunlight of course! Compost is optional.

How To Grow Your Own Stevia

#1 Similar to basil, stevia flourishes in a warm climate.

Depending upon your growing season, stevia can reach up to three feet in height!

(Photo credit:

#2 If you choose to plant your stevia outdoors, let it breath by giving it space!

Allow at least twelve inches on each side of where you plan to plant your stevia, giving it ample room to prosper.

(Photo credit:

#3 Frost is never our friend!

Make absolute certain that any sign of frost has well passed before you decide to grow stevia. Stevia does not do well in lower temperatures.

#4 To seed or not to seed?

While it is entirely possible to start a stevia patch from scratch, it is also difficult to get them to germinate. I do have to suggest, if you are not up for the challenge, check out nurseries and instead of using seeds, plant baby stevia.

#5 Stevia is a little finicky with its soil.

Stevia needs both rich and well-drained soil. Any fertile soil will work quite well, but you need to make sure you do not over water or pack the soil too tight. Stevia's feeder roots like to nestle closer to the surface, so allow for proper drainage to avoid drowning your plant!

#6 Giving your stevia a drink can vary during your growing season.

You will have to be the judge in this situation. If you are growing your stevia in the summer, the sun can make your plant's living conditions severe. A little shade when it gets too hot and persistent light watering might be necessary.

FAQ's About Growing Stevia

Is it really that hard to grow stevia from the seeds?

Unfortunately yes. The germination rate of stevia is extremely low, so if you decide to go with seeds, don't think that you did something wrong if only a couple germinate!

Is there a particular way I should grow stevia from seeds?

If you are looking to purchase stevia seeds, make certain you find the sweet species Stevia rebaudina. If you are worried that you might not be able to get the stevia plant to start growing outdoors, why not consider indoor planting? Use small containers that allow for drainage and plant two to four seeds, lightly pressing them into your soil preference. Place the containers under a growing light with a tray beneath them. Water your seeds from below by filling the bottom tray and letting the water sit and soak into the soil. Hopefully you will note signs of seedlings one to two weeks after planting.

So will any soil work for growing my stevia?

Yes and no. Any general well-drained soil that is suitable for growing vegetables should also work quite nicely for stevia. Stevia flourishes naturally in sandy areas where moisture is constant but does not accumulate and flood the root system. If your soil isn't very sandy or has a high level of clay, include organic or low nitrogen fertilizers to enrich your soil with much needed nutrients. Also, consider using raised beds and do not compact your soil.

How To Harvest Stevia

The stevia plant will typically bloom little white flowers in late summer to early fall. When your stevia begins to bloom, this is the best time to harvest as the leaves will be at the peak of sweetness! The stems are generally discarded due to a lack of flavor, leaving the leaves to use for a sweetener.

You can either trim at the base of the stem, and dry your stevia, removing the leaves thereafter, or you can snip the leaves off of the plant right at the get-go.

Drying Your Stevia Yield

Similar to many herbs, stevia can be dried by using multiple techniques. Dried stevia lengthens its shelf life and can make handling and utilizing more manageable. Have some fun experimenting with each method to find the most efficient and desirable technique that's right for you!

#1 Natural drying may take a little time, but the outcome is nevertheless satisfactory!

You can naturally dry your stevia by placing the leaves on wire mesh or cooking fabric and leaving them in the sun for approximately a day. Be careful to avoid mist or morning dew because any form of moisture can reverse the dehydration that occurred, spoiling your harvest.

Bundle the stems of your stevia and hang them to dry naturally. Remove the leaves once they are thoroughly depleted of moisture.

#2 An oven can be used to dehydrate stevia.

Heat your oven to one hundred fifty degrees fahrenheit and place your stevia on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Check on the state of the leaves every few minutes to prevent burning. When your stevia is evenly crisp, remove the baking sheet and let the product cool.

If you own a dehydrator, you can also dry the harvested stevia by using this appliance.

