Home » Sustain

Category: Sustain

Plan your summer vacation: A self-watering container review

A guest post by Gary Pilarchik

In early May, I was fortunate enough to attend Garden2Grow 2016 at Moss Mountain Farm in Little Rock, and I had a wonderful time.  I never would have thought my experiences there would lead me to grow an entire cucumber and tomato salad garden in a single container.  The greatest issue with container vegetables is water or more specifically, watering.  Once the soil in a container completely dries out, a lot of harm is done to the plants.  Months of work can be lost by accidently missing a single day of watering.  I have been there too many times while battling our 100-degree summers in Maryland (Zone 7).

During the event, teams of five competed to build a fairy container garden, and the winners got their choice of a Crescent Garden container.  Before the contest started, we were introduced to Crescent’s TruDrop® self-watering system. I was intrigued at the size of some of the plants in the containers. Well, a bit of luck fell our way, and my team won the contest!  That little, yet exciting, victory, led to the experiment I am starting in my container garden today. Maybe now I can beat the heat.



This is a demanding experiment, so I did some research on the TruDrop containers.  The one I looked at was 26 inches wide and 26 inches tall, a solid design for growing larger vegetables. The watering system is self-contained and sealed. No insects will find shelter in the water. The TruDrop container’s reservoir holds 12.8 gallons of water, and it has a simple visual display that tells you where the water level sits; making it extremely easy to know when water needs to be added. The container is double walled, which helps with temperature regulation.  It is made from food safe material and it is recyclable.

photos crescent 004I then had the idea to grow a complete tomato and cucumber salad garden in one container. The 26-inch containers were the perfect size.  I typically grow single tomato plants in 5-gallon containers which can be a challenge as they generally need to be watered twice a day in July.  Vacation is almost not an option during the heat of the summer. When I saw the TruDrop container holding large plants, I really wondered how vegetables would fare in that type of self-watering system. Now I can find out and come late July I will have the results!  And I have to say the brail design and color is so much more attractive than my gray 5-gallon containers.

The system evenly waters from the bottom, which is the best way to water plants. It cuts down on waste and decreases the chances of fungus and other diseases that can occur from overhead watering. The soil stays evenly moist at root level and this promotes a strong well-developed root system.  I will be mixing a water soluble fertilizer in the reservoir to keep the plants evenly fed. With this size container, I will only need to fill it about every 10-14 days when the plants are up to size, maybe less.  I could honestly take a vacation and not worry about watering.

photos crescent 003All of the needed vegetables will be planted in a growing area with 19.5 gallons of soil capacity. That space will hold both a dwarf determinate tomato that delivers pink, 12-16 ounce fruits and an indeterminate compact cherry tomato for sweet cherry tomatoes all summer long.  A bush variety cucumber will be joining the bunch.  Nothing beats the scent and sweetness of a freshly sliced cucumber picked straight from the vine.  I’ll add a jalapeno pepper plant to spice the salads up occasionally, onions of some sort, some basil and maybe some cilantro into the Crescent container.  Like I said, not an easy test for any self-watering system, but I think this one can handle it. Stay posted for updates here or on my channel.

Gary Pilarchik’s Rusted Garden YouTube channel has more than 75,000 subscribers and 600 quick, focused vegetable garden videos. A video update on this tomato and cucumber salad container will be featured at  the end of July.  The channel is a culmination of more than 20 years of gardening experience, and he hopes to help you with your gardens and teach children that vegetables don’t come from a grocery store!

Lettuce and nasturtiums

Intensive Gardening: Growing Organic in Small Spaces

What is Intensive Gardening?

Gardening in small spaces uses an intensive or close spacing that is not the traditional spacing like you see on the back of your seed packets or use in the traditional row garden. It is designed to fit a lot more plants into a smaller space than would normally be required if traditional spacing were used. To be successful, this approach relies on optimum soil texture and fertility so that plants do not find it necessary to compete with each other for the nutrients they need to grow and produce fruit. Using raised beds makes this easy as it keeps the amended soil contained.