How You Should Store Dried Stevia

To keep your dried stevia from spoiling from moisture, always store it in an airtight container placed in a cool and dry location. I usually keep my harvest in a mason jar marked with the date of when I had collected the stevia.

Time To Get Cookin'!

Ways To Prepare Gathered Stevia Leaves

Home grown stevia is extremely versatile and can be used in plenty of ways. Whole stevia leaves can be incorporated into beverages like lemonade or iced tea for sweetening. Try and brew stevia into a hot tea, creating a soothing and delicious treat. By chopping or crushing the collected leaves, the sweetness is both released and amplified. Chopped stevia is a wonderful addition to food recipes and can be used like other herbs and seasonings.

Grinding dried stevia will produce a natural sugar alternative. Approximately one tablespoon of this powder is equal to a whole cup of cane sugar! I found that a coffee grinder produced the finest result, but you can also grind your dried stevia leaves using a blender, mortar and pestle, food processor, or even the bottom of a glass. Since the sweetness of your powdered stevia is so potent, a small amount will accomplish the job, making your harvest last quite some time!

Producing Home-made Stevia Extract

Water Based Extract

  • Pour one cup of water into a pot or pan and heat it on low.
  • Add in one-fourth cup of dried, powdered stevia or one-half cup of dried whole stevia leaves packed tightly.
  • Sir the mixture and cover to let it simmer for thirty to forty minutes. Note, the mixture should not be boiling! If you boil your stevia it wil result in a less than pleasant tasting batch.
  • Let the stevia mixture cool to room temperature and transfer it to a air tight container.
  • For the best results, leave the container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, shaking the container every few days.
  • When you are ready to use your stevia extract, pour the contents of the container over a coffee filter to strain out the pieces of stevia leaves. You should have a yield of one-half to three-fourths cup of extract!

Alcohol Based Extracts

There are two methods to make stevia extract using alcohol. Personally the first method was faster and easier for me, but don't let my experience stop you from trying out both methods!

Method One:

  • Pick your poison! Well, choose an alcohol that you might prefer to make your extraction. Most hard alcohols will work wonders, brandy for example. I didn't want to risk entirely altering the flavor of my extract, so I used vodka.
  • Pour the alcohol into a sealable container.
  • Mix one-half cup or one full cup of dried and crushed stevia leaves into the container. Seal and refrigerate. You are also able to use fresh stevia leaves, though I have not experimented with this.
  • Store the container in the refrigerator for two days, taking the time to shake it a few times per day.
  • Once the two days have passed, strain the mixture and place the liquid into a pot or pan on the stovetop. Discard the leaves.
  • Gently cook the liquid for up to thirty minutes. Like the extraction method using water, do not boil the liquid!
  • Cool the stevia extract to room temperature and strain it one last time.
  • Transfer to an opaque bottle and store in the refrigerator. An eye dropper is perfect for distribution.
  • I wrote the date on my bottle. The stevia extract will last around three months. A label can help you by giving an idea as to when the extract might expire.

Method Two:

Many extracts contain a small percent of alcohol. If this is of no concern to you, a stevia extract can be made without boiling.

  • Follow steps one and two of Method One.
  • Instead of two days, keep the mixture in the refrigerator for two weeks, shaking the container a couple times each day.
  • After two weeks, strain the mixture and transfer the stevia extract to an opaque bottle for use.

Stevia- An Extraordinary Plant That You Should Consider Growing

The stevia plant's popularity has skyrocketed in the food industry and is incorporated into many individuals' diets to aid in reducing sugar intake. Composed of glycosides, Stevia is currently used as a food and beverage sweetener globally and in some places, for hundreds of years. Though it may be a little tricky to grow, keeping these tips and tricks in your head throughout the process may help you to grow healthy and harvestable stevia. After all, they truly assisted me during the growing process. And now, I have a constant supply of this natural sweetener! Did you enjoy this article? Your thoughts are welcomed and greatly appreciated in the comment section below!