Good Soil is the Secret to Success

For some time now we have recognized that there is a whole world beneath the soil; small microscopic organisms that are necessary for the life and health of plants. These organisms are responsible for creating an ecology that enables the plants to feed and take up water; so we must protect that system by doing no harm to these organisms. By avoiding toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and practices like excessive tillage that are harmful to soil organisms and using natural amendments, we allow the plants to excel.

Good texture provides soil that is loose and friable and allows plant roots to penetrate through it easily. This is accomplished by the addition of organic matter, which also increases the soils ability to take in and store water.

The Root of Intensive Gardening

Each type of plant has its own distinctive growth habit above ground, which we are more familiar with. We know that by tucking in the smaller plants such as radishes around some of the larger plants like beans, we can make better use of space and light, but did you know there are also distinctive growth pattern of roots underground that are common to each type? Some plants have deep growing roots, and some plants root grow very shallowly. Some plants root spread wide and far, and some are narrow and compact. If you take these growth patterns, for example, pairing a medium rooting bush bean plant, a shallow rooted onion and a deep rooted sweet potato there is minimal competition for water and nutrients at the same soil level. By combining the above and below ground habits, you can create quite a mosaic in each of your beds increasing your harvest in a small space and keeping the weeding, watering and general labor at a minimum, saving your back. I’m all for having more leisure time to enjoy the harvest!

Silkie Chickens

Poultry Profile: Silkie Chickens

One of the most adorable chickens at the Garden Home is called the Silkie because of its fine feathers that feel and look like strands of silk.

The Silkie isn’t a prolific egg producer, but it’s one of the best breeds to have as a pet. Docile and friendly, they will come to you when called and like to be held. The more you spend time with your Silkie chickens the more socialized they will be.

Children love Silkies because of their wacky appearance. They have a top hat like crest and turquoise earlobes that look like fancy earrings. And they have five toes! Most chickens only have four. They also have feathers on their legs, which makes them look like they are walking around in their pajamas.

Silkies come in both large and bantam (dwarf) sizes, but even the large version is small. They come in black, white, buff, gray, blue, and partridge (brown and black). You can get ones with or without a beard.

As an added bonus Silkie chickens don’t make a lot of noise, which is ideal if you live in an urban environment.

Where can you find these fuzzy fowl? One of the best ways to find them is at a poultry show. At the show you can find a breeder who offers baby chicks or adult birds.

Did you know?
Silkies came from China and were referenced by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

DIY Hand Balm

Homemade Hand Balm

This homemade moisturizing balm is perfect for anyone who’s into gardening or who just wants to take better care of their hands. It’s a soy hand balm, and it’s really easy to make. You can get the ingredients at a hobby store or health food store.

Materials for Making Hand Balm:

  • 6 ounces of soy wax
  • 9 ounces of coconut oil
  • 6 ounces of cocoa butter
  • 6 ounces of sweet almond oil
  • Lavender essential oil

Directions for Making Hand Balm:

You begin by melting six ounces of soy wax on a double boiler.

Once it melts, add nine ounces of coconut oil and six ounces of cocoa butter.

Continue to heat and stir the mixture until everything is in liquid state, then add in six ounces of sweet almond oil.

As a final step add about 20 drops of lavender essential oil to give the balm a nice fragrance.

Pour the solution into a small container with a snug-fitting lid.

Defining Organic Gardening

Like the word natural, the word organic gets tossed around a lot. But what does it mean to be organic in the garden?

A starting definition is gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But organic gardening really means a holistic emphasis on a healthy ecosystem.

Organic gardens cultivate an ecosystem that sustains the life of plants, soil microbes and helpful insects. Instead of delving into a never-ending cycle of shocking the system with fertilizer and then pesticides, organic gardeners understand that healthy plants are strong and much more disease-resistant. The focus reaches beyond just making plants grow in the short term; rather it realizes that a vigorous garden is a side effect of a healthy ecosystem.