Plant Nutrient Deficiencies (AND HOW TO SPOT THEM)

Summer has gone and the autumn sun isn’t warming up the soil enough for my outdoor gardens and container plants to thrive much longer. The annuals are pretty much finished, and the perennials are beginning to go to sleep. As I move some of my plants indoors for the winter, this is the time to take stock of how healthy they are, as well as the ones that will remain outside. I look for the usual suspects of bug infestations and diseases. Spotting nutrient deficiencies is what I am keen on this time of year. It will help me to remedy the nutrients needed and to adjust the PH of my soil for the spring.

What are the Nutrients Plants Need to Thrive?

All plants need the proper balance of nutrients just like all other living things to thrive. Plants rely on essential mineral nutrients from the soil absorbed through their roots. They actually make their own food or energy through the process of photosynthesis. Healthy soil, proper watering, adequate sunlight are all things that contribute to a plant’s ability to nourish itself.

A healthy soil is composed of a mixture of sand, silt, clay, and other organic material. The proper proportions of each soil component will assure that the inherent nutrients will not be washed away with watering or rain and the PH level of the soil will be ideal. If a soil is depleted of nutrients, they can be added in the form of commercial fertilizers. A more natural approach is to add organic materials that are available in local markets and garden supply centers. Rutgers University has compiled extensive research on types of fertilizers and organic materials that can be added to soil to replenish nutrients. This information can be found at In this post we will focus on the organic materials suitable for home gardens and potted plants.

Plant nutrients are divided into two categories, macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the primary elements that plants metabolize for nutrition. These include minerals, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Micronutrients are considered as secondary mineral elements that are utilized less than the primary nutrients. There are 12 most common essential mineral nutrients.

Macronutrient minerals:

  • Calcium (Ca)
  • Magnesium (Mg)
  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P
  • Potassium (K)
  • Sulfur (S)

Micronutrient minerals:

  • Boron (B)
  • Copper (Cu)
  • Iron (Fe)
  • Manganese (Mn)
  • Molybdenum (Mo
  • Zinc (Zn)

Identifying Nutrient Deficiencies

According to University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, too little or too much of any nutrient can be toxic to plants ( There are ways to identify nutrient deficiencies. The first is visual observation, which is ideal for the home gardener. The second is by soil testing done either through a laboratory or a home test kit. Soil testing is a bit more scientific and requires some meticulous watering and soil sampling over a 12 hour period. For the purposes of our needs we will explore the visual diagnosis method in more depth. Keep in mind that the characteristics of nutrient deficiencies can overlap. It is a good idea to research what a healthy plant is supposed to look like for comparison.

Macronutrient Properties, Deficiencies, & Remedies


Calcium plays a role in leaf and root growth. It is vital to the hardiness of plants. Calcium promotes the metabolism of nitrogen.

A calcium deficiency is characterized by misshapen and lighter colored leaves at new growth.

Calcium can be added to soil in the form of crushed egg or oyster shells, ashes from wood, and bone meal.


Magnesium is needed for photosynthesis. It plays a key role in the absorption and utilization of the other nutrients, especially phosphorus and iron.

A magnesium deficiency is recognized when the edges of leaves turn yellow or brown while the veins remain green. Leaves may eventually die.

There are no known organic sources of magnesium to add to soils. The best source is in the form of magnesium sulfate, which is basically Epsom salts.


Nitrogen is used by microorganisms in soil to decompose organic matter. It is essential for the chlorophyll that gives leaves there green color. Nitrogen is necessary for photosynthesis.

A deficiency is indicated when older leaves turn yellow and newer leaves have stunted growth.

Nitrogen can be added to soil in the form dried blood meal, used coffee grounds, or soybean meal.


Phosphorus is required for root formation, flowering, and seed production. It improves the quality of edible plants. It is well suited to soils with a mid-range PH. It plays a key role in photosynthesis.

Phosphorus deficiency is characterized by the tips of new leaves drying up and older leaves turning dark green, red, or purple. Flowering may be less frequent.