The soil is the base of a healthy garden and dealing with soil properly can prevent many issues. So, organic gardeners make sure the foundation of the garden is correct. They add organic fertilizer and compost to the soil to ensure it’s able to retain water and provide adequate nutrients to plants. In summary, organic garden soil contains the right trace elements, low-release organic fertilizers, proper pH, is aerated and contains plenty of compost.

Now, pest control is something all gardeners encounter. Yet, organic gardeners use techniques to keep pest damage below a certain threshold. Rather than inciting a mass killing of all non-plant life by drenching the garden with chemicals, they find a simple solution for the pest at hand. For example, cabbage worms can be plucked off leaves and killed, and aphids can be sprayed off the plants with a hose. These methods require attentiveness and ensure that small issues don’t turn into big issues.

Natural pesticides, found in a garden center or made at home, can be applied to plants too. They tend to break down much more quickly than synthetic mixes, so gardeners must be conscientious about reapplication.

Other good gardening practices include planting native or pest and disease-resistant varieties, providing plants adequate spacing and matching the plant to the right site, one suited for its light and moisture needs. Basic good gardening practices will reduce chances of disease as plants are set up from the start for success.

With good gardening practices, going organic isn’t difficult or complicated. It calls for attentiveness, simple solutions as problems arise and an appreciation for a healthy ecosystem. Keep these principles in mind and watch your organic garden flourish!

Different types of bird seeds

Four Seeds Birds Love to Eat

Sometimes our feathered friends need a little help making it through the harsh winter. When temperatures drop, I think about the beautiful birds that have kept my garden colorful and lively throughout the year. Their water sources may freeze up, and food may become scarce, so I make sure their birdbath is flowing — with water and not ice — and their feeders are full. If you want to feed your local birds, first you need to find out what kind of seed they prefer. If you are starting out, buy for the birds you already have, and not the ones you hope to attract. Here are the basics on a few popular seed types that you can easily find at your local garden center or grocery store.

Bird Seed Millet

This seed is a great option for ground-feeding birds. You can use a low-hanging feeder, platter, or just toss out a handful at a time — but be careful not to set out more than your birds can eat in a day. And this seed may not be a good option if you have cats. When given the choice, birds usually prefer white millet, so you will often find this in many seed mixes. Millet appeals to doves, juncos, sparrows, thrashers, buntings, Carolina wrens, cardinals and starlings.

Bird seed stripped sunflowers

Striped Sunflower
This is an inexpensive seed that, because of its tough shell, is best for larger birds with strong bills. It can also be used as a deterrent for pesky raccoons and squirrels. Place some of this seed on a plate away from your bird feeders to lure them away, and help prevent them from ransacking your feeders. Striped sunflower appeals to blue jays, cardinals, some woodpeckers and grosbeaks.

Bird seed black oiled sunflowers

Black Oil Sunflower
This is one of the most popular birdseeds, and will appeal to a wide variety of birds, especially smaller songbirds. It’s a great beginner seed to try. It is rich in oil and gives birds the energy they need to make it through the winter. The thin shells are easy to open, even for smaller birds. Black oil sunflower appeals to cardinals, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, sparrows and woodpeckers.

Bird seed thistle

Thistle, also known as Nyjer seed, will drive your finches wild. It’s a tiny black seed that’s high in oil, which makes it great for winter bird feeding. Be aware, the seeds are very small and lightweight, and can easily blow away if used in the wrong type of feeder. A mesh-style or sock feeder is best for this expensive seed. Thistle appeals to goldfinches, purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, quail and mourning doves.

Bird Migration Types

When I look to the sky and see a flock of birds in a migratory formation it inspires a peaceful, calming sensation. It’s fascinating to take a moment from whatever task is at hand, and ponder how these birds can soar for miles and miles in this perfect shape. Why do they make this tedious annual journey? How do they know when it’s time to take flight? To what lovely, warmer climate are they traveling? … And why can’t I go with them?

Simply put, birds migrate when the food and nesting resources in their habitat are exhausted, which is usually due to seasonal changes. Though it’s not completely known for sure, ornithologists believe migration is triggered by a combination of changes in the length of the day, temperatures falling, depletion of food supplies, and genetic predisposition.