Phosphorus can be added to soil in the form of bone meal or manure.


Potassium is what gives plants their vitality, hardiness, and disease resistance. It is important for fruit formation and protein synthesis.

A potassium deficiency is recognized by spotty wilting leaves.

Potassium can be added in the form of wood ashes or dried and ground sea vegetables.


Sulfur helps to maintain the dark green color of leaves. It is important for plant respiration, root growth, and seed production. Sulfur helps with the development of vitamins and enzymes.

A sulfur deficiency is seen as the entire plant begins to turn yellow, starting with new growth first and followed by older leaves.

Sulfur can be added to soils in the form of plant residues.

Micronutrient Properties, Deficiencies, & Remedies


Boron promotes the production and quality of fruits and vegetables. It is necessary for cross pollination, and is required for the utilization of calcium.

A Boron deficiency is characterized by buds dying off prematurely. New growth leaves are paler green and may be misshapen. Flowering may be reduced.

Boron can be added to soil in the form of fresh green manure or plant residues.


Copper is required for photosynthesis and plant respiration. It intensifies plant color and enhances flavor in fruits and vegetables.

A copper deficiency appears as leaves being stunted and darker green in color. Stems and leaves may be twisted.

There are no known organic sources of copper to add to soils. The best source is in the form of copper sulfate.


Iron is required for chlorophyll formation and maintenance. It is a carrier of oxygen.

An iron deficiency is apparent when new leaves begin to turn yellow between the green veins. Older leaves will tend to remain green.

Iron can be added to soil in the form of iron chelates.


Manganese is required for photosynthesis and chlorophyll production. It is needed for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus.

A manganese deficiency is characterized by new growth leaves turning yellow or white between the green veins. Plant growth may be stunted. Necrotic spots or patches may appear.

Manganese can be added to soils in the form of manganese chelate.


Molybdenum is required for nitrogen metabolism. It is advantageous to the production of legumes.

A molybdenum deficiency appears as yellowing of the more mature leaves. New leaves remain green. Leaves may become twisted.

There are no known organic sources of molybdenum to add to soils. The best reported source is in the form of sodium molybdate.


Zinc is necessary for the production of seeds and plant starches. It is plays a key role in the production of chlorophyll.

A zinc deficiency is evident when terminal leaves become distorted and yellow or white between veins. Newer leaves may be reduced in size and older leaves may have spots.

Zinc can be added to soils in the form of manure, sewage sludge, or zinc chelate.

Fertilizing your Soil

Now that you have diagnosed your nutrient deficiency and soil PH, either visually or through testing, the next step is to adjust the nutrients in your soil. Putting together an ideal mix can be an arduous task, unless you really enjoy the chemistry involved. Mother Earth News has detailed instructions on how to make your own Complete Organic Fertilizer (

There are pre-mixed commercial fertilizers and composts available to enrich your soil. Some of these products are organic and include the materials listed in each nutrient description above. You might also consider taking your nutrient deficiency notes to your local garden center and ask them to make a customized mix for you. I have had success with this. Though, not all centers are expertly equipped to do that.

Timing is important. Outdoor gardens can benefit from fertilization in both the autumn and early spring. Indoor plants tend to “rest” in winter and don’t necessarily need extra nutrition or watering as winter approaches. Of course, you need to take into consideration your particular climate and seasonal changes.


Identifying and correcting nutrient deficiencies in your garden and potted plant soils is an ongoing process. It comes with a learning curve. By trial and error you will begin to better understand what your soil needs to support healthy and productive plant life. In addition to just observing your plants year round, I recommend making detailed notes of your observations twice a year in spring and autumn. A garden journal is a good way to keep track. In that journal, include any nutrient dense formulas you have added to your soil and how the plants have reacted over a period of 1 to 3 months. This will help you to make informed adjustments seasonally.