Different species of birds migrate different distances ranging from just a couple of miles down the road, to across continents. Here is a break down of four basic migration types and where a few of my favorite feathered friends (these will vary slightly from region to region) fit into the formation…

Long Distance Migrants – will travel distances from Canada and the United States to Central and South America. These can include the vast majority of North American bird species such as vireos, flycatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, ducks, geese, swans, tanagers, Blackburnian Warblers, orioles, Arctic Terns and swallows.

Nomadic/Irregular Migrants – These birds only follow the food. When it runs out the move on, and when they find a good source they may become residents. These can include robins, blue jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

Short Distance Migrants – may travel a few hundred miles or only change elevation by moving up or down a mountainside. These can include waxwings and American Tree Sparrows.

Residents – Some birds will stick out the winter where they are, or not travel but only a few miles to reach warmer temperatures. They tend to acclimate to temperature well, and eat a wider range of foods like seeds. These can include cardinals, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, pigeons, doves and finches.

Bird migration infographic

Buff Orpington Chickens

Raising Chickens – Breeds to Consider

Part of the fun of raising chickens is the different breeds available with their unique personalities and feathers. When pressed to recommend a “starter chicken” for those who are new to raising poultry and want a friendly, docile breed that are more like pets, I usually suggest buff orpingtons, they are a beautiful golden colored chicken with an easy-going disposition. A great way to get to know all of these breeds is to visit a poultry show or contact someone from the district where you live in the American Poultry Association at www.amerpoultryassn.com.

I’ve raised all these breeds and encourage you to read through this list to find the type of chicken that has the qualities that best match characteristics that you are looking for.