Plants need TLC. Though they can’t speak, they are pretty clever at letting us know what they need to thrive. Nurture them. Mostly, have fun with your gardening. Please feel free to let us know if this information was interesting and beneficial.

Centipede vs. Millipede: What’s The Difference?

While they are both creepy crawly insects, centipedes and millipedes are not the same creatures, although many get these two types of long, many-legged bugs mixed up and it can be hard to tell the difference.


Knowing the difference between these arthropods can mean the difference between walking away from an encounter unscathed and needing a trip to the emergency room. While millipedes are mostly harmless to humans, centipedes produce stronger toxins that can be extremely painful and, in rare cases, lethal. So it’s important to be able to tell the difference between these segmented vermin to protect yourself.

Telling The Difference

If you have not grown up in an area that has centipedes, millipedes, or both, you may not know how to identify either one on sight. These insects have elongated bodies with multiple segments. Their names are derived from how they look, meaning either a hundred or a thousand legs. One difference that you can use to distinguish most centipedes from millipedes is the shape of their long bodies. While millipedes are round-bodied, their centipede counterparts usually have flattened bodies. One good example when trying to tell them apart is that millipedes look more like a thick straw whereas centipedes look more like a popsicle stick.

If you get close enough to observe the number of legs per segment, you will notice that centipedes have only one pair of legs on each segment while millipedes have two pairs on theirs. Another physical difference that can help you identify which of these you are dealing with is the longer antennae located on centipedes’ heads. Millipedes, in comparison, have shorter antennae.

Do They Bite?

Both centipedes and millipedes have glands that produce toxins for defense against predators and enemies. Millipedes produce a toxin that is not harmful but will smell badly for up to an hour. If you happen to touch one of these squirmers, your hands could reek for quite a while. The toxins produced by Millipedes are not poisonous to humans, but they can cause irritation and be more dangerous to those who have allergies to other insects. However, the centipede produces a much more potent toxin that can cause lots of pain and is especially dangerous to small children, animals, and those with compromised immune systems or allergies.

The centipede’s toxins come from two venomous legs behind the head segment. While you may not want to encounter either one of these critters, it is much less dangerous to meet a millipede. Not only are they less physically harmful, but millipedes are also easier to evade since their stout bodies and shorter legs inhibit their ability to move quickly. On the other hand, centipedes can travel very fast.

What Do They Eat?

Centipedes are carnivores so they eat insects and can be good for the garden. If there are insects inside your home centipedes might be attracted to the buffet you have laid on for them and come indoors.

Millipedes, on the other hand, are herbivores. They eat plants and rotting leaves, wood and fruit. If you have too many Millipedes in your garden they can start eating your plants and become a real pest.

While these two creatures do have their differences, you can avoid having them in your home in much the same way. Centipedes and millipedes both enjoy dark, damp, and decaying matter. They are generally in the home to avoid colder temperatures and to find food. If you eliminate places that they enjoy and keep all food and plant matter well stored and maintained, it can substantially reduce the likelihood of a centipede or millipede finding its way into your house.

How Do You Get Rid of Ants Naturally?

We each create gardens for different reasons. For some, it's a pure love of growing plants and flowers. For others, it's about creating beautiful outdoor spaces live in.

If all you are about is growing plants and flower then let's be clear. Ants are your friends. They work hard tunneling through the soil and redistribute nutrients. They kill aphids and generally ants are a real positive force in your garden.

Yet, your garden is an outdoor space where you like to sit and enjoy the fruits of your creation. And, if you're anything like me, nothing kills your enjoyment more than ants crawling over you!

So you want to find a way to get rid of ants. And, of course, natural methods are always best where possible. This post is all about how you can eliminate ants from your garden or home or at the very least get them to go where you want.

Ants In The Garden

I don't recommend seeking to eradicate ants from your garden altogether. There are enough real pests in the garden to contend with. Ants bring lots of benefits and it's not worth waging war on your friends.

But you can reduce their numbers by pouring boiling hot water on their nests. This technique will help you control population numbers.