  • Australorp – excellent production of medium sized brown eggs, adaptable to confinement or free range, quiet, docile, easily handled. Good brooder, good mother, early maturing and very cold hardy. Developed in Australia from black orpingtons for egg laying .
  • Buckeye – medium producer of medium sized brown eggs, very cold hardy, can be broody, adaptable to confinement and a very good forager, calm and friendly.
  • Chantecler – good producer of large brown eggs and is a dual purpose bird that is extremely cold hardy. Bears confinement well but can be skittish around people.
  • Cochin – very popular as a show bird, medium producer of brown tinted eggs, excellent brooder, good mother and excellent foster mother, robust and cold hardy, adaptable to confinement or free range, peaceful, friendly and easily handled.
  • Houdan – both large and bantam varieties, show, dual purpose, medium producer of small to medium white eggs and can be broody but known more for fancy feathering, being crested, bearded and/or five-toed. Bears confinement well and is active, docile and easily handled. Wild and wacky looking.
  • Jersey Giant – dual purpose (formerly meat),good producers of medium to large brown eggs, good brooder, protective mother, robust and cold hardy. Large birds that eat a lot, adaptable to confinement or free range, calm, gentle and easily handled.
  • Leghorn – layer, extremely heavy producer of medium to large white eggs, a non-setter that is hardy, heat tolerant (especially the white variety) that is early maturing. Enjoys free range although will adapt to confinement and is flighty, spritely and noisy.
  • Modern Game – a game bird that is a low producer of white to lightly tinted small eggs, can be broody and a protective mother, hardy in heat, less tolerant of close confinement and needs to be active. Originally developed for exhibition, this bird has style.
  • Orpington – originally developed as an excellent meat bird, this dual purpose chicken is also a good producer of medium to large brown eggs, good brooder and excellent mother, hardy and early maturing, adaptable to free range, very adaptable to confinement, docile, affectionate, easily handled.
  • Plymouth Rock – dual purpose, good producer of large brown eggs, a good mother but broods infrequently, robust and cold hardy, well adaptable to confinement or free range, docile, friendly, easily handled. Once common on the homestead, still popular in the backyard. Developed in America and popularity spread very rapidly due to its qualities as an outstanding farm chicken.
  • Rhode Island Red – dual purpose, excellent, heavy producer of rich, large brown eggs, broods infrequently but can be a dutiful mother, robust, hardy in the heat and cold, adaptable to free range or confinement, active, calm and fairly docile but cocks can be aggressive. One of the best breeds for producing brown eggs.
  • Sebright – a true bantam, beautifully laced show bird, low producer of tiny white eggs, not broody, requires care, tolerates confinement, jaunty and spritely.
  • Silkie – a true bantam, probably the most popular bantam coming in black, white, blue, buff, partridge, or gray with black skin, face, combs and wattles. The name silkie comes from the hair-like appearance of their feathers. A low producer of lightly tinted small eggs, one of the most broody, hardy in the heat and cold but because of fancy feathering not suited for foul weather, adapts well to confinement, docile, friendly.
  • White-Faced Black Spanish – Very rare and becoming rarer, good producer of large white eggs, non-setter, heat tolerant, adaptable to confinement but prefers free range, haughty, noisy, flighty.
  • Silver Spangled Hamburgs – a very old race of domesticated poultry, the origin of this breed in Dutch. They are active, flighty birds that forage well and are capable of flying long distances. Excellent egg producers of relatively small, white eggs, they are trim and stylish with delicate features and considered to be an ornamental fowl. These non-setters are cold hardy and like a wide range being less tolerant of close confinement. Besides Silver Spangled, they are also found in golden spangled, golden and silver penciled, solid black and white. You can see Silver Spangled Hamburgs at colonial Williamsburg.
  • Wyandottes – Coming in a variety of colors and patterns, these are a good bird for a small family flock in rugged conditions. Cold hardy and good mothers, they have a good disposition and their color patterns make them a good choice for fanciers as well as farmers. A dual purpose bird with brown eggs, robust and very cold hardy. Well adaptable to confinement or foraging they are calm, industrious and usually docile birds.
  • Blue Andalusians – an ornamental bird with fairly good egg production of large, creamy white eggs, these small, active birds tend to be noisy and flighty and rarely go broody. They are both cold hardy and heat tolerant, economical eaters preferring free range. Andalusians are an example of the unstable blue color seen with poultry where it is a result of a cross between a black and a white. The blue color does not breed true. A black and a white (splash) are necessary for breeding but are not permitted to be shown. When the black and the whites are mated together, they will produce mostly blues.
  • Polish – coming in a variety of colors, having a crest, bearded or not, these are a strictly ornamental fowl. An unusual and beautiful breed, their crest can often restrict their vision and cause them to be frightened easily. White eggs.
Aromatherapy herbs in glass jars

Eleven Scents for Aromatherapy

We all have our favorite scents, but have you ever stopped to wonder what might be attracting us to those scents? Aromatherapy is an ancient practice that acknowledges the calming, therapeutic effects essential oils have on the body, mind and spirit. Essential oils are extracted from plants by distillation, and possess a strong, concentrated fragrance derived from the plant.

They can be used in a variety of ways from just inhaling them directly for an instant calming effect, to steam inhalation, added to diffusers, diluted as massage oil or added to your bath. Check out some of these popular oils and their uses…

Chamomile: anxiety and stress reliever, antispasmodic, sedative, reduces insomnia, anti-inflammatory.

Eucalyptus: great for flu season, expectorant, decongestant, clears and energizes the mind.

Ginger: great aid for digestive issues including gas, constipation and nausea.

Lavender: calming, reduces anxiety, promotes cell regeneration to heal wounds and burns, soothes insect bites.

Lemon: detoxing and uplifting, great for home cleaning and use as room spray.

Lemongrass: antimicrobial, great for cleaning and use as natural insect repellent.

Patchouli: antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, soothes the nervous system.

Rose: promotes cell regeneration, aphrodisiac, nourishes the emotions, relieves and reduces stress and anxiety.

Rosemary: promotes respiratory health, expectorant, expands and deepens the breath, energizes, relieves sinus congestion.

Tea Tree: antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-fungal, supports and enhances the immune system.

Peppermint: anti-inflammatory, relieves nausea, great for muscular aches and pains and arthritis, relieves migraines.