​The following section teaches you how to stop ants going to places where you don't want them. There are techniques you can use to stop them crawling on patio areas or into your home.

​This way you can have it both ways. You have the benefits of ants working in your garden to improve the ecosystem. And yet limit their ability to go places where you don't want them to go!

Controlling Ant Movements

Ants don’t pose the health hazard that other pests can. But using toxic pesticides to eradicate them can cause serious health issues.

​According to the EPA, a startling 80% of a person’s exposure to pesticides happens inside the home. So the EPA recommends using nonchemical methods of pest control whenever possible. There are lots of effective natural methods for ridding your home of all manner of ants.

​There are three broad categories of natural ant control — repellents, barriers, and baits.

  • Repellents - Scents that smell fresh to humans, like mint, citrus, and clove, are downright offensive to ants. Good news for us! They make excellent repellents!
  • Barriers - You can use barriers, such as caulk, to close up obvious entry areas. Barriers can also include substances that abrade an insect’s exoskeleton. Imagine something abrading your own skeleton! That's gonna hurt! And you're gonna think twice about going there.
  • Baits - You can use both cornmeal and grits can as ant bait and can kill entire ant colonies.

Make Your Own Nontoxic Ant Repellent Spray

You can use aromatic essential oils to concoct a nontoxic ant repellent.

The three oils that seem to work best are peppermint, clove and tea tree oil.

Or you can also use lemon or orange essential oils in the same manner.

Mix 20 drops of each with a half cup of purified water in a spray bottle and shake well.

Spray baseboards, window sills, counter tops and anywhere else you see ants. Spray outdoor furniture and place you don't want ants to venture.

You may have to repeat this treatment a few times.

For a more easily blended liquid, you can use ¼ cup purified water and ¼ cup of either white vinegar or vodka.

Or you can make a more affordable spray repellent from citrus peels, water, and white vinegar.

To make this solution:

You can use orange, lemon, lime or grapefruit peels.

Place the peels in a pan and add enough water and vinegar, 50% of each, to cover them.

Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Let the mixture steep overnight.

Voila! You made your own ant repellent!

Strategic Planting

Planting aromatic herbs around the perimeter of your home can also discourage ants. The added benefit is that other insects and vermin are also put off by the aroma. Any mint plant will do. I've found Tansy, Sage, and Pennyroyal to be effective repellents.

Your house is your last line of defense.

Creating a barrier to an ant army could be as simple as re-caulking a window. Or it could be repairing a crack in your home’s foundation. If ants are getting into your home you need to figure out where they are coming from.

Follow ant trails to determine where they are entering your home. And block both the inside and outside entry points if possible.

​In some cases, blocking every possible ant entry point can be daunting.. You can stop ants in their tracks by sprinkling coffee grounds or diatomaceous earth. You can try this trick both inside and outside of your home or around your patio area. Both the jagged shape and the acid content of coffee grounds causes damage to an ant’s exoskeleton.

​Diatomaceous earth also dehydrates ants aby absorbing the lipids on their exoskeletons. It's crucial to use food grade diatomaceous earth. Lesser grades can cause health issues, particularly if inhaled.

​As for baiting... There is some debate about the efficacy of baiting ants with cornmeal or grits, the method does seem to work. To try this leave cornmeal or grits anywhere that ants are present, indoors or outdoors. The ants eat the cornmeal but it's it's not something they should eat and it kills them.

Clean Up After Yourself

I knew there was a reason my mother was always complaining to me about crumbs!

​Ants don’t invade our homes at random. They love the food and water that we so graciously offer them so don't leave any lying about. Keeping the kitchen clean will help. So will taking the garbage out every day and keeping sugary foods in sealed containers. Cleanliness will go a long way in preventing an ant infestation in the first place.

If you find yourself overrun with these unwanted guests you now have some ideas. The above methods of ant eradication are safe, effective, and natural. Let us know what you have tried and how these methods worked for you.